Siena was extremely busy today! We spent more time than usual looking for parking and the city itself was full of locals and tourists. This week is the Palio delle Contrade- a horse race held twice a year dating back to 13C, it is one of the most famous in Italy. 10 contrades which are sub-divisions of a district, (there are only 17 left from 59) compete in the race. Each Contrade has its own flag, its own museum and social life. They spend all year preparing for this race. The race is held in the Piazza del Campo which is Siena’s main square…bigger than most typical squares but still a very small area used as a race track. In fact, due to the horses needing to turn so sharply, they line the corners with mattresses. The race is 3 times around the track.
As we walked through the busy streets, we could see the city was in preparation for the race. Flags, each with a different symbol representing the various contrades were hung up high everywhere we turned. The square, usually nice to walk through had bleacher seats along the edge and dirt brought in to create the track. Locals were walking around wearing their flag colors. It was fun to see the festivities building up to this historic event, but we decided to not attend the race itself. From what we heard it is jam-packed with people and once you are in the square you are not allowed out…no bathrooms, extreme heat and lots of people.
We squeezed our way into a restaurant down one of the alleys for lunch. It is extremely challenging not to order pasta for both lunch and dinner here in Italy…chewy fresh handmade noodles tossed in garden fresh vibrantly red tomatoes…add the basil and a bit of that Parmesan cheese? Anyway, we ordered a pasta and a salad as well as some bruschetta with a half bottle of wine. After taking our time, we continued meandering through the streets and immediately ran into the bakery, Nannini. It was in the Michelin book as the most famous cafe in all of Siena. The book said to indulge in a cake or ice cream…who are we to argue with that recommendation. We had literally just eaten lunch but we both managed to fit a scoop of gelato in as well.
We walked and ate our ice cream while stopping to look at buildings and take pictures. The last time we were here was for our honeymoon in 2005. We didn’t spend too much time here so it was familiar but still new. As we left the square, we saw a hair salon and Giff had been wanting a haircut…they could fit him in right away, so I left to walk around for a bit while he got his trim. I came back and was trying to get a picture of him from outside…his hair looked a little different. I walked in and there were about 4 stylists all standing around him. I took his picture and then sat down next to a very upset Giff. Now, let’s keep in mind…getting a haircut where there is a language translation challenge is always risky. They basically gave him a buzz cut on the sides…they went in with the buzzer and in one swipe, his hair was shorter than ever! He of course let them know right away how upset he was…they had no other choice but to buzz the rest on the sides and back to make it even. We walked out of that place and Giff could not stop cussing the lady that chopped his hair. He called himself a carrot top because the sides were so short and the top was long. Of course Giff is super cute no matter what, but it was kinda funny to see him dramatize this whole experience.
With an extremely pouty Giff…we went to see the Siena Duomo (Cathedral) before leaving the city. This cathedral was beautiful! The steps and floor made of marble, the bronze door was a massive entrance and the intricate detail of the statues and design was extraordinary. We took a lot of pictures and enjoyed getting to see this site.
We left the city…we were going to dinner tonight with our B&B hosts and wanted to have a little bit of downtime before going back out. Back at our place we only had about a half hour before we were in the car heading to what Ben and Martha (B&B hosts) called a sagra. The sagra was being held in a small local town…it is a small festival held every year for a couple of weeks and is a kind of charity to help raise money for a cause (this one was to raise money for the sports fields of the kids). We went upstairs and sat at a long table outside. Ben and Martha had invited some of their friends who invited some of their friends so we had a group of about 10. A piece of paper was given to each person…we filled out the quantity of what we wanted, for example…1 bottle of water, 1 pasta with red sauce, 1 pasta with mushrooms etc. The staff were all volunteers and brought out the food being cooked by other volunteers. We thought it was very nice to be invited to something like this where it is truly a local scene, the food however was not up to par for the amount that was being charged. It was very basic food, the wine offered was not good and the price was about $65 for the two of us. For $65 in a restaurant where a chef is cooking you can get some amazing pastas with great wine and dessert. We understood it was charity though so at least the high prices went to a good cause.
We drove home with Martha and Ben and got a good night sleep from our long day.
Published by Brandey Kabat
What I like: Dark chocolate, yoga, fresh squeezed juice, laughing, hiking, wine, travel, food, lush products, being warm, having long hair, the ritual of drinking something hot first thing in the morning…
What I don’t like: When people smell their fingers, pushing elevator buttons, confrontational situations, not being able to fall asleep quickly at bedtime…
Most random job ever: Plastic surgery consultant
As for my love life: I met my husband mid way through my junior year in college, as soon as I laid my eyes on him I was attracted to him. In fact, I made the first move which was a bit out of character but there was something about him…probably the fact that he was smokin’ hot!!
Where from and where to: I grew up in NY, went to college at The Ohio State University and then headed to CA after graduation. My boyfriend (Giff) and I had a map, a borrowed van and used stuff from his mom’s basement aka a vacuum, silverware, old Christmas ornaments etc., and about $1000 each. We thought it would be a good idea to head straight to CA since neither of us had been. Being we didn’t know anyone there nor did we have a job or job interviews set up or a place to live…I would say we did it the hard way! However with a bit of help from Giff’s mom who flew out to put us up in a hotel, bought me a suit for interviewing and co-signed a lease to get us a place to live we eventually found jobs and an apartment and have been in CA for 10 years.
Our story: After moving out to CA and living together for about 3 years we got engaged. He popped the question while down on one knee on the beach at sunset after we finished our picnic he had packed of bread, cheese, shrimp cocktail and wine. He even had the ring in a box that had a light shining down on it when opened so as it was getting dark, this amazing man was asking me to be his wife as he handed me a huge rock…Yes! Yes! Yes!
In 2005 we were married (I am biased but our wedding was absolutely amazing). By the end of 2005 we were new home owners. 2006-2009- we were both happily married, attached to our 3 cats and were focused on building our careers.
Giff and I got pregnant mid year 2009 with our first baby but what should have been one of the highlights of our life was soon distracted by the news I received at the doctor’s office.
The lump in my breast that had been dismissed the year before as nothing was now being diagnosed by a different doctor as breast cancer. Thankfully Giff is a persistent person and when we went in for our ultrasound (to hear our baby’s heartbeat) he brought up the request for testing to be done on the lump rather than dismissing it based on feeling it.
The going gets rough: Things began to move so quickly at that point, it was hard to breathe. I was 30, pregnant with my first child and going into surgery to remove breast cancer. I was about to go through what would be the worst year of my life. The plan had been discussed, we were going with the most aggressive regimen possible- double mastectomy, port surgically placed in my chest, chemotherapy, drug therapy and radiation. We also had to terminate the pregnancy. This cancer was estrogen positive and the hormones were actually feeding the cancer. That little angel whom was the cause of our going into the doctor saved my life.
Giff was my rock through every step…interviewing a team of the best doctors, memorizing which medicines I needed to take and when, driving me to chemotherapy and sitting next to me while I was so scared, telling me I was beautiful when I was bald, and so many other things…words cannot express. When you say your vows, in sickness and in health…you would never guess sickness of this magnitude at this age would be in the near future. In addition to this hardship, Giff’s dad died of a complicated prostate cancer the day we came home from my surgery. I could not hold my husband as he mourned for his dad because of the pain I was in from the mastectomy. How did Giff handle all of this pain at one time? How was he so strong for me? He is amazing. Giff’s dad was one of those people whom you naturally wanted to be around…his smile was contagious, his love for life was invigorating and he listened so intently when you talked in a conversation with him. He made you feel special. We think about him often and will miss him so much.
My family and friends were also by my side…my mom flying out from NY several times to help us with cooking and cleaning and holding my hand. It must be one of the most awful things in the world to watch your baby girl be diagnosed with breast cancer. My girlfriends also flew out to take care of me and help with anything they could. Other friends living closer would come by just to sit and talk or watch movies. There were so many cards, letters, flowers, cookies, and other gifts that came from all over the country. It’s amazing to have such great people in my life. In addition to my amazing circle of friends and family, there were the strangers with whom crossed our path. Whether it was a letter in the mail from a breast cancer survivor, the anesthesiologist who called Giff during my surgery crying happy tears that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes, or our fertility doctor who promised to watch over our frozen embryos as if they were her own. There were so many small gestures that made such a big impact on our lives.
Looking at the bright side: Thankfully this was caught in stage 1, had it been caught a year prior by the first doctor I had gone into about the lump, it may have been caught at stage 0. Please learn from my lesson…insist the lump be tested – a lump cannot be diagnosed by touch. They were able to cut all the cancer out and after I finish the entire regimen including a pill I take over the next 5 years, they said there is a 95% chance the cancer will never come back.
Our exciting future: We’ve decided to re-prioritize, we are taking 400 days starting February 7th of 2011 to travel the world! We will travel to new places, eat new foods, taste new wines and meet new people. We will focus on healing ourselves both physically and mentally. This will be one of the best years of our lives.
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One Reply to “Day 143 of 400: Siena – Italy”
Co-incidently, I hate the haircut I got earlier this week too!!!