Monday, June 13, 2011

Siena, Florence, San Gimignano...

Sorry to all of you avid followers. It was a busy weekend, so I did not have time to blog much.

Friday, June 10, we left for Siena around 2pm (after class ran late and rushing to Termini. No one wants to participate in class until everyone needs to catch a train!) and our friend Kalpana joined us. The train ride was about 3 hours long with a transfer in Grosset. We got to the Siena train station and walked uphill to the center of town. We arrived to our hotel (Albergo La Perla) around 6pm. Our hotel looked sketch from the outside, but it was actually cute on the inside. It was a renovated medieval building with a great view. We informed the hotel staff that our friend decided to stay with us at the last minute. After putting our stuff down we tried to make it to see the Duomo, but we were too late and it had already closed. We did get some pictures of the outside, which you see here. We also walked around for a bit and visited Il Campo, which is Siena's main square. The square is shaped like a fan, almost like an amphitheater. This is also where Siena's city hall resides (we saw 3-4 couples getting married here). After we walked around we decided to do dinner at Ristorante Guidoriccio. I ate zucchini bruschetta, gnocchi with ragu biano e pecorino, white wine and pannacotta. The owner was super nice and I spent alot of time talking to him because his English was very good. He was from a town called Udine, which is a village outside of Venice to the North. He and his wife (I assume) were very hospitable. His wife took the time to explain the Sienese cookies to us. Since I had the pannacotta, I did not order them but I tried Kalpana's. There is one that is very similar to biscotti, which is cantucci. Another, powdered sugary one called ricciarelli that my family would probably recognize as a "snowball" without the nuts and also a type one called panpepato with a spicy, peppery crust.

After we were done eating we went back to the hotel for a sweater because it was a bit chilly. When we came back the front desk freaked out and basically accused us of trying to scam her. She misunderstood what we said about Kalpana being a last minute guest and started yelling "impossible, impossible, impossible!" Finally, we figured out that she would not allow 3 people to stay in our room and she insisted that we pay for the first night ahead of time (she also smelt like smelly dog farts--Claire and Robert, that one is for you). Kalpana ended up getting her own room. It all worked out in the end, but the lady was a little nuts.

We walked around a little more after that and also visited Enoteca Italiana, a recommendation from Bryan and Tara. It was a wine bar located in the cellar of the Fortezza (fortress) with a variety of wines and very cool atmosphere. I had a nice white there. It was kinda weird though, because there were 2o Italian teenagers there blasting Incubus' "Wish You Were Here."

We made it back to our hotel and woke up the next morning at 5:45 to catch a bus into Florence. The bus ride was only about 50 min, as opposed to the 2 hour train ride. First on our list was the Bargello, a sculpture museum that once was a police station and used to be a prison. There was a Bartolomeo Ammannati Sculpture exhibit there and we saw alot of Donatello and Michelangelo works. There were also lots of small artifacts of the Medici. My favorite Bartolomeo Ammannati statue was Fontana di Sala Grande. After finishing up at the Bargello, we grabbed lunch and headed over the the Duomo. It was absolutely gorgeous. I can't understand why the U.S. doesn't have churches/cathedrals like this. We had tickets to see the Uffizi and there were many paintings there, my favorites being the Boticelli's. After that we climbed Giotto's Tower, which is a 270 feet bell tower, made up of 414 steps, taken all the way up, then back down. The view was amazing, other than the metal bars at the top. It was pretty intense getting up and down these stairs, but it was worth it! After the tower, Kalpana and I took a trip to the Accademia to see Michelangelo's David. Very cool. It's so weird to think I am actually seeing these infamous pieces of art and these ancient buildings...unreal. We then had dinner in Piazza Repubblica and visited Ponte Vecchio (a famous bridge that use to be a district for meat butchers and then the Medici decided it was better suited for gold trading). The view was amazing and there was a man playing live music. Right before we left we made a stop at Festival del Gelato. This place had like 100 flavors! I had raspberry and mint. Pretty good. We caught the train back to Siena and it took about 2 hours to get back.

Sunday, we woke up to a marching band parade. Siena is know for what is called the Palio (a horse race more or less, but I hear it is really fun.) It starts at the beginning of next month. In the weeks leading up to it I guess each neighborhood in Siena (there are 17) begins to celebrate. We did not get to see the parade, but I later asked the front desk (not the crazy lady) about it. We walked around for a few hours after checking out and sat in Il Campo to do some people watching. We also took a walk down a residential street and saw some awesome views.

We met our tour guide for our Chianti wine tour at 2pm. We got on the bus and headed to a small town called Castellina in Chianti. It was only about 500 meters. On the tour we met a girl who is from LA and currently living in Scotland. The tour guide only gave us about 30 minutes because the town is that small. It was beautiful countryside view though.

After that, we visited San Gimignano, a town which is known for its towers. At one point, there were 60-70 towers here. Now, there are 14. Towers were a sign of power and money and each family tried to out build each other. Eventually, there was a code passed that would not allow private tours to exceed the height of the city government towers. We had a private tour guide for this town. Very cool. We were only here for about an hour. The next stop on the tour was Tenuta Torciano, a winery. The owner's family has owned the land since the 1700's and he was a cute, funny old man. The wine was to die for and we also had different oils and balsamic vinegar. The truffle oil was like the best thing I have ever eaten in my life! We finally made it back to Siena around 7:40. We were 2 seconds from missing the last train to Rome, but we did make it. We had a transfer in Chuisi and had to wait there for an hour and a half. We met a girl who was couch surfing from Taiwan. We didn't get home til 1:30, but it was well worth it.

Today, we visited the constitutional court and got to meet one of the judges. The court was beautiful. We also got to see the room which they decide the decisions and their private library, which is closed to the public. For all of you law nerds out there, this was also very cool.

Well, that is all for now! I am posting lots of pics today. I hope you enjoyed! Miss y'all! Ciao!

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