Festivals, Friends, and Farewells

Do you like festivals, great food, and adventure?  Catch up with Lisa P.

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The month of April was an incredibly busy one with most of my time devoted to an Italian school in Siena. People arrive from around the world to either improve on their Italian or start with no knowledge of the language. So far I’ve met people from Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Poland, France, England, the US, and Japan. I’ve been fortunate to make the acquaintance of a retired judge, a retired dentist, a banker who lives part-time in Siena with his wife and the rest of the time in Hawaii, a retired teacher of Spanish who lives in Palm Springs, a man who works in British intelligence, and just too many more amazing folks to mention.  Yet just today, on the second day of May three more retired language teachers arrived from Germany and France. I’m at the school five days a week so I’ve not blogged recently but I do hope that this week’s artichoke flavored musings will inspire you to follow your dream of a new life in Italy!

  • Pro tip: no matter your level of Italian you can always improve it and here in Italy we have language schools everywhere that are easy to drop into. I recommend them! And even if your Italian is at a very high level you’ll meet all kinds of fascinating people so it’s well worth it.

Do you like festivals, great food, and adventure?  Well. Come with me! as we travel to Asciano and Chiusure which are two impossibly beautiful places located within the famous Crete Senesi in Siena for a festival of artichokes or carciofi! Yes, you read that correctly… An Artichoke festival! Italy is the place to be if you love festivals!  Our artichokes are only in season until June, so of course, this is a perfect excuse to have a celebration for these dazzling, purpley vegetables. They are astonishingly beautiful to behold as are the leaves of the plants themselves.

After learning about the artichoke festival I quickly made reservations by phone for the event entitled, “Festa Del Carciofo – Chiusure in MTB” for three people that included a lunch / dinner of artichokes along with a tour of this magical part of Italy on e-bikes!  A retired judge named Karen, who just departed the school I’m attending to hike to Rome, and her niece Moira who is an American who studied Irish dancing joined me for this trip. I picked them up in my little car bright and early at one of the gates from the historical center of Siena and drove them to Asciano, which was the starting point for our e-bike tour and subsequent overindulgence of fresh carciofi. 

  • Pro tip: If you’ve never tried an e-bike, because it’s “not a proper bicycle” or “too easy” I can tell you that indeed it is a solid work out. The advantage is you can get to more places that would otherwise be almost impossible.

After riding about 13 kilometers, or near the halfway point climbing and descending some rather steep and dodgy terrain we parked our e-bikes at the festival in anticipation of a proper artichoke feast. Our group was utterly famished after some intense cycling and more than ready for a proper carciofi / artichoke pig out! For starters we all received our very own basket of fried artichokes with a choice between artichoke pasta or artichoke soup. I chose the pasta and it was beyond delicious…I still can’t figure out how they made a pasta out of them but it was amazing. After guzzling an unholy amount of these artichokey dishes we returned to our e-bikes to complete the loop and return to Asciano.

For the way back to Siena proper I stopped us at some scenic viewpoints. The lighting was perfect for photography, because a storm was brewing on the horizon.  Indeed, it really started to pour buckets of rain on us the closer we got to the city, so we were fortunate to miss most of the storm. This was a lovely day out and great fun. Karen thanked me for handling all the reservations over the phone (in Italian) and planning the day. I mention this, because more often than not there is a number to call for most things… There might be an e-mail, yes, but with a chance that no –one will reply. 

In sum: no matter your level of Italian these “drop in” schools are worth it and you’ll meet some interesting people. Karen was at the school for a month and is currently walking her way to Rome with another student from the school. So this week is a bit sad for me, because another friend (a retired teacher of Spanish named Susie) will also leave for Palm Springs.  However, I do hope to meet more inspiring people through the school and I have a blog post in the works that deals with just my experiences there. The world is a big place, but I’m always surprised at how small it can seem: for example, Karen graduated from the University of Virginia in the 1970’s.  I also hold two degrees from the very same university!

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