A Sienese Thanksgiving!

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While Americans are busy gathering with family and friends, carving up turkey, and telling tales of Pilgrims… Thanksgiving passes by in Italy with very little passing thought. Unless you’re me, that is. I spent the weeks before and after the holiday enlightening my students about this very American tradition. Most were very interested by the history, the traditions, and the menu. Of course my bad classes are bad as always. When they talk over me, I have to raise my voice to be heard. I do not enjoy yelling at my class during any circumstances, but the phrase “Shut up and tell me what you’re thankful for!” actually came out my mouth while I was trying to take us through the group activity.

Talking about this day which celebrates family, I was really pretty bummed to be missing the festivities back home. Especially when I learned that the Johantgen side of the family would be gathering at our house for the first time in a few years. And a ravioli making session was even in the works! Luckily I was able to set aside a long weekend to have my own American-Italian Thanksgiving. Candace and I have been talking about a visit back to Siena, our old study abroad stomping grounds. As luck would have it, SIS hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for their students and staff every year… and they were happy to let us join! So we quickly booked our trains and hotels, and after class on Thursday afternoon we were off.

Getting to Siena was a bit of a headache… three trains, the last of which (between Florence and Siena) was an unbearably slow regional. But it was worth it to be back in my very favorite place in the world. Something about Siena feels so much like home to me, even if my time there was brief and mostly spent with fellow Americans. Sitting in the Piazza del Campo makes me feel centered, and part of something bigger than myself. That Piazza is my favorite place in the world.

Heaven on earth is the Piazza del Campo
Heaven on earth is the Piazza del Campo

Even though we didn’t arrive in Siena until late Thursday night, we hadn’t missed out on any of the festivities. The program’s dinner was actually planned for Friday, to make life easier for everyone with regards to work schedules. Candace and I spent the morning getting re-acquainted with the familiar sites of the city, including stopping for pastries at Nannini’s, re-tracing our favorite walks to the fortress, the Duomo, and our favorite viewpoint. We also sook out our favorite gelateria (unfortunately closed for the season), and of course, some shopping.

You can't beat a Nannini's breakfast
You can’t beat a Nannini’s breakfast
Thanksgiving dinner prep!
Thanksgiving dinner prep!

In the afternoon we headed back to Leila’s cooking school at Fontebranda to see our friends on SIS staff and to pitch in with the dinner preparation! Mike and Gianca put us to work peeling potatoes and prepping pumpkin pies. It was great to catch up with my favorite professors, and to meet some of the current students and their friends while we enjoyed the AMAZING dinner. I’ve never made pumpkin pie before, and I was quite proud of how it turned out. As we sat down to a very international dinner, I was reflecting happily on all the opportunities I’ve already had in the past few months… and thinking hopefully that there are more to come! I’ve met people from so many different countries… and each one has a unique experience and story to share. This is the real point of an international experience—as much fun as it is to be a tourist and check out museums and monuments all day, it’s useless if you don’t make any connections along the way.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m still checking out the museums and monuments while I’m here. Case in point: Saturday’s quick trip to Pisa. It’s the number one tourist activity, and I’ll admit I wanted to check it off my list. I never made it to Pisa when I was studying abroad in 2012, and now seemed like the time. Candace and I slept in after a late night out, but we still had time to get to Pisa and experience what it had to offer. Yes, its main attraction is the tower, but I do think it gets a bad rap. Everyone says not to bother with Pisa, but I wouldn’t mind spending a whole weekend there and finding out what else it has to offer!

Embrace the formaggio

Sunday was our morning of rest before we made the long trek back to Brescia. I’m always sad to leave my Siena home, but I’ll be back soon!


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