11/14/2011

Florenzia

To begin this posting, I first want to apologizing for being so late on all of my posts! ahhh! I am really going to try to make more time for the blog…who cares about homework, right? Don’t worry, just kidding…haha! (But not about the trying harder to keep the blog updated part.)

Anywho, Florence was great! I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Florence this weekend. I had never heard much about the city before coming to Europe, unlike Venice, Paris, and Rome. I knew about Michelangelo’s David, and the one of a kind leather that was sold in the city, but besides that, Florence was a big question mark in my mind. The night before we left, we all had a lot of homework to get done so we were up late, and there wasn’t much time to contemplate our upcoming trip. Right before I went to bed I told my roommate that I had no idea what to expect this weekend, and she agreed. However, in the midst of uncertainty, we both rivaled in the unknown. We were free to experience Florence the way we wanted to, and make it all our own.

To get to city, we took a fast train from Rome Termini. Rome Termini is similar to New York’s Grand Central Station…except perhaps bigger. But don’t hold me on that, because I’ve only been to the Grand Central Station once in my lifetime, and I go to Rome Termini everyday. This was my first time being on an actual fast train, because I discovered before hand that the fast train I took home from Assisi was only the medium speed fast train. The train we took this weekend was the fastest train, traveling something like 200 kilometers per hour. When you ride the train, there is an unwritten rule among the passengers to be absolutely quiet. This is because the tickets are so expensive, people want to enjoy a relaxing, peaceful train ride. It was so different from the train we are normally on, the one that takes us to and from Rome termini from our town, Castel Gondolfo. Our town train is always packed, noisy, and cramped. When you sit across from someone, your knees will most likely be touching due to the tight seating. However, on the fast train, we had our own space, with cute little tables in front of us, free wifi, and not to mention an amazing view of the Italian country side zooming past us out the window. It was nice. Different for us, but very nice.

When we first arrived in Florence we went straight to our hotel, which was right near the Duomo (which I’ll talk about in a little bit) and other surrounding attractions. The employees were so kind, and our rooms were fantastic, the weekend was filled with unexpected luxuries, it was so odd! I was so grateful, but it almost felt like too much to be first pampered on the train, and then in the hotel…..almost.  

After getting settled we went to the Accademia Gallery, which houses and preserves between 200 to 500 paintings, plaster cast collections by Lorenzo Bartolini and Luigi Pampaloni. And of course, Michelangelo’s “David.” There was even a sweet Bartolini exhibition going on that featured his most famous works. Wow, I was stunned by his sculptures. I still can’t comprehend how a person can transform a brick of stone, or a slab of marble, into a sculpture so life like and real. It was amazing, and I felt honored to be in the presence of such amazing art. The “David,” probably one of the most famous pieces of art in the world, was breathtaking. For some reason, I didn’t think that the David was very large before I saw it in real life. I always pictured it to be averaged size, but boy was I wrong. The David is HUGE!  And so cool! It is the first thing you see when walking into the main gallery of the Accademia. I think I spent close to a half hour (which I could have spent longer) just admiring the sculpture, walking around it, examining it, and really trying to study the art itself. I had previously studied the “David” in school, so I knew why Michelangelo made his feet, arms, and hands a little less proportionate to the rest of his body. The reasoning being that the real life David in the bible, was only a young boy, becoming a man, but he hadn’t yet completely grown into his post puberty body. Michelangelo wanted him to be represented in a realistic way, so he made him look like a young teenage boy, a little gawky. It was so interesting to see the sculpture in person, and to recall what I had learned in school, and then look for those things when I was in the gallery. Seeing the “David” was definitely a highlight of the trip!

We also visited the Uffizi Gallery, which houses more famous paintings and sculptures, from so many different artists, that I can not personally name them (or probably even recall, lol) all of them. It kind of reminded me of the Luvre, because it was so big, with so much to see and admire, that it could not be completely visited all in one day, and we had to try to see it in two and a half hours. My favorite room was that dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci, however, all of the art work was so diverse and beautiful. I definitely learned a great deal about art, artists, and history during the tour of this gallery.

The rest of the weekend consisted of shopping in the Leather Market (I soon became addicted, which was very strange for me because people know that I am not a big shopper) but I really enjoyed it. I think it was because there were so many options, the items were unique, and you could barter (although I only succeeded a few times) with the people selling the goods. I think I went to the leather market every single day of the weekend, at least once. It was just too fun. I also went to what people call the “west side market” of Florence, because it reminds them of the West Side Market in Cleveland. It was so cool to go in! The people were so nice, the prices were cheap, and the food was amazing!!! I swear I just ate all weekend, non stop.

Speaking of food, I had the biggest and best meal of my life while in Florence at a restaurant owned by one of our program directors good friends. It consisted of four courses (breads, pastas and rice, meats, and dessert) plus three bottles of complimentary wine. I eagerly forced myself to eat every course, fell asleep that night in a food comatose, and when I woke up the next morning, I still felt full. But it was SO GOOD!!! The next time I am in Florence, I will definitely be going thereJ

On Sunday morning we went to Mass at the Duomo, which is the biggest church in Florence, that has a dome shaped roof (hence “Duomo”) and is the center of the city. If you are ever lost in Florence, look for the Duomo, and you can find your way back. The real name of the Duomo is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. In English this means, the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower. Everyone calls the Basilica the Duomo though because of its dome shaped roof. We had amazing seats in Mass, we were approximately 10 to 15 feet away from the altar. I am growing to enjoy Mass in Italian more and more. Although at times I get frustrated because I cannot understand the homily, and much of what else is being said, just being in Mass that is said in such a beautiful language, inside a beautiful Basilica, celebrating the beautiful Eucharist, is an experience of a life time everytime. I hope to never take it for granted.

We got back to Campus around 7:15pm on Sunday night, had a nice family dinner, and then ended the weekend exhausted in our beds. It was such an enjoyable time, and I fell in love with Florence. When I see you all in person in approximately one month, I will have even more amazing things to say about it. I miss you all and hope you are well! All of my love!

Ciao Bella! 

11/07/2011

"America is my country... and Paris is my hometown." -Gertrude Stein

Ahhhhh! Paris! So many beautiful things to say, so many amazing experiences to describe, I don't know where to begin. I guess the beginning is as good a place as any. However, before I begin, I would just like to say how unbelievably thankful and blessed I am for having the opportunity to travel to Paris. To experience a city that never in my life thought I would see. I've always had a dream to travel to Europe, and every day that I am here this entire trip becomes more surreal every minute, and I can't believe that this is all happening. But anywho...back to PARIS!

Seven of us began our trip on Friday afternoon by heading to the airport and catching an evening plane ride to the city of love. The plane ride went so fast because we were all so excited to get there. We were all completely awake and ready to experience all that Paris had to offer. I remember looking out the window every five minutes, just so I could be the first one to see the Eiffel Tower. After getting off the plane we ran into a very nice couple who somehow automatically knew we were Americans. They helped us find the bus stop for the bus that would take us into the city, explained to us how the bus tickets worked, and helped us figure out France's subway system which is much more confusing than Rome's. I was so thankful that we found them, or actually they found us, because without them we would have never made it to our hostel that night! The entire time they were with us, I just kept thinking how lucky we were. And how blessed we were that once again, God was watching over us, keeping us safe, and being by our sides the entire time.

When we arrived at our hostel, St. Christopher's Hostel, we were all a little surprised at the living conditions. Let's just say, in so many words....it was kind of gross. None of us had ever stayed in a hostel before, so we didn't know what to expect, which I think was why we were so uncomfortable at first. However, for two nights, on the cheap, and only twenty minutes away from the city, it was a fine place to say, and we were lucky to have found it. One cool thing about the hostel was the location. It was located in the downtown city, which was away from all the main touristy attractions, so we were able to see authentic, genuine, French food shops, stores, and bakeries. At the very least, my first stay at a hostel was definitely an experience.


On Saturday we woke up very early, rushed to get dressed, and then caught the subway to Paris!!! We had one full day to see and experience Paris for all that it was worth. We wanted to soak up everything we could, see both the famous and unique sights, and absorb the French atmosphere into our veins. We got advice to head to the Eiffel Tower early in the morning so we wouldn't be waiting in line all day. That was the best advice of the day, because overall we waited in line for less than one hour once the Tower opened up and line started moving. We decided to go all the way up to the top, I mean, how couldn't I?? It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was going to take advantage of it. And plus, we got a discount on our ticket for being students! Booya! At the top of the Eiffel Tower, the view was completely amazing! Seeing all of Paris from the top of France's national landmark, was something I will never forget. I felt so French, so happy, and excited to be where I was. It was amazing!! This might sound gross, but I can't leave it out, it is completely necessary to put on the blog. So...because our hostel's bathroom was incredibly gross, I couldn't force myself to use the restrooms there. By the time I got to the top I had to use the restroom so bad, so I did. Haha! Now I can say, that yes, I have peed at the top of the Eiffel Tower! Sorry, too much?? In my defense, when you are in Europe, and it is free to use a public restroom, you take advantage of it.

After a few hours, many pictures, and a sad farewell, we descended the Eiffel Tower and went onto our next excursion. We decided to follow the Canal all the way through the city, which lead us to Champs Elysees, Palace de Concorde, The Louvre, and Notre Dame:) Palace de Concorde was so beautiful in the fall! It was a sweet park that had fountains and benches to sit, and beautiful landscaping. We went into the Louvre as well, which was in a word: amazing. I can't believe that I was able to see the Mona Lisa, plus numerous other fantastic paintings and sculptures that I will never forget. I really did feel like Mona's eyes were following me! It was crazy. We spent about three hours inside the museum, and by the time we left we were completely exhausted! Never in my life has a museum made me so tired! That is the power of the Louvre.

Next came dinner! Yay! At that point we were starving, so we treated ourselves to a cute sit down restaurant, where I ordered Croque Monsieur (pieces of toast stacked up with ham and cheese in between each piece) and a DELICIOUS crepe!!!! The crepe was filled with nutella (Europe's favorite way to eat chocolate) with a perfectley round ball of vanilla ice cream on top. Yum!! I'll probably be thinking about that crepe for a long time to come...

After dinner we continued walking the canal and ran into Notre Dame Cathedral. Flashbacks of watching the Hunchback of Notre Dame as a kid kept racing through my mind, and I immediately looked for the gargoyles on the top of the church. Inside, it was absolutely beautiful. I loved the simplicity of the walls, the smell of incense, the beautiful marble altar, the large chandeliers, and the simple artwork. Notre Dame was very different from any of the church's here in Rome. I felt at peace in Notre Dame. It could have been because it reminded me of the church I grew up in, St. Peter's, but I think it was also because my eyes and brain weren't racing to see every single thing inside the church. In Rome, everything is so elaborate, you don't want to miss anything. In Notre Dame, I was able to enjoy the Cathedral solely because it was a place of worship, a place of peace, and not for its artwork and decorations.

We ended the night standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, as it was all lite up, flashing and sparking at the top of every hour. I'll never forget that sight. I honestly don't think I ever will. I was so enveloped by its beauty, I couldn't tear my eyes away.

To be honest, I consider our one full day in Paris one of the best days of my life. I still can't believe I went to Paris!!! By the end of the day I felt like I belonged there. It wasn't home, nothing besides being with my family ever will be, but it was comforting, relaxing, and beautiful. It was Paris.

P.S. The internet connection is slow now, so I can't post pictures right now, but I will get them up tomorrow:)!

11/02/2011

Old Appian Way, Sheep!, and an odd Cript...

Tuesday was a very eventful day here in Roma. We took the subway down to the country side of Rome, where all of the famous actors and politicians live, and then we rented bikes so we could ride along the Old Appian Way. The Old Appian Way is the first and oldest road ever constructed to take a traveler into Rome. Thousands of years ago, it was possibly one of the most well known and important roads in the world. It was so important to the Roman people that the wealthy chose to be buried there so travelers could admire their grave. Today, the Old Appian way is used as a place to take holiday walks (November 1st, All Saints Day, is a national holiday here in Rome), picnics, and bike rides. The terrain is very bumpy because the road is still constructed out of its original cobble stone, which at this point looks like big gray rocks placed throughout the dirt. The fact that those stones were there thousands of years ago guiding travelers into Rome, and that they are still here today, is an amazing sight to see. We biked all the way down to a big tower on top of a hill where soldiers would watch people come through the city boundaries. I climbed to the top and the view was amazing! Trees and rolling hills everywhere! Right when we were all about to come down from the hill, we heard sheep. Yes, Sheep! A huge heard of sheep, at least sixty to seventy, along with their Shepard and sheep dogs crossed the Old Appian Way. It was so cool to see! I immediately thought of my nephews who love sheep and animals. It was so interesting to watch, I loved it.


After our bike ride a few of us girls went back into the city. On our way back to the subway after some shopping, we came across a church, and decided to go in. The sign said that it was a crypt, which we had been in before and we were eager to see more, however this was not a normal crypt. In fact, it was very strange and bizarre. It was the church of Cappuccini, a monk. There is a mandatory offering of one euro to get in, which we thought was weird, because in Rome it is unusual to charge money when visiting a church. But we paid our Euro anyway and began our tour. We were absolutely shocked at what we saw. Inside there were skeletons and decaying bodies everywhere. They were positioned to be standing up or to be laying down, and there were also fresh graves in each area where they had remains. The skeletons were of monks in Cappuccini's order that had passed away. But the thing is, the skeletons weren't that old, so that means that this was not so much a crypt, but a burial sight for the monks of that order. Perhaps the strangest part about this experience was the art on the walls. At first I thought there were stones on the walls that were in different shapes and decorations. However, at a closer look, it become obvious that they were not stones, but BONES! Bones everywhere! Every single bone in every part of the body was on the wall in some sort of form, like flowers, ivy, and even chandeliers were made out of bones. It was so creepy. At the end of the tour, after we had seen every crypt, I left feeling concerned. The Catholic faith believes that one must bury the dead. So why was this monk order contradicting Catholic doctrine? Later, after talking to my director of the trip, Danillo, he told me that he discourages people from going there because of that very reason. He gave me the impression that tourists go there for the "awe effect" that the crypt offers. However in Rome, it seems to be  more of a taboo spectacle. I'm glad I went in, not even knowing what it was, because to be honest it was an experience. But I don't think I'll have the courage or want to visit again.

On a lighter and less creepy note, tomorrow we are touring the Jewish Ghetto in Rome, and then on Friday night seven of us our leaving for Paris, France. Very exciting! I hope you all are well! Love and miss you!
-Ciao Bella:)