Monday, January 30, 2012

I Bottini di Siena

So today we went on a mega cool, very scary tour of the aqueduct below the city of Siena. They don't drink the water from them anymore, but they are available to tour.

The spaces were very, very small and very dark. We each  had flashlights, but mine started to die like halfway through. It was an interesting experience, but it looked like a scene from a horror movie. The tunnels are so extensive down there that somebody could have crept up on us!

Then again, the labyrinth of tunnels also made me imagine the cellars of the Paris Opera House, making the whole thing seem Phantom of the Opera-esque. Yup. I went there.

Here are some pictures of the adventure!

Tight squeeze!

gotta watch your head!

less water than I was expecting

adventuring farther in

I kept expecting something to jump out 

Me=total fail. Slipped into the aqueduct. Classy

The way out. Fresh air!!!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

First Weekend!

The first major thing I did this weekend that I don't have pictures of (besides getting lots of Italian homework and eating more giant pizza) was going to St Catherine's church here in Siena to see her head. And her thumb. That's all they have of her. It was interesting, to say the least. I don't really know what else to say about that, but hey, if you're into that kind of stuff, it's cool. It's one of those things I'm glad I did, even though it was bizarre. 

This is the view of the Torre del Mangia in Piazza del Campo

We wanted to climb the tower in Piazza del Campo, but alas, it was closed by the time we got there. We decided to chill for the rest of the day and meet later for some ice skating at the winter festival that was happening about 10 minutes from my house.

There was a winter carnival and we decided to go ice skating

We're so cool

Our after ice skating snack- Nutella pizza!
Saturday, bright and early, we had an appointment at the post office to start the process for the "permesso di soggiorno" or permission to stay. We just handed them a bunch of paperwork and paid 30 euros. I think we have a few more steps before we are legally allowed to live here. You know, cause the visa wasn't enough.

A group of us decided that we wanted to have an adventure outside of Siena (you might think this is hasty, but we have a class that basically shows us all the major sites of Siena as class trips so I don't need to seek them out on my own). We were going to go to San Gimignano, a small city about a half an hour outside of Siena, but we found out we go there for class, so we chose another small city, Montepulciano. What an adventure!

The view from my front door

random strange car

pink/purple house!

The wine road! We must be almost there, right?

WRONG. Turns out, we were 9 km from the city...
With our disaster aversion skills, we walked back to the lonely train station and waited for the bus. We were treated to a lovely ride up to the city, where we walked to the tourist office. The man there arranged a private taxi for our return back to the station. Onward we went!
Tuscany. So beautiful.

I could get used to a view like this

Yup. I'm used to it

Piazza grande

The clock tower. Coincidentally, this piazza can be seen in
The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Yup.

The adventurers

Montepulciano is like a smaller, more
deserted Siena

Cats roam wild in Italy!!!

The vampire menu at the caffe we stopped at.
Yes. Vampire menu.

We decided to sample both the red and white wines. They
gave us all that food for free!

Olive oil tasting. Ah-mazing.
Our lovely trip ended almost as disastrously as it began. Our train had arrived on platform 2 and continued on, so we figured it would come back the other way on the other side, platform 1. WRONG AGAIN. The result was a mad dash down two flights of stairs to the passage under the track, up two more flights and running vaults onto the train with seconds to spare. It was an exhausting and exhilarating trip.

We almost didn't get off the train, however, since once it finally got to Siena, the doors we were waiting at wouldn't open. Frantically, we ran down the train until we found an open door and jumped off. A true adventure. 

The next day, we decided to be adventurous again and climb the Torre del Mangia in the Piazza del Campo. It was exhausting and exciting at the same time, though the steps were quite steep and let me just say my legs are not happy with me. But the views were totally worth it!

They built this for people a lot smaller
than us! So narrow!!

Me at the top with the Duomo behind me

Piazza del Campo from the very top

Mind your head!

Definitely got my exercise in for the week
We decided to celebrate our triumphant climb with pizza and gelato once we were safely back in the Piazza

Russell chose the very Italian 'hot dog and french fry' style

We returned to a friend's apartment to hang out when we discovered the wonders of Italian electricity and wiring. A faulty plug led to the loss of the lights, so we ventured to by candles at the supermarket. It made for a lovely ambiance.

look at us craft kids
I returned home to a late dinner with my host mother, who is happy I'm eating more (mostly because I walk a lot and am hungry ALL THE TIME, and because I try to eat more to make her happy). It's not hard, her cooking is delicious!!!

Time for bed! Gotta get ready for some more Italian class tomorrow, plus a trip to the 'bottini,' an underground part of the city! Exiting stuff! Ciao for now!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Siena, Sei Bellissima!!

This is Whiskey, my host mom's cat
Well, it's day three in Siena and I think part of my has already fallen in love. The other part is incredibly sore from all the hills and walking, but hey, at least I can eat as much gelato and pizza as I want and still stay in shape!

It's already been a rollercoaster of emotions, but I sometimes have to stop and think "is this really my life?" as I stroll through the piazzas and look at this beautiful city. 

I've had no shortage of things to do in the last couple of days, because we've been having orientation. Orientation in study abroad programs means HERE'S ALL THE ESSENTIAL INFO FOR 4 MONTHS DON'T FORGET IT! (But don't worry, we will email to remind you!!!)  It's all a bit overwhelming, and sometimes it's hard for my brain to process things because I have to switch from English to Italian when I'm home, since my host mom speaks 0 English. But we've been doing well. We had a whole conversation about dentistry today (riveting, I know) and it involved a lot of pantomiming, but I'm really glad I chose a homestay, despite it's difficulties. 

I'm about a 20 minute walk from the school, and maybe 25-30 from Piazza del Campo, the main square. The saying may be "All roads lead to Rome," but here in Siena, all roads lead to Piazza del Campo. It's a great place to people watch and get stalked by adventurous pigeons. 

Piazza del Campo

We had a walking tour of the city, which was exhausting and confusing, but helpful as well. Lots of streets lead in circles here and there are no sidewalks, so cars just drive through and vespas fly by. It's a bit scary, but people are used to it and don't seem to mind. Traffic is supposed to yield to pedestrians, but often this is not the case.

The tour took us to many places around the city, like the gorgeous Duomo and L'universita di Siena, of which we are all technically a part of. They also pointed out popular coffee shops and gelaterias in the area, and we got to see some of the statues of the 17 contradas in Siena. Contradas are like their own county or region in Siena, each represented by a mascot, like the Dragons, Porcupines, Waves, Geese, or the contrada where I live, the Elephant. The Palio (a horse race) is an important part of Sienese culture. Each contrada has a horse entered in the race, and the winning contrada celebrates for months. You can read more about il Palio here, but let's just say it's a big deal and people prep for it months in advance, even though the race is only a minute or two. The contrade actually reminds me of A Game of Thrones, what with all of the sigils and mottos. My contrada, for example symbolizes strength and it's motto is "Power as well as might."

The fountain for the Caterpiller contrada

Each contrada has a fountain, and we want to try and find them all. The fountains are special because people born in the contrada are baptized there. It's all very cool and interesting, and I'm sad that the Palio happens only in the summer. Someday I might return to Siena to see this event.

La contrada della torre- technically the Tower contrada,
with an elephant as the mascot
Following a second orientation session today about housing and the intricacies of Italian electricity, we went to the market that happens every Wednesday near the fortress in Siena. Let me say I am in trouble! They have so many stalls with lots of inexpensive, but lovely, things. Good thing I brought an extra bag for souvenirs!

There's lots of fresh food at the mercato

I also placed into Advanced Italian, which is a good level for me, and I think living with Paola will improve my skills immensely. She's super excited to meet my family. Today at dinner she told me "I have a small house, but a very big heart!" So true. I can already tell I'm going to be very, very sad to leave her.

I've already eaten a pizza the size of my head as well as gelato, so don't worry about that. I am loving getting both Italian street food and home cooked meals. Homestays do have their initial downsides, like isolation and frustration with the language, but I think it was a great choice for me.

This was only 5 euro. Good thing I have to walk a lot
or I would be in trouble!

I'll finish off with some pictures of the beauty I am surrounded by, though they don't do Siena justice.

A view of the duomo. This spot is close to the IES center


The lovely garden at the IES center

parking spaces in Italy actually extend
 onto the sidewalk...

A view of Piazza del Campo from a friend's apartment

Basilico di San Francesco

Il Duomo

Pictures don't do it justice

The Tuscan countryside

Just a lovely view of Siena

Ciao for now!