Monday, February 17, 2014

Days 32-40

This past week has been one of the busiest yet! All last week was filled with papers and homework, not to mention the constant presence of those 3 hour long Italian classes. Maria Grazia had a friend come stay with her for two night last week named Francesco. He was apparently her guide in museums at some point but is only a little older than me, I think 26 or 27 and is studying to get his PhD in contemporary art. It was an interesting couple of days, watching the two of them speak reminded me I have a long way to go still on my Italian! They just speak so fast! It was fun though and he was a really nice guy.
Friday morning we were up bright and early for our trip to Tuscany!! We had to be at the school at 8 am, which meant trekking across Rome with our bags at around 7:15. In only a few hours we were at our first destination, Orvieto, which is actually in Umbria. We had to take a tram up the steep mountain into the town which was beautiful. The views were absolutely breathtaking. It did not seem at all touristy to me, I think it's a popular spot amongst Italians but not so much tourists. We visited the Duomo at Orvieto which was beautiful, the facade was absolutely gorgeous and the inside was mostly medieval art and architecture. Then we had free time to walk around and get lunch. There is a group of 8 of us who are really close, and we wound up in this little restaurant where I had maybe the best meal I've had out since I've been here. I got gnocchi with an artichoke sauce that was literally melt in your mouth. SO good. Then we decided to go find a place to sit and bask in the sun, it was THE most gorgeous day we've had since we've been here, sunny and 65. We passed a wine shop on our way and decided to each get half a bottle of wine to take with us. We made friends with the owner, Giovanni, a little old man who spoke almost not English but loved talking to us, and said he likes American students because he thinks we are very smart. The woman who ran the wine shop was also incredibly friendly. This is not something you always find in Rome, being that it's a big city so it was a pleasant surprise. As we were walking around we came across this wall kind of tucked away overlooking the valley. It was one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen (will post pictures!) The 8 of us sat there for about two hours and drank wine, talked, laughed, and were just happy. We all agreed it was the best day we've had since we've been here, and the best Valentine's day any of us had ever had. It was one of those perfect afternoons I don't think I'll ever forget.
At 3:30 we got on the bus to head to Siena, about another 2 hours away, give or take. We got there and checked in and had some free time, and then they took us to dinner. Another four course meal which was delicious, but heavy I thought. There was great antipasti, TWO pasta courses, and then (shoutout to Dad because I know you'd appreciate this) a meant course with a pork chop wrapped in prosciutto which I could barely eat I was so full, dessert, and naturally, lots of wine. We were all so exhausted we went right to sleep afterwards.
We were in Siena all of Saturday. It was so weird for me to think that I had been there five years before, and now I was there studying abroad in my junior year of college...crazy! It was on that trip I decided to study in Italy and now it's a reality. Absolutely crazy. We went to the museum there which had mostly medieval art, but my favorite thing was the house of St. Catherine of Siena, which was really interesting just to see, but also had beautiful paintings on the walls depicting her life. We also went back to the Siena Duomo, which I remembered correctly, is incredibly ornate and beautiful. I was really looking forward to going back there. After that we had time for lunch and we went to a GREAT lunch. We got fried artichokes and then this vegetable soup called Ribillito which apparently they are known for. It was really think, almost a puree but not quite, kind of in between that and a very thick stew, it was so good. Also had I think the best wine I've had all trip there, I took a picture of the label so I'll remember! We walked around for a bit but then had to get on the bus for the wine tasting! It was about a 2 hour bus ride toward Florence. All of a sudden right when the sun was beginning to set we were overlooking the duomo and the entire city. It was the most incredible view, and I had no idea that we would be passing through! I don't even have a good picture because I was so shocked and awed when we were passing through it took me a minute to realize I should probably get my phone out! We drove up a hill to a gorgeous 13th century castle in the Tuscan countryside. He gave us the history of the house first, the Medici had actually used it for meetings. Then he gave us a tour of the wine cellar with all the barrells and took us through some of the castle and told us about the current owner. The woman who owns it now inherited it from her parents. Her mother was Austrian and her father was Italian and they met on a train when her mother was 20 and he was 60! They met, fell in love, and had 4 kids. He bought the castle as a gift for her and they began making wine there. He died about 20 or so years later and she actually died fairly soon after them leaving the children. Three out of 4 of the siblings wanted to sell the house and business but the youngest wanted to keep it and keep up her parents legacy, so she and her husband and there kids now do that. The man giving us a tour was the cousin of the husband of this woman. He was really entertaining and engaging, it was perfect for a large group of college kids, most of whom had never been to a wine tasting. We sat in the tasting room and they gave us an antipasti plate with cheese, salami, bruschetta and bread with tapenad, and one with just olive oil because they make that there too! We also got a little lesson on olive oil which was cool. The wine was really good, we tried a white and two reds and his whole approach was to teach us about the grape itself, so we tried a red that was a sangiovese blend and one that was 100% Sangiovese. Then at the end they gave us a sweet desert wine that I really liked that you dip biscotti in. We ate dinner there after because they also have a restaurant, and it was great. Again, I think we had four courses, the best though was pasta with boar meat, another specialty of the area. It was amazing and a really fun dinner all around.
The last day we went to San Gimignano, which I was really excited to see because last time we went to Tuscany we talked about going but didn't end up getting to it. We went to mass in the duomo there which is also really pretty, but again more a medieval style. The mass was really nice, all in Italian, but there was a children's choir that was really cute. We got a lot of free time to walk around and hang out and it turns out that there were carnivale festivities going on! in the piazza all the little kids were dressed up (our Italian teacher was explaining how it is like halloween for them) and they were throwing confetti everywhere and then as we were about to leave there was a parade with music and big floats and everything coming through this little hilltown. Confetti and silly string ALL over it was so much fun. It was a beautiful town, I really liked it a lot. Also some really great gelato! None of us wanted to leave Tuscany. It was the best weather we've had, and it's always harder to leave a beautiful place on a beautiful day. It was an amazing weekend and I was so incredibly excited to be back in Tuscany. It is so peaceful and relaxing there, life just moves slower. And I've never seen a more beautiful place.
That being said, coming back to Rome felt like coming home, which I think is a good thing. Back to work again this week, but will hopefully do something fun this weekend!
Will keep you posted!


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