we awoke to sunlight streaming into our room; perfect weather for a journey
that would take us all over Rome on foot. Jess, Cari, Matt, Kevin, Kendall,
Meredith and I are all seriously broke, so that was a factor in our planning.
Our whole group met in the lobby at 9:30 and I was secretly very proud of
myself because after two weeks I have finally wised up and I took cheese and
salami roll ups from the breakfast buffet and stored them in a Ziploc bag in my
purse. We walked to the metro station, purchased our tickets, and boarded the
subway like old pros (it was the same ride we took on Wednesday). Instead of
going into Saint Peter’s Square we walked along the wall to the Vatican until
we came to the entrance of the Vatican museum.
Vatican Museum houses the Pope’s personal collection of art. All I knew about
it before today was that the grand finale of the museum route is the Sistine
Chapel, Raphael’s School of Athens is there, there is a “really good” Egyptian
Exhibit, and that about 1/3 of the gallery space is not open to the public
(according to my Italy guidebook). I had also heard about the famous double
helix staircases that help with the traffic flow of the visitors – which is a
very high volume.
Headrick warned us when we arrived around 10 this morning that the museum
closes at 6 pm, so we should make sure we get through to the Sistine Chapel.
This put us under quite a bit of pressure because we had a lot on our to do
list for the day. I was hoping to make it up to the top of the dome of Saint
Peters after visiting the museum, but some people had already been up there and
even though we tried to move quickly through the Vatican Museum we were there
until after 1 pm. It is truly an impressive collection of art.
we were planning our day last night we each picked one thing that we “had” to
see and then we plotted a route to take us to all of them. This gave us a
diverse collection of sites and our varying interests also proved to be
beneficial to our visit to the Vatican Museum. Some of us were interested in
art history, some in religion, and some in the history of the Egyptians. We all
had various pieces of knowledge to bring to the table, and by 10:30 I found
myself in an argument about the difference between The Ascension and the
Transfiguration of Jesus.
had to search extensively but we finally found the Carriage House within the
maze that was the enormous museum. The Carriage House has “pope mobiles” dating
way back – everything from chariots and carriages to Mercedes and Land
Cruisers. That was an unexpected and very cool exhibit.
museum was very crowded but it was pretty understandable considering how many
incredible pieces of work are all under the one roof. I finally saw Raphael’s
School of Athens, one of my all time favorite paintings. There was some really
neat Etruscan jewelry that we all agreed we would love to have (imitations) of.
the Sistine Chapel in person was an unreal experience; we were light headed
from the vibrancy of the colors and the sheer number of “things” happening in
the frescos. Again, I’m sorry that this is a common theme for me when it comes
to Michelangelo’s work, I really can’t describe it, images of it cannot do it
justice, and you really just have to go see it in person.
we left the chapel and found our way out of the museum – what is it with
Italian museums – you follow “exit” signs for about 45 minutes through
staircases, ramps, and all kinds of twists and turns and then finally you pop
out in some alley. We were all starving so Matt W, Meredith and I decided to
take everyone to the cool street outside of the Vatican walls that has tons of
cheap outdoor cafes with umbrellas and heat lamps. They also had great set menu
deals – pasta or pizza, any drink, and gelato or cappuccino for only 10 euros
(that’s the one we picked)!
was probably the best lunch I have had in Italy… I know I say that a lot. Here
is how we proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon: Hadrian’s Mausoleum
(Jess’s pick), the Ara Pacis (Matt’s pick), the Pantheon (everyone), the
synagogue (Cari), Trajan’s Column (Kevin’s pick), a long but unfruitful search
for the Colossal Constantine (Kendall’s pick), the Trevi Fountain (we had all
already been but it was on the way, and how often is THE Trevi fountain on the
way somewhere in your daily travels?), and finally the Spanish Steps (my pick).
The pictures – coming soon – are worth more than anything I could describe.
regrouped, had a brief “class” session during which our final exam was handed
out – due before the wheels hit the runway at Dulles tomorrow night, and headed
to dinner. I had a delicious “last supper” of pasta with meat sauce, bread with
olive oil, balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese, followed by beef marinated
with artichokes. As I gobbled mine up I noticed that everyone else was just
picking at their beef. About the same time, everyone noticed that my plate was
clean as a whistle. So that was pretty funny. Dessert was the best I have had
since we have been in Italy. It was essentially vanilla icing wrapped in sugar
cookie dough with chocolate sauce and cocoa. It seemed like a great way to go
out, but not everyone at the table was served the same dessert, so I can’t
speak for them.
made his final toast/speech – he has done a toast every night since we have
been here…. Just ask someone on the trip – there are some videos floating around.
Professor Headrick said that we need to have our bags packed by 8:30 tomorrow
morning OR ELSE. I asked if I could just stay permanently.
internet is about to run out, but I hope that everyone has enjoyed reading
because I have enjoyed myself immensely and the only thing I enjoyed more than
my little escapades around Italy was sharing the stories with the world. Keep
checking for pictures over the next few days… we have some real winners (but
some uploading issues).
morning we boarded our bus and were given radio receivers and headphones. We
checked to make sure that they were working, and set off towards the Coliseum.
We disembarked and turned out our headsets to begin our tour, and naturally,
mine was not working. The bus with the extras had already left, so my only
option was to stay at our guide’s side so that I could take in the information.
I felt bad for staying on her heels, which must have been annoying, but I
didn’t want to miss any of the information because I was very much looking
forward to this visit.
Coliseum was built as a way to appease the Roman citizens, who were not happy
with the amount of money spent on and the scale of the Emperor’s palace. All of
the games that were held at the Coliseum were free, and the opening games
lasted for 100 days straight. In the morning there were fights with animals
(animals killed by people, people killed by animals, and animals killing
animals) and in the afternoon there were fights with people fighting people. We
entered the arena though an area that had been the emperor’s box, and, even
though the building is in ruins, it was amazing. The Coliseum was originally
very grand, but over the years most of the “good stuff” was stripped to be used
in other building projects. I found myself wishing that a replica of the
Coliseum as it stood when it opened was standing next door so that we could
visit both (and it would make a sweet venue for sporting events, concerts,
etc.). Our guide had a book that had overlay pages so that you could see what
it would look like, so that helped a lot. The building is surprisingly “modern”
in that there are not many differences between it and stadiums we use today.
The seating was divided by social class, and the only people who sat above the lowest
class were the women, if they were allowed to be in attendance. The floor of
the arena, which was wooden, is long gone, but it provides an excellent view of
the elevators that were used to raise fighters to the arena. After the guide
gave us all of this information and more, we were free to climb to the top and
have a walk/look around. One thing that I thought was very interesting was that
our guide pointed out that the asphalt that was put down for the jubilee in
2000 is falling apart, while areas where the original floor is are still
checked out the Arch of Titus and then walked into a park that contains the
Palatino and the Roman Forum. The coolest part of this for me was that we were
walking the grounds upon which Rome was founded. The Palatino offered
spectacular views of the city, and the forum reminded me of visiting Jamestown
I know that Jamestown is an infant compared to Ancient Rome, but I really like
visiting Jamestown because when I visit I get the feeling that something big
started here (which it did, obviously, but I’m referring to the vibe I get when
I’m walking around). The sheer history of the place is astounding. My headset
was in and out – I got it to work for a little while with my ipod headphones,
but mostly I had to try to stay close to the guide.
call from Franco the bus driver meant that we were running late, so we hustled
over to City Hall, which was designed by Michelangelo and has steps made for
horses leading up to it because the noble people refused to walk up the hill
because they were noble.
picked us up and we headed to the train station to eat lunch in the cafeteria
there. It was very crowded, and I did not particularly enjoy my pasta
(expensive and green vegetables of unknown origin). I know that our guide
brought us there for lunch with the best intentions -but I would have rather picked out an obscure hole in the
wall for my second to last Italian lunch. We probably wouldn’t have had time
for that, though, and it was already pretty late, so it all worked out.
boarded the bus and headed out to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which is gorgeous and
houses the remains of Saint Paul.
am exhausted, so that’s where I am going to stop for now… more to come!
Saint Paul’s Cathedral was gorgeous – in my opinion one of the prettiest in the
world. I felt like I was at the beach both inside and outside of the church.
While we were touring the cathedral a crew of workmen were setting up for an
event. I’m struggling to figure out what kind of event this is because it
appeared that they had gated off the majority of the church (like where there
would be pews for people to sit) and the workmen were in the process of
assembling scaffolding on each side of the nave. I have decided that Italians
think that scaffolding enhances the architecture because it is everywhere. The
fact that they were putting it up inside of a cathedral in preparation for a
celebration (and it was only about 10 feet tall and free standing so its not
like it was supporting the ceiling or the wall) pretty much confirmed my
suspicion that they just like to have it around.
went down to look at the place where Saint Paul’s remains are and I thought
that it was pretty cool that I had seen the final resting places of Saint Peter
and Saint Paul in two days.
was very excited to find a coffee vending machine on my way out – I got a latte
from one every morning at the University of Alicante. They are very cheap (like
50 cents) and there are tons of varieties – espresso, café Americano,
cappuccino, latte, macchiato, dulce (sweet), decaf, etc. Once you put in your
money and make a selection a little cup pops out and the coffee is made before
your eyes and when you take the cup out there is a little spoon in it so you
can stir it up. I started walking towards the bus with my macchiato and
realized that it was slowly backing up. I haven’t had a watch the entire time I
have been here, so I was a little freaked out that I was late and I was getting
left. I walked a little faster, then ran, then walked again (I was sure
everyone was on the bus laughing at me), but when I arrived at the bus there
were only a few people on it and Franco the driver was just moving the bus
around a little (Franco does what he wants).
next stop was the Catacombs. I was looking forward to the catacombs because I
am a fan of movies like Indiana Jones, National Treasure, and The Da Vinci
Code/ Angels and Demons. However, this appears to be a case where fantasy is
much more interesting than reality. Although we were told that there were three
levels (downward), we only went down one level, and we had to stick together
the whole time and find the guide. I would have preferred if I was given a map
and told I had 30 minutes to find my way out, but I don’t think many people
would have found that to be a fun activity. It actually reminded me of places
you go to play laser tag indoors – dark, kind of creepy, funny smell…
am glad that we had a guide though because he was able to point out all sorts
of interesting facts and explain the facts behind the catacombs. I am running
short on time so let me just clarify some common misconceptions. Christians
were buried in the catacombs for economical reasons; land was expensive, so
burying people under a building on land that was already owned makes sense.
They would dig deeper when they ran out of room (hence 3 levels in this
catacomb). Catacombs sometimes served as a gathering spot for prayer/worship
for Christians, but it wasn’t secretive or booby trapped or anything. Many of
the remains are gone from the catacombs because as Christians began to build
churches the bodies were moved because no one was taking care of the catacombs.
thought it was a cool experience and I wish we could have stayed
longer/explored on our own. The catacomb we visited had over 7 miles (there are
about 50 miles of catacombs in Rome), and mostly now I am curious about
visiting the others.
bid farewell to Franco, our loyal driver for the majority of the trip, when we
arrived back at the hotel and had about an hour to regroup before dinner. Our
big excitement after dinner was getting to watch Man of the House (Chevy Chase,
Farrah Faucett and Johnathan Taylor Thomas) on the English language movie
channel. While we were watching this cinematic masterpiece we plotted out our
final Italian adventure.
will admit that even though it was advertised as a special highlight of our
trip, I was not incredibly excited about seeing the pope. Don’t get me wrong, I
understand that he is a HUGE deal. Professor Headrick explained how lucky we
were to have the tickets and that we would be in the same room, mere feet away
from the pope, and told us a story about a student a few years back who got an
aisle seat and the pope came up to her personally. I thought about these
things, and my first reaction can only be described as one of guilt. I felt
like I didn’t deserve the opportunity. Many of my classmates were incredibly
excited, and I felt bad that my excitement was not on the same level. As
Professor Headrick explained how the pope’s presence moves the people in the
audience, many of whom are on religious pilgrimage type trips, and I felt even
worse, like I had taken the place of an elderly person or a devout Catholic who
had been waiting to meet the pope for their entire life. While these new
thoughts put me slightly more in awe of what we planned to do today, I still
felt like I would rather have an Audience with the Queen of England, (I am a
total Anglophile) and hopefully would catch a glimpse of or have a word with
Prince Charles (boo) or Prince Harry (my future husband?). Meanwhile, when it
was announced at dinner last night that we would have a VERY early morning (6
am) because of the metro strike which would mean that we would have to stand
outdoors in line for a minimum of an hour (the gates don’t open till 8:15) and
then wait inside in our seats for two hours (the audience wasn’t until 10:30),
I started to wonder if it was going to be worth all of the effort. Just call me
WAS I WRONG (there you go, haters who say I refuse to be wrong). I have never
experienced anything quite like the audience with the pope, and I don’t think I
ever will unless I am able to go again (I totally would). Let me start at the
hotel was gracious enough to have breakfast for us early, and I took full
advantage and had two shots of espresso and a cappuccino. We set off into the
pitch-dark streets, bought our metro tickets and climbed aboard. It was the
smoothest 1st subway ride in a foreign city I have ever taken,
thanks to the test run that Dean Hull and Professor Headrick took last night.
We emerged from underground with the Bernini’s masterpiece (Saint Peter’s
Square) in sight. Upon realizing how large each column on the portico is (there
are over 250), I started to have my first wave of realization of how epic our
visit to the Vatican was. I also thought that it was really neat that the
square was practically deserted (since it was so early), and that we got to see
the sunrise from such an amazing location. We arrived at the gates to the
audience hall and we were not the first ones there, but we were close (what did
the people who were before us do, camp out or something?). Professor Headrick
explained to us that we needed to stand our ground as we waited in line because
people were going to get very pushy (because of their excitement, but also I
have noticed that many Italians have no problem pushing ahead of me to get
whatever they want before me, including the man who butted me while I was in
line for my metro ticket). I was very enthusiastic about this though, because I
love excitement, crowds, and the opportunity to “box people out” (probably the
only skill I mastered in my brief basketball career when I was about 10). He
also pointed out that we could line up at any of the 5 or so gates, so Matt D,
Erica, Cari, Justine, Meredith and I walked to the farthest gate, where there
was no line.
was at that point that I realized something else epic: our gate was closest to
the audience hall, we were the first people in the line, so therefore we would
be the first people into the audience hall, and from what I understood, the
tickets were open seating, so we could sit ANYWHERE we wanted, AKA we might be
able to get up close and personal with the pope. My day just got a lot more
interesting. Soon after we had arrived at our strategically awesome position a
group of older (probably retired) tourists in turquoise or purple scarves began
to edge in on us. This was nothing however, to the ordeal that some of my
classmates went through while waiting (for an hour).
title is another quote from Carlo (what can I say, he’s a funny guy), and he is
the one who dubbed our experience “the Thunderdome,” starting with the rude
awakening they got when the turquoise/purple scarf group showed up (there were
hundreds of them). Carlo and some of my other classmates chose to stay at the
first gates where the line had initially formed (those of us who moved are true
believers in “you’re either first or you’re last”). As the time for the gates
to open drew closer, the nearer lines were swarmed with people. Matt W was
attacked by an elderly lady with a cane, and I think I heard something about
Paul and an aggressive woman in a wheelchair. Remember, the gates were not even
open yet. Either way, apparently it got pretty crazy, so crazy that Carlo made
a “documentary” about it by recording the wild rumpus on a video on his camera.
Before anyone thinks anything negative about this video, I think that it is
amazing because it shows the otherwise indescribable (or at least unbelievable)
fervor and unrestrained excitement that people had about seeing the pope. The
tension was palpable to say the least, and, although we were successfully
holding down the fort at the far gate, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the
at our gate, a group of older ladies in fur coats edged towards us, and we
realized that our gate had two openings. We needed to figure out which one was
going to be opened for us to walk through so that we could huddle around it to
prevent butting. Matt and Erica took up a post at the left hand side, and I
(with the help of one of Bernini’s giant columns) took the right hand side, and
the rest of our little group stood ready to move as soon as the gate was open.
They opened the left gate, in case you were wondering, and Matt D ushered us
all in, and yes, we were the first people inside the gate.
were not, however, the first people into the audience hall, because as soon as
other people got in (the gates were all opened at the same time) they started
SPRINTING towards the audience hall. Ever the competitor, I also broke into a
run, and it was in that moment that I realized just how cool this experience
was. Well, I actually realized that, as well as the fact that I was totally
amped up about seeing the pope, when one of the Vatican guards yelled “NO
RUNNING!” at me and some of the other enthusiasts. We had to wait for the rest
of the group anyway, so we waited for everyone to catch up (I cant imagine how
bad the surge must have been at the first gate when it opened).
were directed to the farthest door into the audience hall, and it led us into
the front section of seats. The very front rows (1-4) were filled, but I was
the first one into the 5th row and headed straight for the center
aisle (on the outside chance that the pope walked down the center aisle).
However, an usher insisted that we sit about 15 seats from the aisle because a
group of children with cancer were expected. I thought that this was amazing –
the point of attending an audience with the pope is that you are blessed, and
as a strong believer in the power of prayer I found it touching that these
children were given reserved seats in the front and center.
Headrick had suggested that we bring some reading material with us because the
wait was so long, but I never cracked my book. With my seat secured I headed
off to the bathroom (I’m pretty sure that we were the first people in the
bathroom too), and then quickly returned to my seat because I didn’t want to
miss a thing. On my journey to the bathroom I also found out that our tickets,
which were blue, meant that we were allowed to sit in the front section; the
pushy group with the scarves all had to sit in the rear section. I asked
Professor Headrick if we had gotten our “VIP” tickets because he knows the pope
(see that story in one of the first entries), but he explained that he simply
reserved our tickets far in advance. The hall filled up slowly, considering,
and cardinals, Vatican guards, and men in suits (secret service?) appeared on
was under the impression that the hall would be “respectfully silent” while we
waited, but the air was filled with loud, excited chatter, and, once they had
arrived, live music which was played by what appeared to be a middle school
marching band. As the start time drew closer a large screen off to one side of
the stage came one and displayed a live feed of Saint Peter’s Square.
camera angle changed, and suddenly it was zoomed in on a navy Mercedes with
license plates that read CSV 1. The car came to a stop, and the pope climbed
out. The only way I can describe this is to say that it was just like Jay-Z’s
entrance to this year’s VMAs as the intro to his performance of “Empire State
of Mind.”Italians are so cool.
Pope Benedict said a prayer, and was introduced to some people who were
gathered outside as we waited inside. The screen shot went back to the general
Saint Peter’s Square live feed, and we knew the big moment was just seconds
away. Without further ado the pope strolled in though a side door that led
straight on to the stage. He had on his white papal robes (expected) and bright
red Prada shoes (not expected).
few quick facts: the Vatican is a sovereign nation and the only absolute
monarchy left in Europe. As the absolute monarch the pope is in charge of
everything. The Vatican is surrounded by a wall which separates it from the
rest of Rome.
to the Thunderdome though. The room erupted with cheers and lept to its feet. I
noticed a nun standing on her chair to get a good picture of the pope, and I
climbed up and got a good photo too (naturally, the tallest man present at the
audience sat in front of me).
the cheering died down and the pope was seated, a lesson was read in Italian,
French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German (it may have been another
language, but I think it was German), by some of the cardinals who were on
stage. Next, the pope shared his thoughts on the lesson in Italian, so I’m not
sure what he said. After that, the cardinals who read the lessons each took
turns introducing groups in the audience. I’m not sure because I don’t know
Italian, French, Portuguese or German, but theoretically the cardinal and the
pope said the same thing each time. When it was the English speaking cardinal’s
turn, he introduced groups from South Korea and Switzerland and then started on
the groups from the US. Soon enough he said “faculty and students from
Randolph-Macon College, and we all stood. My heart was beating so fast that I
was kind of confused – Jess was featured on the big screen when we stood up (we
didn’t all sit together) and the pope blessed us. After all of the English
speaking groups had been introduced they moved on down the list to the next
language. Normally I would find something like this annoying, but I was riveted
and it was so fascinating. Each time a group was recognized the rest of the
room would applaud. A few things about the groups:
1.Most groups, especially the large ones, had matching (brightly
colored) scarves or caps. When they stood up they would cheer and spin them
around (Like Pittsburgh Steelers fans and the “terrible towel”).
2.Many groups had choreographed their moment of recognition –
something small like a unique cheer, or something large like a song. Some
groups were church choirs, so they would sing a hymn, school groups had
prepared songs as well, the band played a piece when they were recognized, and
best of all, the group of cancer patients sang “Yellow Submarine” in Italian.
3.Some groups even had their country’s flag (or each person had a
little flag) or a banner that they held up when they stood.
4.Sometimes, the cardinal listing the groups would not realize
that a group was putting on a performance so he would go on to start to
announce the next group and while the previous group was singing. This
especially started happening when it was the Italian’s turn. The cardinal would
announce a group, and the room would erupt with cheers and applause, and the
Italian groups were generally the largest so it was very loud. The applause and
cheers would die down and give way to the group’s performance, but sometimes
the cardinal had already forged ahead with announcing the next group. At one
point a group was announced but the group that was announced before was not
satisfied with their introduction so they went on and sang. The pope was
visibly amused (in my opinion), but the Italian cardinal was not. At first he
would pause and smile a little bit, but soon he was a bit huffy and would peer
out over his reading glasses. The cardinal was featured up on the big screen
while he was reading, and then cut to the group being recognized, and then back
to the cardinal, so it was very easy to see his expressions. At one point he
actually closed up the folio he was reading from and I swear I saw him start to
roll his eyes at least once. It was hilarious.
5.The pope seemed to especially like the groups from Italy and the
German (I think) speakers. When he really liked a group he waved his “pope
wave,” which really confused me at first, because he outstretched his hand and,
leaving it parallel to the floor, wiggled his fingers. He smiled a lot, and
this was very moving for me because it was neat to see his genuine emotion.
it was like being at a major league sporting event, and there was very much a
sense of community amongst everyone in the audience. Everyone was a fan of Pope
Benedict, and after everyone sang The Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father for all of
you Catholics) in Latin (it was printed on the back of our tickets). After
that, certain VIPs began to line up to be introduced to the pope, and a close
up of these introductions was featured on the big screen. The most interesting
people who were introduced were an Orthodox Bishop (I think he was a Bishop) in
his ceremonial attire, three brides and their future husbands, all decked out
in their wedding attire (yes, wedding gowns), and each of the children with
cancer was introduced to the pope. When I say introduced I mean that they were
also blessed individually, which is very cool.
that, the pope started to leave the stage, and everyone cheered loudly. Pope
Benedict turned around and waved one last time and then he was out the door.
John Paul apparently often had a hard time leaving when he had audiences
because the crowd was cheering so much. All in all, the experience was very
uplifting for me, and it was incredible to be a part of such a public, strong
and enthusiastic outpouring of faith. Our group were among the last in the
audience to leave, it was weird, even though I really had to go to the bathroom
and we had been inside of the hall for about four hours, I didn’t want to
leave. We lingered as long aswe
could, and the lights started to be dimmed, and with that we headed back
that brings us to a little after noon, and I just realized how long this entry
is… sorry. This was just such an incredible experience. Definite highlight –
need I state the obvious?
headed for a side street in the Vatican to find a place to eat and settled on a
“Wine Bar” that served us delicious pasta and paninis. The prices were
incredibly reasonable and the atmosphere was awesome. Plus, after our big
morning we were all starving.
gathered in Saint Peter’s Square and headed into the cathedral. I am going to
attempt to say this without sounding ignorant or unappreciatative, but after 10
days of visiting cathedrals, I was kind of lulled into the standard, wow this
is big, wow this is beautiful, wow how did they do this, routine. I was not
particularly looking forward to another cathedral tour. Wrong again, however.
Saint Peter’s was flooring. It is the biggest church in the world and decorated
to the nines. Despite a major tourist presence, it was still very moving spiritually,
and I could not imagine a more appropriate “headquarters” for Christianity.
Simply amazing – I don’t think my description of it could do it justice.
that we went below the church to see the crypt. Many popes and other important
people are laid to rest down there, and it was amazing to see how many people
were praying in front of John Paul’s tomb. We were planning on climbing the
dome, but when we emerged from the crypt it was a little cloudy, and for
various other small reasons we decided to put off this venture until Friday,
when we will be returning to the Vatican to tour the Vatican Museums.
W, Erica, Justine, Meredith and I walked out of the Vatican gates and back into
Rome and arbitrarily took a right. We had the vague notion of visiting
Hadrian’s Mausoleum, but mostly we just wanted to explore the city. A trip down
some side streets resulted in a snack for each of us, and as we neared the
river, we realized that we had indeed wandered our way to Hadrian’s Mausoleum.
As we began to cross the bridge we spotted Kevin, Kendall and Monica, but we
continued to wander and found ourselves at Campo De Fiori. This square was
filled with street vendors and outdoor restaurants, and there was an “American
Bar” at one corner. We met two Americans there, and they explained to us that
many American and other International students had just arrived in Rome because
the semester starts on Monday. They encouraged us to come back later in the
evening, and more importantly, showed us, on a map, how to get back to our
hotel (we had wandered pretty far), either on foot, by cab, or by bus. We
elected to walk, and in doing so saw even more of the city, and most
excitingly, we found ourselves at the Trevvi Fountain at dusk. The fountain
itself was amazing, but the area was literally swarmed with tourists, which
took away from the experience.
cleaning up quickly at the hotel we went to dinner. We boycotted the wine that
was waiting for us on the table because they had tricked us to buying it the
night before, and after dinner we headed out into the gorgeous Roman night.
even though I had confirmed directions to the bus stop and the bus route with
my Italy guide book, a different map, and the conicierge, our group managed to
bumble around looking for the bus stop for 15 minutes. They guys quickly got
frustrated, and even though we located the bus stop we ended up hailing cabs
(from the bus stop, ironically), because the difference in price was minimal,
and the cab would drop us off at the doorstep. It was 1 euro each way to take
the bus and 2 euros to take a cab. This was my first cab ride in Italy and I
thoroughly enjoyed it!!
don’t think I can come up with a second high point without taking away from how
amazing the audience with the pope was, so I would like to count that as a
double highlight. I also can’t really think of a low point, besides the fact
that it was a very long day, and even that is not a low point because the day
was action packed. Tomorrow we have an all day bus/walking tour, and I am most
excited about our visit to The Coliseum
night we had what I would consider to be our best dinner yet. I
qualified that because I know that a lot of people didn’t enjoy it.
Since we were still at the Hotel Michelangelo we had a selection of
first and second courses to choose from. I happened to choose pasta
with crab and chicken cordon bleu, and I was very impressed. For
desert they served cream puffs in a chocolate sauce. The best part of
the meal however, was the rowdy (no exaggeration) group of
Austrailians who were dining at the same time as us.
group was comprised of mostly middle aged women, but there were some
men mixed in. When we were down at the waterfront earlier in the
afternoon we had run into two of them and their guide. Its always fun
when you run into someone who speaks English (and by that I mean
someone who is American, British, Canadian, or most fun of all,
Austrailian). They seemed to be pretty jolly ladies, and, since I was
dreading walking back up the 937483 steps flights of steps that led
us back up the cliff, I jokingly asked if we could get on their bus
with them. They informed me that it was a public bus and that they
were waiting for the driver to return from his coffee and cigarette
may sound strange, so let me explain because I experienced this in
Spain too: bus drivers are designated a break every few hours and
they literally pull their bus over at a stop and leave it there while
they hit up the nearest bar (bar = café). In my experience
these breaks seem to last as long as the driver feels he needs to
break, and the length of these breaks are not regulated, and the
driver never seems concerned that his bus is behind schedule as a
result of his extra long break.
wished the Austrailian ladies a “nice holiday” and they
cheerfully said goodbye to us and then went back to muttering about
Italian bus drivers. About an hour later I was sitting in the lobby
of our hotel (blogging) and they walked in. we recognized each other
and I said hi. I didn’t really think that they would be the subject
of my blog until later last night at dinner when our (also pretty
rowdy, as usual), was “out Americaned” by the Austrailian group
who silenced the restaurant with a drunken rendition of “Waltzing
Matilda,” followed by a few chants of “Ziggy Zaggy Ziggy Zaggy,
Oye Oye Oye!” The waiters looked disgusted, we clapped politely,
and they called for us to sing a song. Dean Hull thought we should
sing “America the Beautiful,” but we were hesitant (somehow, I’m
pretty sure that a significant amount of people in our group don’t
know the lyrics – this is probably something we should be worried
about). The Austrailians continued to sing and egg us on (we were
egging them on but never sang to them) and I was seriously hoping
that they would sing “Kookabura,” but the waiters were quickly
serving them their dessert so that they would leave.
agreed to meet in the lobby at 9:30 to go to Daniele’s, which was a
casino/discoteca/karaoke bar. While we were waiting for everyone who
wanted to go to meet up I somehow managed to get behind the bar by
explaining to the bartender (his English was not very good) that I
was a bartender too. Just to clarify, I work for a catering company
and if they are really busy I get to be a bartender instead of
serving like I usually do. Carlo and Matt D had befriended him the
night before, so he was happy to be with our group. It turns out that
Matt D’s dad knows the bartender at the hotel, but when Matt and
Carlo spoke to him the night before he informed them that the regular
bartender was on vacation for a month and that he didn’t really
know how to bartend and was just filling in.
basically, he believed that I was more qualified to be behind the bar
than he was. I’m glad that no one but our group was in the bar. The
karaoke enthusiasts set out into the Sorrento night only to discover
that all of the discotecas including Daniele’s were closed because
it is the off-season. We were disappointed, but were determined to
have a good time. We ended up in the girls’ triple (Kendall, Monica
and Erica), and had what can only be described as a group sing along.
It started with Neil Diamond and ended a few hours later with Miley
Cyrus, with everything from the Backstreet Boys and Michael Jackson
to Uncle Kracker and much more in between. After about an hour and a
half of a cappella singing, Kendall and Erica whipped out their
laptop and iphone, respectively, and that took our little song
session to a whole new level. I don’t really have anything else to
say about that except that Carlo could probably make money as a
professional rapper, and my throat was sore and hoarse this morning
when I woke up (I do not have a good singing voice, so my
contributions were mostly yelling lyrics and clapping out of beat
with the rhythm).
as our bus driver literally drove in circles around the area in Rome
where our hotel is located, things got a little tense, and Paul,
Carlo and Joe started up the singing again. I guess that’s how it
is now. Believe it or not, Joe actually did a split on the aisle of
the bus while we were waiting in traffic.
in between these two song/dance parties, we visited Pompeii. After
the rush to check out and take care of room charges (no, we didn’t
break anything, it was stuff like laundry and internet), we got on
our big bus and headed to Pompeii. Mount Vesuvius was in view for the
entire drive, but I have to say that I was surprised when we arrived
at Pompeii because it looked like we were just on some street in the
middle of some town. Once we had our tickets and walked through the
turnstile towards a wall, it was clear that we were entering some
kind of park with ruins.
favorite thing about Pompeii is that there are stray dogs everywhere.
Well, my favorite thing is not that there are so many strays, but
that the curators (I don’t know if that is the right word) of
Pompeii have started a program through which anyone can adopt one of
the strays. They have all been given collars and tags so they are all
“in the system,” and just outside the gate we walked through to
enter the city there was a “dog care station” that had dog
houses, food and water bowls. Needless to say, and even though I know
it would be very complicated logistically (and therefore very
expensive), I REALLY want one. I even picked one out… he followed
us for the first half of our tour. I had Cari take a picture of us…
but now he is gone forever.
visit to Pompeii was really too brief. Our guide from yesterday,
Jonnie/Alec Baldwin (Jonnie Baldwin, as Paul named him, because he
looks just like Alec Baldwin), was waiting for us when we arrived.
Every single girl elected to take Jonnie up on his offer for a “pee
pee stop,” so we spent about 20 minutes outside of the gate before
we went in.
we trooped into the small ampitheater, and Jonnie explained about the
acoustics and asked for a volunteer to sing. Dean Hull nominated
Carlo to sing to us, and pretty soon Carlo was serenading the group
with his on rendition of “Tearing Up My Heart,” which he said he
had memorized when he was younger so that he could serenade a history
next stop was the Pompeii “McDonalds,” as Jonnie referred to it.
It was essentially a bar that sold hot wine mixed with honey, water
and spices. The countertops are still intact, and a bunch of shops
like this are located throughout Pompeii. On our way to the one we
looked at Jonnie pointed out that the sidewalks (which look like ours
today but are made of stone) were raised (about a foot and a half
above the pavers) because the streets were full of sewage and trash.
Other Roman cities at the time had pretty sophisticated drainage and
sewage systems, but since Pompeii was built on top of solid volcanic
rock, these systems were impossible to build in Pompeii,
we went into a house. The house was a pretty nice house (well off
family), and had an entrance hallway (floor sloped up from the
threshold to tell the person who entered that the owner of the home
was of higher status – literally “above”), a main room that had
a square opening in the middle, a bedroom, dining room, dressing
room, office, and kitchen/bathroom. Starting with the main room, the
square opening let in rain water, which was collected in a square
pool below (and in a cistern below that). This water was used for
drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing, etc. When they had excess water
they were able to drain it out on to the street. The bedroom was not
very interesting, but the dining room, according to Jonnie, would
have had three low couches (each for 3 people) and a table. The
people of Pompeii would eat for hours and hours in the evening and
when they were full they would throw up in the vomitorium. And then
continue eating, repeating the process as long as the meal continued.
Even worse, they would end the meal with a toast to the most
important person at the table. This wasn’t just any toast, but
everyone would do a shot for each letter of the person’s name.
Jonnie informed us that each person had three names plus a nickname,
and then quickly summed it up by saying that the drunkenness from the
excessive wine during dinner and then the shots often led to the
infamous orgies. So that room was interesting. The dressing room was
where the lady of the house had her wardrobe and “tools for daily
household activities” and the office is where the man of the house
received his visitors (who would wait outside on a bench). The
kitchen/bathroom was surprisingly sophisticated, and although it
seems gross that they were located in the same room, it was because
they both needed water and the room was closest to the street; the
latrine emptied straight into the street and they would pour the
dirty dish water out that way too.
house also had a staircase in the main room, which led upstairs to
the once present slave quarters, and a large garden out back. Inside
the house, and most impressively out back, were frescos. Inside of
the house they were not as well preserved and were painted in red,
black and gold. Outside, there were images filled with exotic animals
and blue skies (blue was used to show wealth because the paint was
made by crushing lapis, which was expensive).
walked on and saw a fountain. We learned that the streets ran either
east/west or north/south and that the nicer areas, uptown, were
literally at a higher elevation, and vice versa with downtown. Poorer
people lived downtown because all of the sewage etc. rand down the
hills, so those areas smelled worse. Also located downtown were the
tanneries; they required urine to function, and also smelled
terrible. Next to the fountain was a bakery. Jonnie told us that some
people purchased bread there but others who were too poor to afford
to buy bread and were also too poor to have an oven in their home
brought their dough with their initials carved into it to the oven to
bake. After the eruption and subsequent discovery of Pompeii
something like 87 such loaves of bread were found in the oven. The
fountain had a complicated, gravity based system to regulate water
pressure and a small statue on it served to help people identify
their location within the city (each fountain had a different
we saw some brothels and the frescos in them. For the sake of more
sensitive readers, I will leave it at that. You can google
prostitution in Pompeii if you are interested in learning more; it
seems like it was a thriving industry.
that we went to the city center, which had a great view of Mount
Vesuvius and along one of the sides we were able to see pottery from
Pompeii as well as a few plaster casts of bodies of people killed in
the eruption. You can also google the story behind the plaster casts
of the bodies if you are interested.
that, Jonnie led us back out of Pompeii and that part of our visit
was over. This is the part that was most disappointing to me, (low
point) because I wanted to look around on my own. Matt W was
disappointed too because he is a Classics major and exploring Pompeii
was what he was looking forward to most during our trip. I am pretty
sure that he knows more about Pompeii than Jonnie Baldwin anyway.
did not have time to linger and were nearly overrun by Japanese
tourists on our way across the street to the lemoncello
factory/tourist trap. They were giving out free samples, and I
couldn’t tell who was drinking more, the people who worked there or
boarded the bus to assurances that we would stop for lunch within the
hour. I wasn’t really following the time, but I am pretty sure that
we drove for a lot longer than an hour before we stopped, and it was
the same rest stop we had stopped at on our way into Sorrento. This
time I got a yummy lunch of tortellini stuffed with beef, and I was
only dissatisfied because I noticed that the Italians who came in
received linguini with clams, and I would have really liked to try it
or have been offered the option to try it.
rest of our day was consumed by the bus ride to Rome, which was also
much longer than promised (common theme every time I have traveled
anywhere by bus outside of the United States). But, as I mentioned
earlier, when things got rough we dealt with it by breaking into song
like we are the Brady Bunch or the Jackson Five or something. Most
people have the ability to take videos on their cameras, so look for
videos of Carlo’s performance in Pompeii, Joe’s dancing to the
group singing on the bus, and many more special experiences we have
had here in Italy together.
we checked into the hotel and finally got into our room, Jess and I
went through the proper motions like old pros. We are apparently
staying at the only hotel in the western world that still permits
smoking, so we threw open the windows, turned down the heat (we are
finally learning how to read Celsius), and scoped out the bathroom.
Finally, a bathroom with a tub and a showerhead with good pressure,
and a shower curtain! We are so excited! Next, we called about
laundry and internet, which are both essential to us (laundry because
I am pretty much out of clean clothes, and internet because it is
fun), but no information was available about the laundry and the
internet is VERY, VERY expensive. I don’t understand why they are
so stingy with the internet here in Italy. I have been buying it
under the excuse that I need to blog, but the truth is I am so used
to having wireless internet wherever I am (at home) that I just feel
weird without it.
time came very quickly, and we ate at a restaurant outside of our
hotel for the first time. We got tricked into buying wine (they put
it on the table, said it was included and then charged us), and the
waiters seemed pretty grumpy, but the food was very good and I am
looking forward to going back.
the end of dinner Professor Headrick gave us some interesting news.
There is going to be a metro strike tomorrow morning at 8 am, so
instead of leaving the hotel at 8 to take the metro to the Vatican
(tomorrow is our audience with the pope!), we have to leave the hotel
at 6:45 so that we can be in the Vatican before the strike begins.
Crazy stuff. This means that we will have to wait outside of the
Vatican until the audience hall opens at 8:30 and then we have to
wait inside the hall until the audience begins at 10:30. The bright
side of this is that we will probably get really good seats and be
really close to the pope.
realize that I have gotten kind of slack on specifically identifying
my two high and two low points each day, so to recap, the two low
points were that we didn’t get to stay longer in Pompeii and how
long it took us to find our hotel; the high points are that we have a
bathtub and a nice shower and that the group seems to be dealing with
the “we have been stuck together for ten days pressure” by
singing and dancing – and I can’t think of a better way to be!
Today we went swimming in the Mediterranean. I hate to just throw it out there like that with no build up but I can’t help it. This trip just keeps getting more and more amazing – first with the gondola ride, then the ice skating, then the castle, and now this! Swimming in the Mediterranean, in Italy, in January. The only thing I didn’t have was a bathing suit. I actually considered bringing a bathing suit (I didn’t know that we were going to have the opportunity to go to the beach) because I like to abide by the always be prepared motto and because at the end of the summer I got an awesome BCBG bikini for only $20, (which is an amazing deal), and I haven’t worn it yet. But I digress.
Jess and I really lucked out today because we didn’t understand how to call for a wake up call (at the other hotels we received them automatically) and I somehow messed up our alarm clock so that it was set on PM (but the alarm itself was set for AM), so if it wasn’t for the sunlight (!!!!) streaming through our window we wouldn’t have woken up. Today was gorgeous and warm (great beach day), and we loaded our slightly smaller bus on which we were greeted by the driver, a tour guide, and the driver of our big bus who was coming along to “help” the driver navigate the cliffs.
The scenery is unbelievable and I think that this is the most beautiful place in the entire world. Certainly the most beautiful place I have ever been. It vaguely reminds me of California, but I have only been to California once, and that was a while ago, so if you disagree with that then I totally understand. I will try to upload scenic pictures, but even the pictures don’t do it justice.
Our first stop was at a produce stand located at a scenic look out point. Our tour guide made fun of us for taking so many pictures, and as we started to wonder over to the produce stand, we met three dogs. One was a puppy who was terrified of all of us, the second was his buddy, and then there was a third one who only had three legs.
Our next stop was at a tourist shop that specialized in ceramics and lemoncello, which is an Italian liqueur made of sugar, water, and lemons. The lemoncello was delicious and the entire group shopped for about a half hour, even though our guide said that we could only stop for 15 minutes.
Our guide was quite a character, and we are all thrilled that he will be our guide tomorrow for Pompeii as well. He looks like Alec Baldwin, and was constantly making jokes with us, for example about how our bus driver was a kamikaze, how he says “pee pee stop” instead of “pit stop,” and how red peppers are considered Italian Viagra. Anyway, he talked nonstop for the entire drive to Amalifi, mostly comparing rocks in the water and rock outcroppings to sirens (mermaids), various saints, or the Virgin Mary. When we got on the bus to make the return trip he got on the microphone and I had no doubt that he would have plenty of new material to share with us on the ride back, but he simply said, “Now we go back. It is the same as before.”
We arrived in the village of Amalifi and were told that we had only an hour to spend there. The majority of us hit the beach, which was disappointingly but not surprisingly covered in black pebbles, some to swim and others to watch/document the experience.
Last J-Term I lived in Alicante for three weeks and although I went to the beach almost every day after I got out of class (and they had normal sand), I never got into the water above my knees. I have regretted my decision to not go into the Mediterranean all the way all year so I was completely committed when I learned a few days ago that I would have another chance to go in this year.
All of the boys (except for Carlo) all immediately threw their stuff down, stripped down to their boxers and pulled on bathing suits and were in the water before I had even finished trying to figure out how I was going to change into my swimming “outfit.” Devon also wanted to go in, and I am so glad that she did because I didn’t want to be the only girl to go swimming and I was very disappointed that none of the girls believed me when I said that I had regretted not going in all year and they would regret it too.
The water was freezing; only Matt D and Kevin stayed in the water for longer that it took to dunk underneath the surface. The pictures pretty much explain it all.
Once we were redressed the sun actually made the beach quite warm, so I sat and enjoyed the view, the sounds, and the black sand. Some people walked the beach and looked for beach glass, but I was content to sit because I love the beach (and because I had worn uggs and you really needed to wear shoes to walk on the rocky beach and I didn’t want to mess them up any more than I already had). Most people just left to go get lunch but I wanted to spend as much time as possible on the beach.
Basically our entire group ended up eating slices of pizza at the same café, and then it was time to board the bus. Back at the hotel, we were told that we had the rest of the day free, so I tried to convince some people to rent a boat with me. No one was convinced, but Kendall, Justine, Paul, Kevin and Matt W indulged me in an adventure down to the waterfront of Sorrento. The waterfront was deserted, all of the stores were closed, and it was a bit disappointing but it offered spectacular views of Mount Vesuvius.
Tomorrow we have to get up really early so that we can make it to Pompeii by nine.
Bus Ride from Assisi to Sorrento: Sunday, January 17, 2010
Today it is spitting rain and very gray outside. I am not complaining though because if today, the day that we spend 5 hours on a bus, is the only day that we have bad weather that is an incredible record. Hopefully it will brighten up when we arrive in Sorrento this afternoon. To improve my mood I listened to 80s Joel fin my ipod for the majority of the bus ride. I have been looking forward to visiting an Italian highway rest stop and I thought that we were going to today, but 45 minutes into our trip we pulled up to a café and were informed that this was our only stop for the entire trip. This place only had one (co-ed) bathroom, and that fact, combined with the fact that we had only been on the road for 45 minutes, made it seem like a really stupid place to stop. Oh well.
I can’t believe our trip is more than halfway over – if only I could do some laundry I would definitely extend my stay infinitely.
So it turns out that we did get to go to an Italian highway rest stop, so that was a definite highlight of today. I was disappointed in the way our group behaved though, but obnoxious tourist behavior is sometimes unavoidable when there is a language barrier and an unfamiliar environment. Also, because it is the off-season here in Italy, many establishments are not staffed to handle large groups of tourists.
We arrived at Hotel Michelangelo after our bus driver made a few calls from his cell phone – he was very lost. After checking in there was quite a bit of (expensive) internet usage by members of our group as the last two hotels did not have access. Also, Sorrento is a tourist destination, and like I mentioned before it is the off season, and their isn’t really anything culturally or historically significant here. Today was our first opportunity to get some R&R and many people took advantage of the bus ride to catch up on their “daily” journals.
Around 5 Paul, Matt W, Kevin and I decided to explore the city. We found that most stores etc were closed, so we wandered for a while and then settled into a pub to watch a soccer match. We had intended to watch the Ravens-Colts game, but upon our arrival in Sorrento and subsequently our first access to the internet in a few days, we discovered that the game was on Saturday night not Sunday afternoon. This probably isn’t a big shocker, but Italians could care less about American football. So we sat in the pub, practically the only open establishment we could find, and the boys and a few Italian men were thoroughly engrossed in the soccer match. I tried very hard to pretend that I was interested in what was going on, and although I appeared to be totally engrossed in the game (I hope), the reality is that I cannot even tell you what teams were playing (two Italian teams is all I know).
Dinner was amazing; for the first time so far on the trip we got to choose from a menu. I chose gnocchi for my first course and veal for my second course. We were served eggplant, roasted potatoes and banana ice cream as well as rolls (somehow I managed to eat 3) along with these selections.
After dinner we hung out in the hotel lobby/lounge and on our balconies, which have disturbingly ugly views of train tracks or the moldy hotel pool (it’s a really nice hotel so I’m not sure what happened there), depending which side of the hall your room is on. All in all today was the perfect opportunity to gear up for the remainder of the trip – which is going to be action packed. Amalfi coast tomorrow, Pompeii on Tuesday, audience with the pope Wednesday, touring Rome the next two days and then we have to come home.
This morning we were well rested, clean (our shower was to die for), and well fed (the breakfast was just as good as dinner last night, if not better), and ready for our trip to Assisi. Joe and Josh slept through their wake up call this morning, but we left shortly after nine. Matt W and I set up a refreshment station at our mini party table on the bus and offered the group mimosas and chocolate croissants (taken from the hotel’s breakfast buffet and stored in a napkin in my new buttery purse). Joe especially appreciated our little set up because he had missed breakfast.
Assisi is even smaller than Siena, but is especially relevant to our class because it is home to St. Francis and the Franciscan monks. I thought Siena was hilly, but it was nothing compared to Assisi. The streets are so steep and narrow that our bus had to drop us off at the bottom of a hill outside the city gates. We were only a few blocks from the hotel, but the hotel was quite a bit higher up so I was glad that there were porters to take our luggage to the hotel for us. Our rooms were not ready when we arrived so we were given 45 minutes to explore on our own and then we were supposed to return at noon to check in to our rooms.
I forgot to mention that Assisi is a medieval town and is breathtakingly beautiful. Today the weather was gorgeous and, until the sun went down, very warm when you were not in the wind. Besides the Basillica di San Francesco the Basillica di Santa Clara and the Tempio di Minerva, which we were going to see on our afternoon tour, Asissi is home to the Rocca Maggiore, a giant medieval castle at the highest point in the town. Matt W, Kevin, Devin, Josh, Jess Cari and I decided to check it out. We weren’t sure how to get there, but we knew that if we headed up we couldn’t go wrong. We hustled up one hill, then another, then another, then there were some steps, then another hill, and suddenly we were sweaty, out of breath, and in someone’s yard. At this point it was 11:30 and Devin, Josh, Jess and Cari were concerned that if we continued to attempt to find the way up to the castle we would be late for our group rendezvous at the hotel at noon. I am always pretty laissez faire about being prompt, so this was not a matter of concern for me. Matt and Kevin were convinced that with the pace they were keeping, which was pretty grueling, we could make it up to the castle and back down to the hotel in time.
So the three best friends (that anyone ever had) started off on yet another adventure. We made sure that we were inside the city gates (being outside of the city wall is what led us astray on our fist attempt) and then just headed up. At one point the road started to flatten out and we were a little unsure of which way to go. I looked around an saw a stairwell that said “Via San Croce” and knew, because it was the longest flight of stairs I have ever seen, that it had to be the way up (who says girls can’t navigate). We hit the steps, and I did a much better job of keeping up with the boys. The stairs finally ended and we walked up another hill. We were starting to wonder how we were ever going to reach the top because the road appeared to be circling the mountain instead of going up it. Suddenly, a white shaggy dog appeared out of a gap in the shrubbery, and with that, the opening of the trail to get up the mountain was revealed to us. I am utterly convinced that Saint Frances, the patron saint of animals, showed us the way. Although this revalation was very symbolic and exciting, what was not exciting was the fact (unknown to us at the time) that our journey hadn’t even begun.
Professor Headrick had mentioned that it was “a hike” to the top, but I had no idea that we would actually be on a hiking trail in the woods. The trail was narrow and rocky (Matt was wearing hiking boots but Kevin and I were just wearing regular shoes) and seemingly endless. It was vaguely arranged as a switchback trail, but somehow even in the flatter parts we were all panting and trying to catch our breaths. We popped out at a paved road, STILL at least 1000 yards away from the castle walls. Although we thoroughly enjoyed our nature walk and saw the dog showing us the way as a sign from God, I was a little frustrated that other people probably just drove up the mountain. I didn’t think that was an option.
I felt like a champion once we reached the castle gate, and happily paid the 5 euro entrance fee so that I could climb around on the ruins. I have to say that after grocery stores and interacting with locals, climbing around on ruins is my next favorite activity. This was a definite high point (although tonight I found out that Meredith and Justine only had to pay 3.50 to get in, and the guy at the ticket desk had originally tried to charge us 8, but we settled on 5, and I thought we had a deal until I heard that). Anyway, for the next half hour we cruised around the entire fortress, climbing tiny staircases, venturing through narrow tunnels, and always and most excitingly, emerging at yet another look out point. It was incredibly windy and we were literally in the clouds. The highlight of this highlight was that when we reached the top of the 3rd watchtower, not the tallest but the most open, it was noon and we could hear the church bells from all over the city below us tolling the hour. Matt and Kevin were a little concerned that we were not anywhere close to the hotel, but I told them that I wanted just a minute to sit quietly and enjoy the beauty. I have to say that they seemed to enjoy it too, and they have been talking about “how cool” it was that we reached the top of the tower just as the bells were tolling all day. We all agreed that it was the perfect picnic spot. If only we had had the foresight to haul a picnic (bread, cheese and wine – we are totally embracing the Italian way of life) to the top. Next time, I guess.
We managed to make it back to the hotel by 12:30 and no one was worried about our tardiness. We checked into our rooms and showered because after getting totally drenched in sweat during our climb, our sweat had pretty much frozen while we were at the top in the wind. It was nasty. What was nastier (and my first low point) was my bathroom at the hotel. First of all, it was kind of dirty. Second of all, there was no shower, only a bath tub with a detachable showerhead. Under normal circumstances I would not complain about that, but when I turned on the shower head water spewed out from it not in the normal way but out in all directions like rays of sun. After that little debacle I had an interesting run in with Dean Hull, Professor Headrick and some of my classmates. I was in such a rush to shower I had forgotten to close the doors to our balcony (yes, we had a balcony with an amazing view, more on that later). And when I went out to close them so I could get dressed, I ran into our chaperones and quite a few members of my class in my towel.
Showered and dressed in clean clothes, we asked the concierge where we could find a grocery store (our plan was to pick up lunch and eat it on the balcony), and he informed us that there were no grocery stores in the town. This might be weird, but I feel like the concierges have been blatantly misinforming me throughout the trip. We walked across the street to a Pizzeria, bought slices and took them out to our balcony. Jess and I, Brittany and Kate, and Kelly and Laura were the three rooms lucky enough to have large balconies with tables and chairs and a million dollar view. These balconies were only separated from each other by wrought iron railings, and they were very safe because there was a generally terrace for everyone who wasn’t as lucky as us adjoining ours. Its hard to explain, but it was very cool. The lunch in the sun on the balcony was another highlight of the day.
After our lunch and a quick consultation of the Italy guidebook we met up with our tour guide Marco. Marco was by far the best guide we have had so far on our trip. Or first stop was the Basillica di San Francesco. Saint Frances was from Assisi and was from a successful merchant family. He wanted to be a knight and was a “player,” always throwing around money and partying with his female companions. He left for the crusades and was captured and held as a prisoner. When he finally returned to Assisi he was a changed man and began giving all of his possessions to the poor. His father tried to stop him, but, with the blessing of the pope, Francis continued, and founded the Franciscan Brotherhood after taking a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Marco pointed out that “one question many people ask of themselves is, why such a nice church if the Franciscans are supposed to be poor?” I started to wonder about this myself. Marco, ever ready with answers and information, assured us that it was “ok” because the pope had found a “loophole:” the pope declared that he owned the church, not the Franciscans, so by being custodians of the basilica they were not breaking their vows of poverty.
A few other facts about the basilica:
1. There are three levels: the crypt, the lower church and the upper church
2. As the church was decorated over a span of 30 years at the beginning of the Renaissance the art evolved from flat, unrealistic figures to paintings that included 3D spaces and realistic people.
3. Saint Frances’ body is in the crypt
4. The Franciscans who live and work at the Basilica wear black robes instead of brown robes like most Franciscans.
5. Giotto painted a series of bibliographic frescos in the upper church that depict the facts about Frances’ life that I described above
6. There was an earthquake in Assisi in 1997 that really messed up the basilica; people died and the frescos flaked off the walls. Much of it has been restored (they literally picked up the pieces and put them back together on the walls), but some of it was destroyed beyond repair.
So I really liked that part of the tour. Our next attraction was the Tempio di Minerva, which dates back to the Roman period of Assisi. Marco talked to us along the way (other guides were not so good about that), but most of the time we were trudging up hills, which requires quite a bit of concentration, especially with vespas and cars whipping around us. Finally we arrived at the Basillica di Santa Clara. This basilica houses the crucifix that Saint Frances was praying in front of when he saw Jesus’ lips move and heard God’s call to “rebuild the church.” Saint Frances and Saint Claire were very close, and she was a remarkable woman from a feminist as well as spiritual point of view. Unfortunately, there was a mass going on when we arrived so we were not able to see the crucifix, but we did go to the lower level to see some relics and Saint Clair’s body. No, that is not a typo, somehow they managed to preserve her body by dipping it in wax.
It was getting dark and very cold, so that was the end of our tour. Marco pointed us in the direction of a grocery store, so Kevin, Matt W and I stocked up. Tomorrow we have a 4 hour bus ride, so we figured it would be good to be prepared. Also, we set the bar pretty high with our refreshment station this morning.
Back at the hotel I attempted to take a 20 minute nap, but an hour later I awoke and shortly after we all went downstairs for dinner. The combination of my hunger and the menu (veal!) made my eyes bigger than my stomach, and I definitely ate way too much (so good food; highlight, eating too much good food; low point). Afterwards we were all pretty beat, but we managed to hang out on the balcony (the brave people who bundled up) and some of us played cards in my room. After a week of listening to random Italian TV shows which seem to bee cheesy versions of American Idol, we finally realized that we could play music off itunes, so that was nice.
Oh, so you are probably wondering why this blog is called Knights and Barbarians. Matt W, Kevin and I invented the game (a modified version of cops and robbers – which if you are not familiar with that game, its essentially hide and go seek tag) while we were up at the castle. Half of the class was supposed to be knights defending the castle (the first two floors of the hotel) and the barbarians were invading (their base would be the main balcony). Dean Hull even offered to referee. I still don’t understand why no one wanted to play – I thought it was an awesome idea.
Tomorrow we are leaving at 8:30 to go to Sorrento, which is on the Almalfi coast.
Today we got off to a late start because Meredith and Justine slept through their wake up call. In their defense, I also slept through my wake up call, but since I had no intention of getting up at 7 am I had set my alarm clock (yes, I brought one) for 8:15 so it didn’t matter.
We all pretty much passed out as soon as we boarded the bus to Siena, but I am told that it was a beautiful drive. We arrived at our hotel in Siena a little before noon, and let me just say that this is the nicest hotel I have stayed in in Europe. Everything was slick and modern. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of our room (I have been at the other hotels), but hopefully I can get a picture from someone else so that I can show a “typical” hotel room and a luxury one. On a related note, I told my classmates that I will give 5 euro to anyone who uses their bidet and describes it to me so that I can share the experience in my blog. I’ll keep you posted on that project.
We left the hotel and headed to the Piazza del Campo (sorry for any misspellings in past blog entries, I am now referring to my Italy travel book as I write my entries). The Piazza del Campo is sweet because it is a large, slightly sloped open space with a fountain in the middle and a road that runs along the entire perimeter. That doesn’t sound too cool until you consider the incredible architecture surrounding the piazza and the story of what takes place there annually. Here’s the deal: “The Palio is Tuscany’s most celebrated festival…It is a bareback horse race first recorded in 1283…The jockeys represent ten of Siena’s 17 districts; the horses are chosen by the drawing of lots…the races themselves last only 90 seconds each.” Moreover, over 30,000 spectators attend. There are only 50,000 people living in Siena today, but people who were born there are fiercely loyal to their district (when someone from Siena tells you where they are from they say Siena AND the district). Members of the districts are more than just neighbors; they all attend the same church, have a museum of their district’s history, and they have festivals and meals together as a community throughout the year. Anyway, the race sounds amazing, sorry for the (Baltimore) reference, but the Palio sounds like the Preakness on steroids and without all of the rules and regulations. The winner of the race is not the jockey who comes in first but the person who is beaten up the worst – for example someone who falls off their horse. Oh, bella Italia.
The other interesting thing about the Piazza is the fountain in the middle. We noticed when we got their that people were drinking out of it. Kevin and Matt W immediately filled up a bottle (see picture) and I have to say that it was the best water I have had since I have been in Italy. Most of the water here tastes like chlorine – literally its like drinking swimming pool water, but this water was very pure and I swear it had a hint of vanilla flavoring.
We had an hour and a half to shop and eat lunch, so we set off to explore the city. While Kendall and Monica took advantage of a major boot sale I preferred to be sketchy and I ended up getting lost deep in one of (probably a few of) the districts that tourists apparently rarely frequent. I thought that it would be a good idea to find a place frequented by university students (Siena has a university with 20,000 students) for lunch. Matt W and Kevin were dumb enough to let me “navigate,” and we proceeded to walk about 4 miles up and down and all around the VERY hilly streets of Siena. During our little adventure we also ended up covering the major attractions – including the Duomo (where we had a huge argument/intellectual discussion about the architecture), the Museo dell’Opera, San Domenico, and the university. We could not, however, seem to find an acceptable place to eat, and every time we happened upon an eating establishment we would stand outside and “read” the menu (they were all in Italian only since we were way off the beaten path), and then move on. At one such place an older Italian man was smoking a cigarette and reading the menu as well, and he turned around and asked where we were from and if we would like to join him for lunch.
Next to shopping at foreign grocery stores interacting with random local people is my favorite traveling activity, so I was super pumped. Kevin and Matt were more hesitant, so we tried to explain to the man (he didn’t speak very much English) that we wanted to have wine with our lunch (since wine was not listed on the menu). He said not to worry, and that he would get us a delicious lunch of shrimp, pasta and red wine. I was in heaven, and pushed the guys into the restaurant behind our new friend. The man summoned the waiter and while they were talking about something in Italian Matt disappeared out the door. Kevin started to follow him, but I refused to be left alone in a restaurant with a strange man (interestingly enough, there were no women in the entire place), so we attempted to get the man’s attention to tell him that we had to go find our friend. Because of the language barrier, he thought that we were going to get another friend to join us. Kevin was visibly shaken by our cross-cultural interaction so I quickly explained that we had a walking tour in the afternoon and so we couldn’t eat lunch with him because we would be late. With that we were out the door. Apparently when we walked in everyone in the restaurant stopped eating and gave us dirty looks, and that is why the guys wanted to leave. I didn’t notice, but that’s why the guys were so uncomfortable.
We got un-lost, headed back to the Piazza del Campo, grabbed a quick pizza and gelato to go and met up with the group. There was a communication snafu with the hotel so our tour guide Viviana was a little late, but we all got to enjoy the Tuscan sun and the fountain for a little, which was very nice. Viviana had a head set and a little speaker that looked like a purse, which I unfortunately found hilarious and I found myself cracking up randomly while she was talking throughout the tour. It was nice though because it meant that we could hear everything she was saying without standing in a tight little huddle.
The inside of the Duomo was gorgeous, done in black and white stone. That was our only inside stop, the rest of the tour was pretty much outdoors. After the tour we enjoyed a snack at an Irish pub across from our hotel (I don’t know why there are so many Irish pubs in Italy) and found that the pub was a popular hang out for international students who are studying in Siena. We also learned that they were having a live “pop band” called Viceversa, so we planned to return in the evening. Last night most of the group enjoyed what we were told was going to be a “not jazz but a band that played popular Italian music,” which was actually a cover band that played a variety of American oldies (in English), including soul, motown, and classic rock. The lead singer apparently had a crush on Paul because she pulled him up on stage and had him sing Rolling on a River. Based on the live music experience that I missed out on the night before, I was VERY enthusiastic about the prospect of seeing another live band.
Matt W, Kevin and I left the pub and searched for a convenience store because we needed to pick up a few things. Despite a map with our hotel and the store listed on it, we were unable to find it. We asked the concierge at our hotel and random people on the street, but no one could help us, even the people who spoke some English. So that was my first low point because it was the second time today that we had gotten lost in Siena – in Florence I only got lost once and that was a much bigger city! However, during our search we found an ice rink in the park adjacent to our hotel. That was obviously a highlight, but more on that later. After close to an hour of searching we found a grocery store, and although the store was packed, they just so happened to be having a sale on orange juice and they carried my new favorite champagne, Pinot de Pinot.
We returned to the hotel, cleaned up and went down to dinner. Nice hotel, nice restaurant. The food was delicious – ravioli, steak, spinach, tater tots (yummy, but I thought that was a little weird), and an apple tart. The Italians are very serious about their wine pairings, and insisted that we enjoy a Chianti with our meal.
After dinner Jess, Cari, Kendall, Justine, Meredith, Matt W, Kevin, Paul and I bundled up and headed over to the ice rink. We rented our skates and hit the ice. None of us had been skating for at least 5 years; some people had only ever been once or twice. Interestingly enough, despite our lack of skill, we were all much better than the most talented Italian skater… Skating was probably the most fun I have had on the trip. We were joined by Elizabeth, Josh and Devin, and although most people had had enough after a half hour, some of us stayed quite a bit longer. Huge highlight – who knew that we would be night skating to Lady Gaga in Italy!?
After we were finished skating we went to the pub, but the “pop band” proved to be another situation of false advertising, and the reality was that it was just a lady with a guitar. So we left and everyone is calling it a night now because after a week of traveling we all need the extra sleep.
Two things that I forgot to mention:
1. Yesterday at the Academia I saw something amazing (besides the Michelangelo masterpieces). There was a gallery at the Academia that was completely full of plaster casts of sculptures. One in particular stood out to me, and I keep thinking about it. It was called Love, Virtue and Wisdom. 3 child sized figures are arranged on a round disk – one is lying down, amost totally covered by the other two figures, and that figure is virtue. The second figure is sprawled out across the other two with a cup falling out of his hands and that figure is vice. The third figure is sitting upright with his legs out, virtue underneath them and vice on top of them and he has one of his hands raised with his pointer finger pointing upwards. That figure is love. The message of the piece is that love conquers all. I thought that was really cool, and no, that is not my interpretation of the piece but what the sign (written in English) in front of it said.
2. The Baptistery doors that I mentioned a few days ago: here is the story behind them. Brunelleschi, who is the mastermined behind the Duomo (located at the top of the cathedral across the street from the Baptistery) and Ghiberti both wanted to be the artist who was commissioned to carve these bronze doors. In typical Florentine style a competition was held between the two artists. They were each to complete a sample door panel. Brunelleschi was pretty positve that he had the victory in the bag, but Ghiberti’s piece stunned the world (the Florentine art scene at first, and then the world) because he had included an angel in the top left hand side of the panel that seemed to be flying toward the viewer and out of the piece of bronze. Something like this had never been done before. Just in case you were curious.
"Please, take off your coat so I can see your body."
(said the salesman at the leather store as he was trying his best to convince Matt W and I to buy leather jackets for “only” 100 euro)
Today was pretty awesome. I hate to start off with a low point, but I am exhausted. That is really my only low point for the day though, and I am planning on getting plenty of sleep tonight.
Side note, as I write this I am watching the movie Chocolat in Italian and there was just a commercial for boxed red wine that involved an entire family (grandparents and all) sitting around in the kitchen and pouring themselves huge glasses.
Anyway, we walked over to the Academia first thing this morning and all I can say is what an amazing experience. First we looked at “the slave sculptures,” which are unfinished and enormous sculptures by Michelangelo that appear to be emerging from enormous blocks of marble. I cannot really describe how moving these sculptures are (some people think they are dumb, but come to Florence and see for yourself). After experiencing these five unfinished works (there are other ones from the same series that are in France and Rome), you get to see The David. I will tell this story for anyone who is confused right now; David, as in David and Goliath, is the mascot of Florence. David, a Hebrew Shepard, was upset that the Palestines were taunting the Jews but flaunting Goliath, their giant soldier and daring any one Hebrew to try to fight the mighty Goliath. No one stepped up to the Challenge until David, armed only with his sling shot, walked up to Goliath and took one shot, hit him straight in the head with a rock, and Goliath dropped dead on the spot. The Hebrews went on to win the battle. Florence, a small but brave city-state, has viewed herself throughout history as a kindred spirit to David. I would use the word rogue, but I don’t want to steal Sarah Palin’s thunder.
Apparently people often think that The David depicts David just before killing Goliath, but it is actually just after. Also, many people believe that he looks pensive and meditative, but after spending over a half hour today staring at him (he is so beautiful it is hard to tear yourself away), I think he looks cocky. I like his quite/confident attitude a lot, but that is just my opinion on his expression, and most people (like experts) who hypothesize on his attitude claim that he is almost in a state of disbelief that he just successfully took down Goliath. Again, all I can do is recommend that you come to Florence and make your own opinion. If you are really curious about this you can always look on the internet or if you make it to Florence but don’t want to pay to go into the Academia there is a copy of the sculpture where it originally stood in the Plaza Signoria, BUT, in this case there is truly nothing like the real thing. So my “date” today with The David was my first highlight.
After lunch and some shopping we went to the Uffizi Gallery (Medici art collection – I am pretty sure it was the largest private art collection in the entire world) and that too provided the opportunity to get up close and personal with some incredible/incredibly famous works of art. I won’t bore you with the details because I know that some people are just not into really old paintings, but I will say that it was an incredible way to spend the afternoon!
Kevin, Matt W and I had to take a break before we tackled our next mission, which was to climb to the top of the Duomo. Brunelleschi’s Dome, as it is commonly referred to, is the biggest dome in the entire world (because it is so tall its volume is greater than the dome on the Pantheon.
463 steps and 8 euros later we made it. I’m not going to lie, the boys made it about 5 minutes earlier than me. Luckily, I made a nice friend who’s husband left her behind (in Kevin and Matt’s defense I told them to go ahead) and so we took a few breaks to chat, AKA try to catch our breath, control our dizziness (spiral staircases) and for me, attempt to not throw up. WHAT A VIEW. The Duomo is the highest point around and you can see snow capped mountains in the distance. We could also see the entire city and could literally pinpoint everywhere we have been during our entire stay.
That was my last activity for the day, and probably my last Florentine adventure because we are leaving early tomorrow morning. Also because I was pretty beat (I’m really not that out of shape, but during the climb all of the fun I have been having on our trip kind of caught up with me), as evidenced by the picture of me at the top of the Duomo at the beginning of this blog – looking kind of rough, but playing like a champ. The view from the top of the Duomo was my second high point.
My second low point is that we are leaving tomorrow and there is so much more I would like to do here in Florence: tour the Palazzo Medici, shop on the Ponte Vecchio, climb to the top of the Campanile and see Donatello’s statue of David and The Annunciation, to name five specifics.
I don’t mean preachy (but I would feel weird if I didn’t mention it): I hope that everyone is keeping the people of Haiti in their thoughts and prayers.
The nice thing about Florence is that we are staying 3 nights here. Justine and I had made an ambitious plan to go running in the morning while we were at the pub last night, and, believe it or not, we followed through on our plan (at 7 am, nonetheless). I have to say that it was pretty cool to be jogging along the streets of Florence watching the city come alive.
It is 8:50 AM right now, and I just got swindled out of 2.50 euro by the hotel so that I could spend 15 minutes on the internet uploading blog entries and “maintaining” my past entries. It appears that in my haste to post some of the entries I put the wrong entries under the dates and headlines. Sorry for the confusion. It appears to be straight to me now, so if you go back and read it it might make more sense. Our tour guide meets us at 9 and we are doing an all day walking tour of the city! I am so excited.
Its hard to believe that I already have a high point and a low point for the day, but I will say that the run was definitely a highlight and a related low point is that I was unable to shower afterwards. I thought that it was just our shower that wasn’t getting hot water (see description of the shower from yesterday) but it turns out that the person who delivers oil for the hot water heater did not show up this morning. So now shower for me or anyone else in the hotel this morning. As soon as I have another chance to get on the internet I will fill you in on the rest of our day… I know you are sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to hear about our next adventure!
Well, the rest of our day was jam packed with activities. Our tour guide was a little late to pick us up at the hotel (which worked out since I was up in my room finishing my blog entry), but what he lacked in promptness he made up for in his ability to talk non-stop for 8 hours straight. Before I sound like I didn’t appreciate our tour of Florence, let me explain.
My project for the course (we each picked a topic to write a research paper on over Christmas Break and then we each gave a presentation to the class on our topic) was about the Medici Family. This family basically controlled Florence for over 300 years and came into power after becoming wealthy merchants and then bankers (even the pope banked with them). Besides their influence in Florence, they had their hands involved in everything throughout Europe, and the family tree includes 3 popes and 2 queens of France. Their family crest is a shield with red balls on it, and during my research I found some differing explanations of what those red balls are. My research proved pretty conclusively that the red balls were actually melas medicas (medicinal apples) and since medici means medic or doctor melas medicas became a symbol of the family. Furthermore, I discovered that (as was customary in the day) artists who the Medici’s patronized and commissioned works of art from included the family crest (especially in architecture) or melas medicas in their work. You are probably wondering what this has to do with me not liking our tour guide…
Our tour guide kept describing the red balls as pills (there are Medici family crests all over the place). Finally, I brought it up to Professor Headrick (partially because I didn’t want to get points taken off on my grades because the guide’s information differed from mine) who insisted that I take it up with the guide. I did so hesitantly, fearing the lengthy response, but to my surprise, he simply said, “No, you are wrong.” To make matters worse, we were standing by a painting that had melas medicas subtly painted into the composition and when I pointed this out he adamantly agreed with my “theory.” For the rest of the tour (about 4 hours), every time he pointed out the Medici crest he would pointedly include the “fact” that the red balls were pills. So yeah… we didn’t get along too well. And then there was the lunch fiasco.
I’m getting ahead of myself though so I’ll back up. Our first official stop on the tour was the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. I say official stop because our guide had the habit of stopping and talking to us about random stuff for about 20-30 minutes in any place that caught his fancy, despite the frigid temperatures, high winds, and a surprising amount of noise from cars, trucks, construction and city life in general. San Lorenzo is a GEORGOUS renaissance style church. As (it seems) is typical of many Italian buildings, it has a massive but unassuming exterior (it actually looks kind of dumpy – the picture at the beginning of this entry is of our group standing in front of it) and is spectacular inside. It was originally done in all gray and white, but over the years color has been introduced to the interior design. Most interesting of the 93848374 facts we learned about the church is that when Pope Leo X (a Medici family member) came back to Florence after he was elected Pope he asked Michelangelo to design something “impressive” inside the Medici family church (San Lorenzo). Michelangelo took his first crack at architecture and designed a balcony inside the church. The balcony is still there today, and it has three doors that appear to lead to the exterior of the church but are actually cupboards that hold relics.
Our next stop was the Medici Chapel. The original plan for the Medici Chapel was for it to house the tomb of Christ (yes, the cave with the rock that was rolled away from the door). The Medicis were able to aquire ownership of the tomb because the sultan who owned it happed to be one of their banking customers (literally everyone was and that’s why they were filthy rich), and he was convinced that swapping the tomb for the forgiveness of some of his taxes/interest payments/debts to the Medicis was a good idea. The Medicis decided to make an incredibly fancy new home for the tomb (to make up for its plainness) and did so, but their project took so long that a new Sultan came into power and the deal was off. The Medici Chapel was left unfinished but it is still incredibly fancy and beautiful.
Many of the bodies of the famous members of the Medici Family are there now, and four of the most famous Medici are in the adjoining New Sacristy. The New Sacristy is yet another unfinished masterpiece. Pope Leo X commissioned Michelangelo to construct a tomb for him. Michelangelo didn’t like Leo to begin with, and during the project he left and never came back to Florence. The tombs are really neat because they show a contemplative man and an active man (together they represent the best a man can be) as well as day and night and dusk and dawn.
Next, we walked over to the Baptistry and the Duomo. The cathedral was closed (and will not be open until Friday afternoon when we are no longer in Florence) and the Baptistry didn’t open until 12 so we waited at the door with the gypsys until it opened. The Baptistry has a golden ceiling mosaic that is HUGE and has a very graphic and scary depiction of the Devil (the subject is the last judgment). At that point I was starving and very much hoping to get a delicious lunch of spicy meatballs.
Which leads me to the lunch fiasco: our guide had “helpfully” made a reservation for those of us who wanted spicy meatballs at a restaurant that he knew. I was looking forward to the lunch so I decided to try to win some brownie points (this was before I confronted him about the melas medicas) and started chatting with him about our lunch plans. It turned out that we were not going to get spicy meatballs but spicy spaghetti (first course) and steak Florentine (second course) and that the meal, including wine, would be a minimum of 20 euros. I only had 5 euros and was very upset that he had misrepresented the lunch (I had literally asked him where I could find spicy meatballs for a cheap price), so when he told everyone who wanted spicy meatballs to follow him, I walked the other way. So that was the fiasco, not so bad now that I write about it, and actually my lunch was a great success – I got a delicious pizza (yes, one whole pizza just for me, and my first one in Italy) with spicy pepperoni that was quite possibly the best 5 euros I have ever spent. My lunch was definitely my second highlight.
After lunch we regrouped and headed into the Pallazzo Signoria, which was my second low point. First of all, similar to the Doge Palace it was much colder inside than outside (I attempted to fix this by posting up at the guard stations in each room where there was a chair and a small radiator). The tour of this building lasted four hours. The guide kept saying, “one more room left” every time we were about to leave the room. I think he had his English confused.
Last night at dinner Dean Hull told Jess and me that we should sit at the biggest table since we were popular and people would want to sit with us (I’m still not sure how just sarcastic she was being, but I know that it was all in good fun). By default, kind of like how you sit in the same seat in class every single day for the entire semester, we sat at the big table again tonight and were joined by Dean Hull and Professor Headrick. The conversation and the wine flowed very smoothly and before we knew it, the entire group had vacated the restaurant and headed next door to see some live music. Our table did not leave dinner until well after 10. Dinner “with the grownups” would definitely be my 3rd highlight of the day.
After the live music we had two firsts. The first first was a brief adventure to a discoteca – not really my cup of tea. The second first was getting totally and completely lost. Luckily for Cari and me, Matt W finally helped us find our way back home (but to be honest, getting lost was pretty much his fault in the first place).
What a day. Two things to look forward to tomorrow (well, actually four): we don’t have a tour until 9:30, and Professor Headrick is going to be our tour guide! I am especially excited to see (ok, five things to look forward to) The David (by Michelangelo), the Uffizi Gallery, and the Duomo.
morning today – wake up call at 6:30 am. Even though we were running on three
hours of sleep Jess and I were bright eyed and bushy tailed. We collected Cari
from her room and headed down to breakfast. Professor Headrick was there (he
missed breakfast yesterday because the hotel forgot to give him his wake up
call), and Matt W was busy siphoning pineapple juice into a water bottle (I’ll
explain later). We got onto our water taxi for one last trip and said goodbye
to Venice. Once we were back on the mainland we boarded our train to Florence,
and all hell broke lose. Professor Headrick warned us that the train would not
wait for us if we were screwing around, so we all hustled to follow him,
inspired of a genuine fear of being left behind. The train originated in
Venice, so our original rush was unnecessary, but once we boarded some members
of our group seemed to be confused about train etiquette. In their defense,
some of our bags are too big to fit in the overhead containers, but seriously,
I have never seen such a hot mess. Matt D, Erica, Justine and I secured a party
table (yes, they have them on trains as well as buses here in bella Italia)
while everyone else scurried around.
one hour into our journey some stewardesses came by with a beverage cart, and
offered us complimentary wine and champagne. They came in the nick of time
because we had just finished off the bottle of champagne that we brought with
us. Thanks to Matt W, we had left over pineapple juice so we were able to make
more champagne cocktails. As the train took us towards Florence I could already
tell that I was going to miss Venice. I didn’t even include high points and low
points in my blog yesterday because I felt like the entire day was a high point
and there were NO low points. However, I would say that the first low point of
today was that we had to leave Venice.
arrived in Florence and were met by our guide and a small army of baggage
handlers who loaded us and our luggage onto a bus. One very short ride later we
arrived at our new hotel. Jess and I agreed that if our new room was as small
as our room in Venice we would ask for a new room. Our room here in Florence is
actually huge, and has lots of storage space (crucial) but what we gained in
spaciousness we gave up in modern bathroom amenities. Our shower is simply a
curtained off portion of our bathroom with a drain in the floor. The water
trickles out at such a slow rate that you have to cup your hands together to
collect water and then dump it over your head to get wet. The water does not
get warm until it gets scalding hot and there is no in between. Needless to say,
we will not be showering in our bathroom (and luckily everyone else has a nice
shower so we are taking them up on their offers to share). I would say that
this is my second low point, but it is not so bad, and I still felt refreshed
after the 45 minute ordeal that was my shower.
highlight of the day was seeing the duomo (Italian for cathedral) and the
baptistery doors. I have studied both repeatedly in history, art, and art
history classes over the years, and both were truly amazing and did not disappoint.
If I am running low on material or feeling really ambitious I will tell the
story behind the doors in case anyone is interested. On the way to the
cathedral I was walking in the middle of the street (narrow, cobblestone)
deeply involved in my conversation when I almost got hit by a speeding vespa
(literally, less than a foot away from me driving about 30 mph). The rider
screamed at me “WAKE UP!” in an Italian accent and Dean Hull pretty much saved
my life by throwing me out of the way (Thanks again).
split up for lunch and then reconvened in front of the baptistery. Professor
Headrick offered to help people who needed it with their banking and a few of
us who did not need to bank took advantage of the opportunity to pop into a
cell phone store a half a block away to get pay as you go phones/ SIM cards.
The man at the store went about his business excruciatingly slowly and we were
gone for about 25 minutes. You can probably tell where this story is going – we
hustled back to the baptistery and the group was gone. Fortunantly, Profesor
Headrick had given us maps of the city so after a decent effort to meet up with
the rest of the group we just went back to the hotel.
though we had been separated from the group we did not want to miss out on our
first free afternoon in Florence so Meredith Joe and I regrouped (showered,
napped, called home) and hit the streets. We had fun shopping and I have to
admit that my second high point was haggling and purchasing a purse in the
leather market. It is beautiful and buttery looking and has made my entire
hotel room smell like leather.
was served in the hotel restaurant and then we all trooped across the street to
take advantage of the 3 bottles of wine for 10 euros deal. After being kicked
out of the hotel lounge (this hotel prefers that you “hang out” in your room if
you are consuming alcohol – in Venice they asked us to hang out in the lounge
instead of our rooms) many of us made our way up to the villa, aka the boy’s
triple. There was some dissent about what to do next, half of the people wanted
to go to a club and half wanted to go to a pub, so we did both. The club had a
16 euro cover charge so we did not make it past the entryway and instead we
headed to The Irish Pub (that is actually the name) and that is how about 15
R-MC students spent their first night in Florence – drinking pints in an Irish
wake up call was early this morning, but since we had gone to bed at 10:30 the
night before we were well rested and ready to get the day started. A quick
weather check (we opened our window) proved that it was pretty cold and very
foggy. So much for the nice weather we were promised. I pulled on two pairs of
leggings and headed down to breakfast. Jess had left before me because she does
things on time like a normal person. For me, on time is 10 minutes late. I
enjoyed a frothy cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso compliments of
breakfast we loaded back onto our water taxi and headed for Murano. What had
the potential to be a fascinating tour of “the lagoon,” as Venetians call the
area, was actually just a cruise through thick white fog. Literally we could
not see anything – white on all sides. Barbara, our tour guide, attempted to
describe the sights we were passing but not seeing, but the engine was pretty
loud, so mostly it was just a nice boat ride. Murano is famous for its glass
and specifically glass blowing. We disembarked and walked straight into the
“factory.” The master (he was never referred to as anything else) was busy
making a globe for a chandelier when we walked in. we lined up on the bleachers
they had set up in front of the furnace and work area, mesmerized by the
process. Basically, the master would sick an iron pole into the furnace which
was 1065 degrees (there was a digital thermometer) and pull out glop and then
he would blow on the end of the pole and then spin the pole around and the glop
would become a shape. It was crazy. The master didn’t speak any English so
Adriano explained everything to us. Adriano was very enthusiastic about America
and once he learned that Matt D was from California he stopped talking about
the glass making process and discussed LA and Hollywood with Matt while the
rest of us listened. Adriano even sang part of the song “Hotel California,”
which happened to be playing in the background. The master was a middle aged
man wearing a wife beater and jeans, and he had a few tattoos. He made the
process look effortless and managed to complete the chandelier globe and create
a vase and a Ferrari horse before our eyes, all while smoking a cigarette.
the demonstration we were escorted into the gift shop. They had a deal where
you could by 3 items (I can’t say what because they are presents for people at home)
for 20 euros so Justine and I tried to strike a deal with Adriano by collecting
6 items and asking for an additional discount. Adriano, who’s Spanish was
better than his English, explained, “I already give you two for free. I cannot
make better price.” Justine and I were upset, and Adriano could tell, so he
quickly said that he could “make it better” by giving us a “sweet.” This turned
out to be much less sketchy than it sounds; he gave us each a glass candy.
climbed back onto our water taxi and headed to Burano, which is another island
in the Venetian lagoon, and is famous for lace and, apparently, cookies. Burano
was so pretty, and the fog actually gave it a romantic feel. We trooped into
the lace shop to see a lace making demonstration, but were informed that since
it is the off season the lace ladies were not making lace. The shop keeper gave
us a quick explanation of the lace making process (all handmade), and the most
interesting part of it was the fact that lace makers can only work 4-5 hours
per day or they risk going blind and therefore it takes 2-3 months to make
individual items. The shop keeper then gave us a very detailed explanation of
the special group discounts she was offering.
the lace shop we were free to roam around Burano until our lunch. The lunch at
Burano is legendary at R-MC – groups who have gone on this trip in the past
have raved about the meal and the experience. The meal began with liters of
wine – chardonnay and rosé, and bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
(which came in a spray bottle – awesome). Carlo made a toast to the wolf pack
(if you don’t understand the reference its fine) after speaking with the owner
about the menu. Carlo was concerned that we would not be able to have seafood
risotto while we were on Burano, and he wanted to make sure we would have some.
The first course was a seafood lasagna, which was probably the best thing I
have ever tasted. The second course was the seafood risotto, and it was kind of
ruined for me by Carlo’s description of it. According to Carlo, risotto
includes bottom feeder fish, and if prepared incorrectly, oozes black liquid.
Yum. Fortunately, Carlo was totally off in his description, and the risotto
lasted almost exactly like Spanish paella marisco (my favorite from last
J-term), but you put lemon juice on it instead of mayonnaise. The next course
was an entire grilled fish. Some people (Erica, Kendall, Monica, Jess),
refused, because “it had a face,” but other people (Joe, Matt W) eagerly
consumed the entire thing, including the eyeballs (which were crunchy?). The
fish was served with fried calamari, fish sticks, onion rings and fried shrimp.
A salad, biscotti, cookies and espresso rounded out our feast. In case anyone
doesn’t know, it Italy it is customary to have salad as your last course before
dessert. We left Burano and headed to Torcello, another island.
Torcello we visited the cathedral, which was really old and had a gorgeous
mosaic (or mose – A – ac, as the Italians pronounce it) of the last judgment.
On Torcello we also discovered Italian public restrooms. It is the norm here in
Italy to charge 1.50 euros to use the bathroom.
our way back to the boat I had the opportunity to talk to Barbara (I felt
guilty because she had been talking to us all day while we were on the boat and
I hadn’t heard a word of it because of the engine noise). Barbara has two sons,
a two year old and a three week old, and After we discussed our families,
churches, and the differences between Italian and American baptisms and weddings,
I asked her about gondolas. As and American tourist in Venice I was very
interested in taking a gondola ride, but I knew that it was a total tourist
trap situation and wasn’t sure if it was worth my time and money. On one hand,
who spends time in Venice without riding in a gondola? (many of my classmates,
as it turns out), but on the other hand, are gondola rides just a stupid
tourist activity? (no). Barbara assured me that gondala rides were the best way
to see Venice. She called a friend to confirm the details, which were that six
people can ride in a gondola and that before 6 pm are 80 euros and after that
the price jumps to 100 euros. Ever the instigator, as soon as we boarded our
water taxi back to the mainland I gathered the wolf pack and explained the
plan. Twelve of us were down for a gondola adventure. We agreed to regroup in
our rooms and meet in the lobby. Kendall and Monica attempted to back out, but
I persuaded them to come, promising them a trip to a ring store and the
realization of their wildest dreams if they rode on the gondola. I was not able
to convince Matt D to come because he was passed out in his room, exhausted
from his 5:50 am run (he got lost and didn’t get back to the hotel until 9). So
then there were 11 in the wolf pack and we set out to find ourselves a
gondolier. As soon as we crossed the Academia bridge (“our” bridge) we happened
upon two gondoliers. True to Barbara’s word, they offered us rides for 80 euros
each. We climbed aboard our respective gondolas and Matt W broke out the wine
(the gondoliers encouraged us to drink). Meredith, Justine, Carlo, Paul, Joe
and I were in George’s gondola and Kendall, Monica, Erica, Matt W and Kevin
were in Hugo’s gondola. Hugo and George agreed to paddle side by side and
serenade us throughout our trip. Words cannot really describe how amazing this
was. Definitely the best 15 euros I have ever spent. Carlo (George insisted
that he sit in the bow because he is a “big guy”), was afraid that we would tip
over, but Justine and Meredith were snug in the love seat and Joe, Paul and I
were cozy in the middle of the boat. Especially Joe and me. The gondola ride
will go down in history as the biggest highlight of the entire trip.
thought it would be hard to top the gondola ride, but dinner was pretty
amazing. We went back to the same restaurant that we had dinner at on our first
night. Matt W ordered us a bottle of our new favorite cabernet sauvignon,
Walter Nordin. and Carlo made another toast. For some reason it appeared that
cast members from the show The Jersey Shore were dining at a table in the next
room. They immediately hit on one of our tables (full of girls) and suddenly we
had a situation on our hands (literal and figurative). After that run in we all
agreed that we would be safer if we all laid low at the hotel for the evening,
so once we were back in dinner we gathered in Matt W and Kevin’s room. I will
spare everyone the details but Jess and I agreed when we got back to our room
that it was a great night.
we are traveling by train (me excuse, hope we don’t go through any tunnels) to
Florence. Internet access is expensive, so forgive me if there are no posts and
then suddenly three day’s worth – I have been writing daily but have only had
internet access once so far.
what the street vendors yell at you as you walk by – they are attempting to
entice you with discounts in broken English, but it kind of makes you feel like
Italy is the best place in the entire world. And by entire world I mean my
limited experience of the world, but you get the picture. One more negative
experience in France to report; I was not allowed on the plane. Shortly after I
finished my last blog entry an announcement was made that our flight from Paris
to Venice was to begin boarding. I hustled into line along with my classmates,
waited patiently, and when the Air France personnel scanned my ticket she asked
me to step aside. I was concerned that she continued to scan peoples’ tickets,
and even more concerned when Dean Hull (our other chaperone on the trip), went
through the check and continued on to the plane. No worries, I thought, being
let alone in France with no money and no way to connect with other people will
be a brilliant opportunity to showcase my survival skills. I had, after all,
alerted the bank that I would be traveling to other countries besides Italy
during January in an effort to help my case for staying in Europe after the
class was finished. However, Kendall and her roommate for the trip Monica
stayed behind at the gate with me, and after a number of phone calls, data base
checks, and other nonsense, during which nothing else changed. Then, after a
nerve-wrecking half hour, the lady running the front desk just let me board. No
explanation, no anything.
next flight was a blur. Apparently some people got brilliant shots of the Alps
as we flew over them, but I was fast asleep for the duration of the flight.
When I woke up it was sunny and we were landing in Venice, and oh what a place!
is possibly the coolest place I have ever been. The water is a beautiful shade
of turquoise, which I have to say I did not expect due to the fact that I heard
that sewage and other outlands are regularly dumped into the water. Being in
Venice is pretty much like being on the set of a movie,
that I am in Italy I feel like each day can officially warrant at least two
highlights and at least tow low points, so let me begin:
low point on Sunday: our flight was delayed so we had to wait around the
airport for a while. Then, once we boarded the plane, we were further delayed
because they had to de-ice the plane. All of this meant that when we finally
arrived in Venice we were running pretty late so we had to skip lunch!
hight point on Sunday: Italy is amazing. First of all, we didn’t even have to
go through customs. This might be some European Union deal, but when we arrived
in Paris we only had someone look at our passports, so who knows. We saw the
sun for our first time since arriving at Dulles, which is a huge plus in my
book. Our bus had a party table (four seats situated around a table like on a
boat) and our bus driver, tour guide named Roberto, and porter were all
incredibly polite, informative, and helpful (unlike our American bus driver).
We took the bus to the end of the mainland, which was pretty basic looking, and
pulled up at a big metal building which Roberto told us is a parking garage
where all of the Venicians keep their cars. Roberto told us not to worry about
our baggage so we got off the bus and climbed onto a bus. Like I mentioned
earlier, at this point it felt like we had walked onto a movie set. We climbed
onto a water taxi (excuse the Baltimore reference) and took that boat to our
hotel. The hotel is located about 200 yards (my estimate, could be totally off)
from the water front and is gorgeous with a large porch/ semi-outdoor seating
area and a lovely garden with statues and fountains. We couldn’t check into our
rooms because it was too early, so after all of our bags arrived we set off to
Saint Mark’s Square (Piazza del San Marco) with our new guide Guido. Yes, his
name was Guido. I have to admit I liked Roberto better…..
we set off we had an exciting run in with a gypsy lady who started CRYING when
we did as we had been coached to do and ignored her/walked away/said “NO!” The
irony of it all was that even if we had wanted to give her money we couldn’t
have because we had just arrived in the country and had not gotten any euros
yet. Nearby the entrance to the hotel some men had set up shop selling fake
designer bags. I am on a mission to get a new purse so I was very excited and
started talking to one of the guys. Not only did I not have any money, but I
didn’t like any of the bags particularly (I am trying to get a real leather bag
from Florence), but this aggressive salesman did not seem to understand these
facts, and tried his best to make a sale. I struggled with being polite to him
while the rest of the class stood behind me in a cluster in the middle of the
the second low point is that the Doge’s Palace (located on the water next to
Saint Mark’s Cathedral) was colder inside than outside. This may seem like a
relatively petty issue, but it was actually a hugely influential factor
thatmade Guido’s explanations of
each of the rooms seem painfully long and drawn out. The Doge’s Palace was the
residence of the Duke of Venice (independent city-state until Napoleon showed
up) and currently houses wonderful paintings and frescos by Titian, Tintorretto
(excuse my spelling) and other 16th century artists. Our tour took
us across the bridge of sighs, which Guido was adamant about clarifying that
the sighs refer to condemned prisoners who were taken from the palace to jail
after their trial. The romantic poet Lord Byron is at fault for the
misconception that the bridge of sighs is a romantic spot for couples.
second high point has to be taking a shower in our hotel room. For anyone who
hasn’t stayed in a “typical” (at least that’s what my R-MC professors keep
telling me) European hotel room, let me indulge in a quick description of our
room. There is a double bed headboard and bedspread with two twin mattresses
underneath. There is one foot between the bed and the wall on each side and at
the foot of the bed, in a line, are a wardrobe, a desk, a chair (not enough
room for the chair to be at the desk) and a luggage rack. Our bathroom has a
pocket door, which is located one foot from my bed, and is actually quite nice
– my roommate Jess and I were particularly excited about the heated towel rack.
Anyway, after showering I felt like a new person.
rounded out what seemed like the longest day ever with two more activities: a
trip to billa and dinner. Billa is our neighborhood grocery store. The past two
J-terms I have found that for the best prices, “cultural interactions,” and
selection of goods (both familiar and foreign), you have to go to the grocery
store or Wal Mart equivalent. As soon as Jess and I were cleaned up we went to
the front desk and asked for directions to a grocery store. Accompanied by
Kevin, Matt and Paul (it was dark so I insisted that we have male escorts).
Five minutes later we found ourselves on the wine aisle of billa. After much
deliberation, we made our selections, got in line and a very nice Italian man
with a cart full of groceries insisted that we cut in front of him. It was so
nice of him and he didn’t speak English, so I said a sheepish “gratzi!” and
took him up on his offer. Dinner was amazing, located at a restaurant five
minutes in the other direction from the hotel. Bread with olive oil, balsamic
and parmesan, penne pasta with tomato sauce, veal in white wine sauce, salad,
and a delicious lemon pie…. Probably the best meal I have ever eaten, although
I was so hungry by the time we finally arrived at dinner (we hadn’t eaten in 12
hours) that my standards were not high at all.
recap: Italy is awesome, low point 1: delayed flight out of Paris, high point
1: party table on bus, low point 2: freezing temperatures inside the Doge
Palace, high point 2: shower. Sometimes it’s the small things.
I am sitting in the Paris airport – Charles De Gualle and outside Paris looks
exactly the way it is described in The Da Vinci Code (dark, foggy, rainy,
cold). So much has happened in the last 24 hours, so I will try to recap.
woke up early Saturday morning and packed. This was a great success because
EVERYTHING I wanted to bring fit into my suitcase, which is smaller than the
one I took on the past two J-terms. This is also a big deal because the past
two years I have checked two bags – when I went to England I did this on
purpose, and when I went to Spain my bag somehow weighed almost 70 pounds (50
is the limit) and I had to utilize an extra bag to distribute the weight.
Furthermore, my packing job was monumental because despite the fact that I was
a Girl Scout and used to pride myself on my packing skills – anyone who was a
boy or girl scout knows what I’m talking about – as a college student I have
become a terribly slack and haphazard packer. Just to illustrate how bad I
usually am (and therefore what a feat it is that I have everything I need for
two weeks in one normal sized suitcase and a backpack), let me just say that
when I go home for a break, no matter the length, my “luggage” takes up the
entire car and items are packed in laundry baskets and shopping bags. Usually I
can’t even fit a passenger, and if I am giving someone a ride or a friend is
giving me a ride home I get lectured about needing to pull my life together.
Christi played mom to Kendall and me and drove us to school, dropped us off at
the bus and hugged and kissed us goodbye. Kevin and Matt W jumped at the
opportunity to earn extra credit by loading everyone’s luggage onto the bus
(the lady bus driver said she couldn’t because of her back…) Then we all
climbed aboard and Kaycie distributed goodie bags of snacks (thanks, Mrs.
Williamson) to each of us. With that we were off on our journey, and although I
was supremely disappointed that we did not get to watch a movie (our un-helpful
bus driver said we had to provide our own DVD), the drive went by quickly.
arrived at Dulles, went through all of the motions of checking in, and those of
us who are of age quickly settled in at La Tequilaria, the bar conveniently
located at our gate. At the time, Mexican food seemed like the best option for
our last American meal, and that, combined with a buy one draft beer get any
shot for only $3, made for a very pleasant afternoon at the airport.
we were enjoying La Tequilaria my mom called, so upon leaving I called her back
to say my goodbyes etc. And this is when my mom saved the day. I was confused
when her first comments were about the weather at Heathrow (a family friend had
a flight to London which was delayed because of the weather), but I began to
see the method to her madness when she explained that our flight to Paris could
also be delayed. “No,” I said, slightly frustrated that she was meddling/worrying
about my trip. Next, she argued that she believed our flight had been moved
because she was on “the airport website” and nothing about our flight came up.
She also pointed out that if we were indeed leaving on time, we should be
boarding by now. Concerned, but eager to prove her wrong, I walked over to the
information desk and FREAKED OUT when I realized (that she was right) the
information at the gate was indeed NOT about OUR flight. I flagged down
Professor Headrick and he quickly solved the dilemma – our actual gate was 2
gates over – and it was on time and passengers were indeed boarding. I thanked
my mom for her (accidental) help and quickly hung up. We all boarded the plane
and as I went to turn off my phone I saw that my mom had called (again) and
left a voicemail. It turns out that she was on the BWI airport website and not
the Dulles website, so that is why she couldn’t find any information about our
flight. Either way, she definitely helped us all out.
we were all on the plane and had played the obligatory musical chairs to make
sure we were all sitting where and with whom we wanted to sit, I had my first
run in with a French flight attendant. I got up to go to the bathroom and even
though the door said vacant I was unable to access the bathroom. I politely
asked the flight attendant how I could gain access to the bathroom (I thought
maybe they were closed until take off) and she laughed, and asked me, “Did you
try pushing?” to which I good-naturedly shrugged and continued to struggle with
the door. She came over to help me, shook her head, and, upon opening the door
proclaimed, “and you’re not even blond!” in her heavily accented English.
was served as soon as we reached cruising altitude, and on the menu was beef
bourguignon, which I found ironic and exciting considering that the dish is
featured in Julie & Julia (high point – I warned that a disturbing number
of these would be about food). I should probably mention that we are flying Air
France (hence all of the French references) to Italy. My attempt to joke with
another flight attendant when he asked for my drink order landed me with both a
bottle (!!) of red wine and a glass of champagne – I think there was a language
barrier issue – and I thought the bottle was so cool that I saved it
(unopened), only to have it confiscated when we arrived in Paris and had to go
through security again.
flight was uneventful other than the fact that due to some minor turbulence the
crew strictly enforced the seat belt rule, and the aforementioned flight
attendant who was apparently on bathroom duty for the duration of the flight
refused to let me leave my seat for two hours while I waited to be allowed to
use the bathroom. We also had another run in with the male flight attendant when
he was serving breakfast – we asked for mimosas – and he tersely informed us
that it was 5 am in France (aren’t mimosas a morning drink?).
now it is officially Sunday, 2:30 am at home and 8:30 am here in Paris. Our
itinerary changed slightly so that we have a 3 hour layover instead of the
original 1 hour, so we are all just sitting at the gate (low point). I would
like to report that the sunrise in Paris is magical, but it is not. I can’t
wait for Venice.
Don't you hate when a day or two goes by and you think to yourself, "wait, what have I been doing with my life?" Its pretty bad when you notice that this has happened to you and its really embarrassing when you are supposed to be blogging about all of the interesting things you are doing. I literally got into bed (at 9:40 pm) last night and thought about creating a blog entry, and decided not to because it would be too pathetic.
Yesterday was the last class session for our group. While we are in Italy, our responsibilities are simply to journal (or in my case, blog), to show up on time to all of the tours, etc., and to have a good attitude. In addition to the papers we wrote over Christmas Break and the presentations we each gave this week, we all will write a reflection essay after our trip. Maybe I will post that on my blog too.
I have to say that I had two highlights yesterday (I was going to save reporting two highlights a day - which I said I was going to do in my first entry - for Italy, but I am going to make an exception). First of all, I got to give my presentation, which was on the Medici Family. If you don't know anything about them, you should. PBS.org has a great website on them. Most people would probably say that having to give a 15 minute presentation was a low point, or at least a point of stress or anxiety or something. So why is this my highlight? Is that a question? I'm writing a freaking blog, I love attention.
My second highlight is that I went to Wal Mart after class on Thursday with Kendall and our sorority sister and classmate Meredith. I was super enthusiastic about this errand because I love anything miniature. I was shocked and appalled to learn that Kendall and Meredith didn't even know that Wal Mart has a travel aisle with miniature sized bottles of every necessity you could ever need when you are traveling and space is limited. Needless to say, their patience was wearing thin as I walked slowly down the aisle, bin by bin, exclaiming with excitement and collecting one (or two, or three) of each item. I had to do a small reality check when we got to the check out. It was already kind of pathetic because while Kendall and Meredith had each had a total of about 2 items each, I had an entire shopping cart-full. Six bottles of shampoo and conditioner for two weeks? But its the exact kind I use, and how often do you find travel sized bottles of it!! (I put half back) Body wash AND miniature bars of soap? Those mini bars of Dove are sooo adorable. Three tubes of Palmer's cocoa butter chapstick? No excuse, those aren't even travel sized. You get the picture.
My low point on Thursday was that I totally messed up my sleeping schedule by downing a 20 oz coffee on Wednesday evening. I wasn't able to fall asleep until close to 5 am, and all I can say is that was a poor choice. And the reason why I was in bed by 9:40 pm yesterday.
Today, I would like to say that I took full advantage of our day to "pack, bank, shop, rest," but I only took advantage of the rest portion and slept till 1 pm. When you sleep that late, your day is pretty much shot, so I rounded out my day's activities by doing laundry, running outside (speaking of poor choices, it was only 30 degrees), showering, and straightening my hair. Noticeably absent from this list is packing, an activity which is one of my least favorites, and I probably won't start until tomorrow morning. And by probably I mean that it won't happen until tomorrow and the only reason that I will finish before 11:15 am (our bus for the airport leaves at 11:30) is that I still need to go shopping to pick up a few things.
My highlight today (and also a potential low point) is that my roommate Christi gave me her leftover Chipotle for dinner - which is a great improvement from what I have been eating for dinner all week. I said potential low point, because, you know, its Chipotle, and while it was undeniably delicious, it is now sitting in my stomach like a brick.
My low point today is that my procrastination skills (which I have to say are very impressive) have won out again, and I managed to do nothing I needed or wanted to do.
I have found that the busier I am the more productive I am and the more fun I have, and I know that the next two weeks are going to be jam packed with activities, so luckily I will never have a pathetic blog entry like this ever again.
This time tomorrow I will be in Italy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oops, I just checked my itinerary, and we will actually have just landed in Paris (it will be 6:10 am there).
roommate Kendall is in my Italy class. I realized this morning that this is an
interesting fact that I should probably throw out there, especially since I
made her screen my first blog entry before I posted it. Our other roommate,
Christi, is not coming with us as she is embarking on her own adventure to
Ghana (unless we figure out a way to sneak her into Europe in one of our
night after my first blogging adventure and a dinner of pita chips and
brushetta (we are avoiding grocery shopping since we are only here for a few
days), Kendall and I headed over to the senior apartments. We ran into a number of our Italy classmates there. We all agreed that we are looking forward to enjoying a glass or two
of wine during lunches in Italy (so there, to whomever says that Americans
aren't enthusiastic about embracing local customs).
that I am feeling a little less awkward around people in my class, I have to
admit that I almost dropped out of this class last fall. Like I mentioned
yesterday, I have always wanted to travel/study in Italy, and this trip is
pretty much my last chance to do so. However, when I saw the list of people who
were signed up for the class I was a little concerned and reconsidered my
decision to go on the trip. First of all, I am the oldest person in the class
(and no one wants to be the creepy older person). We were doing some
icebreakers on Monday and I kind of freaked out because I found out that about
4 of the people in the class were born in 1991. I'm pretty sure that I have
been a babysitter for kids who were born in '91. Second of all, of the 30
students in the class there are 23 girls and only 7 guys. I'm not sure how to
say this without sounding uber sketchy, but that is just not a good ratio. All
that aside, our group has seemed pretty legit so far, so lets keep our fingers
crossed that it doesn't get weird....
I'm about to leave for Italy, and I'm really excited. Despite the appearance of
my room/apartment and the fact that I am definitely not even unpacked from
Christmas Break, I have been planning (in my head) what I am going to bring to
Italy. My dad keeps reminding me how cold it is going to be, and has a somewhat
bewildering obsession with me taking long underwear on my trip. Meanwhile,
Professor Headrick's only wardrobe advice thus far has been his announcement
that he will only be bringing "jeans and black jeans," no dress clothes
because he can wear the black jeans for a more formal look. Sorry guys, but I'm
a girl, and I'm not about to go traipsing around Italy in long underwear (no
matter how cold it is) or black jeans, or, god forbid, both at the same time. Luckily,
my friend Kelly has the patience of a saint, and spent a significant amount of
time in the leggings and casual shirt section of Forever 21 yesterday helping
me pick out clothes that I think will be Italy/packing friendly.
I digress... Today's low point was that Wing Wednesday was cancelled (a
disturbing number of my high and low points will probably be related to food)
and Estes had a (nasty) nacho bar instead.
high point is that today I went on a mini road trip to Hampden-Sydney! Our
men's basketball team, which is #1 in the nation, by the way played
Hampden-Sydney today. Its hard to resist a road trip, and it proved to be the
perfect way to make sure that I did not accomplish anything that I needed to do
after class today. The atmosphere in the H-SC gym was tense, and one H-SC dad
actually ran on to the court at one point and mopped up a wet spot with his
vest. And then he put the vest back on when he thought no one was paying
attention anymore. Inappropriate.
it pretty much looked like we were going to loose, and that my little adventure
to Farmville was going to be my low point when Adam Desgain shot a three
pointer with 4 seconds left. All 20 of the RMC student fans jumped up and
cheered, and it seemed like the entire Farmville police force was immediately on
hand to "contain us," which was silly considering how few of us there
were. When the clock ran out the gym was practically silent, filled with
seething H-SC fans, and suddenly I was happy for the overly enthusiastic police presence because
I felt like we needed their protection. The final score was 69-68. Basically the most badass win ever.
"Hello mother, hello father, Here I am at Camp Grenada...
...Camp is very entertaining, And they say that we'll have fun if it stops raining."
(or in our case if it warms up a little, it is not raining but it is SO COLD)
The Heritage of Christianity is the first class I have taken in my entire college career that doesn't count towards something I need to graduate. I conned my parents into sending me on two j-term trips already because "I had to go or I can't graduate," but I am taking this class purely for pleasure (sorry mommy and daddy, and thanks again!) and because of my boundless curiosity and love of learning. I came to RMC with the intention of being an Art History major and spending a semester in Italy but those plans obviously changed, so this trip is filling that void!
I don't really have any experience with blogging other than a short lived (3 days) gossip site that I attempted to run in the 10th grade. Needless to say, my high school teachers did not feel that the 75 girls in my class needed any additional vehicles through which to spread the latest news (my friends and I thought that it was totally necessary - Facebook didn't exist yet). Besides that, I recently watched the movie Julie & Julia, so I am super pumped to start a blog of my own with the hope that maybe someone will actually read this, find it interesting and make a movie about me. The interesting part is what is going to be difficult, especially since I am here in Ashland in class from 9:30 am to 4 pm every day this week. So, in an effort to find something compelling to write about, and in order to spare anyone reading this a blow-by-blow account of my day, I am going to borrow a tactic from the professors who took my group to England two years ago.
For Britain and the International Economy, Professors Lowry and Showalter (I hope you're reading this), required each of us to keep a daily journal which described two high points and two low points for each day. I avidly kept my journal and enjoyed the process of recalling my high points and low points that I also kept a journal when I travelled to Alicante, Spain to live with a family last January. Those journals, packed with stories, ticket stubs and brochures, are two of my proudest achievements and most treasured possessions.
I also indulged in a freakishly detailed process of emailing accounts of my adventures abroad to family and friends back home, so when I had the opportunity to do a J-Term Blog, I felt like I could kill two birds in one stone (and thus have a lot more time for activities and adventures). So just a little disclaimer - I hope that none of these stories fall into the category of TMI.
Since I haven't even left for Italy yet, the high point and low point thing MAY be a little overkill, but I'm going to go for it anyway - maybe with just one per day. I'll start with yesterday:
Low point: I have a Starbucks gift card from Christmas so I hit up the Starbucks drive thru on my way to class as a first day treat and I was so exhausted/cold/not paying attention that I ran my car up on the curb and gently bumped the order box. Which has a camera on it. The person inside laughed.
High point: lunch/dinner in Estes - yes, its true, I go there for social reasons.
Today, I would have to say that my low point is that it is STILL SO COLD. it makes me not even want to go outside! I haven't even finished unloading my car from winter break!
My highlight is actually related to Italy (you were probably wondering if i was ever going to get around to the task at hand). Today in class after a presentation about Pope Benedict XVI (the current pope) Professor Headrick casually mentioned that he had had "a conversation" with Cardinal Ratzinger. It took me a second or two to connect the dots an suddenly I blurted out, "Wait, so you KNOW The Pope?!" Professor Headrick explained that he is acquainted with the Head Latinist (the person who spell checks all of the official Vatican publications, which are published in Latin) at the Vatican and that the two of them were in St. Peters Square when the future pope walked by. Professor Headrick's friend knew that he would be walking by because he is apparently very regimented about his daily schedule and told Professor Headrick that it would be cool if he went up and introduced himself. So he did, and that is how Professor Headrick knows the Pope! He would probably say that I am exaggerating by saying that they know each other, but I think that this is a HUGE deal! How many people do you know who have had a conversation with the pope, even if it was before they were elected to be the pope? In case you're wondering (I was), they talked about Virginia, Randolph-Macon and the group of students he was leading.
So, two days have flown by, and now I am getting ready to go to Club Inside Out You (IOU) with Boogie, who is visiting because after she graduated last spring she moved to Ohio for her job.