Hunter's Blog

Italy Flag Italy

Day 1 - Rome: Arrival
After a 9 hour flight I arrived at the airport. The six of us from the group that were lucky enough to book the same flight as each other decided it would be least expensive and more adventurous to take the train to the station nearest the hotel and walk. We were in luck that most people in Italy speak at least some English especially if they are under 30 years old, so we were able to pay for tickets and inquire about which platform the train would arrive on with little difficulty.

The train took about 20-30 minutes to reach Roma Termini, the station near the tourist area and our hotel. I wish I took pictures but I was too preoccupied this day to even think of it.

At the station we got a map and found were the hotel was relative to us. Two of our group decided they didn’t want to walk it out and got one of the 15 taxi cars waiting by the train station. The first thing we noticed as the difference in traffic compared to the U.S. The traffic in Italy is much less structured: no lines for lanes, rarely marked speed limits, street names were on buildings and hard to see, and tourist and locals walking mostly when they felt like it. We were told someone who knew where they were going would take about 25 minutes to get to the hotel from station, with bags and having no clue it took us an hour and a half across bumpy streets and narrow sidewalks.

Day 2 - Rome: Ancient Rome
Once we all got a good night sleep and recovered from the flight and first day, our class of now 20 strong went on a tour of Ancient Rome. Our second and best stop was the Coliseum. It was damaged built for the people of Rome for entertainment. During the lecture it is said during its storied career five hundred thousand people and millions of animals died during the gladiator games and other events.

We were handed a booklet that had a small paper card called Roma Pass. This card got us into 3 attractions for free and discounted on events after that. The first time we used it was to get into the Roma Pass priority line at the Coliseum. The Coliseum itself was made of bricks and lots of arches. From centuries of weathering and fighting the seats were no longer present but initially held seventy thousand people all centered around a sand area. The area was sand to absorb all of the blood from gladiators and animal combatants.

Even in a state of disrepair the building was still magnificent and the sounds of restoration echo throughout. Many of the arches were in excellent condition with few cracks and marble slabs that were seating were still in the spots they were first set. We were given time to look around for ourselves, so I sketched one of the arches and made sure I had seen all I could then spend the remainder of the time admiring from the second floor. Hunter standing in front of the Coleseum in ancient Rome

Day 3 - Rome: Vatican City
The Vatican Museum is closed off from the rest of Rome, but we got ticket to go. After security, the entire complex is a giant work off art. The walls are lined with paintings, the ceilings are covered in frescos, and floors were usually decorated marble, the corridors were filled with sculptures. However the Sistine Chapel did not allow photography of any kind and had employees in the room making sure nobody did and that they were quiet, it was a temple after all.

We had to stand in line at St. Peter’s Basilica for an hour and half to get through the line to go to the top of the dome. Then we had to climb 550 steps to the top were at the end the stairs weren’t much wider than a person and at some points curving at the walls with the dome’s shape. The sight from the top was amazing, a building the locals call “The Wedding Cake” that was near our hotel looked like the size of an actual cake.

The end of the dome opened into the church itself. The nave arched several stories high while the dome dwarfed that. A giant bronze structure covers where St. Peter died and buried and where the churches altar stands.

I took a picture with a bronze statue of Peter. It is not visible in the picture but is customary for pilgrims to touch the foot and it has eroded the foot’s features in to a smooth oval with some points at the end. I think that this would be the best day of the trip. Image of the Altare della Patria in Rome Hunter standing in front of a Bronze statue of Peter in Rome The Sistine Chapel in Rome The Sistine Chapel Ceiling in Rome

Day 4 - Rome: University Day
This Day we went to the University of Rome for a tour of an Italian university campus. Our tour guides were Mario and Giordanna. The walk between the campus we met them at and the one they were showing us around was about a 25 minute walk across downtown Rome. We had Sam, our Italian fluent member, do most of the talking for us because it made things easier.

The campus had a statue of Minerva the goddess of wisdom in the middle of the plaza. The University had posters for “San Andreas” movie everywhere, so I think they may receive money for advertising. Our guides showed us a giant lecture hall were a conference was currently going on and I managed to take a picture here, unlike the Sistine Chapel. They also showed us a sculpture museum where they made plaster copies of famous sculptures and filled an entire wing of the museum. Giordanna told us that that wing is a popular for study because of the atmosphere and quietness.

Because of the limited space the University of Rome has for the student population size they have been forced to construct outdoor classrooms. The rooms our stretched across a plaza on campus and run halfway lengthwise and encompass the majority of the width of the open space.

We took the subway to the next campus to save time and energy of having to walk. We stopped to eat a restaurant just outside of the museum then waited in the campus plaza for local professors to give engineering lectures to us. I managed to make a completely awful sketch of the well in the plaza. The professors came and we watched lectures over everything from wind turbines to architectural engineering and conservations. Collage of images from Hunters University Day trip in Rome

Day 5 - Rome: Pantheon
On our fifth day in Rome we went to the Pantheon. This was the easiest main attraction for us to get to because it was only a few blocks away coming only to a 5 minute walk at most.

The Pantheon gets its name from the words “pan” which means “all” and “theos” which means “god.” It was built by the Romans as a tribute to all of their gods instead of just one temple to one in particular. After the empire changed religion to Christianity it was converted in to a church. The décor one would expect in a church is still present but the pagan aspects have mostly disappeared.

Like I said day 3 the bronze that would have been covering the dome was recycled to become a bronze centerpiece in St. Peter’s Basilica, so the structure would have been even more impressive than it is today.

Later in the day, Dr. Eredogmus bought us tickets visit the Leonardo DaVinci Museum. The museum was comprised of replicas of all of the ideas he had over the years from military to physics experiments to anatomy of humans and animals. For military they had things like multibarreled guns and a wooden tank. He was interested in flight so he studied the anatomy of birds and bats and complimented the work of Vitruvius to make the Vitruvian Man. The museum had a video playing in both English and Italian about how DaVinci made the “Last Supper.” Exterior image of the Pantheon in Rome Interior image of the Pantheon in Rome Artwork inside the Pantheon in Rome

Day 6 - Florence: Science Museum, Piazza Michelangelo
The train we took to Florence arrived close to noon and had a shuttle take our bags to the hotel for us to we could spend the day in the city. We were initially going to go into the Duomo, a city’s main cathedral, but the line was too long so we would come back on Day 7. Since had more time in our schedule we spent extra time at the Science Museum.

The Science Museum had all kinds of antiques and artifacts that medieval or renaissance scientist created and used. Some of it was for more practical applications of the time like finding location at sea or geometry. The museum was dedicated to Galileo and contained replicas of his experiments with physics and even had two of his fingers and a tooth in display cases.

Videos were placed at some of the hotspots of the museum to help explain the history, creation, and use of some of the devices they had displayed like globes, physics experiments, and naval navigation. Entire rooms were dedicated to magnetism, electricity, motion, temperature, and energy transformation between them.

The day ended with a nice picnic on the Piazza Michelangelo overlooking Florence eating dinner that we bought from a market. The abeyance was completed by a woman singing and playing guitar covers of mostly English speaking bands really well. View of the city of Florence Image of artifacts at the Science Museum in Florence

Day 7 - Florence: Duomo, Free Time
Duomo is the biggest of the cathedrals in Florence. It features a unique two layered dome of which construction details are blurry to historians to this day. Although, it is said that only one person died in the dome’s construction and only because he was slightly drunk on the scaffold, which is an incredible survival rate for construction workers of these projects centuries ago. The climb wasn’t near as bad as St. Peter’s Basilica because it was shorter and the people in front of me stopped occasionally giving short rest breaks. Unlike St. Peter’s the Duomo had small windows in the stairways so you could reason some measure of how high you currently were.

At the top of the dome we spent a while just walking around enjoying the view because like St. Peter’s Basilica it was the highest structure around. From the top you could actually look down on a tower 40 feet way that was another part of the church. I took a picture with that tower in the background not just to remember the moment years from now but to get a comparison of how high we really were. A three off my group members got the great idea to make paper airplanes from sketch pages and throw them off the side. Connor’s spent a much longer time making his and his reward was a nose dive off the side, Toan didn’t really know how to make an airplane so he made a clunky one with most of the weight in the front his made a nose dive to severe it landed on the ledge we were standing on and were able to throw it again and the same thing happened then the third it landed on the outer dome’s rib and blew down. Steve made one that stayed in the air for a solid 2 minutes before gliding into an alley a ways away.

The walk down was much easier than up but we all had to move out of the way for people coming up by back stepping into bigger halls or crouching into spaces where some of us could, until we got the divergence of entering and exiting stairs.

Then we waited to go into the church itself. The church like all ancient cathedrals it has decorated with pictures on the walls, marble floors, and frescos on the ceiling. Duomo had the crypt available to see too with a mini altar, ancient support columns, faded paintings along the sides, and tombs and stone coffins of varying conditions. Hunter laying in an ancient crypt in Florence Image of a tower of the Duomo Cathedral in Florence Image of a circular light coming through the top of the dome in the Duomo Cathedral in Florence

Day 8 - Florence: Uffizi, Accademia, Hard Rock Florence
Uffizi is one of the most important art museums in the world with paintings like the Birth of Venus, which is a very common painting that street vendors sell, and houses many paintings that depict Italian and Christian history throughout the ages. The building itself is U-shaped and takes up an entire three floor building, something that is impressive in and old, big downtown district. The whole of the third floor’s ceiling was covered in frescos and statues lined the walls along with portraits lined across the top. Uffizi work very hard on the restoration and retention of their collection to the point where some look as if they had been newly painted.

Accademia is another museum in downtown Florence who gets its claim to fame by having Michelangelo’s David sculpture. The Accademia also has an entire wing dedicated to music and musical instruments of the medieval and renaissance time periods with computers downloaded with sound galleries of the music and sounds of instruments. As well as a room of plaster copies in my understanding created for sketching.

Despite these my favorite thing of the day was going to the Hard Rock Florence for dinner. If somebody doesn’t know the Hard Rock Café is an international restaurant franchise dedicated to the all of the music that classifies as rock. The individual restaurants contain a vast array of rock n’ roll memorabilia and some are known to even be some museums to the genre themselves. A group of seven of us broke off to go there because I had the craving for something American at the halfway point of my Italian abroad session. I think I got my wish because I had a huge burger and fries, a milkshake, and listen to English speaking rock music the entire time. At the end of the meal, Steve convinced the owner to bring over free ice cream dessert for Sam, because he turns 20 on our trip, without us knowing about it. It’s sad to say but we also liked it so much because they had great Wi-Fi, something that is hard to come by at all in most locations in Italy for tourists. Collage of images including going out to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, as well as artwork including Michaelangelo's David in Florence

Day 9 - Florence: Duomo, Leonardo statue
In the morning we left Florence for the train to Milan. The city was abuzz with tourist both foreign and local because the Milano Expo was being held at that time. The expo is where companies show of new fashion, devices, cars the things that bring in lots of spectators, investors and potential buyers.

Since we weren’t here for purely the fun of sightseeing, our attractions were things like the Duomo of Milan. The Duomo is comprised of almost all marble for the outside and the façade and the detail of this cathedral’s exterior surpasses the rest, however it was smaller and did not have a dome. Again we climbed to the roof of this building which wasn’t near as bad as the other cathedral of the trip because the stairs weren’t slanted or spiraled in this ascent. The last half was relaxing, it stretched across the front half of the building. At the top we stopped and took time for a group picture facing the front, because the main towers were under construction.

Visible on the central tower was a golden statue of what I believe is Jesus holding a cross on a staff with a halo of stars. Unlike any building we had gone to before the roof of the building was covered in modern art sculptures all made of different substances, although to me the all looked almost the same. Since this church’s exterior was made of marble the current restorations were very easy to spot, the older stone of the original construction were weathered in a tan color while the new structures were bright white. I couldn’t help but think how could anybody have gazed at this building centuries ago when it was new; the restorations themselves were almost blindingly bright in the sun imagine a whole cathedral of it. Dr. Erdogmus in here presentation of the building lectured that there were 2,000 statue placed throughout, not hard to believe they were everywhere.

The inside of the Duomo the left half and back parts were cut off by restoration work. I took a picture of an altar and the statues surrounding it, just after that blurry picture my camera battery died, so the rest of the pictures until the end of the class are going to have to be taken by my phone’s camera. There was a statue I thought was completely out of place it had a normal man just stripped of his skin showing only the muscles of the body. The end of middle of the cathedral had a great altar and detailed paintings surrounding the walls, phone camera couldn’t get it. Underneath the church was a small heavily decorated crypt. The crypt had a middle ages cardinal to the left of the entrance and a smaller altar surrounded by gilded golden décor, which I believe the room was also a tomb, to the right.

The Duomo was great but my personal favorite stop of today was the statue of Leo DaVinci. The statue was of a humble, older DaVinci on a pedestal surrounded by four sculptures on a lower level, who could have been assistants or lesser known figures of the middle ages. Jeff gave the Leonardo DaVinci presentation here. He had a detailed notebook of the life of DaVinci in chronological order from birth to death that he read. Some locals even stopped to listen to him speak about “the true renaissance man.”

After we got back to the hostel we were staying at in Milan, we made pasta in the community kitchen while our TA, Erik and a small group left to go buy train tickets to Venice for the free day tomorrow. I didn’t go to the store and the money I but down went into buying me a Coke I helped make spaghetti and dish washing duty. Left Image: Duomo of Milan. Right Image: Statue of Leo DaVinci

Day 10 - Venice
We left very early in the morning so we would not miss our train, since we paid for the tickets to Venice ourselves for 49 euros each. The morning went without a problem we arrived by subway at the station, got on board then left the left the correct station in Venice.

Jeff, Connor, and Steve split off from the main group in order to find a beach to spend their day. The remaining 16 of us went off to find a cheap, fast lunch, we wanted to make the most of the trip because we only had a day and the train back left around 6:00 pm. 12 of the group members left on a gondola ride my group of 4 either didn’t want to go or like me thought they had already spent too much money. We to a basilica on the Adjacent Island and on the way back I bought a Venetian lion figurine, a winged lion with a book that was also the symbol of the city of Venice.

Rejoined by the gondola riders, the group walked through the narrow streets and bridges of Venice until we came to the large cathedral of the city. Sitting on the water’s edge stood a large church and an enormous square that was nicely, majorly absent of street vendors. The cathedral, whose name I never got, was adorned with a center piece of a golden Venetian lion surrounded by blue underneath he lion were the doors into the church and each set of doors had a fresco of bible scenes above them. The building was only about 4 stories high but spread out an enormous amount considering the space available on the interconnected small islands comprising Venice. The square encompassed a vast area and was completely surrounded by a mall of shops. Someone in my group commented, “Well this is different” because of conversations that day of all churches just kind of started to look small and similar compared to cathedrals.

Feeling the beating sun on my back I went by myself in to the Hard Rock Café in Venice to get some AC and an ice cold drink. Walking in, I found out that they were suffering a small power outage and had no AC, couldn’t take cards, and basically no appliances. I still ordered an took some small join watching the bartender mix the drink together with ice in a blender, trying to make it hit buttons to make it work, then looking at me with the deer-in-the-headlights face as she told me in broken English “this won’t work either.” I still took the drink and paid, after all it was still ice cold. Apparently the Venetian school systems are just as bad as politicians like to say America’s is because it took 3 waiter 5 minutes to calculate the change without a cash register as I just snickered under my breath.

After we all met up again nothing noteworthy happened just walking around being very touristy like trying pastries, seeing sights, watching boats go by, looking at shops.

The Train ride back was hell. My group of 16 got the rendezvous at 5:10 pm and I used the public WiFi that most cities had to keep myself entertained until the other group arrived at 5:40 pm. Because of the Milano Expo everybody was leaving Milan at the time not coming to many of the Milan bound trains like ours were cancelled at last minute to accommodate trains leaving Milan with the limited tracks available. After a while of Sam talking to the customer service to get the next train back they told us it was also unavailable, but they told us to board a train headed to the mainland Venice station for more options. We quickly boarded that train and road with most people in a small room connecting the cabins for 15 minutes. At the mainland station, we again went to customer service desk. Sam again did all of the talking while a group and I went on joking about just trying to hobo it back on the 8:08 pm train to Milano Centali, our station.

Just as the clock turned to 8:07 pm Sam came back and told us to start running to terminal 8 to board the 8:08 pm train. Imagine 19 Americans sprinting across an Italian train station while the people in front with me are yelling which staircase to sprint up because they are odd numbered at the same time the people, who have no idea what is happening and are too excited or didn’t have enough crisis management skills to deduce what is happening, are screaming “What’s happening?!” “What’s going on?!” After just running the stairs with train officials standing in front of it, we crammed the end and beginning of two cars while I was stuck in the middle of the two between the doors. After taking off my book bag and holding over the luggage of locals who were already stuck on the train in similar situations I managed to maneuver into the beginning of the second car, meanwhile the two girls who were still screaming were starting to agitate the locals.

Since I thought the whole situation was more entertaining than frightening they tried to help us by talking to me in broken English, “ we can not understand you yelling.” It took us a few counts of people to make sure we were all there because most didn’t have the capacity to do our numbering to 20 method of group counting. The officials tried to move us down the train so I stood where I was to direct our people through onto the next car though I had to be more forceful and actual gently push someone into place occasionally. Once we found seats in the back of the train it was pretty much normal until we got to Milano Centrali.

I did manage to make a fool of myself by trying to apologize to the people Loren and I sat in front of by speaking slow, small words in English then the man and woman looked at each other, smiled and to speak English with a British accent right at me. Once the awkwardness was done I apologized saying that I thought they were Italian. Images from Venice. From Left to Right, a gondola ride through Venice. Middle: The Cathedral of Venice. Right: Train Terminal in Venice

Day 11 - Bologna: Motor Valley Tour: Ferrari, Lamborghini
We departed on a bus from the hostel in the morning to travel to Bologna in Motor Valley. Motor Valley is the place in Italy renowned for its high class vehicle manufacturing. At the rest stop waiting for the driver to get back, we commented on the similarities between rural Italy and Nebraska. Without and buildings taken into consideration we came up with that rural Italy is almost the same except for Italy’s climate is bit hotter and things are more expensive than Nebraska, I noticed later that on average it is flatter than even Nebraska if we some distance from the mountains.

Our first stop was the Ferrari museum it was, in short, awesome. The tour guide we were given spoke English very fluently and was very energetic. The best thing about the guide was she knew almost all of the information and specifics about all of the cars and history of the company off the top off her head and the translation to English flowed very well. The museum had dozens of cars from early years, concept cars, prototypes, and later cars. There was an entire room devoted to awards and trophies and the seven Ferrari Formula One Championship vehicles. The preceding room had a four-wheel drive Ferrari next to the commercial I remember seeing on Youtube about luxury on any road with the instrumental, I believe, “Protectors of the Earth” by Two Steps from Hell, not a hard metal group just a company that dedicates itself to trailer and promotional music.

Lamborghini museum was about an hour drive away. The Lamborghini exhibit was similar to Ferrari but not as big or ornamented as well, less cars, no videos, and no designs on walls, less showmanship in general. Basically the Lamborghini was more of a look-and-see and the Ferrari was an actual museum, however, sports cars are still awesome so I took pictures of all of the cars again. This was a new addition to the Italy trip this year and I can say that it was a very good idea, we really need to have a break not just from the leaving Venice fiasco but of the constant walking and stairs of cathedrals. It was also a good to do something different to reenergize the group. Images from Ferrari Museum in Bologna Images from Lamborghini Museum in Bologna

Day 12 - Cinque Terre
For our free day in Bologna we were given the recommendation to take a train to Cinque Terre, 5 cities grouped together on the coast. The night before the free day we discussed who was going and how much they would spend on train tickets. The fiasco of Venice and the fact I already spent 50 euros for just train tickets for a round trip to Venice really didn’t really make willing to go. I but down a small max of 35-40 euros thinking that wouldn’t be enough to make the trip or if it was sufficient it would be a “happy surprise,” as I sarcastically explained to someone who told me that wouldn’t be enough. I even went with them to the train station to buy tickets from customer service just to see Bologna as we walked. Outside the glass doors of customer service, I saw two of the girls clap hands knowing even before Sam pulled out the money I was going.

At 5:00 am in the morning I woke up and packed for Cinque Terre and put a t-shirt and swim trunks to go to the beach. The only problem we had while taking trains to the cities is I almost missed the train because I went to the bathroom for them to find out the train we were taking was about to leave.

We only really went to three of the five cities the second fourth and fifth, so since we always called them first, second, third, fourth, and fifth I only memorized one of the citys’ names, Manola the second city.

The guidebook said that the first city was more business, the second city had go sightseeing, the third was more historic though high on a cliff face it wasn’t a big tourist hotspot from the limited water access, the fourth was a quaint town with a small but good beach that had many of the locals boats, the fifth was the tourist hotspot because it had the biggest beach front and resorts.

We went to the second city first because I convinced the group swimming should come last. Some of the 10 of us that went got gelato from local stores and ate watching the rest of us explore the rocky water front. The water was crystal clear and you could see the bottom deep out into the sea from a horizontal view. I climbed up the largest rock on the shore and took in the area. From a vertical viewpoint of the rock, the water was so clean I was able to clearly make out an undamaged bottle of Bacardi rum lying at the bottom between two rocks. Afterwards we took a path around the Cliffside to the end of that side. Toan and I had some fun blowing into a colony of ants to watch them swarm out in panic. We each took turns having someone take our picture along the railing with Manola and the other cliff face in the background. 2 girls and I went to the otherside of the cliff and found a private cove with nobody on it, unique with tourist ready to swim everywhere, with water clear enough to see a school of fish below us. In the cove stood a singular empty boat ramp that could be used to enter and leave the water.

After we had our fun in Manola we went to the forth city to eat, I just had spaghetti and I think the only one who didn’t have fish in their food. While I waited for lunch I went off on my own to explore a nearby church to see if I could get into the lighthouse tower above it. For a small town it had an amazing little church, although, nothing to the scale of the cathedrals of Florence or Rome, it had two nice wooden confessionals with pink silken cloth covering the entrance, a golden statue to Mary by the altar, a marble basin for holy water and baptisms, between the altar and the exit was a small picture with a vase of flowers of what could be a patron saint or a memorial for a recent death, these towns couldn’t have had separate populations above 300 so deaths become rare, tragic things.

The fifth city was covered in tourists almost as much as it was covered in beaches. After finding what could be a decent spot conversations broke about going back to the cove to escape the crowed tourist areas. It ended up with 5 including me going to the cove, 3 staying at the beach, 1 kayaking with Erik, the TA, bringing her to the cove after she was done.

There were about 10 other people at the cove by the time we arrived but even with 15 people in the small area there was still a much better population density than the fifth city’s beaches. It may sound weird but I am not a fan of sand on beaches I prefer the setting a pool to a beach so the cove having only solid rocks was much more preferable to me. The only problem I had was I took off my glasses and shoes to get into the water, so I couldn’t really see where to step until my eyes had adjusted. During that time I had couldn’t distinguish good and bad places to walk down the part of the ramp with algae covering it. Apparently the first time I walked into all of the bad places for example a hole the size and not the length of my leg so I could hit the bottom hard taking a step into it, slippery grooves to fall on, the only sea urchin in the entire cove. I cut my feet so much, at one point after swimming, algae under my foot stained red even after submerging in waves and my towel had dried blood that looked like dirt. The best part I was having so much fun that I never knew the extent until I got tired and beached after about 30 minutes of swimming around, because the density of salt water is greater than fresh water humans are much more buoyant in water meaning it takes very little energy to tread water and float. Later Carly, the kayaker and Erik rejoined us and we swam a bit more or lounged, lounged on towels, or played with sea life like snails and crabs.

We all regrouped at the train station and found the train. The train we took back looked very sketchy on the outside because both sides were splattered with graffiti from the bottom and even to the second window of each cabin. The inside was in very good condition though a bit old, but since it was an older train each seat was treated with the first come first serve mentality so we almost filled an entire cabin and sense nobody wanted to sit alone with the loud Americans we had the cabin all to ourselves. It was here where I realized that I have throughout the entire trip never been in a seat that faced the same way as the train’s movement, not a real important just interesting fact. Unlike Venice this train ride went very smoothly and we made it back around 9:00 pm. I got to the hotel took a shower paying extra attention to the feet area, spraying a liquid bandage over the cuts, then finally passing out on the bed. Various Images from Cinque Terre

Day 13 - Pisa, San Gimignano
Hunter standing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa In the morning I stood out of bed to feel the effects of the cuts I received the previous day. I waddled over to the bathroom and disinfected the wounds with spray and bandaged the three most problematic cuts so they would have some buffer from abrasion. We departed for Pisa in the early in the morning to have time to there before we left for San Gimignano. During the ride to Pisa I had to go to the bathroom really bad, but thought I could wait until our rest stop then around the corner of a mountain to a traffic jam on the highway where all of the cars stagnated. I was in physical pain for an hour and a half before we arrived at the rest stop, first into the urinal last out enough said.

Pisa has there three biggest tourist attractions right next to each other: the Leaning Tower, Duomo, and a baptistery. We went to the Leaning Tower first, after dropping off all of the bags because they are afraid of the stress extra poundage causes. The walk up the tower is weird since it is curved the stairs on the left side angle into the center of the tower and on the other side angled more towards the outside of the tower. At the top we took some pictures and enjoyed the sights of the city of Pisa dwarfed by the mountain range. There were a second set of stairs that led to the bell tower about thirty steps to the top. The bell tower stairs must not have been made of the same quality marble as the rest of tower underneath because the stairs had actual grooved deeply in the middle from centuries of people walking up and town them.

The cathedral was pretty generic of all of the other ones except for the ceiling that looked like it had gold and blue patterned squares running across the entire surface except for the fresco of the dome. The gold created a flower in the middle of most and the outline of each square and the blue was the background. Instead of candle lighting for offerings this temple had actual candle shaped lights and plastic chairs behind the original wooden pews, which in my opinion neither belonged in a house of worship. I personally found that if you take a picture of the Leaning Tower straight it will cause the illusion of other buildings being curved.

The baptistery was unlike any of the other domed buildings we had seen. The building didn’t have any frescos and the only things that seemed to be decorated were the altar and stained glass windows, even the second floor have those, the dome was just plain white, aged plaster. However, out of all of the buildings we have seen the baptistery at Pisa had the best acoustics. A tour guide silenced the whole room and sang a few notes of music and each echoed better than a modern day acoustic microphone. A hole in the window on the second floor was cut open so that pictures could be taken of the duomo and the Leaning Tower.

Late in the Afternoon we boarded the bus to go to San Gimignano, a city built in and around a fortress on a hill. The city itself used to be known for its many tower but over years of disrepair and neglect their numbers dropped from over 40 to 14. The city had a great view of the country side and of the small mountains to the north. Our restaurant had a nice panoramic view of the area and a great four course meal, except for the flan, I just don’t like the texture and sweetness. It is a nice fact knowing that all of our dinners until the last day will be group dinners, where four course meals are paid for us. We explored the city but it was getting late so only souvenir shops and restaurant were still open. Collage of images from Pisa

Day 14 - San Gimignano, Paestum
In the morning at San Gimignano, I took some time for the sights before breakfast and walked the streets peering into glass at stores. Since it was a fortress, they had several stores where they sold weaponry like swords, crossbows, and antique pistol replicas. There was also this small shop that sold leather-bound journal and books, wax stamps and seals, and various ink and quill type pens. Two different geleterias claimed to have the “World’s Best Gelato.”

At 7:45 we went to breakfast which was on the first floor of the hotel, second floor to us because Europe usually begins with floor 0. This was the same restaurant that we had supper at the night before. We were told at the end the schedule for our time at San Gimignano: scale the Grand Tower afterwards go the Torture Museum and/or free time in the city then meet and leave at 12:00.

After breakfast we scaled the largest tower in San Gimignano. We were told that it was the only public tower because all of the others were privately owned. It took about 220 steps to get to the top with stairs ranging from medieval bricks to metal stairs with concrete platforms. The top at a very picturesque view of the entire area of Tuscany. There were gardens in the green space on the edge of town and rolling mountains dotted with small farm fields. We were high enough to actually look down at the other towers of the San Gimignano.

Once we were done at the top of the tower we walked over to the Torture Museum. I didn’t like this very much so I went through and started my free time as fast as I could. For my free time I wondered around the streets for about 15 minutes of the 45 I had until 12:00, just taking in the sights. I went back to the weapon store, Turris, and bought a 15 euro swords that I think I can get past the TSA because the edge is flat and endpoint rounded, to bad I didn’t think about if my backpack can fit it at the time if not I have to ship it back from Rome.

We started to walk back to the bus with perfect timing, as we were exiting the hotel the bells signifying that noon rang. I got a lot of mixed reactions about the sword from congratulations and compliments to skepticisms about fitting it into my suitcase or not getting automatically tackled by the TSA stateside. The bus ride to Paestum was an uneventful first few hours, but there was some good landscapes when consciously looking. Around halfway it did start to rain with scattered lighting. A few minutes into it the hail it started to hail heavily slowing the speed we were going to by a third until starting to let up into infrequent hail with mild rainfall. By the time of the second stop the rain had completely subsided to just overcast or mild showers with lightning. Collage of images from San Gimignano and Paestum in Italy

Day 15 - Paestum, Pompeii
Today we only have two stops to see: the ruins at Pompeii and the Greek temples at Paestum. Each area we are going to will be by bus and Pompeii is about an hour and a half from our hotel. We went to Pompeii first to beat all of the crowds instead of the Greek temples, even though they are only a few minutes from the hotel, because the temples aren’t huge tourist attractions.

We were given time at Pompeii to find food to have a picnic, since the only restaurant inside is expensive. I expected to see more of the petrified remains inside of the city, from my understanding is that most were moved to museums or not in the available sections. The soot from the volcano explosion preserved all of the people in the positions that they died in and the building have a safeguard. Since most people were killed in the similar positions they ended and the buildings were well preserved that entire ancient restaurants were left untouched ready for customers. Some of the buildings were damaged by and earthquake years before the destruction. The ruins were still under clear restoration and study from the closed off area and the archeologist randomly scattered throughout working on walls. These bones were uncovered by archeologists then displayed for tourists to see.

In the old area, a huge wooden pyramid was set up for an exhibit of the plaster people of Pompeii. The walls inside the structure had pictures of the digs and the floor housed suspended plaster replicas of the deceased townspeople. Some of the people had the look of pure shock and horror, a figure was even curled into a vertical fetal position, still preserved after centuries. There was even a brothel in the town that preserved lewd acts and is taken as a souvenir opportunity by vendors outside. The brothel has the largest line in the site probably because tourists don’t know the remains were removed. The Greek temples in Paestum were fenced off into a field of their own, so the only way to get in is to go into the next door museum to get tickets. The museum wasn’t as interesting as the Roman ones because the wall paintings were either not well preserved or just didn’t have the detail of the later Romans. It also didn’t help that almost no exhibit piece was translated into English so we were kind of at a lost on many depictions and meanings.

The temples themselves were to Neptune, Hera and Athena, but Athena’s temple was mistaken as Ceres until recently. Most of the temples looked alike, they had the general doric columns and built like a table. We took a standard group picture in front of Athena’s on the North side of the field, Neptune occupied the middle between Hera’s and Athena’s temples. Hera’s temple is more commonly known as just Hera’s Basilica. We tried to do a group pyramid beside Hera’s but we started to fall at the third row, so we took pictures with several smaller human pyramids. At the hotel I swam in the pool and worked on any class work we had not finished yet, like this blog. After a while it started to rain and I glimpsed birds dive bomb the pool during my work. I think the birds thought that the rain impacting on the water were insects. Collage of images from Paestum and Pompeii

Day 16 - Rome: free day Italian swat
As per usual we left early in the morning, today our final destination was back to Rome for a free day before our flights back to the U.S.

The bus ride was pretty normal until we came to a rest stop called AutoGrill. AutoGrill itself is a giant gas station like the kind you would find around Kansas City. The thing that I will remember the most is that an entire unit of Italian SWAT was just hanging around eating gelato or some pastry. The van they used looked a lot like an older van complete with window shades for the back.

I spent a couple hours as soon as we got to Rome to upload the pictures off my phone onto Google Drive and pack my suitcase. I had the great idea to bring a small duffle bag to fill with clothes on the last day, so that I only needed to check one bag and keep it under United’s free first checked bag weight limit.

At 7:30 the entire group met in the lobby of the hotel to go to a sit down restaurant. Fortunately, I got the good idea arrange and call our taxis for the morning. Most of the group were just going to try and call 30 minutes before they wanted to go, I had to bring up planning and processing time, so the drivers would have had no way to get there in time. Since we had set up the arrangements to early we got everybody sharing cabs and splitting costs because we are not reimbursed independent travel to the airport.

We went to the nice restaurant we ate at on our first day in Italy. I got goat cheese and pepper noodles, bit bland but good. After dinner we walked around semi aimlessly letting the random people take the lead to where they want to go. Eventually we all agreed on Piazza Novena because it had always been a night hotspot. We were not disappointed getting there because we got to watch the majority of a fire dancer performance. He had four routines: with a ball and string, sticks, what appeared to be nunchucks, ending with flaming ropes.

After we were done with the Piazza then we all went to go to a gelato shop for dessert. We found a place ran by a nice old man with a flowing beard, wish I took a picture of him, and had the unique flavor of Viagra. On a dare I tried a spoon full while everyone laughed. I had to let the laughter subside for me to even explain it wasn’t really Viagra pills it was the name he gave the cotton candy flavor for laughs.

Back at the hotel room I finished packing all of my bags while I had on the Italian version of MTV Music for background noise. I took a shower, brushed my teeth, shaved decently early in order to be ready to go to the airport at 7:15 the next morning. I got to bed at around midnight. Collage of images from Rome, Day 16, free day Italian swat

Day 17 - Depart for U.S.A.
I basically missed breakfast today because one of the taxis ordered came early so everybody ready just got on. The taxi stopped at terminals 3 and 5, terminal 3 was said to be where AirCanada was located and terminal 5 in most of the international flights. Two people got out to go to AirCanada and the rest of us went to terminal 5 on the outskirts of the airport.

After going through some customs and checking in Austin and I noticed that the AirCanada was in the same room we were in so the taxi driver dropped the others off in the wrong spot. Later we did have a little reunion in the waiting area for our flights. The station the international planes is so far off on the outer edge of the station they have a bus ferry passengers across; it is to accommodate the domestic flights easier, there are multiples more domestic than abroad.

The first flight went off better than without a hitch, because I was sitting on a window and woman, the only other person on my aisle, went to sit closer to her husband leaving me the whole space to myself.

Going through TSA went about as well as expected, I got my bag taken away and took 15 minutes for an official to even scrutinize the book bag to make sure my chargers weren’t explosive triggers or weapons. Still have the sword in checked on suitcase though there is that going for me.

The flight to Denver had to take a detour around a mass of storms just to land in a mass of storms. Then the same mass of storms delayed my flight back to Omaha twice extending my layover my by almost two and a half hours. The delays and detours ended up pushing my travel time to about 22 and a half hours. On the flight to Omaha itself, 5 toddlers and a baby within five rows of me, enough said.

The worst outcome I imagined just short of crashing into the ocean.

Not the best way to cap a great trip, but stuff happens.

At the Omaha I had my parents bring Raising Canes chicken when they came to pick me up. I got to eat that and drink a Coke-Cola in the back seats while watching cops detain a man on the highway. Arriving home late at night, I got a blanket and passed out on the couch watching the DVR.