Tales from Italy ch. 7: Rimini, Florence and Siena!
Since coming back from Sicily, I have spent my non-class days traveling to cities that are a bit closer (I’m still following my goal of traveling every weekend, be it nearby cities or far away places).
Last weekend some friends and I made a day trip to Rimini. Rimini is a beach town on the same coast as Urbino. It’s very pretty and I’m sure fantastic once it’s warm enough to go to the beach. While there, we visited the church of the Malatestas (a family who ruled Rimini from the 1200s-1500s).
Sunday we stayed in Urbino but took advantage of the sights in our hometown. Since we had already been in Urbino over a month, we figured it was about time we went on a tour of the Palazzo Ducale. After all, Urbino is one of the places listed in my favorite travel book: Schultz’s 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. The palace is Urbino’s pride and glory as it stands tall above the rest of the city:
The palace is divided up into many different sections and wings based on who lived there or who stayed where inside, but today it is mostly a museum of art from the 1200s-1500s. The majority of what was on display was art that depicted the Christian religion (the majority of which were of Mary and the baby Jesus) and beautiful ceramics- I even recognized a few from my Storia della Ceramica class (History of Ceramics)! One room also housed the bed chamber of Federico di Montefeltro (the orginial owner of the castle), and another had coins of that time period on display in a room that once housed the King of England on his visit to Urbino. On the main floor of the palace was this gigantic room that once held feasts (and theater shows before they built a room for theater in the basement). Today, it’s empty, but it became a perfect ballroom for our dancers because Monika and Ryan waltzed all through the room 🙂
Down in the palace basement we saw the wine cellar (it was HUGE), weaponry room (also huge), an old laundry room and bath, and a well that collected water from a hole in the roof.
That night, I continued work on the wiki my friends and I are putting together. We’re hoping that in the end, the wiki will function as a collective memorabilia of our stay in Urbino. In it are links to blogs written by those of us writing them, and pages dedicated to the cities we’ve visited during our stay. The wiki isn’t complete yet and still lacks pictures, but it is a lovely work in progress.
Our Wiki, Erasmus Urbino 2010
During the week, I began work on my schedule for the fall semester at New Paltz. It’s so strange to think about planning next fall while I’m still here. Not only does it seem even further off than normal because I’m in a different country entirely, but also because I’m slowly adjusting to the Italian mentality where planning for next fall probably wouldn’t even begin happening until September, and here we are in March!
One thing I’m glad I don’t have to adjust to however, is the issue I have with sizes. Every time I attempt to do some shopping, I am reminded of the fact that I am several sizes bigger than the average Italian. If my 5’11” weren’t enough to make me seem like an Amazonian above a sea of average-sized Italians who generally come up to my shoulder, searching for sizes to fit my larger size is even harder to deal with. Recently I’ve been looking for a new pair of jeans since the one’s I’m currently wearing are wearing away and have holes. Unfortunately I’ve found that most stores here don’t carry my size in jeans, and if they do, the price is much higher than what I’d prefer to pay for a pair of pants. The same goes for shoes, although I’ve had slightly better luck since I have managed to buy one pair since coming here, which is one pair more than I’ve managed with pants. In Europe, I wear a size 41 shoe (about women’s size 9 1/2-10 in the US). Much to my dislike, most shoes aren’t available above a 38 (about a US size 7/8). In Rimini, some friends and I stopped at a shoe store that resembled DSW, meaning there were hundreds of shoes. Despite this, I couldn’t find any in my size (that were affordable). I was able to look in the men’s section (men and women’s shoes have the same sizes- why don’t we do that?), but I didn’t try very hard because I knew the men’s section wouldn’t have what I wanted (I was looking for dress flats). In the end, I found a size 41 pair of black mockasins in a small shop in Urbino. There was a rainbow selection to choose from, but unfortunately and not surprisingly, the only colors available in my size were tan, black, and gray. At least black manages to go with everything, right?
Also this week I had my first student come in during my office hours! She and I are gonna work together on helping her with reoccurring issues she has with English in her thesis which she needs to graduate. While I will miss the hour I spend reading during my office hours, it’s nice to finally get to do what I planned on doing when I signed up for the job 🙂
That same evening, I had my Cinema e Fotografia (Cinema and Photography) class. As far as I or any of the other foreigners in that class had gathered, classes had been canceled for almost 2 weeks because of snow and then for unknown reasons, and this was the first we had been to in a while. That day we had arrived early (we got the class time wrong by an hour) and I took the time to talk to one of the other students. Thank goodness I did this because it was then that I learned that we also had class Monday. This had apparently been the case for the whole semester so far and none of the other foreign students or I had realized that. We had missed two more movies and were going to spend the class that day going over the latest, Nosferatu. Since we had no idea what would be going on, the other foreign students and I left and spent the class time watching the movies. We’re hoping Wikipedia will help us with the rest. Fortunately, the girl I spoke to in class that day also said she’d help us study the material for our final. Since most of us have no idea what’s going on in that class anyway (on top of the Mondays we’ve missed, the class is quite boring with a professor who teaches by reading from a book for 2 hours), it is really nice of her to help us out. We’ve decided we’re going to cook her dinners and give her presents and every other means possible as thanks 😛
My stress from the Cinema class ordeal only breifly lasted however because that night, Laura and I decided we want to go to Paris. Within 3 hours we had our flight booked for the first weekend of May. HOW SWEET IS THAT?? Thank you, Ryanair, for your really really cheap flights that make my travels budget-worthy!
PARIS PARIS PARIS PARIS PARIS PARIS PARIS PARIS PARIS!!!
When I’m not planning travels or in class, I spend my afternoons outside on the terrace with Laura and Monika. Thursday afternoon was no different- as usual, Monika laid out her blanket, provided tea, cookies, and music, Laura brought her chess set, and I brought some music as well. Combined with the warm sun and spectacular views over the rolling Italian hills of the Urbino countryside, these are some of my favorite times here. Nothing like sunny games of chess with the background sounds of soft music, the Puppini sisters, and Frank Sinatra. 🙂
Thursday night, Laura and I had our favorite class, Musica per lo Spettacolo (Music for the Show), with our favorite professor, Professor Festa (It’s a festa with Festa!!). As usual, Laura and I were the only 2 students, class was incredibly interesting, and time flew. Because there’s usually just the three of us, class is like a intelligent 2-hour conversation about the effects and meaning behind the music and symbology in films (specifically, The Matrix and Metropolis). Seriously, this guy is like our Socrates- we just want him to teach us as we go through our every day life; we’d rather replace all our other classes with just his if we could. Anyway, as usual, Laura and I were excited about class, were surprised when 2 hours had passed, and enjoyed the lesson. It was at this point however, that Professor Festa broke the news to us that this was our last class before the final- 20 hours were done. Much like this paragraph, our sense of self-control about how much we loved this class vanished. We were distraught and didn’t even try to hide it- the news had come as such a surprise! How could our favorite time of week be over? It didn’t even matter to us that the end of this class gives us both 3-day weekends (it would have been 4 had we not discovered that our Cinema class also meets on Mondays); this class was the best. We mourned the whole way home.
After our sorrow Thursday night, Friday turned out to be much better- we were on our way to Florence and Siena for the weekend! Our trip began early in the morning with a bus to Pesaro and then a train to Faenza. The train to Faenza was my first train with compartments- it was like we were on our way to Hogwarts, and I half expected a woman with a trolley full of candy to come down the aisle and say “Anything from the trolley, dears?” As if Laura read my mind, she responded aloud, “We’ll take the lot.” (< Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/ Philospher’s Stone reference for those who don’t know). After Faenza was another train to Florence. That day, I had 2 gelatos (they’re so good! How could I not?) and a kebab for dinner. Kebab places are as popular here as a fast-food burger chain in the US (and probably just as bad for you). I wish we had them back home though- they’re delicious. Unfortunately my kebab turned out too spicy (I asked for no spicy sauce, but he took it as ‘extra spicy sauce’) and I had to give the rest to Judith.
That afternoon, we went up to the famous Piazza Michelangelo that looks over all of Florence. We were sitting on the steps taking in the view when a band came and set up near us. Our wonderful views were suddenly given a lovely jazz accompaniment into the evening as the band, MC2, comprised of a bassist, guitarist/ vocalist, and flautist played for us.
That night, before heading to back to our hostel for bed, we stopped at a kareoke bar. The atmosphere was fun, but there was this very annoying group of American girls. Proud to flaunt their foreigness, these girls were loud and obnoxious above everyone else in the bar. After seeing them, it’s easy to see why Americans get that reputation of being loud and gaudy (as our several European friends we were traveling with confirmed). And these American girls weren’t the only ones- this happened several times over the course of our stay when we’d pass groups of young Americans: they talk louder than everyone else and act crazy in ways to get attention. Here’s a heads up if any of them were to ever read this: you’re not foreign in Florence; everyone there speaks English. You look just as ridiculous -if not more- as you do in the US, and you make the rest of us look bad. Stop that.
Our second day in Florence, I met up with MY SISTER 😀
My sister is currently studying for 2 weeks in Italy on the same program I did when I was her age in high school, and I got the chance to meet up with her in Florence. I bought her a bracelet handmade in Urbino, and the reunion was a bittersweet reminder of home (sweet because I miss home, bitter because I would have to say goodbye all too soon). I saw her, my old teachers, and some friends. We spent the day shopping and I got a free ticket up to the top of the tower at the Duomo!
The view was amazing!:
Before I knew it, it was time for her to go and I was a sad. I distracted myself with cous-cous for dinner at a restaurant Monika recommended (it was near here that Laura was offered a job at a carpet dealer when she asked for places to get dinner LOL) and followed it up with views of the Florence skyline at night from the Piazza Michelangelo- once again, it was beautiful:
The following morning we woke up at 6:55 to go to Siena. When we got there, we lounged in the sun in the Piazza del Campo where they hold the Palio di Siena every year (a famous medieval horse race). Here, we played chess in the sun and were surrounded by hundreds of soccer fans since there was a game that afternoon. Apparently on game days, the opposing team comes to visit the local team’s city for the day (that’s who we saw) and then both sides of fans come out later for the game.
After about an hour of lounging, Ryan and I went up to the Torre di Mangia and the others headed over to the bridge. Much like the tower in Florence, we had spectacular views. However, this one was about 400 steps higher and I was a bit terrified of how high up we were. At one point, we got a phone call from the others who had gone to the bridge -we could see them! We both waved.
After the tower, we headed over to the Siena Cathedral. Like many cathedrals in Italy, it was very ornate. On the inside the walls and pillars are horizontally striped to give the illusion of appearing taller. It was all so beautiful.
On our way home, we had to take a train back to Florence and then follow the same way home that we came. On our train from Florence to Faenza (a 2-hour trip), the train had run out of seats -by A LOT. We didn’t expect this because we had arrived early, but about 4 minutes before our train left, we realized we were waiting at the wrong platform. By the time we got there, all the seats were taken. There were maybe 10 people standing in the aisle in our car alone (most of which were me and my friends). I eventually gave up on standing and just sat on the floor, put my feet between two chairs, and read my book with Janelle reading over my shoulder (what else could we do?). Occasionally the door would open to our car, and a group of people who were stuck sitting and standing in the connector between the two cars (yes there were that many people without seats that they couldn’t even fit in the CAR) would make us laugh. What could have been a very uncomfortable train ride became a fun experience.
From Faenza we took the train to Pesaro where we were going to catch the last bus back to Urbino. This is when we learned that you can’t really rely on Italian bus schedules (didn’t I learn this in Sicily and my last Pesaro trip?) because the last bus listed on the schedule didn’t actually exist. So here we were, 8 foreigners trapped at a bus station at 10 at night on a Sunday. We ended up having to pay 15 euro a person for taxis for the 1 hour ride back to Urbino. If this extra 12 euro wasn’t enough (the bus, had it existed, would’ve been 3 euro), the taxi ride was so uncomfortable. I was nauseous within 5 minutes of being in the cab. By the time we arrived to Urbino I was sick, yet relieved to be out of vehicles and transportation of all sorts.
Monday, we were supposed to go to Arezzo after Siena, but because of recently learning that our Cinema class actually met on Mondays, we cut it short (hence leaving on Sunday and going through those train rides). Despite this, I was the only one of my friends who even attempted to go to this class. When I got there however, I learned that the class was canceled to allow students the ability to exercise their right to vote. Apparently it was election day. Oh well.
This week I have much to look forward to since I’M LEAVING FOR THE UNITED KINGDOM ON THURSDAY! So yes, it looks like it will be about 2 weeks before my next update since I’ll be gone from April 1-13th. My trip will involve:
-flying into Edinburgh, Scotland
-busing it down to New Castle, England where I will stay with my ‘sister,’ “Cheese”
-busing it over to Manchester/ Liverpool/ Chester and seeing my friends Nicola, “Bumblebee” and “Mersey”
-flying to Dublin for 3 days
-flying into Bristol, England to go to Cardiff, Wales where I’ll see my friend Elinor, “the Hoff”
-and ending my trip with the Reading/London area and my friend Toni.
NON VEDO L’ORA!! (I can’t wait!!)
A PIU` TARDI! (Until later!)