Wednesday, January 25, 2012

So this whole blogging thing is trickier than I anticipated . . . how do you take these incredible experiences and translate them into words? Here goes:

Sunday evening marked the official end of our first weekend in Siena. How is that possible? Surely we've been here at least a month already. We finished orientation mid-afternoon on Friday and from there decided to check out the major local grocery store, Conad. There must be some secret to eating around one or two and then not again until eight or so, but if there is, we have yet to discover it. Thus, snacks were necessary. Biscotti and nutella successfully procured, we discovered a small set of stairs leading down into a picturesque neighborhood. From there we simply wandered . . . and wandered . . . and wandered. Three hours later, we thought it safe to say we had a substantially better understanding of the city. It's hard to describe exactly what we saw because mostly it was just a series of beautiful Sienese views and even pictures don't do them justice. We did, however, find out way to both la chiesa San Domenico and the soccer stadium -- two different houses of worship, perhaps? 

Eric and I returned home around six and had just enough time to relax before we sat down to enjoy our second home cooked meal in Siena: pasta con pomodori, followed by lemon chicken and some yet to be determined vegetable. Despite the lack of nomenclature, it, along with the rest of meal, was delicious. (Update: found out what the vegetable is called and why I didn't recognize it: because it doesn't exist in the U.S. Roughly translated, it's called a thistle, but it's more like the stalk thereof. So. Much. Love.) For dessert, Sylvia brought out a bottle of limoncello and insisted that both Eric and I try it. My milliliter sized sip (hah! metric system, I am sooooooo Euro) was enough to convince me that I'm better off sticking with wine.

Speaking of wine, a few hours later found Eric, Rachel, Faith, myself and several of the other CET students sitting in what can best be described at a gelateria that also serves drinks. We probably could have taken a hint when the bartender seemed perplexed by our request for bottles of wine costing under 10 euro, but it wasn't until after we were seated with our 13 euro prize that we realized we had clearly, and typically, chosen the wrong place. Here was the place to enjoy a nice after-dinner drink or gelato before heading home, not share a bottle of wine with friends just beginning a night out. What can I say? The clean white walls, roving colored lights, and the DJ playing American pop music lured us in.

From there, we made our way down one of the main streets, waiting until something more appealing presented itself, which it did in the form of one of the program's Italian roommates standing outside a bar with some friends. For those of you college-aged, American, and familiar with Siena, you'll recognize this bar for its (infamous) 3 shots for 5 euro deal. The place being too crowded to accommodate people not actively waiting for service, the alleyway next to it is filled with with (mostly men) milling around enjoying their drinks. Consequently, both to get to the actual bar and the door itself, one has to walk the gauntlet of Italian college students. Not that I stood even the slightest chance or blending in anyway, but it was slightly unnerving to be approached directly with "You're an American, yes?" Why yes, what gave it away?

Those of you who know me well know how much I hate -- HATE -- waking up late in the morning. Having stayed out till three or so, I was obligated to sleep in until noon the following day or sacrifice precious hours of sleep, lack of which being foremost in the list of things I despise. Considering the Italian practice of not really beginning an evening until 11 or 12, I have the unfortunate impression that this is something I'm going to have to get used to. Despite my late rising, Saturday afternoon turned out to be my favorite day in Siena so far. Rachel and I met a friend studying in Florence for lunch on the piazza, enjoying for the first time since our arrival warm sunshine and crowds sitting in the square. The day just screamed for ice cream gelato. Eric came to join us and we wandered over the our first bar from the previous night, the bartender of which seemed to pleasantly recognize his favorite member of our group. The night before, Eric had been the sole male in a group of at least eight girls; when we ordered our wine, he received a bigger glass than the rest of us. Guys get guys . . . or something.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with more wandering and playing with all of the cool features on my camera (thanks, Gary!) and taking pretentiously artsy pictures. We walked along the road that, literally, leads to Rome. Sylvia told us that taking it for miles in one direction leads you to the Eternal City; in the other, to Florence. From there we found our way over to the Porta Romana (Roman gate) which was definitely cool to see, but I preferred the side trip that introduced us to a very friendly (and jumpy) Sienese dog, with whom we played until the owner came out and we made our awkward retreat.

Sunday was mostly spent lying around the house being lazy and reading. We finally managed to drag ourselves out into what little sunlight remained around five p.m., with the idea of going ice skating. Eric and I met Faith and Rachel at the piazza near the rink and wandered over to the charmingly small, Christmas light-bedecked skating rink . . . where Rachel discovered she hadn't any socks on. That activity now impossible, we fell back on the old stand-by of taking a walk around the city. This time, however, we were brave enough to actually leave the walls of Siena. We enjoyed being outside for all of about ten minutes (look! real stoplights!) before deciding to turn around. A quick stop at Nannini's, the name of one of the largest cafes here, held us over until dinner, which began with one of my favorite dishes so far: polenta with certainly the best bolognese sauce I've ever had. That one's definitely going on the list of "learn-how-to-make"s.

On Monday we finally began our lessons. Good, because I desperately need a schedule in my life. Bad, because, duh, homework. I only have two classes every day, Monday through Thursday. Each morning begins with Italian language which has so far proven to be awesome, and great for asking all of those questions that I would feel bad posing in a larger class (sorry, Rach). After a cappuccino break comes either Italian cultural history, painting methods, or Italian love poetry, the latter of which I have yet to experience. Painting methods seems incredible aside from the fact that I am EASILY the worst in my class. Today, we drew cubes and rectangles. Well, everyone else drew cubes and rectangles, I drew . .  . geometric shapes that resembled toy blocks. It's .  .  . good. It's going to be good. Bonus points if you get the Arrested reference. 

On Tuesday evening, Eric, Gianni (Sylvia's compagno), and I went out to dinner with several of Sylvia's friends, with whom she had taken a trip to China several years ago. The restaurant could not have been more picturesque, located about a ten minute walk outside of the city down what was either an incredibly romantic or utterly terrifying tree-lined lane. Inside, the walls were covered in brightly-colored murals depicting the Italian countryside, but the real beauty came when Sylvia uncovered a window from which you could see back up into the city, with the entire Siena skyline illuminated against the sky. And the food . . . delicious, but still authentic tasting in its simplicity, if that makes sense. We started with hands-down the best pecorino I've ever tasted, with prosciutto and drizzled honey; some sort of sausage and chickpea salad in a kind of lemon dressing; and bruschetta . . . with pork fat. I know that I'm supposed to try new things here -- and I have, and loved them -- but I just could not bring myself to taste it. 

That finally -- FINALLY -- brings us to today. We've officially been here a week! After our morning lesson, Rachel, Faith, Kyle, Hannah, Ari (look, Margaret! friends on friends on friends), wandered over to the market that takes over the park outside the fortress every Wednesday. Overwhelming doesn't even begin to cover it. Sweaters, jackets, scarves, shoes, even underwear are for sale each week for typically under 10 euro -- happy birthday to all of you. After finding out that my afternoon class was cancelled, I headed over the piazza to meet up with Hannah, Ari, and Faith to "work on some reading for school." While they did that, I napped in the sunshine . . . this feels like a dangerous habit to initiate. For dinner, I tried veal for the first time (uh, YUM) and afterwards headed over to meet everyone for dessert at The Tea Room, a small, eclectic place behind the piazza that inexplicably played "Jingle Bell Rock" during the course of the evening. Tomorrow we have our last day of school for the week, which is great because I'm already behind in work -- who's surprised? There are strikes of all the public modes of transportation on Friday, but I think we're going to try to do a day trip somewhere on Saturday. Arezzo, perhaps, or maybe Lucca? 

If you've actually made it this far (hi, Mom and Dad), many apologies for the length of this post. I really did intend to submit on Sunday, but one thing came after another and here it is early Thursday morning. In the future, I'll have more regular and (hopefully) shorter posts. Buona notte! 


  1. Reading this makes me feel sad about my dinner.
    Eat pork fat! I hate it when you guys say, "legitimately." Ken says something grumpy along the lines of hi Evan hope you're enjoying your super awesome time in Italy-I'm stuck at work all the time.

  2. awwwww. I am just reminiscing about being 20 and in Italy. I think you all don't drink as much as we did. (that's not a bad thing...) Also, you have much cooler cameras to play with.

    Your grandmother is beside herself with longing for Italy. That's a direct quote. It's a weird image though, so don't dwell on it too much.

    Grandaddy wasn't out here to listen, so I'll print this off for him to read. He'll protest that you are surely NOT the worst in your art class, you are merely the least experienced. There is a difference. Harummmmpphhh.

    And UD and I had that porkfat stuff "cooked" for us on our 25th anniversary in Rome. We ate it. Weren't so wild about it. It IS supposed to be a delicacy. Go figure.

    But pecorino....ummmmm, yummy.

    So, keep living and keep posting. You're doing jes' fine.

    We love you and look forward to every tidbit.

    Your photos are awesome too! (Thanks Gary from us!!)

    love, c