Sunday May 15
First day! Got the most famous monument knocked off the list first…the Colosseum. It was so amazing! It was weird actually walking around and being inside the thing that you see pictures of all the time. There was a display about Nero and how he supposedly burned down part of Rome. After taking pictures and whatnot we went over to the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. The Palatine Hill was definitely impressive. I can’t imagine living in a huge castle like that. Same with the Roman forum. It’s strange to imagine people living in what the ruins used to be. Had an interesting three course meal for dinner…can’t say it was my favorite thing yet but they had great tiramisu!
Monday May 16
Started the day off with Area Sancta…some of the oldest ruins in Rome and home to a bunch of cats. Just like campus cats! Felt like Nebraska. Caesar was also killed there which I thought was a very interesting fun fact. After that we went to Piazza Navona and saw the church in the plaza (St. Agnes). Got lunch and went to the Spanish Steps…best window shopping ever. Headed back to the hotel and relaxed and watched Modern Family with the crew.
Tuesday May 17
Went to Basilica di Santa Maria first today. Beautiful church. Then we went to one of our favorite spots…Trevi Fountain! Threw in 3 pennies to make sure we return to Roma. Then we hopped over to the Pantheon and did some sketching and admiring. After that we went to the Capitoline Museums. I think my favorite part was the bits of the huge statue of Constantine…random hand, head, bicep, toe…great pictures. Got a great picture of Matt in front of a fountain before someone yelling “PREGO” …the word that works for everything. After the museums we got to climb up our favorite big white thing! The monument to Vittorio Emmanuele II. I personally prefer to call it the big white thing. Headed home and went out on the town with the group later.
Wednesday May 18
Finally got to see the Vatican today! I loved it. Went through all the museums…loooooots of paintings and sculptures. All leading up to the grand finale…the Sistine Chapel. Wow. It was a lot smaller than I thought it would be but it was AMAZING. I thought the painted drapes were real for a while. Tried to go into St. Peter’s but there was a line a mile long so we went straight to Castel Sant’Angelo. Great view of Rome from the top! After the climb we went back to the Spanish steps and saw an interactive Da Vinci museum…the first museum we’ve seen where you can actually touch stuff!! Long long day but it was definitely worth it.
Thursday May 19
Last full day in Roma L got up early early and went to St. Peter’s…another wow. SO huge and impressive. It’s hard to describe. After gawking for a while and spending some time in the prayer chapel we met outside and went on our scavenger hunt! Our group thought we were doing really well and then we ended up being half an hour later than everyone else…guess we should have ran. Had a quick break and went on a tour of the university of Rome. 150 thousand students enrolled…I can’t imagine how much signing up for classes would suck there. Went out for our last night in Rome and had a great time with the group!
Friday May 20
Got up early and hopped on the train to Florence. Got to our hotel right in downtown Florence after a sweaty 20 minute walk from the train station…we all looked real cute. Dropped off our luggage and went to a Galileo museum which was very interesting. Lots of devices I didn’t even know he had an influence in designing. He was such a genius. Then we went over to Santa Maria dei Fiori and climbed the huge dome. It was so much better climbing it after reading Brunelleschi’s Dome and understanding how it was built and the competitions that went on in the midst of it. A little bit of a scary climb but the view from the top was fantastic. Had a great dinner of hamburgers and French fries…oh man I’ve never craved a hamburger more in my life. Ended up going to bed at 8:45 on accident…full night’s sleep!
Saturday May 21
Started off the day with Accademia and saw Michaelangelo’s huge David statue. A lot bigger than the replica I’ve seen at the Louvre. It’s crazy how perfectly precise Michaelangelo was with every vein and muscle. Then we went to a number of cathedrals: Basilica di San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Novella, and Santa Croce. Dr. Erdogmus told us all about Santa Maria Novella and her research which made it a lot more interesting when we actually went inside. At Santa Croce we got to see Galileo and Michaelangelo’s tombs. They were very ornate and the decorations were fitting of the people inside. After the cathedrals we went to the famous Uffizi gallery. There were so many famous pieces of art it was hard to take it all in. In particular we saw the Birth of Venus and the first Renaissance portraits. For dinner we all met up on the terrace of the hotel and had cheese, salami, prosciutto, olives, wine and fresh fruit all from the local markets. It was sooooo great, I could have eaten it for every meal. Got ready and went out to experience Florence night life!
Sunday May 22
Today we started with a hike up to one of the most beautiful spots in Florence. The view was amazing! It was cool to see how the city was nestled into a sort of valley. After spending some time up there and getting a group pic we went to the Bargello Museum and had a free afternoon to meander around Florence and shop. And shop we did…yay for new clothes!
Monday May 23
Goodbye Florence and Hello Milan. Got on a train for Milan and arrived later afternoon. Our first tour was of the Duomo in downtown. First we climbed up to the top and walked through the buttressing and onto the roof of the church. It was a bit toasty in full sunlight at 85 degrees but it was well worth it. After that we went down to the main level and walked through the church itself. Had an interesting experience with the modesty patrol…apparently they don’t care if your shorts are almost to your knees, it’s still immodest. So that was a little bit of a setback. Later everyone went out to dinner for Liz’s birthday and we all had a great time!
Tuesday May 24
Busy busy day in Milan. In the morning we had lectures at the Politecnico di Milano. We also got a tour of a few of their labs. I found that to be the most interesting part, especially seeing the non-destructive surveying tools in action. After that we went to the Brera Gallery and saw a special exhibition of Hayez. His paintings are amazing; the way he paints the differences in light makes it seem as if the light is coming out of the picture, especially in “The Kiss.” Had some great gelato and came back to the hostel to make our own Mexican food…SO GOOD.
Wednesday May 25
Another jam-packed day. We started off at the National Science Museum which I loved. Not only were there old devices that you couldn’t touch, but they had a bunch of interactive things as well. We had some fun with the Morse code and a guy across the room that had no idea what was going on. After that we went to San Lorenzo church, Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II (everything is named after that guy) Teatro alla Scala to see the theatre museum, Castello Sforzesco and the museum there, Santa Maria delle Grazie and finally the Last Supper. Whew! Looong day but the Last Supper was definitely a great way to end it. Went back to the hostel and got all our travels plans ready for our two days off!
Thursday May 26
Day off! Liz Matt Effie and I took the train to Venice for an overnight stay. Got to the island and ended up walking for an hour before stumbling upon our hotel…we definitely got lucky on that one. First hotel with a legitimately nice concierge! So after we checked in to the hotel we hopped on the water taxi and went to Lido beach. It’s basically a straight shot from where the water taxi drops you off to the other end of the island. Had some great gelato, got sunburnt, and took a bunch of pictures. Came back to the main island and went to dinner near our hotel and meandered around Saint Marc’s square. Venice is beautiful!
Friday May 27
Day off #2. Woke up and got ready to do some gift shopping. Walked around the Saint Mark’s area and over to the Rialto bridge to get gifts for family and friends and some very good fruit cups. Went on the all necessary gondola ride through the canals and had a great lunch by the water. After checking out of our hotel at 11 we realized the 7:50 PM train was a long time away, so we packed up and headed back to Milan a few hours early. Packed up our stuff and got ready to go to Tuscany the next morning!
Saturday May 28
First day with the bus. Got up early and started our tour with the small town of Pisa in Tuscany. Along with the obvious leaning tower we went through the cathedral and the baptistery. The baptistery has the coolest acoustics I’ve ever heard…when one of the employees did a demonstration it sounded like he was an entire choir, and the overtones were ridiculously loud! I’m a little bit of a choir nerd so I loved that. Climbing up the tower was one of the more awkward things we’ve done…it was harder in some places due to the slant and in others I felt like I was being pushed up the stairs After one of the worst margherita pizzas on the trip and a bunch of cheesey tourist pictures we left for San Gimignano. SO BEAUTIFUL. It’s just like every picture you’ve ever seen of Tuscany. My room got lucky and had one of the two balconies facing the back of the hotel. We could see the entire Tuscan countryside and part of the town from our little deck. I don’t think we closed the door for more than an hour. That night we had an amazing 4 course meal at the hotel’s restaurant and ate wild boar. Or veal. We’re still not quite sure.
Sunday May 29
Climbed our first tower of the day in San Jimmyjohn’s and got some great pictures. What a view. After that we went to a torture museum that was right down the street from our hotel…weird? Maybe. It was a little disturbing/depressing but oddly intriguing at the same time. After the small museum we had free time to walk around and shop/get lunch. Since we were leaving at 1230 we had to eat lunch relatively early…Liz Effie and I had pasta and are pretty sure we heard the employees making fun of us for eating pasta at 1130 in the morning. Whatever, best pesto I’ve ever had! Left San Gimignano and headed to Siena for the day. Hung out in the shell-shaped plaza for a while and talked about the horse races that go on every few months. Climbed yet another tower…this one was definitely bigger and narrower than the first one. After that we headed over to the cathedral and climbed AGAIN. We’ll have great legs by the end of this. This one was relatively small though, just the unfinished façade of the church. It was interesting to see how some of the walls on the part that was stopped early were buckling and bending due to the uneven layout. It definitely proved that the buttressing systems in these buildings actually work when used correctly. Got back on the bus and went to Assisi. We had another great hotel room…this time with TWO balconies. One outside the bathroom..? maybe a little unnecessary.Walked uphill for about half an hour before finding anywhere to eat dinner, but we ran downhill the whole way back! Hung out in the rooms and played cards and went to bed.
Monday May 30
We had a very church-y morning…started off at St. Francis’s Basilica. The multiple levels of the church and St. Francis’s tomb were really cool. It’s a beautiful compound, and being Catholic made it even more special to get to see such a holy person’s home and impact on the community. After that we headed up to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (I swear every church is Santa Maria here). It is another church that was started on the foundation of a pagan temple, and it was clear by the large columns and Pantheon-esque exterior. Next we continued uphill to the Cathedral of San Rufino, who was a close friend of Saint Francis. Had lunch quick and got on the bus to Rome. We arrived at the airport almost 3 hours early for our flight to Palermo, but we got a loud game of cards going and it passed the time. After the fiasco of the bus to the airplane and having to check bags last minute we arrived in Palermo an hour late. Drove to our hotel and got some great late night pizza before crashing.
Tuesday May 31
Started the day off with Cappella Palatina, a beautiful chapel with mosaics covering the walls. Definitely one of my favorites. Went through the museum and struggled to find a bathroom. Next we went to the Cathedral of Palermo. It has practically every type of architecture possible…it definitely looks eclectic from the outside. On the inside it was a fairly simple church compared to some of the ones we’ve seen, but there was a really cool painting on the ceiling above the altar that looked like it was spilling out of the sky. Very unique. We tried to all stop somewhere for lunch but it was a bit difficult. I ended up getting to test my Italian skills and ended up with a great freshly made sandwich! Doing Rosetta Stone was definitely worthwhile for this trip. We all met up near the ocean and had a great time jumping on the huge rocks and taking pictures by the water. After attempting to go to the Teatro Massimo and finding it closed we went back to the hotel. Had a great 3 hour nap (oops) and another AMAZING 4 course meal. The owners of the restaurant were so so nice and generous to us, and we all went out after. One of the best nights of the trip by far!
Wednesday June 1
It’s June?! Wow this has flown past. Well this morning we went back to Teatro Massimo and had a tour…in Italian. So that was a little bit of a struggle. But it was a beautiful theatre regardless, and we got to hear some people practicing opera down the hall. After the tour we headed back to the airport and flew back to Rome. The way back was immensely less stressful than the way there, and we actually made it on time. Met up with our bus and left for Paestum. A 4.5 hour drive turned into 6 due to rush hour, but we made it and got a good nap in. We arrived in our agriturismo Seliano and had yet another fantastic multiple course meal. Dr. Erdogmus told us that this agriturismo provides and serves upwards of 70% of its own food. It was so fantastic! I could definitely get used to eating like this every day or every other day. I’m still looking forward to having some of the famous buffalo mozzarella from the area…hopefully tomorrow! Played cars with a big group in our very spacious room and went to bed. Only a few nights left L
Thursday June 2
Last day! Today we went to the ruins of Pompei about an hour and a half away from Paestum. It was a lot bigger than I was expecting it to be. The sidewalks were bigger than some of the city sidewalks I’ve been on, and the way they set up their streets with the crossing stones was really cool. And then there were the pictures on the walls of the brothel…pahaha. I just find it weird that that was actually a normal part of their culture! Anyways, we spent most of the day walking through the city and then headed back to Paestum to see the three Greek temples. They were huge! The Doric style was also very different than all the Roman, Gothic and Renaissance architecture we’ve seen. After the temples we headed back to the agriturismo and went swimming…wasn’t too warm. Had another FANTASTIC dinner and ate amazing homemade buffalo mozzarella…I was in heaven. Played cards, went for another late night swim and packed up to go back to Rome.
Friday June 3
Went back to Rome, had a really fun afternoon just hanging out and revisiting all our favorite spots. Bought ll the souvenirs we didn’t want to carry around the countryside with us, went out to dinner and our last run of Roman night life. EARLY morning Saturday…well worth the little sleep we got. And we slept most of the way home which was a plus! Tre settimane di stupefacente…arrivederci Italia!