Day 15: We made it to Rome! Forum & Colosseum

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I was really excited about going to Rome because there are so many ancient ruins just RIGHT there. It’s like you are somewhere and you are eating gelato, then you walk out and BOOM, right there, ruins from an ancient civilization that pretty much conquered half of the world, Ancient Rome.

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I really enjoyed the night tour of the colosseum because so many cultures of slaves were there. Imagine what it would be like to be a Roman watching all those different fighting styles and techniques from thousands of different places. I didn’t like it because thousands of slaves were tortured (lifting hundreds of pounds of giant beasts like elephants and lions just using pulleys and ropes) and the strong slaves were forced to fight and murder their own countrymen and friends.

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The Forum was cool because generations of emperors and praetors were born and killed on that spot. Like Julius Caesar being assassinated and him being burned right on the spot where we were listening to an audio guide! And I liked all of the “triumphant” arches, like the Arch of Constantine.

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Here is a picture from the underground of the colosseum:

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Night 13: Pici pasta-making, Fireflies

As guests of the Moricciani’s, we were invited to participate in a lesson on making pici (pronounced pee-chee) pasta. We watched as they made the pasta dough, then showed us how to create the strands of pici. Isabella says, “Rolling pici is just like life, you can never go back.” Don’t know if I’ll try this at home. We were drenched in sweat with cramping wrists by the time we finished our portion of the dough. Dinner followed our lesson; with a little homemade meat sauce the noodles were quite tasty, if not a bit uneven!

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(Toby)
After it was dark, my new friend Charlie and I went down to a driveway at the farm and saw thousands of fireflies! They were everywhere! I caught the fireflies in my hands and when I opened my hands I saw the bright, blinking, flashing lights. I thought they were really cool!

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Day 13: Bike tour, Brunello tasting

Happy 4th of July!

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(from Sebastian)
When Mom, Dad, Uncle Scott, & Auntie Tracey first mentioned wine tasting, it sounded like a particularly pointless way to waste an afternoon in the rolling hills of the Val D’Orcia. We had all just finished an amazing 2 1/2 hour bike ride, and my brother and I, after exchanging an empathetic glance, began simultaneously to beg for the outing to be postponed, perhaps in hopes of weaseling our way out of it. We ate lunch in the beautiful town of Bagna Vignoni next to an ancient Roman bath, and, with food in our bellies, were able to feign optimism even as the prospect of our salvation grew ever so grim.

Finding the vineyard was an adventure in and of itself. We met our biking guide in a gas station outside of Montalcino and followed her up the mountain to a secluded plot of land owned and worked by her family. She told us over and over why the name of their wine was “Nostra Vita”: it means “Our Lives”. My brother and I were now feeling slightly less down, perhaps because of an energetic and playful Labrador retriever name Luna and a rustic swing bolted into an ancient oak of which Drew explored the full capabilities.

We made our way, not into a wine cellar, but into a two-room cottage with a collection of books and artwork made by the father and sister of our host. The six of us sat down at a wooden table, sculpted by the father’s hand, with no screws or fixtures; just wood cut perfectly to fit like a puzzle piece into more wood. There were three glasses in front of each of us: one for the Rosso (amateur hour) and two for the Brunello (now we’re talking) from 2006 and 2007. With some aged pecorino cheese in our bellies and some top notch vino running through our veins we left the little mountain orchard feeling like we had shared something truly special with a family that put their whole lives into their wine. For the moment, we were no longer tourists; we were a part of the family.

The incredible table:

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Drew next to the tree that was the inspiration for Giuditta’s design of the wine label:

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Winemaking family: our guide, Giulitta, and her father, Annibale Parisi

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Day 12: Cave tour, Pienza, Bisteca Fiorentina

Today we toured Carlo’s (owner of our house and our host) ancient ruins. Sebastian and I made two new friends. One is a girl from Michigan named Kate. The other is a high-schooler named Matt. We had fun climbing around the cave/hermitage and ended up getiing lots of mosquito bites. I’m guessing you want the story behind the whole “ancient ruins” part…Well you’re gonna have to wait. I’m going to start from the beginning, Pienza. Carlotta, the guests’ wonderful guide, showed the group around the lovely little town, and even showed us the house where “Gladiator” was filmed! After that, we visited a neat little country church. After that, we explored some of Carlo’s property. Apparently, included on the property he bought, there are Etruscan ruins. Carlo has worked hard restoring and recovering these ancient caves. Then we got home and rested. Later that day, the family went out for Florentine steak in Montepulciano. When we got to the town, we didn’t know where exactly the restaurant was, so Bas and I decided to scout ahead. Apparently the place wasn’t as far as we were told and Bas and I walked right past it. This created a ruckus, and soon the whole Green family was looking for us in a foreign city. Meanwhile, Bas and I were humming and singing. We eventually made it to Osteria Accquacheta, and everyone’s panic was short-lived. Dinner, although a little rushed, was delicious. (4 words: “thirty-ounce steak” and “Tbone”).
Toby with a cave relief:

20130710-074059.jpgCarla leading the tour:

20130709-132106.jpgThe restaurant owner showing us our steak (it fed 6!) pre-grilling:

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Days 10-11: Steve reflects on Il Palio

Il Palio Di Sienna

Yesterday, we toured Sienna, a truly beautiful Medieval City. We saw a practice run for the Palio, a horse race run bareback in the middle of the city square. This clamshell-shaped square also has some serious elevation changes. There are 17 different Contradas, or neighborhoods, in Sienna – 10 of which get to participate in a given race. Each Contrada is named after an animal (Wave w/Dolphin, Elephant, Owl, etc.) and the race is a really big event in the area – it is run twice a year.

Yesterday we watched a practice race right from the piazza (infield)! After a number of false starts (there is no starting gate, just a line up order and a rope) the horses sort of ran/jogged around the square three times. Afterwards, many men from each Contrada walked the track behind their horse and sang songs which loosely translated to “we are the best, we are going to win.” Sounded really cool in Italian.

Ok, fast forward to today. Having each (we are 10 Greeens here) chosen one of the 10 Contradas to root for and wearing traditional scarves representing each, we cooked dinner at our place and settled in to watch the actual race on Italian television, Channel 1. Like yesterday, it took about 30 minutes for the horses to get settled, the tension mounting with each non-start. The crowd in the square, at least 5 times the number of people as yesterday, was getting antsy.

Suddenly, the race started and things got out of hand quickly. On the first downhill 90 degree turn (not kidding) the first jockey flew off of his horse. Not the one I was backing, so okay by me. Over the course of the next two laps, two more riders were thrown. Then things took a turn for the worse. The leading horse (Goose) was about to be passed by the She-Wolf horse. Next, the leading jockey reached back with his switch and struck the She-Wolf horse on the head at least three times, causing the horse to buckle and fall. Goose won the race, crowd goes crazy. No word about the riders or the fallen horse, not even commentary on the race or a replay. Game over.

Our entire family looked at each other and realized that we really had had no idea what we had connected ourselves to until it was over. Not that it is terrible, but certainly eye-opening.

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20130703-081430.jpgToby took this picture of the starting line from the TV:

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Day 10: Visit to Siena, Pre-Il Palio

Buona Sera from Tristan-
We toured a festive pre- il Palio Siena today. Led by a Siennese guide, we watched a practice race, visited several contrada, and learned all about how the Palio works. I love the tradition behind the race: every person born in Siena belongs to whichever contrada they were born into for life. For example if you were born a “Clam” and marry a “Porcupine” then move to “Giraffe” and have a child, the child is a “Giraffe” for life! Steve will write more about the Palio tomorrow.
These are some of the contradas’ flags:

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So many medics on hand!
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I overcame some of my fear of heights today when we climbed to the top of the abandoned extension of the cathedral (they sell tickets for the panorama). Another incredible view. These are the rooftops that James Bond raced over in “Quantum of Solace” before killing someone during the Palio:

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After returning from Siena we were treated to a cooking demonstration by a local chef in our house! We learned/watched how to make flan with eggplant and a pecorino sauce, spelt with saffron and crispy zucchini on a cheese waffle, and almond and apple crusted filet of pork. Dessert was a zuppa inglese made with lemon custard, dark chocolate, lady fingers, and maraschino liquor. Unbelievable!

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Day 8: From Florence to Val D’Orcia

From Drew:
Saturday morning, up and at ’em. Mom and Dad had a rough night playing phone tag with car rental people because neither of them brought their driver’s licenses…But thankfully they are very resourceful, and that morning we were boarding a train to Chuisi. The train wasn’t quite as nice as some of our other trains, but that was okay, we could deal. We arrived in Chuisi, and immediately went on the hunt for food. We ended up walking in a complete circle before we found a delicious ristorante. We shared different courses, like gnochetta, ensalada riso (rice salad), and some scrumptious lasagna. From Chuisi, we took a taxi to the villa. (yep, 5 family members and all of our luggage in a citroen…Toby threw up) We finally got into town, and saw my Uncle Scott riding in a truck full of luggage. He said they’d give us a ride, so our taxi driver dropped us off. Uncle Scott’s truck driver told us to hop in the back and hold on. (well that was the gist of it at least). The short ride through town was crazy, we were in the bed of a truck zooming along cobblestones streets in an ancient Tuscan village, not a memory I’ll be forgetting soon. The villa is amazing, Bas and I have our own room with a fantastic view of the valley. I can’t wait to see what this week’ll bring.

20130630-155039.jpgBasket of bread and pecorino cheese/salumi from the farm of our hosts, Carlo & Isabella Moricciani

20130630-155102.jpgOur patio table under the shade of a grapevine

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20130630-155139.jpgGran”D” takes in the view of the Val D’Orcia from the backyard