Sunday, March 20, 2011

Winter Wanderlust: Prima Parte

It’s been months since I’ve written, and I figured I should remedy that, so here goes. I’d say I was going to pick up where I left off, but that was quite some time ago. A popular question among Italians I talk to is how long I’ve been in their country. While it sometimes comes off as hostile, I think they’re just trying to make conversation. When I say I’ve been here since June they always ask if I’ve been home at all and then proceed to be thoroughly shocked that I haven’t. “Then what did you do for Christmas?” they ask. Well generalized Italian friends, I will now attempt to answer that question.

First, I’m going to assume that in this case Christmas refers the entire time that the college was closed and, as a result, I was homeless. I had planned a nice week of travel with my friend Ana who I met in Lecce. So, on the day the college closed I headed to Milan to meet her. I grabbed us a hotel room in the slightly sketchy district near the central station and awaited her arrival from Paris.

Before long, she called me to inform me that because of snow her flight had been cancelled and that she hoped to get a flight the next day, the 24th. So, instead of following our previous plan and heading to Bologna, I stuck around Milan the next day as well, but we all know that she didn’t get that flight either. However, the people at the airport were kind enough to inform her that there weren’t any open flights on Christmas.

Since we already had reservations in Siena for the 25th, I caught the 6am train from Milan. I spent my Christmas morning with a nice little Spanish family. Between my elementary Spanish and the massive similarity between Spanish and Italian, we managed to have a nice little conversation and a pleasant little trip.

When I arrived in Siena, in following with my basic practice of poor preparation, I started wandering toward where I remembered seeing our hostel on a map the day before. I had almost arrived when I decided to call the number that I had for the hotel. It turned out that the address that I had was of the booking agency and not in fact the hotel. So, I turned around and headed back to the center of town. I wasn’t too upset, however when I discovered that I was in a very nice Bed and Breakfast right behind the main piazza of Siena (for an extremely reasonable price).

By the time I got settled in and had me a little nap, it was just about time to get dinner so I headed out to see what was open on Christmas. Luckily, I found a nice little place to get a pizza and took it back to my room where I watched reruns of cross-country skiing competitions on TV and went to bed early.

The next morning, I woke up and the sun made its first appearance in months. I’ve yet to find a city more beautiful than Siena on a sunny day. I spent my entire morning wandering the streets in wonder and taking all sorts of pictures. That evening, Ana finally made it to Italy and caught the train down to Siena. We had a dinner at the restaurant attached to our B&B which was clearly something frozen tossed in a microwave. Oh well, at least it was cheap. The next morning, I, now quite an expert on Siena, took Ana for a tour and then we caught an afternoon train to Florence.

At this point, because I get all confused with what stuff happened when, I’m going to reproduce three days in Florence in a one day format. So, prepare yourselves.

We woke up early because we had reservations at the Accademia. If you’re not sure what that is, it’s essentially a big building with plaster casts of unimportant statues. Oh, yeah, and then there’s the David, Italy’s huge, naked, marble superstar. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical going in that this statue could so easily spawn obsessions in some people I know, but when I saw him, I totally understood. There’s this unexplainable wonder that comes with standing right next to… well, shit, it’s unexplainable. I never got up the courage to covertly snap a forbidden photograph, but it was ok ‘cause we had to hurry off to the Uffizi.

The Uffizi is one of the most famous museums around. It’s like Italy’s Louvre, but way more disappointing. From what I could tell, they gathered every mediocre religious painting from the last thousand years and stuck them in a building. Walking through the rooms, it goes a little like this: Christ, Christ, baby Christ, San Sebastiano(who is super famous because it was an excuse to paint a guy full of arrows), Christ, Mary, random member of the Medici family, martyrs, Christ. I have to admit however that Botticelli’s Venus is right on par with David and, in itself, pretty much made the entire visit worthwhile.

We then decided to follow the advice that our friend the internet had given us and check out a local gelato place. It was a bit pricey, but as it turned out, the best gelato of all time. For the first time, I was thankful for the bitter cold as it preserved my dear gelato so I could eat it ruhl slow.

Seeing Florence from street-level was getting a bit boring, so we climbed a big ol’ hill nearby up to Piazzale Michelangelo which overlooks the entire city. From our nifty vantage point, Florence looked even cooler and we noticed that there was some nice countryside and some sort of sketchy tower nearby. And so began our quest for la Torre del Gallo. We pretty much just walked toward this cool looking tower until we found out that it was on private property and we couldn’t go see it. At that point, we were already outside of Florence, so we just kept going. We wandered country roads for the next couple hours and found some neat little frozen-in-time type towns.

After a couple worrisome moments in which we might have been lost, we managed to get back to Florence and find our way through the streets to our hostel. They were more psyched than me that it was my birthday and offered to take me along for the evening’s pub crawl for free. Seemed like a good idea, so Ana and I went and had a night on the town with random hostel members. We made some friends, and laughed at some people singing karaoke and had an all around good night.

The next day, we headed off to Pisa for some New Year’s festivities at my friend Benza’s house. We had a huge dinner, laughed a lot, drank a lot, and then went to go dancing in a piazza. I, losing interest, managed to wander off and get lost on the streets of Pisa. Luckily, Benza was able to find me and steer me back to civilization.

The next morning, I woke up early to accompany Ana to the train station. As we walked through Pisa, we saw some heavy duty cleaning crews trying to restore the city after the chaos of the night before. Without any problems, I sent Ana on her way.

Here, I find it prudent to take some time to describe another Italian tradition. When you go see a movie at the theatre, any movie, there is an intermission exactly halfway through. It doesn’t matter what’s happening, explosions, important dialogue, they can and will take a ten minute bathroom break. That’s more or less what I plan to do here.

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