A full week of orientation called for a weekend escape. My first Sienese Saturday was spent wandering the city, but Sunday gave way to a bigger adventure. Along with four other IES students, I started at the medieval town Colle val d’elsa, aiming to hike between hill towns on the Via Francigena. Our goal was Monteriggioni, an ancient village a few kilometers from Siena. We set out with little planning, or sense of direction.
We got our first taste of Italian transportation taking a morning bus from Piazza Gramsci. Despite getting off at the wrong stop, we found our way to Colle’s historic center with a little help from some locals. Fortified from some well-needed cappuccinos, and before a long lunch of pici at an osteria, we wandered. The town is small, walls and a castle bookending the single main street. We decided to introduce Colle to Ninja, playing the camp game under the ancient drawbridge much to the amusement of passerby’s. But the highlight of our few hours in Colle was the center’s main church. While the chapel was beautiful, with the sort of extensive frescoes and paintings I’ve come to expect from Italian churches, the real find was downstairs. We sat alone in the pews, the hymns of monks echoing as they began their morning service.
We picked up the Via Francigena on a suburban street in Graciano, a few kilometers from our lunch spot in Colle. The Via Francigena is an ancient pilgrimage route from Rome to Paris, still maintained for modern pilgrims and dedicated hikers. The walk there was mostly along busy road, a bit of a disappointing trek despite some rousing al fresco a Capella. But within minutes of turning onto the Francigena we were in the countryside: all farmland, vineyards and olive groves. We roughed it through a bit of a downpour, but then spent hours walking past ripe grapes and castle ruins, blueberry and sunflower fields, one pony-sized pig and some unexpected riflemen. A few cars of elderly Italian farmers drove by in the olive groves and we exchanged waves as they passed.
I was expecting to hike up to a town like Siena, just smaller in scale. Instead, Monteriggioni is walled off, with watchtowers, from fields and olive tress. The road up was steep, and after the hours of wandering through woods we needed a last minute push. Just in time, we grabbed gelati and watched the sunset from the main gate.
With some last minute help from a local barista, we found the bus back to Siena. This “bus” turned out to be a van, with curtained windows no less, that pulled up along the side of a highway traffic circle. Crammed in with other Italians, and tired from the 12-plus kilometers, it was a wonderfully strange way to end the day. We all agreed: future weekends have a lot to live up to.
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<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Caeli Smith is a junior at Connecticut College and majors in English and Art with a minor in Italian and is part of an international studies program. She likes nothing more than heading out on a travel adventure - to sightsee, try new food, wander, and get a little bit lost.</span></div>