Sunday, May 6, 2012

End of my Adventures

Tomoro morning we leave on our jetplane back to the U.S.  It has been a whirlwind adventure for all us, and it is a bittersweet feeling to be leaving.

Our last week here we had our slow foods movement through Orvieto, sampling food and wines from multiple restaurants and venues.  It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, laughing and dining with friends.
The rest of the week was a scramble of sorts. Many people tried to fit all of the things we had not done yet into one week before we left.
We held our exhibition of work on Wednesday and we invited all who were a part of our amazing semester to come and look at our works.  We saw many friends and had the chance to thank them properly for welcoming us into their town.
Friday night was our Goodbye dinner.  It was held at L'Antica Rupe, which is this very nice, almost modern, restaurant in Orvieto.  Dinner was delicious and split into 5 courses.  In between courses, speeches were made from each of the professors and we expressed how thankful we were for each member of the staff as well. At the end no tears were shed.  Instead it was all of us scrambling to get pictures with every single person in the group so that we never forget our new family.
Today we packed up the rest of our bags and made our way down to the train station.  We waved goodbye to Orvieto for the last time and headed to Rome.  Making our way to our hostel became a little treacherous as the rain here has been really bad all day long.  We finally made it and then went out for dinner at this cute little restaurant across the street.  Jessica and I split pizza and carbonara.  We then made our way to the best gelato shop in Rome, to make our last gelato in Italia special.  We ate it underneath the columns of the Pantheon to keep out of the rain, and then took (or attempted to take) silhoutte pictures through the columns.

Our flight leaves in 12 hours.

The Val D'Orcia

Our last field trip began with a beautiful drive through the Italian countryside.  We passed through beautiful fields filled with wild flowers and vineyards of the most expensive wines in Italy.  The Val D'Orcia is located in Tuscany and is more of a region than an actual place.  Our first destination was the Monte Olivete Monastery.  This monastery, run by Benedictine monks, is home to a famous cloister painted by Sodamo.  It is also home to some of the most beautiful Choir stalls that I have seen throughout my journeys.
After looking through the store which contained many herbs and remedies, we all loaded back onto the bus and headed to our next destination, Montalcino.  On the way though, we took a quick stop to be tourists and took pictures in front of the vineyards of Brunello wine, more specifically the Bionti-Santi family who makes some of the best wine in Italy.  After taking pictures with grapes, we continued on.  We arrived in Montalcino and had lunch at this amazing little restaurant.  The family that owns it is friends with Marco, and they farm a lot of the vegetables that we ate.  Needless to say it was delicious!!
After lunch, we walked down the hill to the monastery of Sant Antimo.  This beautiful church is set in the middle of a vast field filled with olive trees.  We had the opportunity to sit and listen to a Gregorian Chant which the monks do on a daily basis.  It was very cool because it was in this vast church and only six monks were chanting so it was very quiet, yet very moving and interesting.  I loved the experience.
Our last stop on the way back to Orvieto was in Pienza.  Pienza gave us the opportunity to grab some afternoon Gelato and to gaze at the vast overlook of the Val D'Orcia region.  It was absolutely beautiful.  After finishing our Geato we explored the town a bit and found some cute little shops.  We also took a few moments to take funny pictures. Of Course.

It was a very fitting end to our group adventures of the semester.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Castiglion Del Lago

During our second to last week in Italia, we all decided we wanted to put the swimsuits that we all brought to good use. We made a trip to Castiglion Del Lago which is a little town down the train line from Orvieto.  The town sits on the largest lake in Umbria.  We were all very excited to do some solar napping and get some color on our sun deprived skin.  It was the perfect day to go! With not a cloud in the sky, the weather was amazing! We walked through the town, which I think is one of the most modern or Americanized towns I have seen. One of the roads we walked down I could have sworn that we were back in the U.S. When we reached the lake the water looked so beautiful!

So this is very sad....I am apparently out of picture space....I know. Sad day.

Here is a link to my album on facebook.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Siena (Are you a Giraffe or an Elephant?)

During the week leading up to our trip to Sienna, we learned all about Sienna in Marco’s class.  I learned so much! The symbol of Sienna is the same as Rome, the she-wolf nursing the twins (Romulus and Remus).  The city was built along Via Francigena, which is one of the original roads connecting Rome to the rest of the Christian world including France and England.  Sienna is known for its territorial issues both inside its own walls and with Florence, whom it has never gotten along with.  The City is divided into 17 districts, or Contradas, each with its own symbol.  It is very important where you are born in Sienna as it determines which Contrada you belong to.  Each Contrada contains a main road, a main church (Contrada Oratorio), a main fountain, and a Museum which is usually attached to the main church.  The Museum usually houses saved old costumes, banners etc. from the Palio, and whenever a baby is born in the Contrada a flag is flown outside the museum with a blue or pink ribbon to singify the baby’s sex.
The Palio is the world renowned horse race which occurs twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th.  In each Palio, 10 contrada compete at a time, and the 7 extra compete in the next one, meaning that at least 3 contradas compete bi-annually.  In the main square of Sienna, known as the Campo (which is neutral territory) dirt from Orvieto, usually Tuffa, is laid out in the Campo in preparation for the race. 35 horses compete in the trials and 10 are chosen.  On the day of the race, the horse is brought to the main church of the contrada it has been assigned to and is blessed before the race.  It is said that if the Horse deficates in the church during the blessing it is considered good luck.  The race itself is apparently very famous all around the world and is in fact shown all around the world.  The winner of the Palio is given a painted banner with the Virgin Mary on it.  Each year, because there are two banners, one banner is painted by a Siennese artist and the other by an artist from another town.  The Contrada who wins keeps this banner in their museum forever to show how many times they have one.

With all of this history of the town I was very excited to visit it!  When we arrived we walked to meet Marco outside of one of the churches.  We then walked through the Goose Contrada to the main museum and church.  We were given a tour of the museum which houses their 65 banners, the most Palio wins of any Contrada. 

After we finished we walked to the Campo to the tower which is located in the tower (or fish) district.  We then took a short tour of what they consider to be “city hall”.  After that we were dismissed to walk off on our own.  Amanda, Jessica, Berta and I all went to find some lunch and we found this cute little Italian restaurant which had really great food! Amanda and I split Pizza and Lasgna.  We then walked through the city, passing through the Elephant district, where we saw a ribbon for a baby boy born that morning! It was very exciting. 

At each of the touristy stores, they sell small versions of each of the contrada flags.  A lot of the girls picked the giraffe and elephant flags because of the pretty colors. I opted for a flag which represented Sienna as a whole, and which also had the She-wolf and the twins on it.

Before the end of the day, we went to the Basilica of Sienna.  This church is beautiful! It rivals Orvieto’s cathedral.  However, in true Italian fashion, it was never finished.  The two aps of the church were finished along with a not-so-perfect dome (which is not prefectly round….) but the main façade was never actually attached to the church.  One of the aps now acts as the main entrance, which I find slighty amusing.
At the end of the day when we all got back to our apartments, Jess, Amanda, and I elected to make something useful out of our flags. So we made capes and became superheroes.

Villa D’Este and Villa Adriana

It was a rainy day in Italy on this Friday.  We were glad it wasn’t freezing though.  Our first stop was Tivoli Gardens at Villa D’Este.  We started in the Villa itself.  The central courtyard had some beautiful flowers in it.  The ceilings were very similar to the ones inside Villa Farnese in Caprarola.  But like Villa Farnese, there was not much else to see inside.  When we reached the doors to enter the gardens none of us wanted to be inside anymore.  The gardens were amazing!! I think because it was raining it made the colors of the garden pop even more than they usually would. 

Just like Villa Lante, Tivoli Gardens are a progression from top to bottom.  However the water does not flow continuously from fountain to fountain in these gardens.  I wish I could remember all the names of the fountains. There were so many of them, and they were all so amazing! There is one that extends the entire length of the gardens. I could go on and on, but I think I will just load up on pictures to show you.

After Tivoli, we took a quick drive to Villa Adriana.  Known in English as Hadrien’s Villa, the Villa covered over 100 acres of space.  In the hour that we were there, we saw only a small part of it.  It is mostly ruins, so it was not as amazing to me as the Tivoli Gardens were, but it may have also been that the weather had taken a bad turn and it had gotten really crappy outside.

On our way back to Orvieto, we stopped at The Jubilee Church by Richard Meier. This church is very different from the old churches we have been seeing our whole time here, so it was a nice change in pace to see a modern building.


Wednesday morning I took the train to Rome again and met the girls at the train station.  Whitney, Kenra and Audrey are staying in Trier, Germany and came to Italy to see the sites.  They decided to use my apartment in Orvieto as a sort of home base for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

I played the part of tour guide all day Wednesday, taking them to see all the sites that I saw on my first trip to Rome.  We started at the Coliseum, then the Roman Forum, and then moved to the Victor Emmanuel Monument followed by Capitoline Hill.  From there I took them to the Pantheon and we got Gelato right around the corner.  We meandered through Piazza Navona and onward to the Sant Angelo and the Vatican.  On the way to the train station we stopped at the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain.

The next morning, I took the girls to the market to buy some food so we could make dinner that night.  We got an onion, some garlic and a giant red pepper. I also got some apples for myself.  From there I took them to my school and the overlook that is just behind it.  It was cool watching them “oh and ah” over the view.  We walked past all the cool things to see in town, and looked at all the pretty overlooks.  We also went to the clock tower in the center of town.  The view from the top was amazing! Full 360 degree views of the city.  It was great.  For dinner that night we made chicken with the red peppers and onions and we put it all over pasta.  It was delicious.

Friday and Saturday the girls took trips to the Vatican Museums and Florence.  So I stayed home and worked on stuff for school those days.  Sunday morning, Easter, the girls left for Venice in the morning.

After hearing about some of the other study program locales, I am very glad I picked Italy . I feel as if I have seen more and learned more here than I might have elsewhere. I’ve had the chance to become part of a community, and learn, not just about the places, but also the people and the culture of the regions we are visiting. While I may not have left Italy that much, that has given me the opportunity to truly be immersed in the heartbeat of the country. Italian culture takes a slower pace, a pace that we Americans can not quite understand. I feel as if patience has to be developed for the mad chaos that Italian life presents. Even though my visiting friends weren’t sure that they were as entranced with Italy as I am, they were enthusiastic about the experiences. A lot of the experiences they enjoyed were based on Italian culture. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to really steep myself into the culture of the country that played host to me for these four months.

Palm Sunday Weekend

A few weeks before, I reserved 16 tickets for the Papal Palm Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. I had to wait until the day before to pick them up though. So Berta and I took a trip to Rome on Saturday.  The last time we were in Rome at the Vatican, it had just snowed 6 inches so we were not allowed to climb the cupola up to the top of St. Peter’s Dome.  So we figured we would make a day trip out of it! 

When we arrived at the Vatican, they were starting to set up the chairs and the altar for the next day.  I was so excited for the next day! The piece of paper I received for the reservation of my pictures told me to go to the Bronze Doors of the Swiss Guard.  So after going through security we went to the Doors and I showed the piece of paper to the guard there.  It was really cool because I got to go through the doors, and everyone else was down at the bottom of the steps taking pictures. I felt like a VIP.

After I got the tickets, we proceeded to get in line for the cupola.  We stood in line for about an hour, given that they only allow a certain number of people up the stairs at a time.  Most of the stairs to get up to the top are spirals, so I got pretty dizzy.  There comes a point when the walls start to lean sideways because you are climbing a dome.  When we reached the top, the view was amazing! You could see everything all the way around Rome.

When we climbed back down we went into the Basilica to see everything we hadn’t seen yet.  We touched the foot of St. Peter and went down into the crypt where all the previous popes are entombed. 

The next morning we took the 5:05 train to Rome and headed back to the Vatican. We got there early enough that there were not that many people in line yet.  We stood there til around 8:30 when security opened up.  We ran and grabbed our olive branches and our books and then sprinted to get a seat way up front. I was very surprised that we did not get palm fronds.  The general population had olive branches.  You had to pay for palm branches if you wanted them.  Also the books we received were amazing! They had the date on them and the entire mass translated into English so we all would know what the pope was saying.  The seats we got were so great. We were close enough that we could actually see what was happening at the altar, but could see a screen as well if needed.

A traditional Palm Sunday mass starts in the back of the “church” so the procession containing the archbishops, cardinals and the pope himself led to the oelisk in the center of the square.  Following that part, there was the procession to the main altar set up in front of the façade of St. Peter’s.  The rest of the mass proceeded as usual, with the blessing of the altar and so on.  There was one part in particular that struck me.  Palm Sunday mass always contains the recounting of the Passion, during which there is always a pause for reflection and prayers after Jesus gives his last breathe.  This pause however, was the most profound silence I have ever heard. See, St. Peter’s Square holds 80,000 people and when you looked back the square and streets were full of people.  So imagine more than 80,000 people on their knees, silently praying.  The pause lasted about 5 minutes. In the middle I took a look up and saw the screen.  They had the camera fixed on one of the Swiss Guards in full regalia saluting the cross.  It was just an amazing moment. 

At the end of the mass, the pope gave the blessing in 5 different languages, one being English, so we were finally able to understand him, if only for a short while.  After that, he hopped back on the White Jeepmobile and processed around and then out of the square.

After taking our fair share of group pictures, Berta and I fought the crowds to get out of the square.  We decided not to take the subway because it was going to be ridiculously busy.  So we started walking toward the train station and caught a bus on the way. 

It was a great weekend and a great experience.