Last weekend, our program’s fall trip brought us E.C.Co students to the most picturesque, medieval Tuscan city of Siena. My sister, Abby, studied there 4 years ago and I got to visit her then, but couldn’t wait to return to the city that, in her words, is so windy and old-feeling that it’s like being inside Hogwarts.
It was mercilessly raining almost the whole weekend but I think it made the city somehow more absorbing with its meandering, cobblestone roads to explore, a good umbrella and a warm hotel to retreat back to. I also loved the fortressed city park that overlooks the city; the huge, semicircular, sloping Piazza del Campo that hosts the city’s celebrated annual horse race (which the competing Sienese neighborhood clans take reeally seriously. Each clan, or contrada, has their own horse at the race. The rivalries are strong, even to this day: the winning contrada hosts street celebrations for the rest of the year; a girl I met studying said her host family curses in the name of rival clans, that physical fights break out across contrada lines and that inter-clan marriages or friendships are still a little taboo. In a city of with English translations on every restaurant menu, it’s impressive that such authentic pride, albeit a bit intense, still exists between locals); and the Basilica Cateriniana, which I found at the end of little street and through an archway, massive and empty and unpretentious, a little oasis from the rain with the feeling of a real church and not a museum, with a mass going on in a side pocket and unoccupied pews on which I sat down and did a sign of the cross and a prayer— a thanks for being in such a fulfilling place.
Speaking of ful-filling (ha).. the FOOD! Since this was planned by E.C.Co, we knew they’d be feeding us well and for free and with lots of courses, so we got to try a bunch of Tuscan specialties during dinner Friday night and lunch Sunday. In addition, on Saturday 4 of us reserved a dinner at a little trattoria outside of the city walls and down a lonnng, hilly road, which that night had it’s Siciliana, 5 course 20 euro menu. The post-meal walk back UP the hill, on the other hand…
The next day, we went to a Tuscan ranch for the day, where we got to hang out with the animals and each other, have another delicious meal and ride horses through the surrounding countryside. It was the most beautiful countryside I’ve seen in Italy so far… Tuscany, I’ll be back for you!