Going home today! Our shuttle bus to the airport left at 6:30 instead of the original plan of 7, which was unfortunate because breakfast didn’t open until 6:30. But a few of us went down early and they opened ten minutes early so we were able to grab some food. So we got to the airport a bit before 7:30 and I went really fast through check-in, security, passport check, etc. because there were no lines at all. My flight didn’t leave until 11:10 am so I had some time to kill. So I arrived in D.C. an hour and a half early and slept the whole time on my D.C. to Chicago flight. I eventually made it home to Omaha! Yay!
We met for breakfast at 8:15 and then left at 9 am for Rome. We got to Rome at 1:30 pm. Once we got settled, Catherine, Carrie, Alaina, Sara, Linsey, and I went to get lunch near the Pantheon. Then we went to this store where they had 3 T-shirts for 10€ but I didn’t get any. Then Carrie and I went to the Pantheon and went inside and to the Trevi Fountain one last time… I think those are my 2 favorite spots in Rome…although I also really like the Colosseum. I love those two places, though! And I love Rome! It’s nice to be back here because I feel like I really know the city and am comfortable here. We got gelato on the way back…it may be my last gelato…sad. Then we went back to the hotel and repacked our bags so we are ready for the plane tomorrow. Carrie, Alaina, Sara, Linsey, and I went to a restaurant for dinner. My last Italian pizza…sad!
We had breakfast all together at 8:15 am this morning. We left for Pompeii at 9am. We arrived in Pompeii a bit after 10am. Pompeii was pretty cool…a lot bigger than I expected and so well preserved. Like all the walls are up and it is really easy to imagine what it would have looked like. Rome is cool but only a few columns are still there…Pompeii actually feels like an old city. So we saw the forum, basilica, some temples, the “fast-food” place (where they would pick up hot food because they didn’t have stoves in their houses), random houses that had courtyards and mosaics, the two theaters (only half circles), an amphitheater (not as big as the Colosseum but having an amphitheater meant Pompeii was an important city), the brothel, some baths but we couldn’t go inside, and lots of stray dogs that the signs in Pompeii tell you not to touch (of course, these signs aren’t from the Roman times…ha…they are modern). The streets are all original so that is pretty cool, although hard to walk on. Everyday in Pompeii they would flood the roads to clean them so they had stepping stones across the streets for people to walk on when the streets were flooded. The stepping stones were aligned correctly so that carts could still pass through. The stepping stones are still there today as are the ruts that the carts made. All the doors were short because the people were short…the average girl was 4.5 feet tall and the boys were a bit taller than that. We also saw the molds of people that the ash preserved during the eruption…you could see their bones and teeth even. But oh my, the city was so big! Brick building after brick building…it is amazing how much is left. Oh and we saw the mountain of Vesuvius…which is still an active volcano. But, don’t worry, it didn’t erupt while we were there. Really the coolest part was just walking around this incredibly preserved city that is so old! I mean, we walked right on the original stone streets! We left Pompeii at 3pm for Paestum so we could see the Greek temples. Well, it didn’t take long because you just kind of walk by them. But the temples are kind of cool because they are so huge and old. The oldest temple is from 550 B.C.! That is just mind boggling. And because the Romans were superstitious, they didn’t destroy the Greek’s temples. The other temples we have seen were not in this good of shape and they were much smaller because Roman temples were smaller than Greek ones, I guess. So there were three temples in all. There were lots of pretty wildflowers around and the temples are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, which is kind of cool. We had a group dinner again tonight at 8 pm. We finally got buffalo mozzarella cheese…it was AMAZING, of course!
We met downstairs at 9:45 am today. We went to Teatro Massimo this morning and it was open this time. We had a guided tour but it was in Italian because the English tour wasn’t until later but we couldn’t wait that long because we had a plane to catch. So we couldn’t understand anything but one lady in the group translated some things for us after the tour guide person spoke, so that was nice of her. We saw the lobby area of the theater and then the theater itself. The balcony area is all boxes instead of seats, just like the theater in Milan. But this time we actually got to go in the theater. We got to go up in the main box where apparently Al Pacino was filmed for The Godfather Part 3 there. The best part of the tour, though, was the next room which was circular and echoed soooooo badly. It was meant for the men to talk in so no one would be able to eavesdrop, apparently. The cool part was if you went into the exact center of the room and spoke, your voice would be magnified for you but no one else would notice. It was a bizarre sensation…because your voice was suddenly loud. And it was really funny to watch other people experience the sensation because we had random Italians on the tour with us so that was funny to watch their faces get surprised or confused or unimpressed or skeptical. Then we had to go back to the hotel, grab our bags, and get on the bus to the airport. When we went from the airport to the hotel before, it was dark out so we never saw how pretty the island is. But this time we got to see it, so that was nice. We got through security smoothly because they are way more lax here than the U.S. They don’t care about liquids and they don’t check your boarding pass always. Our plane boarded at 1:25 pm and left at 1:55 pm. The flight from Palermo to Rome was good and not as strange as our last flight. No delays or anything. We made it to Rome and left on our bus at 3:30 pm for Paestum. It was supposed to take 4 to 4.5 hours to get there. However, we didn’t get to our hotel until 9pm because we got into bad traffic around Eboli (that’s a city, I think). We don’t know what happened because we didn’t see an accident or anything. I think part of the problem was that the off ramp was one lane but the crazy Italians were making it 2, and then at the end of the off ramp, you could turn left or right. So cars were having to cut in front of each other to make the correct turn because they were in the wrong lane…but there was only supposed to be one lane technically. We got to our hotel eventually…although the bus missed our turn and had to back up part way while cars were coming up behind us. I’m just glad we are bigger than all of the small cars. But there was some honking going on, of course. So we didn’t eat dinner until quite late. We ate at the hotel and apparently 70% of their food is grown on the site. They even have their own water buffalo to make buffalo mozzarella, their specialty. But we didn’t get any cheese for dinner…maybe tomorrow.
This morning we ate breakfast at 9 am and then met at 9:45 and walked towards Palazzo de Reale. On our way we walked through an open air market where they were selling fruits and vegetables, spices, and other weird trinkets. Also they were selling raw meat (like cow’s stomach) and other more normal looking raw meat things. And then they were also selling raw fish, with the heads all on and sometimes the fish were whole but sometimes they were cut in half so you could see their guts. The biggest fish they had was this giant swordfish. He was huge! So that was a fun culture experience. Then we went to Palazzo di Reale, which is a palace. Sicily and Palermo were influenced by the Romans as well as the Byzantines and Normans so their architecture is quite eclectic. The one room in the palace we got to see looked a lot like a mini version of San Marco in Venice. It had lots of gold, mosaics, and Byzantine influence. The other part of the palace we got to see were the dungeons. Then we went to Palermo’s Duomo. It also has eclectic architecture…Byzantine but also Romanesque. There was no gold inside but it had lots of little domes. It was a nice church. It had a neat arch over the street that was connected to the church. Then we headed toward the gulf and picked up lunch on the way. We got to play on the big rocks by the water for quite a bit which was really fun! There isn’t a beach, just rocks. The body of water is the Gulf of Palermo which is in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Some of us took off our shoes and put our feet in the water. We stepped on this one rock that was full of sponges…it felt funny to walk on! We eventually had to leave. Apparently in southern Italy, including Sicily, people will take a break between 1 and 4pm and all the shops will close and people go home for lunch and siestas. Of course, northern Italy thinks then that southern Italy is lazy. And southern Italy thinks the northerners are arrogant and uptight. Anyway we left the bay and headed to the largest theater in Italy and the 3rd largest in Europe. But we get there at 3pm and they were closing at 3pm for the rest of the day…oops! But our teacher says we will have time to go tomorrow morning at 10am before our plane leaves to visit the theater so that’s fine. We had a group dinner tonight at 7:30 pm at Jeff’s friend’s restaurant. We had octopus, shrimp risotto, swordfish, and semifretto (which is similar to ice cream but it is made with whipped cream and eggs). My favorite thing of the meal was the swordfish… it was soooooo delicious! I don’t even really like fish but the whole meal was really good.
We had breakfast today at 9am. They had two chocolate cakes out…random but yummy. They also had cold scrambled eggs…on purpose. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. And red orange juice which was delicious. After breakfast we left the hotel at 9:45 am. We first went uphill to the basilica of St. Francis. He is the guy who started the Franciscan monks and that they should live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The basilica had two levels since it is on a hill. That’s kind of interesting. The upper level had frescoes on the wall detailing Francis’ life. Then I got done early so I had some time to just sit outside and enjoy the view of the valley. Pretty! Then we walked around through town a bit, which was all uphill. We stopped at an old Roman temple, called Temple of Minerva, that is now a church with the inside in Baroque style. Then more uphill walk to San Rufino (a church) that is named after Assisi’s patron saint. The church was pretty plain but had some nice flowers on the altar area and had glass on the floor in some areas so you could see the older parts of the church. Then we got a lunch break before we walked downhill to our hotel. We put our bags on the bus and left Assisi at 1:00. So we got more time in Assisi than I originally thought so that was nice. We saw monks and nuns around which I suppose is to be expected. The town has a lovely view of the valley below and the hills too. Very pretty. We got to the airport waaaaaay early because the drive only took 2.75 hours instead of the 4 hours the itinerary said. It is better to be early than late, though. Our bus driver is amazingly fast! Our airplane was one where you don’t have assigned seating, which was scary because basically it was mad chaos of people pushing to get a good seat. We were on the plane when they told us they were having technical difficulties so we ended up leaving an hour late unfortunately. But it was weird because during our wait all the Italians got out of their seats and were walking around…if that happened in the U.S. I feel like someone would have gotten tackled for standing too close to the cockpit. The flight was only 50 minutes so we arrived in Palermo at 9pm. All the Italians clapped when we landed, which is a little worrying…is it not expected to have a nice, safe landing here?! Then we drove to the hotel on another bus.
Today we met at 9:25 at the well outside and climbed one of San Gimginano’s many towers. The Tuscany view was lovely! Then we went to a torture museum at 10am. It was disturbing and gross so I didn’t stay long and instead took Rick’s walking tour through the town. I got some more lovely views and got to visit a church. So we met at noon and then drove to Siena…it only took 45 minutes. We first saw the famous piazza where they have the horse races between the districts of Siena in July and August. The piazza is in the shape of a seashell and it slopes in a kind of weird way. Then we stood in line to go up the tallest secular tower in Italy, which is in that piazza, but it was going to be awhile so Jeff waited in line for us while we went to visit Siena’s Duomo. Their Duomo is interesting because it was never completed due to the Bubonic Plague coming through the town. Therefore on the outside of the church you can see the uncompleted walls and pillars and it’s kind of sad. But their church is still large and pretty. There are lots of stripes on the inside, along with a statue by Michelangelo and a chapel designed by the lovely Bernini…love those two guys! Then we had to rush to the tower because it was time to climb. So we climbed up and saw some more beautiful views of red rooftops and green hills and mountains in the distance. Then we went back to the Duomo and visited the Duomo museum, where we climbed the façade of the original church that they never completed. So we climbed three things today! Yay! I love being up high! The Duomo museum also had the original rose window and the sculptures from the Duomo. Then we quickly buzzed through the crypt and the baptistery and then after a gelato break, returned to the bus to make our way to Assisi, which took two hours.
We had to be downstairs at 7:50 am today. We rode the coach bus to Pisa. We each got two seats to ourselves since there are only 21 of us so that was really nice. Our bus driver really likes to honk his horn at other cars…he did it ten times and the drive to Pisa was only 3.75 hours. I didn’t realize Milan had mountains around part of it until we drove out of the city…how pretty. The drive was quite pretty! We arrived in Pisa and our bus parked in the parking lot and we took a shuttle to get closer to the main part of the city. Then we walked to the “Field of Miracles”, which is what the church, baptistery, tower, the whole complex there is called. The tower tilts more than I expected. When we got there we had a lunch break from 12:30 – 1:30 before we climbed the tower. We had tickets to climb the Leaning Tower at 2pm. Climbing the tower was sooooooo cool!! Like you can feel the tilt as you climb and it is ridiculous. The stairs are in a spiral so when you walk up, at first you automatically shift to the right as you walk. Then as you continue around, you begin to shift to the left and you can’t even help it! It is the weirdest feeling! You could almost get sick from it. The view at the top was pretty (mountains and red rooftops could be seen) but my favorite part was the climb up. After the climb, we went into the Duomo/church. The church as well as the whole complex is done in Romanesque but Pisa style…so the church has rounded arches, thin columns, geometric shapes and stripes, and is made out of marble. At the time of building the church, it had the longest nave…but obviously it doesn’t anymore. Next we went into the baptistery, which has some Gothic elements going on with the Romanesque style (so it has spires on its top like the Duomo in Milan). The cool thing about the baptistery is that it has awesome acoustics. Every half hour a guard comes and sings some notes so you can hear how they echo. So we heard him and it was super cool…like he could make chords because it could echo for so long. The Baptistery had an upstairs that we climbed and that had a nice view of the inside of the Baptistery. Anyway then we got a 20 minutes gelato/picture break until 4 pm before we got back on the shuttle. Then we took the shuttle back to the bus and left by 4:45 pm. So I think we were in Pisa for a total of 3.5 hours but I feel like we saw everything. We drove for an hour and a half from Pisa to San Gimginano and a hotel guy met us to take our overnight bags to the hotel while we walked into the city. San Gimignano is the cutest town! It is up on the hill so our hotel has a great view of roof tops and the Tuscan landscape…so pretty. There are no cars and all the streets are small and winding…it’s like Florence but way way way smaller and less people and less cars…so not really like Florence, I guess. There are lots of shops, restaurants, and small streets winding through. Our room is soooo adorable and we have a great view! For our group dinner we ate at the hotel restaurant, which also had gorgeous views! We had a four course meal! First risotto, then ravioli, then veal, and then the grand finale and best course…drum roll please…lemon cheesecake with assorted red berries on top!!!! Yeah, cheesecake is my favorite food in the world and this cheesecake was particularly delicious!
I left at around 8:00 for San Satiro, a church. On the way to San Satiro I saw a fruit shop so I decided to buy some after visiting the church. When I opened the door to the church, they were having a service. I was quite surprised but I think they were having a little service before people go to work. So I quietly closed the door and had to change my plans a bit. I then left the church and stopped at a fruit shop and bought a peach. Since the peach was 1.28 Euro, I paid 1.30 Euro, and instead of giving me 2 cents back, the guy gave me an apricot with my peach! How perfect is that! Ha…it made me happy. I next went to this history museum that Rick Steves said was also in English and was only 2 Euro. It is called the Risorgimento Museum. I went in and since I’m a student, it was free! Yes! So the whole museum was in Italian, with Italian signs, and I was so mad at Rick for being wrong because he is never wrong. But then I found a pamphlet and the pamphlet was in English and kind of walked you through the museum. But it wasn’t as good as having all the signs translated to English because the pamphlet wasn’t that big and I know the signs said way more. Plus, the pamphlet was kind of hard to follow. So I’m glad I didn’t have to pay 2 Euro for the museum. Anyway, the museum was about the unification of Italy and had random artifacts and paintings. Like it had random things of Napoleon’s (like the crown he wore when he was made King in the Milan Cathedral) and it had a painting of Vittorio Emanuele, the first king of Italy…and oh man, he is a funny looking guy with a funny looking mustache, which is why he is funny looking, actually. But it was fun to finally see what Vittorio Emanuele looked like because in every city we go, something (a monument, streets, plazas) is named after him. The museum didn’t take too long, so then I went back to San Satiro and they were done having the service. The interesting thing about this church is that there wasn’t enough room to build a long aspe, so Bramante built this 3-D illusion to make it look like there was a long aspe. He did a good job… The illusion only works from the front…from the side it kind of gets messed up. Then I went to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, an art museum. I also got a student discount, so cool! The cool thing that they had here was the cartoon used to fresco the School of Athens in the Vatican. Raphael actually drew the cartoon, while his students did the fresco using his cartoon. So it was cool to see the cartoon, since Raphael actually did that. They also had 22 pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook of his sketches and writings. It was actually pretty cool…cooler than I thought it would be. He wasn’t very organized and had random things together…like sketches of people with mathematical theories on the same pages…I thought that was odd. And sometimes other people had written over his stuff…how rude! Apparently there are 1,100 pages from his notebook, so we get to see 22 of them. Also, there was a Leonardo da Vinci painting in the museum, called Portrait of a Musician. They also had lots of religious paintings. After I left the museum, it started to rain. I peopled watch in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele until the rain stopped. I watched as people stepped and twirled on the mosaic bull on the floor, which is supposed to give you luck. It was entertaining. Then I went back to the hostel and was back by 1:15 pm. It sort of rained on and off in the afternoon.
Carrie and I left the hostel at 5:35am so we could catch the 6:55 am train to Venice. We made it in time. I had 2 Italians across from me…a girl and her father, I think. The girl was wearing American shorts…they had red and white stripes on one leg and blue with white stars on the other. Definitely American. The father was wearing American Eagle tennis shoes. Then later the daughter at a Kit-Kat bar. It’s funny how much American influence is over here. We got to Venice at 9:30 and made our way to the Rialto Bridge. All the bright, yellow signs pointing you towards Rialto Bridge/San Marco were very helpful. It made it pretty easy to find our way to the bridge and the square. The Rialto Bridge actually reminded me of Ponte Vecchio in Florence because it has shops on it, too. Then we went to San Marco square and were planning to go inside the basilica but the line was quite long so we first went to the Correr Museum to get the tickets for Doge’s Palace. We got a student discount. We first went to Doge’s Palace and I liked the Palace…they had so many paintings on every wall! It was cool to see rooms where the Senate met and where they tried criminals and all that jazz. All the rooms were quite ornate. We saw the prisons and went across the Bridge of Sighs (which is called such because the prisoners would go across the bridge, look out at Venice for the last time, and sigh…sad). They had a lot of prisons…three floors of them! On our way out of the Palace we saw the line to San Marco was much shorter so we went inside. There is so much gold inside! It is ridiculous! It really is quite an odd church…but interesting. After the church we went through the Correr Museum, which was huge…we walked through pretty quickly but they had some nice sculptures and very pretty chandeliers. The chandeliers had pretty flowers on them. Then we had lunch and gelato. We walked by San Zaccaria church but it was closed so we couldn’t go inside. Then we did a bit of shopping so I could get the necklaces I wanted…and I got them, so that was nice. Then we went to Frari Church, which has three important pieces of art. We had to pay to get into the Frari Church but we got a student discount by showing our Student I.D. cards. We then walked to a nearby church but it was closed. Then we walked to a church that is near the Rialto Bridge…it was listed in Carrie’a book …it was small but the outside was a peach color so that was cool. Then we had more gelato…you can never have too much gelato in Italy! Then we made our way back to the train station because we didn’t want to be late…it was 4:30 by this time and our train left at 5:58. To get to the train station we crossed the new, modern bridge over the Grand Canal that was controversial when it was built…mainly because it was supposed to cost 4 million Euro to build but it ended up costing 11 million and because it is so modern and because the bridge is so heavy it is crushing the foundations of nearby old buildings…whoops! We got to our train in plenty of time. Our train got back to Milan late because it had to go quite slow at one point…maybe because another train was coming and they didn’t want to crash, of course. Then Carrie and I took the metro back to the hostel.