Friday, July 29, 2011

one whirlwind day in siena, and the epic failure of the italian rail system.

thursday, 30 june 2011

thursday was an easy travel day. we got all packed up and left the flat aroud 9h15. our train to siena was at 10h10, and only an hour and a half long. out host in siena was a super cool, hipstery italian guy named giuseppe. he met us at the station and led us up the EIGHT escalators that brought us from the station at the bottom of the mountain to the city at the top! they had just finished building the escalators a few months before.. until then, you had to wind your way up the streets! no thank you. once we got to the top, he led us around the corner to his beautiful tuscan villa of a building. we dropped our stuff off in the flat and then went out or a walk around ton. talk about winding streets!! yeesh. that place was super confusing.. i never even tried to navigate with a map. there is an awesome tradition in siena called il palio, and rachel and i were lucky enough to be there literally 2 days before the event. for il palio, 10 of the 17 city neighborhoods, called 'constrade', participate in a horse race in the city centre. the race is crazy - a bareback, no holds barred (except eye gougin), frantically fast-paced frenzy.. three laps around the square, as literally thousands of spectators look on. i highly suggest you read the article i linked.. it's so interesting!! we walked through a few constrade on the way to lunch, and i loved seeing all the different flags. giuseppe brought us to his favourite little restaurant for lunch.. the outdoor tables were on a hill that is SO steep.. the front legs of the tables and stools were on stilts! i had a little bit of vertigo while we ate, because i felt like i was going to tumble over the table and down the street. my penne pasta was so good! after lunch, we walked with giuseppe over to his university, taking the scenic route to check out some great views of the city. he brought us all the way to the library, which is housed in an old church and is therefore awesome! we left him to study for a while as we walked around some more. the first thing we did was stop by an internet cafe to look up where to find a tourism office and check our emails, etc. once we had all the information we needed, and a little map, we set out. we ended up walking the entire length of the street which supposedly had the office on it, but we never saw it! instead, we ended up at the university of siena's school of social and political sciences. it was so hot that we decided to go inside, just for kicks. great decision! we got to use the free bathrooms, AND we bought ice cream for student prices! that ice cream cookie sandwich was truly excellent. we eventually tore ourselves away and continued on our wandering. we eventually came across the duomo cathedral, so we took the opportunity to go in and see it. the church is really unique as far as cathedrals go - it's all black and white horizontal stripes inside, plus an absolutey unreal marble floor. we also visited the baptistery, which i recognized from ap art history in high school. i've REALLY enjoyed getting to see all of the art that i've studied.. it makes my schooling seem more worthwhile and applicable. after the duomo and the baptistery, we headed back towards the main plaza, called piazza del campo. we stopped in a book shop, but not too long afterwards, we heard crazy loud singing coming closer and closer to the plaza. we went outside to check it out, and saw one of the constrade leading their horse to the plaza for practice! they were following it, singing the neighborhood fight song, looking like football hooligans. all the followers were separated - men first, then women, then children. i loved it. it was the turtle neighborhood, which i knew because there was a turtle shaved into the hair on the horse's flank! rachel and i followed the parade to the plaza, because we had to meet giuseppe at 18h30. we sat around on the plaza for a while, waiting for the practice runs to start. but then it started to rain.. which washed away the dirt layed down for the track. so the horses couldn't run. :( we left around 19h30 to buy stuff for dinner. giuseppe made an awesome quiche with potatoes, zucchini, and ham. we rested while it cooked and then ate together. around 22h, giuseppe's friend osman came over and we all went out for a bit. we walked back to the main plaza, where we sat and hung out for the night. some other friends of theirs came over for a while, and it was cool to talk to them. i was so tired and spacey at around 1h30 that giuseppe decided it was time for us to go. i skyped my mama for a minute before collapsing into bed, pretty much dead to the world.

friday, 1 july 2011

slept lateish, until maybe 10. i needed it, though! the morning was chill – we had a small breakfast and i took a shower before packing up. we left around 1pm to catch our train to rome.. we got there with no problems, with enough time to buy some snacks for the road at the grocery store. when we got to the platform, however, things started to get crazy. first, the train doors wouldn’t open. giuseppe inquired, and they said they weren’t sure if the train would leave at all, because there was no engine car! how they could lose an engine car, or how the cars even got there in the first place, escapes me. but anway.. next, it started raining. and when i say it started raining, i mean that the floodgates of heaven opened above us and unleashed a torrential downpour the intensity and suddeness of which i hadn’t seen in years. for about 25 minutes, it RAINED. marble-sized hailstones, green skies, booming thunder, rapid-fire lightening, crazy wind.. yeah. here is a short clip of what the cafe where we ate lunch the previous day looked liked during the storm. as the storm calmed a little bit, the train finally acquired an engine car and the doors opened for us to board. we finally made it to chuisi, the town where we were supposed to make our connection to rome. except with the delay, we missed the first connection by about 30 minutes and had to wait an hour and a half for the next one. so we played cards and drank hot chocolate in the station cafe. the train to rome came on time, but changed platforms literally at the last minute (which i brought to the attention of two american travelers who were standing patiently at the opposite platform, looking down the tracks). we were only on that train for about 30 minutes before it came to a complete stop in the middle of nowhere. clearly not good. we ended up sittign there for at least 45 minutes, due to a “railway systems failure”. fail indeed. once we FINALLY got to rome, we hurried to the b&b, which was about 15 minutes away by foot. the owner had been expecting us around 18h, but due to all the delays, we didn’t get there until around 20h30. whoops. he was so sweet to wait for us, and even took the time to quickly go through his list of recommendations, marking them all on our free map. we rested in the room for a few minutes, cranked the little air conditioning unit to blast cold air, and then headed out again. my grandparents were actually on a catholic pilgrimage trip to rome that week, and it was their last night! we went over to their hotel and visited for about an hour. it was so nice to see them and hear about their time in italy! they had a really early flight, though, so we let them go to sleep. we went to dinner at a restaurant just down from our b&b.. i had fettucine with meat sauce and it was delishhhh. after such a long day, we came back and pretty much went right to sleep.. in our lovely cool room! :)

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