Saturday, November 15, 2008


Part of why Siena is so cool is this Contrada business. Apparently all medieval towns used to be split up into neighborhoods but Siena is the only one that is still so hard core about it. Within the old city walls the buildings are split up into neighborhoods or Contrade. There are 17 contrade, mostly animals. If you live outside the city walls then you just adopt a contrada, but contrada is like family so once you're in there's no changing, even if you move into another contrada. I have adopted the Unicorn, for obvious reasons. Each contrada has a fountain and a museum. The Sienese take this whole Contrada business very seriously. Since I've been here I've seen a few contrada parades. I've never seen so many old and young men in tights and ridiculous outfits, but it's completely acceptable because it is for your contrada.
So the main event for these Contrade is the Palio. If you've had the pleasure of seeing the new James Bond movie then you have an idea of what this consists of. Twice a year they have a huge horse race in the Piazza del Campo. Ten contrade get to race each time. So three of the contrade are lucky and get to race twice. Sadly we weren't here for either of them, they are in like July and August or something, but apparently it is absolutely crazy. If you rent an apartment overlooking the Campo, your contract excludes the days of the Palio and your place is rented out for those who want a good view. Here's the gay part. Each contrada draws out of a hat, or something like that, to see which horse they get. These horses are purposely not all created equal. There is clearly one that is awesome and one that sucks and everything in between. So it appears that the real contest is who is going to draw the best horse. They also hire professional jockeys. Apparently the jockey of the winning team last year was paid something like $700,000. Now do you understand how obsessed they are?
They also have huge rivalries that go years back. Everyone is friends even if you are from the rival contrada, but apparently during the Palio season you just stop talking to those friends.
I think this contrada deal is awesome. Yes they are a little over the top about it, but it is cool history that they hang onto.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Volterra, San Gimignano, and Florence

Last Thursday we went to Volterra and San Gimignano. The drive there was beautiful, all the grape vine leaves are changing color. Sadly it rained most of the time...I never thought I would hate the rain but I have had to walk around in it so much here that I am DONE! Anyways, as many of you may know, Volterra makes an appearance in the second book of the Twilight series. I'm not ashamed to disclose that I am slightly obsessed with these books, as are many girls on this trip. Obviously we had our eyes peeled for any beautiful, paled skinned, "humans". This was the one good thing about the rain, perfect weather for a vampire. I'm sad to report that once again, Bella is a baby. The "huge" piazza that she has to run through to save Edward is in fact very small, at least in comparison to the Campo. Unfortunately, the closest to an Edward siting I got was some tacky graffiti with phrases like "Dazzled by Volterra". However, Alessandro did confirm that there are real myths, is that an oxymoron?, about vampires in Volterra. Apparently their Saint, Saint Marcus(who is a vamp in the book), banished all the vampires from Volterra, but some people thought St. Marcus was a vampire. Creepy? Unfortunately because of Stephanie Meyer it is impossible to find out about these myths on the internet since any search yields info about the book.
Okay so besides this vampire business, Volterra was cute and medieval and had awesome views and a cool Roman amphitheater. Classic Tuscan hill town.
San Gimignano is more touristy than Volterra. Here we learned about the frescoes in the main church, but otherwise it was all about the shopping and eating at a gelato place that won at the World Gelato Championship. Yes that is a real thing. I had mango and pear and it was amazing, definitely worthy of an award.

Florence. I went to Florence three times, it's only an hour and a half away. I absolutely love Florence. This is the kind of place I would want to live in Italy if I were really living here forever. It's a big city but not too big. Leather can be found on nearly every corner-I got some brown cashmere lined gloves! The first two times we went with Peter and he took us to various churches slash museums for part of the day. The Uffizi there has some very famous paintings including one of my absolute favorites, the Birth of Venus by Botticelli. We have this awesome pass called the Friends of Uffizi pass which lasts for a year and gets you into all the big hitters, it's only like 40 euros. So I saw the David twice. The second time I just really needed a bathroom. We went to the Brancacci Chapel where Masaccio's famous frescoes are. I know this all isn't interesting to you, but I studied all of this in Art History so it is awesome to me. The highlight at this place was the 40 minute long movie they make you watch before. I can't even remember anything it was about but I had to hold back laughter the entire time because of the voices on the English translation we were listening too. The first time I was looking for the right channel on my headset I passed the English because it didn't even sound like English. It sounded like Roy the vacuum guy. If you don't know who that is, ask me for an impression next time you see me.
I also saw where Fra Angelico lived as well as a huge collection of his work. Oh, the Pitti Palace, the Medici summer home, had an awesome costume collection that I loved! The Bobili gardens there are also so beautiful, the set for a Jane Austen movie. The Duomo there is absolutely beautiful and I climbed to the top of the Dome to get a beautiful view of the city. There is also the Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge there that wasn't bombed in WWII. It is now lined with amazing jewelry stores. We drooled at the windows every time. All of these pics are in my Picasa web album. My favorite finds in Florence were: 1. This little clothing store just before the Ponte Vecchio. It's just a man, his laptop, and his clothes. They are really expensive, but he is the designer and he literally dressed us. Anna got a wrap around sweater that you can wrap in an infinite number of ways. He wrapped her up in that sucker like 20 different ways. 2. This panini place by the Duomo, I took a pic so I could remember the name. I always got pecorino cheese and sun dried tomatoes. Don't worry, I just bought an entire wheel of pecorino at the grocery store to bring home.
That small synopsis didn't do Florence justice. I love it there.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Warning: Due to the fact that I'm leaving Siena in a matter of days and I've almost completely stopped writing in my journal or communicating with anyone...these posts will now be void of pictures, since they take forever to upload. I'm just trying to get as much written down as I can before I leave here or else it could be forever. So hopefully my humor will be enough to make these interesting.
Friday morning I went to Milan with my travel buddies; Anna, Autumn, and Shannon. We were on a bus for about 4 1/2 hours. Gotta love public transportation. Once we got to Milan there were four stops. We finally decided to just hop off on the third stop because there were metros all over the place. We ventured down to the metro and were immediately overwhelmed. Milan is definitely the busiest and least friendly place I've been so far. We sat there for like 20 minutes just trying to figure out where the heck we were and then finally realized we were in the main station! Something that is common sense to a resident of Milan, so no signs explaining this are thought to be necessary. 20 more minutes later we realized that we were just a stone's throw from the Last Supper, which is what we were looking for. Sadly we had reserved the last three spots about a month ago and Autumn didn't get to come in with us. We got to be herded in like cattle through about four air locks and then BAM, there it was. We had 15 minutes to stare at it and then a guy started yelling at us to exit the was a little strange. It was amazing though, it hasn't held up very well due to Da Vinci's experiments with the medium...fool. Like so many sweet things I've seen there were no pics allowed so all I have is my memory and a picture from the outside.
We went down by the Cathedral to visit the lucky bull. I'm not sure how this got started but you are supposed to spin around on your heel on the, what used to be, testicles of the bull, for good luck of course. Italians are so superstitious!! Obviously I participated in this. As we walked out to the Cathedral there was a massive gathering of people with signs...immediately we thought we had stumbled upon yet another protest. Then we realized they were all girls in the 'tween' stage. A massive t.v. screen behind them caught my attention and we soon realized that we were about to be on Italian TRL! For the non-MTV generation, that is an MTV show that shows the top music videos and often has musical guests. Well we were in luck! LOST was there!! I can only explain them as the Italian version of the Jonas Brothers. Man am I a lucky girl. We stood in the crowd and screamed and waved at the little fetus boys. The one will straight gelled bangs totally made eye contact with me.
The Cathedral was as awesome as expected. I had a little run in with a thief outside, let me explain. So there are these guys with bird seed, meaning popcorn kernels, in the piazza because it is also known as pigeon central. Apparently they try to get pigeons to attack you and then do what they want with you, I don't know. Anyways, I spot these guys a mile away so I'm holding on to my bag tightly. Probably like five of them approach us in five minutes and I shooed them away. Sometimes I have a problem controlling my facial expressions and apparently I was giving the main guy a dirty look. Out of nowhere he comes up and starts yelling at me in what I think was English. Although I only understood a few words I got the point. It was something like...'Why are you looking at me like that, I'm not a thief!' blah blah. Well clearly you are a thief if out of the blue you decide you need to tell me that you aren't. So in Italian I tell him that I don't understand him and I walked away. He then proceeded to say gross things to me in Italian, what's new. So many dirty men here. Liz, it was reminiscent of what the bagger at Smith's would say to you. That is only the first fiasco.
Second fiasco. After the Cathedral we decided to go to our hostel to change for the opera. After walking for like 30 minutes we find it...or so we thought. It's like some super sketchy apartment complex and no hostel to be found. There was however a hotel on the second floor. When I ask the guy at the front desk where the Fashion Hostel is he replies with a "No". With further investigation we realize that "no" means that the Fashion Hostel that we had reservations with was closed down by the police on the 28th of October. We made our reservation online on the 29th. I love attempting to stay in the cheapest place possible. So at this point I just want my Dad there to take care of things for me. Luckily front desk man jumps on it and calls a hotel around the corner...a HOTEL!! They have plenty of room for us and they only charge us what we were going to pay at the sketch hostel. Then this guys boss comes in and calls the hotel again just to double check, they give us directions, and BAM! I have clean sheets, a t.v., a bathroom, and there isn't a bunk bed in site. Shannon and I just collapsed on our beds laughing...what a life. Front desk guy at the Medusa Hotel is number one on my list of people that have saved my life in Italy.
Then we book it to La Scala and without waiting in line got 12 euro tickets for the opera that night! La Scala is the most famous opera house in Italy. It was beautiful and amazing and although I was seated with the birds I could see just fine. Luckily it was in German so I understood the plot perfectly. I think there were two love triangles, or maybe just one pentagon.
The rest of my time in Milan consisted of shopping. Obviously I enjoyed myself. We went to lake Como on Saturday but I'll save that for another post.

I'll end this post with my final fiasco in Milan. Considering that we got off our bus at a random stop, we thought we would go to the main bus station Sunday morning to figure out how to get home. That whole thing is just a blur of confusion, bad maps, construction, and Italian spoken too quickly to understand. So we decided just to go back to the stop we had gotten off on. Here we found the store where we buy our tickets. In an awesome Italian conversation that I fully understood, the guy asks if we can come back later because he doesn't know how to work the computer but his son is coming in at eleven. I tell him our bus is leaving at 2:30 and it seems to be peachy. FALSE. We return at 2 and it is closed as is the other store nearby. It has also been made clear many times that you cannot buy your tickets on the bus. So we talk to a taxi driver about where the last pick up spot is in Milan and we hop in a taxi...going to the last stop buys us 30 minutes and hopefully produces an open place to buy tickets. We get there and it's closed. Horrible visions of attempting the train system, running from train to train, waiting endless hours, getting back at midnight, and waiting for an hour for a bus to take me home start flooding my mind. We decide to wait and see if we can cry or flirt our way onto the bus. As we wait I keep pointing out that I think we are in the wrong place. The bus is late. Finally we decide to call time of death on this thing and get started on the certain fiasco that a train will be. Literally as we stand up we see our bus fly around the corner and we are in fact not in the right spot. Luckily Autumn is not willing to give up and she starts running. Taken by surprise Shannon and I almost cause a few car accidents while crossing the street. As Autumn turns the corner I hear her yell..."It's still there!" We start going off about how the stores are all closed to the bus driver, he doesn't care, but the bus is jam packed, so he goes on the bus to see if there are four seats. At this point I can't breath and I want to throw up. He comes back and delivers the news that in fact we are going to get on this bus. I've never been so happy. He had to tell me to calm down has a dropped all of the changed in may wallet. Then the kid behind me threw up on the bus. Good times.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Last Thursday was what Peter likes to call a "work day", meaning he doesn't take attendance. Clearly we took this opportunity to go out of town. A little background info on this one. Apparently Italy has some sort of new person in charge of the public schools, Alessandro called her the new Minister? Anyways, she is cutting funds and other great stuff that everyone hates so there has been major protesting going on here for the past few weeks. Well, we didn't get the memo about Thursday being the official protest day and Bologna is a college town. So we rolled off the bus and straight into a huge protest, it was amazing. If I could have figured out what they were chanting I would have been right in there with them. It was so insane that we totally lost each other for abouts 30 minutes. My favorite signs were pictures of the new 'Minister' dressed as a witch or with a Pinocchio nose.Bologna was awesome. We kind of bailed on the whole museum thing this time, I was feeling a little museumed out. We did some major window shopping, which brings me to a great tangent. I never understood what window shopping was anyone ever satisfied by just looking at a window display? If you are in Italy, yes. They change their window displays like every week and they are just awesome in general. Oh, and they have the prices listed in the window so you really can shop. Normally this just deters us from going inside, but at least it keeps us from entering stores that are way out of our league.
We went into the original University building. The walls were covered in crests for the professors. For some reason I felt like I should be in Dead Poet's Society. The sweetest room was the anatomy room. There was a huge marble slab in the middle of the room for the body and these statues of men without skin...totally sweet.We also climbed the tallest tower in Bologna. Surprise, surprise. There is something to climb in almost every city here, but it does result in awesome views. This tower was the sketchiest thing I've climbed thus far. The steps were maybe three inches deep, good thing I have small feet.The highlight of Bologna was the food. This is where tortellini was invented, as well as Ragu sauce. Clearly I got tortelloni (big tortellinis) with Ragu sauce...delicious. Our waiter also said that we spoke fantastic Italian!!! but our egos were soon crushed during our fiasco of the day:
After lunch we were walking through town and stumbled upon the wallet of a young Italian named Alessio. We were right in front of a Tabacchi so we decided to turn it in there. Anna gave it a whirl. After getting tangled in some ridiculous grouping of words the old Tabacchi man thought Anna wanted to buy cigarettes for young Alessio. I decided it was time to step in. I decided to incorporate charades, since Italians use their hands a lot they are pretty good at this game. Sure enough after acting out walking down the street and picking the wallet up off the ground Tabacchi man figured it out. The best part of this is that I definitely know how to say things like...I found this on the street, or Someone lost this...but I'm not sure that any of those words came out of my mouth.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Lucky to Have Been Where I Have Been

Things I'll Miss About Italy
1. The Food! Not only is it absolutely delicious but I have my own personal cook here. It's back to college, meaning cereal and frozen vegetables. What will I do without my nightly bowl of pasta?
2. Jet setting on the weekends. Many of you may recall that I went out of town every other weekend last winter semester, I may need that to happen again to avoid withdrawals.
3. Public Transportation. We have calculated that at least 1/4 of our time here has been spent figuring out, waiting for, or taking public transportation. I hated it at first, but it's awesome and it helped me really get to know this place and the people.
4. Fake school. It's back to 8 hour days in the library and projects that take over my life.
5. The Campo/Dante Alighieri common room. What will I do without my hang outs? At any time I could go to either one of these places and find at least one friend to play with.
6. Parco. Paola and Marco just starting being too much to say so we switched to a combined name. As much as they are absolutely crazy 70% of the time(I got in trouble for brushing my teeth after midnight last night) they really are awesome and hilarious.
7. Carpe Diem. I feel like here I am constantly able to feel okay about doing anything because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Buy boots, they're made in Italy-this would actually go under the category of Scarpe Diem, Scarpe means shoe and that is the name of my favorite shoe store here. Eat excessive amounts of gelato, pastries, and pasta. Travel all over the place. Spend my life savings. It was worth it.
8. A small town I actually like. I feel that never again will I live in a small town that I love. For some reason small town Italy is just infinitely better than small town America. I love that I can easily walk the whole city in 30 minutes and I know shop owners cute.
9. Italian pride. These people are completely obsessed with their country, their city, their contrada, and their soccer team. Every time I come back from a trip Marco quizzes me on if I liked said place better than Siena. The correct answer to this is NO! They have so much pride it is ridiculous. See next posts for contrada and soccer team info.
10. The buildings and countryside. I'm sure I'll never live anywhere this beautiful again.

Lucky to be Coming Home Again
In an attempt to make myself feel better about coming home I also compiled this simple list of things I used to take for granted that will be oh so good to come home to.
1. Peanut Butter; the jar that Mom sent with me was gone about 6 weeks ago. Mexican food, Chinese food, In N Out, Seedless grapes
2. Pigeon free public areas.
3. Washer, dryer, and refrigerator-we have a washer and a refrigerator but they are not used the same.
4. English
5. My bed
6. Technology: Internet/T.V./Cell phone
7. Free and plentiful public restrooms complete with toilet paper.
8. Talking during dinner
9. Boys. I can hardly remember how to interact with American males.
10. My family and friends