Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Olive Oil Out the Wazoo!


Oh dear, it’s been almost an entire month since my last post…again…I think my new year’s resolution should be to keep on top of my blog (and travel journal) writing. Today I shall address the short trip that took me to Siena, Italy.

When I visited the de Planta family at the beginning of the semester, Mr. de Planta suggested that we go to Siena, Italy during the month of October. Why then? October is the month of olive harvesting, and when those olives are pressed to make olive oil. I am a huge fan of olive oil, so I had to get my hands on some of that. Plus, Siena is in Tuscany, so…how is that even a question? That said, I knew I had to visit Siena in October. So after our EFT to Normandy, Kyle and I planned a trip to the small town and recruited people to come with us. However, since we planned it in such little time, most of the people I recruited decided not to go. So Friday, October 19th, Kyle and I departed for the Lausanne train station at five in the morning, our bags filled with history reading and our notes from our classes (midterms started the next week, so the trip wasn’t too great of an idea, but I think my excitement about getting some authentic Tuscan olive oil overshadowed the reality of midterm exams).

Our first train ride was somewhat of a fiasco. I stayed awake to read the 300-page book we had due in American History the following Tuesday (not complaining, but our professor never referenced it in class other than our short, 30-minute discussion of the painfully boring book on the Filipino War) while Kyle passed out in his seat with his hood over his face to block the artificial light of the train. 

(sleepy Kyle)

The ride was lovely until we reached Italy (except for when I was hastily penciling in the date on my Eurail Pass and the ticket man told me to have the date filled in before the ticket man came on the train in Italy, since they would be harsh on me and take the whole pass away from me, despite the fact that I hadn’t used all of my ten days yet. Thankfully he let it slide, but I was a bit overwhelmed by this information). Then once we entered Italy, the police came. Oy vei! First, they came and took Kyle’s hood off and shook him awake (quite roughly). I didn’t realize they were police, and when they said something in Italian, I thought they wanted my ticket, so I got my seat reservation and Eurail out. When I presented it to them they looked at me angrily and said “passaporte” and rolled their eyes at me and started laughing at me. So I presented my passport, offended that they would be so rude (yes, I do know that I am a “dumb American,” but hey you can’t expect me to know Italian!). Literally two minutes later, another pair of police came to ask for our passports. This time we had a much better interaction, but they still seemed to be angry. Then, another two minutes later, another pair of police came to check our passports. I was so confused! If they already had two pairs of police come through the car, why would they need another one? Why would they need more than one, anyway?

We arrived in Milan a few hours later, and had an hour to kill before our next train to Firenze (Florence), so we walked around the city just a tad and spent a little too much time in the Sephora at the train station. 

(The view of the train station)
(The view of the street from the train station)

Then we were Florence-bound! We hadn’t reserved seats for the journey home, but since the Italians seemed to be sticklers of having a reserved seat, we decided it would be best that we played it safe and ensured that we wouldn’t get a fine for not reserving seats. So we stood in line for about half an hour to reserve seats. Our next feat was to find the bus station that would have the bus to take us to Florence. After about thirty minutes of looking and asking around, we finally found it, and departed on the next bus! One hour later, we were in Siena! (Tangent: my favorite part of the trip up to that point was when we were driving through Firenze and an old man ran up to the bus stop we were stopping at next, thinking that we were on the bus he needed to take. But when he realized it was not his bus, he started laughing. His laughter filled me with joy and made me smile like a Nordstrom model, as Kyle would say). When we arrived in Siena, the bus crossed a bridge that overlooked a valley filled with olive trees and Tuscan-looking houses. I just about died. It was so gorgeous! And was better than I had imagined it would be!

Finding our hotel was also a challenge. Apparently we had to go to a restaurant to check in since it was owned by the same people who owned the restaurant. We searched for about twenty minutes before asking a man in another restaurant where we should go. Finally, we found it and were given our key. After settling in and resting for a little bit, we decided to peruse the shops along the street we were staying on. Since the city is so small, there are hardly any cars, save for the occasional police car. So walking around wasn’t hard, except for all the people out too. After a few hours of walking along the street and checking out the shops (they had a shop filled with Pink Panther purses and computer cases!!!!!), we noticed a pathway into a huge square, and came upon the Siena clock tower. The buildings around the square were arranged in a semicircle, and were comprised of restaurant after restaurant. So we decided to eat there! And since we were in Italy, we had to get pizza. Which was amazing. And of course we had to get some Italian red wine. Which was also amazing. But really. My mind was blown by how amazing the food was (and it was cheaper than in Switzerland! It’s always a relief when a pizza doesn’t cost CHF 25, which is about $28). 


(delicious pizza!)

And I was also amazed by how warm it was – I was sitting outside at 8 PM with a skirt and short-sleeved shirt on in the middle of October. You can’t even do that in New Mexico, for goodness sake! In addition to good food, I had quite good company. Kyle and I had a great conversation and ate our dinner as the Europeans would: nice and slow with a lot of conversation in between. When we were done with dinner, we meandered back to the hotel and fell asleep quite easily after a long travel day.

We slept in the next day, and explored the city even more. At lunch, I bought a piece of rosemary bread so I could make my dad envious. We saw the Duomo of Siena, which was gorgeous! Then we decided that we needed some gelato. Kyle’s friend told him of a gelato shop in Siena called Kopa Kabana that he had to try, but when he had looked it up on Google, it gave him three different addresses. So we ventured onto an unpopulated side street and decided that we would get gelato at the next gelato place we passed. Literally one minute later, we saw Kopa Kabana and literally screamed with delight that we had found it! We each got our two scoops and went back onto the street, excited that we had found the shop! Kyle noticed that I had gotten more than I did, and was confused, but I wasn’t. I explained to him that we were in Italy, and that I was a girl. That’s all that was to it. So he lived on in envy as I ate my excess of delicious gelato.

(rosemary bread!)


We continued along the street and yours truly was in an artsy mood, so we took a while to stop and take picture after picture on the streets. Then we heard drums, so we went to see what was going on. We came upon a pair of young boys dressed up in medieval-looking garb doing a flagging dance, with another young boy playing the drum and an instructor. 

(flagging dance)

(the view of the valley)

We watched a few minutes, then crossed the street to walk through a small park, which overlooked the valley of olive trees and another courtyard with a flagging dance, which we watched as we finished our gelato. Once the dance and our gelato were finished, we started to make our way back to the bus station. I had wanted to buy some Siena olive oil, but sadly didn’t find any until we were almost at the station. I bought myself a beautiful bottle, and we left the city.

The rest of the trip went smoothly. Well. Almost. When we got on our train to Milan, Kyle and I went to our reserved seats only to find an older couple sitting in them. We explained that we had reserved the seats, but the man said that he and his wife had tickets for the seats. Since we didn’t want to kick the couple out of their seats, because the train was almost completely full, and because they were older than us, we let them keep their seats (confused as to why we had to pay for seats we couldn’t even sit in since they were somehow double booked) and instead sat in the space between the cars. Half an hour later, we walked back to see if any seats were open (we had made a stop or two), and when we saw no adjacent seats open, we decided to go back to our gangway seats. However, the man who we had talked to before asked two men across the aisle from him if they could both move next to the window so Kyle and I could sit in the seats, so we moved to the more comfortable seats for the remainder of the journey to Milan. Our train to Lausanne presented no such difficulties, and we returned home and went to sleep early again to make up for an exhausting travel day.

Things I learned:

-The Italians are so outgoing and nice
-My brain doesn’t switch between languages easily – I was constantly saying mercioui, bonjourje voudrais, and s’il vous plaît when speaking to the Italians, and didn’t start saying sí until I got back to Lausanne (fail). Thankfully, they were gracious and helped me out and understood me
-Pizza really is good in Italy
-Italians are much stricter than the Swiss on the trains
-Italian policemen still scare me!!!
-I love Tuscany
-Long train rides + reading Benevolent Assimilation = no fun (actually I learned this with Leo Africanus when I went to Cannes, but this book was much worse since it wasn’t fiction)
-The cappuccinos at the café across the street from the Firenze train station are cheap and really yummy
-When you have a book due the week of midterms, study for midterms instead of forgetting about them

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