Everyday on my way to work I pass a single building that is always covered in hundred's of pigeons. I don't understand but they swarm around this place. It's rather terrifying and every day I walk through their area and feel like I am in the birds movie.

p.s - I also finally updated some captions from San Miniato on my January 18th post.

We signed up for a trip through school to visit two cities about an hour from Florence. I was a little worried because it was my idea and I wasn't sure what I was dragging everyone else into. I was worried we'd be a big touristy American mob like the ones I am so sick of already. Luckily Sunday was the perfect day in my book, even more perfect than my day of wine tasting in Napa Valley. Six of us went on the trip and we had three tour guides, two Italian men and one Croatian guy who I decided to call (not to his face) Wesley because he looked identical to the actor in the Princess Bride. It was really nice to be a small group exploring the cities. It was nice to know the history and not just wander aimlessly taking pictures of "pretty things".  However, I'm not really much of a "follow a guide" person, so it was a little tough for me to not wander or go inside random places. 

Before I had mixed feelings about Siena, thinking it was just a "touristy place". I was very wrong. While yes it is touristy and even cars aren't allowed much in the main section of the city- it was incredible. We saw the Campo which is in a shell shape to represent The Nine that once ruled Siena. I wanted to climb the tower but we ended up climbing up to a church instead that overlooked all of Siena. Much better. We also visited the Siena Duomo which is the most elaborate church I have ever seen. There must have been hundreds of carvings on the facade. The style had been added later, and some of the church was even left unfinished. Someday I would love to go inside and climb to the top. We didn't want to pay 11 Euro to go inside the church. Well I did. Our guides didn't. 

We also ate at Nannini a famous pastry place found only in Italy. Needless to say it was fantastic. Lastly in Siena we visited an old fortress. Amazingly Florence and Siena had warred for 500 years. The war only stopped when Siena ran out of food and water and their wall kept them from gaining more supplies. Florence took over and the Medici set up a fortress in Siena in case of a rebellion. Now the fort is a running track with beautiful views of Tuscany and Siena. 

For a little Siena history: Siena was settled around the time of the Etruscans (900 BC to 400 BC). There is a legend that Siena was founded by Senius (son of Remus whose brother Romulus founded Rome) so the famous Remus and Romulus statue is everywhere in Siena. Siena grew because of commerce and trade but rivaled and warred with Florence for 500 years. Two thirds of Siena was also wiped out because of the plague and this led to a decline. In 1966 Siena banished motor traffic from the city center.

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After Siena our guides surprised us with a trip to Monteriggioni a tiny walled village on top of a hill. Monteriggioni is a medieval town built in the 13th century and very little work has been done on the buildings since they were erected. The city was important during the long conflict between Siena and Florence. 
On Saturday three of us ventured a few miles out of Florence to to the lovely hilltop town of Fiesole. The town sits up high and overlooks all of Florence. The roman ruins were closed so we were unable to visit but planning to return to do so. The views definitely topped those of Piazzale Michaelangelo- a feat I didn't think was possible. It was foggy out so my pictures don't capture the true beauty we witnessed that day. 

We explored the town and hiked up steep hills (and I thought San Francisco was bad). We then watched the sunset after exploring an old monastery and called it a day. Fiesole is very beautiful and from every section of the city you could see a  different view. On one side Florence and the other Tuscan countryside. 
In the last week I did a lot of random explorations. We visited a market by the Arno where I saw chipmunks being sold as pets.

I also finally got to the Mercato Centrale which I was very excited about. It is this big building with tons of meat, cheese and fruit. I took a very special picture of a "pig" for my grandpa so I hope he sees it :)

Construction has been going on in my apartment building all week and it makes me ask myself "why does every place I live have to get torn up?"

I also wandered past the Ospedale degli Innocenti (hospital of the innocents) which was designed by Brunelleschi. The building was an orphanage that took care of abandoned children during the Renaissance. Now it is a museum and I hope to visit someday soon. 
To save money, we decided to forget going out and forget spending money on food + drink. Friday night we had a picnic in the Santa Maria Novella courtyard area in the freezing cold... at night. The area is a high traffic area and in the summer it is apparently full of people and fun. In the winter... not so much. We laid out a blanket and snacked on cheese and bread and of course some chianti, the famous Tuscan wine. It was pretty fun until we froze and met a group of strange young men (maybe highschool aged) who claimed they were "bobbi and JR from Dallas" (I didn't get the reference) and Bobbi's brother was Donald Trump and his father was Barak Obama. He then proceeded to say his sister was Michael Jackson and we apologized for his loss.... he didn't know Michael Jackson was dead. We left after running into them but it was still a successful Friday night.
This past weekend we explored the amazing Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross), and yes I did wikipedia that to find the name's meaning. I can't be expected to remember everything... right?

Italian design has so much incredible detail. I am constantly amazing by the intricacy of everything in Florence. Many of the rooms contained wood panels with tiny individual pieces to make up grand designs. Even the ceiling beams are decorated. It amazes me how much time every design must have taken.

Santa Croce is home to the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo. From the outside Santa Croce doesn't look as large as it really is. The outside facade was added later and doesn't match the rest of the exterior architecture. There are many adjoining rooms and beautiful courtyards. Tombs line the floors and I was nervous to walk across them. There was so much to see. I wish I knew more of the history behind the amazing church. 
Wow, it's tough without internet to keep up with this thing. 
Currently I am watching The Simpsons and eating nutella on everything. I figured I should be able to at least handle a cartoon in Italian.

The last few days have been a whirlwind! Florence is amazing. There is always something new to see. I walk down the same streets everyday to class and always notice something new. However, the city feels small because I run into the same people all the time (often unfriendly people I rather not see again!) It is amazing to think that I am walking along the same streets that Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, Galileo and so many others once walked on.

My instructor Elisabeta is the best. Unfortunately I only have her for one or two more weeks when our first class is over. I don't feel like I have learned much at all! I had my interview and my first day of work since I last posted. It has been INTENSE, let me tell you. During the interview I said about two words total- probably "ciao" and "jamie". The director of my school came with me and basically talked the whole time in Italian. I just smiled and nodded..... 

My first day of work (a half day) was rough. My boss is nice but it's difficult to speak with each other because of the language barrier. I want to know more about him and how he got into the communication business, but for now I can't even make a coherent sentence. When i walked in the door today all the lessons just flew out of my head. I was given an assignment.... and I had no idea how to ask for design instructions in Italian. Logo, font, PDF, double-sided, in color? I was so lost that I just tried really hard to do SOMETHING designy-like on my laptop. I was so intimidated. I felt like it was my very first day on co-op two years ago.... only this time I couldn't speak!! I am surprised because most of my classmates don't start work for awhile because of the language problem. I guess it doesn't matter as long as I can make things happen on the computer! I sure hope this works out, because its so unbelievably frightening to not be able to speak back. Being a shy person- this is definitely a huge task for me to tackle.

Oh and yesterday I went to the mercato centrale. It is this huge building with meat, cheese and veggie stalls. It was incredible! I have been trying to go for weeks. My friend and I got potatoes, peppers, bananas, zucchini... ect. and everything was ridiculously cheap! It was such a relief from the prices in the rest of Florence. Fun too. The meat stalls were ridiculous. I saw pig heads and whole rabbits... it was pretty sickening but I guess that is how people cook here? 

I sure hope I can do it! I think I just need to vent, eat some nutella, have some vino rosso and look forward to the weekend (and my day trip to Siena + San Gimignano on Sunday).

Ciao bella! 

oh and p.s...... sometimes I think to myself. while this is great and all... maybe I should have just taken it easy and gone on vacation! hah. oh well
I am finally getting to write this (weeks later). 

San Miniato al Monte is a basilica in Florence named for St. Miniato (Minas) an Armenian Prince and a Christian martyr. The story is that San Miniato was beheaded during anti-Christian persecutions but then picked up his own head and crossed the Arno to the very spot the church now stands.
This weekend all the ladies (plus one boyfriend) gathered at a luxury apartment for dinner! We all brought a dish and of course a bottle of wine and had a great time at Dominique's place (AKA Duomo). We call her Duomo now for fun because she is our class "mom" despite being young at heart! It's nice that our class gets along and can rely on each other for support and a good time! 
I feel like it has been FOREVER since I last posted. Surprisingly, not too much has happened since then. Class is getting pretty tough for me, but hopefully Italian will 'click' in the future.

The weekend was pretty fun. We spent it exploring and two new girls joined our group/class (I finally got a roommate!) I interview tomorrow for my internship and am pretty nervous. I am not quite ready to start working and going to class at the same time. 

Without internet I have been feeling pretty out-of-touch with everyone which can be disheartening. Hopefully the homesickness won't last too long. I think once the exhaustion of everything wears off then I will be fine! 

Since I posted I visited a couple churches, explored more of Florence, and went out a few times with my new friends. A lot of our class went out for apertivo last night (happy hour) at a nice place by the river. The way it works is you pay for the drinks but then eat appetizers for free.... however.... the drinks were very pricey!