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Italy Study Abroad Trip 2011 - Carrie Mohlman

Day 22-June 2nd

June 14th, 2011

The morning started with breakfast at the hotel. There were a few breads, but what really made my day was the nesquick. We actually got cold milk! Then we hopped in the bus for the 90 min. drive to Pompeii. Pompeii had so many tourists! There were tour groups from every cruise line I could think of.

The ruins were fascinating. Everything was so well preserved you could see the multiple levels of houses. We walked around for about four hours and saw the amphitheater, houses, temples, markets, bakeries, baths, and the brothel. The last having huge lines because it is so well preserved you can see the frescoes on the walls detailing their services. I was surprised by all the stray dogs we saw. One tried to follow us after lunch.

I liked seeing the stepping stones in the streets. Sara said in her presentation that citizens of Pompeii would flood the streets to clean them so there were stones to allow access. And, the average person was only about four and a half feet tall so all the doorways were minuscule.

Once we finished at Pompeii we went back to the bus and headed to Paestum. There is a site with three Greek temples. It’s astounding. The basic structures are practically complete. The site isn’t as well excavated as Pompeii but it’s interesting to see the difference in style. The columns and temples themselves were absolutely gigantic. That completed our class, I can’t believe it’s already about time to go home.

I was able to journal by the pool before dinner. The scenery is relaxing and the hotel is charming, even with the giant spiders. Dinner was the best we’ve had. First we had tomatoes with bread and onions in a sauce. There was buffalo mozzarella which was amazing and not at all like what we have at home. It came in little balls which squirted as you cut them and wasn’t as sweet as I expected. The first course also included mashed potatoes which were fried into shapes like twinkies.

The second course was a home-made pasta. It was a penne with a pesto sauce, cheese, and zucchini. Wonderful. The meat was some type of poultry still on the bone. I tried to be lady-like and cut it off. A total failure and I resorted to my hands. Dessert was a strawberry spongecake with lemon pudding/custard in it. It was a really nice dinner. We finished by everyone sharing their favorite parts of the trip.

Day 21-June 1st

June 14th, 2011

The morning started with breakfast and a trip to the opera house. We weren’t able to wait for the English-speaking guide so got a tour in Italian. All I caught was the words five, fifty, and spring. It looked like a smaller version of the other opera house we saw. We walked into the main loge and saw the “echo room”. If you talk on the sides it reflects and you can’t hear anything. If you stand in the middle and speak it echoes so loudly everyone can hear.

Then we headed to the bus and off to the airport. This flight was uneventful. Then we ran into our old bus driver, Franco, and headed to Paestum. We ran into horrible traffic at our off-ramp. Obviously it was only one lane, but it was packed with cars side by side! After getting into the countryside near the hotel we missed the turn. Franco decided to just back up on the two-lane highway.

The hotel seems idyllic. We all got settled into our rooms after I killed a giant spider. We had dinner at the hotel consisting of pasta, sausage, artichokes, and hazelnut ice-cream-ish stuff. This place is officially agro-tourism which means at least half of the food needs to be produced there.

Day 20-May 31st

June 14th, 2011

The full day in Palermo began with breakfast in the terrace restaurant. I’m still amazed the milk is just for cereal and coffee. After breakfast we walked through town to the Palazzo dei Normani. Sicily has been conquered by lots of cultures and you can really see it in the architecture. You could see some gothic, byzantine, and middle eastern influences.

We walked to Palermo’s cathedral. The outside was pretty impressive but inside you really could tell it’s a poorer part of the country. There was obvious salt damage on the walls. It felt more like a government building than a church. All the domes and vaults were stark white.

The plan was to have a picnic by the sea but we couldn’t find any food. We all eventually found something and met at the beach, and by beach I mean a rocky edge by the water. The wind over the water was pleasant and it was fun to climb over the rocks. After spending quite a bit of time there, we headed to the theater. It’s common to take a siesta in Sicily so it was closed when we got there in the middle of the afternoon. We’ll try again tomorrow. We had some free time and I was just going to stay in and rest but Ryan said he knew how to get to one of the beaches. We ended up walking around for a really long time, through some sketchy neighborhoods, and couldn’t get to it. So instead of sleep, I got sunburns.

We had a group dinner at a restaurant owned by Jeff’s friend. It has been voted the best in Palermo. We had a traditional Sicilian meal, which means a lot of sea food. The first course was an eggplant, tomato, almond thing in sauce with octopus. I’m enjoying the eggplant, but octopus is disgusting. There was also a souffle of zucchini and mint that was really good. Then we had a shrimp risotto. I liked it, but the other risotto was better. The next course was swordfish wrapped around basil and almond goo. Once again, I don’t enjoy the texture of sea food but could see why the others really enjoyed it. There was zucchini which was cut into long curly strips. Dessert was the best we’ve had. It was kind of like ice cream but thicker and drizzled with wine.

Day 19-May 30th

June 14th, 2011

We woke up and had a big breakfast full of chocolate. There were two cakes! It got to be a little much with those, chocolate croissants, nutella, and fake cocoa krispies. We left our bags in the lobby and went off to explore Assisi.

First we saw the basilica of St. Francis. It was a huge church with an odd shape because it’s built in an earthquake-prone area. Most of it was destroyed in 1997 and has been since rebuilt. We continued farther uphill to a church on the old temple to Minerva. It was baroque and petite. Up higher still was the city’s main cathedral. We stopped for a lunch break and sadly didn’t have time to continue up the hill to the castle at the top. Then it was back to the bus for the ride to Rome.

We got to the airport a few hours before our flight to Palermo. They didn’t even have the gate number yet so we couldn’t go through security. I stood quite a while because the seats were gross. There was a cute, little kid who wanted one of two things; to sit in this one particular spot or play with my bag.

Eventually we made it through security. They didn’t ask for our liquids or make us take off our shoes. The only stringent policy was “one bag”. You could not have a purse or anything else. Thankfully my purse fit in my bigger bag. The airline did not have assigned seating so it was like a herd of cattle. There was one woman who was particularly obstinate. She put her bag in the overhead bin and when Katherine tried to check if she crushed Catherine’es bagged the woman pounced, yelled at her in Italian, and shut the bin.

We were told there was a technical problem and we wouldn’t be leaving on time, it’d be about 15 minutes. All the Italian people immediately stood up and went to talk to their friends. We finally left after 70 minutes and it seems most people did not respect the seat belt sign. And, there was a round of applause at landing. Exiting was just as much of a mess as seating. We all eventually found our bags and got on the bus to the hotel.

Day 18-May 29th

June 14th, 2011

Breakfast was wonderful; I had croissants, a banana, cereal-esque granola, and yogurt. Immediately after we went to the Torre Grosse (the tall tower). It’s the only tower you can climb and gave a great view. As it’s a hill-top town, you can see a long way. Then we went to the torture museum which was a little disturbing. I should not have read all the little signs.

We had some free time in San Gimignano so a few others and I walked to a park which was serene. We found a small market where potters and jewelers were selling. We ended up watching a man throwing clay. Before leaving, we stopped at a gelato shop which advertised that it was the world champion two years. They had really unique flavors. I had orange chocolate, champagne grapefruit, and wine. Then we got in the bus and headed to Siena.

In Siena, we first climbed the civic tower, the tallest secular tower in Italy. Then we headed to the cathedral. It had stripes of white and green marble and it was dizzying because the stripes were so thin. The front door has pink stone swirls which look like licorice. I thought it would fit right in in Candyland. We climbed to the top of the facade. It really was a day full of stairs. Then, back to the bus and off to Assisi.

Day 17-May 28th

June 14th, 2011

It was an early morning to pack up and leave. We caught the bus to head to Pisa. In Pisa, we had to park away from the city center and take a tram to the site. We made it to the main attraction, the leaning tower. It is actually the bell tower of the cathedral. The tower leans a lot farther than I expected; I was told it is deflected by five meters. I didn’t know the builders noticed it was tilting during construction and tried to fix it. You can really notice it’s slightly banana-shaped.

We climbed the 294 steps to the tower. It’s peculiar climbing circular stairs up the tilted building. It was a little disorienting. With the tilt, everyone steps in the same place so the marble stairs are obviously depressed and slippery. We all got some good pictures at the top. Once down we walked through the cathedral. It was big and full of alternating black and white layers of stone. Lastly, we saw the baptistery. It was fairly unremarkable except for the acoustics. At one point, an employee stood in the middle and starting singing. It echoed so much it sounded like a choir.

Then it was time to head back to the bus and off to San Gimignano. It’s a medieval, hill-top town. Vineyards are scattered down the hill and there are skinny streets surrounded by stone buildings. It’s really cute. Our rooms at the hotel are decorated with homey chandeliers and un-matching furniture.

We had a group dinner in the hotel restaurant. It started off with bread, and Catherine was smart enough to ask for olive oil. Then we had risotto, it was something I’d never tried before but it was delicious. The next course was ravioli with some amazing tomato sauce. The meat was veal (there was some discussion that it might be wild boar). The meat was cooked in wine and incredible! It was paired with cooked spinach. There was a lemon cheesecake topped with strawberries and some other small berries for dessert. Overall, delectable, and the restaurant was charming as it overlooked the countryside.

Day 16-May 27th

June 14th, 2011

I woke up this morning to a lot of traffic outside but enjoyed lounging in my bed. I was exhausted from yesterday so didn’t plan much for our second individual day. I did practically nothing today except for play cards and went to the grocery store. Fish sticks for dinner, awesome. I did learn why I took all those years of French at least. Some guy came into our room asking, in French, if we were leaving today or tomorrow. (I’m not sure why he assumed we spoke French, but Madame would be so proud I understood and was able to answer).

Day 15-May 26th

June 14th, 2011

This was the first free day and I had a really good time. Katherine and I left the hostel at about 5:35 in the morning so we could try and be at the subway when it opened at six. We arrived a few minutes early and there is actually a solid gate which covers the entrance when it’s closed. We successfully used the ticket machine and waited for the first train (it didn’t get there until 6:10). It’s strange being in the subway that early, we only saw three other people.

We got to the train station and went to buy our tickets. There were two lines and we had no idea which it was. It became obvious that the line I was in would take so long we’d miss the train. I figured out how to use the self-service machine and we both got our tickets in time. It’s super helpful all the machines can be run in English. We made it to our train with minimal effort and got to Venice about 9:30.

Venice is beautiful. The canals are unique and all the little streets are adorable. The buildings are even more colorful than the other cities we’ve seen. We headed to San Marco first, the big cathedral. The line was huge and we decided to try later and went to the Correr Museum to buy tickets for the Doge’s palace. With tickets you get into both and another small museum and the Correr Museum had no line.

In the Doge’s Palace we saw the Doge’s apartments, the government rooms, and the prison. It’s a huge building and I was surprised at how little of the palace is reserved for the Doge’s personal use. A good portion of the building was used for meetings of the lords and other authorities. Next, we actually went to the Correr and other attached museums. There were a few paintings and sculptures (one who looked like he was break-dancing) and some cultural pieces like coins and shoes.

Afterward, we headed back to San Marco and the line was much shorter because it was lunch time. The church was very ornate, almost the entire ceiling was gold-leafed. Next we sat Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. The church has an altar piece by Titian and choir chairs which are gold-leafed and all carved individually. We saw the tombs of Titian, Canova, and some of the doges.

Making sure to leave time to get back to the train station, we went to the Rialto Bridge. This is one of the few bridges which cross the Grand Canal. We started flipping through our travel books for free things to do in Venice. We’d both already done our souvenir shopping, finding some glass jewelry. We ended up walking over to San Pantalon. It is supposed to have a giant painting on the ceiling and the painter supposedly fell from the scaffolding and died. Neither book had the hours so it was closed when we got there.

For a second try we went to San Giovanni Grisostomo. This church was cute because it was all terracotta pink on the outside. It was tiny and seemed like it was off the tourist path (Katherine’s guide book didn’t even mention it).

We headed back to the train station opting to use the newest bridge which crosses the Grand Canal, Ponte della Constituzione. You can really tell it’s modern in style. Apparently, some were opposed to it’s construction because it’s so different than the surrounding area. We just sat and people walked until it was time for the train.

The train ride back was longer because we got stopped a few times. We were still back about 8:30. Then we took the subway (feeling like masters of public transportation) but got out on the wrong side of the station. We ended up asking the cashier at a pastry shop where we were. We weren’t far off but I thought it was better to ask than wander aimlessly as it was getting dark. So, it was a very fun and long day. I’m glad my book had a map of the city. The little sidewalk/streets are so circuitous and not all have bridges over the little canals. We never got lost, victory.

Day 14-May 25th

June 14th, 2011

It was another long day. The morning started out with a trip to the national DaVinci/Science museum.There were models of DaVinci machines and halls showing evolving technologies over time. It was cool to see the history of tvs and telephones. I also saw the great-grandmother of a tanning bed. I was one of the few who got a map of the museum. This meant that I went to the real exit and not the entrance we used. I wandered for about 20 minutes trying to find the group when I was done. Dr. Erdogmus and Jeff even went looking for me. Maybe we should have instituted the buddy system like the elementary school group we saw.

We then headed to a church, San Lorenzo. This one is unique because it’s round. Then everyone was set free for a lunch break. Milan is an incredibly expensive city, particularly near the cathedral, therefore it was McDonald’s for lunch. We had a brief stop at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to stick your heel on the Turin bull’s crotch and turn around in a circle. The Galleria has four mosaics on the floor for the four main cities in Italy. Turin’s symbol is a bull and if you turn the circle it’s supposed to bring you good luck. I didn’t and then promptly spilled gelato on my shirt and got it all over my face at the same time (I didn’t know that was possible). Maybe I should have put my foot on its crotch.

Next we headed to Castel Sforzesco. I really like the castles. This one had a museum with some of Michelangelo’s late works and an unfinished sculpture. It’s fascinating to see the process of sculpture. It seems like it’d be so difficult to have to remove pieces to create the shape and make such delicate curves from stone. The museum also had some furniture, it’s a bit of an eclectic collection.

The castle was followed by a museum at the opera house. It looked a lot like the opera house in “The Phantom of the Opera” on a smaller scale. We saw the loges and the rooms where people socialize. The museum had costumes from operas and some historical instruments. I liked the instruments, but don’t know enough about opera to really appreciate the rest. Dr. Erdogmus ended up speaking with an employee to see if we could get tickets to the opera that evening. With our tickets to “The Last Supper” we didn’t have time.

While she was speaking with the woman, I went to the ATM (I tried to during the lunch break but couldn’t figure out how to unlock the door). I was stopped by a random Italian man intent on talking to me. He kept asking how I liked Milan and when I was heading back to the U.S. I promptly said I needed to find my group and turned to leave. He was trying to kiss my check but I was already gone, awkward.

The final site of the day was Santa Maria della Grazie for “The Last Supper”. We briefly walked through the church and then got in line to wait and see the painting. We had to pass through multiple doors which would only open when the previous was closed. The painting is impressive and the only thing in room except for a painting on the far wall. Even with the cracks and fading the painting is beautiful. It must have been spectacular when new.

Day 13-May 24th

June 14th, 2011

Katherine and I were the only two up early enough to meet Dr. Erdogmus for breakfast. Hooray, a chocolate croissant for me. An hour after breakfast, everyone met to head to the university. We took the subway and had to change lines in the middle. This subway made you use your ticket to exit as well as enter. The direction we needed to go was just outside the exit so we all needed two tickets. What a jip.

Still, we made it to the university in time and were met by a professor. She took us into a classroom for our first two lectures. They were about diagnosing damage of historic structures with non-destructive techniques and modelling for flood damage of cultural heritage. It was pretty interesting but I could see how people’s attentions were waning as the room was dark and hot and the professors had pretty thick accents.

We had lunch in the university cafeteria-thing. My salad was so refreshing (I’ve missed vegetables). Then it was time to tour the labs. We saw a thermo camera and a drill for wood, followed by the radar lab. Afterward, we were sent back for lecture number three. It was about finite element analysis of a bell tower.

A gelato break preceded another art museum. This one had a few famous paintings like “The Kiss” and “Dead Christ”. The museum was a lot larger than it seemed from the outside. I was really confused by the layout and think I may have missed a few things. Dinner was a group thing at the hostel. Catherine and Jeff made tacos and we had a big group meal.