Monday, October 10, 2011

Burnt Siena

There’s a difference between dreams and reality; in dreams you’re living a life you one day hope to grasp and in reality, your feet are planted firmly on the ground. I believe it’s human nature to constantly be chasing your dreams, always wanting it to be your reality, and if you’re lucky enough, blessed enough, and if things just happen the way they’re supposed to, dreams and reality merge.

I’ve come to this conclusion this past week as I’ve been thinking about where I am, where I have come from, and what I’ve been blessed with thus far. Don’t think I take one of these things for granted; I know I don’t deserve anything I have, God has just been good.

Things as simple as standing at the bar, Maracuja (bars here serve coffee all day with small sandwiches, sometimes drinks at night but not always), for a quick café before heading off to class or watching Across the Universe with your Italia AHA familigia after a pancake brinner, make my weeks incredible. It’s the little things I’ve learned to notice and appreciate, especially since it’s the little things that make Italia so much different from home. We’ve been getting to know our favorite bartenders, the guy with the fruit and veggie stand outside our apartment, and our favorite gelato guys, trying to establish some sort of familiarity here. Each of these things is going to make it nearly impossible to leave this place I have come to absolutely love more and more each day.

This past Friday for our excursion we went to Ravenna, a city about 3 hours north of here, and then Gradera, a castle on top of a hill. (Cold had finally set into the east coast of Marche and I was very glad for my new sweater and warm blanket I had for the bus ride.) Ravenna is a city known for its mosaics, and after being there, I understand why. The outsides of many churches tend to be a bit plain at times and these are no exception. Standard old brick covered the gorgeous architecture of the cathedral, giving no expectations for anyone visiting. Once inside though, my breath was literally taken away. The only thing I could say was “oh… my… gosh…” Tiny mosaic tiles covered the entire ceiling of this incredible cathedral, leaving a scene that could be mistaken for a painting, considering all the detail that was provided. As Filiberto talked about the church, it was clear, that just like so many other churches, each detail had a very specific meaning. The baptismal and smaller crypt were the exact same, so much detail and so much meaning. Each tile glistened in the small light provided, a view I don’t think I’ll see again.

After Ravenna we got back on the bus and headed towards Gradera to see a medieval castle. I have never seen a real castle before, at least not the kind you read about when you’re a child, filled with knights, princesses, moats, and draw bridges. Lucky for me, this is the exact thing we saw! Gradera is known for a couple of things, one being a scene in Dante’s Inferno taking place there, another for the fact that never has an army been able to take over the castle from outside (the castle became property of the state due to financial reasons, of all things). The castle is surrounded by three sets of walls as well as two moats and two draw bridges, to aid in the protection. The castle was an awesome thing to walk through, although with the guide speaking in all Italian and one of our AHA adults trying to quickly translate, it was hard to gather all of the facts about the place. Still, I tried take in as much as possible; walking through something so old was exciting enough! The bus ride home was relaxing and nice, although my DJ’ing seat partner and I probably got a bit obnoxious with our karaoke skills.

Saturday early morning my flat-mate, Mary, and I left for Siena. The main bus stop is not far from where we live, but we left in plenty of time to make the Grey-hound-like bus to get to our destination. Passing through Perugia (yes, I took a picture of the famed Amanda Knox town), we made our way through beautiful Toscana to Siena. At first sight, Siena seemed to be similar to Macerata: an old walled city with beautiful piazzas and winding roads. It turned out to be very different however, the buildings reaching higher toward the sky, a much larger population, and the most obvious, a large Gothic cathedral located in the center of the city. Mary and I found our way to il Campo, the main piazza, after a delicious dinner of Sienese pasta, risotto, and wine at one of the best restaurants we’ve been to yet, Ristorante San Desiderio. After relaxing on the piazza and watching some kids from one contride (one of 17 neighborhoods) do some entertaining flag throwing. We found a tourist center, who pointed us in the right direction of a hotel. We wanted to stay at a hostel but they were all closed (weird) and there was only one hotel left in the city with rooms open. Needless to say, despite the steep price, we took it. Let me be the first to say though, staying at Hotel San Marco was the best decision we made. Not only was it beautifully clean, safe, not far from the city center, and served breakfast in the morning, but it had the best shower I’ve had since I’ve been in Italy. Well worth it.

Anyways, back to the city! After changing and freshening up after a day of travel, we headed down town. We met a wonderful couple from Oregon (ironic, since so is Mary and over half of the people in our group). We chatted with them as they discussed their travels, we talked about ours, and we bonded over the fact that we had the same Rick Steve’s book. We ran into Bill and Carol a few more times over the course of the weekend, and each time, they were the sweetest people. After getting back downtown, we went straight to the Duomo with our OPA passes (again, thanks to Rick Steve’s for the idea: 10 euro to see the cathedral, baptistery, crypt, and museum). The Duomo was a beautiful creation that was filled with art, both Gothic and Renaissance. Mary and I walked around in complete awe. The size, detail, and sheer magnitude of the history there was overwhelming. We saw a pulpit by Nicola Pisano, a work of art that contains relief panels as well as small sculptures at the base. After exhausting the cathedral from every angle, Mary and I left for some pizza, devouring it with cokes on Il Campo. We explored the city for awhile after that and the chill settled in, not freezing but causing us to hurry for a nice warm bar to settle in. We found one on the piazza, playing European pop music, mixed with some American and we took our seats (the heat lamps were a major plus). Sipping on a couple drinks and free appetizers, we soaked in the scenary, laughing and enjoying where we were. The bar began filling and we realized there was about to be a concert. The music ended but being good- upbeat but not understandable to anyone who didn’t speak Italian. According to our waiter, it wasn’t a cover band, but a rather well known band in the area; this was confirmed by the groups of girls reciting the lyrics in time. We had a wonderful time, returned to the comfort of our hotel, and slept in the cloud of a perfectly needed bed.

Sunday, we awoke to a great Italian breakfast (which, much to my original doubts, I have quickly become accustomed to… I have even started enjoying it!). Down town once again we finished the sites on our OPA passes, the museum being our favorite. The Panoramic view at the top of the museum allowed us to see the whole city, picturesque with the clear white clouds scattering the bluest of skies. The museum held art masterpieces such as Duccio’s Maesta and Donatello’s Madonna and Child. I saw historical manuscripts of ancient music, printed on lambskin as well as copper printing sheets (thank goodness Mary was there to explain everything). Basically, I was surrounded by history. We visited the crypt (still have no idea what it was for) and the baptistery, and then killed the rest of our afternoon looking for a late lunch and enjoying the few shops that were open on a Sunday. I picked up a little Christmas gift for my mom, enjoyed lasagna and wine at a whole in the wall restaurant, and relaxed the rest of the afternoon away on the very populated Il Campo. All in all, Siena was a beautiful city. It was simple despite all that there was to see there. The people were all so friendly and nice, even the pizza guy was more than happy to show us the proper way to eat the large slices. We were sad to leave the city we had mostly left unexplored but we’re so happy we took the weekend trip to see what we could. The bus ride home was uneventful, got some reading in and took a couple naps when I could, but the darkness that surrounded the bus was relaxing and soothing in the shadowed outlines of the mountains around us.

No matter what I plan for, at least I can wake up each morning knowing that no two days here are ever the same; I cannot wait to see what the rest of the semester brings me. I have scheduled my ten day break, an adventure all of its own, I can already tell and I am so excited for everything preceding and following it.

Can’t wait to show more pictures,

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