Thursday, May 29, 2008
So this concludes the final entry of my Italian adventures, and I will be sad to leave when I do, but I am so fortunate for this opportunity. The last two weeks have really opened my eyes to the beauty of European culture and identity. Initially, I thought that traveling by myself would be difficult, and there were definitely some challenges along the way, but it taught me a lot and I loved every minute of it. I have traveled with family and friends before, so this adventure helped me learn and appreciate things that I could only get from independent travel. I hope that someday I will be able to return to these cities and explore all the places that I didn’t get to visit!
Right when I arrived, I walked to the center of the city where the Palazzo Pubblico is located – probably one of the most amazing views I have seen in
Later, I wandered through the winding streets and found my way to the Duomo, which was absolutely breathtaking – it was monumental, and I later learned that it was never completed because the plague hit
I was woken up on Saturday morning completely terrified to a very loud noise out my window – apparently, the people of Siena were celebrating a major festival, which started at 9am with trumpets and drummers following a parade of flag-tossers dressed up in medieval attire. I walked around the city for the rest of the day, and I visited the church where Saint Catherine of
The hotel manager advised me to go to Piazza del Campo around 7pm to watch the announcing of the Palio runners racers. I had no idea what this was, but I gave it a shot. Later I did some research about the Palio, which is a horse race held twice a year since the medieval times. In
Before I even got to Piazza del Campo, I could here thousands of people in the main circle – I feel like everyone who lived in
After the flag-throwing, it was time to announce the runners. Suddenly, the windows of the palace opened and the trumpets sounded, and after a long wait of anticipation, the first flag was hung outside the window. Behind me to the left, the crowd let out an uproar of cheers and victory chants. The same process was repeated nine more times. At the end, groups from the winning Contrades were throwing their fists in the air and proudly singing victory songs. The process took all of fifteen minutes, but it was pretty exciting to be in the center of it. I love the fact that the city is so involved with its past and continues to celebrate its traditions.
Another reason why I liked
So this concludes the final entry of my Italian adventures, and I will be SO sad to leave when I do. But I am so fortunate for this opportunity, which really opened my eyes to the beauty of European culture and identity. At first, I thought that traveling by myself would be difficult and scary, and there were definitely some challenges along the way, but it taught me a lot and I loved every minute of it. I have traveled with family and friends before, so this adventure helped me learn and appreciate things that I could only get from independent travel. I hope that someday I will be able to return to these cities and explore all the places that I didn’t get to visit!
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I think that the bus driver didn’t know where we were going – at one stop, I’m petty sure he shouted over to another bus driver “How do we get to Chiusi?” in Italian. So far I have been lucky with transportation this trip, but I'm still keeping my fingers crossed. I got to the train station a bit early and waited outside rather than on the train to early to avoid accidentally getting on the wrong one and having it take off to a different city. Last semester, Katie and Caitlin and I had a 1am to 5am layover in Bologna. At about 4:30, we decided to get on our train to Florence a few minutes early rather than camping out in the station’s underground, dungeon-like passageways with homeless people. The train suddenly took off, and when we asked if we were on our way to Florence, the conductor replied “No, partiamo per Milano." We were seconds away from literally jumping off the train – Milan was the complete opposite direction and the whole reason why our plans got messed up in the first place!
My hotel was on the upper part of the hill right around the corner from Piazza Novembre IV, where Fountain Maggiore and the Colleigo di Cambio are located. Yesterday, I decided to adventure over to the lower part of Perugia towards the outskirts of the town, where the University of Perugia and San Pietro are located. I am amazed at how everything shuts down between 1pm and 4pm – I wish I had known that before I walked all the way to that part of town! I was entertained though by a young Italian guy who tried to convince me that the only way I would learn and appreciate the language more would be if I “spent the night exploring Perugia with a guy who knows the city” – yeh right, I’ll pass. I walked around the gardens outside the university, which have a spectacular view of Umbria – sorry Reynolda Gardens, I think Perugia beats you!
Thursday, May 22, 2008
The main reason I came to Montepulciano was to see San Biagio. The church is located on the outskirts of the town at the bottom the hill, and was an enjoyable walk now that the rain had stopped. I learned a little about its history before going there – it was originally a small, ancient chapel that contained a Madonna who performed miracles. Pilgrims from all over travelled to this destination. Then in the early 16th century, Antonio da Sangallo (the Elder) was commissioned to transform it into a Renaissance church with the traditional greek-cross layout. The church still contains a painting from the 14th century of the Madonna and Child with Saint Francis. The outside has an amazing view of Tuscany and other hilltop towns.
I had a delightful cappuccino at Caffe Poliziano and spent the rest of the day walking around/getting extremely lost in the narrow streets. I’m sad to leave Tuscany so soon. I found a really good quote about Tuscany by Irving Stone:
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I stayed in a little B&B called Il Giardino Segreto (“The Secret Garden”), and my room looked out onto a beautiful little garden. It was right off the main street, which had about everything worth seeing in the town – the Duomo, Palazzo Piccolomini, Palazzo Comunale, and the small church of San Francesco.
I took a tour of the Palazzo Piccolomini, which was built for the descendents of Pope Pius the II until the late 1900s. The guided tour of the palace taught me a lot about the town and the time period during which it was built. During his Papacy, Pius II had transformed this ancient city into his personal residence as an ideal Renaissance town, or a “utopian city.” The planning and construction was done primarily by the man after whom the main street is named. The palace itself is very well preserved and contains furnishings and decorations from the fifteenth century. It’s incredible to be able to walk through and see the home of such an important, influential family. Financially speaking, they must have been extremely well off – it was very richly decorated, with many expensive imports from countries like France and Morocco. The hallway that overlooked the Pope’s personal gardens and the Tuscan landscape had all sorts of weapons and family crests – it had been utilized for the practice of fencing! I felt kind of bad for the servants back then – the doors that led to the secret passages that they walked through were significantly smaller than the doors that the family members used. Also, they were required to taste any food/drink before it was served, for fear that it could be poisoned. I wonder how many fatalities there were.
Apparently Palazzo Piccolomini was the palace of the Capulets in Romeo and Juliet - I have to watch that movie again! I also took a lot of pictures of the tiny alleyways – hardly two people can fit, let alone a car! The way of life is much simpler there, aka absolutely NO internet – I’m in Montepulciano right now. I’ll update you on my visit to this town soon! Arrivederci!
Monday, May 19, 2008
Later, I stumbled upon a church in the southern part of the city, Santa Maria in Vado. It was a smaller but very tall church with beautiful frescoes on the ceilings. To the right of the church was a shrine, with an upper level that had a glass window in front of an ancient vault, and was surrounded by lit candles. I had no idea at the time, but this church was famous for a miracle that occurred in 1171 at the celebration of Easter Mass – when the priest broke the bread, blood spurted out from it onto the vault ceiling. I went back yesterday, and sure enough, I could point out small red dots covering the vault.
Afterwards, on my way back to the center of town, I ducked into a tiny restaurant and had the most delicious spinach tortellini I have ever tasted. I think my diet of gelato and pasta has to change soon.
Ferrara is pretty small – it takes literally ten minutes to walk across half of town. I went to mass at the Duomo, which was pretty amazing – every square inch of the cathedral has some ornate decoration in gold or marble, and it is entirely lit by candles.
I’m still jet-lagged and didn’t get up till like noon yesterday – the reception guy at the hostel laughed at me when I left for the day. I went to Chiesa di S. Cristoforo alla Certosa, which is a giant church surrounded by cemeteries and giant tombs. It sounds scary, but it was actually kind of beautiful and very peaceful.
After stopping for a cappuccino, I headed back to the southern part of the city to visit Palazzina Marfisa d’Este, another Este family palace which was built for one of the daughters. This one was smaller but still richly furnished with oak tables and chairs and painted ceilings, and a beautiful garden outside.
The thing I like most about Ferrara is its strong tie to its past. This weekend, the city was celebrating Il Palio di Ferrara – I’m not exactly sure what that was, but there were parades each night from the street by my hostel to the palace, full of children and adults all dressed in medieval clothing, marching and dancing to trumpets. I have a little guide book that explains what the festival is, but its all in Italian – I’ll try to figure it out soon. But anyways, it reminded me of last semester when I went to Seville with my parents – the people of the Ferrara are so proud of their city, and any visitor gets a taste of the unique Italian culture and traditions that are present. I truly enjoy being here, not just exploring the castles and palaces and reading about their rich Renaissance history, but also putting away my map and getting lost in the quaint Italian streets and smiling as locals stop and talk to me while I just smile, completely clueless as to what they are saying.
I’m on my way to Pienza today. Of course, I have to take like three different trains and somehow find a bus from Siena to Pienza; hopefully everything will go well. Farewell Ferrara!"Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life." - Anna Akhmatove
Friday, May 16, 2008
After checking in, I decided to walk to the center of town and visit Castello Estense, a huge brick castle surrounded by a moat and four towers. It originated as a single watchtower back in the medieval times, and was developed into a fortress under the rule of the Este family, the once-prominent rulers of the city. During the Renaissance, the fortress became a grand palace, richly furnished and decorated, but when the last Este died without a legit heir the remaining family members were ordered to abandon the palace and retreat to Modena and took all their furniture and paintings with them. Castello Estense was left under the control of the Papal States, and then later became state property, until it was turned into a museum as an important symbol of the city.
It was so interesting to read all about the political and domestic scandals that occurred within the walls of this giant monument – the tour brought us to the dungeons where numerous family members and friends were sentenced for years and even lifetimes for treason. The Este family was wealthy and powerful, they had many castles and estates all over the region. They also commissioned many famous artists and architects that at some point or another during the Palace’s expansion.
I had so much fun exploring the main piazza and its surrounding streets later this afternoon – I have to say Ferrara has an amazing shopping selection. I found my favorite European clothing store ZARA! Ahhh, it brought back memories of Barcelona. There are also a ton of jewelry boutiques. Somehow I wandered to the complete opposite end of the city from my hostel and had to make my way back, which wasn’t too long – Ferrara’s fairly small.
Later tonight, I went back to the city center. A religious Concerto was going on in the castle court, and people were dancing and singing. Right across the street, however, a tent had been set up for some kind of fiesta and was blasting disco music – I guess someone forgot to plan ahead. Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that Ferrara is a very close community, very rooted in tradition and proud of its cultural and artistic patronage. I’m SO glad that I decided to come here. I’ll keep you updated on the rest of my adventures here! Buona Notte!
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I met up with Alexandra and her friends from school for paninis after their final, which were delicious – we ate them on the steps of San Spirito, one of Brunelleschi’s most famous Renaissance-style churches. My favorite church I went to however was the Brancacci chapel in the Santa Maria del Carmine. I think that it is often overlooked by tourists because there was hardly anyone there. It’s small, and the majority of it was closed off to visitors, but its main attraction is the series of frescoes by Masaccio and Masolini. The frescoes illustrate the life of Saint Peter. An interesting historical fact about this church – its patron, Felice Brancacci, was declared a rebel, so all portrayals of Brancacci and his family within the frescoes had to be destroyed. I love the frescoes surrounding the chapel and I think they are beautiful; I remember having studied Tribute Money in high school and college, and it is so cool to see the actual painting first hand.
At Milan Stazione Centrale, I had an immediate flashback to fall break last semester, when Katie, Caitlin and I were delayed there one night for a few hours and we had decided to pass time with a bottle of wine and Italian cookies. Although tempting this time, I decided to lock up my suitcase and walk around
I went to the Duomo, which was absolutely breathtaking. Coming out of the subway and turning around to see the largest Gothic cathedral in the world is almost inexpressible. The interior was very dark and overwhelming. I had a conversation *in Italian* (how this worked, I don’t know) with a nice Italian lady who told me about the sundial inside the church and pointed out each zodiac sign. I found mine, which was very exciting! The cathedral had a beautiful crypt dedicated to San Carlo.
I got really lucky and was able to buy the only ticket left that day to see da Vinci’s Last Supper at Santa Maria della Grazie. This is by far the most famous painting of the moment where Christ reveals to his disciples that one of them will betray him. Dan Brown’s 2001 novel The Da Vinci Code stirred up a lot of debate on who is actually represented within the painting, but that is for the viewer to decide for himself. You have to go through a series of air-filtering rooms before you get inside the room. I never realized how big the painting is – it stretches across the entire wall! Apparently, the Allied bombings during the war destroyed the entire building except for this wall. It is currently undergoing a twenty-year restoration process. Unfortunately, the very large Italian guard woman made sure no one took out their cameras inside the room so I didn’t get to take a picture.
Later that afternoon to
I arrived at the Santa Maria Novella train stop in
I opened my eyes this morning to a charming view of the hills of