Friday, July 27, 2012

Scuola di Italia: What I Found Out About Schools In Italy

We've been in Italy for 7 days and are still loving every minute!  We spent our last two days in Siena  traveling the Tuscan countryside and exploring the local flavor of this small mountain town.
The brown color of the rolling hills is from the expansive wheat fields.
Some of the fields had already been harvested. It's hard to see, but there are vineyards on the hillside.
One of the highlights of the trip so far has been our tour into the country.  Tuscany is the west central part of Italy and is known for its delicious olive oil, its flavorful steak, and its wine which is produced from the many, many vineyards in the region.  I had always imagined this part of Italy to be lush and green because of those vineyards, but this is not the case. While we did see vineyards, the most prominent color was light brown due to the expansive fields of wheat. I was surprised, but of course, this makes sense - pasta is made from wheat, and Italians eat A LOT of pasta. Our guide, Levennia, told us the other two colors of the Tuscan landscape come from the grey rocks and soil, and the bright yellow sunflower fields intermingled with all that wheat. We passed quite a few of these sunflower fields, and I wondered why Tuscany had so many.  Levennia told us that these are grown as feed for the farm animals in the region, as well as for oil.  I wanted to take a picture of those lovely fields for you, but as we drove the clouds moved in. Unfortunately, if you've ever grown sunflowers in your garden, you know that on cloudy days the flowers bow their heads and close up their petals so you can't see the bright yellow of their faces. There's nothing sadder than a whole field of sunflowers on a rainy day. :(  I also noticed the many olive orchards as we drove.  Here in Italy, olive trees are as abundant as apple trees in the US.  I had never seen an olive tree before and was fascinated.  Here they are just beginning to produce fruit.

This is an olive grove.  The trees have gnarly bark and a pale green sheen.
We stopped to explore the beautiful historic mountain town of Montalcino (Mont-e-chino). I had to practice pronouncing the name, but I learned that  monte is the Italian word for mountain, and the single c is pronounced as a ch. That helped!   Did you know that Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello is taken from the Italian language and means "little mountain"?  Even though the single c is supposed to be pronounced with the ch sound, Jefferson didn't pronounce it that way.  He called his home "montisello" even though he knew how to speak Italian.  No one really knows why.
The narrow streets of Montelcino.  In Tuscany, everywhere you want to go is uphill!  
At the end of our day, my family and I realized that from a distance, except for the brown wheat fields, the Tuscan mountains look very much like the blue ridge of our home in Virginia.  Lois Armstrong was right - It IS a wonderful world!
This is the view from the top of the church's bell tower.  Doesn't the ridge in the background look beautiful and blue just like in Virginia?
On our last day in Siena, I wanted to experience some local life so we walked outside the city walls where the town was a bit more modern! I have to keep in mind that modern here means architecture built in the 1700's. :) We found a small local bakery which served excellent paninis, very cheap. By the way, panini means "sandwich" in Italian. We also found the local elementary school housed in a 17th century renovated building.  Check out those front doors!  After talking with a local resident, I found out the school system here is not very different from ours.  Children begin "elementare" at 6 years old and continue for five years.  Classes range in size from 15 to 25 with several sections of each grade just like in the US.  From there students transfer to "scuola media" or middle school, until they are 13 or 14.  Students then must take and pass an exam before attending high school, or "scuola secondaria" where they attend for 5 more years.  Most children finish their schooling by 18 or 19 years of age and a school year runs from September to June just like in the US.  Interestingly, English is taught every year beginning in elementary school.  This must be why most Italians can speak at least a few English phrases. Since we've been here, all four of us have realized how helpful it would be to know a second language. We're each picking up a few Italian words here and there, but we're lucky so many of the local residents can speak rudimentary English.  Even many of the tourists we've met from other countries can speak to us, albeit not very well. Thank goodness! The most difficult part of traveling internationally is not being able to communicate! I also found out, according to the residents I spoke with, sports are played through community league teams and not sponsored by the schools. I have not researched this outside of the few places I've been, so I hesitate to say if this is true for all of Italy.
I could barely reach the doorknobs on the front doors of the elementary school.  There wasn't a second set at a lower point either!
This was the playground.  It had a slide,  2 swings, and lots of space for pick up soccer games!

Speaking of sports, we did run across this GREAT human foosball game at a festival in Siena!  Doesn't this look like fun?  I wonder if we have something like this in the states?  Time for more research!

Next stop, Florence!  Ciao!


  1. Siena certainly looks and sounds very interesting. Never thought about the wheat or the olive trees, which seems rather narrow thinking on my part. Just lovely.

  2. Woody would stand under the olive tree and wait for them to drop. Then he'd go to the winery. Our trips to wineries in the Napa Valley would have me handing over my glass to him. He'd be pretty happy when we finished touring. This is the part of Italy that I'd really love to see. Wouldn't you have loved to go in the school. I love those doors. I can't wait until your next entry.

  3. This part of the country was really beautiful! We just drove to the Amalfi coast and the mountains look just like Virginia mountains, except slightly sharper on top, We were having trouble with internet service in Florence, so I couldn't upload any pictures. We're in Sorrento at the beach and in a modern hotel! Another entry is coming soon. Thanks guys!

  4. Awesome! I loved the pictures of the olive trees!

  5. Kate

    Just started reading your blog - really enjoying it! Loved the pics of tuscany!