As a whole, this trip was one of the best experiences of my life. Aside from seeing just about every incredible sight to see in Italy, I learned a lot about international travel and how to take care of myself in a place where I struggle to communicate with everyone. Not only that, I made 20 new great friends and hope to stay in touch as we all head back to the states. Those were some things that I didn’t necessarily expect from this trip, but as for the things I did expect – seeing several amazing monuments, structures and views, learning a lot about the rich history of Italy and the Roman Empire, eating delicious food day in and day out and immersing myself in a new culture completely foreign to me – I think we succeeded and far exceeded my expectations here. I feel now like if I were to come back here to Italy ever, I would be capable of being very insightful in giving a lot of information and facts about all of the destinations, buildings, sculptures, paintings, and museums that we experienced and learned about. As I expected, I learned a lot from Dr. Erdogmus on this trip, but I also learned an incredible amount from all of my peers on the trip through our presentations. I thought each presentation was full of not just information to know, but a lot of interesting facts to go along with it.
I really appreciate everyone involved in this trip because they made it an experience of a lifetime. Dr. Erdogmus had to put in countless hours to get our itinerary arranged which went very smoothly the whole way through. She also had to prepare ahead of time to share everything she knew about each individual site. I only gave one presentation and that was quite a task in itself! Now, as Jared and I go on to a few other countries throughout Europe, we feel that we have learned enough about world travel and foreign culture to be able to try to take on this trek by ourselves! I’m also thankful for the students on the trip for being great company and great friends and sharing what they knew with me as well. I felt like everything was kind of a team effort throughout the trip which is great.
There is too much great information, memories, experiences from this trip to list but here a few of the most memorable things: the taxi cab ride into Rome from Fiumicino Airport was interesting to say the least – it was the first real interaction we had with an Italian and was a little sketchy, but we ended up making it safely and when we entered the city I was at a complete loss for words. I felt like I was dreaming and that it couldn’t be real that I was actually here in the ancient city of Rome! Then our first exploration through the city was a great experience too. Walking into a completely foreign city and just taking in all the incredible sights was so much fun. Our first group dinner was a blast. We got to know everyone over a great meal and a free glass of ‘sexy wine’. The next day was one of my favorites. We went to the Colosseum and learned a lot about its construction and what all it was used for. I thought it was incredible that no sort of mortar was used at all – just the strength of the arch and some metal clamps. Also it seemed pretty crazy that the massive structure was built in only about 20 years! Being at the Colosseum gave a whole new meaning to the movie ‘Gladiator’. Other stops that day were the Arch of Constantine (my favorite victory arch of the trip), Palatine Hill (the birthplace of Rome – even against Remus’ will), the Roman forum (the hub of ancient Rome – awesome to see where the people all gathered, traded, and worshipped), ruins of the temple of Vestal Virgins, Capitoline Hill (what Capitol Hill is named after) and the Musei di Capitoline (where the statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback is).
The third day consisted of the infamous Saint Peter’s Basilica (a very powerful experience for me as a Catholic and extremely beautiful place), the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel (pictures off the internet and recreations will simply never do it justice) and the picturesque view from the top of Castle Sant’Angelo (the tunnel from the Vatican to here and the story behind it was interesting).
The next day we visited the Pagan Temple turned Catholic church – Pantheon, Torre Argentina (ruin of a senate building and possible site of the assassination of Julius Caesar), the Fontana di Quattro Fiumi in the Piazza Novana (sculpted to represent the 4 major rivers that Christianity had spread to at the time) and the Spanish Steps (cool to see all the upscale designer label stores and the rich people that shop there.. i.e. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Prada).
The scavenger hunt was an absolute blast. It came with a little controversy at the finish. We made it back to Hotel Mimosa just after another group, but we were the first to run up to Dr. Erdogmus’ door. It turns out that we didn’t read the directions carefully enough and took a picture of our good looking Team WIR (When In Rome) in front of Torre Argentine instead of Roma gatos. Oh well, we still had a great time.
The last day in Rome we learned a lot about foreign universities at Sapienza University. It was interesting that they had a 2 year degree (not very important) and a 5 year degree (much more important) and it usually takes them about 7 years to get their 5 year degree.. wow! 3,000 Euros a year isn’t a bad price either. It was pretty sad to leave Rome, it was definitely my favorite place of the trip, but it was exciting to continue the trip and see new places.
Rome to Florence was my first ever train ride, so that was pretty cool. When we got to Florence we went to the Museo Galileo. I couldn’t believe I was actually seeing the fingers of one of the most brilliant men to ever walk this earth. We climbed to the top of the Duomo (crafted by Brunelleschi) and looked out over all of Florence – wow what a pretty city. The next day in Florence we visited three churches – the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and the Basilica of Santa Croce. All three were great churches – my favorite was Santa Croce where Michelanglo, Galileo, Dante and several Medici’s were buried.
On the second full day of Florence, we visited three museums. My favorite of the three was the Academia Galleria because it had some cool instruments, some partially finished sculptures, and the main attraction – the Statue of David. I also gave my presentation on Michelangelo this day in the Piazza di Michelangelo. We later had a fun group dinner and watched the sunset from the piazza.
Jared and I spent our free day walking around Florence and souvenir shopping. We also ate at the pizza place that the cast of Jersey Shore ate at last year when they were in Florence. The pizza was great. We watched the Champions League Final that night at a pub. The match was between Bayern Munich and Chelsea. I really like a lot of Bayern’s players and dislike Chelsea, so it was an easy choice for who I was going to root for. Unfortunately Chelsea won in a penalty shootout but it was still a blast to watch in a European country.
Next up was Milan. We did a quick tour of the city once we got there. We went to the top of the Cathedral di Milano which was a French Gothic style. I liked the French Gothic architecture a little more than the Roman Gothic.
The second day of Milan was a free day and we spent it in Venice. It was a rainy day and Venice is like the world’s largest maze, but it was still a really fun day and an adventure. We were able to see Saint Mark’s Cathedral and the beautiful Mediterranean coastline, so that was good. It was also just incredible to be in the sinking city where streets are canals. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen.
The start of our third day in Milan was spent cooking a delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast in our hostel. Later that day we visited the Leonardo DaVinci Science Museum of Milan. This was very relevant to all of our disciplines in terms of the math and science developments that we saw there. I really enjoyed how interactive this museum was and it was cool to see how certain systems progressed and increased in complexity over the years.
Next was Ravenna. It was a quiet little town where we got to see Dante’s tomb, Santa Paulo Nuevo and the Basilica di Santo Vitale. I really liked hearing about Dante’s views the most and getting a little sneak peek into the Divine Comedy. I may look into reading it if I get the time.
After our one night in Ravenna, we moved on to Pisa. We got a lot of good pictures in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and then were able to climb to the top to see for miles over the city. I was very impressed with how severe the lean seemed. I didn’t expect it to be so noticeable, but the four degrees seemed like ten! I also enjoyed the acoustics demonstration in the Baptistry. We then hit the road again to San Gimignano. This was an incredibly beautiful mountain town and when we split up to explore we found one of the most amazing views of the trip from a lookout tower in the castle. We had a group dinner that night of vegetable and mushroom risotto, vegetable risotto with creamy tomato sauce, and roasted meat with peppercorns and arugula. What a delicious meal!
The first part of our travel day to Paestum was spent climbing the tower in Gimignano and visiting the torture museum there. Wow, what an experience. I had heard a lot of these methods of torture before, but to read about them there in the museum, with pictures and examples right in front of you was pretty eye-opening. We got to Paestum just in time for a great group dinner of fresh mozzarella di buffalo and three courses of pizza. It was delicious and a fun time.
The next day we headed to Pompeii. I learned about Pompeii and Vesuvius when I was young but didn’t expect to ever be standing there right in the city that was covered in ash. One thing I found very interesting was that it is now thought that the people didn’t die of suffocation from the six meters of ash, but instead from the intense 250 degree Celsius heat from the volcano. We went back to Paestum to see the three Greek temples there. The first was dedicated to Athena and the second two were both dedicated to Hera. My favorite temple was the one in the center. It was the newest and the largest and it was the closest to architectural perfection in Vitruvius’ eyes. When we got back we played an hour of water polo with the soccer ball that Jean Franco got for us. It was an absolute blast! After that we had a great group dinner, but the company and conversation overshadowed the amazing food (which is saying a lot!) Afterwards, we spent a few hours sitting in a circle talking about our favorite and least favorite memories from the trip. It was so much fun to hear some peoples stories and to talk together as one big group.
I will really miss this group after spending practically 24 hours a day for 20 days with them. I hope we all stay in touch pretty well. Thanks again everyone who participated in the trip. It’s an experience I will NEVER forget.