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Italy 2012: Sean Kirker

Sean Kirker

Italy Blog


May 10 – Meeting the fellow travel companions for the first time.


I decided to get an early start to the day to explore some sights near my hotel before I had to make the pilgrimage to the Hotel Mimosa.  I went down to breakfast to eat for the first time since the flight.  They had bread, bread, and more bread.  This was okay with me since I was hungry and ready to eat almost anything.  After breakfast, I set off to find Trinita del Monti and the famous Spanish steps. The sights were exceptional from the top and the atmosphere was peaceful since it was still early in the morning.  I went inside of the church at the top and found it to be fairly large and decorated with a lot of detail compared to churches in Omaha.  I found it interesting how there were alters lining the sides of the church in smaller rooms.

Next, I headed to the Villa Medici.  I found the back of the building, which also had exceptional views of the city, but I was never able to get to the front.  I spent a good amount of time looking for a path or a view of the front and even walked through Rome’s largest park, Villa Borghese.  After that adventure, I walked towards the Piazza della Repubblica.  On the way, I stopped in a few churches and explored their detailed architecture.  I quickly learned that almost all of the churches in Rome are very decorated with paintings, statues, and columns.

When I got to the Piazza della Repubblica, I toured Santa Maria degli Angeli.  This was a massive church that had clearly been standing for quite some time.  The interior of the church contains a dome ceiling, many arches and columns.  It is also decorated with a colored pattern on the floor and many paintings.  The courtyard contained a large bronze statue of a breaded man holding a cross.  I also noticed a massive organ inside the church to accompany the large interior.


May 11


Today was our first day of studying architecture with the group.  I woke up early and enjoyed some bread and corn flakes for breakfast.  Our first stop was Trajan’s column.  On the way to the field of ruins where Trajan’s column is placed, we walked by a massive white building.  The building was impressive but it seemed out of place for the area.  Trajan’s column contained carvings that spiraled up depicting battle scenes.  I found the scenes to be carved with much detail which must have taken a long time to create.

Moving along the field of ruins, we started to see the Coliseum come into view.  The structure was huge and was definitely built to last a long period of time.  I learned of the many uses the Coliseum had including gladiator battles and even naval battle reenactments.  I was extremely impressed that they were capable of filling the interior with water from the aqueducts.  This technology is still impressive today with the transformation of the Qwest Center into an Olympic swim trial pool.  We also learned the differences between the different column capital designs used since the Coliseum contains four types, one type per level.  Next to the Coliseum was the Arch of Constantine.  This arch was another example of the detail Romans put into their monuments, churches, and temples.  I thought it was interesting that it actually has an attic that is accessible.

Next we headed into the Roman forum which was packed with history.  We found out that the emperors lived up on the hill overlooking the city.  Each emperor seemed to have added on to palaces or built a bigger and better palace.  I wondered how they would control the climate in their palaces but after entering a few buildings, I quickly discovered that the stone buildings stayed cool despite all of the open windows and doorways.  The market area of the forum seemed to be very well organized.  I believe it was very good city planning since most of the city’s main buildings were all in the same area.  After the forum, we went through a museum which had a good view of the forum.  It also contained many detailed statues and even parts of a large statue of Constantine.  Outside of the museum was a plaza designed by Michelangelo.  The steps were slanted which made walking slightly uncomfortable, but I felt like the steps blended in well with the plaza.

May 12


Today we went to Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museum.  Saint Peter’s Basilica was very large and we learned that it holds the most amount of people for a church.  It had a mysterious looking canopy over the alter which was made of bronze.  I learned that Michelangelo designed the facade which contained many carvings and statues.  The dome had a large diameter and was very tall.  It is really amazing how the Romans were able to successfully construct such large domes at those heights.  A majority of the artwork inside of the basilica was intricate mosaics.

The Vatican museum was simply overwhelming.  The amount of statues, paintings, and tapestries was extremely impressive and could be studied for months.  Fortunately, we will not be spending months in there.  I was content with just strolling through and looking at the various pieces of artwork.  It was interesting to see how different artists portrayed ideas in their own way.  My favorite part of the museum was the Egyptian section simply because it gave a nice break from all of the Roman statues.  The Sistine Chapel was painted very well especially on the ceiling where the paintings appear to be flat on the curved surface.  The Castle of Saint Angelo offered a great view of Saint Peter’s Basilica and the city.  During the evening, I enjoyed possibly the most delicious pasta I have ever had near the Trevi Fountain.  I believe it had a smoked cheese sauce with bacon pieces.


May 13


I tried the chocolate granola cereal at breakfast for the first time in Rome.  It definitely made me look forward to breakfast the next couple of days.  That being said, the food here is definitely different from the states.  The grocery store is always an adventure since you don’t exactly know what you are going to end up with.  Bread seems to always be a safe choice and I generally end up getting some good tasting cheese.  The deli meats all look different with the exception of salami which has been the number one choice of most fellow classmates so far.  I have enjoyed many slices of pizza, sandwiches, and plates of pasta.  Gelato is extremely good if you stay away from the alcohol flavored varieties.  Fragola is definitely my favorite.

We officially visited the Pantheon today and studied the architecture of this unique roman temple.  It is different from most of the roman temples in that it is circular and has a domed ceiling.  A found the hole at the top of the dome to be an interesting part of the design.  It allows the sun to shine a beam of light into this nearly window-less building.  It also allows rain to pour inside which simply drains to the edges due to a slanted floor.  Brunelleschi removed a small section of the dome to study in order to design a larger dome in Florence.  Looking at the piece he removed, I could not decide what information, if any, he could have gained from removing that section.  We also visited Campo de Fiore, the “Elephant” church, the fake Trajan’s column, and the field of ruins where Caesar was betrayed and murdered.  It is now a great area for cats to get away from the busy Roman streets.

We made the hike to the Spanish Steps and the Piazza de Popolo.  A high end shopping area neighbors the Spanish Steps which makes for a popular location in the afternoons.  The Spanish Steps are by far the most impressive set of stairs I have seen.  In the Piazza de Popolo, I enjoyed listening to the man sing opera in Italian while admiring the Egyptian obelisk in the center of the piazza.  There was also a stage setup which seems to be very common here.  The Da Vinci museum was a fun visit and a good break from the art museums.  It gave hands on models of some of Da Vinci’s machines and designs which indicate that he was clearly ahead of his time.


May 14


Today we got to show off our knowledge and navigation skills in a team scavenger hunt.  Even though we lost, I felt like it was a successful trip since we never got lost and were able to easily figure out the clues indicating our destinations.  After that scavenger hunt, we decided to head back to Saint Peter’s Basilica to climb the dome.  After waiting in line for a while, we started the climb up.  After about four hundred stairs through narrow spaces, we reached the dome.  We were able to walk on the inside and saw the detail put into the mosaics on the sides of the dome.  We also got to look down into the large worship space of the basilica.  We ascended the last of the stairs and popped out on top of the dome.  The view of the city was awesome, but even neater was the view of the Saint Peter’s square and Vatican City.  Most of Vatican City appeared to be peaceful garden and green lawns, a rarity in the crowded city of Rome.  On our way back down to street level, we encountered a gift shop where I was able to purchase some Rosaries on top of Saint Peter’s.  Some of our crew even took advantage of the opportunity to buy Saint Peter’s shot glasses from the nuns working the gift shop.  After we left the basilica, I went back to the shopping district near the Spanish Steps to stare at overpriced stuff and eat gelato.  Later in the evening, I visited the Coliseum which was beautifully lit up in the dark atmosphere.


May 15


We visited the university and toured the campus.  I found the lectures to be interesting especially when they talked about renewable energy and the satellite detection of building movement.  You can easily monitor a large area of buildings that may be in distress which can increase safety in the area.  I believe there was a mention of generating electricity from cars driving on roads which would be interesting to see how that would work and be efficient.  College costs a lot less in Italy, but this also causes students to not focus as much on school.  Public colleges are more highly regarded than the private colleges.  Roma University had about 145,000 students.  I noticed that the college students did not dress nearly as nice as most Italians we saw on the streets.  We also visited a church next to the college of engineering.


May 16


Today we had an interesting experience getting the group to the train station.  We got dropped off on the side of the station as opposed to the front where the rest of the group got dropped off at.  We waited a while for others to show up since we were the first to leave the hotel in Rome.  After a while, we decided to wander around and try to find the others.  We walked through the whole interior of the train station and searched the outside of the station on both ends.  The only place we didn’t look, naturally, was outside the front of the station and the location of our fellow classmates.  We finally decided to do the smart thing and call our professor to find out what happened to the group.  After twenty minutes and four euro of eaten coins in the pay phone, we finally were successful and found the group.  Off to Florence!

We made the hike to the hotel and met on the top balcony where we were greeted with an exceptional view of Brunelleschi’s dome.  We then headed towards the science museum.  On the way, we walked by the river and saw the city’s oldest bridge which is now lined with jewelry shops which hang over the bridge’s edge.  Inside the museum, I explored some of Galileo’s work and even saw his finger.  Next, we headed over to Brunelleschi’s dome to climb to the top.  Using a herringbone brick pattern, Brunelleschi was able to construct a huge self-supporting dome.  He also designed lifts powered by oxen to lift materials up to the workers.  The church’s exterior has an interesting color combination of white, green, and pink.  We learned that these colors were chosen based on the marble available near the town.  At the top, we were rewarded with a 360 degree view of the city.  A majority of the buildings had the same red-orange colored roofs which appear to be made of clay shingles.  Later in the evening, we found the pizza shop where the cast of Jersey Shore worked at for a summer during our search for some Italian cuisine.  We ended up at Gusto Leo where I had some delicious lasagna.


May 17


We started off class by making the walk up a hill on the outskirts of the city to Michelangelo’s Plaza.  The walk up the hill contained sloped steps which always seemed to be spaced out perfectly so that the same leg would reach the step every time.  We were rewarded with a great view overlooking Florence and another statue of David.  We also learned about Michelangelo’s life and projects he worked on.  He seemed to leave a lot of his work unfinished which did not make sense to me since this probably caused him to limit his potential by wasting time on his unfinished statues.  Nevertheless, his work was one of the greatest of his time.  On the way down the steps, Alex discovered a way to effectively navigate the stairs in a more comfortable fashion by using a side to side approach similar to skiing.

Next, we headed to Santa Croce where I presented information on this place of burial for many great people such as Michelangelo.  The church had the same style of a facade as Santa Maria del Fiore which gives it an appearance unique to Florence.  Saint Francis was said to have started this church and we found his robe inside the convent attached to the basilica.  Niccolo Matas, a Jewish architect, designed the exterior facade and is now buried on the outside of the church forever looking up at his work from the front porch.  I really enjoyed the wooden roof design inside the church since it gave texture and a three dimensional element as opposed to the domed ceilings with more smooth surfaces.  We also went to Santa Maria Novella where we saw a similar facade to Santa Croce.  The inside was different since it contained an arched ceiling with black and white ribs.  Afterwards, we had some free time where I enjoyed a nice walk along the river looking at more parts of the city.  I even encountered some sunbathers on a concrete peninsula in the middle of the river.  Later on, we had a picnic on top of the roof and headed back to Michelangelo’s Plaza to watch the sunset.


May 18


Today we visited a couple museums and saw Michelangelo’s famous David statue.  I was blown away with the size of the statue and how realistic it looked.  I had expected a human sized statue, but this statue was at least twice as tall.  We also saw a lot of Michelangelo’s unfinished work which helped me envision the process it takes to create a statue with so much detail.  The museum also had some contemporary art mixed inside and even had a realistic man on his knees crying into a pool of tears.  I thought it was out of place, but it made for some excitement.  There also was a room with a mirror floor which I found odd.  We also visited the National Museum and the Bargello Palace.  Later in the evening, we ate at the Jersey Shore pizza shop which was surprisingly cheap.  The brick oven pizza was not the best, but it was well worth it for the price.  Off to Cinque Terre tomorrow!

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