Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Italy Part Two: Siena

After spending 3 beautiful, relaxing days in the north of Italy, I take a train down to Siena, Tuscany, where I will be for the next 4 days. To describe what Siena is like is to describe a living museum; a complex system of narrow cobblestone streets, Italian gothic arches, a maze of neighborhoods, churches, museums, theaters, small shops, gently rolling hills, Cypress trees, a round and simple medieval 13th century piazza, all abuzz with the sounds of tourists, children, street vendors, scooters, and sparrows flying overhead.

I could have picked a quieter town. One not as overwhelmed with tourists. But as I was standing at the train terminal in Ventimiglia I couldn’t make up my mind as to where I wanted to go. Siena was the first train out that morning…so I bought my ticket and called the tourist office to find me a small room that day. And it’s a good thing I did. Siena may be a city full of tourists, but it is also a city where people all over Europe come to study, to learn, to play and to live. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I ran into a group of French Erazmus students, studying there for a year, only 3 hours after my arrival and would be stuck (gladly) with them for the remainder of my time there.

After finding my room – a very overpriced and large affitecamere (room in a house) – I ventured out to the main Piazza…Piazza del Campo. I bought an Espresso and a gelato, thus beginning my daily habit of eating and drinking lavishly for the next 2 weeks, and sat on the Plaza to people-watch. People-watching is a great past-time of mine. I love doing it. I love watching families, lovers, kids and friends play and talk and mingle about. I can do it anywhere and I think I’ll always enjoy it. After some time I came to realize that Italy can be a very difficult country to travel to alone. Traveling alone, in general, isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s something to do only when you’re sure you can handle it. Good thing I’m a pro at this, or else Siena would have sent me on a tailspin right back to my therapist. But no, for me, I just sat back and wondered how I would manage here for the next 4 days.

I started walking around, getting used to the winding, narrow streets all leading out to the walls surrounding Siena or to the Piazza sloping in the center of the town. Just outside the crowded streets and buildings I see a park nearby and walk toward it - I naturally tend to travel in the direction of green space and gardens – and find myself in front of a large gated entrance to the park. My Italian has not come back to me at this point, so I’m struggling to read the sign…is it public? Is it private? Can I walk right in? Just then, I hear 2 young students speaking and laughing as they’re coming into the Park. They’re carrying boxes of pizza and bottles of wine and rum. I ask them if they know if the park is private and they ask me if I’m Spanish. So far, no one in Italy has confused me for an American. Instead, my broken Italian with the Spanish words and apparent Spanish accent has confused just about everyone I meet. The park is public and I am quickly invited to spend the evening with these 2 wonderful and funny and incredibly generous French men. And with about 10 of their French and Italian friends.

There is something to be said about Serendipity, or Coincidence, or the Universe knowing just what you need at the time you need it. I don’t know how it works, or why it works, but it does. Maybe I just notice it more than others, but it happens all the time to me. I find people that come into and out of my life in a ways that are always meaningful. Meaningful not only to me, but also to them. They have enriched my life just a little as I think I have enriched theirs.

So for the next four days I start my day with coffee, gelato, a walk in town, visit a church or 2, then head to a friends house where lunch will be made, cards will be played, and an excursion will take place. That, followed by dinner and drinks. Or, maybe a free concert at the Parco di San Matteo. Or, some live jazz at the International Jazz school, conveniently situated in the heart of Siena.

After a few days I switched to a cheaper hostel, took a day trip to nearby San Giminiano, and wandered the small walled, mountain village where medieval knights and kings once sparred for control of the walled city where the long-gone Etruscans built their cities and lived on the land. Oh, and I did that while drinking espresso and eating gelato…of course.

I was definitely getting prepared for the next, and biggest, part of my trip – Sicily. Luckily, some of the students I spent time with were from Sicily, Sciacca and Capo d'Orlando. They prepared me what was to come by singing me traditional Sicilian folksongs or teaching (re-teaching) me how to play Scopa or Briscula, old Sicilian card games that I used to play with my Grandfather when I was younger. Finally, and the most notable, was when they sat me down and reminded me that I will never be a tourist in Sicily. Not as long as I have parents who were born there…I’m simply going home to be with my people for a bit. So, after 4 glorious, restful, happy days in Siena, I packed my bags and did just that – I was heading back to my homeland.

Eating gelato...daily


French friends...

1 comment:

sapnacafe said...

laura, i always thought you look spanish :)