Saturday, September 24, 2011

Siena & Viareggio

On September 7 we visited the Tuscan city Siena with our art history class. We toured the Duomo and some other museums there, focusing on pre-Renaissance art. We saw Lorenzetti's The Allegory of Good and Bad Government in the Sala dei Nove. We got to climb up and get a great view of the city.

Andy and I with the Duomo behind us. I chose a good scarf to wear that day, I matched the church!

That Friday we took a day trip to the beach city Viareggio! Some of our friends were going to the Amalfi coast, which is beautiful, but was more expensive and had to be done over a whole weekend. We were glad we could do Viareggio for just one day, and it was easier to get to. (Plus we could save $ to travel outside of Italy.) We took the train to Firenze, and switched to a train to Viareggio. It was fun because it was a double-decker train. We got to the train station, and simply walked west until we hit the coast. In Italy there are not many public beaches, but rather private beach clubs, or "bagni", for which you pay to rent space and chairs for a day (or a week, month, whole summer...).  We found one that looked good, figured out what to rent and how to pay. We ended up getting an umbrella and four chairs for 23€ for the day, so not too bad between the four of us. We lounged on the beach, swam some even though it was pretty cold and had a great day. Andy and I took a long walk on the beach. Seriously, it was long. There was a white pier that looked cool, so we decided to walk down to it. Distance is deceptive on beaches, and we ended up walking a few km each way. It was worth it though, fun to people watch and wave watch. There were actually people out surfing! If the waves had been better I would have gone up to one of the surfers and asked if I could borrow the board for just one ride. I would love to be able to say I have surfed in Italy! Maybe next time I get to the beach.

It was a warm, sunny day and so beautiful with the beach to our left and mountains to our right! Perfection!

We have started a map keeping track of where we have been. Blue marks the places I have been, and red marks the places we have both been! Click here to see the map

Mon Ami Suisse!

Last year after my time in Italy was up, I visited Switzerland and Germany with Rachel. In Switzerland we visited my high school friend, Cedric. He lives in Baden, north of Zurich, and we stayed with his family for a few nights. They were so friendly and hospitable and fabulous!

Well on Labor Day weekend, Cédric and his friend Kathryn came to Firenze. On Friday, Cédric and Kathryn visited Arezzo! Andy and I met them at the train station after we got out of class, and showed them around the city. We brought them to the Duomo, Piazza Grande to watch some joust practice, Cremì--one of the best gelaterias in Arezzo, Il Prato to see the park and walk around the monthly antique fair, and an old Roman ampitheatre. We went to Il Vesuvio, a pizza place, for dinner and it was delicious! I had pizza with small tomatoes, eggplant, olive oil, pepperoni and more. In return, Cédric and Kathryn introduced us to an amazing little pastry snack thing called läckerli, in this case läckerli al citron (lemon). We devoured the box fairly quickly, and can't wait to be back in Switzerland this winter to buy some more!

The next morning Andy and I went to Firenze to spend the day with Cédric and Kathryn. We walked to the Palazzo Pitti, visiting the Boboli Gardens, their silver museum and Kremlin exhibit. It was all beautiful and really cool.

We had a picnic lunch of bread, salami, pesto and cheese in front of the Palazzo Pitti. Thank goodness our Swiss friends carry Swiss Army knives to cut the bread and cheese with! Some pigeons enjoyed our leftovers.

We walked around the city seeing the Piazza della Signoria (saw two just married couples there), Piazza della Repubblica, the Ponte Vecchio, Dante's house and the church he went to, plus a lot more! We didn't go in many of the churches because Andy and I will go back with Kirk's art history class. We did see some great art and enjoyed a fun day with our friends. We even saw Bob Stoop's favorite leather shop! I had heard about it last year when some friends found it, and we stumbled across it this year. I went in, and was pointing out Stoops' photo to Cédric and Kathryn when the store owner asked if I knew Bob Stoops. I said how I go to OU, and their first football game is that night--he said how Stoops sends all of his friends to this store, and that the owner "takes great care" of Stoops' friends. He said he'd give us some great offers, but unfortunately the cheapest thing in the store was 2000€. Unless that discount was 95%, don't think I could purchase anything.  We topped the night off with a delicious dinner at Trattoria ZaZa. I had steak with a salad and Andy had some gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce. Delicious! 

Friday, September 23, 2011

La Giostra del Saracino

Arezzo has a great tradition of a semi-annual joust of the Saracen, "La Giostra del Saracino." It is held in the Piazza Grande in the center of Arezzo, and the four neighborhoods, "quartieres," compete against each other. It has a long history in Arezzo, dating back to the 13th century in some accounts. The current form of the joust was started in 1931. The four quartieres include Porta Santo Sprito (blue and yellow, in which Andy and I live), Porto del Foro (fuschia/yellow, which my cousin Luca supports), Porta Crucifera (red/green) and Porta Sant'Andrea (green/white). There is a board that the jousters attempt to hit with the lance, with points ranging from 1 to 5. They can win additional points by breaking the lance, or lose points by falling off the horse or letting the balls in the Saracino's hand hit their back.

The giostra is not just one afternoon, however. Ceremonies and celebrations spread throughout the month, and particularly the week before the joust. Each quartiere has a headquarters location, where parties are held each night and a community dinner at the end of the week. Nearly everyone in town wears his or her scarf that represents his quartiere. The rivalries between quartieres can be pretty intense, and arguments and fights are not uncommon.

Parties at the Sant'Andrea quartiere

Parties at the Santo Spirito quartiere

We got to visit Crucifera's museum and see the past golden lances, "lancie d'oro," and some of the helmets they wear.

Sant'Andrea flags hanging in their quartiere. The flags are mainly up all year long, but residents make sure they have them out for joust week.

At the joust event they also have trumpeters and flag-throwers (one of the best teams in the world, apparently). They practice throughout the week, and on Thursday afternoon Andy and I walked over to the Duomo and stumbled upon an event where the they were performing for the Miss Italia group.

On the day of the joust, it rained in the early afternoon. The forecast had been calling for rain, but thankfully we only got about 15 minutes of light rain before it stopped. It would have been sad for the joust to be delayed a week. Once the rain went away, fans crowded the corso again, like the Sant'Andrea fans below.

The joust started with the flag men and trumpeters who paraded in. There were even crossbows! There was so much energy in the Piazza Grande. Families have lived for generations in these quartieres, and they are very supportive of them. Most of the time these rivalries are peaceful, but the action culminates with joust week. Walking along the Corso, people will yell at each other or start singing taunting songs. Girls will even get into it too, chasing each other and trying to fight. So you can understand that the day of the event is pretty crazy. Down on the grounds people stand divided by quartiere, it's a little more mixed in the stands. I enjoyed being in the stands because we had a good view over all the action, like the Sant'Andrea guy who kept trying to climb over the stands and fight a Crucifera fan.

After Crucifera won and the joust was over, all of their fans rushed to the Duomo, the main church in Arezzo, to celebrate and see the official presentation of the lancia d'oro. (Fans had already rushed up to the stands and grabbed it in the Piazza Grande, but they do the official presentation too.) I have never seen so much energy in a church. They were singing, counting from one to thirty-six (how many jousts they have won), and some people were even crying. 
More photos at Devon Rose Photography

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lost in Lambo Land

On Labor Day we had a day off class, so we decided to take the day and visit the Lamborghini Factory! It ended up being a fun day, but had quite the rough start.

We left Arezzo at 6:30am for Firenze, transferred to Bologna, and then took a bus out to Sant'Agata Bolognese, the tiny town where the factory is located. We bought tickets for the bus, and got on it. It was supposed to arrive in Sant'Agata Bolgonese stop Chiasa Frati at 10:36. We had been checking out all the stops on the way (the ride was almost an hour long), but most of them did not have signs identifying. Just size 12 print on a sign so you have to get off at the stop to see which one it is. Oh, and since our bus driver was listening to the radio, the loudspeaker announcing each stop wasn't on. Lovely!

Well, we had no clue what to look for, but we stopped at 10:36 so we assumed we were at our stop, or just one away. We got off, I checked the name, and it's the wrong one. Right as I realize it, the bus is pulling away from the stop and we can't get back on. Oh, and we are a whole five stops away from our bus stop! Yippee!

We started walking in the direction we thought we should go, and start to realize we have a long walk ahead of us. From the bus stop information, I know that we are in the wrong town, we have to get to the next one. No clue how far away that is though. We walked out of the town and started walking along the side of a highway in the countryside (sounds like a movie, right? Why can't it be a fun movie?) with huge trucks of hay zooming past us. We see a sign saying that the town is 4 or 5 kilometers away. Shoot. We only have about 15 more minutes until we are supposed to be there. Up ahead I see a gas station, so I stop in. It's a tiny little gas station and distribution center, there's not even a store with food and soda or anything. Just a little office. I walk in because there is a map on the wall that I start to read to try to find a number for a taxi. A man from outside walks in, and says "Buon giorno." I can tell he's not going to speak any English. I reply and explain that I need a number for a taxi. He looks around the map, and then pulls out a White Pages book. I know that the Italian word for taxi is taxi, but for some reason he's looking under the letter "A" and then another one before he finally comes to "T" and finds it. I call, explain where we are and where we need to go. 

Five minutes later, the taxi pulls up and takes us to the Lamborghini factory. Most expensive short taxi ride I've been on, but we made it and were only 10 minutes late. I had called ahead and said we were going to be late, and they brought us into the factory to meet the tour once we arrived. It was crazy and awful and stressful, but we made it~

Point A is where we started at, B is where we walked to when we got the taxi, and C was our final destination.

The Factory

And now here is Andy's write-up of our time at the factory. I knew that he would be better able to describe it than me!

So after arriving a few minutes late, we are rushed through the museum (full of amazing cars explained later) to doors leading outside to the factory entrance. As we walk through the door my eyes are greeted by around 30 beautiful Lamborghini Aventadors and Gallardos parked fresh from that point I know how this day is going to be. To my momentary displeasure we are rushed into the factory away from the incredible grouping of Bulls. That's when we enter the factory to see the many stages of Gallardo production. I'm like a fat kid in an all you can eat buffet specializing in sweet treats at this point, my eyes linger on every single aspect of the amazing spectacle in front of me.

First, we are shown the process that the Gallardo is assembled, the engine and various interior pieces are brought in from outside sources. The engines are from Audi (who owns Lamborghini, for those of you that are not obsessed with this brand like myself) and interior from a local upholstery shop. This is an amazing sight but I'm looking for the new bull, the incredible Aventador. As the tour guide finishes talking about the Gallardo production line we walk around a corner and there's an Aventador resting right is amazing. I've loved Lamborghini since I can remember, they've always been the insane member of the supercar group, and this new car does not disappoint. From the sharp edges at every corner to the huge center exhaust this car just screams "If you don't respect me I will kill you", which of course is the Lamborghini way haha. As the tour guide mentions that we can have a look of course I get up close and personal to observe this piece of art on wheels. Sadly, we are told to move on but it's on to the Aventador assembly line, woot woot! Oh and by the way, every car is hand assembled; there are no robots in the factory. Which brings me to the awesome part of the Aventador assembly, everything is made in house from the engine to the interior; a new thing for Lamborghini. 

The first stop was the engine building area....witnessing four stages of building the massive 700hp V12. Every engine is tested at top speed, 217mph, for 3 hours before putting it into a car. After the engines came the upholstery area where we saw the leather to be used and then using that leather and other material to construct interior pieces. Unfortunately, one of the workers got injured somehow and we had to move on to make room for an ambulance. So after that area we moved to the actual assembly of the Aventador, composed of around 10 stages from bare painted body to finished product. The only thing done outside of the factory is painting the car, done by a local (and very talented) paint shop. Before the body panels are placed on the car, you can see the bare carbon fiber monocoque (cockpit area) with the aluminum front and rear bracing. The current wait time from the day an order is placed for and Aventador is currently 2 years. The ones we saw were actually part of the very first batch since they haven't started distribution yet; the first customer to receive one is actually a man in Dallas. He will receive his at the end of this month. As we are walked past the testing booth where they run the car at 200km/h (~124mph) for an hour and a half I saw a Gallardo Tricolore awaiting testing. The Tricolore is a special edition (only 150 being made) that celebrates the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, which explains the green, red, and white strip running over the top of the car. 

We then walked back into the parking area where I first laid eyes on the many freshly made Lambos, and were allowed to walk around enjoying the view. As we were heading back to the museum I heard an amazing rev of an Aventador engine coming to life. As it settled back down in rpm's the driver backed out of the spot and left to test it on the streets of the surrounding town. As the tour finished we got back to the museum and the president of Lamborghini was showing some Audi execs an Aventador parked out front. He then got in and left the parking lot to take someone for a drive...not something you get to see every day. We  toured the two floors of the museum filled with amazing cars from Lamborghinis past and also a few concepts such as their take on a four-door and the breath-taking miura concept. We'll throw up a few select pictures from the museum since photography isn't allowed in the factory. The day was rounded out well as we ate lunch at a cafe in the small town near the factory and witnessed a Gallardo being taken for one of their "test runs".  

We got to see the President of Lamborghini show off the new Aventador in front of some Audi execs.