Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ciao, Bella! (or how we ate our way through Italy)

This weekend's fabulous trip had three main components that I think summarize it best: art, Jesus and food.


We landed in Pisa early Friday morning, having departed the
Residencia before 5 a.m. We took the train into the city, made our way to the Tower, and took the requisite photos in which we tried to make it fall down.

The climb seemed a little treacherous, so we opted to explore the enormous cathedral instead. Though it is in fact a real city, there wasn't much else going on in Pisa, so we took the train to Florence.

After checking into our hostel, we had the full three-course lunch we have become accustomed to at a local restaurant. We quickly discovered that we might have some language issues, but managed to get by with butchered Spanish, and a little Catalan for good measure. (When that failed, I did a lot of pointing and gesturing) Our very friendly waitress introduced us to what quickly became a group favorite — ribollita — which is a Florentine bread and cabbage soup (infinitely better than that description makes it sounds).

We spent the rest of Friday exploring Florence and getting our bearings, before falling asleep at 10:15 p.m.

We got up early on Saturday and got in line to see the Uffizi Gallery, which was enormous — a lot of Renaissance and a lot of religion. In the afternoon we went to the Accademia to see Michaelangelo's David. He, too, was enormous.

Feeling museum-ed out, we partook in another important piece of Italian culture: gelato.

On Sunday we took the bus to the incredibly beautiful town of Siena. Our first stop was Nannini, a famous old bakery, to sample panaforte — a Sienese speciality, which tastes like a more interesting fruit cake. Not my favorite baked good ever, but it was a cultural experience.

After the bakery we headed to Il Campo, the shell-shaped center of the city and home to the Palazzo Pubblico.

We spent a long time exploring the Palazzo, which is covered in murals and frescoes — literally, every spare inch of wall has something painted on it. The most noteworthy of the paintings, which Paige had actually studied and told us about ahead of time, is in the Room of Nine, where the Sienese government used to receive citizens. The full-wall painting depicts good government and how it affects the town, and the converse effects of a bad, tyrannical government.

We explored Siena for the whole afternoon before heading back to Florence for dinner and more walking. The Italians eat their meals late, but not quite like the Spanish schedule we're on. The advantage of being the last people to finish dinner though: desserts complements of the house. After we left the restaurant we could hear American classic rock music resonating from the area surrounding the Palazzo Vecchio. We happened upon Ken Mercer and his nightly outdoor concert, so we sat and listened for a while.

On Monday morning we got up and climbed the cupola of the Duomo — all 463 steps of it (Paige counted just to be sure). The view of all the red roof tops was incredible.

After navigating and bargaining our way through the markets of San Lorenz, we headed back to the Pisa airport to return to Barcelona.

All in all, it was a fabulous trip. And now, a special shout out to my Let's Go! Europe book — I may look like a tool every time I pull you out in public (and cause embarrassment to my travel companions), but you have never let me down.

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