Wednesday, March 26, 2008

James's Visit and other

SO! James came to visit over a long weekend and we had a great time. His trip was based entirely around food, so we made sure to eat out a lot and find the best places. We succeeded in Florence and Siena, not so much in the Cinque Terre (minus some very good cinnamon gelato).

We started in Florence by going to the Mercato Centrale, which is a market for locals consisting almost entirely of cheese and huge chunks of meat. As in, there were entire cows hanging from the meat racks. Suffice it to say James was in foodie heaven. After that we stopped by a few places for espresso and went to the Uffizi to enjoy some art. We also walked around Florence some the night before and I educated him on some places he must know about if he is going to get his masters in architecture, such as a few of Brunelleschi's beautiful churches.

In Siena we wandered and James showed me where he lived and hung out when he studied here seven years ago, we went to a soccer game (where Siena beat Parma 2-0), and we found the best not-too-too-expensive osteria in Siena. Really we were never eating at places where the food cost too much, it seemed to be the wine that got us in trouble. . .but it was fabulous and of course worth every Euro (sorry Dad).

For the last day and a half we went to the Cinque Terre! It was beautiful. Basically these are five towns slumping into the sea, surrounded by rocky coast and mountains. And there are hiking trails galore. And the weather was fantastic. There were snow clouds hanging over the tops of the mountains just behind us, but above the towns and out towards the sea was clear and beautiful!

And today. . .I went to the wonderful town of San Gimignano! We went with our Sienese Art class and then I stayed for a while to wander around. Once again, just another little medieval town, but San Gimignano is wonderful because it's perfectly in the middle of being touristy enough but not too much. Also, it has retained its tall towers built by the aristocratic families that give it the nickname "Medieval Manhattan" (both the Sienese and Florentine governments had these chopped off to decrease family rivalries, but of course it didn't work). Then I found a little park on top of the hill where there were few people, a man playing some sort of Renaissance instrument, and beautiful views of the surrounding hills. And then I proceeded to find a nice leather bag and a ceramics shop. Not too much damage was done though.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm still alive, don't worry

So much to catch up on, but don't worry, I'll be concise.

Last weekend I went on a bike ride with my friend Adriana to a nice little town called Monteriggioni. It is a truly medieval town, to the extent that it hasn't even extended outside of the medieval walls like Siena has. It was such a pleasant ride through the country, and we kept passing other bikers which made us so happy (and comfortable). As we got closer to Monteriggioni, though, we saw more and more bikers and parts of the road that were blocked off to traffic. Apparently we had been riding in the middle of a bike race! Whoops. No wonder they were giving us such funny looks. We got to the town, which normally would have been dead on a Sunday afternoon, and it was full of people watching the cyclers ride in. We climbed up on top of the city wall above one of the gates and watched.

And then an even greater adventure: Rome! We were there for 5 days and saw everything you should see and some more that I wouldn't have known about on my own. A few of my favorite highlights:

  • Wandering around peaceful Palatine Hill for a few hours. Right in the middle of all the madness of Rome is this hill of ruins where the great palaces of Rome were built (after Romulus and Remus lived there of course). It's a nice open green space filled with ruins and people just strolling around.
  • Hadrian's Villa, which is actually about an hour outside of Rome. Also a big site of ruins (noticing a pattern?) where the emperor Hadrian lived. It was even more peaceful since it wasn't surrounded by Rome. I just loved it.
  • The breakfast at our hotel - the first granola I've had in Italy. It made me very happy.
  • Enoteca (wine bar) Cul de Sac, where I went with two friends for wine and food one night. We sat for three hours at a table on the street, watched Rome walk by, had some of the best wine I've had yet (a shiraz from the region), and ate sundried tomatoes in oil, pecorino cheese cooked in cinders, and a potato cake. It was wonderful, relaxing, and of course delicious.
  • Walking at night to beautiful (albeit touristy) spots such as the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.
  • Seeing the Pope. Actually that wasn't really that exciting for me, but I thought I should let you all know. He is a very cute little man.
  • Being able to fill up my little nalgene with public drinking water everywhere! Rome just has a million little water spigots everywhere of clean, cold, delicious water. It was so exciting for me.
  • Taking pictures of strangers - in smaller places like Siena and Lucca they don't seem to appreciate that so much.
In short, Rome was a beautiful city with so many exciting things to do. And our teacher Peter who went with us was crazy and fun as usual. I guess I haven't written about him yet. Don't worry, I'll just spend an entire post on him some other time. As always, it was nice to return to Siena where the air is so fresh and everything is quiet at night except the main street. It was such a wonderful trip.

And then my sweater flew away in the window while I was taking it off the line outside my window just now. It's currently snagged on a hook on my neighbor's shutter but they aren't home. Shoot.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

More adventures

Last weekend I went on a bike ride outside of Siena with some of my friends. We headed towards Monteaperti (an old battle site from the 13th century, back in the day when the Guelfs and Ghibellines were at war). I've heard the histories of Florence and Siena so many times that I figured I had to go see this place. Really there's nothing there so the actual point was to have a direction to go in. We ended up not going all the way because one of my companions couldn't hack all the hills. I'm not sure what she thought riding a bike through Tuscany would be like, but for some reason she was a little upset with so many hills. No worries though, it was a beautiful ride and a nice warm-up for more excursions to come.

Besides that I've been doing work, studying my Italian (finally learning a new tense!) and exploring. Yesterday I wrote a paper for my Sienese Art and Architecture course and it was amazingly wonderful to go sit in front of the work I was writing about for two hours. I sat, journaled, made notes for my paper, and attempted to sketch Duccio's Maesta. I'm really not very good at drawing but it was fun to try. Maybe more practice will make me better. . .

Best news of the week: there are signs of spring! And tomorrow I'm going on a hike with my friend Adriana and it is supposed to be beautiful! What a wonderful country; I can sit in front of masterpieces for as long as I want or go on a bike ride through the countryside whenever I so desire.