A Gem of A Jog in Siena

jogging1With some free time to exercise and such a gorgeous day, I asked our language teacher, Elena, what are the best outdoor activities in Siena.

An avid jogger herself, she recommended  the Foretzza Medicea where the air is clean, the trail uncrowded, and most of all…the views are spectacular!  During the jog around the perimeter of this massive fortress, you see the Duomo, the hills of Tuscany, and the rooftops below…

There is still time to book on our September trip to Siena where we explore art, history, neighborhoods, cuisine, wine, and the hills of Tuscany together!



Culinary Creations of Tuscany…and the making of pici pasta!

tuscan_pastaWe first met Pamela Sheldon Johns, renowned cookbook author and gracious host, at a cheese maker in the Tuscan hills. After learning about the organic process, Pamela bought ricotta and pecorino which we would use to make our lunch. Armed with flavorful cheese and enthusiasm, we then sailed through rolling hills to arrive at Poggio Etrusco – the home  (and kitchen extraordinaire) of Pamela and her artist husband, Johnny.

Our task…to make the famous Sense pici pasta and ravioli (with our ricotta) and then to enjoy our creations with some of Pamela’s homemade wine, olive oil, gelato, etc. Everything we consumed was from the land right underneath our feet.  All vegetables and herbs from the gardens; olive oil pressed from their trees, and wine from their own vines. Just like Tuscan cooking – the most important component: fresh ingredients.

Join us this Fall in Siena on Smithsonian Journeys tour at: http://www.smithsonianjourneys.org/tours/siena

Our Ride Through Countryside of Siena

The Siena countryside on bicycle

Today’s objective: ascertain whether a cycle ride through the Chianti would be fun, what would be the reality? Would a week of shoveling snow in DC followed by a week of skiing in Utah prepare me for this exercise?

I met Marco, our bike leader, a friendly Sienese man and my CET colleague, Anna at Porta Collia at 8:30 am. Local shop keepers were just opening up and going about their business, old ladies carrying fresh bread home from the bakery. The sun was shining, the sky was clear blue, the mist was rising slowly in the valleys and the air was fresh. We were fitted out with our bikes and hopped into Marco’s car for the short but delightful drive to Queriagrossa. The bikes arrived in a separate van and a few minutes later we hit the road.Near the end of our ride

Near the end of our ride

There was a total tranquility about the countryside. Very few cars and people, the birds were singing and before us the rolling hills of Tuscany, the contours of which are defined by the lines of cypress trees swaying in the breeze, and the rows of vineyards, dotted with farms and tiny hamlets. Several of which we rode through and paused at the fountain to refuel. Picture perfect.

The first part of the ride took us on a steady climb uphill. A farmer tending to his field looked me with his weather beaten face and with a toothless grin said ‘è dura!’ Indeed it was hard. When I thought we’d never reach the top I shouted from the back ‘I have to take a picture, it’s so beautiful!’ Marco knew my real reason for a stop but I did try to catch the essence of the beautiful landscape around.

We made it to the top and were rewarded with a tour through Castellina in Chianti. The Tuscan stone against the blue sky was gorgeous. It was market day and young families were out for a walk, at the park or kicking a football around the square.

From Castellina it was an exhilirating free wheel downhill. We could catch our breath, feel the wind in our hair and truly enjoy the scenery.

Italian country tastes along the way

Next stop: a winery. A wood fire was burning inside the tasting room. A most enjoyable stop this would be. Guests would sample here but we were moving on today. The rest of the route took us through country lanes past lovely villas, over tiny streams and along the endless vineyards. When we arrived back at Querciagrossa it felt like my Arc de Triomphe. Marco had said it would take about 3 hours, we did it in 2 hours 35 despite all my ‘photo stops’. Brave ragazze!

28 hilly kilometers later I can honestly say it was a wonderful way to see the countryside. The Italians laugh when the English say ‘molto pittoresco‘ but it really was.

Capturing the Authentic Experience in Siena

Bakers making fritelle

What does it mean to have a truly authentic travel experience?  How does one assimilate into a culture if even for a short time?   My colleague, Emma (Impavido) and I are in Siena Italy this week to explore these questions and will write daily blogs on our findings here.

Siena is the perfect Tuscan town.  Set among the rolling hills of Tuscany, it is a town seeping with civic pride.  The town boasts 17 contrades, or neighborhoods, each embodying its own character and each vying for the prized honor of representing their neighborhood at the famous Palio.  This horse race occurs twice a year and turns the town upside down in sheer passion and competition.  Siena traces back its roots to medieval times; you can feel that its rivalries with other neighboring towns shaped its contemporary civic pride today.  Its main square, Piazza del Campo is the joy of the city where you will find wonderful cafes overlooking the Palazzo Pubblico and children playing soccer while Sienese families warmly greet each other.

Today inside Piazza del Campo Emma and I enjoyed a treat offered only during the Lenten season.

Fritelle stavelle, fried rice balls topped with powdered sugar, these treats are celebrated only for a few weeks of the year and in recognition of the life of Saint Guiseppe.  There were 10 workers behind this stall selling fritelle and while they were so busy keeping up with the demand of visitors wanting them by the dozens, each worker seemed to know all the locals and families who stopped by the counter.  For the Sienese, these are a tradition – something that cant imagine not having during this very religious period before Easter.  Taking part in this passage is an authentic, and delicious, experience unto itself.

Aside from holiday traditions and cuisine, authentic travel means doing things you might not necessarily get to experience as a tourist.  Tomorrow we will leisurely bike the hills of Tuscany with our local CET study abroad Resident Director and stop along the way to visit a vineyard.  While the orange Tuscan sun gently sets in the evening, we may stop off to listen to the hyms of Gregorian chants in a local abbey.

We will keep you posted as to what other gems we discover this week.  Buona giornata!