Last week and Looking Back on Siena

Leaving Siena was incredibly difficult and while I’m happy to be seeing friends and family again there is so much I miss.

Last week in Siena

Our last few days of the semester were filled with finals which were partially stressful because there were a million other things to do before leaving and kind of helpful as it definitely distracted us from sadness of it.

Saturday we had a little get together of everyone in the program and their language exchange partners and Italian friends. It was really fun having everyone together and meeting new friends. It was really cool to see myself speaking with these people I’ve never met and being able to communicate everything I wanted to in Italian without feeling nervous.

This Sunday, after studying together for a bit, we went to Siena’s last soccer game of the season. Especially since most of us didn’t get a chance to see a European soccer game earlier in the semester it was definitely a worth while study break.


Monday and Tuesday had absolutely perfect weather. To make the most out of our free time after our various finals or presentation, we studied in Piazza del Campo, absorbing the beautiful view of Palazzo Publicco.

Wednesday was tough, not only because of my three finals, but also because it was the last day we were all going to be together in Siena. That evening we had our farewell dinner and some tears were definitely shed as we laughed, ate and reminisced on all the wonderful times we spent together.

Thursday was my last day in Siena.  After being in this city for so long it was a mix of stress and emotions as I tried to say bye to a city that has become a second home for me. I packed in the morning spent a relaxing day soaking up the beautiful weather spending time with the amazing friends I have made.

I had my last dinner with my host family and spending time with them after made me really emotional. I really felt welcomed part of their home and leaving them was really difficult. We had our final  with the rest of the people who didn’t leave yet all met up for a last goodbye that night .

Coming home I’ve been hyper aware of all the little cultural differences. It’s definitely a shock and really eye opening to how I have changed and grown with this semester. There are plenty little things that I’m really going to miss that made my study abroad experience truly remarkable.

The city itself,  everyday there were little things that proved to be constant reminders of its past history and culture which is still  thriving city today. In preparation for the Palio, everyday towards the end of the semester you could hear the different contradas practicing drums and if you walked by certain areas you could see the flag throwers practicing. Every week until the Palio is dedicated to a certain contrada. Just by chance I  got to see the Valdimonte processional my second to last Sunday as they took their tour around the city. It was really amazing to see and I can only imagine what it will be like the day of the Palio when all 17 are together marching around the Piazza del Campo.  This and so many more events I have stumbled upon are part of Siena’s traditions and are part of the reason why it’s not just its medieval streets that set Siena apart. The Palio among other things has brought the people of the city together just as they have in the past.  Pieces of history are everywhere in this city. One particular memory was a trip to the archives of Siena and by chance we went to a part normally not open to the public and saw scrolls dating back to the early 1200s.

Of course a huge part of what I’m going to miss are the people. From the people at IES, to my amazing host family and all the people in my program, they all have  made this experience so special for me and it would not have been the same without them

So its been a week since I’ve been home and while I might still be sad and missing Siena I will always look back on all the happy memories I’ve made and take them with me. Italia ci vediamo presto!

Walking on the Francigina Road to Monteriggioni

The Via Francigina was the ancient road for pilgrims and merchants leading from France down to Rome and many cities were formed along this road including Siena. Friday morning we started our walk at this small town near Colle Val d’Elsa taking the old path the pilgrims took through valleys and woods, passing archeological remains such as old Roman baths and Etruscan burial grounds. This stretch of the path was around 13 kilometers and though my legs were definitely tired afterwards, the views of the countryside were worth it!

Perugia, Bevagna & Assisi

Last week was definitely a whirlwind, getting back from spring break on Sunday, field trip to Florence Wednesday and IES trip to Umbria Friday and Saturday.

Getting to Perugia our first stop was our hotel, the Etruscan Chocohotel, where all the decorations were chocolate themed.


After we went on our tour of Perugia, seeing all the main churches and buildings. The part that stuck me most was the mix of styles within the churches, as parts or even the entire interiors had been redone since their initial construction. Especially coming from Siena where everything has been preserved from the Middle Ages, it was an interesting contrast.

That afternoon we went to the cute little town of Bevagna where they had live exhibits set up such as paper, silk and candle making.

Saturday morning we left early to spend the entire day in Assisi. It was a bit overcast so the views of the countryside were not very clear but the city itself was amazing! We saw the church of Santa Chiara as well as the Basilica of San Francisco. While I’ve been to a lot of medieval towns, Assisi was definitely one of the most beautiful.

Spring Break: Prague, Salzburg, Vienna, Athens, Santorini

So to get the most out of my spring break abroad I tried to go to as many places as possible and with our 10 days of vacation my friend Allie and I decided on these wonderful cities. While it was a lot of traveling and we were definetly more tired at the end than we were when we started, it was worth it!

Prague, Czech Republic

We arrived in Prague late Thursday night. Getting out of the metro we saw the National Museum before heading to our hostel. Since this was one of the cities were were visiting with the rest of our group we all stayed together and to our suprise our 6 person hostel room turned into 3 private hotel rooms with kitchens!


The next morning we started out early and walked to the Charles bridge. We saw the John Lennon wall and then went to the old town square where they had a market set up with sweets and local cuisine for Easter.

After we went to the Jewish quarter and saw the Spanish synagogue. Since studying abroad I have seen many amazing churches and cathedrals but the inside of the Spanish synagogue was truly spectacular. Pictures don’t even begin to capture the stunning design and detail and the history behind the synagogue different from what we have been used to.

Our next stop was the Prague castle. After making it to the top we saw an amazing panoramic view before going in. Inside the walls of the castle was Saint Vitus cathedral whose inmense size and detailed vibrating stained glass works were stunning.

Saturday morning we finished our time in Prague with some breakfast and a stroll on the Charles bridge before heading over to the train station!
Salzburg, Austria

We arrived in Salzburg Saturday night and after settling in at our hostel we went to find an authentic Austrian restaurant for dinner. Easter Sunday we wandered around the city for a while before going to the Salzburg Dom for mass. It was stunningly beautiful on the inside with beautiful paintings on the ceilings and a full orchestra and choir filling this immense space with music.

After we met up with our Sound of Music tour. We started off with some of the places in Salzburg where the film was shot including the lake behind the Von Trapp’s house and the gazebo before heading on the bus into the Austrian Alps where the opening scene was shot. The snow capped mountains and lakes were absolutely picturesque. We ended up in the small town of Mondsee, where the wedding scene of the Sound of Music took place. After wandering around in this cute little town and trying some apple strudel we got back on the bus to Salzburg just as it was starting to snow.

That night, as most places in Salzburg aren’t open Sundays let alone Easter Sunday, we ate dinner in our hostel and skyped our families before watching the Sound of Music, which they play their every night at 8pm. It was really strange being away from my family on Easter but it was really nice getting a chance to talk with them all.


The next day we went to the Mirabell Gardens where we found these cute little statues and the gates where the end of “Do Re Me” was filmed. After we went up to the old city wall where we got a great view of the city, though we probably got hit with the snow the worst.

Vienna, Austria

For our full day in Vienna we wandered around the historic city center, seeing many beautiful grand buildings.

We stopped to try Mozart chocolate balls and wandered around the Naschmarkt for lunch.

We went to the Schbrunn summer palace which was a bit outside of the center of Vienna. This palace was enormous and surrounding it were gardens and fountains which seemed to go on forever. Today part of the grounds are even used as a zoo. Even just wandering around some of the palace grounds took a lot out of us.

We freshened up a bit at our hotel before heading to the opera. The Vienna opera house sells standing tickets for under 5€ before every performance but to get good standing spots we got there two hours early. We watched Richard Strauss’ Elektra based on the Greek tragedy and while our legs were tired it was definitely worth it to see this amazing opera.


Athens, Greece 

The next day after our flight we got to Pireaus, Athens’ port city, where our hotel was for that night. After walking around a little we went back to the central part of Athens for dinner. I have been wanting to go to Athens for so long and this little taste of the city made me very excited to actually see the city on Saturday.

Santorini, Greece 

Thursday, while our ferry ride was a bit bumpy and very long, we made it to Santorini. The rain had just stopped and after  8 hours on a boat we were happy to be on land.

That night we wandered around Fira and while it was windier and colder than we expected, the views were simply stunning!

Friday we took a bus to Oia on the northern part of the island, not realizing until we got there that while it was a beautiful day, the strong winds cancelled all the ferries leaving the island, including ours for that night. Luckily, thanks to a great little café, The Hungry Donkey, we were able to use their wifi and figure everything out so we could still enjoy our time in Santorini. The lookout point in Oia was exactly how I pictured Santorini with the white buildings, churches with blue rooves pressed up against the side of the cliff. After we walked down a ton of stairs for about 20 minutes until we got to the water where we explored a little bit around the docks and had a picnic lunch on the rocks. Then it was back up those crazy stairs though this time we had a dog friend to keep us company. Out of all the places I have been, Santorini definitely had the most stray dogs. Once back at the top we walked to the fortress before going back to Fira.

Late that night I took a flight from possibly the worlds smallest airport and made it back to Athens.

Athens, Greece (again)

Saturday I had entirely dedicated to seeing Athens. Starting with the Acropolis, I saw all the main ruins including the Theater of Dionysus, the Parthenon, the Roman Agora, Hadrians library, the Ancient Agora, Hadriens Arch and the temple of Zeus and many other places. This was the perfect day and the perfect weather for walking around and I definitely took advantage of it. Part of what made all these ruins so amazing was the environment in which they were set. While some were surrounded by normal city streets, others were on hills, or in parks and many were surrounded by wild flowers.

After I met up with Sam and Juliet, other girls in my program who arrived in Athens a few days before. We caught up a little bit, sharing spring break stories on the roof of their hostel which had an extraordinary view of the acropolis in the background. After we all went to dinner in the Plaka and watched some of the fireworks which they were setting off for Greek Orthodox Easter. I couldn’t imagine a better day.


Rome & Siena, Italy

After leaving very early on Sunday we got to the airport in Athens.  3 trains, a plane, and a bus later, we made it back to Siena, very tired but very happy to be back!

Horses, Pienza, Solar Eclipse etc.

Every week here offers new experiences and while Siena might seem a bit small and quiet, there is always something going on and little surprises which gives this medieval city it’s charm.

So this Sunday my host mom mentioned over breakfast that there would be an event with horses in Piazza del Campo. Since I’m unfortunately leaving before the Palio I jumped at the chance to get a little taste of what it would be like. Even though it wasn’t anything near the scale or have any of the tradition which the Palio has, it showed a little bit of the attachment the Sienese have to their horses. After the first parade of adults  the children followed, first with the beginners on their ponies and then the intermediate riders. After their tour around the Piazza del Campo they passed by the Duomo before going into the countryside.

After hearing so much about the Piccolomini family, we took a quick, afternoon field trip to the birth place of Pope Pius II, the perfect renaissance town, Pienza. We viewed the Piccolomini palace where the Piccolomini family lived up until the mid 1900s and was the home of Pope Pius II. As pope he contributed greatly to the public works of Siena and did much to improve the small town where he was born, including building a grand cathedral and creating a piazza in the center of Pienza. The views of the countryside from Pienza were unbelievable and we saw the sunset on Tuscan hills on the bus back to Siena. Heading back to the center we were surprised by a large chocoloate exhibit set up in Piazza del Campo. The air smelt like chocolate and all the sweets looked amazing!


Thursday was another day of field studies. For my Italian class we took a trip over to the newspaper Corriere di Siena and met with the director, who explained the different structure of Italian newspapers and how the paper was strucured and made.

After we went with my next class to the headquarters of the Monte di Paschi di Siena, one of the oldest banks. Our professor had some connections, and we were lucky enought to get a private tour, since it’s normally not open to the public except abound the Palio. The works of art inside were incredible and we were able to go to the top of what was the private tower of the Salamei family. We couldn’t take pictures inside but my favorite part was the archives. The entire room was covered in old books and records dating back hundreds of years which was incredible to see. One note which was my favorite part was a hand written note from Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of the leaders of the Italian unification saying that he was unable to pay his taxes.

Solar Eclipse day! It was only around 60% at its peak but it was still incredible to see. The University of Siena organized a viewing event where they had telescopes, projection screens and protective glasses for people to safely watch the eclipse without causing permanent eye damage. Too many people came for us to get our own glasses but we were able to see it at intervals with the telescope and a shared set of glasses which probably was better anyway since the sun seemed especially strong. Borrowing someone’s dark cover I was able to get a photo though the sun was still too bright though the in the reflection you can see the sun mostly covered.

My friend Juliet had a bit more luck here are couple of her photos.

Pisa and Viareggio

So my entire experience here was been so incredible it is hard to imagine it getting any better and then a day like today comes along to make it even more perfect. Our perfect day started with a quick train ride to Pisa. while it definitely was super touristy like everyone says, it was interesting to see a city with a more renaissance rather than medieval feel to it. And just like everywhere else we happened to find a little market with fresh food and cheese samples. Looking at the tower for the first time it is hard not to laugh that this architectural nightmare where nothing went as planned became world famous… and the fact that its this short little tower and is leaning so much. After taking a ton of tourist pictures we made our way back to the train station and continued on our way to Viareggio.

Viareggio is known for its giant Carnevale parade with giant floats and is considered one of the biggest celebrations in Italy. While our plans to go for Carnevale didn’t pan out, but I’m so happy we got to go there today. Looking at the forecast this morning it looked a little unsure whether our beach plans would work out but we hoped for the best and decided to give it a try anyway and it couldn’t have been better. 61 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny skies as wee pulled into Viareggio. After a small snack and exploring another outdoor market we wandered down cute little streets lined with palm trees until we got to the beach. It was so amazing just to sit and relax on the beach while taking in the view of the sea in front of us and the snow capped mountains in the distance. Careful to avoid the train strike this evening we left right before sunset and made it back to Siena just in time for dinner. I could not picture a better way to spend a Saturday!

Italian Food

So where do I begin with this one. Well to start off there is no better food on this planet than Italian food. Other than the amazing meals my host family makes me, there are so many great food options to choose from. Of course you have the the pizza, pasta, cheese and prosciutto which Italy is famous for but you also have other options that you can try out like Italian hot cocoa, which comes in so many different flavors and is so rich and thick you need do use a spoon to drink it, or  Frittelle in the Piazza del Campo, or a million other treats local to Siena. So along with our wine tasting at the end of orientation, IES has been giving us opportunities to take a peek inside how this magnificent food is made. A few weeks ago we woke up early on a Friday, our day off from classes, to go to an Italian bakery. Inside the kitchen we were able to see how they made crostate, ricciarelli (which they gave us dough to try at home), panna cotta and other types of sweets. We also got to see how they made frittelle (sweet rice ball snacks that are a specialty around Carnevale) and pizza dough. Since they make their bread fresh every day, they start around midnight the night before and since we obviously didn’t get there that early they showed us where they make it and explained the process.

We also had a cooking lesson with IES for dinner this week. We made zucchini lasagna, bruschetta, pollo con patate and tiramisu. It was so much fun cooking together and we were all so full afterwards.

Barcelona, Spain

So the past weekend I had a small vacation from Siena and went to Barcelona to meet up with my friend Steph. For only spending a few days in Spain I got to see a good amount of the city and get a taste of the culture and experience the Spanish night life. Barcelona isn’t like any other city I’ve seen before. While it definitely has modern aspects the architecture on the buildings that have been preserved isn’t really identifiable and reminds me a bit of a Dr. Seuss- like world. This combined with the diverse group of tourists and the street performers and musicians everywhere definitely added to the unique feel of the city. After getting in late Thursday night, first thing Friday morning I went to find the Sagrada Familia only to realize it was right down the street from my hostel. While the lines were really long and I didn’t get a chance to go inside, it was really spectacular to see this grand cathedral that was started hundreds of years ago still being constructed today.

After Steph and I walked around a bit and made our way down to the beach stopping to take pictures along the way.

Saturday after an amazing piece of banana bread at Brunch & Cake…


I wandered around the city from Las Ramblas and the Mercat Boqueria…

to the Gothic district, seeing the famous Barcelona cathedral…