We finally got into Rome after a 9 hour flight. I didn’t sleep at all, so needless to say I was pretty tired when we landed. The 4 of us got a deal on a shuttle that took us directly to the hotel, so that worked out pretty well. After we checked in we explored a little bit and got some pizza. I felt like it was the right thing to do considering we were in Italy. Rae and I took a nap while Kate and Nate went out and walked some more. That was one of the most glorious naps I have ever taken. Later that night we went out to grab some dinner at a little restaurant that was close to the hotel. It had outdoor seating which was great to just take in sights and sounds of Rome.
A good nights sleep definitely helped with the jet lag. We had to check out by 10, so we left our luggage at the front desk and then just kind of wandered around for while. No one had an idea of where we were going so we just kind of went. It was actually a really good idea as we saw a lot of different parts of Rome. Once we got back, we just hung out at the hotel until the rest of the group arrived. We went out to dinner, and then Dr. Erdogmus bought us all gelato. It was absolutely delicious. She even got me a second cone for my birthday. A couple of us then went out on a night walk to check out the Trevi fountain, the Spanish Steps, and to the Piazza de Popolo. It was awesome to see all of the monuments under the lights, although I didn’t get to toss a coin in the fountain.
It was definitely the busiest day, but also the best so far. We started out by going to the Coliseum. It was amazing to actually see it in person; it’s hard to comprehend just how big it is by seeing pictures. We wondered around on our own there for around an hour. I got one of my sketches done and remembered how bad I am at it. After that we visited the Arch of Constantine, the Forum, Capitoline Museums, and the Campidoglio. Everyone was exhausted when we got back, so a small group of us went to get some gelato and then everyone crashed. We had our first official group dinner, which was absolutely delicious. It was great just to sit down and talk to everyone. We got back and then some of us went out, which was a fun/interesting time.
Rome keeps getting better and better. We started at St. Peter’s Basillica, which was absolutely amazing. The detail put into all the sculptures and the ceiling blew my mind. We talked about just how massive it is and how you never see structures built like it anymore. We then hit up the Vatican Museum. It was the biggest museum I have been in by far. By the time we actually reached the Sistine Chapel I was ready to call it quits. I had seen enough artwork to last a lifetime. All of the art and sculptures were incredible, there was just so much that it kind of got repetitive. The Sistine Chapel was really cool as well, although it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I don’t really know what I thought it would be like, but it wasn’t that. We ate lunch and then finally got back to the hotel. I’m pretty sure everyone took a nap after that. A few of us went to grab some pizza for dinner. While we were sitting down we heard some old guy yelling at someone else. We look over and the two guys are right in each other’s face. One swings at the other and misses, and the other one gives him the most intense slap I have ever seen. The guy who got slapped then picked up a pizza box and started brandishing it as weapon. They both walked off then and I guess they made up since we saw them smoking together a little bit later. One of them then decided it would be a good idea to pee off the side of the ledge onto some ancient ruins. Definitely one of the highlights of the day.
Today was a pretty easy day. Most of the group had already seen everything we were supposed to visit so we didn’t spend a lot of at any of the places. It was cool to hear Dr. Eredogmus talk about the history of everything though, it kind of made it a little more real. We visited the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza de Popolo, Castel Sant’ Angelo, and the DaVinci Museum. My favorite was probably the DaVinci Museum. It didn’t have any of his actual inventions, but it did have recreations based on his drawings. That man was a genius for sure and definitely ahead of his time.
So today all we did was have a scavenger hunt and then had free time. My group won the scavenger hunt of course, we pretty much sprinted from place to place. I found out how bad of shape I’m in after not running at all since I’ve got here. The rest of the day was pretty chill and we just walked around Rome. We went back to climb the dome at St. Peter’s Basilica since we couldn’t the first time we went. It was an amazing view and I’m glad I got to see it.
We got to go to Roma University, which has over 140,000 students. It’s crazy to even think about a school that big. The professor that gave us the tour made it sound like most of the students didn’t care that much about school though and were completely happy failing. We listened to some lectures about projects some of the students are working on. It was really interesting as some of the topics were structural related, which is what I want to do.
I’m a little sad to be leaving Rome, but super exited to get to Florence. Most people I’ve talked to said it is there favorite city. We all took cabs to the Termini and we thought that one of the groups had somehow ended up at the airport. It turns out that they just got dropped off at a different spot, which was really good because Dr. Erdogmus was starting to stress a little. The train ride was really cool; I think it was my first ride on any sort of train. It was a little weird going backwards though. After we dropped our stuff off at the hotel we went to the Galileo Science Museum. It was one of my favorite museums and all of the exhibits were really interesting. Seeing Galileo’s finger was a little strange however. We then headed over to the Duomo, which was unlike anything we had seen so far. All the different marble colors gave it a unique look. It wasn’t what I was expecting but I still really enjoyed it. We got to climb to the top of the dome, which gave us a great view of the entire city. The rest of the day was pretty relaxing; we ate dinner on the veranda and I had the best raspberries I’ve ever had.
The day started off with a hike to Piazza Michelangelo, and it was literally a hike. After climbing up a hill, there was a never-ending staircase of the weird slanted steps, which I’m beginning to hate. It was worth it though because the view was amazing. You could see all off Florence, and it really helped me get a feel for how the city is laid out. We stopped at 3 basilicas after that, all of which looked fairly similar, but they were all still very cool. My favorite was probably Santa Croce. There was a really nice leather shop in the back of the church which I will most likely come back to get my mom a journal for mother’s day. We hung out and walked around the city once we got back, and then headed back to the Piazza to get some sunset pictures. It seemed like half the city had the same idea as we did. The sunset was brilliant and the view seemed like it should be on a postcard. We had to get to group dinner at 8, so we had to leave a little earlier than I would have liked. Group dinner was really good; there was sandwich meat, tomatoes, fresh fruit, and other assorted goodies. That night a couple of us went back up to the Piazza to get a night view of Florence. It was a great idea and it was so peaceful just sitting down and watching the city. One the way back to the hotel we saw a Lamborghini and a Bentley, which was a cool way to end the night.
Today was a very museum heavy day. We started out a Bargello, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit. The lighting on all of the pictures was very cool and it almost seemed like they were being illuminated from behind. Next was Accademia, which I was looking forward to just to see David. The statue was much bigger than I had thought and the detail was amazing. I can’t even fathom sculpting something like that from a solid block of marble. There was another statue that was possible the most out of place thing I have ever seen. It was a man leaning down crying into a pond. The statue seemed very modern but it was in a room full of marble sculptures. Uffizi was the last museum of the day. By this point I was somewhat art worked-out, so I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as I could have. I do appreciate art, but only in small portions. It’s hard for me to handle a lot in one day. We explored the city some more once we were done. I love Florence so far but I’m a little surprised at how many tourists there are. After dinner everyone watched a movie about the Medicis on the veranda. It was a really interesting movie, but sitting on the ground for an hour was super uncomfortable. With about 15 minutes left in the movie a band started playing somewhere close to the hotel. They sounded amazing and were playing some really good songs, so right after the movie a couple of us went down to listen to them. They were one of the better group of performers that I’ve hear so far. One thing that I’m going to miss is going out every night and listening to the musicians. So many people just walk by them though, which is sad since they are missing out on such great talent.
Today was a much-needed free day. Some of the group went to Cinque Terre, which I would have loved to go to but there was a lot left in Florence I wanted to do. It was great to sleep in, as I was not doing too well in the sleep department. After lounging around the hotel for a little a group of us went out for a shirtless run. We definitely got some interesting looks, but it was pretty nice out. We then proceeded to get our tan on by the river for a while. It was a fantastic way to start the day off. Alex had to leave to go golfing and the rest of us went out shopping. Our first stop was the leather store at Santa Croce. I got my mom a nice leather journal and Keith, Jake, and Kyle got some really nice leather wallets. We walked around the city for a while and then headed back to the hotel. The rest of day was really relaxing. We finally got to see inside the Duomo, which was awesome. All of the large churches look very similar but it’s still cool to see just how massive they are. It’s crazy to think about what went into building each one. We went out to dinner and a guy there told us about a pub that was close, so we went there to watch the Champion’s league final. There were some pretty loud Dutch guys sitting behind us, which made the experience a lot more interesting to say the least. They really seemed to like Kyle so at least someone enjoyed them.
It was a sad day leaving Florence. I loved Rome and Florence both for different reasons, but we didn’t have as much time in Florence so I wish we could have stayed a little longer. The train ride to Milan was about 4 hours and I slept most of the way. I’ve been feeling sick for a couple of days so the rest was much needed. Once we finally got into Milan we took the subway and walked to get to the youth hostel. We dropped off our luggage and headed straight for the Duomo. It definitely didn’t look like what I was expecting. The Duomo was French inspired so it had a lot of flying buttresses. They were amazing especially once we climbed up and got a close look at them. I really hope this rain stops soon though because it makes everything seem so dreary. After the Duomo we went to the Castello Sforzesco, which was a giant castle. It looked pretty awesome and we walked around a little bit inside. One of the street vendors tried to give Nate a yarn bracelet but he pulled his arm away. The guy got really mad and started yelling at us. Pretty funny stuff. After that we went to an art museum, which was one of my favorites so far. I loved the lighting, everything was darker and the pictures were illuminated. It was also smaller than some of the other museums so I didn’t get tired of looking at the pieces. We were supposed to go to the Da Vinci museum, but everyone was pretty tired so we just went back to the hostel. It’s actually really nice. There are 6 of us in the room and there is a community common room and kitchen. We grabbed dinner at the grocery store and then just hung out the rest of the night and played some pitch. Most of us went to bed early since we had an early morning the next day.
Today was one of our free days, so pretty much the whole group decided to go to Venice. It was an interesting day to say the least. A group of us decided to buy eggs, toast, bananas, and milk for breakfast so we got up early and cooked that. It was by far the most delicious breakfast of the trip. I even got some nutella! I slept pretty much the whole way to Venice, which was about a 2.5 hour train ride. We got there and it was raining, which was definitely a bummer. I couldn’t complain too much though since we were in Venice. Some of the group took a water taxi to St. Marks, but we toughed it out and walked all the way there. On the way we stopped at a little restaurant and got some hot chocolate, which was delicious. It rained the entire way there, but I’m glad we walked so we got a chance to see Venice. St. Mark’s was absolutely amazing. The entire ceiling was coated in gold flakes. The structure was unlike anything we had seen before, which was a good thing since some of the churches were getting jumbled in my mind. We walked around for a bit and when we got out it was pretty much pouring. You could see where parts of the building had settled and the floor had a wave like appearance to it. There was also an arch that had a big crack running right down the middle of it. We decided to take a water taxi back to the terminal since no one really wanted to walk another hour in rain. I got a lot of really good pictures since we went right down the middle of the canal. The rialto was my favorite bridge, although I didn’t get to see the newest bridge. There was a lot of public backlash about it since it was so modern and didn’t look natural in the city. I was pretty happy when we finally got back to the train station. Venice was great and I’m definitely glad I went but the rain kind of ruined the mood. I’m glad I brought my umbrella since there was maybe 2 minutes the entire day when it didn’t rain. Kyle bought the worst umbrella I’ve ever seen; it broke about 10 minutes after he got it. Seven of us took the fast train back and the rest took the slow train. We played pitch and hearts the whole way back which was a good time. Not a whole lot happened once we got back, we went to the grocery store and got breakfast food and Aaron and I grabbed some meat and cheese for dinner. The rest of the night we pretty much just hung out in the room and talked.
We had our second free day in a row and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was getting pretty tired from running around all day from place to place so it was great to just relax for a while. We bought eggs and bread again for breakfast and it was just as delicious as the day before. I actually really enjoy staying in the hostel and think it would be a great way to tour Europe just going from hostel to hostel in each city. I got caught up on some journaling, which was good because I was falling a little behind. It’s crazy how much you forget even after a day. The whole group went to the National Science Museum around 3. It was my favorite museum by far. All the exhibits were interesting and relevant to what I want to do. I especially liked all of the Da Vinci inventions. They seem so simple now, but at the time they had to have been earth shattering. The only downside was that we got kicked out at 5:15 since they were closing. We initially thought they closed at 6:30 so it was a bit of a surprise. Keith, Nate, and I got to stay an extra 15 minutes longer than everyone else though since we were in the basement and I don’t think anyone knew we were there. After that everyone went to a bar to grab some food and a drink. They had a deal for one drink and unlimited buffet for $6.50. It was a great deal and the food was delicious. Not a whole lot happened after that, we hung out at the hostel and then a group of us decided to check out the Milan nightlife. There was hardly anyone out which wasn’t very surprising since it was a Tuesday night, but it was still fun.
Milan was a pretty cool city and I wouldn’t mind some more time to explore but it’s my least favorite of the places we’ve been so far. A lot of it probably has to do with how much it rained. We switched from train travel to coach bus travel because we will be moving cities so much the next couple of days. It’s not too bad and I kind of enjoyed it since it’s a lot easier to see the scenery. The ride to Ravenna was about 3 hours, 2 of which I slept which made the trip go pretty quick. I loved Ravenna, it was a small and fairly quiet town, which is a great switch up from the 3 big cities we’ve been in. The whole group took a small tour of the city after we checked into the hotel. We stopped by Dante’s tomb and 2 churches, all of which were very cool. The first church, Basilica di Santa Apollinare Nuovo, wasn’t very well constructed and the walls were bowed at least a foot or two.. I was surprised it’s still standing after taking that stress. There were some metal bands on the columns to help prevent them from buckling, so it makes you wonder if they weren’t there would the church fall. After the tour we went back to the hotel and then a small group of us went out walking to check out more of the city. The city is really beautiful and we found some really nice parks and piazzas. There was even a Piazza John F. Kennedy, which I thought was pretty funny. We got back to the hotel, got everyone else and then went out to eat. After dinner we did a little more exploring. Once we got back I called it a night. I felt absolutely terrible today and had an awful cough and terrible headache. I hope the medicine I got helps.
Today was one of my favorites of the trip. We had a great breakfast at the hotel and then took the bus to Pisa. It was only a 3-hour ride so it wasn’t too bed. I slept some of the way like usual so that definitely helped. Right when we got off the bus a swarm of street vendors rushed us. It was kind of funny because you could see them walking toward us right as we pulled into the lot. The leaning tower was incredible and pretty much how a pictured it. It amazes me how it is still standing. I found it really interesting to hear all the different methods that have been tried to prevent the tower from continuing its descent. Of course I got the classic picture of holding it up and Alex and I took a couple of other funny ones. Walking up it was one of the weirdest feelings ever. As you spiraled up gravity shifted so you had to change which way you leaned. The view from the top was extraordinary and it was awesome to get a panoramic view of the whole town. We then went to the Basilica and Baptistery. The basilica was beautiful but it looked very similar to most of the ones we have been to. The acoustics in the Baptistery were amazing. A guy walked into the middle of it and sang a couple of notes; it was awesome to hear how it echoed. We took the bus to San Gimignano and the views on the way were magnificent. Tuscany is a place I would love to explore a little more if I come back. I can see why Dr. Erdogmus likes this city so much. It reminds me of Estes Park for some reason. Maybe just because that is one of my favorite places and I can just relax there. We had a group dinner at the restaurant in the hotel and it was phenomenal. First course was a risotto, and then ravioli followed by a meat and spinach dish. It was all finished off by a really good desert that was similar to cool whip. A group of us then walked around the city. We went up to a smaller tower and told some scary stories, some of which actually got to me. It reminded me of boy scouts when we would sit around the fire at night and tell stories. We then found some paths that were kind of creepy since there was barely any light. After that we all headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.
Breakfast was great again, it definitely helps to eat a lot in the morning to help get through the busy days. Today we climbed up the tower, which was awesome to get a full view of the city. It’s so beautiful and peaceful; this would be a great place to come to just get away from everything. The ambulances and dogs barking were kind of getting annoying. After that we went to the torture museum. It was interesting in the sense that I didn’t know just how far people went to punish others. Some of the machines and punishments were absolutely grotesque. I guess it was a place that was good to see once, but I don’t think I’ll go back. I finally got some wine and olive oil for my parents. I’m sure they’ll like them, but I’m worried about fitting them in my suitcase. There were a surprising number of gift stores for how big of a town it is, but like Dr. Erdogmus said they know that people like visiting. Around 12:30 we all met up and headed out for the 6 hour ride to Paestum. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I’m sure the 2 breaks helped. John Franco even bought us a soccer ball at one of the rest stops so we all played for a little bit. We got into Paestum around 8:30 and then had group dinner. The area is known for their buffalo mozzarella, and it didn’t disappoint. Everything was amazing and I think the pizza was the best I’ve had so far. I worked on my presentation for a while after dinner and I was absolutely dead when I finally got to bed.
So it was a long day, but a great way to end the last day of organized site seeing. The hotel had another fantastic breakfast for us, and then we were off for Pompeii. The bus ride was pretty short, but there were some great views driving by the Mediterranean. I would love to spend some time in the southern part of Italy if I ever come back. I’ve heard that it is a completely different culture and something that I would like to experience. Pompeii is one of the places I have been looking forward to most just because of how much of it is left in tact. To get there we had to take a shuttle sort of thing that reminded me of a ride at McDonalds. I thought that it was funny we were driving right down the middle of the road even though we could only go about 15 mph. It took a while to go through all of Pompeii, but I enjoyed all of it. My favorite part was probably the coliseum like structure where gladiator battles were held. All of it was amazing and I enjoyed actually seeing how the buildings looked since most of them hadn’t fallen apart yet instead of just guessing. I really wish I still wasn’t sick though; most of the day was kind of a blur. After Pompeii we took the bus back to Paestum to look at some ancient Greek ruins. It was a little strange that there were Greek ruins in southern Italy, but they were awesome regardless. Nate told me that they are the most intact temples still standing. There were three temples built for three different gods. They all looked very similar except there were some small differences, such as the number of columns in each row. There was a museum right by the ruins, so we went to that and then headed back to the hotel. Most people went to the pool and played water polo but I didn’t think it would be the best idea for me, so I just caught up on some journaling. It’s crazy to think we only have one more day in Italy. The group dinner may have been the best one yet. We had 4 courses and all of them were delicious. We also went through 18 bottles of wine. After dinner, we all sat down by the pool and shared our worst and best moment of the trip. Keith fell asleep/passed out about halfway through which I thought was pretty hilarious. Dr. Erdogmus said that it was a first having a student pass out right in front of her. I was pretty tired by the time we were done so I went back to the room and crashed.
It was a bittersweet kind of day. I’m ready to go back to the US, but I’m going to miss Italy like crazy. I took a freezing shower in the morning since all the rooms not attached to the main house have no hot water, had breakfast, and then hopped on the bus for Rome. It was great being back as I really enjoyed the city. A group of us walked around for a while and I think a couple of people got some gifts. I got my last gelato, which was amazing. I got the 4 euro cone, so I kind of went all out. We got back to the hotel and I rested for a while, and then a few of us went out to find some vendors. I finally got the American flag glasses I wanted, and only for about 2 euro, so I was pretty happy with my purchase. Most of the group went to the restaurant we went to for the first group dinner; I thought that it was a fitting way to end the trip. It was a great meal, the food was delicious and the conversation was great. We got the sexy wine, which turned out to be really good. Kyle had kind of been flirting with our waitress the entire night and towards the end of the dinner one of the bartenders started joking with him. Kyle ended up dancing with her and got a great picture with her. It was a great way to end the last supper (since we couldn’t see the real one I guess this would have to suffice). I started packing when we got back to the hotel. There was plenty of room, but I was a little concerned with the weight since I added some wine and olive oil. I wasn’t finished packing yet, but a couple people wanted to go out one last time so I decided I might as well. There were a lot of Americans at the bar and it seemed pretty nice. Right as Keith, DN, and I were leaving Freefallin’ came on. It is Kyle’s favorite song, so we all stood in a circle and just belted it out. It was a moment I will never forgot. DN and I finished packing and then went to bed. As the Italy 2012 trip comes to an end, there are so many things I will take away from it. I couldn’t have asked for a better professor than Dr. Erdogmus. She was fun and knowledgeable, and made the trip a blast. I made so many great new friends and we had some unforgettable times. Traveling to Italy has been a goal of mine for a while, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my first visit to Europe.