Written by Megan Kessler (Brandeis University)
History of Art and Italian Studies in Siena, Student Correspondent, Spring 2013
I write this first blog to prospective and declared CET Siena(ers) from the comfy couch of my homestay. Cuddled up under my blanket, thankfully, I do not have to go to class this Monday morning as it is snowing in Siena and the whole city has essentially shut down!!! When it snows, the buses don’t run so no one can get to work. Having been here in Siena for almost three weeks, it is not a coincidence that the snow came at a perfect time for my classmates and I to have the morning off. After two weekends in a row of traveling, I think we can all say that a couple hours to get ourselves back together is just what the doctor ordered. I am a New England girl, and being pretty familiar with inclement weather, I have felt right at home here in Siena, Italy.
After these past weekends of traveling, there are so many clothes to wash, photos to upload, and homework to finish up. Here in Siena, we have almost all Fridays free of class, which makes traveling every weekend too good to not take advantage of. My first weekend here, all ten of us in the program hopped on the morning bus to Firenze, to spend the day. This major Tuscan city is so close by and a perfect trip for a day of sightseeing. Having Florence less than 1.5 hours away by bus makes Siena really feel like our home outside of the big city. Walking around Florence and ending up at the top of Piazzale Michelangelo was the moment where I realized, “Wow! After a week and a half of being here, I am actually in Italy.”
I spent the night in Firenze and the next morning hopped on a bus with my friends from another program to Venezia, destined for Carnevale (Via bus2alp.com, which I highly recommend to all).One never realizes how much of a task it is to find the perfect mask for dancing in Piazza di San Marco until you see five stores on a street filled with their beautiful creations.
And here enters my next encounter of precipitation-Rain. It poured the whole day in Venice and we froze. However, that did not stop us from enjoying ourselves. We had an amazing time exploring Venice’s water-filled beauty and I plan on returning on a weekend where the rain does not confine us to the indoors. The city is truly unique where its system of public transportation is basically a boat subway. This Blew my mind. After a long day of trekking through the rain, my friends and I realized that it was about time to give in and have a drink at the one place we knew would make us feel at home, the Hard Rock Cafe in Venice. So American of us, but it had to be done.
When I finally arrived home Sunday night to Piazza Gramsci in Siena, I was welcomed back with another one of Mother Nature’s presents, a hail storm. After losing my umbrella in Venice, I lacked coverage and was being pelted by the tiny, frozen rail balls. I had to run home as quickly as possible. I cannot even explain the relived feeling as I walked into my warm, Italian homestay where my host mother greeted me and immediately offered tea and biscotti. I had survived the weather and made it home; Siena is where home is for now.
Written by Aimee Crouch (University of Iowa – Iowa City)
History of Art and Italian Studies in Siena, Student Correspondent, Fall 2012
We don’t get weekends in Siena very often because we travel so much (I’m not complaining), so last weekend we had a roommate dinner that Sunday night, which was a blast! We made homemade gnocchi in a sage and butter sauce and vegetable concoction! Yummyyy!
This past weekend Frances invited me to go with her and her mom to Lake Como (where George Clooney owns a home). I was so excited because this weekend was an Italian holiday so we had a four day weekend and I was going to be alone in Siena. Literally every person I knew was leaving town!! Thank goodness for Frances!! We had a great time! We stayed in this beautiful villa overlooking the lake. The mountains in Switzerland were just to the left of the villa! Literally absolutely beautiful and breathtaking! We arrived in Milan Friday morning and toured around Bellagio for a bit then headed to Lake Como. Saturday we toured the towns and shopped. We had lunch in Lake Como where I was proposed to by the waiter… super awkward yet hilarious. He tried putting his ring on my finger but I declined. The language barrier wouldn’t have worked Then we headed back to Bellagio and made dinner at home. Frances and I tried a sauna for the first time and we both hated it. We lasted for about 5 minutes then got out as fast as we could! It hurts your face and I couldn’t breathe… I don’t know how people find that enjoyable at all. Sunday morning we packed up and headed back to Siena! It was a great time!
Next Thursday we head to Sicily for five days for class! I’m really excited for that because that’s actually where I wanted to study but the program didn’t run this semester due to lack of interest. Other than that, not much else is new here. Yesterday marked the 6 weeks left in Italy. So sad! I can’t believe time has gone by so fast! I am excited to go home and be with my family over the holidays though, there’s nothing better than that!
I decided to put together my top ten everything thus far. I haven’t gotten to go everywhere and see everything I’ve wanted to but I think this will give everyone a good look at what there is here and how much I’ve loved being here.
We only have six weeks left… I cannot believe it. Where did the time go?! Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun!
Here are my three top ten lists!
2. Lake Como
4. Cinque Terre
8. Upside down chocolate cake
10. Meat platters
Things To Do In Siena:
1. Visit the piazza
2. Visit the Duomo
3. Visit the Piazza Pubblico
4. Walking and exploring
6. Trying out all the ristoranti possible
7. Trying out all the gelaterias possible
8. Night life… get to meet Italians our age
9. Contrada parties
10. Climb the Tower (Torre del Mangia)
(There’s so much more but I only chose my top 10!)
Here I am in Nashville Tennessee, sitting outside on a park bench. Trees of all kinds surround me, and there is not a cloud to be found on this near perfect seventy-degree day. And yet, at times like this I remind myself of the ultimate beauty in Tuscany. The vineyards; olive groves; ancient towns; and world-renowned art. All of these distinguished features were once footsteps from my door, but are now over a thousand miles away. When I reminisce upon the days my Italian housemate took me around the region on his scooter, I cannot help but smile. The images and sounds that most people only dream about or see in movies were the basis of my everyday life.
Back in Nashville, a couple sits a few benches away from me. They appear to be working on a school project. I can hear murmurs of English back and forth. How boring! Back in Florence, it was common for me to hear five different languages on the same street. Italian is the native language of course. But that dismisses the complexity of a city that both embraces immigrants and tourists alike. There are shopkeepers from Romania and Egypt, tourists from Japan and the United States. Every continent is represented. While the United States certainly is a hub for immigrants, I never feel the same international presence as I did in Florence.
I also cannot help but remember the ease with which I was able to visit other parts of the world. Florence offered flights to Amsterdam, Germany, and England. Pisa and Bologna—the larger airports—had nearly infinite possibilities for travel. Where else in the world is there such easy access to every part of Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa? What other time in my life will I have the chance to leave Italy on Friday, be staring at the stars in the Sahara desert by Saturday, and be back in time for class on Tuesday morning?
I have come to understand that my semester abroad was a totally unique experience. The fact is, I never will be able to travel as easily, be surrounded by people from all over the world, or experience the beauty of Tuscany as readily ever again. This is what I miss the most about study abroad.
I can’t believe we’re over ¼ of the way done with the semester already!! We are having so much fun and the time is flying by! The girls and I decided to go to Florence for a weekend and tour around the city. It is so big and there is so much to see. We are going to go back another weekend to see things we didn’t have time to see this time! We had a blast, probably the best weekend yet! It made me appreciate Siena so much more than I did before. Florence is full of people all the time. It can be overwhelming but we were able to find a hostel out of the crowds, which was nice. Siena is a lot more laid back with less tourism and though you can find a good amount of people who speak English here, Florence is very “Americanized” compared to Siena. I personally came to learn the Italian language and in Siena this is possible. Florence is a beautiful city, the buildings are unbelievable and you would never be bored there. However, everyone speaks English there. When we arrived back in Siena it felt like home. We had such a great time but we all decided this is what we considered “home”. We have become partial to Siena and the people here.
While in Florence we went and saw the Duomo and Baptistery. Words cannot explain how beautiful they are. We spent most of the day on Saturday at the leather market! What a great place to get gifts for family and friends- even yourself! We had lunch at the food market for a great price and the food was so fresh and delicious! For dinner we went to a bar and had “aperitivo” and we were so full! It was a great mini-vacation for us and it’s such a great time to visit other cities in Italy and see what else is out there. You learn so much from traveling.
Earlier on in the week we took a cooking class, paid for by CET! That was also an amazing experience! The chef was so nice and we were able to get the recipes to take home so we could make the food ourselves. This was a great experience for all of us. My roommate had been talking about wanting to learn how to cook since we got here and she finally was able to learn some tricks and has been making food more and more. We all are excited to get home to cook a true Italian feast for our families now!
We also got to meet our Italian Language Partners this week! We are partnered up with an Italian student who wants to learn English and it’s up to us to see each other again. You can speak Italian for 30 minutes then English 30 minutes…it’s up to you two. It’s great because it’s a one on one and you learn Italian as they learn English. It is great for both parties involved! I can’t wait to hang out more with my partner and get to know her better!
Overall this month has flown by. We have classes every day but I don’t feel overwhelmed with homework and reading. We have time to go travel on the weekends and meet up for dinner together at least once a week. I personally am staying in an apartment but two of the girls are doing a home stay. I feel so welcome to go visit them any time I want which is nice to feel so welcome in someone else’s home! Having free time and feeling welcome by the Italian people mean a lot to me. It has helped the adjustment of leaving my family and everything back in the States. Siena is a smaller city, it’s not as big as Florence but I truly feel as if I’m apart of the community here now. We’ve met a lot of people and see them on the streets and they always stop to say hi!
I was told to say how I feel both positive and negative in my blogs; however, thus far I haven’t had a complaint yet. If I ever needed anything I know I could ask anyone at CET and if that person couldn’t help or didn’t know the answer to my question, they would find out or direct me to the person I needed to speak with. I have strongly been thinking about staying another semester in Italy and one thing I really appreciated was receiving an email from a CET worker that was a graduate from my college back in the States. He was so helpful and told me things, both positive and negative, about staying in Italy. It meant a lot to have everyone go out of their way to give me one more person to help me make this major decision in my life.