Entry 12: November 27, 2012
This week was filled with friends and celebrations. The week of Thanksgiving we were blessed to have three wonderful Meredith women stay at the palazzo with us: Pat Poe, Deborah Tippett and Ellen Goode. Pat Poe and Ellen Goode were heavily involved with the interior design of the palazzo. Deborah Tippett and I had wonderful conversations about musical theatre. She invited me to go to her office next semester so we can exchange musical soundtracks. I can’t wait to take her up on the offer!
This week we also had the chance to celebrate and share Thanksgiving with the local Italians. Wednesday night we all got together in the palazzo and made pumpkin pies. Katie, Kasey and I were in charge of one batch. The recipe calls for evaporated milk, but since we didn’t have it here in Italy we used a milk and cream ratio. It just so happens we got the two mixed up! It turned out all right though, and you couldn’t tell the difference.
On Wednesday, Meredith grad Martha Taccarino and her husband joined us for lunch. She brought brownies and a stunning pear cobbler. It was a treat to have brownies again! Martha’s grandparents were Italian and she decided to become an Italian citizen. It took her three years to gain citizenship, but she is now an official Italian citizen and has lived in Italy for the last five years. She encouraged me to discuss with my father becoming a citizen.
Since my great grandparents were the ones who came from Italy, I can’t file for citizenship on my own. If my father does before my twenty-first birthday, then I could also potentially become an Italian citizen. I would absolutely love this opportunity, but I have only one year before my twenty-first birthday. I have brought it up with my dad and he said we will look into it. Let’s hope we can make this happen!
On Thursday we still had classes even though it was Thanksgiving. It was strange to see people talking about Thanksgiving break online while we didn’t have a single day off. However, it was absolutely wonderful. About midday we went over to the Santa Maria dei Servi where Margherita and her family live. Margherita is our wonderful chef who serves us lunch on the weekdays. We are lost on the weekends without her.
When we arrived we went to work putting up the Thanksgiving decorations. We had coloring placemats, streamers, pop up turkeys, glittered pumpkins and goodies for every guest. I also did a sound check for that evening just to make sure the guests would be able to hear me sing, and I would be able to hear the music. Between returning to the palazzo and the beginning of the evening, the girls and I rounded up money to get flowers for Margherita, Sara Andreini and Betty Webb. Without these three ladies the program just wouldn’t be the same, and we wanted to do something special for them.
We shared a Thanksgiving dinner with our teachers, our Italian teachers, the conversation class students and adults as well as our friends. It was really sweet to have everyone together in one place. I had the chance to perform for our friends. Before the night began I realized this was the first time I would be performing in three months! Dr. Webb wanted me to sing something from musical theatre since the Italians really seemed to enjoy the musical theatre performance from the students over the summer. Since I didn’t bring any of my musical theatre music to Italy, I decided to pull out The Sound of Music.
First, as I was performing I realized that it was the most quiet I have ever heard the Italians be. Afterwards they got extremely enthusiastic and asked me to sing an encore! I think this will be the last time I won’t have anything prepared. I dragged Stella, my voice teacher, up with me to the front and we sang together “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. Then Stella and her husband, Andrea, sang a duet together as I held their adorable baby Michele. He is always happy to hear them sing.
Thanking everyone was the most difficult part of the evening. This was the first time some of the girls and I realized how much we loved this place and the people, especially Betty Webb. It is going to be difficult to say goodbye, but easy to say hello to home. I walked up to Dr. Webb a sobbing mess and she said to me that she always thought when she grew up she would stop crying. She said, “Either I’m not going to grow up or I’m always going to cry.” Better words have not been said. Personally, I’m probably never going to grow up! I am a young soul at heart, just like my father.
When I got back to the palazzo after cleaning up, I was exhausted. It was an evening filled with emotions, both happy and sad, and I am pretty sure the two large, beautiful turkeys had something to do with it as well.
Saturday night we were invited to the Italian Carabinieri by one of the students in our conversation class, Salvatore. His father is the captain of the Carabinieri in the province of Arezzo. His family was incredibly hospitable and welcoming. His father gave us a tour of the station and even took pictures for us. We even had a lot of fun playing wii all together. Salvatore’s mom, Anna, is charming and sweet. She made us a full Italian dinner. We had antipasti, a pasta course, a meat and vegetable course, dessert, coffee and limoncello.
During dinner we were watching an Italian TV show where two singers go head to head and can either take the money, or pull through till the results. After the show, Salvatore asked me to sing for his family so I sang few songs for them. It was an absolutely wonderful evening and I am so happy we decided to go.
It’s our last week. We have about six papers to write, three finals and adventuring in-between. On Wednesday we will have a cooking class with Sara’s husband. We are going to be making gnocchi. I am excited since this is one of the things my father and I make together at home during the holidays. It is one of my favorites!
Through the packing, stress, school work and appointments we have this last week I hope we don’t lose sight on how wonderful this opportunity this was and how blessed we are to have been accepted into this program. As happy as I am to return home to my family and loved ones, I am going to miss Italy and all the opportunities we have here.
Until we meet again!
Entry 11: November 19, 2012
It’s the end of the semester and there are two ways to look at it: our study abroad coming to a close or extreme chaos. I like to look at it as being extreme chaos. There are only two weeks left and, without the excitement of traveling to look forward to, we are looking forward to going home.
This last week we have begun the daunting taste of final papers, preparation for final test and the remainder of our work for the semester. As of right now I have five papers due within the week. In English we have two rough drafts to finalize and a research paper. I am actually very excited to write this paper since I am able to research one of the most influential opera singers of all time, Luciano Pavarotti. If you haven’t heard of him, please YouTube his rendition of “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s TURANDOT right now. The other two papers are for our Italy Today course. One is evaluating our service learning experience and the other researching a major topic in Italy. I chose the Catholic Church and will be discussing the history of the Church and the religion’s influences in Italy. I hope that takes up seven to eight pages.
For two weeks John Rose and Betty Webb have been traveling, so we had the chance to get to know a very nice Italian girl who speaks wonderful English named Annalisa. She came to stay in the Palazzo with us so we had someone who was fluent in both English and Italian, in case of an emergency. At first we were very taken aback by how involved she wanted to be with us. We are very used to having a lot of freedom in the evenings and not having anyone looking after us and our specific whereabouts in the house. It took a bit of getting used to, but it the end it was very sad to see her go. She is a young soul and very attuned to her feelings and the feelings of those around her. I am sad I didn’t truly get to know her too well in the midst of this educational chaos and our last travel break.
Our conversation class on Tuesday evenings has been going well. This past week we watched an Italian television show that takes place in a town not too far from Sansepolcro called Gubbio. We need to finish the episode and have a summary written in Italian for tomorrow. I am excited for our lesson tomorrow because we need to come with an English song to share with the Italian students, and they get to show us an Italian song. I am choosing a Beatles song since the lyrics are somewhat easier and everyone know The Beatles.
I feel like that last couple weeks have been truly good. I tend to distance myself from people and have alone time. I’ve always done it. I love people, but I also am completely content with being by myself. Recently I feel like our small group has had its ups and downs, but I feel closer with them than I have the entire semester. I am glad I got to share this life changing experience with them. We truly need to cherish our last two weeks left in this gem of a town in Toscana.
Entry 10: November 13, 2012
This weekend was extremely intense. I was very nervous for our trip to Poland since the central focus was the Jewish population in Krakow, Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Second World War. Now that the weekend is over, I feel as if I am still processing everything I saw and learned.
Thursday we traveled by bus, train, plane and cab to get to our hotel in Krakow. Our cab driver from the airport was extremely nice and helped us learn a few words in Polish. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to resonate and I still don’t know how to say “thank you”. He also gave us a few pointers on what food to eat and what restaurants to go to.
Everything was right in the world, until we realized that the syllabus changed and we were at the wrong hotel. The woman at the desk of the hotel helped us get in the right direction for the hotel we were supposed to be staying at. We used a map and had the chance to “experience Poland” before the other students.
After getting it to the hotel we had to take a cab back to the area we came from to have dinner with the whole group. We went to a restaurant in Kazimierz, the historically Jewish part of the city. We had dinner over introductions and a short discussion. We got to meet the other people in the program: five were studying in Germany and three were studying in England.
The next day we toured Kazimierz and saw the seven synagogues in the area. The Jewish population before the Second World War was approximately 60,000 and currently is 150. We also went to this wonderful museum where the entire experience was a visual, auditory, and sensory. It was probably one of the best museums I have ever been to. The information was vast, the exhibits were wonderful and we had the chance to see replicas from the war.
That day we talked with a woman who was a recipient of the Righteous Among the Nations medal for sheltering a young Jewish girl during the Second World War in Krakow. Miros?awa Gruszczy?ska is a truly amazing woman and it was humbling to hear her tell her story. She was eager to answer our questions and sent us off with warm wishes.
That evening we went to the Jewish Community Center in Krakow for dinner and got the chance to participate in their religious meal. I was in an Interfaith club in high school and had the chance to participate in celebrations and religious holidays of a few different religions, but never a Jewish dinner. I learned a lot about how things work and about the traditional foods.
Saturday we were off to Oswiecim, Poland. This is the town outside Auschwitz. Pre-war it was half Jewish, half-non Jewish. Auschwitz I was not built by the Nazis, but was a camp for the Polish army. During the war the Jews were taken to Auschwitz and Oswiecim was used to house the Nazi soldiers. Auschwitz translates to “friendship”. Before the war the Jewish and non-Jewish lived peacefully with one another. Now there is only one synagogue that remains, and no Jews live there.
We toured the Auschwitz Jewish Center and learned about the town and the effect the war had on the people. We also saw a video of Jewish people who relocated after the war. We got to learn what Oswiecim and Poland meant to them and what they considered home.
Later in the day we started our tour of Auschwitz I. Our tour guide was phenomenal and seemed to have information and a survivor story about everything. She was respectful, attentive and really enhanced our experience.
Walking through Auschwitz was difficult. I had only seen the camp in black and white pictures so I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t expect the area to be so beautiful. It’s hard to image a place that held so much beauty as a place of tragedy and death. Some of the tourists were disrespectful and it really took some of us off guard; smiling under the gate, posing for pictures, taking their children in strollers.
The exhibits were extremely informational, but some were hard emotionally. We went inside a few of the buildings and learned about how the camps worked. The entire operation was incredibly complex and it was unbelievable how much thought the Nazis put into exterminating the Jewish race.
We saw photos that were taken of some prisoners at registration on the walls. Some of the people looked pained and scared, and it was because the soldiers were torturing them. We saw photos of women four months after the camps were liberated, and they still were skin and bones. We learned about their rations, how they slept, how they ate, how they tried to survive.
The hardest part was seeing the memorial of the Polish politicians. They were rounded up in lines of two and were shot at, executed, against a wall. We stood in the exact spot where their bodies had been lying. There were candles and flags commemorating their death.
Also, we saw over two tons of hair, shoes, and luggage, clothing and baby shoes. The hair was shaved after they were gassed and used to make fabric. The hair was gray and deteriorating, but because scientists could trace poison in it, they could prove the cause of death. Some of the hair was still braided.
Auschwitz I was used as a death camp for only five months before the Nazis used Auschwitz II- Birkenau. Auschwitz I was too close to the town. The Nazis didn’t keep the concentration camps a secret, since it was a tactic used by the British previously in Africa, but the “Final Solution” was kept a secret. The Allied governments knew of the extermination of Jews, but when asked to bomb the railways they refused. This remains an extremely large and active controversy.
We went to Birkenau the next morning. The sheer size of it was staggering. There were two camps used and a third camp that had been in the middle of construction, not finished. The first camp was used for women and the second for men. The entire camp is now a ruin. The only things that remained were the brick buildings and reconstructed wooden buildings of the first row of the men’s camp.
We walked down the railroads. I walked down the path where hundreds of thousands of people met their death. The names Auschwitz and Birkenau meant nothing to these people. They thought they were going to start a new life. They were deceived the entire way into the gas chamber. Walking from one side of the men’s camp to the other took ten minutes.
There were four large gas chambers and two smaller ones. They were inactive after the main four were constructed, but one of them was used to exterminate the mass of Hungarian Jews since there was no time. SS men took pictures, but only of activity that was not considered illegal. However, one of the prisoners, whose job was to cremate the bodies, got hold of a camera and took pictures under his jacket.
Most of the pictures were black, but a few were recovered. We were able to see a photo of women changing in the woods before the gas chambers, and photos of soldiers burning the corpses of Jews in the field of grass behind the destroyed building.
Everywhere where the ashes were buried, there were now tombstones to remember the people who died in the camp. There was a very large memorial at the back of the camp where there was a plaque in almost every language. The image was powerful. On either side of the memorial were gas chambers I and II, in ruins. The Nazis destroyed them, for they were evidence.
Overall it was a difficult experience for me. We learned so much and I feel as if I have a deeper understanding of what happened to a million innocent people. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about the holocaust before I went to Poland.
We ended the weekend with a tour of the main sites in Krakow and had a final dinner at a vegetarian restaurant. It was very sad to say goodbye to our group. After only knowing them for a few days I feel as if we had experienced so much and just started to get to know each other. I hope we stay in touch.
I bought a plethora of books and have an entire list of them I want to read; memoirs, testimonies, documentaries, and movies that I can now study and almost begin to understand. I will never forget this experience.
Poland is a beautiful country that I think is overlooked by Americans. You hear people say “I want to go to Italy, France, England, Germany, Spain” but rarely do they add Poland. After visiting I want to go back, explore more, take my friends, and tell people about this wonderful program. Visiting Poland opened more doors for me, and entire world of traveling I had never considered. And I can’t wait to begin.
Entry 9: November 5, 2012
Last week we didn’t travel, but stayed in Sansepolcro and caught up on work. The girls are gearing up for their Art History final presentations and the four of us going to Poland have some reading to do before we depart. Our course load here is intense, but for me it is very different from the classes I take at Meredith. My music major at Meredith doesn’t leave much room for general education courses. The highly academic load is challenging and brings about a lot of studying.
Last Wednesday we celebrated Halloween. At the palazzo it is tradition to have a Halloween celebration for the students we teach in our classes. Monday and Tuesday the palazzo was busy with decorating. We put up spider webs, streamers, lanterns, bats, and Halloween cut outs. For the party we set up stations and games for the children. In one of our lounges we played Charlie Brown’s “The Great Pumpkin”.
When the kids started to arrive, it was chaos. I was in charge of the fishing game. I attached string to two canes and at the ends put clothespins. Katie decorated a sheet we put in front of the chapel door. The kids would “go fish” and I would attach a prize to the end of the rope for them to gently pull up. Some kids came back more than once, but because the turnout was smaller than expected it was alright.
Thursday we had a day off because of “All Saints Day”. It is a Catholic holiday where families honor the loved ones who have passed away. In the Italian culture life and death are linked. Families go to the cemeteries and clean the graves of their family members and put up fresh flowers. We had the chance to go through the cemetery on Friday with Sara. It was absolutely beautiful and there were many people gathered.
In Sansepolcro there is a war memorial for Yugoslavian soldiers who died in Italy during the Second World War. Also, there was a specific section for stillborns and babies who passed away within their first few months of life. This was probably the hardest part for me to see there.
The Italian gravestones are unique and look like small chapels. Due to limited space, the Italians now bury their dead in tombs above ground and sometimes, not as often nowadays, they even bury multiple family members in one grave. The most interesting piece of information on the graves was the pictures of the people buried there. It is one Italian custom I wish Americans participated because it makes the grave more personal.
This weekend Katie, Paisley, Victoria and I have the amazing opportunity go to Krakow, Poland. We will be participating in the Auschwitz Jewish Center Program for Students Abroad. We are all incredibly excited and curious about what we will be seeing. Poland here we come!
Entry 8: October 30, 2012
This past weekend I had the pleasure of going to the capital of Italy, Roma. The beginning of the week was so packed with work and class that by the time Wednesday rolled around, it was hard to believe that it was time to leave.
My friend from home, Alex, is doing a study abroad program in London. This was her fall break so she traveled to Madrid, Spain and then was going to meet me in Rome. I traveled by bus and train and when I got there immediately found my hotel. Its location was extremely convenient since it was only a five minute walk from the train station.
I realized too late that that Alex’s phone number was a British number and I didn’t know the country code. With some help from Betty, I finally was able to get in touch with Alex. However, when I called her I realized she was lost so had to walk almost to the other side of Rome to find her. We had a nice dinner at a restaurant close to her hotel. I had the chance to see a bit of Rome that Wednesday night, which was great since the next day we were headed for Pompeii.
Early on Thursday morning set off for Pompeii. Our first train was a half hour late so we missed the second train that would get us there at noon. We spent an hour and a half in Fornia and enjoyed some coffee and a light snack. We arrived in Pompeii at 2pm. Alex and I set out to go up Mt. Vesuvius immediately while the other girls went to the ruins. We have every intention of going back someday, so we decided to chance making it back that day in time to see the ruins.
We took a bus to the base of Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano that buried Herculaneum and Pompeii in 96 A.D. We then relocated ourselves into some extremely intimidating Jeeps and made our way up Vesuvius. It was a steep climb and felt as if it was never ending. By the end of the ride we were 500 meters away from the top and had to go by foot.
At the top of the volcano there was a gift shop and also tour guides who told you about the eruptions over the last hundreds of years. Our guide says the authorities fear the next explosion because it may be a large one; however, now there is technology to anticipate an eruption. He also pointed out the puffs of smoke coming out of the side of the crater. That was one of the signs they have that the volcano is still active. We were 1,281 meters above sea level.
That evening we stayed in Pompeii for dinner and returned to Rome later that evening. A very nice Italian man led us to his sister’s restaurant. It turns out he also owned the local hostel. Our dinner was absolutely wonderful, one of the best I have had here in Italy.
The next day we went to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Trevi Fountain. On Saturday we went to the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon, then adventured some of the remaining Piazzas. At sunset we went back in the area of the Spanish Steps and walked up to the Villa Medici where we got a spectacular view of Rome.
In high school, I studied Latin with an amazing teacher. She had a true passion for Ancient Rome and the city it has become today. Through her teaching, I truly feel as if I appreciated the city so much more. I knew about the Roman Forum, we studied mythology and the legend of Romulus and Remus. We covered the Colosseum and what it was used for and also learned the layout of an ancient Roman home. Reading about Rome and learning about it in high school were absolutely nothing compared to seeing the real thing. I am going to have to get in contact with my teacher and thank her for sharing her passion of Rome with me. The weekend was a wonderful break from school stress and also the perfect time of the semester to catch up with an old friend. Sometimes seeing a familiar face is just what you need to make that final push in the semester.
Next stop, Poland!
Journal 7: October 22, 2012
The beginning of the week starts with our service learning. As a requirement for our study abroad program, in the second part of the semester we go into the Italian schools and student teach in the English classes. We are only allowed to speak in English to the students. It is an opportunity for them to learn about America, and an opportunity for us to learn about the Italian school system.
I am teaching two high school classes and preschool. My high school classes are the first level, meaning the students are in their first year of high school. They begin learning English when they start school. My preschoolers are learning the colors, seasons and some animals. I thoroughly enjoy the chance to teach the highschoolers about our country and to spend my Tuesday morning with children 3-6.
The Italian school system is very different from the American system. The children start preschool when they are three and continue until they are six years of age. When they reach six, they go to elementary for five years. Their middle school lasts three years, like ours, but their high school goes on for another five. This means they graduate when they are 19 and not 17 or 18 like Americans. Also, they go to school Monday through Saturday from 8:30 to around 1:25.
The students can choose their curriculum in high school. They can study art, business, science, literature and languages or just the basic course of study. They can also go to vocational school and get a certificate of study. These students do not need to continue education after high school and can go straight into the work force.
It is interesting learning about the differences between Italian and American education. It also is a great deal of fun to talk and answer the students’ questions about America, and to find similarities in our pop culture.
Also last week we had our first conversation class. This was one of the things we were most nervous about this semester. For this class we prepared questions to ask the students about their schools. Halfway through the class they asked us questions in English about our schools. The students were very nice and helped us when we spelled something wrong or helped us word questions better. They knew enough English to explain to us their answer in English if we didn’t understand the Italian.
This past weekend we had the pleasure to use the local train and go to Perugia. In Perugia there was a huge chocolate festival that brought people from all. We were able to sample the chocolate treasures, and most definitely bought some. Unfortunately, on the train ride home the heating was on and my fudge turned into fudge soup!
We also went to the wonderful National Gallery of Umbria that is said to be the best art museum in the region. This art museum had some details that we didn’t see in the Pitti Palace or the Uffizi in Florence. The painters used a lot of the color pink in their painting in the 16th century. Also, a lot of the people were depicted with strawberry blonde hair, especially the angels.
Katie and I adventured around the charming city that had wonderful views. There was a little market filled with beautifully hand-painted pottery. We ate at a small Italian restaurant that also served German foods. Instead of bread, they served us pretzels. It was a lovely way to spend a Saturday.
Entry 6: October 15, 2012
A lot has happened in the last two weeks, but there are a few things that stick out in my mind that I would like to share with you all.
Firstly, the weekend before last Meredith, Katie and I went to Pisa. We woke up bright and early on Saturday morning to catch the bus to Arezzo. In Arezzo we purchased our train tickets and hopped on the next available train. The train switched in Florence and went straight to Pisa Centrale. The walk to the Campo takes about twenty minutes, but we stopped for a cappuccino and pastry. This has become a routine amongst the girls in the morning. Cappuccinos are necessary when you start traveling early!
The leaning tower is about eight stories tall, so it isn’t too extravagant, but the structure itself truly is beautifully built… minus the leaning part. Apparently when the tower began construction in 1173, the land underneath it began to sink so the tower started to lean towards one side. The tower was left unfinished until 1264. Even though the trip to Pisa was only a day, it was nice to see the famous landmark and participate in some touristy photos.
Then this past weekend Meredith and I went to Cinque Terre! I have been looking forward to this trip for months and have been dreaming to go there for the past year. Cinque Terre is a series of five cliff villages right next to the Mediterranean. It is a great place for hiking, diving and seafood.
The first day we left very early and arrived in Manarola around one o’clock. We spent the afternoon getting lost in Riomaggiore, an incredibly beautiful village that looks as if it is split right down the middle. We climbed out on the rocks that led into the sea to get better pictures. That evening we treated ourselves to an amazing seafood dinner. Worth it!
The second day was extremely relaxing. We went to Monterosso which is famous for its beaches. First we had breakfast at a restaurant by the water. We walked through the village and purchased some souvenirs. We saw a few churches that needed restoration, one damaged by a flood, but they were still beautiful.
We then spent the rest of our time there climbing very large rocks and swimming in the Mediterranean. It was chilly, but afterwards we were able to lie out to get dry on the warm rocks. Everything about that day was relaxing and absolutely breathtaking. Being out in the sun all day was exhausting, so we took a short nap when we got back to Manarola.
We went out to dinner by the water at a wonderful family restaurant. The staff was extremely welcoming and would say hello to everyone who walked past in the streets. The food was delicious and we decided to splurge and also get some calamari. Across the street was live music at a bar where we met four extremely outgoing and hysterical women; two from Australia, one from London and the other from France. It was a very enjoyable evening.
The next day… Well, there was a train strike. We had to take a taxi to the train station in La Spezia. We were told that there were no trains going to Florence that day. We needed to take a train to Pisa Centrale and hope that we could hop on a train to Florence. When we reached Pisa, there were no trains heading to Florence in the near future. We look at the departure schedule and saw that in between one o’clock and three there were supposed to be nine trains to Florence.
We decided to go get lunch since we had about an hour and a half before we needed to return to the station. I was extremely excited to see that a train was going to Florence about thirty minutes after we arrived. Thank goodness! I even did a happy dance on our way to the platform.
But I danced too soon.
Ten minutes before the train’s departure, there was an announcement saying that the train had changed platforms. The mass of people waiting on platform twelve all relocated one platform over. We were able to catch the train and got to Florence just in time to catch the next train to Arezzo. We also met up with the other girls! They didn’t have the same issues that we had with their trains.
Betty Webb, John Rose and the Tuscan Intensives went on an excursion for two days last week. One of the stops was Pitigliano! I made sure to give Betty my family’s names and information. They were successful in finding a relative! They met my grandmother’s cousin’s wife. I am most definitely going to try and take a trip out there to meet her and see if I can meet any other family members.
Entry 5: October 1, 2012
This week was filled with traveling! We went on the bus to and from Arezzo three times in eight days. We had a little break from classes on Friday so we could adventure to Florence! This was our first travel experience here where we had to use the train. It was straight forward enough and we didn’t have a problem, but it was a little nerve-wracking because the trains do not announce the stops like the ones in America do. At least these trains are on time so far!
When we arrived in Florence we walked through the San Lorenzo market to get an experience of what it was like, but we continued on to our hotel. We walked to the Ponte Vecchio and past the Pitti Palace to this quaint hotel that used to be a convent. The accommodations were extremely nice and in a quieter, cheaper part of town. It was then we were left on our own to do as we pleased.
Meredith and Katie were my travel buddies for the weekend and we decided to wander and get a feel for the city on Friday evening. We went back to the market and purchased a few things; Meredith and I haggled with some of the vendors. It was a lot different from New York City because some of the vendors were very rude and abrasive. We just walked away if that was the case.
We had dinner at a nice pizzeria in the Piazza del Duomo and were able to sit directly next to the Basilica and Cathedral. We also were able to people watch, and tried to figure out where people were from. There were a lot of tourists from Australia and America, but also a startling amount of tourists from Asian countries. We were extremely surprised!
It was fun to guess where people were from and if they are from America we tried to figure out which part. We met a nice couple from Canada which was different from the other tourists we saw. We ended up finding the Hard Rock Café and decided to check it out. It was different to see such an American thing in an Italian city.
After that we were exhausted and headed back. We planned to get up early Saturday morning to climb the Duomo, see the Museo dell’Accademia and the Pitta Palace. We arrived at the Duomo around 8:30 and were the first twenty or so people to go inside. I am terrified of heights, but it truly didn’t hit me how high up we were until we left the stairwell and had to walk on the terrace inside the Cathedral.
I have realized that my fear of heights is more prominent indoors than outdoors. I don’t like looking up at high ceilings being hundreds of feet in the air and I most definitely do not like narrow walkways. The Cathedral had both. I had to hold on to Katie’s hand until we got to the other side and continued to climb. Once we got to the top though I was fine! The views were beautiful and I was so glad that I was able to climb to the top.
The Accademia was a lot smaller than I had expected and in a nondescript building. The art was beautiful but the Michelangelo’s David was absolutely breathtaking. I had no idea it was thirteen feet tall. The detail was extravagant and it was hard to believe that the technique he used was around during his time. I also found out that he examined corpses to better understand the human body. Definitely not something I would do, but he most definitely benefited from it.
The Pitti Palace was huge and filled with art and so many things to look at. I absolutely loved the exhibit with the jewelry. It was gorgeous. There were many precious jewels and the amount of coral was incredible. The costumes were one of my favorite parts; there were a lot from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It wasn’t until I realized that clothes deteriorate over time that I understood why they were more recent. The gardens covered acres and acres of greenery and statues.
Sunday also started early with the Uffizi. The Uffizi had Botticelli paintings as well as Leonardo Da Vinci. Piero della Francesca also made an appearance. It was nice to understand who some of these people are and their artwork before going. It definitely made the experience more enjoyable.
All in all we had an exhausting, but extremely rewarding, weekend. We must have climbed at least a thousand stairs, most likely more. Our bodies were tired and we were sad, but relieved, to go back to Sansepolcro. Florence was a good start to our traveling adventures and gave us a good idea of what is to come.
Entry 4: September 24, 2012
Since I have been here in Italy, my father asked his sister where their grandparents came from. She had the chance to visit Italy back in the late ’90s. My father’s Nonna and Nonno, his grandparents, are actually from a small town in Tuscany called Pitigliano. Betty Webb mentioned that she may be taking the Intensives to see this gem of a town next session, and I will almost certainly tag along. My great grandmother’s sister, Erminia, married into Bartolini family and had two sons. They lived above their mother in a great ancient building, and even though she is deceased, they most likely still live there. My aunt gave me the address so if I do end up going, which I will try to do, I can visit some of my extended family.
My grandfather’s side of the family we know little about, only that one side is from the region of Campania and the other from Abruzzi. Hopefully my family and I can figure out this bit of our ancestry and visit them sometime in the near future. It is truly amazing to me that I am so close to a part of my family that I didn’t even know existed. I never had the chance to meet my great grandparents, but it will be nice to meet some of my Nonna’s side of the family.
This week was extremely successful. Katie Taylor and I have learned that we work very well together when we study for Italian and our studying paid off; we received our best test grades yet! We turned in our first paper for English 200 and it was very encouraging when Dr. Webb told us we can all write and have the ability to improve. Coming from her, we knew that was a tremendous compliment. The Intensive students have been coming and going on their adventures throughout the week. It is nice to have some people in the palazzo other than just the seven of us, plus two or three. Lunchtime with the larger group can be very loud, but also a time for wonderful conversation.
This weekend we went to a small, but breathtaking, town called Anghiari. The views were spectacular and the architecture was stunning. There was a part of town where all the doorways and arches were short, which was charming and fun because I could walk under them. There were some sweet animals, one being a little kitten with our morning cappuccino.
Afterwards we went to Arezzo. This was our first day using the bus system so it was an adventure. The hardest part was making sure we understood the schedule and bus stops. Arezzo is more of an urban city, but there are also a lot of wonderful ancient buildings. We saw Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross, a fresco painted from 1452 to 1465,at the Basilica di San Francesco. We also visited the Casa Vasari and a Roman amphitheater. We even walked into the cathedral where there was a wedding. It was quite a sight, and kind of funny that tourists were walking around and taking pictures of the cathedral during a ceremony. I did, however, get a lovely picture of the couple kneeling at the altar.
The day ended with a bit of shopping. Some of the girls and I went on a search for boots, and I found some! The best feeling this weekend was rolling over in my bed and smelling real Italian leather… completely worth it. We waited for the bus at a lovely café that was adjacent to the statue of Guido Monaco, the inventor of musical notation. I had a small music nerd moment and got close enough to the statue to take a picture of the notes inside his book.
This weekend we go to Florence. We have started to plan a little bit, but we all need to sit down and find out what we want to see and what each of us finds important. It will be our first time using the train system, which is slightly terrifying, but I think it will be alright. I am most excited to climb the Duomo. I am terrified of heights, but my friends who have been to Florence say it is one the most breathtaking views, and that is just too tempting. I am a sucker for a good view.
Until next time!
Journal 3: September 17, 2012
We have been in Italy for three weeks now, and this past weekend we had the pleasure of going to Spoleto. Spoleto is in Umbria, the region south east of Tuscany. This week a group of alumnae and their families have joined us for what is called a “Tuscan Intensive”; a two week program that has an educational focus. This session is focused on art, so Spoleto was a prime excursion.
The intensives and the Meredith College students got on a bus early in the morning for an hour and a half drive to Spoleto. Usually if I have to take a long drive early in the morning, I will fall asleep. However, the trip to Spoleto was stunning and I couldn’t look away. The highway we took for the majority of the trip was next the Apennine Mountains. Early in the morning it was breathtaking because some of the towns were built into the side of these mountains and the clouds looked as if they were tumbling over the peaks.
When we got to Spoleto we visited many museums and had a wonderful lunch in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. We visited the castle called Rocca Albornoziana where there was a wonderful view of the entire town, as well as the Casa Romana; a house with the ancient Roman layout. I remember learning about the Roman house in high school during Latin class and it was an enjoyable experience to see it firsthand.
One of the most spectacular moments of the day was when we turned a corner and saw the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunto. Our Art History teacher basically told us to prepare ourselves, but it was not what I was expecting. The cathedral was astonishing. It was huge and when you get inside you are surrounded by art and intricate details. Words and pictures cannot even begin to describe the great beauty of this cathedral.
My favorite part of the day was spent at the Museo Archeologico Statale e Teatro Romano. It was an archeology museum where you could see the remnants of pots strategically placed together as well as what was left of the Roman columns. There were sculptures and even concrete engraved with Latin. But for me seeing a Roman theatre was a dream come true. The underground tunnels on the right side were still intact and you can walk through them. The theatre is still used today for the famous music festival in Spoleto every year. The garden had remnants of the columns that surrounded the theatre. It was hard to imagine the theatre being there for years and how many people have performed on that stage.
The day came to an end and we were all eager finally to sit down and rest. It is fantastic how exhausting it can be to experience new things, but not realize it until it’s time to go home.
Entry 2: September 10, 2012
My second week in Sansepolcro was filled with even more art and tradition. The people continued to celebrate the 1000th year of the founding of Sansepolcro. The town was established and the cathedral was built in 1012. This week there was a balestra competition (crossbows) between the two sides of town: Porta Romana and Porta Fiorentina. Fortunately, our side of town, Porta Fiorentina, won the competition. Later in the week, we attended the Sbandieratore (flag waving) show where we were invited to sit in reserved seating. I took some amazing pictures and the show was truly spectacular. We were invited to a dinner afterwards where there were belly dancers and fire. The girls and I got to meet the flag spinners and some of them spoke wonderful English!
Sunday was the final night of festivities, when the town of Sansepolcro competed with Gubbio in a balestra competition. It was really interesting to watch how different this competition was to the one earlier in the week. The archers did not go two by two, but about sixty of them shot at the same target. In the end they told the crowd who were the three closest to the very center of the target, and the first place winner’s team won. This time Sansepolcro was not as lucky and Gubbio won the competition. Even though we lost, it was really nice to see the sportsmanship between the two teams. John Rose also acquired a homemade arrow from the other team that broke off the target. It was amazing to see a homemade arrow up close, and it even had the owner’s name painted on.
Other than the festivities this week, we went to the Museo Civico, the local museum that holds frescoes, including the “best picture in the world” according to Aldous Huxley. Piero della Francesca is an artist from the 15th century whose artwork has influenced artists and art critics throughout the world for centuries. His Resurrection saved Sansepolcro from being bombed in in World War II. The fresco, at first look, seems like a simple image of Christ’s resurrection; however, with a closer look the subtle details and intricate use of mathematics and dimension are truly stunning. A window was positioned in front of the fresco so that the whole town can see it at any time of day. It is one of the few remaining frescos in its original position.
Also, during the past week out classes and studies became more rigorous. Our Italian class has proved to be challenging, yet enjoyable. The materials in our classes seem to be progressing quickly, so we need to keep up. I had my first vocal lesson with a beautiful Italian soprano named Stella. I feel truly grateful to be working with such a great singer. Within the first fifteen minutes of our lesson she was able to determine my vocal faults and my vocal type. She assigned me many new arias, operatic solos, and I am excited to continue working with her this semester. I feel as though this is a once in a lifetime experience that I will treasure forever.
Entry 1: September 3, 2012
It has almost been a week since we arrived in Sansepolcro. From what I have heard from previous study abroad students, it is exactly how I pictured it and better; it truly is like stepping into a storybook. The buildings are beautiful and the rooftops are indescribable. This time of year it is quite hot and dry, but the view of the mountains is absolutely fantastic.
When we first arrived I was running off approximately four hours asleep, but our wonderful professors kept us up until 9:30 p.m. to beat the jet lag. We did a light tour of the town and even had the chance to talk to some Italian girls who spoke a little bit of English. It had been a while since I took an Italian course, but as we started to talk to the girls a lot of what I learned came back to me. Over the week I have gotten to the point where I can almost understand what they are saying, but am having a hard time responding in Italian. I am eager to see how my knowledge of the language progresses over the semester.
Throughout the week a series of events have been taking place to celebrate the town’s creation 1,000 years ago. There have been processionals, parades, exhibitions, and even a balestra (crossbow) competition. Last night we processed into the piazza wearing beautiful period gowns and were able to sit in the arena to watch an exhibition. There were drummers, flag spinners, people playing with fire and even snakes. It was great and we were able to get a firsthand experience of what happens here every year.
Afterwards, we paraded through town holding the Meredith College in Sansepolcro banner. It was great fun to watch the people of Sansepolcro recognize Meredith College and a few even clapped for us. It made me understand how welcoming these people are and how much they appreciate us coming and enjoying their wonderful town.
Another thing I absolutely cannot get enough of is the food. My father’s side of the family is Italian and we make pasta at least once a year, but nothing can compare to these fresh ingredients. I have never tasted a tomato as good as the ones here. The desserts are exquisite. Yesterday we ate a three course meal complete with starters, a pasta dish and dessert. The starters were a plethora of native Italian foods in small servings such as bruschetta, prosciutto and melon and sheep cheese with marmalade. The pasta portion included two different types of pasta. After that, I honestly didn’t think I could eat any more until I saw the dessert tray. They had choices from rich chocolate pudding to panacotta. We ate for almost three hours. And now I understand why the Italians close shop and take off three hours in the middle of the day: to eat and then sleep.
So far my time here has been short, but I love this place. When I left America I wasn’t nervous nor was I excited: I was ready. I had been planning on coming to Italy for a semester since my senior year in high school and now it is finally here. This is a dream come true, and I cannot wait to make the most of it.