Wednesday, September 19, 2012

welcome to siena!

well i've successfully made it through my first week and a half in siena! we got off to a bit of a rough start but it's gotten much better!

monday: we finally left hotel pacific and i couldn't have been happier to get out of that place! we got on the bus and started the journey to our new home! we stopped at the rome temple site to see the progress that's being made. there still isn't much there but it was cool to see the walls being built! we kept driving and got to a little town called orvieto. we stopped and took the cable car up the mountain and walked up to a beautiful duomo! it was the perfect combination of roman and gothic - the architecture was unbelievable! the church was built to signify a "miracle" that happened hundreds of years ago. a skeptic man was helping build a catholic church (i'm sure most people know, but catholics thought the bread and wine literally were the flesh and blood of christ). while he was building, the wine literally turned into blood and he started bleeding spontaneously. i don't know if that church was ever finished but the one we saw was built to remember the miracle that happened. on the front of the duomo, there is this really cool inscription that is a picture timeline of how man was created. it starts with god creating the earth, then man, then woman, then the story of adam and eve, then the story of cane and abel. the detail was so beautiful and it was cool that from small pictures you could tell what was being said! we took a few notes on the inscriptions then had the next few hours to get lunch and wander. we stopped at a few little shops to look around then got lunch at a pizzeria.  we met the group back at the cable car and took it down to the bus where we continued our journey to siena! when we finally arrived in siena, the school director met us and informed us that one of the families was not able to meet us and that the girls staying with them would be taking a taxi to the house. rachael, mckenna, chelsea, and i all looked at each other and laughed because we were confident that was going to be us. we watched as all the other families got assigned to their students and met for the first time and headed to their new homes. suddenly, it was just the four of us, dr call and his wife, and luca - the school director. he helped us get in a taxi and sent us on our way to meet our family. we arrived at our house, literally right in the center of town, to find anna and marcello, our host parents, waiting at the door for us. we exchanged hugs and the regular kisses on the cheek then started the hike up the seven flights of stairs. we finally got to their floor and got to our rooms and tried to unpack but found that we had no room for all of our things. each of us had two big bags of clothes and we were left with three drawers to share, then rachael and i had two more very small drawers and a tiny cupboard with six hangars, and mckenna and chelsea had a small set of drawers and a coat rack with hangars on it that was supposed to be a closet. we made it work the best we could then got a tour around the house guided by marcello doing a dance. we relaxed for a little bit until it was dinner time when their grandson david came in and called us in for dinner by sweetly saying "signoras!" so adorable. we ate a delicious but huge meal in the traditional italian style. first course: a huge bowl of pasta (bigger than what i'd normally eat for a main course). second course: a meat and vegetable dessert: generally a fruit. tonight we had the best lemon chicken! it was a lot of food but it was great after a long day of traveling! we did our best to talk to the family but they don't speak any english - well, aside from marcello's few broken words. we got through our first full italian conversation pretty well aside from when we told anna that rachael was a vegetable. oops. she kept asking if rachael could have meat and we said no, she's a vegetarian. her response? "no you're not." oh... alright. we gave up on that and rachael decided she'd just make the best of it and eat what she could. in the middle of dinner, marcello reached into the drawer behind us and pulled out a full on cleaver and said "i am jack the ripper!" we laughed, but we were a little nervous about it. we were exhausted by the time dinner was done and decided to go to bed early.

the door to my new italian home!

tuesday: we woke up early for breakfast then headed off to meet the group at piazza gramsci.  we were told today was just orientation. little did we know this was actually our first day of school! we walked over to the school with luca and he gave us a quick tour of the building then it was off to our italian class! boy was this overwhelming. we were supposed to have taken a full semester of italian prior to coming, but since i joined the program so late, i couldn't get in a class and had to do rosetta stone. all i learned from that was basic, random words - no grammar. our teacher had us go around the room and say our name and what we were studying and something about us... in italian. i don't even know what i said, i think i copied whoever was before me. then he had us roll a die and we had to give the appropriate word that matched up with the number? yes i was just as confused as you are. i got the basic concept of it but had no idea what i was doing. (in italian, there are many different ways to say a word depending on the tense of the word and who it is about, etc. so for example, a word will be different if it is referring to a man than it would if it was referring to a woman. there are six basic ways to say each word so the die was choosing which way to say it and he'd give us a word to figure out the tense of it). i simply told him i didn't know and he moved on. it was a little nerve-wracking though because he told us if we use english in his class, the highest grade we can get is a b. hopefully he'll let some english slide! after secretly having an anxiety attack the entire class, it was time to go to lunch. usually we have time to go eat on our own, but since it was our first day, the chef at the school prepared a meal for us! i didn't like much of it, but it was well made and a nice change from our horrible hotel food. after lunch, luca gave us a tour of siena. we didn't see the whole town, but he did tell us the good places to eat for a decent price and showed us some of the stores in case we needed anything. he told us about these "internet sticks" that we could buy for our computers so rachael, chelsea, mckenna, and i wandered off to find those. after going to a few stores, we found one that fit our needs so now we have internet at our house! hallelujah! once we got home, we got called into dinner by marcello saying "american girls!" (picture a stitch voice saying that - yes from lilo and stitch - and add an italian accent). we had another huge dinner and the conversation with the family went much better tonight. our parents don't think we eat very much because we don't finish what is on the plate but we can't even move we are so stuffed! marcello has the typical impression of americans being fat, so he was very confused that we couldn't finish a meal. he kept saying "americans are supposed to have a fat ass." we laughed for a long time and definitely won't be forgetting that. after dinner, we got gelato (since tuesdays are gelato days for us) then did some homework and went to bed so we could be rested for school the next morning.

my italian teacher looks like mr. clean

wednesday: well seeing as it's wednesday, we again wore pink. i think people are starting to catch on! today was the first day of our cooking internship! i was so excited to learn how to make a traditional italian meal! the chef explained how to make each part of the meal then had us all start working on different parts and rotating so we each got a turn doing everything. we made a four course meal and everything was completely homemade! the appetizer was foccacia bread with mozzarella, gorgonzola, and parmesan cheeses garnished with arugula. i'm not a huge cheese person and i'm also not a big arugula fan, but i have to say, this was delicious! i ate two pieces! next was the pasta. we made spinach and ricotta ravioli from scratch and it was incredible! (and actually pretty easy!) next was veal with tomato sauce and peas with bacon. i didn't love the veal but the sauce was great and i'm glad i know how to make that now! i didn't even bother trying the peas because they make me want to die. finally came the dessert: panna cotta with frutti di bosco sauce. i was very, very skeptical of this. i have a big thing for textures and i was worried this was going to be gritty and disgusting. i was shocked to find that it was creamy and delicious! the sauce on top was amazing and had a slight hint of orange that made it perfect! i was stuffed after this meal, though. i don't know how italians can eat so much!! i'm dying here!! we also had our art history class today. the teacher is great and knows english very well! her accent is just very thick so it's hard to understand her unless you are very focused! tonight we got called into dinner as "american beautifuls!" we had another big dinner tonight, but anna is finally starting to get the portions right. it was still a lot of food but we weren't nearly as stuffed as we have been the past few nights! we did a little homework then went to bed pretty early.

thursday: we had italian again today. it was still really hard, but not as intimidating as the first day. he now knows there are a few of us who have never taken italian before so he is working with us to make sure we all understand what is going on. after class, we wandered around and ate in the piazza del campo (the main square in town right next to our house!)  we went back to the school for our religion class which felt like it dragged on forever because it is so long! hopefully it will get better.. three hour classes just suck. we wandered around town again and tasted the famous cookies of siena called riccarelli (it's basically an almond cookie). it was pretty good!! we got called into dinner tonight as "american butterflies!" dinner was finally a good portion.. maybe too good of a portion. our bodies were starting to get used to the big meals so going back to what is still a bigger size than we eat back home meant we were still a little hungry after dinner. so what do you think we did? ate gelato. typical, right? we have a bit of a problem. we wandered around again for a bit then went home and went to bed.

friday: we had italian again today. we each had to talk about a hobby of ours and after we had all told him, he surprised us and told us that was our first quiz! and guess what i got? 100%! so maybe the whole class got 100% but i was still proud! italian is our only class on fridays so we wandered around for a little bit then went home and watched bridesmaids then took a nap. when we woke up, we wandered around again for a little bit and i got this really cool stationary and this awesome stamp! like the kind where you melt the wax onto the envelope and stamp it so it has either your initials, a design, or whatever you choose. we got called into dinner tonight as "american diamonds!" marcello left part of the way through dinner and peeked out of his room with a giant sword (it's called a spada here). he told us he was "hannibal the cannibal." hmm.. not sure what to think here. we have jack the ripper and hannibal the cannibal in our midst.. and he's the same person? one of the workers at our hotel in rome somehow found chelsea on facebook and added her, asking her to model for him. we joked all through dinner about it and marcello is convinced that chelsea and alessandro are in love.

saturday: well we thought we'd be able to sleep in today. wrong. anna came and knocked on our door at 8:06 (breakfast starts at 8:00.. she and marcello don't eat with us though - it's just the four of us) and told us we needed to get up to eat. we hurried and ate then went back to bed for a few hours. we were all EXHAUSTED. we planned on being out of the house by 11:00... well, we didn't even wake up until 12:30. oops. we finally got up and went out into the town. we decided we wanted to try this pizza restaurant for lunch but we were too hungry to make it there so we got pastries on the way. little did we know, the restaurant was only about a five minute walk. we got our pizza (which was delicious, by the way) but needed a little something after. so where do you think we went? gelato again? duh. so yes, we had a pastry, two slices of pizza, and three scoops of gelato (that's the normal amount here.... bad news for us if we want to stay skinny) all within about a 10-15 minute time frame. can you say #fatgirlproblems? we walked around to all the shops and found our final touches for our milan outfits. mckenna and i had had our eyes on these beautiful handmade boots for a while and decided to go try them on. we instantly fell in love with them. perfectly crafted, 100% handmade, one of a kind, italian leather boots. oh no.. what were we supposed to do? mckenna bought them in her size and i was so tempted to buy them but decided i should probably get my dad's approval first (the price was a weeeee bit steep because of the quality and the fact that there was only one pair ever made in each size). i was overjoyed when he told me i could get them! mckenna and i ran back as fast as we could and got the boots! we were seriously on cloud nine for the rest of the day! this is a true sign that i take after my mom if shopping can honestly bring me that much joy (mom, now you can't get mad that dad let me get them. it's your own fault :)). we stopped at the vintage store that is ever so conveniently located next door to our house and looked around for a while. i found more shoes that i loved there but decided i should probably hold off for a while seeing how i had just bought some. i did, however, buy the first part of matthew's birthday/christmas present - a super cool vintage tie! tonight we got called in to dinner by marcello peeking around the corner with a gun.. he came into our room and said "give me all the moneys then come to dinner." uhh... k. not quite sure what to do, i just snapped a few pics (naturally) then ran to the kitchen. we had the most delicious rice then the main course was caprese... gag me. i hate tomatoes and mozzarella but i couldn't say no so i gagged down the tomato and tried to eat the cheese but the one bite i took honestly almost made me throw up. she didn't seem too happy to see two full pieces of cheese left on my plate. she understands i am a very picky eater though and has actually been pretty good about it and knows that i love her cooking, just not many foods.

sunday: church. woof. i can do an hour of sacrament, but even at home it's hard for me to sit through all three hours. now let's add not knowing the language everyone is speaking in. as i'm sure you can guess, the majority of us sat there either writing letters or playing on our phones to make the time pass. maybe as we get more confident with our italian, we will be able to actually pay attention. but as it is right now, there's no hope for us, so we spend the time writing. i finally finished my letter to matthew! it ended up being 16 pages. ask me how that happened cause i couldn't tell you. i used my new stamper and it was super cool! we struggled a bit at first but finally figured out the right way to do it! since we'd just figured it out, of course we had to write more letters to test it again! i wrote three more letters, this time on my new stationary - one to my family, one to kenny, and one to kenny's family - and tried the stamp again! the lighter was getting way too hot so i couldn't melt enough wax to show the whole stamp, but it still turned out pretty cool and we are getting the hang of it now! we watched mean girls and napped for a while today then ate dinner - to our disappointment, we weren't called in in any special way. i stayed up skyping kenny for a while and then went to bed.

monday: part of our art history class includes excursions to other cities to see the art in person! today we got to go to florence for the day. everyone has always told me how incredible florence is so i was very excited to go! maybe it's just cause i had such high hopes for it, or maybe it's because we were stuck with the group the whole time, but i really wasn't too impressed with it. we are going back in october so hopefully we get some free time then and maybe i'll like it better! we went to a museum where we spent far too much time examining things then went and got a quick tour of some architectural areas. all week we've been saying how much we were craving american food - especially some pancakes or waffles. we were willing to take some desperate measures to get some. while we were in florence, we were walking down a side street and came across an american diner. we looked at the menu and saw a big assortment of pancakes, french toast, hamburgers, wraps, etc and seriously had never been so excited. as soon as we were set free for lunch, we ran back there and got our fix! the banana pancakes were so good! super fluffy and so sweet and delicious! chelsea and i also had a chocolate milkshake which really hit the spot! it was the perfect meal we had been searching for! after lunch, we met up with the group again to go climb to the top of the duomo. it is the fourth largest in the world and is so beautiful! we walked around the church first then started the 500 stair hike up the spiral staircases to the top. yeah, it was a lot of stairs. but i really don't think it would have been too bad had there been more room. but the fact that at the steepest parts, it was a two-way staircase (the rest was only one-way) and very, very narrow made it very chlostrophobic and difficult! when we finally made it to the top, the views were very well worth the hike. you could see all of florence and the beautiful tuscan hills in the background. the pictures we took don't do it the slightest bit of justice. we stayed up there for a while and enjoyed the view then started the long hike back down. we got back on our horrible, bumpy bus ride back to siena then went back to our houses for dinner. we were again disappointed when marcello didn't call us in to dinner in a funny way. we ate dinner then i skyped kenny again and went to bed.

tuesday: today we only had italian. it is getting a little better each time! it wasn't nearly as stressful today. after class, the four of us ran to the bus stop and caught a bus to san gimignano - a little tuscan town northwest of us. again, we were a little disappointed by it. yeah, the views were pretty, but we expected so much more. maybe we should stop setting our hopes so high! the town was actually very pretty, but just not what we expected. it was a lot like siena but much, much smaller and not nearly as much to do or see. tuesday is gelato day and we were told the world's best gelato was in the main square. we tried both of the places claiming to be "world gelato champion" and "world's best gelato" and neither were very good. the flavors weren't great and the consistency was wrong. we should probably consider being gelato critics. we went and sat on the stairs by the church and did our homework then went and caught the bus and went home. rachael, chelsea, and mckenna decided they wanted to do a yoga video, so they went to the church in front of our house and did it there... until they got kicked off the premises by a nun! they tried to do it in the hall in our building and got kicked out again so just came and squished in the bedroom and finished in here. we finally got called into dinner a funny way again tonight! rachael and i heard knives scraping together from down the hall and looked at each other and prepared ourselves for what was about to happen. we saw marcello pop out with a bowl tied onto his head, a bright blue mardi gras mask, and two knives in his hands. we couldn't control ourselves, we were laughing so hard. he hurried us into the kitchen and we ate dinner then went to bed very early.

wednesday: our first rainy day in siena! yay! every wednesday, there is a giant market near piazza gramsci. we had no idea what to expect when we went there this morning but found endless streets of clothes, shoes, food, flowers, jewelry, and everything you could possibly need - most of which was at a reasonable price. granted, none of it was great quality, but the prices were very cheap for what was being sold. we wandered around there all morning then walked to the dante. we had cooking again today and i was really looking forward to the class, but not to the food. any guesses why? we were making seafood. yuck! the chef explained how to make each dish then set us free again, letting us rotate so we got a chance to do everything. i didn't even bother going near the fish because it was staring at me and smelled awful and there was no chance they were getting me to touch that nasty thing. plus, i figured i'd never be making that so i let everyone else do it and i worked on other things. for the appetizer, we made bruschetta which i was surprised to find has a lot more ingredients in it than you would think! it's very simple to make, but i just never realized it was more than tomatoes and basil! the pasta course was tagliolini with clam sauce... the noodles were great, but the clams scared me. luckily, the chef asked if there was anyone who couldn't eat fish and i raised my hand so they gave me tomatoes to put on top of mine. still not ideal, but much better. the main course was the fish. it was some kind of mediterranean fish with tomatoes on top and i was not even about to try that. dessert was bavarese al limone. it was very similar to last weeks, but more of a custard. it was really good!! after class, we walked around town for a little bit then went back to the dante where rachael and mckenna did yoga in the basement and chelsea and i took a nap on the couch upstairs. we went to our art history class which was pretty good! our teacher is amazing and knows so much about what she is teaching us and makes it interesting!! after class we walked back to our house and have been relaxing and waiting for dinner. we just got called into dinner as "american stars." i didn't think i would have much to post about dinner but oh boy was i wrong. most interesting conversation we've had with them for sure! keep in mind it was fully in italian and if we speak english, we get our hands cut off and anna cooks them for dinner. next come the feet then your head. (obviously it's a joke, but it was happening the entire dinner) anna and marcello decided to tell us what vegetables they would serve us with. they mentioned every vegetable that she's tried to serve that she knows i don't like and said they would all be with me. everyone else got vegetables they liked. then somehow we got on to the subject of a shark. he said there was a shark in the bathroom and we said "ohh" and acted interested and like we knew what on earth he was talking about. then he told us there was a crocodile on the balcony and that it was a good thing! then he told us there was a tiger in the bedroom and that anna was the tiger. then. she. growled. rawrrr. then he asked us if we wanted to "see his fidanzato." we were all a little worried as to what that might be but he walked out of the room for a minute. he came back into the room with pictures of his fiance (meaning anna when they were younger). he started handing me pictures to pass around the table and i looked down and there was a picture of her posing naked on the beach. not quite sure what to do, i looked at chelsea (who was sitting next to me) and tried not to laugh and anna noticed and took the picture away and got mad at marcello. he just laughed, of course. and remember how he has been "jack the ripper" and "hannibal the cannibal?" well he warned us tonight that we should get ready for next week because a vampire would be coming, along with some other things. throughout this entire conversation, they kept saying "don't tell the school or they will take you away from us." so... dinner was.... sufficiently awkward and entertaining tonight!

i'm loving siena! it's such a beautiful town and there is so much to see! school is going pretty well and i couldn't be happier to be living right in the center of such an amazing place!!