A Medieval Hill Town – Siena. September 23, 2011
A last minute decision and opportunity to participate in the school’s field trip to Siena provided me with one of the best days abroad so far. We met Marta in front of the school at 8:30 am, all happily welcoming the first hint at a fall breeze since we had arrived in Italy. The rather small group of us walked to the bus station and piled on the bus with many other people all awaiting Siena’s medieval sights.
Siena is one of the many Tuscan hill towns so the ride only took about an hour and a half. The trip there was beautiful, as the day and the scenery outside began waking up as we trekked further south. The differences between Siena and Florence were apparent as soon as we pulled up to the stop. As I looked around, I noticed that the center of town was built on a hill, with narrow, tucked away streets, everything very compact. The area around the center though was lush with trees and blue skies, giving the condensed town a sense of openness.
We met our tour guide, a very nice petite Italian woman, who led us to many of the main sights of Siena. We stopped first at the Basilica of San Domenico. The church was gothic in appearance, made entirely of brick. As we all lowered our voices to a minimum and cautiously stepped inside, we could see a large open area. The inside was adorned with frescos, flags and most importantly, St. Catherine’s preserved head. We learned that St. Catherine devoted the better part of her life to bringing about peace between the Italian city-states. There didn’t seem to be anything that could prevent her from doing what she believed was right and therefore had significant influence on the town and Italian culture overall. We noticed many people gathering around to see her nearly 700-year-old head in the glass case, set back in a shrine like alter.
Another important stop was the Duomo. It was overwhelmingly large and looked very much like the one in Florence. When we walked in, the most challenging factor was deciding where to look. Every inch of the Duomo’s interior was covered in decorative art and sculptures. While weaving in and around people and roped off areas of the ornately decorated floor, all of our mouths hung agape in the sheer magnitude of historic art that surrounded us. The black and white striped columns that stood like red wood trees even had the ability to amaze us.
We also stopped to see one of the oldest banks in Italy that is in fact still active today, and some other points of interest along the way. We ended the tour in Piazza del Campo, and all headed for some much-needed Italian nutrients. After a lunch filled with pasta and laughter, all of the students on the trip with us decided to head home on an early bus. Marta, Hannah, Kathy and myself stayed and enjoyed the day in Siena.
Marta, who has been to Siena 42 times? (even though I think that is a lower figure than she told us), had never been to the Museo Civico, a large and prominent museum right in the heart of the Piazza del Campo. First of all, it is important to know that this piazza was established before the 13th century and has been the site for many of history’s most engaging and attended horse races (Palio di Siena) as well as being the remaining focal point of public life within the city. It is from this piazza that eleven narrow streets diffuse out into the city of Siena. Standing in the middle of the slope of bricks that is the center, you can turn 360 degrees and imagine the horses racing at full speed around the track-like diameter. Excited fans and citizens would stand where I was, or the fortunate ones from their windows or terraces, while the horses whizzed by. Now, all of these years later, people gather and fill the area where the horses once raced for outside dining, shopping, or just to enjoy a walk with friends. The area where the people used to gather seemed empty, with only a few walking through to get to the other side or resting before venturing on to another part of the city.
The Museo Civico was like a maze of rooms in which very old frescos and statues were in abundance. Marta acted as the most enthusiastic tour guide I’ve ever had, as she knew the history and story behind each of the paintings she would run up to with excitement. The three of us followed her with smiles and nods, as we eagerly listened to her passionate explanations of the Middle Ages artwork . One thing that she kept shedding light upon really hit me and made Siena that much more special. “No technology, all technique,” she kept saying in reference to the art that filled the walls and halls of this very important public building. All of the intricate and laborious art was done in a time where the artist would have only his hands and tools, which were very limited in comparison to all that we have available today. It was an interesting realization and made me think about the tremendous differences in the work that was created during that time as opposed to the art that is manifested now. The three of us felt very lucky to have stayed in Siena, gaining a lot of interesting knowledge, and of course we ended the day with gelato and a stop at a local sweet shop!
Ashley heads to Pisa and Viareggio. I had my back pack, my camera and my money. I was ready to go on that beautiful Friday morning to Pisa and Viareggio. We went down to the train station and purchased our tickets, only to find out that there was a strike and no trains were going to Pisa…
It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and even though we were down one person my friend and I were determined to make it to Pisa and learn to navigate the trains.
After much confusion surrounding what train we had to be on (and meeting a nice woman and her son who were equally confused) we finally made it on the correct train to Pisa.Since this was my first time on a train I took snapshots of everything (before the train got crowded with more people than I thought possible).
It took about an hour to reach our destination but we finally arrived in Pisa. We left the train station, acquired a map and set off in search of the famed tower. It was a little bit of a walk but we made it. After seeing the picture my friend had I didn’t think there was going to be as many people as there were. I was wrong. However we did manage to find a spot to take some goofy pictures with the tower.
We didn’t have much time in Pisa so we shopped for a little bit at the vendors and made our way back to the train station. The second train we went on took us to Viareggio. We stopped by a market to get some picnic fixings and found an area where for only 25 euros we rented a cabin, an umbrella and two lounge chairs.
After our picnic we went for a swim. But the more correct way of describing it might be “we went to wrestle with the waves”. The huge salty waves pounded the beach and pushed us around like we were ragdolls. Despite this we had a blast! Even though our trip was initially delayed it turned out to be a great adventure.
Off to Venice we go. Venice was almost like a dream. The breeze from atop the private boat taking us to our hotel on Lido Island was reminiscent of the air conditioning I left behind 2 weeks ago (which I am missing less and less). On the first day of the two day trip offered by SRISA we got to go to the Giardini (garden) portion of the Biennale. It was fun and interesting to see exhibits from so many different countries. On a side note though, if you visit the Giardini make sure to bring bug spray. My friend and I accidentally stumbled into what felt like the birth place of all the mosquitoes in the world! Needless to say, five days later I’m still itchy.
We were left to wander the Biennale at our own pace until it closed, at which time we were free to do as our hearts pleased. A group of us decided it was beach time and took the first boat back to Lido Island. After a quick change and a short walk from our hotel we were soon frolicking in the foreign ocean. Aside from (what we assume were) a few minor jellyfish stings, the beach was an amazing treat. We even had a visit from a mermaid.
On our second day we went on a tour of the Doge’s Palace. It was so beautiful and elaborate that it was almost hard to believe that a person (or in most cases people) was able to create the massive works of art displayed on the ceilings and walls.
After our tour we were free to explore. My friend and I decided to check out the shops located around the Piazza San Marco. We didn’t’ get very far though because it seemed that every shop was worth stopping at…so we did. The masks, oh the masks! All of them were unique and beautiful, all most likely were handmade. They’re a sight worth seeing in themselves.
We met up with our group loaded down with Venetian goodies for our friends and family. Sad we were leaving but tired from walking, we boarded the boat to take us back to our bus and so ended my trip to Venice. Given the opportunity you should definitely go.
REYNA and the TOWER. I woke up on a Thursday morning to an empty apartment. I was kind of sad because my roommates, friends, and professors went to Venice and would be staying for a couple days. My only bright spot was the trip I’d planned to see the Tower of Pisa the next day. I was excited because my dream of going there would finally come true.
On Friday morning my friend Alma and I took the train to the Stazione Pisa Centrale. It was my first time on a train and I liked it because it surprisingly didn’t take long to get to our destination. My first impression of the town was that it wouldn’t interest me much. The streets were busier and we found an old museum that was turned into an apartment complex, but the further we walked I could see the Tower of Pisa sticking out from behind some buildings. It was beautiful and I couldn’t believe that it was real.
We were finally close to the Tower and my jaw almost dropped to the floor seeing the unique architecture. I was fascinated and wanted to climb up the Tower but it was 15 euros to do it. Alma and I had the money but we decided to spend it on food!! We stood there looking at the view for a couple hours taking pictures and laughing at people who were pretending to hold up the Tower of Pisa. After that we left to go have some pizza, which was delicious. We enjoyed it and of course had to get some gelato to top it off. The whole day was fantastic and it was so much fun to spend a day in Pisa with my friend Alma.
Throughout the year the SRISA staff organizes trips to Rome, Venice, Naples, Pompeii, Cinque Terre, Pisa, and many other surrounding Tuscany towns including Chianti, Siena and San Gimignano.
This year students on our Venice field trip will have an opportunity to explore the Biennale of Contemporary Art. Venice (Venezia) is located in northern Italy and is often called the “Queen of the Adriatic”. The city sits on 118 islets within a lagoon in the Gulf of Venice, an arm of the Adriatic Sea. Being surrounded by water, Venice offers an unforgettable experience with picturesque houses, delicious seafood, and the only form of transportation being by boat.