Saturday, February 27, 2010


Last weekend I went to Siena! I kept changing my mind back and forth on whether or not I would go, since I still felt sort of sick and the weather forecast said it would rain all day. But in the end it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed, so I went for it. Three regional trains later, I arrived at Siena with Wendy, Caroline, and their friend Allison.

Here is the full photo album from the day:

Siena turned out to be TOTALLY worth getting up early, taking some Advil, and taking the long train ride. The weather was warm and sunny all day until late afternoon, after we had finished sight-seeing. From the train station, we walked towards the center of the city on foot instead of taking a bus. We had to ask for directions once or twice because the train station is sort of out of the way, but we found our way shortly after.

The first thing that struck me about Siena was how well-preserved all of the buildings were in the historic center of the city. This is partly due to the fact that Siena was the first European city to restrict automobile traffic in its main square (1966), and it seems to generally have good preservationist tendencies.

Below, enjoy the wonderful medieval style Piazza del Campo. Now imagine massive crowds of people gathered here during the summer for the Palio, Siena's traditional horse racing competition among the 17 contrade or neighborhoods.

We found a great little bar on the piazza where we grabbed some pizza and a drink, and we sat outside in the sun to enjoy our food. It was wonderful. And I was made especially happy after the man working behind the cash register told me I had a good northern Italian accent. Below, enjoying a gelato with Caroline:

The next stop on our tour was the Cathedral of Siena, or Duomo. This church is extremely rich and elegant, and on the inside you get the feeling that every square inch of material above, below, and around you is a priceless work of art....probably because it is. The exterior and interior:

We paid 10 euro for these passes that allowed us to not only see the Duomo, but also the adjacent Baptistery, museum, and crypt. From the museum one can access a tower that provides a soaring panorama of the city and the Tuscan landscape.

After we descended from the tower, it started to rain. The remainder of our day was spent running around in the rain looking a place to get cheap food and sample wine, then we took two trains and got back to Bologna.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Carnevale a Venezia!

My most recent trip (when I starting writing this blog post, at least) was to Venice, or Venezia, on the last Saturday of Carnevale, and it proved to be the most exciting day of my semester so far. I'm not even going to try to upload all or even most of my photos in this blog post, so I will redirect you to my Picasa album for the full visual experience: The pics go into chronological order, from the train ride there in the morning to the ride back at night.

Carnevale, or the Carnival of Venice, is an annual festival in Venice that starts two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Fat Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras). The name is derived from carne + vale and literally means "good-bye meat" since it occurs right before Lent. The Carnevale of Venice as a festival dates back as far as 1296 AD, and by the 1600s it was already a tourist attraction. Today Carnevale brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to Venice each year. Below, a crowded walkway and bridge along the Grand Canal:

Masks are and have always been one of the defining features of Carnevale. Venetian artisans craft the masks out of paper-mache and paint them by hand, and there are loads of them in shop windows and on the faces of those celebrating Carnevale, like us! (See below.) I went to Venice with Luca, Christina's language partner, Giuseppe, and a bunch of their friends, and we met Christina and Jessica when we got there.

One step above the masqueraders were those who clearly spent huge amounts of time creating a full body costume. Some of the examples are pretty stunning:

The festivities culminated in Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark's Square, which impressed me with a great sense of awe. The elegant, sprawling buildings of Piazza San Marco surround you on all sides and they struck me as the epitome of Italian style. There is no church that matches the intricacy of San Marco's facade, the Ducal Palace manages to be both simple and grandiose at the same time, and the arches of the National Library seem to go on for infinity. San Marco was also covered by the acqua alta while I was there, literally "high water," a periodic flooding of the city created by nearby storm systems. I was fortunate enough to step in the water, and had soaking cold feet for the next 10 hours. Small price to pay!

We explored for the rest of the day, took a water taxi over to the island Murano which is known for their glass blowing, and I stuck around until 11:30 PM so I could see the festivities that took place in the piazza at night! I still advise you to give my album a look, but here are some of the photo highlights: