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

Monday, May 21, 2012


We all met early this morning to take the 8:50 bus to the Tuscan town of Siena, which is most known for its horse races in the palio, which are held in the Piazza del Campo.  Three of the students gave a presentation on the horse races in the space that the event takes place in.

We all anticipated and prepared for an entire day of rain, but luck and prayers were on our side to clear the skies after an hour in Siena which made for a beautiful sunny lunch.  The cathedral was our next stop and is one of the most interesting in Italy, with ornate marble designs, busts of each pope line the ceiling, and massive carvings are scattered around the floor.

During the heat of the afternoon, we all enjoyed a huge three scoop cone of gelato before we climbed the 400 steps to the top of the bell tower in the Piazza del Campo.  The climb was slightly treacherous with low ceilings, worn steps and the threat of rain on the horizon, but we managed the journey with ease.  The views fom the 335 foot tower were incredible of the tuscan countryside, which we all took memory of.  None of us wanted to return to ground level and away from the spectacular scenes around Siena.

A later bus than anticipated brought us back to Florence for dinner and a break for the evening.  Rain returned to us, but we won't let it stop us from enjoying and exploring this magnificent italian city.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pisa and Lucca

Today was an early morning breakfast to be able to leave the hotel at 8:00 a.m. for our train to the nearby town of Pisa and see the leaning tower and Duomo.  The forecast looked bleak, but we gathered our rain gear and hopped on the train.

The morning was lightly sprinkling with rain as we walked to the Piazza del Duomo.  Most of the shops were closed since it is Sunday, but that also meant the streets were relatively free of traffic compared to the packed streets of Florence yesterday.

We first walked through the Duomo and baptistery and managed to see some of the Sunday service while it rained, and as it cleared up, we broke up into three groups to climb the 296 steps to the top of the leaning tower.  The steps had massive worn spots from the amount of people climbing the campanillie over the years and we could feel the tower leaning, which made for a difficult walk to the top.

After Pisa we headed to the small Tuscan town of Lucca.  It continued to rain but we braved the storm to explore the town and find the perfect places to eat and shop.

Something amazing that the Friends of the Arts was able to provide for YHC Sophomore Grace Patterson (winner of the 2012 student juried art exhibition), was the ability to meet her relatives while in Lucca.  Her cousins and great aunt met Grace at the train station and they were able to spend some time together that wouldn’t have been able to happen without the support from gracious donors.  Thank you.

Tomorrow brings a new adventure in the town of Sienna.