Sunday, June 14, 2009

Siena +

The buffet was not meant to be. We arrived there too late. Apparently, buffets in Italy mean you arrive, you sit down, and you don't leave until you are forced out the door at closing time. So if you don't arrive early, you are out of luck.

Instead, we walked around for a little while (we had a group of 11, so any restaurant on a Saturday night at 8:30 was going to be difficult, especially with how small most restaurants here are). After awhile, we located a spot that the French guide book recommended very highly. The girls all wanted pizza and the guys were too hungry to care what we ate.

They sat us in what was probably a dungeon at one point: down several stairs, through some hallways, and into a back room with one small door in and out, a cavernous ceiling, and torch fixtures scattered throughout the stone walls. We were the only ones in the room, yet the service was abysmal. I've mentioned before, this country is not service-oriented. They don't get tipped, so they don't particularly care how good of a job they do. The fact that we were a mixed group of French and American students certainly didn't help our cause. Johnny and I got a bottle of Sangiovese (they were out of the Santa Cristina Antinori we requested)--pictured above--and an appetizer of prosciutto e melone (same as before, canteloupe and cured ham). It was, again, delicious. I ordered spaghetti carbonara, which I have recently learned may be the most basic of basic European dishes, available anywhere and everywhere (not just Italy). It is not all that common in the States, though, so I'll take it where it's cheap! Johnny got a huge calzone, and most of the French got pizzas or calzones. The waiter was very slow to get anything done, and when he did finally bring the food, Johnny got the wrong calzone. We didn't discover this until one of the other servers came with another calzone to investigate.

As luck would have it, the one we had was already partially eaten, so they were just going to throw it away. True to my nature, I swooped in and managed to keep it, language barrier and all! It was delicious - ham and mozzarella. And it ended up being the perfect amount of food.

After dinner, all but five of us went home to call it a night. Remaining were myself, Johnny, Jean, Florian, and Claire. If you (French students) are reading this, I apologize for having to make this clarification, but Jean and Florian are guys. We went to a nearby piazza and hung out on some steps. The place was packed, but we had a good time. It's very interesting learning about their culture, language, and experiences, and getting their perspectives on America and its culture, language, and experiences. We are gaining all sorts of worldly knowledge outside of the classroom, making this trip a success already in my eyes.

We arrived home to discover that we had no internet. Tragedy!

We awoke to discover, still no internet. Worse tragedy! This meant we couldn't coordinate our trip to Siena with the French students. We were, of course, late, and our tardiness was expounded by the fact that they decided to meet earlier. They sent us Facebook messages to inform us of the change in plans, but of course we had no way of knowing. We had managed to avoid phone use up until today, but today it became a necessity.

We got to the train station around 9:15 and found out they had left on the 9:10 bus. We had no idea where to catch the bus. And everyone we asked pointed in a different direction and gave us different misinformation. Finally, after a dead sprint to the real bus station at 10 o'clock to catch the 10:10 bus to Siena, we could relax. It turns out the bus station is not actually in the train station, as we were told it was. It is around the corner. But we made it, we got round trip tickets, and we got seats on the bus.

Quick Note: Thus far, we have ridden on at least five buses and at least six to eight trains, and have only had our tickets checked once. I point this out only because it is bringing us dangerously close to temptation.

Anyhow, we arrived in Siena about an hour and a half later. For any novice who wishes to travel through Italy, remember this little tidbit: "diretta" does NOT mean direct. If you want a "direct" bus, take the express. The group, expecting our arrival, had waited for us at the Piazza di Camp. This was a huuuge, open square with an enormous church at its base. The square sloped down towards it with nine sections patterned into the stone ground, representing the nine districts of Italy that existed at the time (if I understood the French explanation correctly).

Siena is advertised as a medieval town, which didn't really mean anything to me until I got there. It is pretty amazing though...incroyable, as the French would say. Every building looked like part of a castle. The Duomo here was not as impressive as the one in Florence, but still pretty humbling. Especially on the inside (we have yet to enter the Florence Duomo, but it is on the agenda).

We grabbed lunch at a crappy little ristorante. The food was overpriced, there was very little meat on the sandwiches, and they forgot two of our dishes. I think we need to find some locals to show us the ropes on how to choose a restaurant, how to order, and what not to do. It was extremely hot today--the French kept mumbling 'chaud'--so we got some ice cream (gelato) as well. Their guide book (Le Guide) recommended a gelateria, 'best in the world' of course, so we headed in that direction. While I'm hesitant to conclude that any gelato is different from any other, this place was probably better than the gelato we had in Rome near the Pantheon. I got a three flavor mix in a cup: mascarpone e nutella, stracciatella, and extra fondente (dark fudge, as far as I could tell). It hit the spot in a way I can't describe.

After some more wandering, we found ourselves ascending to the upper heights of Siena where we were graced with some pretty incredible views of the city.

Further on, we found a park with a small pond full of pigeons, ducks, and a pair of swans. Two women were feeding the swans ice cream, which I imagine is not too good for them. We rested in the shade as a few people in the group went to look at the Palace di Medici (had I understood the French when they announced that plan, I would have accompanied them, but such is life).

We boarded the return bus, the express this time, a little after five and bunkered up for the hour long ride home.

Johnny and I stopped for some groceries at our usual market on Santa Monaco (Monica?) to make dinner. We got some more eggs, chicken, pasta sauce, and olive oil. Our first meal to include protein (other than eggs) was a success. It was Johnny's first time cooking chicken in a frying pan. I was tending to the internet problems. I meant to show him how to use the oil and everything to grease the pan, but I forgot. He ended up coming as close to deep frying the chicken as you can without actually using a deep frier. It was delicious! We made spaghetti with chicken, toasted some bread and buttered it, and finished off the last of our jug of red wine. We are again living in a dry house.

No one made plans for tonight, so we are staying in and getting rested up for the new week.

Unrelated Author's Note: Melissa did most of my packing for me while I 'supervised' and hung out with my Grandmother a little (she was staying at my Mom's house, but my Mom had an executive seminar to lead and so she was alone for the evening). She did a remarkable job, but in my usual distracted mode before any big event, I didn't listen to all of her careful instructions as to where to find all my stuff. I just today found a secret pocket full of goodies that I had, up to this point, been missing. The sad part is, these 'goodies' were four pairs of boxers. The happy part is, I'm overly excited because it means I have four more days to go before needing to do laundry!

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