Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Siena & the Vatican

Our trip to Siena was short and sweet. We took the bus there and got to see the Italian countryside. It was very picturesque and looked exactly like I imagined it would. Rolling hills, old buildings, lots of trees and grape vines. Entering the city of Siena was surprising because it looked like a small town - almost like Athens, Ohio. It had a Blockbuster, McDonald's, etc. I guess I wasn't expecting Siena to have entered the 21st century. It was a city whose peak was in the early 1300s, but the plague in the mid-1300s killed 75% of the population. Now it is a relatively small town that is known for its mid-evil style buildings and its annual horse race between the teams for each of the town's districts. The bus took us into the city center, which was much more like I had imagined it. We walked through small streets, up and down steep hills, saw mid-evil looking houses/buildings, and basically got lost in the intricate maze of the center of town. We finally found the huge palazzo where the horse races are held. After a glass of wine, we decided to take the bus back to Florence to have dinner.

That night, we had one of the best dinners of the trip. Salad, pesto fettuchini, Florentine steak and an amazing dessert. All in a place called Ristorante. So much fun. Apparently Florentine steak is a Florence specialty from cows that are raised a certain way. I haven't been very excited about meat these last few years, but this was one of the best steaks I have ever eaten.

The next day we had a cappuchino and we were off to Roma! Upon arrival, we navigated the bus system and went to our fab apartment. It is on the top floor of a building in the back streets of Campo di Fiori, which is an area near the Tiber River known for its daily farmers' market. We have a balcony off of our room looking out into a courtyard as well as a terrace on top of the building where we can see out over the whole neighborhood. We met the owner, who gave an extremely long presentation about the apartment (I was ok with this until he went through a list of apartment rules) and then we went to meet a potential writer for the travel website. BTW -we now have a name for the website jetsetdarling.com! How cute is that?? Matt came up with it the other day, and we got the website yesterday.

So after the extended apartment intro, we met Claire, an Australian who just quit practicing law and moved with her husband to Rome. She was great and even better when we found out that we have the same birthday! What are the odds? From there, Matt went to meet another candidate. I went to the grocery store to get some food, but I was so very exhausted that we had a quick dinner and went to bed.

The next afternoon was our tour of the Vatican. We went through Context Travel, which gives tours by art/architecture professors or historians with no more than 6 people in the tour. It was fab. Our guide was an American who has been living in Rome since 1991 and teaches art history at a university. We learned so much about the art collection, architecture and history of the Vatican. The guide told us that if you spent two minutes looking at each piece of art in the Vatican, it would take over 14 years! Highlights were: an extensive discussion about the process of painting and meaning of the paintings on the Sistine Chapel (including the fact that Michaelangelo hated doing the job), seeing the beautiful sculpture (including Michaelangelo's famous sculpture, Pieta), and learning about the 120+ year process of designing and building St. Peter's Basilica. It was also interesting to learn that Bernini designed the high altar in the front of the basilica and used bronze taken from the Pantheon.

After the tour, Matt and I went back to our neighborhood for dinner. I tried bruchetta and spaghetti al pomodoro. Bruchetta is bread with topping (could be tomatoes, olive tapenade, artichoke tapenade, etc.) and spaghetti pomodoro is spaghetti prepared with cream, egg and bacon. They were both interesting and Roman specialties that I wanted to try. (Have you noticed how much eating is involved in this part of the trip? Frightening!) We went home to nap because Matt had planned a fab night out for my birthday!

I'll write about our night out in my next post.

Jessica O.

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