Saturday, January 23, 2010
Exploring the Tuscan countryside
My alarm went off at 6:30 this morning. Why so early on a Saturday you ask? Well, the 7 other interns and I had to catch a bus to Siena where the other 150 students on our trip have been staying this past week. We were excited to see the rest of the group since they had been together bonding all week while we hadn’t seen any of them since London. However, apparently a little too much bonding was going on last night since all 150 of them went to the only club in Siena the night before and leaving us with the accompaniment of only 15 party goers brave enough to endure the early morning natural sunlight.
Siena is a city about 45 minutes south of Florence. It is bordered in by four square miles of brick walls and within these four miles the city is divided into 17 districts. Why you need 17 districts in the amount of space you could fit my tiny neighbourhood is beyond me, but apparently these districts were drawn up centuries ago and the locals still take the borders very seriously. Each district is represented by its own animal. They had panthers, rhinoceroses, eagles, dragons and even small, rather unintimidating animals as well. The hotel the students were staying at was housed in the snail district which is highly competitive with its neighbouring caterpillars. Siena is most famous for its Pallio di Siena which is the famous horse race that occurs in the town square twice each year. Each district brings in a jockey and a horse to compete for the much sought after pride winning silk scarf. This race can get pretty brutal, especially since it is not required for the horse that wins to still have a jockey on its back so you can only imagine the pushing and shoving that is involved. We also got a tour of Siena’s local church where we were lucky enough to view the actual head and finger of St. Catherine of Siena since those were the only body parts they managed to salvage of hers when she died 600 years prior. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one weirded out by this especially because her head was about the size of a grapefruit.
After a light lunch on the town square where we proceeded to give ourselves away as Americans to the rather irritated waiter, we hopped on another bus to tour San Gimignano. San Gimignano is known for its towers that are built around its square, which are striking in contrast to the vineyard countryside surrounding it. I wouldn’t describe it as a town so much as a big cobblestone maze where every five minutes we would stop to “ooh” and “ahh” at the pretty scenery and take group photos. We all got free gelato at the end of the tour which made the last 5 hours of walking around Tuscan villages seem all the more worthwhile. By the way, I think I may have figured out the Italian secret to staying slim while packing in the carbs during their three hour dinners every night. Trotting around both cities was like walking on a stairmaster the entire time. Any by stairmaster, I mean slabs of rock that were thrown together almost a thousand years ago at treacherous heights. Now I’m off to the discotequa where my friend, Alissa, has told me I need to go to breath in the “fresh sweaty club dancing air” to get over my on coming cold. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I have gotten sick since the Fall of ’08 when about 80% of my sorority house was wiped out by the Norovirus, and I don’t think psyching myself out about Noro until I vomited once really counts as getting sick. You’d think my health streak would have at least lasted until I had time to get settled in Florence but no such luck. I’ll keep you posted on how Alissa’s remedy works. Ciao!