Buongiorno tutti! Saturday was the day of the Giostra del Saracino, a jousting tournament that has been held in Arezzo for centuries. And it was super cool!!

So yes, the joust. The joust has been a thing in Arezzo possibly as early as the 13th century, and was definitely around by the 14th century. In fact, Dante mentioned it in his Divine Comedy.

La Giostra del Saracino!

Unfortunately, as time went on it became less popular, and by the 18th century it was no longer in practice in its original form. But in 1931, the town of Arezzo decided to restart the tradition in a mock form, using dummies instead of actual opponents.

It's a dummy!

Now the town of Arezzo is divided up into four quartiere, or neighborhoods; Santo Spirito, San Andrea, del Foro, and Crucifera. Each quartiere has two jousters who each get one run at the dummy. They measure points by how well the jouster hits the target, which has points from 1 to 5. It looks like this.

Upper right side.

If the jousters drops his lance, he gets 0 points. If he gets hit by the mace the dummy is holding, they lose 1 point off their original hit. If they break their lance, they get double points. Once the jouster hits the target, it is immediately taken down so that no one can see it and the judges can look at it and decided what the score should be. The winner gains the coveted prize, the golden lance.

So the first thing that happened was a cannon going off at 7 this morning. We didn’t wake up, but it was on the schedule, so I assume it happened. But we were awake for the 11 o’clock parade. Our room at the hotel is on the first floor with a balcony terrace facing the road, so we had a perfect view.

Working the feather hat.

Banners of the different quartiere.

Totally legit drummers.

After that, we basically lazed around all day in preparation for the actual joust at night. So we ate some dinner (Cheeseburger!) and headed over to the Center to meet up with the rest of the OU students. And then there happened to be another parade!

The handcrafted golden lance.

San Andrea archers.

Flag bearer. No shame.

Super awesome page girl from Santo Spirito.

Following that, we grabbed our tickets and headed over to the Piazza Grande, where they had set up this huge stadium-thing for the joust.

It was big...

...very big.

They started off with the entrance of the drums and trumpets…

Very talented.

…followed by the ‘court’…

They're all teenagers!

…followed by the judges.

Who wore creepy robes.

To shake things up, they then brought in the acrobatic flag bearers. They were super awesome with their doing backflips over flags and stuff. Just look.

Under the legs!

Off the flagstaffs!

And TADA!!!

Then came the colorful flag bearers, and let me tell you, band color guards have nothing on these guys. They were a’tossin’. And a’twirlin’. Good times.



It's like a rainbow!

After the flag bearers did their thing, the ‘announcer’ read off the poem that speaks of the great battle between the Saracens and the Aretini. I didn’t understand it, but the people in the audience all yelled out the same things at the same times during his speech, so I assume they knew it really well. And then it was finally time for the joust to begin!

Go, Horsie, Go!!

The first jouster was from San Andrea and though I couldn’t see what he hit in time, I assumed it was very good from the team, who broke into hysterics and threw themselves at each in joy. And then immediately got into a fistfight with a different team.

Yes, the police got involved.

Each subsequent team went, reacting with joy or despair appropriately. In the first round there were two dropped lances by del Foro and Crucifera, leading to large amounts of angst. San Andrea got a 5 and Santo Spirito got a 4.

After half time, the next jousters from each quartiere went, and though there were no dropped lances, there were some not-so-hot scores. San Andrea went first, gaining 3 more points, which, though respectable, was not enough the guarantee them the victory. del Foro got a disappointing 2 and then Santo Spirito blew away the crowd with a 5! Unless Crucifera broke a lance on the 5 mark, Santo Spirito was assured victory.

And indeed, victory was theirs! Crucifera ended the joust with a 4, leading to Santo Spirito being declared the winner of this joust!

After the screaming and crying at the stadium, the winning quartiere walked over to the Duomo of Arezzo to be blessed by the Archbishop. I imagine this is what churches were like back in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. A huge party!


Drum core on the high altar...umm...

Church is at full capacity!

We then walked back to the hotel, tired yet wired, and ended up asleep by about 2 in the morning. It was definitely one of the coolest experiences that I’ve ever had, and something that everyone should see at some point in their life.

Interesting Stories of the Day:

  • Instead of going to Ristoburger, we were originally going to try to go to DLF, this cafeteria buffet type of place. The map said it was by the train station and so we walked over there. And found a parking lot. With abandoned warehouses. We decided to leave.
  • The little page boy for del Foro kept playing air drums when the drum core would play, which was absolutely adorable. I’m sure he’ll grow up to do that in the later jousts.

Drummer in training!

  • There was also a soccer game going on at the same time, so people had to choose what they wanted to watch. Unless you were these guys. Then you just watched both.


...so not fair.

A dopo!!

Since I hadn’t been able to upload photos until now, here they are. Looking back at them, I think they summarize the first three weeks of my trip well. That’s good for me because I haven’t had time to post as much as I wanted to on this blog. The Journey to Italy program is, by nature, go-go-go. I think if you choose to do a program that only lasts one month and then try to make free time for yourself, where you can sit inside and write a blog, you’re doing it wrong. There is way too much to see and learn for that.

So here I am, at home in Oklahoma, only now having the time to sit and think about my trip. I guess I might as well start with the photos.

This is something beautiful on the top of the Trevi fountain. One of the first nights that we were in Rome, most people in the group went to the fountain, a great people-watching spot. The fountain itself is gorgeous at night. The sounds of the water and people chatting keep the area buzzing with life. I threw one coin into the water, to guarantee that I would return to Italy someday. If I had thrown anymore, I would have risked falling in love with and marrying an Italian man, which is not part of my life-plan.

Top of the Trevi fountain

This is a view of Rome. I really loved exploring Rome. I guess I love Arezzo most, but Rome is a close second. It is a big city, full of people and food and art and history. There is no way to see it all. And no way to describe it perfectly. All over the city, there are fountains of fresh water to fill up your bottle. Since I am someone who won’t leave the house without water, I loved this. I bought three bottles of water on the trip back to Oklahoma because I kept having to go through airport security and am too neurotic to go without it. I couldn’t help but think about Rome.

A view of Rome

This is the Arch of Titus. I learned about it when I took my first art history class. I always liked it and never knew why. Now I love it and I still don’t really know why. That may not be the most fascinating thing to read, but there is something to be said for loving art without having a reason. I do a lot of that. Sometimes I find a reason.Sometimes I don’t.

The Arch of Titus

This is the Colosseum. And a topless man. I didn’t intend to take his photo, but it is an excellent representation of the way I experienced Italy. No, no, no, I’m not trying to say I spent time looking at ancient architecture and partially nude Italian men. The former -yes, the latter- not on your life. What I mean is that you can’t experience the beauty and history of Italy without also experiencing the culture of the Italians. Or, more accurately, you can but shouldn’t.

On the last day of class, my professor told us a story. She said she was standing in front of a big tourist spot, when a bus pulled up. Out of the bus comes a group of young Americans, looking worn out and like they’ve just been dragged all across the country. One girl turns to her friend and says “What city is this?” Her friend answers that she thinks they’re in Florence. Then the first girl says, in a completely sincere, awestruck voice, “Ah, Florence!” That would be .. oh.. almost ok if they hadn’t been standing in front of the Colosseum in Rome!

I got two things from this story. The first is that that’s no way to see a country. You should embrace the strangeness, get out of the tourist bubble, and try to learn about what you’re seeing. Attempt to order things in Italian. Failing is better than not trying. The second thing is that I am so glad my trip was not like that. If I had just wanted to see the famous art and buildings and then get back on my air-conditioned bus, I would have been completely out of luck. That is just not what this program is like.

The Colosseum

This is a photo I took of the floor of the Duomo in Siena. Not a whole lot more to it than that. Why don’t floors here ever look like that? Italy has beauty in spades.

The Floor of the Duomo in Siena

On to Florence. This is the ceiling of the Baptistry.

The Baptistry in Florence

Will you just look at that? Those colors, water, little boats? This was in Burano, a tiny island off of Venice. No matter how many times I look at the photos from my trip, I still can’t believe how many beautiful things I got to see. It was amazement overload.

Burano, an island near Venice

One day, we took a field trip to Michelangelo’s birthplace. It didn’t seem like that special of a place at first. There was a building. It was where he lived. And there was a small museum. I wasn’t enthralled until I saw the view. I have been in so many churches but I never felt so.. reverent as I did at Michelangelo’s birthplace. The nature that surrounded the house was so beautiful. The house was built up a steep trail, away from the town. It felt so peaceful and made me think. And take many pictures. Here is one.

View from Michelangelo's birthplace

This is a photo of my group, right before we went to our neighborhood dinner for the Joust of the Saracen. I had some definite team spirit, which is pretty unlike me.

My group for the Joust of the Saracen

This is my view of Piazza Grande from the stands right before the Joust, during some procession. Usually, it’s just a piazza. But that night there was a long packed dirt trail, many horses, and knights. There was more filler than actual jousting, but the filler was pretty impressive too. Who knew flag-throwing could be so masculine? Even in tights, those guys were a little sexy. A little.

Before the Joust

I took many pictures while in Cinque Terre. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The pictures I like the best are the ones I took to document my hike. I hiked! Really, I did! This is a picture of a trail I just conquered, on the way from Montorosso to Vernazza.

A view from my Cinque Terre hike

This is from the end of the hike. We made it to beautiful Vernazza. We were hot, sweaty, and in great spirits. See those rocks down there by the beach? That’s where I sat to soak my hot, aching feet for awhile before exploring the town. Perfectly cool, blue water. I even saw a crab, starfish, and a sea urchin.

Looking down on Vernazza at the end of the hike

The last field trip we took was to Cortona. For one of our classes, we read the book Under the Tuscan Sun. It was set and partially filmed in Cortona. Our first stop was a local vineyard, where we got to tour the Barrachi winery. I saw tiny grapes and barrels of wine. Then came the tasting. It was a long, relaxing, late-morning wine tasting. I wouldn’t suggest 11 am as a good time for a tasting, but it was excellent nonetheless. I am certain it was the best wine I’ve ever had and they were very generous with the servings. The winery is a small, family-run operation, so the son spoke to us about his wine. He told us how it was made and how to best enjoy it.

The vineyard

This last photo is a view of Cortona. It is so exactly what you’d imagine a Tuscan town to look like. I expected for the stereotyped ideas I had about Italy and Tuscany to be broken down, but they weren’t. They were reinforced. Fortunately, I had no negative stereotypes before going. I just thought Italy was all food, beauty, and culture. And it is. Of course, there are many other layers and definitely plenty that I did not discover.

A view of Cortona

The lessons I learned while in Italy are still surfacing. For the most part, I had personal discoveries. That was a big goal for me in going abroad. I wanted to learn, but I also wanted to learn about myself in a foreign situation. And I did. I learned that I can fail and fail and fail at something and be embarrassed and be confused, but still be ok. I wanted to be strong and fearless, but I am not always. I can’t be. But there is one thing I can be: resilient. Call me a stupid American all you want, I’m going to keep trying. I learned many things about myself, including the fact that I will never get tired of pizza.


And that’s it! I’m home now. As little as I’ve blogged, I still enjoyed  sharing my experience. I’ll be the billionth person to say it, but studying abroad is worth every moment, every cent. Do it. It was only for a month, but it did something for me that I can’t explain. I came back with a new and improved perspective. I’ll leave you with a photo of my first attempt at baking focaccia bread at home:


Where to start?

I’m in Arezzo now and it is so beautiful. It smells like flowers here. We are staying in a monastery, which I love. I have a nice room that I share with two girls from the program. The monastery provides two meals a day, which is great for saving money. I feel like I have finally settled down. I go to class in the mornings and then excursions or walks around Arezzo with my professor in the afternoon.We are learning some really interesting things about fascism and the false medieval appearance of Arezzo.

I have had the most amazing food. One one of our excursions, we visited Michelangelo’s birthplace. Since I had already seen his final resting place, it felt right. Nearby, we had lunch at a restaurant that, from the outside, looked like a sandwich shop. You could walk up to the front and buy newspaper or gum, but the food we had was out of this world. They made a lasagna with the freshest pasta I’ve ever had and cream sauce and truffles. There are no words good enough to describe this dish.

The most exciting thing so far has been the Joust of the Saracen. It is a very important tradition here in Arezzo. It seems medieval, with horses and knights and processions, but in reality it is just an abstraction of a tradition by the fascists. Nevertheless, it’s a big deal. The entire town gets involved. Everyone belongs to one of four neighborhoods or “quartieri.” Our professor put us into groups, too. Mine was Porta Santa Spirito. The others are Porta del Foro, Porta Sant’ Andrea, and Porta Crucifera. On last Friday night, we all went to our separate neighborhood dinners. The food was good, but there were many rowdy young men. I suggest staying away from rowdy groups of Italian men. They have limited interests. The next night, we went to the actual Joust or “Giostra.” It is a joust against a dummy (the saracen) and not other knights. It took a long time, which was surprising because horses are fast and the actual jousting goes by very quickly. The traditions and processions and arguing about points are what took so long. It was like Arezzo’s personal Superbowl, with horses and flags. When it was over, my team lost. It’s amazing how quickly I got invested in a neighborhood and team to which I don’t even belong.

I am looking forward to this week. The school part of it will be short and then we have a long weekend, where almost my entire group is going together to Cinque Terre. I have only heard good things about this place, but I am not sure what to expect. Every day here has brought some new experience. One day it might be seeing a joust and another it is learning how to order a kebab in Italian. Actually, those both happened to me yesterday. I recommend the roasted zucchini.

I was going to use the rest of this post for pictures, since I have so many to share, but the internet will not comply. I will try again soon. It will probably just be a long post of photos from the past two weeks. Then I’m sure I’ll post again about the wonders of Cinque Terre.


This is my first post since arriving in Italy. It has been such a long week. Internet has been hard to come by, so I guess I’ll try to make this one count.

We arrived in Rome on schedule. The flights were fine. Well.. except the part where they wake you up a few hours after you fell asleep and tell you it’s morning. Now… the sun was up and shining, which was very convincing. But my body didn’t agree. The only good part was being handed coffee immediately.

I traveled with 3 girls straight from Oklahoma City. We met up with another girl in Chicago and a fifth once we arrived in Rome. The six of us got a deal on a van to our hotel in the middle of Rome. Well, it went nearly to our hotel. I consider wandering around a city, pulling luggage, being exhausted, and looking clueless is part of the experience. Rome was beautiful. I miss it. I feel like we were there for a long time. Each day, we got up, had some bread and coffee, and started our trek with our professor through the city. The weather was beautiful, but sunny. By the end of the day, we were all covered in sweat and groaning about our feet.

The buildings and art were amazing. There was this moment, while I was looking at a Bernini sculpture, when I realized that this trip was going to be significant for me. I’ve never cared for art history as much as a studio art major should. Seeing the work in person changes everything. Photos in books can be inspiring, but standing near a famous piece of art and realizing there is a reason that it’s famous does more. It’s moving. And then it’s humbling. It makes me feel like I can never be an artist because I need to improve so much. The thing about me, fortunately, is I find being told I can’t do something extremely motivating. Even if I am the one saying it. Oh I can’t? Watch me.

I’m leaving out a lot, but just know the academic side of things has been action packed and the non-class cultural experiences have been a number of things: enlightening, complicated, confusing, and hilarious to name a few.

Next, we took a private bus to Sienna. It was such a nice place. We were only there for an afternoon, but it was worth it. We saw art in a very small museum and then our professor sent us on a mission. In Sienna, there are 17 neighborhoods that all have different animal names and compete in a horse race. We were told to ask locals about their neighborhoods and which neighborhoods were their rivals. It felt like being part of the Amazing Race. Minus the physical labor and plus gelato. There is always gelato involved. I was lucky in that no one was mean to me and several people were very helpful. Some girls said that they were kicked out of stores for asking, even if they had already made purchases.

So far, people have mostly been nice. Lots of people have been unfriendly, but not mean. Some people, specifically men, have been overly welcoming. It’s a strange thing to be blatantly propositioned and (after firmly declining, of course) not even feeling that offended. I think I’d like to deck a guy if he was so blunt in Oklahoma. Here, it is easy to brush off.

We are in Florence now. It smells like cigarettes and leather. And food, if you’re standing in the right places. I like this city. The walls of the buildings are very tall and the streets are very narrow. There are more tourists here than I’ve ever seen in my life. The guides hold sticks with flowers or decorations on the ends or umbrellas to keep from losing their flocks. It’s very strange to be in a foreign place and hear so many American voices around. It isn’t what I expected, but I’m spending time on the beaten path. I wish I had more time here to better get to know the city, but we leave on Friday.

So far, I like both of my courses. The art history professor, Kirk, is great. I think I’ve learned a lot. I doubt I’ll be telling him any time soon, but I credit his teaching style. He calls it practical. I haven’t spent much time with the other professor, Stephanie, since she won’t be with us regularly until we get to Arezzo, but she seems very sharp and kind. These people are great sources of information. This program is one where you get back whatever you put in. I’m doing my best to get a lot back.

I may not have internet for a bit, but I’ll update when I get the chance.



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