Tag Archives: Government

Have your gelato and eat it too

I spent a lot of time traveling as a group in Turkey––beginning with our 2-week orientation tour at the start––so it’s been strange that we haven’t really done any out-of-town trips as a group here in Italy yet. Traveling with a group can be hard; itineraries are often jam-packed and people can only stand on their feet for so long before they get tired. At the same time, there’s nothing like traveling to bring people closer together, like the time we had to walk for an hour to detour around a giant protest in Istanbul or the time we traveled for hours to make a 45-minute long meeting with a village women’s theater group. I think it’s good to be put in uncomfortable situations and go to places that you wouldn’t otherwise have gone on your own. Over the past year, these experiences have taught me to learn to let go––something that doesn’t naturally come to someone who’s slightly Type A like me.

And so, the whole Villa le Balze crew piled in a bus early Saturday morning, made a pit stop to pick up someone who overslept, and headed off to Siena and San Gimignano for the day.

Siena

Siena is only about a 90-minute drive from Florence, but Sienese will fervently assure you of the differences that run between them and the Fiorentini. The rivalry between these two Tuscan cities runs deep, dating back to the 12th century. During the 13th century, multiple wars were waged as each fought for more influence in the region, though Siena ultimately fell under the power of Florence during the time of the Medicis.

Map of Siena by Matheus Merian (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

As a whole group, we spent our Saturday under the guidance of my history professor, who travels back and forth every weekday from Siena to Florence for work. After a bus ride through the beautiful hills of Tuscany, we met Professor Brizio near the city walls.

PC: Will

Photo Credit: Will

The center of Siena sits on top of a hill, with the rest of the city fanned out below. Siena was actually one of the first cities to ban traffic in its center back in 1966, making for quiet and pedestrian-friendly streets that you can wander.

We first visited Siena’s Duomo, also known as Santa Maria Assunta. The white, intricately carved edifice rises dramatically from the square. It was originally intended to be built to a size larger than that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, though they ended up only constructing one branch of the planned cruciform shape.

IMG_8257

IMG_3389

PC: Will

We also managed to snap a group picture, at last.

IMG_3380

PC: Will

We also visited the Palazzo Pubblico, which has served as the seat of government in Siena since 1297.

The Palazzo Pubblico sits in the Piazza del Campo, the famous piazza in Siena where twice a year they hold the famous Palio di Siena on July 2 and August 16. The Palio is a crazy horse race held in the square where each of the 10 contrade or city wards enter a horse and jockey to win.

Before the race, the horses are taken into the church where they are blessed and have a chalice of wine held up to their lips. If the horse poops while in the church, it’s supposed to be a sign of good luck.

We ate lunch in Siena at a charming––though overpriced––trattoria. The whole group of 19 went to the restaurant, but we ended up splitting the bill evenly. That means that athough many of us opted for the 7 euro pasta, we each had to pay 16 euros at the end––yikes!

Price complaints aside, however, this tiramisu may have been the best tiramisu I have ever had.

Price complaints aside, however, this tiramisu may have been the best tiramisu I have ever had. So good, in fact, that I almost finished it before I remembered to take a picture.

San Gimignano

After lunch, we got back on the bus to drive to San Gimignano, an absolutely beautiful medieval walled hill town in Tuscany. When we arrived, we were treated with this view:

IMG_8309

The entire town is surrounded by sturdy old walls. Medieval towers still stand watch over the city.

My only complaint about San Gimignano is that we didn’t get enough time! I could have spent a whole day wandering through its streets. Nevertheless, we had an itinerary to stick to.

The Church of San’Agostino may look unassuming from its exterior, but its interior was elaborately and beautiful decorated.

PC: Will

PC: Will

We also visited San Gimignano’s town hall, the Palazzo Communale.

PC: Will

PC: Will

Near the end of the tour, we were given a choice: gelato or climb the tower. San Gimignano is known for having some of the best gelato in Italy, but I couldn’t turn down an opportunity for a view.

IMG_8362 We raced up the stairs, two at a time, to get to the top. And my goodness, it was worth it.

IMG_8361

IMG_8350

IMG_8360

IMG_8351

We managed to race up and down fast enough––with plenty of photos at the top––to have time for gelato too.

Because sometimes, you can have it all.

IMG_8354

Wishing on Il Rottamatore

I just got back from a wonderful trip for spring break to the British Isles, where I met up with Shawn and explored the beautiful (yet cold) cities of London, Bristol, Bath, and Dublin. Blog posts on those adventures are forthcoming, but for now, I’ve posted my latest blog post from the Berkley Center below. Enjoy!

Read More →

Lost in Venice

IMG_7753

Ah, Venice… The magical sinking city that seems to float on water, where residents still need boats to get around and where visitors unfailingly get lost in its winding maze of alleyways, bridges, and canals.

IMG_7659

Venice has always occupied a special place in my heart. In elementary school––and still today––one of my favorite books was The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, a story of two brothers who run away to Venice and are taken in by a group of street children who live in an abandoned theater. (That description may not do it complete justice, but Cornelia Funke is truly a master in children’s literature.)

Julia and I arrived in Venice on Friday afternoon by train at the Santa Lucia station, where one immediately walks out the doors of the station to see the Grand Canal.

IMG_7663

Beforehand, I had found out that the cheapest way for us to get a vaporetto pass was through a Rolling Venice card from the tourism office. Tip: If you’re under 29, you can purchase a Rolling Venice card for only 4€ to get huge discounts on many attractions in Venice, such as a 3-day vaporetto pass and half-price admissions at the major museums and attractions.

With our vaporetto pass in hand, we boarded the No. 2 vaporetto to take us to the island of Giudecca, where our hostel was located.

After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we took the vaporetto over to San Marco, which was only two stops away by boat.

It was already getting dark, so we wandered around a bit in the rain, winding through alleyways and climbing over bridges. For dinner, we stopped by a tiny restaurant that specialized in cichetteria, little small dishes you can combine to create a meal.

Once back at the hostel, we ordered some hot chocolate from the bar and sat down in the common area. Now, hot chocolate in Italy is completely different from what you experience stateside––instead of a watery mix of chocolate power and sometimes milk, Italian hot chocolate is like a melted chocolate bar: rich, smooth, and thick.

For my first hostel experience, Ostello Venezia was awesome. The building was recently remodeled in October, with a funky common area and cool furnishings.

In the hostel, they were setting up for a “Neon Party” that night, complete with guest DJ performances. Considering that I usually can barely stay up past 11, we were only there for the first hour or so, when there were only two guys swirling around on the dance floor by themselves, so I can’t speak much for the event. But the set-up looked impressive!

IMG_3042

By hanging out in the common area, we met a bunch of travelers from all over: Belgium, England, Scotland, and Canada, to name a few locales. Julia and I passed around a blow-up ball with a backpacker for a bit, then pulled up a bunch of chairs with a group to meet new people.

Fairly early, we headed back to the dorm room since we planned to head out early the next morning. While the atmosphere in the common area of the hostel was great, the vibe in our dorm room was very… strange. A woman had lost a pouch with a bunch of her cash in it, so she spent over three hours crying during the night and talking loudly to her friend and on the phone in Spanish. At first I felt bad––I couldn’t imagine if that happened to me––but by 1:00 a.m. and hour 2 of this, I was wishing she’d leave the room.

Despite all of that, I slept surprisingly well, armed with an eye mask and a pair of earplugs. My top bunk was even more comfortable than my bed back in Florence, and I awoke to discover that the window in the room had a fantastic view of Venice’s main island.

After accidentally terrifying a girl on my way to the bathroom (apparently, when I ask someone “Are you done with the shower?” in my pajamas and glasses it is scary enough to warrant a reaction straight out of a horror movie), we headed back to San Marco in the morning to begin our full day of sightseeing.

After a mesmerizing walk through the Basilica of San Marco––perhaps the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen––we bought tickets for the Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doge’s Palace.

Unfortunately, they don’t allow cameras on the tour, but it was completely worth the 14€ ticket price. Our tour guide enthusiastically led us through the parts of the palace not open to the general public––old prison cells, torture chambers, and archival rooms––while telling us stories from the past, such as how Casanova managed to escape from prison using a bible, plate of pasta, and a small shovel.

After the tour, we then had time to tour the grand public rooms of Venice, where the huge councils of nobles used to meet to govern the powerful republic. For centuries, Venice was governed by a kind of oligarchical democracy, where 2,000 noble men voted in the Grand Council––pretty impressive for a state that never had a formal written constitution. The Doge himself was elected from one of the leading Venetian families usually around the age of 80, then would serve in the position until his death. However, the position itself didn’t have much political power beginning in the 1200s, when the Rialto families controlled the government through various levels of Councils.

 

Afterwards, we got lunch at an amazing take-out pasta place named Alfredo’s then wandered around and got lost––which, truly, is the best way to spend your time in Venice.

IMG_3078

On a small side street, we found a beautiful bookstore, where books lay stacked in precariously leaning towers. I bought some postcards to send back home.

We jumped on a vaporetto to take a look at all the palazzos along the Grand Canal by water.

We pondered some modern art at the Guggenheim.

Then we managed to get so completely lost that a kind man asked if we needed help and pointed us in the direction of the old Jewish ghetto in Venice.

For dinner, we sought out a place where we could try the Venetian speciality of spaghetti al nero di seppia, dyed black by squid’s ink.

photo

Exhausted from a full day of walking, we finally made it back to the hostel for another round of hot chocolate and where we met a group of American students who were visiting Venice for the weekend. Then, we headed out early the next morning to make our train back home.

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off my birthday week. The Venice of reality was even more charming than the Venice of my dreams.

IMG_7813

I can’t wait to return some day.

Turkey and the European Union

“The EU Accession process is less of a negotiation than an imposition,” we were told, meeting with Michael Miller, the Head of Political Affairs for the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

And indeed, the accession process is intrusive, as the European Commission issues thorough recommendations about what must be done for Turkey to bring itself in line with the European Union acquis. As a result, the EU Accession process has been a driving force behind reform in Turkey.

The headquarters of the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

The headquarters of the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

The EU Accession process has also been a long time coming. The EEC and Turkey first entered into an Association Agreement in 1964, aimed at eventually securing Turkey’s full membership in the EEC. However, the next several decades were rife with political violence and instability, with military coups in 1970 and 1981. In 1987, Turkey applied for full EEC membership; it was rejected as the European Commission stressed the existing gaps between Turkey and the EEC. Turkey and the EU instead formed a Customs Union in 1995. Finally, the European Council finally entered Turkey into its list of candidate countries at Helsinki in 1999, and accession negotiations opened in October 2005.

There are some obvious benefits of Turkey’s accession for both sides. The EU has an interest to stabilize Turkey politically, and the location of Turkey as a key energy transit route would make its EU membership extremely strategic. For Turkey, the EU is its biggest trading partner, accounting for 40% of its foreign trade. The EU is by far the biggest investor in Turkey, and it would make sense to solidify this economic partnership through greater integration.

However, the European Union has evolved significantly from its beginnings as an economic union in the EEC. In this sense, Turkey is chasing a moving goalpost or target when it comes to EU accession. The EU has increasingly been seen to embody a set of European values with regards to democracy and human rights.

While these reforms can be made, there remains hesitancy whether it is worth it. After initial progress in the early 2000s, the accession of Cyprus to the EU without resolving the border dispute spurred Turkish resentment, resulting in a hiatus in accession talks between 2004 to 2012. In contrast, many chapters are closed in the Turkish accession talks until a resolution in Cyprus. Comments by French President Sarkozy that “Turkey… has no place inside the European Union” suggest that even if Turkey could meet the acquis, it might still be unable to receive the unanimous vote to ultimately become a member.

There is also the question about whether Turkey actually needs the EU. The country managed to breeze through the world financial crisis of 2008-2009 relatively unscathed, in part due to the banking sector reforms instituted as part of its IMF loan package at the beginning of the decade. It has a large and growing domestic market, as over 50% of its population is under the age of 30. Also, there tends to be talk in Turkey about its options in the East, looking to Russia or countries in the Middle East as possible economic and political partners.

At the same time, Mr. Miller told us, “Turkey would do well to look at the costs of non-membership as well,” believing that Turkey does not have the political ability to institute reforms without external pressure. The lack of progress after 2004 has demonstrated this shortcoming, although Prime Minister Erdoğan’s Democratization Package may signal a renewed dedication.

“We need to get the EU accession process back to the leverage it had in 2002 to 2004,” Mr. Miller said.

On the Steps of Anıtkabir

As we drove around Ankara, I couldn’t help but get a little homesick for my own capital city. Over these past couple years, I’ve grown to consider Washington, D.C., almost as much of my home as California. After three months in Alanya, I can’t help but crave the way the sun reflects off of the monuments or the way lobbyists and politicians bustle about with their aura of self-importance. And so, it was nice to spend a couple days in Ankara, amidst the capital buzz of embassies, NGOs, and politics.

Ankara has been the capital of Turkey since 1923, corresponding with the founding of the Turkish Republic. With that importance, Ankara has grown to become the second largest city in Turkey, after Istanbul. It’s quite a remarkable growth. Today, its population sits at around 4.3 million, but just in the 1960s, it hovered more around 1 million.

After a night at our hotel in Ankara, we began our day by visiting Anıtkabir, the mausoleum and museum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Our visit coincided shortly after the memorial of his death on November 10, so the memorial was packed with groups of schoolchildren paying their respects.

The mausoleum and museum were beautiful, situated on a tall hill above Ankara. But my favorite part was spotting these kids:

Credit to Lindsay, who snagged a picture of these schoolchildren wearing Atatürk masks

Credit to Lindsay, who snagged a picture of these schoolchildren wearing Atatürk masks

For the rest of Ankara, our trip took a decidedly academic turn, as our itinerary was full of meetings with different kinds of organizations that operate out of Ankara. I found the conversations to be some of the most interesting aspects of my time in Turkey so far. There’s only so much that I can learn from the news or from the readings for my classes, but the best kind of insight comes from those on the ground who are working through the issues.

For the rest of the posts from Ankara, I’ll take a more topical approach, discussing some of the issues that we  studied in class as well as discussed in meetings with various leaders during our time in the capital. Stay tuned!
IMG_6688