by emma stoneberg
A Special Thanks To:
Catawba College Honors Program
Dr. Mark Sabo
Dr. Maria Vandergriff-Avery
March 1, 2013: Off to Italy, Ciao!
I love airports. I love watching a ton of people from different backgrounds and cultures put in an unfamiliar environment. I think it's fascinating to watching how people react to different situations. Attitudes change, physical characteristics are magnified, and observations are enhanced. People run, stop in the middle of isles, laugh, chase children, and most of all wait- wait for a massive flying hunk of metal to whist them away to a new adventure or to the comforts of home.
Once in the play, I wait for the roar of the jets, the dimming of the lights, and the pilot's amplified voice announcing takeoff. The air is sterile and legroom is scarce. Yet, once I'm in the air, everything changes. Yes, my legs are still cramped but outside the window lays the world the size of the old play road maps I played with as a kid. Everything seems within my reach. I could step over fields, trace highways with my index finger, and scoop up lakes with my palm. The clouds are cotton pillow that seem to convince me that if I jumped out of the plane, they would catch my fall. The light at the tip of the wing acts like a nightlight as the low drone of the plane engine lulls me into a slow, heavy slumber.
Nothing like waking up to the Swiss Alps outside my window! What a stunning view! Eight-hour plane rides do a number on your back! I took a sleeping pull so I could get over the back troubles. Next thing I know, we are landing in Rome! I'm so excited and ready for the long day ahead!
March 2, 2013: What Jetlag?
What a day! It's amazing how many things you can pack in a day! Rome is the most beautiful city I have every seen! I'm still waiting to find an ugly building, person, or view! I was surprised to find out that construction companies have trouble building because every time they bulldoze a wall, they find an ancient ruin. Ancient ruins to them are just the "norm". The amount of history in this city is phenomenal!
We first stopped and got some pizza. I thought it was interesting that you bought it by the weight. I also got a Fanta that tasted different from American Fanta. I assume it was because it wasn't sweetened by corn syrup. While walking around the hotel area we saw this ancient wall. It was build around 6 A.D. It protected the ancient city and provided an entrance. Pieces of this wall extended throughout the entire city. It is crazy to think that so much of Rome is built above the ancient city.
We walked around the Stazione Centrale Rome Termini. It is the main train station in Rome and has shops and restaurants. From this station, one can ride the fast train and get to Florence in an hour and ten minutes! I bought my first espresso and it was incredibly strong. It was literally a "shot" of espresso to pick me up during the day.
Here is the Basilica of St. Maria decil Angeli E. de Martiri. It use to be an old bathhouse. The ceilings and detailing were absolutely beautiful. The old painting and sculptures were massive! This was the first Basilica that we saw and I felt like I couldn't even begin to take in all the details in one day.
We visited the Piazza Navona and it was incredibly entertaining. At this point, the jet lag is starting to catch up with me and it was hard to take in all the sights. I definitely wanted to come back to this plaza.
We ate at Ristorante Pizzer and got some real Italian food. We all thought that our appetizer was our meal, so we filled up but then four more courses of different pizzas and dessert were served! It was a wonderful meal!
After dinner, we continued to walk around. We saw the Pantheon, an ancient temple, and an ancient tower. I still could not get over how we were just surrounded by ancient ruins. I think that this was probably the most incredible moment of the trip, running into the Fontana de Trevi. I stared at it for a good fifteen minutes straight. I could not get over how magnificent it was. It is a moment that I will never forget!
March 3, 2013: Gladiators and Desserts!
Another crazy, long, exciting day! It started with a great breakfast in the hotel. I love the yogurt here! I ate two! Then it was off to the Coliseum! It was an amazing experience! The first thing I saw (other than the massive amount of Asian tourists) was the Triumphant Arch. The detailing was just incredible and it is insane to think how long it has been standing there welcoming everyone to the Coliseum. Once in the Coliseum, we had an incredibly informative tour that I really enjoyed! The Coliseum can hold up to 70,000 spectators. Gladiator fights, prisoners on trial, and animal fights, are just a few of the events that ancient Romans would attend. The underground pulley system was very intricate for the times and relied on so much manpower.
After the Coliseum, we headed to the ancient Roman Forum. The view around the Forum was stunning. It was a clear day and I felt like I could have stood there for years! While we were standing there, I tried to picture what ancient life would have been like for the Romans.
This is the mound of earth that is dedicated to Cesar. It is a humble alter that people still visit and place flowers on.
After our Forum visit we headed back toward the Fontana de Trevi and leave it up to Patrick and I to get lost on the way! The fountain distracted us and when we turned around, the group was gone! We found the group and then headed toward the Spanish Steps. The Spanish Steps offered a wonderful place to people watch! There were so many people from different cultures! The air filled with different languages. From there we all broke into different groups. My group decided to head back toward the Capital Building! We saw an Italian war museum that featured a lot of Italian generals that had fought in various wars. It was interesting to see a museum that wasn't on the American side in many wars. The Italian propaganda for the wars often poked fun at America and our ways.
After the Capital Building, we walked everywhere! We witnessed so many different cultures and ate some great food (especially desserts)! Honestly, I think one of my favorite parts of the trip was just walking around Rome and taking in all the sights, smells, and sounds!
March 4, 2013: Probably The Most Epic Day Of My Life Thus Far
We got here just in time! Today we saw the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, the day before they closed it for Pope elections! It's funny cause not many people can say they saw the Vatican when there was no Pope. It was phenomenal. It was absolutely breathtaking! I felt like our tour guide rushed us through a bit. I wish she had slowed down. The Sistine Chapel was the most beautiful room I had ever been in. I could not stop looking up. Michelangelo was an incredible artist. One thing that drove me nuts was the fact people could not stop talking! In my opinion, people should just stop talking, put down their phones, and take in the absolutely priceless art surrounding them. I lost track of time admiring the Sistine Chapel. It was just the most incredible room I have ever seen.
After that, we headed to the actual Basilica. When you walk in, it is just unreal. It is massive and beautiful. I believe that you could spend weeks in the Basilica and still miss some of the details. The Pieta by Michelangelo was an absolutely magnificent sculpture. The detailing, from Jesus' face to Mary's fingertips, was unreal. To think that Michelangelo sculpted it from one massive piece of marble is almost unimaginable.
After the Vatican trip, we headed out to some ancient Roman catacombs. These catacombs were one of the first public gravesites for Catholics in Rome. We got there early and I took the most epic nap of my life. I found a sunny patch of bug-less grass and laid down next to a field of sheep. I slept on the Roman countryside and when I awoke it was time for our tour!
I'm going to be honest; I do not like death-related things. The catacombs freaked me out. When we descended down and saw the statue of that little girl (the patron saint of music), I was ready to head out. I was waiting for her to move. As we continued, I found the facts interesting, but I couldn't get over how many graves we were passing. Our tour guide said that there were over 500,000 bodies buried around the catacombs. She said that people still make pilgrimages to these catacombs to honor some of the first Catholics. Once we ascended out, I was quite relieved.
When we got back to Rome, my group decided to go to the top of the St. Peter's Basilica! It was so worth the climb! It costs seven euros to witness the most epic view I have ever seen. It was stunning. First you got to look down at the Basilica and then you climbed almost 300 steps to the outside. It was breathtaking; you could see almost all of Rome and the mountains in the background. I wanted to stay up there all day!
That night, we walked around Rome again! I figured, "I'm young, I'm in Rome, I'll crash later!" We had a really nice meal close to our hotel. The meal is a different in Italy. It is a bit tougher and there is a lot less fat. The meat in America is marbled and fat because of all the corn fed cows! I loved walking around because everywhere you looked there was something new.
March 5, 2013: Off to Florence!
Today we woke up early to drive to Florence! It was a four-hour bus ride, but it didn't seem to take that long. We stopped by a gas station that featured this little shot of whipped espresso. It was incredibly strong but super delicious! There were a lot of groups of children at this station that spoke a different language. I felt like we were probably the only Americans in there. By this time, I felt that I knew enough Italian to make it though! I could order food and communicate adequately.
The first thing we did in Florence was a walking tour starting at the Duomo of Florence. It was a gothic styled Cathedral and featured green, red, and white marbles. It was huge and the inside of the dome was gorgeous! Fillippo Brunelleschi, who is also buried there, designed the dome. The dome design was one of the firsts of its kind, using a herringbone brick pattern and giant ribs to hold up the dome. The inside pattern was an homage to Michelangelo and his magnificent works.
From there we walked around the shops of Florence. It was obvious that Florence was defiantly the place to shop! We walked to a leather store and saw a leather demonstration. I didn't realize that Florence was the leather capital. We learned the different techniques to determining whether the leather is fake or real. I probably still couldn't tell you the difference though. After that we visited the Basilica of Santa Croce and I believe that this was probably the most peaceful site that we saw on the trip. There were so many beautiful tombs and alters for many famous Italians. Both Michelangelo and Galileo were buried here.
After Santa Croce, we went to a wonderful dinner! These were probably some of the best raviolis I have ever had! They were stuffed with gorgonzola cheese and spices. There were so many courses, but my favorite one was desert! It was a puff pastry covered in chocolate, filled with crème and more chocolate! It was delicious!
After dinner, my group walked around Florence and ran into the Belvedere Fort. I love walking around because you just run into the most beautiful things! That night we also made a midnight run to McDonalds! It was similar to an American McDonalds, but the food seemed less greasy.
March 6, 2013: Food, Food and More Food!
Today we had free time in the morning so Jeffery and I decided to go to the Medici Chapel and Library. It was a lovely chapel with some crazy acoustics. When you walked in, your footsteps bounced around the room for a good seven seconds. Michelangelo designed the Library steps. They were massive steps and really didn't fit the room. I think he was aiming to make you feel very small when you were entering the Library. Once in the reading room, it was quiet and the actual library was pretty small.
We also got to see an exhibit that featured the letters from Rome to Asia. It was showing the power that the Romans had and how it influenced Asian culture.
It is crazy to think how much money and power the Medici family had. They made their money through banking and could influence even the highest rulers. I was surprised that their family crest wasn't more intricate. Here are some pictures featuring the Medici family and their wealth.
After our free time, we ventured out to the countryside of Tuscany to take an amazing cooking class! This family had lived in a fort for six generations! They had an absolutely lovely home! We learned how to make pasta and ravioli. We filled the ravioli with spinach, ricotta cheese, and parmesan oregano. It was so simple, yet so delicious! The appetizers were great and the dessert was probably the best tiramisu I have ever eaten! It was so light and wonderful.
After our cooking class, we headed back to the heart of Florence and visited the Academia! It was surprisingly small. The David was of course stunning and a lot bigger than I had imagined. There was one room that I felt was very overwhelming because there were so many busts and sculptures of people. Everywhere you turned there was another sculpture staring at you.
After the Academia, we walked around Florence a bit before having a massive dinner! The dinner featured five courses of appetizers, soups, pastas, meats, and dessert. There was so much food. I enjoyed the soup course because there soups were so hearty and delicious. I tried veal for the first time and actually didn't enjoy it has much as the lamb! The meat tray was over the top and I didn't know where to start! After the meal, I was full and I thought I was going to have to roll back to the hotel.
March 7, 2013: Sabo Surprises
Today I woke up early so I could go buy tons of cheese, balsamic vinegar, oil and pastas! I loved the markets in Florence! In my opinion, the shopping in Florence was a lot better than in Rome. After shopping we hopped on the bus and headed back to Rome, but not before we stopped for some surprises!
Surprise! Wine tasting! It was awesome! I love the way that Italians look at wine as more as an art form. There were so many flavors mixed into wine and they look at it as such an intricate process. My favorite wine that we tasted was the first white wine. It was light and went really well with the bread and cheese. I couldn't keep up on the tastings! I ended up taking small sips of each wine cause I couldn't finish it all. The food complimented the wine perfectly. That lasagna was the best lasagna that I have ever eaten! I wish we could have taken that home with us! It was a wonderful surprise that I truly enjoyed!
After that, we hopped right back on the bus and thought that we were headed to Rome but instead we took a detour and stopped by San Giovanni. It was an old 13th century medieval town that was absolutely gorgeous! I wish we could have spent more time there because I wanted to explore more! Patrick and I ran around as fast as we could! We ended up on top of this beautiful fort that had the best view of the countryside. I determined that I would love to honeymoon in Italy! It was just breathtaking. We got some amazing pictures!
After San Giovanni, we headed back to Rome! By the time we got there it was nighttime, so of course we decided to walk around! We had dinner back at the Piazza Navona and I had a wonderful swordfish! After dinner, we just walked around Rome! It was our final night in Italy so I got my touristy items and just enjoyed the city! When I got back to the hotel, I was exhausted, feverish, and ready for bed!
March 8, 2013: Goodbye Italy!
So I woke up incredibly sick ... so that wasn't fun. I was ready to be back at home, resting! I travelled home very sick and really didn't pay much attention to anything other than sleeping. I slept on both plane rides back and really couldn't eat anything. It actually turns out I had picked up a bacterial infection in my stomach that I would later go to the ER for. It was caused by either raw chicken or cross contamination back in the kitchen with raw chicken. After some fluids, morphine, and antibiotics, I would feel a ton better! So, interesting way to end a wonderful trip, but I'm glad it happened at the very end!
I absolutely love Italy. It was the most beautiful city that I had ever been to. I love the sites, people, and food. The fresh quality of all the food is something to experience! I learned so much about Italian culture! The history behind Rome is fascinating and it is such an interesting city full of ancient wonders.
Our trip would not have been the same without Giorgio! As a tour guide, he went above and beyond what was expected and made our trip as fantastic as it could be! I am so thankful to the wonderful people that taught us so much about Italian culture! It was the best trip of my life and I can't wait to go back because I know I have a lot more to see!