Saturday, June 2, 2012

Final Days

Our last day in Rome began with our last two presentations by six of the students, first at the Trevi Fountain and then on to the Spanish Steps.  Everyone did an outstanding job during the entire trip with their groups and insight into the different landmarks scattered around Italy.

Around 11:00 a.m. we were finished with all our group activities and disembarked for our final time in Rome enjoying last minute shopping, sight-seeing, eating and simply taking pleasure in our final hours on our long-awaited, but greatly enjoyed journey around Italy.

Our curfew is at 11:00 p.m. for a bus at 3:30 a.m. to take us to Leonardo da Vinci airport.

Friday, June 1, 2012

We all boarded the bus in Rome with sleepy eyes, but traveling sometimes has its ups and downs, this was one of the very few “downs” on our trip.  The upside was the brief ride on the unpacked streets of Rome to an earlier than anticipated arrival to the airport and an uneventful and speedy trip through security and to our gate.

The flight was brief over the Alps and to Frakfurt for a three-hour layover before the long, ten hour, flight home to Georgia. The plane landed early, but customs and baggage takes longer than anticipated but we arrived safe and sound, with all passengers and luggage in tact, which is what matters most.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Borghese Gallery

We began the day by walking outside the ancient Roman city walls to the Borghese gallery, which is located in Rome's very nice central park.  The gallery was the private residence of Cardinal Borghese who was an avid art collector.  The gallery is most know for incredible marble sculptures by Bernini, but is also houses works by Raphael and Caravaggio.  The building is also a massive work of art in its self with every wall and ceiling painted

After the museum we took a break for a few hours for lunch and to explore the new part of town we were in.

For the last part of our organized day, we visited the crypts of the capuchin monks, which contains the skeletal remains of 4,000 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars buried by their order. The Catholic order insists that the display is not meant to be macabre, but a silent reminder of the swift passage of life on Earth (Frank J. Korn, "Hidden Rome").  Everyone seemed to leave the crypts with different thoughts about the rooms, but we all appreciate how different parts of Christianity worship and remember the dead.

The end of our time in Italy is approaching and it's hard to believe tomorrow is the last day, but all good things must come to an end.  We will treasure every last minute available on this trip.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ancient Day

Today was our "ancient" day in Rome, beginning with thePantheon.  We explored the exterior on our first night but took our first look inside the massive building this morning before the wave of tourists arrived.  The church was the largest dome in the world for 1400 years and is still the best preserved building in Rome.  The Pantheon still holds the record for the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.

One of the great things about many European cities is that the main points of interest are within walking distance from each other.  After the Pantheon we walked to the Colosseum for a tour around the inside to see where the famous gladiatorial battles, executions and games took place.  The structure has seen many changes and been devastated by earthquakes, 2,000 years of time, and the use as a quarry, but it still manages to intrigue and impress us.

After lunch we walked through the ruins of the forum to the Capitolini museum, which is the first museum in the world.  The structure, which was designed by Michelangelo, houses some of the most important Roman works, including the original bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, of which most mounted statues are based upon, and the Capitoline Wolf, which is portrayed in numerous forms around Italy.

We venture to the Bourgeoisie Gardens tomorrow.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Vatican

Today we visited the smallest country and the largest church in the world – Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica.  Most of us slept in this morning for a later than normal meeting time of 10:00 a.m. for an 11:00 a.m. reservation for a tour of the Vatican Museum.

It rained on us lightly as we walked to the entrance of the museum, but if it was going to rain on us, today was the day for it since we would be inside most of the day.  Our tour guide was great and knew everything there was about the Vatican, basilica, pope, museum sculptures and art.  The tour took us about two hours through countless statues and collected works by hundreds of years of popes before we reached Raphael’s rooms and the Sistine chapel, which was filled wall to wall with people as it is every day of the year.

After the museum we walked along the outside of the Vatican walls to St. Peter’s and waited in what looked like the longest line in the world, but moved surprisingly quickly.  The church houses Michelangelo’s “Pieta”, as well as the resting place of St. Peter and many popes. We all spent as long as we wanted in the church before we headed out for dinner.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A great weekend in Venice

We apologize for the break in posts over the last couple days, but the internet wouldn’t work in Cinque Terre and there was none in our hotel in Venice.  We are fine and doing well.

Friday was a great day of relaxation away from the hustle and bustle of the big, tourist-packed cities.  We all explored the five lands by boat, train and hiking between them, although some of us preferred a full day at the beach.

In October, floods ravaged the town of Monterosso (photo above, where our hotel is located) and Vernazza, filling the streets with mud and debris and killed four.  In the last seven months the locals have been diligent to clear their towns of the mess for this season’s tourists on which the area heavily relies.  Some construction was taking place during our stay, but the beauty of the towns and scenery and kindness of the locals persists despite the tragedy.

At 8:00 p.m. we all met by the beach for a family dinner of pizza and focaccia bread and shared stories of what the day had for each of us in Cinque Terre.  We all will dearly miss this place, but it will certainly be on many of our lists to return to again one day


Most of the early part of the day was spent on the bus to Venice.  We stopped at an “Autogrill” for lunch.  An autogrill is an Italian rest stop that has an assortment of snacks and a restaurant, which we ate pastas and salads.

The bus pulled into Venice around 3:00 p.m. and we made the trek to the nearest Vaporetto (waterbus) stop.  All of us managed to get our luggage onto the boat and through the canals to our hotel.  This was one of the most interesting days of luggage travel we’ve had yet, since there is no way to be dropped off in front of our hotel.

After an hour of relax time, we all met for a quick walking tour of the city to acclimate ourselves to the new landscape of labyrinth-like streets.  During our walk we stopped for our gondola ride which everyone enjoyed immensely.  The boats navigated the tiny waterways as well as a short trip along the grand canal.  We became the photo-op for many Venician tourists.

The night ended with pizza and gelato before the walk back to our hotel.


Our first full day in Venice started with a walk in the rain to Piazza San Marco, which is what Napoleon dubbed “the drawing room of Europe.”  We dropped our daypacks in lockers and headed to San Marco Cathedral for a trip thrugh the ornate building lined with gold mosaics.

The rain stopped and the next group gave their presentation at the bridge of sighs, a bridge that joins the palace to the prison where inmates would enjoy their last glimpse of light.  Other tourists even crowded around the group to enjoy the presentation by the students.

After lunch we walked to the Peggy Guggenheim museum for a glimpse of amazing art much different than the Renaissance work that has been filling the trip.  The Guggenheim houses works by Dali, Picasso, Kandinsky and many, many more.  We hired a guide for the museum which helped us get a glimpse into the life of Peggy Guggenheim, as well as information on the important pieces in the collection.

After the museum we all took our time exploring the shops filled with Murano glass and paper mache masks.

Today we had to wake up extra early because of a boat race in Venice that was going to stop the Vaporetto from running all day at 8:00 a.m.  We made the journey by water bus with all our luggage back to the bus station, narrowly missing many of the row boas that were to compete in the race.

We boarded our bus bound for Rome, which is where we spent most of our day.  The bus did make a lunch stop in the Tuscan town of Montepulciano.  It was a perfect break from the bus and allowed us to explore another small Italian town before hitting the big city.

The bus pulled into our hotel in the heart of Rome around 7:00 p.m.  We quickly dropped our bags and headed out for a quick tour of Piazza Navona (which three students gave a presentation about), the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and a stop for gelato to finish off the night.

Tomorrow we head to the Vatican.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cinque Terre!!!

Today we left the city of Florence for a vacation within our trip in the towns of Cinque Terre (five lands) which lay along the side of the Mediterranean Sea.  The bus driver received a well deserved round of applause for getting us along semi-treacherous mountain roads only wide enough for our bus.

Our hotel rests in the northern  most of the town in Monterroso al Mare, where many of us took a plunge in the sea minutes after arriving.  The water is cold and salty but also very refreshing.  We split up for the rest of the afternoon with many finding cozy restaurants overlooking the sea, some hiking up the hillsides, and others enjoying picnics by the water’s edge.

Tomorrow we all explore the five lands by train or on foot through the olive groves and vineyards that cover the hillsides.  Plenty of sea, food, sun and fun in store for us, not to mention spectacular sunsets. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Our last day in Florence

Today was another full day of sights in the Tuscan town of Florence, starting with the amazing Uffizi museum.  The building houses famous works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.

After leaving the museum we all headed to the Duomo to climb to the top of the dome.  This was a great experience after reading the book Brunelleschi's Dome in class that put into great detail the massive scale and process of building a dome 300 feet tall 600 years ago.  Thus far this was one of the most difficult climbs with a mix of narrow circular staircases, stellar views, and a wooden ladder near the top. 

After lunch we stopped briefly at Santa Croce, which is the resting place of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli (among many others).  We were disappointed the interior front of the church was under restoration, but it had plenty of eye candy for us all.  The gelato that followed gave us the energy for our next stop.

Even though we had already walked at least two miles and traversed 400 stairs, we made the trek to the monastery of San Miniato al Monte, which has some of the best views of Florence.  Everyone loved the walk through the piazza Michelangelo and up to the cathedral.  The church was relatively tourist free compared to what we saw in the rest of the town and we experienced our first Italian Catholic service.

 It was nearing dinner time as we left the cathedral and we all broke into groups for our last dinner in Florence. 

Ciao until Cinque Terra