Study Abroad Diary is a new Snapshot feature in which students offer a glimpse into their study abroad experiences. Juliana Mejia a sophomore meteorology major currently studying abroad at OU’s Study Center in Arezzo, Italy, on the College of Arts & Sciences Art & Artifice program, which runs July 8 – August 2.
July 26, 2019
Ciao! I’m writing to you from the tower of OU’s monastery-turned-residence hall that has a truly dreamy view overlooking Arezzo and the hillsides the city fills into. I’m studying with a program called “Art & Artifice,” which is centered around an Art History class and Environmental Ethics class. We started off the first few days of the month in Venice and have since spent our time in Arezzo, city hopping as a group and on our own free time. This past weekend was the most memorable yet — first we spent a long, hot day exploring the city of Siena together, and then during my free day, I got the chance to explore the region of Val D’Orica.
In Siena, our first stop on the itinerary was the Duomo of Siena. Though we’ve seen many churches by now, I was blown away yet again. The outside of the building is rows of black and white strips of marble and the inside had busts of all the popes lining the ceiling, massive but intricate mosaics on the marble floor, and even a library! It followed the trend of Italy’s endlessly ornate art and decoration. Unfortunately, I accidentally left my phone behind at the monastery when we left in the morning, so I only have a few photos that I took from other people’s phones. One is a picture of the Medieval Script art (below) that was showcased in the library within the Duomo, the Piccolomini library.
The Sunday after our trip to Siena, I had the chance to explore Val D'Orica, a rural, hilly land of southern Tuscany that has several wonderful and peaceful hilltop towns spread throughout it. I’m fortunate enough to have a family friend who is from Brescia, Italy, a city in between Milan and Venice, and he accompanied me on the journey. One town we stopped in for some cappuccinos was called Montichielo, which, according to Google, only had 202 people living in it as of 2011. Talk about peace and quiet.
I will say that photos of Tuscany and the views overlooking all of the never-ending, rolling hills do not do any kind of justice. In person, it’s breathtaking and staggering.
But it didn’t end with cappuccinos. Per recommendation of my friend’s friend, who has visited Val D’Orcia several times, we went on a hunt through the on-and-off rain for natural hot springs — which I didn’t realize were a well-known characteristic of this part of Tuscany. Though I’m sharing some of my favorite photos from this day, it was not perfect. It certainly required some trial and error and a will to wander around. One of the first stops we made was honestly in the middle of nowhere, and I’m not sure how my friend even knew that there would be a spring pool there. We climbed a bit of a hill and came across some other people looking at the shallow pool. From there we moved on, knowing that there must be true “thermal water pools” out there somewhere. Our next stop was a bit more established and there were more people around, but we still had to hop a fence and climb down a very steep forest hill. There we found what we were looking for: a much bigger and deeper pool of naturally warm water. Despite the mucky appearance of the clay-filled water, we got our suits on and sat in the spring for a while. The warmth was relieving from the chilly rain we had been walking through.
Every magical day of travel requires a little bit of luck, and here’s where we got lucky. The man you can see in the photo on the right was a local from the area, and he kindly told us about a different hot spring that was hidden from the public — one that had hotter and cleaner water. This spot was one of the highlights of my whole experience here in Italy. The clay was soft and white and the closer each pool got to the waterfall that was filling it, the hotter the water got. It was literally a natural hot tub.
My days in Siena and Val D’Orica are two I’ll never forget. They taught me that not only does Italy have really enchanting, historic towns and cities, but it also has friendly locals and truly awesome natural wonders that have brought some dreams of mine into reality.
Are you interested in studying abroad with OU in Arezzo for spring or summer 2020? Visit the OUA website or contact Kaydee Dyer to learn more! To hear about upcoming info sessions and deadlines, follow CIS on Facebook or Twitter.