Sunday, July 18, 2010

Italian Road Trip


Its a quiet Sunday afternoon here in Florence. I am currently the only one awake in our apartment, ha. You'd think it was the middle of the night. For those of you confused by the fact that I'm not asleep, no Italy has not changed me that much. I took a nap from 11:45 to around 4 today.

Wow, yesterday was incredible! The trip was BY FAR worth the 70 euros. We woke up bright and early and walked to the train station where we got on our bus, which was in fact air conditioned, making the trip much more enjoyable. Our first stop was Sienna. I was about to type that it was probably my favorite, but when I think about it, I'd like to say that about all of the stops we made. They were some of the most beautiful places I've seen.

Sienna is a quaint little historic town. I wanna say it was about an hour or hour and a half from Florence? We walked around and hung out there for a while, taking pictures and enjoying Sienna's beauty. Towards the end of our time there we were sitting in the shade in the middle of the open square in Sienna outside of a huge church. We kept hearing clapping from an open window but didnt know what was going on. Turns out there was a wedding because the bride and groom came out right by where we were sitting. It was a gorgeous wedding. Yes, I took pictures.
I've decided Florence is the best place to study, because its beautiful, historical, small and easy to get around yet there is a never ending list of things to do. We have access to anything we may need here such as food, medical attention, lots of English speaking people, places to go out etc, but also because its within traveling distance to so many more surrounding cities. If I spoke Italian and was planning on staying here for longer than a month, I would choose to live in one of the smaller towns like Sienna or San Gimignano. They are quiet and less touristy, which bring much more of the classic Italian character to them, in my opinion. (Disclaimer: Mom and Dad, this is purely hypothetical. I am not already thinking of moving to Italy. Promise. :))

Our second stop was for lunch. I felt like I was in a movie. Lunch was at an organic farm and vineyard in Tuscany. There we had the best meal I've had since we got here. It didn't hurt that we were overlooking an absolutely breathtaking view of the tuscan hills, complete with rows of grapes, sunflower fields, and blue skies. Gorgeous. I believe she said everything we ate was organically grown there with the exception of the cheese. We had garlic bread, then pasta with meat sauce that you could tell was hand made. Thats when I stopped eating ha, I was so full. (We had gotten a slice of pizza in Sienna) But they also brought out bruschetta and cheese and a caesar salad with fresh tomatoes. On the table there was white and red wine for us to sample. Then for dessert they brought us almond biscotti, but it was soft and amazing, not like the hard ones you can buy at starbucks, haha. They brought a dessert wine in a tiny wine glass. It was entirely too sweet and strong to drink alone, but was good when cut in half with soda water..ha.

Our next stop was a city called San Gimignano, which I just had to look up because I couldn't remember the name, and I still do not remember how to say it, but in English it means John the Baptist. This city was absolutely GORGEOUS, just as all of them had been, but of course by this point Id taken so many pictures that my camera died just as I walked through the gates. We all already decided we are going to share pictures, and I took a couple on my iphone. We walked around here for a while. San Gimignano also has the world champion gelateria, so I tried some of the worlds best gelato.

After this, we left on our way to Pisa. (Kristen, this is the city with the leaning tower....)
On the way there they stopped in a sunflower field and let us take pictures for a few minutes. This made my day, because sunflowers are my favorite things in the world. Then we drove about an hour and a half to pisa. On the way there the tour guide gave us some history of the town. She said the guy who built the tower did not mean for it to be leaning and was so incredibly embarrassed about it that he abandoned the project in the middle of construction. New people were hired to finish it, and they tried to straighten it as best they could. She said in reality its more in the shape of a banana than fully leaning. Later technology came along, and a builder came to the town leaders saying, if they wanted, he could straighten it. But by this point the leaning tower had brought so many tourists that they turned the offer down. I'd say this was a good call, because there is absolutely nothing else to see in Pisa other than the leaning tower. We got there, navigated through the hundreds of tacky vendors selling cheap knock offs of designer goods and made it to the tower. Its surrounded by people taking the classic pictures, where if you get at the right angle you can make it look like you're holding the tower up, pushing it over, leaning against it, whatever. That was a lot of fun. But like I said, Pisa is kind of lame. So after that, me and one other guy fell asleep in the grass by the tower while the rest of our group walked around in disappointment.

Pisa was our last stop, so after that we headed back to Florence. Most of us slept the whole way. It was an incredibly fun and exciting, but incredibly long day. We got back to Florence around 8pm, grabbed dinner at a local restaurant then went back to our apartments. We were all exhausted so we went to bed fairly early.

Before I left, I had decided that when I had the chance I would visit some different kinds of churches while I was here. I love to see the diverse ways that different people worship. Well, my roommate Alyssa is mormon. For those of you who don't know, my best friend Shannon is also mormon so I'm familiar with the religion, and I was so excited to go to an Italian mormon church with her. So we woke up this morning and actually five of us ended up going to the mormon church with her. We knew it would be in Italian so we went not really expecting to know much about what was going on. They sang beautiful Italian hymns, then the first speaker went up to speak. Mormon churches do not have pastors, the people in the congregation rotate giving a message. So the first speaker talked, and afterwards the bishop who was on stage noticed us and asked the girl who was a missionary on the row in front of us to translate, so she translated the rest of the service for us. It was so cool. She was on the opposite end of the row from me so I couldnt hear much, but it was cool to have the gist. From what I heard, they talked about the importance of family and about Adam and Eve. It was a really good experience and Im so glad we went.
Tonight we are going to a Catholic mass in the Santa Maria cathedral which is GORGEOUS. We looked up services in English so we will actually be able to understand what is going on tonight. There is also a service on Saturday nights in the Duomo in English that we plan to go to eventually. Tonights service is in about an hour so I need to go get ready so we have time to walk there.

Classes start tomorrow. Im very very excited. We are also planning our next trip. Lots of exciting things going on in wonderful Italia :).

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