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Italy 2012: Andrew Reinke

Day 1 – Traveling Day

Today/Yesterday (since it all kinda blurs together going around the world, was a long one for sure. I started with my flight out of Omaha at 5:45pm on Wednesday. That flight went to Detroit, where I had a one hour layover time, and of course my flight landed at one end of the airport, and my next gate was clear on the other side of this large airport. I really had to hustle to get to the other side and grab some food for supper to take on the flight. That flight was from Detroit to Paris, and it was a seven hour flight, while you also gained 6 more hours from flying that way. It was about 11:20am on the 10th by the time my flight arrived, but unfortunately, the “skyway” (the walkway from the plane into the airport) was “broken,” so I ended up sitting in the plane for another 45 minutes or so. This would have been okay if I had not had only about an hour and a half between flights. Then going through customs in France was ridiculous… I first had to get my boarding pass from the help desk, and she said that I was already late for the check in time, but if I hurried, I could get on it. Yeah right, maybe if there wasn’t a ridiculously long line at customs and I didn’t have to have all my baggage checked again… This alone took about 30 minutes, so I missed that flight. They put me on the next one to Rome, but that wasn’t for another couple hours, so I chilled in the Paris airport for a little bit. When we finally took off on that flight, which took off late, I finally landed in Rome! It was such a relief, but I was confused since I could not find customs to actually check my passport and stuff, so I just somehow ended up outside. I made my way over to get transportation to the hotel and this went fairly well. I was told to take the train, but when I got to the area to buy the ticket, the lady told me to just ride this shuttle that would take me right by there. The shuttle bus driver was a little crazy, just like about all the other Italian drivers. We were in one of those tall Mercedes vans and he was just putting the petal to the metal, riding people’s bumpers about 1 foot behind them, not necessarily driving in the defined lanes (which apparently is acceptable here since others were doing the same), and talking on the phone while driving this stick shift van! It was quite the interesting time. A funny moment happened when he was listening to the radio and these guys were speaking Italian and then all the sudden, The Final Countdown by Europe began playing. The reason I thought it was funny was because it was ironic that I was in Europe listening to Europe. Haha! Anyways, then after dropping the other people in the shuttle off at their hotel, he let me off and told me that my hotel was right down this street to the left. Thinking that there would be a good indication for the hotel on the street somewhere, I just wandered down it. I couldn’t find it anywhere down that street, so I began asking around about it. I found the street that it was located on, but couldn’t find the hotel. I wandered up and down that street until I finally asked a policeman sitting in this random booth thing on the side of the road. He then told me it was right down the street from me about 25 meters. I walked over that way, still not perceiving the location of the hotel until he whistled at me and I pointed to these big black doors. Sure enough, there was a little gold sign with our hotel’s name on it, Hotel Mimosa. I buzzed the door and it unlocked. I walked in just as our whole group was standing there with Dr. Erdogmus discussing the plans for dinner, just in time! I quickly changed and we went out as a group to eat and then went and got gelato! I love fruit and I love ice cream/frozen yogurt, and this was like the best of all of those things. I got strawberry and lemon flavors, and it was delicious. Now I am back at the hotel and ready to call it a long, tiring, eventful day.

 

Day 2 – Rome


Today was extremely exciting! We got our first chance to go explore the ancient Roman architecture and other creations. I have wanted to see some of these places my whole life, and today I got to see them. We woke up bright and early this morning at 7:30am for breakfast and then we headed down in the direction toward where most of the stuff we saw today was located.

First we walked by one of the government buildings. Then we arrived at our first important landmark, Trajan’s Column. It is a column built to commemorate Roman Emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars. It tells the story in pictures spiraling up all the way around it. Right behind it, there is also the Trajan Forum with ruins of columns and walls.

 

We then made our way over to perhaps the most famous place in all of Rome, the Colosseum. It was really incredible to see how big it was especially with the masonry and limestone construction. It is just incredible how they would able to do all of this work and have it last for so long, and we are still trying to come up with better solutions for restoration of these types of construction. Then after staying in the Colosseum for a while and doing my first sketch assignment, we moved on to the Arch of Constantine, which is just outside of the exit to the
Colosseum. From there we walk a short distance to Palatine Hill which is where Rome was founded according to their myths and legends. There are a lot of ruins with masonry construction, gardens, and pillars. The scenery around this location really identifies with the idea of the Mediterranean vegetation and landscape.

 

After we spent quite a while there walking around and eating a picnic lunch, we traversed down to the Roman Forum. This was like the downtown market area of ancient Rome. There we were able to see the remains the Temple of Saturn, the Temple of Vesta, Temple of Castor and Pollux, Arch of Titus, and other artifacts and artwork from the ancient time periods. From there, we had to walk up a long flight of stairs to get to the Capitoline Museums. There are three museums that are connected together by tunnels, stairs, and elevators. Inside, there were a lot of statues, stone engravings, and a magnificent view of the Roman Forum from above.

The courtyard area there has a replica statue of the real statue that is inside of Marcus Aurelius. The stairs leading and the courtyard are called, “Capitoline Hill” and were designed by Michelangelo. They look pretty cool, but slanted stairs are not particularly appreciated by those trying to walk on them. Haha.

 

Anyways, we were then finished with our scheduled learning activities for the day and we went back to the hotel to rest and get cleaned up from the hot, sweaty day. I decided to get all of my photos onto my computer and use the gps coordinates that my camera took for most of them and get the labeled so that I could remember all the different things we saw. Then we went out for our first official group dinner, which was very good, and chat for a while. Then we walked around one of the piazzas where they have all sorts of artists performing, both painting and musical, people walking around, and restaurants buzzing. Then Kate and I managed to find our way back to the hotel, and now I will be finishing up my notes for my presentation tomorrow on St. Peter’s Basilica.

Day 3 – Rome II

Today we got to go to the Vatican City and see the world’s largest capacity church and all sorts of other cool stuff. We have been doing a ridiculous amount of walking the last two days, so my feet are kind of sore. First we woke up early again at 7:30am and had breakfast. Then we walked over to St. Peter’s Basilica which is the topic that I did my presentation on for the class. St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church by occupancy in the world. It has the largest interior of any church in the world. It has many famous pieces of artwork including Michelangelo’s Pietà, Cambio’s bronze statue of St. Peter (that people have traditionally touched so the foot is worn
down), Baldacchino di San Pietro by Bernini and others.

 

The other impressive parts of the basilica are Michelangelo’s Dome, which is one of the largest in the world. The building was quite impressive in its shear mass alone, but also in the details of the domes and the 140 statues that surround St. Peter’s Square on the colonnades. It was very cool to see some of this famous art that I had heard about in my Intro to Design class for architecture this last semester.


Then we made our way over to the Vatican Museum. It was one of the longest, biggest, fullest museums of art that I have ever seen or heard of! We were continuously walking around for several hours just looking at all of the sculptures, tapestries, paintings, painted rooms, and other forms of art. We walked through for a long time seeing statue after statue and paintings after paintings. It was so overwhelming to see the huge collection of art. We finally made it to the rooms that I was really looking forward to, the room Rafael painted and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. In Rafael’s room, I got to see “The School of Athens,” which I have seen in many different places in literature and I did not actually know where it was until we got here and were told we would be seeing it. Then we had to traverse through more of the art until we finally made it to the Sistine Chapel! It was amazing to see the detail and amount of work that had to be put into creating this masterpiece. I did not realize that there were so many different scenes depicted on the ceilings and on the walls. It was amazing to finally see the famous portrait depicting God giving life to Adam! Seeing these famous works of art in real life has been an incredible experience. You may be able to see the art and appreciate it, but the context provides so much more perspective to the meaning of the art. Then after making our way through 3 gift shops and a little more art, we finally made our way out of the Vatican Museum.

 

Then we went and had lunch at a local pizzeria. Next we made our way to the Castel Sant’Angelo which was the tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian, a Papal fortress and residence, and a prison. We got to go to the terrace on top of the castle which has an incredible view of most of the ancient part of Rome. Then we were finally done with our class part of the day.

We went back to the hotel and played some card games and gave our feet a much needed rest. Then we went out to a restaurant for dinner and we had a pretty good time. We were taken down to this underground basement area and so it was really close, so they could not seat us all at the same table. We decided to share some pizzas and pasta. The other table had a little too much food and fun, and ended up spending 130ish Euro for 6 people! Haha. Needless to say, our table had a pretty good laugh about that. After dinner, we went back to the hotel and just hung out in the breakfast room for quite a while having some good laughs and hearing some funny stories from the other groups that went out that night.
 

Day 4 – Rome III

After staying up later last night to listen to some funny stories from some of the guys who went out last night, it was nice to be able to sleep in a little later than we had been. We got going at 8:20am and headed out to see some piazzas, monuments, and a museum.
 

First we headed over to the Pantheon, which is only about 1 or 2 minutes away from our hotel. We had been to the piazza in front of it a few times before, but I had not actually gone into it yet. The front colonnade is quite impressive, but the backside shows lots of deterioration, so I wasn’t expecting much from the inside. But to my pleasant surprise, it was quite incredible. It showed little wear and tear for such an old building. We were assigned to do a sketch of something with the Pantheon, so I did a sketch of the front façade and colonnade. Next, we went and visited Area Sacra Di Largo Argentina which was a sort of test forum before the Roman Forum was built. It was built in a very close area, so it did not have enough room to really expand. It is significant because this is where they believe that Julius was assassinated. This area has also become a homeless cat no-kill shelter, so we played the game of counting the amount of roman cats in the forum. Haha!

Next we traveled to several different piazzas and fountain areas. We visited the Piazza Navona, which has the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (a fountain created by Bernini with an Egyptian obelisk on top of it), Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps in the Piazza di Spagna, Piazza del Popolo, and a church right next to our hotel: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.
Each of these places were quite fascinating and impressive. They seem to be extreme tourist attractions as well as hot spots for locals to hang out. I cannot help but think about how bizarre it would be to have the city that I live in be a hot spot for international tourists and have so many people around places where we would like to hang out. A lot of these different piazzas were constructed to either host some event in ancient Rome, like the Piazza Novona where chariot races were held, or to honor either some emperor of ancient Rome or one of their mythological gods. In Rome after many of their conquests they brought some monument back to show their power and might.
 
There are many obelisks from ancient Egypt that were brought back, but unfortunately some of them have had to be restored, so they are not completely original. There are a few that are still mostly intact and are quite impressive in their quality, not only of preservation, but of detail and precision of the carvings and hieroglyphics. It was also interesting to learn about some of the different styles of architecture. When we went to the church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, we saw some of the Baroque and Gothic styles in the church with the different shaped arches and accents of gold added to the church. It is exciting to get to see these different styles in person, rather than attempting to learn them from a book or something.
 
We also got to visit a small Leonardo da Vinci museum where they have created models of some of his drawings for machines and contraption that were never built. It was really cool to see some of his drawing being recreated into some machines that we could play with and see how they worked. Leonardo da Vinci is one of my favorite people because of all of the different things that he did and created. We are going to be going to another museum with some of his stuff later on, so I am excited about that.
 
I still have a couple of days left in Rome, and tomorrow we are going to be doing a photo scavenger hunt around Rome. That should be fun! I am also excited and hopeful that we will be going to some crypts and catacombs before we leave Rome.

Day 5 – Rome IV

Today was our day where we had what amounts to a “free day!” At 8:30am Dr. Erdogmus had us do a photo scavenger hunt throughout Rome to kind of test us over what she had been teaching us about the different places we went. She had a sheet of riddles that she made up with things that she had talked about on our visits, and we had to go find the place and take a picture of it.
 
My roommates Brian, Cameron, Erik, and I decided to be a team for the scavenger hunt. The activity was supposed to be a race/competition to see who could do it the fastest, but since Brian’s ankles were pretty sore and swollen from all our walking the past few days, we decided to just go at a nice easy pace and get it done. We first had to go the Pantheon and take a picture of the pediment of it. This was simple since it was right next to our hotel. Then we had to go to the church we visited yesterday that had the Gothic style vaults in the ceiling. This was right next to the Pantheon, so we were already close. The next riddle had us go to the forum that had the cat shelter, and so we had to get a picture of one of the cats wandering around in the ruins. Our next location was the farthest one away, the Colosseum. We had to remember the different styles of column capitals and capture a picture of a Doric column capital on the Colosseum.
 
While we were walking over to it, we saw 2 of the other groups coming back from it, running. We knew we made the right decision to take it nice and easy if other groups were going to be running. Once we had the photo of the Colosseum, we had to get a picture of SPQR somewhere, which I mentioned before on here. It is kind of a motto or something for Rome, so it is printed on a ton of things: manhole covers, sewer cover plates, posters, lamp poles, statues, trash cans, and much more. We decided since we weren’t really trying to go fast, we would just have some fun, so naturally, we took a photo of every SPQR that we could find in between the last two destinations. Our last location we needed to take a photo was Trajan’s Column, so I took all the photos between the Colosseum and Trajan’s Column. It is about a 10 minute walk, I would guess, and I took photos of 101 different SPQR’s! Then once we arrived at Trajan’s Column, we decided to have even a little more fun with it and take a photo of us each spelling out SPQR with our bodies in front of the column. Then we got our group photo required for the scavenger hunt and headed back to the hotel.
We were the last ones to arrive at the hotel, but the other groups said they were surprised that we even got back as fast as we did since we were walking. We went and showed our pictures to Dr. Erdogmus, and she thought it was funny that we took all those pictures, and she even gave us extra credit! I was a fun little activity.

After we were done with that activity, we had a free day the rest of the day, and it was only about 10am, so we rested up for a little while. Then most of our group, 17 out of the 20 students, went back to go see St. Peter’s Basilica again since we only got to spend about 30 minutes there the first time, and we didn’t get to go up to the top of the dome. Before we left for the basilica, we decided to go to the market to get lunch so we could eat it while we were waiting in line. We went there and got some really good food. I got a freshly sliced pork sandwich and we split some really good cheese so we put that on there as well, and I also bought a fresh peach from one of the fruit stands. After everyone had bought all the food they wanted, we headed over to the basilica. On the way over there, we thought that we should play some pitch while we waited in line, since I had brought my deck of cards along with me, so older Nate, Kyle, Keith, and I got in line and ready to play a hand of pitch. We had younger Nate as the “table” and one of the other guys as the “discard pile.” The line was actually moving a lot faster than we thought it would, so we were literally walking and playing the hand at the same time. I was also holding and eating my pork sandwich with my other hand. We were only able to get through two hands by the time we had to go through the turnstiles. Then we made it up to the line we needed to be in to walk up the stairs to the top of the dome. We had a good time chatting while in this line, which took a lot longer, and then we went through some really interesting hallways and some difficult slanted steps for our sore and swollen bodies.
 
Then we finally made it up to the top area and it was an amazing view and extremely windy. We all got some really good pictures and then after being up at the very top, we made our way down to the area below where the gift shop was and the statues atop the façade. We chilled out there for a while waiting for people to buy a few things and then we headed back to the hotel.
 
After we arrived back at the hotel, I figured out the location of a church, Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, so that we could go see the crypt that they have there. I found the address and the hours, so Kate, Jen, and I went to go find it before it closed for the day. We kinda went the wrong direction at first, but then we were able to figure it out. It was a very interesting place, and unfortunately, they did not allow us to take any photographs. It was a crypt down in the basement of the church where everything was decorated with skeletons and human bones. There were light fixtures made out of bones, patterns on the walls made with bones, and decorations of bones. It was a little creepy, thinking that they were human bones and skulls. There were even full skeletons dressed in monk robes sitting there on the alter type areas, and also a full skeleton on the ceiling of the last area with a scythe and a weighing scale made of bones in each of his hands. After we had seen all of those, we headed back towards the hotel. We made a quick stop by Trevi Fountain, so that I could take pictures of it, since I hadn’t yet, and then we made it back to the hotel. We just relaxed and I tried to keep up on my pictures and blogging/journaling before we went out for dinner. After dinner, we went back to the hotel and got some drinks and watched a movie before heading off to bed. It was a really fun, good day.

Day 6 – Rome V (Last fully day here)

 

Today we were scheduled to go listen to some lectures at the local university at their engineering building. I didn’t get my camera battery charged before this afternoon, so I only got a couple pics this morning with my cell phone camera. We got up and ready at 8:30am and walked over to the university, which was located closely to the Colosseum. When we arrived there, we met a one of the faculty, Dr. Stephania Arangio, who Dr. Erdogmus knew, and she with a few other professors and PhD students shared about their research that they have worked on and are currently working on. After this, Dr. Arangio showed us around their engineering building which the upperclassman students have classes in, which is off the main campus. She also shared a little about how the college experience, student attitudes, and universities in general were different in Italy from ours in America. It was very interesting the things that she said and talked about; it makes me very happy and pleased that I get to study at the university that I do. Then went and saw the church that is right next door to that engineering building which had a sculpture by Michelangelo. After that we went to lunch and took a subway to go see the main campus for Università La Sapienza in Rome. There campus is a small campus for the size of the university; they have around 145,000 students who go there and it was probably no bigger than UNO. It was interesting to just see all the students hanging out laying in the grass around campus. After she showed us around a little bit, we took the subway back to the Colosseum and walked back to the hotel. We talked about preparing for leaving tomorrow for Florence, and then we just relaxed in the hotel and I caught up on my journaling/blogging and just rested.

Then a group of nine of us went to a restaurant that we had the night where the other table spent 130+ Euros and we really enjoyed tonight. After we had finished our meal, we went to get gelato some stuff to drink and went back to the hotel. Some of us had decided earlier that we wanted to go see the Colosseum at night. So after we a little fun in the hotel, Kate, Jen, Brian, Cameron, Ariel, and I headed out. It was extremely cool to see everything lit up at night time. We captured some good photos of the government building we had seen and there were birds flying all around the top of it and were lit up because of all the lights. Then we arrived at the Colosseum and where we got some phenomenal photos of it and we had some fun just taking pictures. We also saw a couple getting their wedding photos done by the Colosseum. We were all laughing a lot, chatting, and having a good time. It was a very good way to spend the night in our last full day in Rome.

Day 7 – Florence I

 
Yesterday was our last full day in Rome, so this morning at 8:15am we all piled into cabs to get to the Termini railway station to take a train the Florence. Cam, Erik, Sean, and I got into a taxi and were the first ones to leave from the hotel. We got there pretty quickly, but we were dropped off on a side of the station that was really long, so we decided since we didn’t know where to meet, that we would go wait by the ticket office on that side. After a while of not seeing anyone, I decided that I would walk up and down the side to see if anyone had arrived yet, so the others waited with our bags. I walked up and down that side about 3 or 4 times, and we still had yet to see anyone. We started to really wonder where everyone else was, so we all grabbed our stuff and went over to the terminals to see if we could find them. We walked up and down that area a couple of times without seeing anyone, so we looked at the train terminal signs to see which one went to Florence. We found on that did, but none of our group members were around, so we kept on looking. Then we decided to wait at the entrance of this area closest to where we were dropped off. Then Sean and I went to try to use a pay phone to call Dr. Erdogmus since we had been here quite a while already. The payphone was a pain in the butt to use, and it ate about 3 Euros before we finally got it figured out and were able to get a hold of her! Then we started walking around trying to figure out where she was and then we found her finally. Apparently, there is another side of the Termini station that is where all the taxis drop off people, so everyone else got dropped off at this location and we were dropped off on another side. It was a relief to finally find the rest of our group. Then we waited until we could get onto the train we got tickets for and made it on without too much trouble. It was my first time on a train like this, so it was kind of exciting. The ride was pretty smooth and the trains go pretty fast. We finally got out of the huge city of Rome, and got to see some of the countryside. It was quite beautiful. There were a lot of hills and we got to see some of the agriculture that is in Italy. There were a lot of vineyards, sheep, and grains in the fields, pastures, and valleys. In a lot of cases, there were houses that were just built on top of the hills out here which is much different from what we had seen so far. It was a pretty relaxing trip except for the fact that the pressure in my ears was getting messed up when we would go through tunnels and such.
 
After arriving in Florence, we walked to the hotel carrying our bags which was not that fun for me since I have to carry all my bags because none of them are rolling. Then we went and ate lunch at a sandwich shop, which was really good and cheaper than most of the other places we had been eating. Then we went to a Galileo Museum, where they had all sorts of displays and such about different devices and tools used by the scientists of the time and many things Galileo discovered. They also happen to have a couple of his fingers and a thumb there at the museum, because when they moved his grave, someone decided to take these from it and put them into a museum for everyone to see.
 
After this, we then went up to the roof of our hotel and Dr. Erdogmus showed us the view we have: we are right next to Brunelleschi’s Dome! It is an incredible view of it to be so close. Then we went over to the church that it is on top of and walked up the many stairs in small staircases to the top of it. It gives a great view of the whole city of Florence. It is kind of in a flat valley area in between the hills that are all around. After we finished looking around there, we went around looking for a supermarket to buy water, and then finally found one.
 
This is probably the most frustrating part about Italy is that you only can get bottled water at restaurants, and it is really expensive everywhere. The only way to get decent priced water is at the supermarket. Then we went back to the hotel and relaxed a little bit until we went out to wander around and find some supper. We finally found a nice place after walking around for a while, and I ordered what is apparently a very traditional dish here in Florence: ravioli with wild boar! It was really good, and it was especially good cause you really don’t get too much meat here, so any bit was good. After dinner we went, got gelato, and went back to the hotel. I just relaxed at the hotel and kept up to date on everything. It was an interesting day on our first traveling day in Italy.

Day 8 – Florence II

Today, we got to start off the day in a new city: Florence, Italy! We woke up early at 7:30am and got some breakfast at our new hotel. We headed for a nice long walk to Piazzale Michelangelo which has a great panoramic view of the entire city of Florence. It is a long hike up these slanted stairs that goes up quite a ways on the mountainside. It is an incredible view of the city from the outside looking down on it. After we had taken all the pictures we wanted and learned about Michelangelo, we headed down to Basilica of Santa Croce. This is a very famous basilica because it is home to the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, they claim Dante, and many other famous people. It was really interesting to see the gothic style arches inside and on the front façade.
 
We have been progressing through learning about the different styles and types of architecture, even though we haven’t actually had our lessons on them. We are getting to see so many different kinds of buildings that it is necessary to mention what style they are, so we have already learned a ton about that. It is interesting to learn about the different ways that different countries and their architects came up with to solve the problems created by wanting to build these huge arches. With the gothic architecture style, they used flying buttresses as the way for the sides of the arches that are part of the main area to hold itself up. Even within this area, there were different approaches between the French and the Italian. Learning about these different solutions and seeing them firsthand is exceptionally helpful since there is so much overlap between some styles, and it is hard to classify them. Dr. Erdogmus drew us a sketch that had both the Italian and French styles of this, and that was very helpful so that I can identify each of them. After going through and seeing all of these tombs of famous Italians, we made our way over to Santa Maria Novella.
 
Santa Maria Novella is especially interesting to all of us on this trip because Dr. Erdogmus actually had the opportunity to do non-destructive testing on this building to see how the ribs in the vaults actually were acting, and whether they were structurally related or just decorative. This building was interesting because it was originally built in the Romanesque style, and then the façade was added later on in the gothic style, so that doesn’t really fit with the rest of it. The façade actually rises higher than the rest of the building to more or less conceal the different style behind it. We were able to go inside this building and Dr. Erdogmus talked to us about how the different shapes and styles of vaults and bays are impacted by geometry. Only more square shaped vaults are conducive to having a dome at the top, and the rectangular ones don’t work well for this. After all the discussion there, we went to Basilica of San Lorenzo. This is the home to many of the Medici family who were one of the most important families in all of Italy. The basilica was mostly designed by Brunelleschi and parts were designed by Michelangelo. It is incredible how it seems like there is so much stuff that is design by these famous artists that never gets talked about outside of being in this class and if you visit or live around it. I had no idea the number of buildings and other artwork that Michelangelo designed or all the buildings Brunelleschi designed. You could see the richness and the power that the Medici family obviously had in Florence. They were able to afford commissioning some of the great artist of all time on their own basilica, just to basically show how great they were. After this we were going to go see the baptistery at the Basilica of Santa Croce, but the line was extremely long, so since it is so close to our hotel, we are going to do that later on our own.
 
After we had completed all our tours for the day, we had a little free time to go do whatever we wanted until our 2ndgroup dinner. Dr. Erdogmus wanted me to help her and Ariel, our TA for the trip, pick out food for our picnic lunch on the terrace on our hotel, so we had to meet up a little earlier than everyone else for dinner. I went and took kind of a nap, and just rested while I uploaded some of my photos from my camera onto my computer. After my nap, I got a little work done on my journals and such. Then we went out to the supermarket, a grocery shop, and a fruit stand/store combo. We picked out different meats, cheeses, breads, fruits, vegetables, some vine, water, and desserts. It didn’t take us as long as we thought it might, so we had plenty of time to go get the tables on the terrace and prepare the food. All of the food was very delicious and there was plenty for everyone to eat. Then we decided we wanted to go see the view from Piazzale Michelangelo, which we had seen this morning, during the sunset. We thought we had to hurry and we were all full of energy. We were walking pretty fast most of the way over to it, and then we decided to start jogging up this hill and then a series of slanted steps that take us up the hill. I had my backpack with me, so I started out not too bad, but by the time I got to the top set of stairs, I had to walk. We had definitely got our exercise for the day!
 
The view of the sunset over the mountains/hills in the background was phenomenal. I took a ton of pictures of the different sunsets, since at every moment it is changing and special in its own appearance. After we sat there and enjoyed the sunset, we also got to observe the lights of the city start to turn on. It was also a very beautiful sight to behold. Then we went back to the hotel and watched a documentary/movie on the Medici family and how Brunelleschi’s Dome actually ended up getting built. The building was originally built with the intention of having a dome built on top, but they didn’t have the technology to accomplish it yet. Then finally Brunelleschi was able to come up with a design that works, but the process was not without problems. After all the troubles the Medici family had, he was finally able to accomplish his goal of building the world’s largest dome, and even without the support of temporary wooden scaffolding.
After we finished the movie, I went down to the Wi-Fi area and caught up on journaling/blogging and uploading my photos. Now it is time for bed, cause I am extremely tired from our walking and running up hills that we did today.

Day 9 – Florence III

 
Today was our big museum tour day in Florence. We were busy visiting a few different museums from 8:30am until 4pm this afternoon. Unfortunately, I most places did not allow us to take photos, so I don’t really have any. First we went to Bargello where we were able to see a bunch of art, including probably the most famous in the museum: David by Donatello. There was a lot of pottery and ceramic art. There were many that had the ideas and designs based off of famous paintings and drawings. There were even some of paintings that we had seen in other museums or elsewhere before. Watching a video on the art of pottery gave me a greater appreciation for how difficult it is to decorate and paint the intricate details onto this medium. When I finally found the statue of David by Donatello, I could understand why so many people think that it appears more feminine than what David should probably be portrayed. The abdomen and stomach area seem more like the depictions of a woman, and also the face seems more effeminate. It was interesting to compare the different statues of David throughout Florence. The city had kind of adopted him as their hero, so there is plenty of art including him.
Then we went to Accademia. This museum is famous for having the Sculpture of David by Michelangelo. First off, we entered into a part of the museum that was devoted to music and instruments. We were able to see how a piano and a harpsichord’s strings are hit or plucked differently. There was also a giant bronze bowl thing that showed resonance when you had your hands wet and rubbed the handles back and forth. The water would get some awesome ripples and ringing sounds. One of the coolest things we saw there was a Stradivarius violin that that was on display. There aren’t very many of these left in the world, so it was cool to see one since I wasn’t expecting to have that opportunity. After we were done with the music part of the museum, we walked down the next hallway with unfinished statues of Michelangelo. It was interesting to see the different works that he had not yet completed, and it was quite amazing to know that these statues would have turned into something incredible. They didn’t seem that amazing because they were still rough with chisel marks all over them, and had yet to be polished at all. At the end of the hall, there was what we had come to see primarily, David by Michelangelo! It was even more incredible than I would have imagined. The pictures that there are of it did not even do it justice, it was so lifelike in a gargantuan sense with extremely lifelike body definition. I had to stand around and just look at it for over half an hour just to absorb it all. After I felt like I had a good impression of it in my memory I finally moved onto the next room. In that room, there were a lot of busts of different people along with many different plaster statues. The piece that stuck out the most was this bizarre piece of modern art from 2000 that no one could figure out why it was even there. It was a sculpture of a man in jeans, a shirt, and Adidas shoes who was crying into a puddle of water that would cycle around because it was electrically powered and plugged into the wall outlet behind it. It was the weirdest thing because it was the only piece of art in this room that had any color to it besides the white of plaster and the green of the weathered metal framework of the plaster sculptures. After I walked through this part, we had reached the end of the museum except for another piece of modern art that was a fake David statue that was painted pink for his skin and yellow for his hair. It was really weird and I don’t know why artists seem to feel like copying a famous piece of art is a good idea. If you really want to be excellent, you should express creativity and come up with original designs.
Then we went and had lunch before heading to our last museum in Florence. A few of us went to the supermarket that we had finally found where we could get some less expensive food. I grabbed a peach and some cherries and then we went to a pizza shop and grabbed a slice of pizza. Then I went back to the hotel and prepared my fruit and had a nice lunch.
Finally we went to the Uffizi museum which was overwhelming with the amount of art kept there, similar to the Vatican museum, only the art was a little more varied so that I was able to observe and enjoy most of it. Here we had another handout assignment to write down observations and take notes about several paintings and the museum as a whole. We were supposed to observe two paintings, “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera”, both by Dr. Erdogmus’ favorite painter Sandro Botticelli; also we were to observe one that was actually under restoration at the moment, but they still had a copy of it up so we could get a sense of it, “The Adoration of the Magi” by Leonardo da Vinci. I can definitely see why these were the painting that she choose out of all the ones in the museum to have us view. They were all phenomenal. First I decided to view the “Primavera” which had a group of famous people from the culture. It was a painting that seemingly deals with the kingdom of Venus where all the others seemed to not be infatuated with her, but just themselves or the others in their group. Then I moved onto “The Birth of Venus,” which is probably the most famous piece of art in this museum. It depicts Venus being blown on a seashell towards land where the lady of spring is ready to embrace her with a sheet to cover her up. It seems as though he are portraying her being given from the mythical world to the real world almost. She was being brought onto the land from floating on a seashell, so that is the way it appeared to me. After seeing this painting, it reminded me that we had actually learned about this piece of art back in World History class, but I had kind of forgotten a lot of the things that I had learned from it. It was cool to see it in person this time. This one is probably one of my favorite portrayal of a female in all the art that I have seen. The expression on her face and the tilt of the head just seem to fit so incredibly well. It is one of the most pleasant faces that I have seen because although she isn’t full out smiling, similar to most of the art in this time period where they do not have smiles, she has this little happy smirk and innocent look on her face. After appreciating this painting for quite a while, I moved on to the next room to find a painting by one of my favorite artist/inventor/creative persons, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Adoration of the Magi.” It one was extremely fascinating to me because of the fact that I enjoy his creations, but also since they had a sketch that he had done in preparation for painting this masterpiece. To see how he planned out the perspective for this painting was quite interesting; he had many parallel lines in order to have a sort of grid planning out how the objects needed to be painted and drawn. The quality of da Vinci’s work is always amazing, and I enjoyed how he also had indistinguishably distinct worshiper of the Christ that was born.  After I had finished my observations for the worksheet, I went along meandering through the rest of the museum. There were so many pieces of art that I could not take time to look at all of them individually. I would give all of them a glance an if something peaked my interest, then I would take more time and actually observe all the details of it. There was one that was a very detailed painting of some buildings, but I didn’t have my notebook to write it down since they made us check in our backpacks at the front. Then I finished the rest of the museum through a floor almost exclusively devoted to tapestries. I think that these are one of my least favorite mediums of art. I recognize the difficulties associated with their creation, but they just do not seem that intriguing or appealing to me.
After we were done with these tours of the museums, we had the rest of the day to ourselves. I went and worked on some journaling and rested a little bit before we went out for supper. Some of the guys wanted to go to a specific restaurant, but it was pretty packed so we walked around for while before we split up and ate at separate places. Then that night, a group of us went out after having a little fun playing some cards before. I went out and helped everyone have a good time and made sure that they would get back. It was pretty fun and funny. It is kind of incredible all the people that are her from the US; I met some people from either North or South Carolina, Kentucky, and Minnesota. Then after getting some of our group back to the hotel, I went to bed to get some sleep before our “free day” the next day.

Day 10 – Florence IV / Free Day

 
This was our first “free day” that we had on our trip so far. Dr. Erdogmus had a trail that was along the western coast of Italy from Riomaggiore to Manarola to Corniglia to Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare. The trail went through the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, which is the basically the five terrains national park. There are five cities that you go through on this trail, so that is where they get “cinque,” which is five in Italian. She asked if any of us wanted to go along because it is always fun to do these things in groups and she had never done it before and was determined to do it this year. We all met up downstairs early that morning because it was about a 2.5 hour train ride just to get to the trail. Getting up early and what people thought the cost of the train tickets would be, were the only reason that I even considered not going, but it was well worth all that I spent and not getting to sleep in a little. The train tickets were considerably cheaper than what someone had said they would be and it was phenomenally beautiful! A group of nine of us, Dr. Erdogmus, Ariel, Kate, Erik, Adam, Nate, Sean, Aaron and I, all took the train to the location where could buy our passes for the hike and train through Cinque Terre.
 
At this time, the weather was a little suspect because it very overcast, and there forecast of rain. We then got our tickets and rode the train to get to the first part of the trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola. This was probably one of the most beautiful parts of the hike and it was the easiest that is made for tourist to just have a nice walk right along the edge of the mountains on the cost. We stopped here to get some lunch at a little café there and the sandwich that I had there was extremely tasty. It had started raining by this point, so that was a little disappointing, but we were determined to still have a great time. Then we took the path which was paved, and extremely easy, so Kate, Nate, Sean, and I decided to branch off onto the little paths that were made along it. One went up a ways, so we got some good pictures from up higher, and then the other one went down so that we were able to climb down onto the rocks right by the Ligurian Sea. We had fun climbing on the rocks and getting pictures from there. I went down close enough so that I could put my hands in the water even though it was still raining.
 
After we had taken more than an hour on the part that was only supposed to take 20 minutes, we went through the rest until we arrived at the next town. The weather was finally starting to look a little better; the rain had finally stopped but it was still overcast.
Here we would have to ride a ferry since this part of the path was closed for some obvious reasons when we saw it from aboard the ferry. Before we left, we went climbing around on some more of the rocks that we could reach from the edge of the land. Then I needed to go to the bathroom, but could not find one that was public quickly before we needed to take the ferry, so I saw a store with one for customers only. It was the perfect reason to buy some gelato, so I bought a small cone of it and used the restroom, and hurried to go buy my ticket and catch up to our group waiting for the ferry. This was a really fun and relaxing experience.
 
We were on the ferry for 15 minutes, but it seemed like almost no time had passed. It was extremely calming and relaxing compared to the rest of the trip. We were just able to sit back and feel the rocking of the boat and waves of the sea. About halfway through the boat ride, the sun had finally peaked out through the clouds!
Then we got to the next town, Vernazza, and began what was supposed to be the most difficult part of the hike. We are all used to walking a ton and hiking around from our first 10 days of the trip, so we didn’t have too much trouble with it, even with our heavy, tired legs. It was pretty steep and long, but it was absolutely gorgeous!
 
We were fortunate, though, that we didn’t start on the side we finished on, because it was extremely steep for very first part. For us it was extremely steep at the very end on our way down. Once we had finally finished on the trail, we made it to Monterosso al Mare, where there were a few nice beaches. We headed to find a restaurant and had a very good meal, sitting right above the beach with the waves crashing against the beach. It was extremely relaxing to have a day like this where we were hurrying to get from one place to another and trying to make sure we saw everything we wanted to see.
Then we headed down to the beach for a few minutes and I stuck my feet into the cool water. It felt absolutely amazing since they are a little sore from all the walking we have been doing. Then we caught the train back to the main train station and had some fun taking pictures on the train ride and at the train station. We almost lost Nate and Sean a few times, and we were not sure if they made it on the second train. But sure enough they did and then we finally pulled back into hotel by 12:30 that night.
 
It was an amazing, beautiful hike and a day well spent!
 

Day 11 – Milan I

 
Today was our travel day and only major day of class that we had in Milan. We left Florence at 8:30ish this morning and we able to get on our train without any real problems and travel to Milan. We had a really nice train, so I was able to catch up on some of my journaling and stuff which was nice. We were all pretty tired from all our traveling and visits to museums and just everything, so some people decided to take advantage of it a little bit. Once we arrived in Milan, unfortunately, it was raining and would continue to do so throughout the day. We first went and dropped our stuff off at the hostel that we are staying at for 3 nights.
 
Then we went and grabbed a quick lunch before going to Duomo di Milano or Milan Cathedral. It is the first French style gothic building that we have been able to visit, so it was quite fascinating. I really enjoy the gothic style of architecture with the pointed arches and just the way there are a lot of intricate designs that come to sharp angles and points. After we climbed as high as we could go and got pictures from the roof of it, we went inside the actual cathedral and  walked around taking pictures.
Then we walked through the mall that was there next to the cathedral. It was the first structure built with steel and glass to have a dome, which was interesting, and also the architect of it died by falling from scaffolding during construction. We found a vendor just outside the mall sell and interesting hat: Nebraska State. I’m not sure if that is just for the state, or someone made up that it is a university, but that was really funny to find in Italy.
 
Next we went to Sforza Castle or Castello Sforzesco. There was a nice fountain in front of it that we got to see as well. We only had the opportunity to walk through the courtyard and observe how it was all laid out. When we were walking through the courtyard we had a kind of unpleasant encounter with one of the many people trying to sell us crap, like pieces of string, and that was a funny and interesting event.
Next we made our way over to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana museum. There they had some interesting art, but there were a few exceptionally cool things there. First was a preliminary sketch of “The School of Athens” by Rafael which was not even complete and was missing some very prominent people in the finished project. Just going up to see how big of a scale it was, it was difficult for me to even tell how things looked from as close as you would need to be to draw it. It is incredible the vision that you would have to have and how you would need to be able to see the big picture the whole time you were working on it. It was interest to notice that Rafael did not have himself in the original sketch of the painting, but then added his own head into the right side on the actual painting. The other cool things that we got to see were some drawings and notes by Leonardo da Vinci, one of my favorite people in history. We were not able to take pictures of any of the stuff in this museum, so I unfortunately won’t have any, but the sketches were exceptionally awesome. It was cool to see the ability that he had for creative dynamic thinking and inventive design. Being able to look at his notes, it was easy to see part of why he was so great. He took carful observation of nature and tried to apply it to other applications. Even without the scientific knowledge that we have today, he was able to be creative with pulleys, gears, and all sorts of mechanisms. He had many observations of birds and the ways in which they fly, the position of their wings, and many other notes about them. This was associated with him obsession with a flying machine for people to use including mechanical wings for humans. These were some of the most fascinating things for me so far.
After we were finished there, we headed back to the hostel. We went around trying to find a place to eat and had supper.  Then we went back to the hostel and relaxed the rest of the evening. I got caught up on some blogging since we now have some decent internet and we played some cards. Then we called it a night and prepared for our “free day” where most of us were planning to go to Venice.
 

Day 12 – Milan II (But truthfully, Venice)

 
Yesterday was a “free day,” but there was a recommendation that we go see Venice today. Since we would not actually be going to Venice as a group, and you don’t see waterways and canals like Venice anywhere else, I definitely wanted to go. The weather forecast was kind of ominous for the day and it did hold true for the entire time we were there. We left in the morning on a 3 hour “fast train” train ride to Venice from Milan. I was a little tired, so I just listened to an audiobook and rested by head. When we finally had arrived, unfortunately like the forecast of 100% chance of rain, it was raining. It was still a cool experience to see the city of Venice and I would have kicked myself for missing it since I am already here in Italy. First, we wanted to start out by going to St.  Mark’s Square, so we got on one of the public transportation water ferries and headed around to the other side of the island. It was kind of fun to get to see a lot of Venice from the water ferry, since that is the major method of transportation there.
 
Once we finally arrived at St. Mark’s Square, we found somewhere to eat and had lunch. A lot of the experiences that I have had with service here in restaurants make me really enjoy eating at them in the US more. Since here they just have a “service fee” there is no need for tipping and the place we ate at also included a “cover fee.” These would be all fine and dandy if the waiters actually gave a crap and provided decent service, but here they are all just pretty lazy and some of them like at this restaurant are jerks. We were finished for about 10 minutes before we even see him to ask him for the check and then he doesn’t even acknowledge that I asked him for it, he just keeps on walking. He is setting up tables right down about two rows from us and then I ask him again and he gets irritated apparently and says that he will bring it to me in a few minutes… and then continues on setting up tables right next to us, even though the restaurant is far from busy. Then finally after finishing up setting all the tables, he proceeds to get us the check. That was one of my most expensive meals because of the cover fee and service and it included okay food and awful service. I am usually more generous with my tips than most of the service fee, so I would prefer to tip instead, but since they seem entitled to the service fee, they don’t provide good service. I will not miss this part of Italy.
 
Anyways after we were done there, we head out into the rain again to go actually take a look around the square and go get some gelato. It was pretty neat, and I could only speculate as to how crowded it would be if it wasn’t raining. Then we got in line to go into the actual St. Mark’s Cathedral. It was a pretty neat cathedral that was covered in a lot of gold colored tiles to make a lot of mosaics on the inside and outside. They didn’t let you go too many places in there without paying so we didn’t spend too long in there. After we looked around the square a little more, we headed for the Rialto Bridge to get some pictures of it and head back towards the train station. After we had finished getting pictures there, we started wandering around in the general direction we needed to go to get back to the train station. After a while of wandering around and ending up in dead ends and small alleyways, we decided to actually use the map, and then we at first couldn’t find out where we were, so we walked around a little more until we figured out exactly where we were and then it was a breeze to get back there.
 
We ended up by this really cool bridge that I saw when we first got on the water ferry, so we went over and I got some closer pictures to get a good look at it. It was a really interesting design, and yes, I am an engineer, so I thought the bridge was really cool. Haha!
 
Then we got our train tickets back to Milan, this time on the “slow train” which would take about four hours. We were looking for some seats all together when we spotted some of our other group members on the same train that we were going to take, so we grabbed some seats near them. I listened to my audiobook some more and was apparently pretty tired, because I fell asleep in the middle of it and woke up to see that the people sitting across from us had gotten off the train. That was kind of weird to wake up to there being nobody in those seats, because it just seemed like a few minutes ago that they were there. Then I was able to enjoy the countryside scenery the rest of the way back. They have quite a bit of agriculture in this region, so I saw corn fields, vineyards, wheat, and other things that I am not totally sure what they were. Then after the long train trip, we finally ended up back at the station in Milan. We stopped to get some food in the station and then headed back towards the hostel via the subway. We got off at the same stop as we had before, but somehow we ended up coming out at a different location than before, so we just guessed where we needed to go and walked around for a while until we asked a woman for directions to the major street we needed to get to. She was able to point us off in the general direction and we hadn’t done too badly in guessing where we needed to go. Then we found it and went back to the hostel. I spent the rest of the evening resting and catching up on journaling for the trip and catching back up with the world. Then I went to bed knowing that tomorrow was the last time I would get a chance to sleep in since we had half a “free day” tomorrow.

Day 13 – Milan III

 
Today started off pretty well because I got to sleep in for the first time this trip, and by sleep in, I mean I got about 8 hours of sleep last night. It felt great and refreshing, and I also got to lounge around for the morning, so I completely caught up on my journaling and tried to do some laundry. I was able to finally get some laundry done in a regular washer and dryer which was awesome. Then we went to the grocery store and got food for lunch. We bought a ton of food for 4 of us and we still ended up paying less for this than probably any other meal. I was stuffed for one of the first times all trip long and it was so good. We got a bunch of freshly sliced ham, some salami, cheeses, bread, chips, cookies, and cokes. It was one of the most satisfying meals I have had in quite a while. Then we met up at 3pm to go to the National Science Museum. We got there about 3:35pm and thought we had until 6:30pm before it closed, but unfortunately we got kicked out at 5pm, so we didn’t get to see everything we wanted to. They had exhibits on technology and how it has improved or how it works. There were some about televisions, radio, fiber optics, clocks, and a lot more.
Then we got to see a bunch of machines that were models of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings and ideas for different machines.
 
He was extremely creative in his design for work machines and war machines. There were ideas for smashing metals, dredging, hydraulic powered devices, war boats, catapults, movable bridges, and flying machines. They were all pretty cool to see along with the ideas behind them in his notes (translated of course).
 
Then there were also some cool models of architectural design by da Vinci. He has some really cool ideas for different styles of design. Then there was a copy of “The Last Supper” in the museum, because the real one is in an area all by itself in a building fairly close to that one, but we were not going to get to see it. Getting to see all of this work by Leonardo da Vinci was an awesome experience and I’m glad I was at least able to get through that before we got kicked out of the museum.
 
Then we went to a bar, because Dr. Erdogmus promised some of the students that she would have a beer with them, so we went and had a happy hour time where if you bought a drink, you could also get some food with it. So a lot of us got a beer and some grabbed some mixed drinks. I had my first Guinness and it was actually pretty good, and I also had some fried bread stuff and cheese covered bread. We just sat around and talked for a while until we had all finished and then we headed back for the hostel. We stopped for a little while in the mall and I finally found a map of Italy that I wanted to buy. Then we went back to the hostel and hung out for the rest of the evening. It was a pretty relaxing and enjoyable day before we travel like crazy for the rest of the trip. We will be going to at least one new city each day for the rest of the trip!

Day 14 – Ravenna

 
Today, we left Milan to go on our crazy fast tour of at least a city a day for the rest of the trip. Early this morning at 7:30, we got up and ready to go, and the tour bus that was going to take us to our new destination showed up and we packed in. We went on our way to Ravenna which was a four hour bus ride away. I took advantage of this time and slept and listened to my audiobook. It was really nice because I have not really taken too much time to relax. Since I am here in Italy for only a short time, I want to take full advantage of it, so it is good that I had this time that I couldn’t be doing anything else so that I could just rest. After we finally got to our destination, we headed to the hotel. The hotel that we have tonight is by far the nicest one that we have had. It has a nice big shower and bathroom with big towels. Everything seems so nice and I am hopeful of a good breakfast tomorrow morning.
 
First we went and visited the tomb of Dante the poet. We got to learn about him and his “Divine Comedy” from one of the students giving his presentation. It was interesting to learn that it is easier to rhyme in Italian than in English because of the endings of the words, so he could effectively have a complicated rhyming scheme in his poetry. Also learning about the different thoughts of the church on what heaven and hell were at the time was also intriguing.
We went out and toured Basilica di Santa Apollinare Nuovo. This was the first introduction we had into Byzantine architecture.
 
This building was a combination of different styles, but Byzantine style was the most prominent. Byzantine architecture has a high usage of mosaics and tiles to decorate the interior and sometimes exterior of the building, and this was definitely evident here. This building was also interesting because of the fact that it was so poorly designed and/or constructed. The roof in the middle was caving in and the walls were weaving back and forth from too much weight in the middle. There were many columns with metal bands around them to keep them together and from buckling, two different types of vaults on the two side aisles around the nave, and you could physically see the walls deflected at the top of the building in the middle to the ends of it.
 
Since Dr. Erdogmus is into restoration and rehabilitation of older buildings, it was cool that we all got to see this building, because she had not been to Ravenna before this trip either.
Then we went to Basilica di Santa Vitale which was also in the Byzantine architecture style, but probably more so than the previous one. This basilica was round in shape with decorations of mosaics everywhere along with the columns and had Byzantine characteristic construction materials (masonry construction). It was a very different feel than any of the other cathedrals or basilicas that we had been to before on this trip.
 
The round shape with different levels to it made it feel a lot taller, even if it was not any taller than some of the other ones. It just felt like it went up instead of spread out in a cross shape, like most of them are. Getting to visit and see a completely different style helped a lot of us appreciate it more than I think we would have if we had just seen this at the beginning of the trip.
 
After we were finished there, we headed back to our hotel and relaxed until we headed out for supper. Most of us went to this kebab place that some of them had found earlier, and I was kind of skeptical about eating those while we were in Italy, but they were extremely good. Then I got some gelato and headed back to my room where I got caught up on some of the work I needed to do for this class and relaxed until it was bed time.

Day 15 – Pisa and San Gimignano

 
Today was an absolutely awesome day! We got to see a lot of natural beauty, man manufactured beauty, have beautifully delicious food, and beautiful relaxation time. This was one of my favorite days of the trip so far and am excited to see what we will be doing the rest of the trip.
First we had the best breakfast of the trip so far at 8am this morning with freshly made breads and other goodies. Then we had a nice four hour bus ride to Pisa. I know that a bus ride may sound kind of boring, but I really enjoyed it a lot. It was nice to just get to relax, watch the scenery go by, and go into my own world in my audiobook when I wanted to. It was one of the most relaxing times that I have had on my trip thus far. When we finally arrived in Pisa, we were shuttled over to Piazza dei Miracoli which is the location of The Leaning Tower of Pisa.
 
It was really cool to see how it looks so good after they finished stabilizing, cleaning, and restoring it. It exceeded my expectations by far; the whole area was very nice and well maintained. We got there around lunch time and our appointment to go to the tower was not until later, so we had a few hours to eat lunch, buy souvenirs, and take pictures with it.
Lunch was an interesting experience for a reason completely unrelated to any type of problem that you would typically associate with a restaurant and eating there. I ordered a pizza and while we were waiting for our food to be delivered, one of the waiters dropped a glass and it broke over in the kitchen area. I didn’t think too much about it and even made a joke about it. Then our food was delivered and I started cutting my pizza (they don’t cut the pizza for you over here). I started eating it and got about one-fourth to one-third of the way through and I noticed that there was something clear and jagged looking on my plate. My first thought was how a piece of ice got onto my tray, since they don’t seem to have ice very much over here either and no one at my table had any, so I picked it up. To my surprise, it was not a piece of ice, but a chunk of glass, about 1 cm2 in size, had made its way onto my pizza! I showed my friends at our table and so then I checked over the rest of my pizza to make sure it didn’t have any on it, and was okay to eat. We were trying to think of how it could have gotten onto my pizza, and then I connected the dots; that there had been that glass broken not too long before my pizza was brought over to me, and that was the only reasonable explanation. I eat the rest of my pizza, being extra careful just in case there was another piece that I missed, but it seems to have been fine. After my meal I showed it to the waiter, and he was very apologetic, and I think he realized where it had come from, so they gave me my meal for free. I was okay with a free meal, since there didn’t seem to be any damage done.
 
Then we went looking around at all the shops and took some fun pictures and some cliché photos in front of it. Then we met up with everyone and Rae did her presentation on The Leaning Tower of Pisa. There were many different efforts in construction and after completion to correct the lean, but all were fruitless until the last one where they excavated the land and removed enough to stabilize it, so now it is stuck at a 4° tilt. Then we got walk up to the top of the tower, and this was more exciting than you would think, because although 4° doesn’t sound like a lot, it is very noticeable when you are walking up and down the stairs. When you were on one side, you would be leaning back trying to walk up the stairs, and when you were on the other side, you would be falling forward up the stairs. Oscillating back and forth like this made me feel kind of loopy, but it was certainly entertaining. The view from the top was fantasitic; you could see Pisa all the way to the mountain ridges. It was fun just to walk around it feeling the tilt of it and seeing the displacement of it all the way at the top; I believe it was about 3.9 meters displacement.
 
After we had finished our time up on the tower, we went over and toured the Duomo and Baptistery of the complex. They were both were interesting because they had been built slowly over different time periods and styles of architecture, so it made an interesting conglomeration. There were aspects of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic all in this one building. They also apparently reused some of the marble from other buildings to construct it, because there were inscriptions chiseled into some of the blocks used on the outside that were oriented differently than they were on their previous building. The Baptistery was interesting because it had a dome that had some interesting acoustical properties to it. People were just whispering in there and it was so loud it there, and then they have a guy come in to sing a few notes because the sound lingers and echoes so long, he could do harmony with himself. It was pretty neat.
Then we hung around a little longer so that people could get all their shopping done and get any more photos they wanted. Then we shuttled back to the bus and were off again, this time to San Gimignano.
 
This is was another two hour bus ride and was very relaxing after being out in the hot sunny weather today. The terrain and scenery in the Tuscany region is absolutely beautiful with the rolling hills, vineyards, trees, and Italian style homesteads. It is so calm, peaceful, and serene. When we finally arrived in this smaller Tuscan town, it seemed that way as well. Here we have a very nice hotel that is right off the town center square. We hiked up here to the hotel through the small streets because it would have been a little difficult for the bus to maneuver this. Then we had a little time to settle into our hotel before we had supper in the hotel on the top floor. They make their own wine here in San Gimignano, so we had to try some of it with supper.
 
Tonight was one of our group dinners, so we had a delicious four course dinner of some kind of rice and vegetables, ravioli, peppered boar meat (I think), and strawberry crème dessert. This was probably my favorite meal of the trip so far because it was so good and it was also extremely filling! I fully enjoyed every minute of it, and I didn’t even mention the beautiful view that we had atop the hotel which is on top of a hill! You could see down into one of the valleys around San Gimignano, and the lovely countryside. It was so serene and nice change of pace from all the extremely chaotic, tourist filled cities that we had visited. If I were to take a vacation to Italy, I would definitely choose this to be the place; it seems so relaxing and magnificent.
After the awesome dinner we had, I headed down to our room and got to work on updating my photos and this journal/blog and just had a good time reminiscing on a good day in Tuscany, Italy!

Day 16 – Paestum

 
Today was a nice relaxing day for me because we woke up and had some time in San Gimignano and then were going to spend most of the day traveling to our next city. We woke up for a great breakfast at La Cisterna Hotel followed by a visit to a couple of places around town before we had some free time to go shopping, exploring, or whatever.
First we went to a museum there, where they had a little bit of art and some more medieval type artifacts. It was pretty cool to see something different than just art that was fairly similar to the other styles that we had seen throughout the trip. Then we got to go up to the top of the tallest tower in this town that has several prominent towers in its skyline. It seemed a like a longer trip up the stairs than how tall I had assessed it to be from the ground.
 
When we finally made it to the top, there was a very large bell up at the top. The views that you could see from this high point of the valleys and rolling hills with vineyards below were absolutely beautiful and fascinating. Seeing these views from the bus the day before was awesome, but this was so much better. Nature is just so calming and breathtaking. On this trip, I have seen some of the world’s most famous architecture, art, and creative expressions, but I don’t think anything can replace the original creation of nature and the wonders of it. I could go around looking at architecture all day, but I am glad that I have my whole lifetime to observe the vastly different landscapes of the earth because it never ceases to amaze me. After we had sufficient time up there to take photos and just observe the surround areas, we headed back down to go to our next thing.
 
The next place that we had the option of going to was the torture museum that they have in town. This was an interesting experience to say the least. It is just really sad to see all the different ways that the corruption of the human mind can come up with to inflict pain onto other people. It was an educational experience for sure, though, because I had seen some of these devices before, but not most of them. The ones that just seemed the worst to me were the ones that involved cutting a person in half in some form. There were various devices to contain the victim and many different tools or saws that were used in this way. I think the phrase, “Those who don’t learn their history are doomed to repeat it.” is an appropriate thought on why people should go see things like this. Now looking back on it, I think many people can see why it was so wrong, and I wonder and hope that people down the road will find some things in our society that are cruel and will think the same thing about. Anyways, after having seen quite enough of ways to inflict pain on people, I left and waited for some other people so we could head out and just look around at the shops in town.
 
We went around and just looked at the many different shops that this small town has to offer. There were a lot of shops with knives and swords in them, and those were interesting to look at. Probably the coolest thing that I saw in any of the shops was an incredibly intricate chess set. It was really cool with the pieces all being forged out of different metals. I’m sure it was quite expensive because similar figures with the chess pieces were about 20 Euros a piece. The set didn’t even have price listed on it, but had something written on a card on it, so either it wasn’t for sale, or you would need to talk to them to establish a price for it. After spending a while looking around at all the shops, we went to go get some gelato, having to decide between two shops right next to each other: one claiming, “The World’s Best Ice Cream” and the other “World Champion Gelato.” How could we go wrong with either of them? After hearing that some of the other people had tried them last night, we went to the “World Champion” one and I got some that was mint flavored, and it was the most realistic mint flavored Ice cream or gelato I have ever had. It was not artificially flavored with mint, but had little bits of mint leaves in it and it was extremely good; I might actually buy that they won some World Championship in gelato. Then I just waited around at the fountain in the middle of the square where we were to meet. Then we all headed back down to where our tour bus was going to pick us up.
 
We started our longest traveling time together on this trip: about a eight hour ride from San Gimignano to Paestum where we would be staying the next two nights. For me, I do not mind long rides like this, especially with as much room as we had. We don’t have a ton of room on the bus, but it is more than I had on most of our family vacation roadtrips. For our family vacations, almost every year we went on one we drove there with three kids all in the back of a car, so I am used to this type of a trip and I enjoy it for the most part. It was a relaxing time for me because even though I am in a bus with about 22 other people, I could just shut out the rest of the world with putting in my headphones and listening to music or my audiobook. After spending a couple of weeks surrounded by people, I just need a little time to myself every now and then, so I accepted it with open arms. About halfway into the trip, we stopped at a rest stop since there are some laws about how long our driver can drive consecutively, so we had to have a rest stop for 45ish minutes. After visiting the store to get some snacks and the restroom, our bus driver Jonfranco bought us a soccer ball and we had a good game of keep away going for quite a while with the whole group which was pretty fun. Then we hit the road again and after quite a while we made it to the farmhouse/hotel that we were staying at. At this place, they make most of their own food, and they are famous for their mozzarella made from their water buffalo’s milk. We arrived and after we were assigned our rooms, we had the privilege to have one of our two group meals there. We got to taste some of the mozzarella, and it was as good as advertised along with some homemade pizza topped with it. After a tasty meal, I headed back to my room to get some journaling done and head to be since it was already pretty late by the time we had arrived and eaten supper.

Day 17 – Paestum II

 
Today was our last day of actually going around visiting sites and learning about different architectural styles. We went to the ancient city ruins of Pompeii and ancient Greek temples at Paestum.

We started off with a good breakfast at 8am and got on the bus right afterwards. We had a nice hour and a half ride to Pompeii. Once there, we bought our lunches outside the ruins, so we would not have to take a very long break for lunch. We were able to walk around the streets of this ancient city and see all the remains that are still there from when it was covered in ash from a volcano explosion. Quite a bit of it was well preserved because of this and there is still more that could be excavated today. We were able to go around and see kind of how the city would be set up and how the transportation worked. The wheel ruts from the carts that would haul things around the city were extremely visible in most places. It was a completely different experience than most of the other places that we have visited because we could actually walk through the town and get a feel for how it would be to live there and walk around to the different places they had. We could see some well preserved shops that would have been used as restaurants, some theaters, plenty of residences, and many other places.
 
There was also an exhibit that had the bones of some of the poor people who died from either the heat or the ash from the volcanic eruption. They had been preserved by an archeologist by using plaster, so most of them is covered in plaster, but you can still see some of the bones. There were also some mosaic/tile floor decorations that were preserved that were pretty cool to see. One of the more interesting things about the city was that you could see how cheap the people actually were there (more cost effective? however you want to look at it). They built a lot of their columns out of masonry and then added a marble covering or finish to the outside of them. I suppose this is like today when we take precast concrete and cover then panels with brick to give it a masonry look when it actually isn’t.
 
We also got to see some amphitheaters and coliseum areas that were still preserved as well. Most of the seating for the theaters was still in good shape, but the coliseum’s seating was mostly gone. All of them were still interesting to see, and some of us were thinking that if something happened and down the road people were visiting somewhere in the United States, it could be like walking through Memorial Stadium. We also listened to a couple of presentations on the city and the aqueducts and those were both pretty interesting. After we finished up visiting Pompeii, we left to go back to Paestum and see the ancient Greek temples there.
In Paestum, there was an ancient Greek city that has 3 remaining temples and mostly just a little rubble for the rest of the town. The temples were pretty cool to see and Nate did his presentation on them so we got to learn about the history of them. Originally they were thought to be Roman temples, so there was some confusion on what was what. They were built by the Greeks, but then the Romans came in and conquered them, and then there was some evidence that they could have been converted to Christian churches before they were abandoned.
 

These were quite large, some of the largest ancient structures with giant pillars that we got to see, and I thought they were a neat thing to see as the last major part of this trip. Then we were able to go visit a museum of artifacts and pieces of the buildings from the town that they could not leave out in the ruins. There were quite a few pots, some coins, and statues. Then we left our last place we were visiting for class.

We headed back to the hotel/farmhouse place and decided it was time to blow off some steam in the pool they had there. The water was nice and cold to start off, but then we started up some kind of water polo game with the soccer ball our bus driver gave us. We all got pretty physical and were pushing each other around and having a good time. Since we haven’t been able to keep as hydrated as we should, a few of us got calf cramps which aren’t exactly fun, but we just got back in and kept going after it went away. It was fun to just play around in the pool and get some physical activity besides walking a million miles every day. Haha! Then we had our last group dinner together and since this farmhouse place makes their own cheese from the water buffalos they have everything with it was amazing. They had some really good lasagna that I wish I could have had about 10 servings of. Then we had a time with everyone to just share stories, highlights, lowlights, and just whatever came to mind about the trip. It was fun to hear some stories that I hadn’t completely heard before, and listen again to some of the best of them. Then I headed off to bed because we are leaving nice and early tomorrow to get back to Rome to complete our journey.

Day 18 – Rome (The Last Day)

Today was our last day in Italy :(  I leave tomorrow morning at 11:35am, but that means that I need to be there at about 8:45 or so, so a group of us will be taking a shuttle to the airport early tomorrow morning to be ready in plenty of time.

Today was kind of a travel and housekeeping day to get everything in order for everyone to depart and go their separate ways. We got up and ready to go at 8am and had breakfast. We tried to leave as soon as everyone was finished with breakfast, but as soon as we got the bus started, we got stuck in the mud from the serious rain we had the night before. The lightning last night was so cool and different from most times because the storm and lightning must have been right over the top of us; the thunder was so loud and immediate after the lightning, I had never heard or seen anything like it. So anyway, we all got out of the bus and started pushing.

It had to rock back and forth about 5 times, but we finally managed to get it out of the rut and onto solid ground again. After that, it was pretty smooth sailing the rest of the bus ride; we made it back to the hotel where we stayed the first time we were in Rome by about 1pm or so, and then we headed off for lunch. We had a group meeting at 6pm that night and got everything squared away with going to the airport and just getting ready to go our separate ways. Then we went out and had supper later that evening and we had a really good time. We had some of the best servers, no, the best servers we have had the entire trip tonight! They were great, teasing us and having fun. They even gave us some free drinks! It was awesome! Then we headed back to the hotel to regroup before going out for one last hurrah of gelato.

Day 19 – Traveling back to US

Today, we left Italy and headed back to the good old United States. A group of us had flights at about 11am on May 28, so we all got a shuttle ride to the airport together. This experience was much less stressful than the previous time at the airport in Rome. We had to take a shuttle to get to our area for customs and airport security, but after that it was pretty much a breeze. I did get checked at the carry-on baggage check area for drugs, so that was kind of interesting. Then all the other people that I rode with made it through and we met at the gate area. Then their flight boarded and I got to say goodbye to all of them. Then I headed over to my plane boarding area, and I got shuttled out to the plane. This time, I actually got to keep my seat on the plane, and not basically get blackmailed into switching seats with a baby, like on my flight over to Rome. This flight was also much more enjoyable than the one that I had coming to Rome; the plane was nicer, the flight attendants were more kind, the food was better, and the entertainment was better. I was able to watch four movies on this flight, since the flight was over nine hours long. When the flight arrived in Orlando, it was even actually a little bit early, but that didn’t really matter since I already had a 3.75 hour layover scheduled. I was able to spend time responding to emails and other stuff through my phone since they didn’t have free Wi-Fi at the airport. Then I got some Taco Bell for dinner and was super excited to have free refills on my drink and all the water I could drink without paying an arm and a leg. It turns out that I even had more time than I anticipated since the plane I was supposed to ride on was broken, so they had to find us a new plane and we didn’t get to take off until two hours later, so I was not able to get to Orlando until 12:15am or so the next day. My ride, Lee, was clutch and was able to come pick me up this late in the evening, so everything worked out. Now I am ready for the next phase of my summer.
Here is a little wrap up from the study abroad; We had to do five sketches for the class, so here are the five that I choose to do: Castle type building in Florence, Flying Buttresses on Duomo in Milan, underside of interesting bridge in Venice, column capital in the Colosseum, and the Pantheon.
 

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