Monday, April 28, 2008


I spent this past weekend in Austria and it was too wonderful. So wonderful that I didn't want to get on the train and come back to Siena where it has been pretty rainy. I didn't think about any school work, just wandered around Vienna and Salzburg for four days in the sunshine, got a little burned while eating outside, rode a bike through Salzburg's many parks, and failed entirely to understand the German language. I picked up a few useful words, though, like ausgang (exit) and kartoffel (potato). My friend Carolyn and I had some good hearty food and beer (things quite absent from my time in Italy), and were mistaken many a time for true Austrians (which also never happens in Italy, where in fact many people think I'm British).

The only downside (seriously, the ONLY one) was traveling somewhere without really knowing the history. In all my classes in Siena we're constantly learning about Italy's history, culture, language etc, so I have a broad foundation to understand anywhere I travel. But in Austria I had no one to explain to me the importance of very large buildings in Vienna (except that they were mostly built by the Hapsburgs) or how Salzburg became such an important cultural center.

In Salzburg we went on the Sound of Music tour, which may sound corny, but it was really pretty great. Especially because our bus took us to a small town in the lake district outside of Salzburg where they filmed a scene. Also, one night in Salzburg we went to a small classical concert where a violinist and pianist played Mozart and some others. It was so wonderful! Mountains and lakes and bikes and Mozart and schnitzel and goulash--what a wonderful country. I missed the wine, cheese and pasta of Italy, but a break was nice.

I'm putting some pictures up on Flickr, hopefully you won't get sick of looking at the Alps (they compose about 60 percent of my pictures).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

So much to say

That's what I get for not writing anything for a few weeks. Too too much has happened. Somebody somewhere decided it would be really fun to cram all the major papers and tests of the semester into the last 4 weeks, which is just cruel. It was nice to enjoy the rest of the time, but this is also a big travel time in the semester so it's just crazy all the time and everyone has reverted to normal school/stress out mode.

Some of the highlights of the past few weeks, though:

-Went to the wonderful little town of Pienza, home of pecorino cheese. Also where I spent too much money on cheese which I am still working on (but no regrets).

-Went to Orvieto for a day--a nice little town which sits up on a plateau of volcanic rock into which the Etruscans dug an intricate system of tunnels for their workshops. My friend Sarah and I took a somewhat lame tour of the underground. Our guide didn't really know any English except for the facts she told us, so whenever we asked a question she just said "Yes yes yes!". Not very helpful, but still an interesting tour. It was also a funky town with lots of interesting craft shops and very good white wine, so we had a blast.

-Went to Perugia, another college town like Siena, with some friends. Mostly we just wandered around, ate a nice long lunch outside, took some silly pictures, and went to an Italian pop-art exhibition.

This past weekend the whole group (all 19 of us) went to Venice and I couldn't have loved it more. We had great weather, which is apparently unusual for Venice, and plenty of free time to explore. With our teacher Peter we went to a Titian exhibit, a few churches, Peter's favorite sandwich and prosecco shop (sparkling white wine), and an art school. With the free time we wandered around and on Saturday afternoon I went to the island of San Michele, which is Venice's cemetery. Apparently this was a strange option and nobody wanted to come with me. They all wanted to shop for fake, cheap glass instead. I had a great time though. Overall, I really really loved Venice. There are no cars, little night life, and a diminishing population, so it's a pretty quiet place, especially at night. If you know me well, you know I love peace and quiet. So I loved Venice. The water, sunshine, bright colors, and British people I met on the vaporetto ("bus" system on the canals) probably helped. Here's the street where our hotel was (in a residential neighborhood):

After Venice I went to dinner in Bologna with the group and then back to Padua on Sunday morning to see some more art--the Arena Chapel with Giotto's wonderful frescoes. Padua was great, mainly because there was a lot of green space which I have really been craving lately. I got to one of the parks with my gelato and took my shoes off and squiggled my feet in the grass for the first time this semester. It was wonderful.

Well, so a lot has happened. And I've written some papers and what not as well. I'm exhausted. But there's still more to come! I can rest when I get home.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Studying abroad is toooo sweet

How am I ever going to leave? Maybe I just won't. The last two Saturdays I've gone on some wonderful bike rides. Last weekend my friend Adriana and I rode through back country roads from Sinalunga to Buonconvento, and today I took a ride for myself from Asciano to Buonconvento. Both were fairly long rides with a lot of uphill, but they were away from the madness of touristy cities and we got to enjoy the fresh air and Tuscan countryside. Riding out there is truly great: big hills, surrounded by bigger mountains, bright green fields, olive groves, villas made of stone from the surrounding countryside, vineyards of course, small towns, and just Italians living and working. They all look at us like we're crazy, I think mainly because we're girls and it's fairly unusual for Italian women to be active at all.

Here's some sheep I passed today. This dog proceeded to chase me away shortly after I took the picture.

My other favorite part of today was when I was a little confused in Asciano. I took the train there and had drawn myself a little map of how to get out of the town. Of course, I went the wrong way, realized it soon enough and asked for help from a woman who was carrying her groceries down the road. First of all, I was so proud that I asked in Italian and that I understood her response, and I also understood that she wasn't exactly sure. She motioned for me to wait then walked a little further and proceeded to call out all of her neighbors and ask them where Via Gramsci was. It was so wonderful and Italian of them all. They helped and I proceeded on my way. Days like today make me love Italians more than anything.

Besides that there has been class as usual, but most importantly it is finally spring! When the sun is out it's warm enough to go sit in the Piazza del Campo, take off your jacket, and enjoy the sun. I usually go with the intention of reading and then not doing that at all. It's much more fun to talk with my friends, eat gelato, and just watch people. Especially the young Italian boys who often approach groups of girls their age after loitering near them for twenty minutes. It's very cute to watch. And my cooking is improving, which is always good. Oh, I have a sweet life!