Julia meets Siena

Julia Szeto
September 10, 2015
Flying over the alps on the way to Florence

I made it!

I’ve spent just over 72 hours in Siena already! The flight from Portland to Amsterdam was easy. Navigating through the Amsterdam airport on a ridiculously short layover was another story, but I made it to the right gate – huffing and puffing – just in time. Flying from Amsterdam to Florence was barely an hour and a half, and I could barely keep my eyes open, but the alps were a sight to see. 

IES met me and the other students in our group at the Florence airport (surprisingly tiny, by the way) and took us by private bus to Siena. Once we arrived, a long taxi ride took us into the historic center of the city to our apartment. The only reason the taxi ride was long was because the driver had to stop every couple feet to honk his horn at pedestrians. The historic center was obviously automobile-free once upon a time, but now Fords and Fiats still attempt to speed their way around walkers and through the bumpy streets. That evening, our program had an aperitivo at one of the restaurants bordering the large Piazza del Campo, which marks the center of town.

The last several days have been filled with plenty of walking – back and forth from the apartment to the IES center, and around the entire city. We’ve gone to the Wednesday market at the fortezza, the fortress, in the city; wandered around similar-looking streets in search of 99 cent shops and rumored tea houses; done a wine tasting; been inundated with the amount of pasta being sold in grocery stores; eaten some good gelato (duh); and sat on the sun-soaked Campo. We’ve even seen a number of colored animals gracing the windows displays, terraces, and gardens of the city – which are actually a part of an art installation in Siena at the moment.

I’ve learned a lot about the 17 different contrade (districts) in Siena, as well. The historic center is split into 17 different parts, each loyal to a contrada. The streets belonging to a particular contrada are decorated with flags and special streetlights. During the year, contrade celebrate by having a huge party and dinner in the streets for their neighborhood. From what I’ve seen, contrade switch off for these celebrations about every week. The celebrations are loud and joyful, with plenty of food, tables, children running around, and decorations. The Palio horse race in Siena, which runs twice a year every summer, also draws its competitors from Siena’s contrade.

Siena has the vibe of a modern city masquerading through a beautifully old exterior. The city isn’t overrun with tourists, the sun shines brightly (especially at this time of year), and the Sienese move slowly in a way that is inviting. I find myself taking a breath and relaxing into the atmosphere. (Definitely not something that can be done in a big American city, such as New York.)

Today was the first day of language intensive classes, and we have just over a week more of language intensive before we start our other classes. I've definitely had some struggles with the language barrier here, and adjusting to life with roommates in a European country has had its ups and downs as well - but I'll touch more on that next time. 


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Julia Szeto

<p>I am a junior at Bates College, where I study English, Creative Writing, and Chemistry. Though I left the beautiful forests of Portland, Oregon for snowier seasons in Maine, I&#39;ve discovered that there are valuable stories to be heard and told in ever corner, or coast, of the world. I am interested in people and the words they have to say, and I am thrilled to be in a city as rich with history as Siena. I hope to explore new perspectives of culture and life in Siena through words and photographs. Outside of story-telling, I am a varsity coxswain on the Bates rowing team, and I enjoy hiking, trail running, singing loudly in the car, and getting hopelessly lost in a good book.</p>

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