Monday, January 30, 2012

Siena - Chiusi - Terentola - Perugia - Assisi - Terentola - Chiusi - Siena, and all in just about 36 hours. Phew. We actually only visited Perugia and Assisi (unless you count the three hours spent in a cafe in Chiusi) but such is the size and situation of Siena that we forced to take a rather circuitous route to our not-so-distant location. But let's back up a little bit. 

Friday morning we all met at school -- on our OFF day! -- to go over schedules and planning with the guy who's organizing our volunteer teaching. Did I forget to mention that? Why yes, I do get to teach adorable little Italian bambini how to speak, read, and write English one day a week. And they're third graders, which means I get to throw all of my best summer camp songs and games at them. Too young for cows and the chickens? I think not. 

Later that afternoon we all met up again to finally wander into the duomo. We only had about an hour and half before it closed, so we decided to only visit the cathedral portion, and save the rest for when we had more time to appreciate it. It really is a gorgeous building, but I wish I had known more about it before we went in. Ah, there's always next time. After a little art appreciate, the choices of time-killing options before dinner were down to two: homework or boot shopping. Obviously the latter won out. There are these amazing sales going on all over Siena right now, in which one can buy a gorgeous pair of Italian leather boots for around half their usual price. Brooke and Mallie started the trend as soon we got here, and once they had some, everybody wanted a pair. Ari and I actually found the most beautiful shoes at a shop in Chiusi, but forgot to go back before we got on the train home. Consolation: more money for gelato! 

Sylvia and Gianni had a party of some sort to attend on Friday night, leaving Eric and me to fend for ourselves, and by that, I mean that she set the table and laid out all of the food before she left. All that she left for me to do was boil the water for the ravioli, about which she seemed very concerned. I brushed her off because, seriously, it's boiling water, but I regretted it a half-hour later when I couldn't figure out how to light the stove. I may have done irreparable damage to by body from the amount of gas I inhaled in the process, but in the end, the ravioli got cooked. Best discovery of that night: wine is cheaper than soft drinks and much, much more delicious. 

Saturday came too early and after a grueling five hour journey -- only made so because of our frequent stops and transfers -- we finally arrived in Perugia, with plenty of daylight with which to see the city. Traveling for Dummies Rule #1: when arriving in a foreign city, it is best to come prepared with at least minimal knowledge of the public transportation system. Lacking that, and with no blatant signs to guide us, we chose (sprightly, clever, young 20 year olds that we are) to walk to our hostel. Here's a fun fact about Perugia: the city center is at the top of a mountain. Okay, maybe just an enormous hill, but still. About halfway through the 45-minute (steep) climb, I really regretted not having my inhaler, having foolishly assumed that it wasn't possible for a city to be hillier than Siena. It all worked out quite well, as we were repaid at the top with a view that we surely would have missed had we found our way to the bus. Even more fortuitous was the American tour guide leading a group similar to ours around the historic district who spotted us wandering and INSISTED that we join them on his "no-facts tour." It was a great way to learn about the city in a fun way: from the old orphanage with the lazy-susan in which parents could deposit their children, to the reason why Perugian bread doesn't use salt, to the society formed to help families pay for burials on holy ground (and which subsequently filled one of the   vaults under the church with bones after bodily decomposition to maintain the availability of space). 

The tour guide also gave us a great recommendation for dinner, a restaurant off the main street called "Al Mangiar Bene," at which we expectantly showed up around 8 p.m. A reservation? No, Zack had said we wouldn't need one. Size of our party? Thirteen . . . Come back in an hour? Okay, worth it to eat good, local food. We split a bottle of wine and aperitivi to tide ourselves over and headed back to the restaurant, a little late to appease Italian standards of time. We then discovered that the word "reservation" has a much more fluid concept in Italian than it does in English, but when we were finally seated 45 minutes later, nobody was sorry that we waited. Rachel and Hannah laughed at me for scarfing all but a few pieces of crust of my first REAL pizza margherita, but the joke was on them when they each cleared their plates too. 

A quick stop at the National Gallery of Umbria to see some Perugino and we were on our way to Assisi. We really only had time to see the double basilica of San Francesco, but even just wandering the quaint little town was a pleasure. We found ourselves the sole occupants of a small restaurant for lunch (noon being far too early for an Italian "pranza") at which we each enjoyed "the best pasta ever." I chose ravioli stuffed with cheese and tomatoes but others had far more interesting dishes, all comprising homemade pasta. Quick gelato (even though it was frigid), back to the train station, and homeward bound. We made quite the sight on the train, thirteen American students all furiously reading the same book which was assigned to be finished the following day. 

Finally arriving in Siena was perhaps one of my favorite parts of the weekend, being greeted with that satisfaction of feeling that indicates enough familiarity with a place to consider it home, however temporary. It also helped that Sylvia and Gianni had waited for our return to eat and then shooed us off to bed as soon as dinner was over. Today has been more about relaxing and re-settling in (and okay, appreciating a return to internet) but tomorrow my painting class is taking its first visit to the pinoteca, which I'm really looking forward to, despite the inevitability of my (this time public) embarrassment. 

On a final note, I'll say that all my gloating about the fabulous temperatures in Siena has come back to bite me, as the next ten days isn't going to be above 43 and snow is in the forecast. Huzzah! 

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