As we arrived at the dock and boarded the transport boat we could see Venice Proper and its neighboring islands in the distance. The amazing colorful architecture built on sand and mud that has lasted so many centuries caused for a few photo opportunities as we crossed the lake.
After checking into our hotel we hit San Marco square, just one small bridge away from our beds. There we met up with the amazing Guido (yes our guide’s name was Guido) who toured us through the 24 kt gold lined San Marco’s cathedral and the Doggia palace next door, complete with court rooms and fantastic art by Titian. Our slightly chilly class crossed the bridge of sighs and headed back to San Marco square to spread out and explore Venice on our own until Dinner.
A boat tour up the grand canal taught our class about the history of the buildings and influential families in the vast history of Venice; even about Napoleon and his influence after his 18th century takeover. Trips to the Rialto bridge and fresh seafood dinners helped us immerse ourselves in Venetian culture more than we ever expected.
After hearing a famous string mini-orchestra perform the most famous works of Antonio Vivaldi and seeing the Guggenheim contemporary art collection, it was off to the isles of Murano and Burano to learn about the famous Glass and Lace that Venice is known for crafting so well. We saw demonstrations on how to make both and were even able to find a good gift or two to take home to loved ones.
Despite the infamous “Acqua Alta” or high water (slight flooding) that greeted us on the morning of our departure, we found our way back onto the mainland and back on the bus for our long trip back to Rome, our final Italian destination!
Upon our arrival to Siena, we were greeted by our “caterpillar” guide who quickly made us realize “Toto we’re not in Florence anymore”. A medieval, mountain town made up of 17 guilds each represented by its own animal was a serious change from the urban life of Florence. The town has a hunger games esque horse race between the districts twice per year in the main piazza. The jockeys try to gain an edge over rival district’s jockeys by keeping the jockey out too late the night before or even pushing them off the horse during the race. The caveat to the rules is only the horse has to finish the race, no matter if the jockey is injured or thrown off. The winning district receives a hand painted banner to hang in their museum. If you thought this town was big because of the number of districts and distinctness of each, think again. the hilly city is surrounded by only 4 miles of fortification wall.Despite the size of the town, per usual to most cities we visit, Siena stakes claim to a grand Duomo. The Duomo is a hodgepodge of architectural styles ranging from Gothic to Renaissance to Islamic. The Sienese use this Duomo as a place to celebrate Mary, mother of Jesus.
The second day in Siena, we headed out to back country for some singing and spirits. The trek through Tuscany to the San Antimo monastery was incredible. We sat in the chapel to hear the monks sing a capella verses during the service. Over the beautiful countryside, we had a lunch/wine tasting at the Poggio Rubino vineyard to try a 2010, 2008, and 2006 reserve rosso di montalcino. Bellies full, we ventured back down the mountain to our charming little Siena with an early wake-up call for Milan!
We arrived in Milan in the afternoon, getting our first taste of the city as we did some exploring. It was obvious why Milan is one of he fashion capitals of the world: everywhere you looked, there were designer clothing stores filled with the latest trends in the industry! On top of that, the people were equally as stylish, dressing to impress for fashion week.
Later that night, our class also had to dress to impress for when we went to see Verdi’s “Falstaff” in the Teatro Alla Scala opera house. We were lucky enough to sit in some of the best seats, which were balconies overlooking the stage. The theatre was truly a work of art, having everything from beautiful chandeliers to intricate architectural designs. The actors and actresses were very talented and put on an amazing performance.
The next day, we went to the Duomo where we were able to climb 250 steps to the top and see a breathtaking view of the city. Then, we went to the La Scala Museum, where we saw artifacts from past performances, including some instruments that were used and even some costumes!
On our last day in Milan, we went to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Da Vinci used a combination of structured and abstract painting techniques. This included the one-point perspective and some other subtle images that represented the last supper held by Jesus Christ in the Bible. The amount of detailing that went into the creation of this painting was incredible, making it a true masterpiece and a sight to be seen.
Sadly, we had to leave Milan after three wonderful days, heading to our next destination: Venice!
Even though we were in Rome our first two days once we arrived in Italy, we were all very excited to return back to the city where our trip began three weeks ago. After a seven hour bus ride from Venice, we all were anticipating returning to this great city. After we finally arrived, we had the rest of the day free to revisit the areas that were our home for two days. We were beginning to remember the places that we enjoyed seeing, and were excited to see our surroundings once again.
On our last day in Rome, we had a very interesting day filled with lots of famous buildings to tour. We first started off with the Vatican, one of the famous buildings filled with lots of rich history. Our tour guide did a great job telling us everything to know about this famous place, and we had lots of opportunities to take pictures of the great sites. After our tour, which lasted approximately an hour and a half, we were then allowed to look at other sites on our own. We had the chance to visit the Sistine Chapel and the St. Peters Cathedral, which was an amazing opportunity. It was so surreal to be able to stand in front of both of these places, and it was an experience we will all never forget.
After viewing all of these site, our trip unfortunately came to a close. We had time during the day to walk around the city one more time before we had to prepare for our departure back to the United States. As a whole, we can agree that we all had a fantastic time and it was a memorable experience that we will never forget. While we are sad to leave one of the greatest and most famous countries in the world, we are all very excited to return back to the place we can officially call home.
Our next destination on our adventure was Florence. As we were traveling via bus to Florence, it is safe to say that we were all extremely excited and looking forward to spending time in this well-known city for the next four days. Our first day in Florence consisted of walking around the city and getting acclimated to the area that was going to be our home for the next few days. Between viewing the numerous designer stores and even trying the famous gelato, we knew that we had a lot of fun things in store for us in the next upcoming days.
On our second day, we had a three hour guided tour in the morning in the Uffizi Museum. The class split off into two different groups, which dealt with two different topics. In one group, the guide focused on the changes in Mary from the beginning to her later years. We got to witness approximately eight paintings that showed not only her physical change, but also her changes of attitude in religious thought. The other guide with the other group showed them work that compared and contrasted the ideas of mythological and secular.
Our third day was very interesting as well. In the morning, we got a chance to visit the Bargello Museum. There were a wide range of sculptures that were intriguing, but one that certainly stood out was the sculpture of David. We learned as we were looking at this sculpture in full detail that this sculpture was one of the first sculptures made during the Renaissance period, which added some great meaning to this piece. After viewing David for some time, we then moved on to visit the San Lorenzo in the afternoon. It was just a quick visit, but the array of different types of work in there was truly remarkable. Lastly, we took a trip to the Medici Chapel, which was a beautiful site to see. Just walking around it and embracing all the types of detail within the church was an experience on its own.
On our last and final day in Florence, we took a trip to the Accademia Museum. Just like the Uffizi Museum, we got to view a lot of sculptures and other works. One sculpture that was a must see at this museum was the Michelangelo David. This sculpture really caught people’s attention as they were approaching the area due to the size of the sculpture. We had a chance to compare and contrast the David we saw at the Uffizi Museum to the one we saw at the Accademia. All in all, we as a group can agree that we had a wonderful time in Florence. However, we were eager and ready to continue our adventure to our next city, Sienna!
After a long bus ride from Naples, the class arrived in the beautiful Umbrian town of Assisi at about 6 pm on day 5, which gave everyone about an hour until all of the shops and restaurants reopened at 7. We quickly learned from our hike up to the Fontabella hotel from where our bus dropped us off why Assisi is known for being “the city of peace.” Every street was empty and quietly adorned with holiday lights. That night students went to dinner in groups and, as our waiters put it, rolled back down to the hotel after a filling meal.
The next morning we got up bright and early to meet our guide to tour the Saint Francis Cathedral and the rest of Assisi. The cathedral walls covered with famous frescos by Giotto and Chimabue were beautifully colored and surrounded St. Francis’ tomb. Our tour took us through the rest of Assisi and up to the cathedral of St. Claire, where the saint herself was laid in display for the public to see.
Later that day, we were lucky enough to hear the professionally trained voices of the nuns of St. Claire’s church sing us monophonic and mono harmonic Italian hymns that echoed through the marble halls of the chapel. The class was asked later to reflect on the service, which many were excited to write about.
Another early night in and a good night’s rest was needed to prepare ourselves for the 4-day marathon that would be starting early the next morning: Florence!
On the long bus ride from Rome, we eagerly awaited our arrival into the city of Naples. Arriving there late at night, we got settled in to their our new rooms at the Renaissance Naples Hotel. After that, we explored the city a little bit and got a yummy bite to eat!
We had an early but exciting morning the next day, heading off to our next site….Pompeii! We went on a guided tour through the ancient ruins and gained valuable knowledge about how people during that time lived. The tour guide took us to all of the important parts of town. This included the various ancient houses (both rich and poor), the shops (bakeries, etc) and even the brothels of the time! In addition, we viewed some body casts of these ancient people that were preserved in plaster. When the tour was over, we were free to view some places in Pompeii that we didn’t get to see on the tour. So, many of us went to go see the vast ancient amphitheater and a villa on the outskirts of the town. Then, we stood and watched the breathtaking view of the nearby Mount Vesuvius before we headed back to the hotel.
During our free time, many of us went to see the Castle Nuovo, which dates back to 1282. We saw many ancient artifacts; even some skeletons that were left there!!
The next day, we went to the Archaeological Museum of Naples, which had many additional artifacts from ancient Pompeii. This included frescos, mosaics, statues and even a whole “erotica” exhibit taken from the brothels. Then, we headed off to the Capodimonte museum, which had many famous paintings both secular and non-secular. Even the detailing that was put into painting the walls and ceilings was absolutely amazing!
Before we knew it, our stay in Naples had come to an end and we were off to the town of Assisi!
Ancient Pompeii Ruins
Our first day we arrived in Rome bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to hit the sites at 9am after our 8 hour trans-Atlantic flight. Our first stop: Tarquinia. The group coached to the Etruscan tombs to learn about how the ancient people honored their dead. Then we headed down to the Necropolis to explore on our own. The Museo Archeologico held all of the tomb possessions, so we got to expand our understanding of the Etruscans. An early night for most of the bunch, when we returned to the Ancient Center in Rome where our hotel was, some strolled the streets and some had their first taste of true Italian cuisine.
Early to rise the next morning, the group toured the Colosseum and the Roman Forum together. It was incredible learning about the lost lives of the people that in some cases as in the Forum were so ignorantly covered up. After the guided tour, the group was free to “rome” the streets. Many destinations of the day included the fabulous Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, the Victor Emmanuel Monument and of course incredible restaurants.
The last morning in Rome, we coached to the Villa Borghese to learn about artistic perspective in sculpture and painting. The group was asked to study a subject critically and artistically to understand the artists intention in the art making process. At the culmination of our tour, we were able to take advantage of the beautiful day in Rome and adventure in the Villa Borghese park. When we had all of the Vitamin C we could take, we headed underground to the Catacombs of San Callisto at the Appian way. Roughly half a million people were buried in this four story underground cemetery. A spooky end to this chapter of our trip.
Next, off to Naples for some pizza!