Monday, October 29, 2012

The One with Two Stories

So this week may not have been the most eventful of weeks, but two VERY funny things happened. I thought I'd share them with you.

Story #1: Fat Problems
I feel like I should preface this story by explaining that everyone in Italy is very honest. They're not rude, they just call it the way they see it. My roommate, Anne, and I have both gained a significant amount of weight, but neither of us could be considered fat or heavy. However, our host family would seem to disagree. Marco has decided to go on a diet and so he went to the dietician the other day to get one custom designed for him. He was telling us about this new diet and I naively made the joke that our moms had planned similar diets for us when we get back home. From here things went a little down hill... Paola said (totally serious) that Anne had gotten so fat that her mom wouldn't even recognize her when she got of the plane. Ouch! Who says that? The funny part was that she didn't think that she was being mean at all. So then Marco puffed up his cheeks and said that that was what Anne looked like. Paola proceeded to observe that Anne's face had gotten rounder. As if fat insults weren't enough they called Anne a "slow wheel."What does that even mean?!? Apparently it means that Anne does everything slowly, but that she always gets where she needs to go. We were in shock and had absolutely no idea what to say. When we got back to our room I LITERALLY rolled on the floor laughing. Fortunately Anne was not gravely offended by any of the occurrences of the evening.

Story #2: Sanitary?
In my Italian class we spend most of the time just talking about social issues and customs in America and Italy. We were discussing the relative differences in sanitation between Rome and Milan. I joked that Italians would think Americans were disgusting because we don't use gloves when we pick out fruit at the grocery store. This was followed by a question about how often Americans wash their hands everyday. We said that it depended on how many time they go to the bathroom. Our teacher than asked whether we washed our hands before or after we go to the bathroom. We of course told him after. He was SO disgusted. Apparently in Italy people wash their hands before they go to the bathroom! Weird! He said that only the really clean people wash their hands after as well. This led to a lesson about how to use a bidaai. He was shocked that we had never used one and even more grossed out when we said we didn't have them in America.

Yay for cultural differences!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The One Day That I Walked Twenty Miles

So... Friday was the most eventful day of my life. I don't really know how to describe it, but I shall try.

The first half of the day was so perfect that I thought it was going to be the best day of my life. It started at 5:30 in the morning. I got up to head out on a trip to some small Tuscan hill towns, Pienza and Montepulciano. It was a gorgeous morning and I didn't mind being up that early. We boarded a bus and headed south. It was a great bus ride. The views were great and the people were hysterical. At one point a bunch of Italian middle schoolers got on the bus. They were listening to some interesting music. I never thought I would drive through the Tuscan countryside will listening to "Stronger" by Kanye West... I did really "enjoy" one of their songs. It was an Italian rap song, but the chorus was in English. It went something like "live the sexy life, the sexy life." Twelve year olds singing that at the top of their lungs. So hard not to laugh.

After about an hour and a half we got of the bus in our first town, Pienza. It was like something out of a fairy tale. The views were great and the pecorino cheese was even better. I really can't describe this town so I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Oh what a view?

So happy.

More Tuscan Hillside.

A real well.

Places like this exist.

The Street of Love

The Street of the Kiss.

Pecorino and Pear

After Pienza we headed out onto the hike to Montepulciano. It was supposed to be about six miles long so we figured we could take our time. The trail was seriously stunning. We walked through vineyards, past villas, and over rolling hills. 

The trail.

A vineyard.

An agriturismo.

After an hour and half we reached the town of Montechiello. It was seriously the most adorable town that I have ever been to. It was tiny! There were only three restaurants! The linen shop in the town was adorable. We talked to the owner for quite a while and he told us about how they make all of the fabric themselves. After exploring the town we had lunch at a little sandwich shop. It was one of the most peaceful experiences. The town was so empty and yet so beautiful.

The main "piazza"

This is their cute little church

A swing!

Now this is where things start to go wrong... but it didn't hit me until hours later. We had a drawn map of the roads that we needed to take, but we weren't exactly sure. So we hit the gravel road we had been on in hopes that we would find the turn off we were looking for. Well we did find the turn off. It just happened to be a private road. We didn't know what to do. None of us had any idea what the trespassing laws in Italy are so we decided to stick to the gravel road. We figured that eventually we would get to some town. We were still kind of worried so we asked the next car. They told us that the road did lead to Montepulciano, but that it was 10 kilometers away (about 6 miles). We thought they must have over  exaggerated. Turns out they underestimated... However, I was still really happy at this point. I was walking through beautiful scenery and the weather was great.

After a little bit one of the girls started to get really dehydrated. And by that I mean VERY VERY VERY dehydrated. She was seeing double and had to walk slowly. This wasn't too much of a problem on the dirt road. We would all just walk at our pace and then stop to wait after a while, but eventually we ran into the highway. The dirt road just ended. Luckily there was a sign pointing towards Montepulciano and we headed off that way. Unfortunately it was a busy highway. We were walking single file along a highway with no shoulder with ITALIAN drivers. I was scared for my life. Things kept getting worse for our dehydrated friend. Eventually we stopped at a hotel and asked for water. According to the girl the "goddess of the albergo" gave her a cup of the coldest and tastiest water she had ever tasted. 

We had hiked for several hours when we realized that we weren't going to make it to Montepulciano in time to see much of the city before the last bus left at 5:40. In fact we realized that at the pace we were going we probably weren't even going to make the last bus. We wanted to pick up the pace, but the dehydrated girl simply could not go any faster. One girl decided to run off on her own so that she could make in time to walk around the town a bit. We planned to meet her if we made it in time. This is when it hit me that we were going to be stranded. The town still looked so far away. 

We continued hiking. At one point we all just leaned over the guardrail and started laughing hysterically. We were that far gone and totally pathetic. After another little bit we reached a cross road. We could either continue down the terrifying highway or take what looked like a hiking trail to the city.  We decided to go with the trail. We figured that we were going to miss the bus either way so we might as well take the safer route. It was gorgeous. We walked through orchards. I may or may not have stolen an apple for my dear dehydrated friend. After a long uphill climb the said dehydrated friend was so far gone that she prostrated herself on the ground in a praying position. I would have done the same had a car not driven by. After a little bit longer we reached the most beautiful church I have ever seen. It was a total surprise out in the middle of nowhere. 

One more rough uphill climb and we reached Montepulciano. We missed our bus by five minutes... So slightly hopeless and ready to be home we headed to the main square to try and find information about how to get back to Siena. In the square we ran into the girl who had run off on her own. The bus had driven by her without stopping. It is super lucky that we found her. It turned out that the tourist information center was closed... Just our luck. So a few of us headed off to find a hotel with internet. Our search was futile and we were told that the only internet cafe in the city had closed a year ago. 

This  is when the panic started to really set in. We headed off to the bus station just outside of town only to find that it too had been closed for the night. So totally hopeless we went to the nearest hotel to get their prices. It was a little more than we wanted to spend and so we decided to keep looking. We saw a sign for a taxi and decided to call and find out their prices. The ride was going to cost 240 euros... Not happening. So resigned to the fate of our overnight stay I called my host family to tell them that we would not be home. With so much kindness they told us that they would not let us stay and that they were coming to get us. Unfortunately they couldn't fit the other girls in the car. The other girls decided to take the taxi and Anne and I parted ways with them. We went to the Conad, bought dinner, and waited for the next two hours. When that white land rover drove up we were so happy. I cannot even begin to explain it. After being chided for being stupid enough to walk between cities we made it home.

The next day was one of the most painful experiences of my life. I was SO sore. I never knew it could be harder to go down stairs than up them. Not to mention my body was all kinds of funny feeling after being pushed to the max. And yet I am still so glad that it happened. I wouldn't change it at all. It's a great story and now I can say that I have SEEN Tuscany.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The One Time I Saw a Fifteen Foot Tall Man

After a long two weeks of midterms we were in dire need of a weekend away.  On Friday morning we left Siena in the middle of total downpour and headed to Florence. When we arrived we promptly dropped of our bags at our convent. That's right convent. We stayed in a nunnery! It was awesome. Our room even had a frescoed ceiling. It also looked like the perfect setting for a period murder mystery. Nuns in Black?

Freaked out by our room!

We headed for the Ponte Vecchio to meet the IHUM 201 teacher, Silvia. The Ponte Vecchio is stunning and lined with a high end jewelry shops. (Note to my future fiance: I expect to go ring shopping there, so start saving.)  

We spent the day looking at fantastic art. At the Uffizi, the best museum ever, I saw Boticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus, famed gothic art, a Leonardo, and countless other masterpieces. It was truly moving. Then I saw Michelangelo's masterpieces at the Medici Chapel and the Academia. The David was incredible. It is literally 15 feet tall. It is so incredible that it was carved out of a piece of inferior marble that no other sculptors would use. 

After the museum we were set loose for dinner. We went to a diner... After two months of only Italian food we all wanted some good American food. The Diner did not fail. I ordered eggs benedict and they we delicious! The best part of the restaurant was the free candy and water. It was great! Don't regret that choice. 

That night we got to go to the opera. Well it wasn't a full opera, but it was a collection of the best arias from many of the famous operas. We got to get all dressed up. That was super nice because I am not going to lie I never really do my hair or face in Italy. I mean we're talking no mascara and a ponytail everyday. I've been telling the other girls that it was all strategic so that it would be a bigger difference when I did get dressed up. Yeah..... Let's pretend I'm not just lazy. Anyways the opera was super fun. One of the singers got so incredibly into it and they had audience participation. It was a great night.

All dolled up.

The next day we were set free to explore Florence. So we slept in. Until 8:30. Sad. Then we set out to do some leather shopping. I found the exact pair of boots I had visualized in my mind in a store window. I may or may not have waited outside the door until they opened the store so that I could buy them. Hey, at least I got a great deal and they're real leather! After my purchase we headed off to the market at San Lorenzo. I bought a bag there and some gifts for people back home. The market was huge and had GREAT deals. 

Rockin' my leather spoils.

For lunch I am ashamed/proud to say that we went to the diner again. Those of us that had breakfast wanted dinner food and those that had dinner wanted breakfast food. So I had my first hamburger in two months. And it was DELICIOUS! I know that some of you are probably judging me for passing up the opportunity to have fantastic Italian food. After two months of excellent Italian food (I mean pasta, pasta, and more pasta) we needed a break. 

Well I kind of love Florence. It has such an artsy, classy feel. Definitely my favorite big city we've been to.

So beautiful!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

They Say It's Your Birthday

Today is the birthday of one of my very best friends, Kathryn. Unfortunately for me (fortunately for her) she is currently in Jerusalem. This means I can't throw her a party or give her a call. So I am dedicating this blog post to her.

Kathryn and I met a little over a year ago. We were roommates at BYU. It was totally random, but totally perfect. Kathryn and I couldn't be more different. She is controlled and logical. I am all over the place and a little more emotional. She is classy. I am uhh.. quirky? She hates Italian food. And I love it. (There's a reason she's in Jerusalem and I'm in Italy.) However, we have a ton of the same interests and we just clicked.

We have had so many good times and I have learned so much from her. In the year we lived together we had such a blast. Seriously, the best year of my life. We dressed up as Peter Pan characters, NSYNC member, Hogwarts staff members, and Santa Clauses. We went to St. George, City Creek, and Cafe Rio. We were perpetually single. We smashed a TV.  We were the Pettindsey family. We ate Froyo. We said "praise the supreme!" We laughed, a lot.

That's not to say that it was all fun and games. There were down times and I am so glad we got to go through them together. She always put up with my disparaging boy talks and Italy drama. And I am so grateful that she let me share the best chocolate mousse ever when she needed it.

I thought this represented us well.

I love you Kathryn! Have a blast today in Jeru!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

That One Week Where I Got Hit On By a Satyr

So this las week was full of a lot of cultural events. Some fun. Some exciting. Some tasty. And one nauseating.

Monday we got to tour "the so-called crypt" under the duomo. A little over ten years ago a man was digging under the duomo check the foundation. He struck his hammer on the wrong part and the foundation crumbled. It revealed a previously undiscovered building under the duomo. Sound like Indiana Jones? It was pretty awesome because they still don't know what the building was and why it was hidden. Any guesses?

Tuesday I had an interesting lunch... Janessa and I went to the grocery store to buy lunch between classes. We found a cute little package in the cheese section for just 35 cents. It was called "lieveto." We had never heard of it before, but I decided to try it... All Italian cheeses are good, right? Well turns out it was yeast. Yeah... not the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. I'm not sure how I managed to miss the pictures of bread on the package. Won't make that mistake again!

That night I got to experience the community first hand. The director of our school is a member of the Torre (tower) contrada and he arranged for us to spend the night with the contrada. To explain this night I have to start by explaining a little bit about Siena. Siena is divided up into 17 neighborhoods. Each is called a contrada. Every contrada is assigned a mascot. I happened to live near istrice, the porcupine. Twice a year the contrade all compete in a giant horse race, the palio. Whoever wins is given the right to brag and party for the rest of the year. It is a really cool system because it creates a very tight knit community. We started our contrada night with a lecture at the school and then went to explore the church and the museum. It was SO cool to learn some local history. We ended the night with the weekly contrada dinner. It was really great to see all of the members socializing and to try some different food. The food there was a lot more rustic than what I normally have at home, but it was still really good.

In Torre's Victory Room

On Thursday I did one of the coolest things ever. I went to an Italian soccer game!! It was so fun. We were definitely the annoying group of Americans, but we had a blast cheering for the Sienese team. Between all of the smoke I breathed in and all of the screaming I did I am pretty sure my throat will have permanent damage. But alas, we won!! It was definitely a night that I will always remember.

Repping Siena.


Saturday brought our much anticipated visit to the cheese farm. In August when I was looking for excursions for our group to do I found this cute little farm that made ricotta and pecorino, gave tours, and hosted tastings. After MUCH debate the group decided that tasting cheese might be a good idea (haha it was unanimous, everyone loved the idea). After a lot of wandering in the Italian countryside we found the farm. We were greeted by Vittoria and led of to a fantastic lunch in the farmhouse. We tasted all kinds of awesome things. I won't describe them in fear that you will all come after me in a fit of uncontrollable jealousy. Then came the tour of the factory... Unbeknownst to me I became the translator for the entire group. My cheese vocabulary is not extensive enough for that! Oh well! It was all really interesting and I think I managed to help everyone out.

Our lunch table.

Trying my best to translate.

Jenessa and I on the farm.
Just chillin' with a bale of hay.

That night Onda, one of the contrade, threw a giant victory party. The theme was the Trojan war. They decorated their entire neighborhood like ancient Greece. It was sweet! The already ancient streets of Siena became even older. The best part was that all of the residents got REALLY into it. There were old women dressed in Togas. Young men dressed as soldiers. A herd of cupids. Hades' minions. And then a pack of satyrs... The first satyr we passed told us he loved us and wanted us to stay, but that was no big deal compared to what was to come. We happened upon the satyr's lair. Libby led the way in. We were barely in when she got surrounded by five satyrs roaring at her. One scream and a few steps later we had booked it out of the lair. It was one party that I will never forget.

Sunday was one of the best days of my life. In the place of stake conference in Florence our group had a small devotional at our school. We talked about light and revelation. It was SO beautiful. All of the girls were so well prepared. The lesson help me make sense of things in my life that I had never understood before. After church Anne and I went to the fortezza to think and write in our journals. It was so peaceful and just what I needed. When we returned home Paola and Marco invited us to go furniture shopping with them. Anne and I said yes without even knowing what exactly we were getting into. They took us to an Italian designer store where the designer knew them by name. It was awesome!! Everything was so modern and innovative. After the furniture store they surprised us with a visit to San Gimignano. That city was so gorgeous and it was fun to go with Italians who knew all about the history. Also, San Gimignano is home to the best gelato in the world. Literally. They have one awards. Paola treated Anne and I and it was wonderful. I tried rosemary-raspberry and it was absolutely incredible.

In my dream kitchen.

Marco and Paola being adorable.

Yeah, I love gelato!

Could life get any better?