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!

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