by patrick james
Day 1 - Friday.
The first day was very surreal. We left Catawba at 10:15 A.M. Emma Danielle and I packed into my car and we headed down the interstate to my house, making it feel like I was bringing friends home for the weekend rather than prepping for a trip across a quarter of the globe.
We got to my house and my Mom brought us breakfast which we scarfed down and left for the airport. I’m honestly glad for the time because it gave a sort of beginning to the trip, rather than shooting to the airport straight from Catawba like a surreal teleportation prank.
Philadelphia airport was smaller than I expected. It had more or less the same shape as the Charlotte airport, but stretched out a bit longer (I think). The burritos there are amazing as well.
I’m glad I got to sit next to Hannah on the first flight since she was talkative and we had a good time, but on the flight to Rome, Jamie asked to switch places with me, and by pure coincidence I ended up next to the department chair of archeology at FAU. We chatted about history since I am a history major, and then he gave me a lot of advice about Rome and what to eat and where to go, etc…
Eventually, after a surreal first day, I fell asleep for two hours somewhere around 4:00. The day had an odd feeling about it. I definitely felt like I was going somewhere, but it hadn’t registered just where yet.
Day 2 – Saturday.
Today I woke up to the sight of the Alps below us. Shortly thereafter, we landed in the city of Fiumicino, in Leonardo Da Vinci airport. This was the first point in time I realized I was in a new country. Not because of the Italian people on the plane, not because of the Alps, but because of the foliage. The towering olive trees, the odd yellow-green color of the grass, and most of all, the flat-topped umbrella pines gave away that this land was not normal.
By this time I was starting to feel the grogginess of being up for nearly 24 hours, but I fought it off and managed to skip my way through the airport on the way to meet Giorgio, our tour guide. At first, I didn’t know what to make of Giorgio. He seemed to know Dr. Sabo, but seemed a bit professional too. I soon learned that while he is professional, he is also very boisterous and fun-loving, beginning with our bus ride to the hotel, where he never stopped talking and answering questions. We arrived in Rome shortly there-after, and took a walking tour of the student quarter during the day.
At first, I really wasn’t a fan of Rome. From what I’d seen, it was dirty, there was graffiti everywhere, it was a very short town, and nothing about the architecture seemed particularly pretty. I later found out that I was quite mistaken when we took the bus into center Rome. Center Rome is where it is at. One cannot walk two streets over without running into some gorgeous ally way or beautiful piazza. Unfortunately my camera was dead, but the place we ate was delicious, and I began to realize what a difference their lack of chemicals and processing really makes in the food. Especially cheese. I don’t like cheese in America, but I loved Italian cheese.
The rest of the night was spent walking through Rome at night, and for the first time I really did realize I was in Rome. We saw a bunch of monuments including the Trevi, the Pantheon, their house of parliament, and more but I was so groggy and miserable to keep track after a bit. Jetlag hit hard around this time.
Day 3 – Sunday.
Today we went to the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, Michelangelo’s square, the alter to the unknown soldier, the Spanish Steps, and returned to the Trevi. We started at the Coliseum which was the seond coolest thing we saw that day. Marcus Aurelius’ victory arch was really cool too, but the coliseum was truly a step back in time to the glory of Rome.
The Roman forum was the most amazing thing, and unfortunately my camera died on the way in, but it was definitely the best step back into ancient Rome, and the oldest ruins I’ve ever seen in my life.
After we walked up to the Alter to the Unknown Soldier, Michelangelo’s piazza, the Trevi, and the Spanish Steps, which Emma and I got lost walking to. Getting lost in Rome actually ended up being a great experience of independence. Emma and I agreed we felt like if we didn’t find the group, we would be perfectly fine with just the map and our wits, and it also really started sinking in that we were in Rome.
The rest of the day was spent eating gelato and sandwiches, while walking around and seeing monuments and buildings that American architects only dream of. It occurred to me that American architecture is so based on function first and aesthetics second, we would never have something so ornate like the Trevi, or the Alter to the Unknown Soldier. I honestly can’t decide if I like that or not. On the one hand, it makes America more easily navigated, the aesthetics we do have are less demanding of the eye, but at the same time there is a grandeur to Roman and fascist architecture is something I’ll miss a lot, and I kind of wish we would put effort into public aesthetics more often.
Day 4 – Monday.
Today we went to the Vatican museum and then toured the catacombs along the Apian Way. The Vatican Museum was the most impressive and amazing thing so far (even though our tour guide kind of sucked). I saw more priceless, famous artwork this morning than I’m going to see for a long long time. I was pretty peeved that we didn’t see the Raphael rooms or the Baroque rooms since they are my favorite parts, but I’ll be back in the near future, so it’s alright.
I knew Saint Peter’s Basilica was big, but I had no idea just how big. I’ll never be able to express to people how humongous this church was, and how gorgeous the inside is. I took way more pictures than I probably should have, but man, it was amazing. I also achieved one of my life’s goals and saw Michelangelo’s Pieta in person.
After this, we grabbed a sandwich and sped off to the Catacombs, where we were all so tired, we fell asleep on benches and in fields as though we were homeless. The Catacombs were gorgeous inside and was a great historical experience. It was interesting to note that the top layers are the oldest, which I had just never thought about, but it makes sense.
The rest of the day was spent making sure we got to the Pantheon, and man it was worth it. As the last standing wonder of the ancient world, and the largest, free standing concrete dome in the world.
That night, Emma, Danielle and I wandered around the city, ending back up at the Trevi at one point, and accidentally discovering the president’s house. Although a bit stressful, that afternoon/night may have been my favorite day of the trip, simply because I’d seen all I needed to see and was ready to chill out in Rome.
Day 5 – Tuseday.
Today we got to Florence, and this time, I really thought I could live here. It was raining all day, and first thing when we got here, I waited until everyone was arguing about lunch, and quickly disappeared into the crowd. This moment of solitude was really nice, and I needed a moment to myself. I walked into a café that happened to serve American style food and thought “oh dear, this smells of home” and I realized how odd that was to say since I’d never been away from America before to the point where “home” had become a national identity rather than an actual location identity. I definitely think I could do Florence for a year for grad school or something similar.
The Duomo was amazing. Not as big as St. Peter’s, but still no less cool. The painting of Dante was cool too since I’d studied him first semester in college, and although my camera lens got foggy because of the rain, I had to get a picture to prove I’d seen the painting in person.
After the Duomo, we went to Santa Croce, which was definitely the most beautiful church yet, internally. The frescos and monuments here were particularly gorgeous, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I came back to study them someday.
Dinner that night was amazing, and after stuffing ourselves, it was time to get some sleep at the hotel, and await our next day.
(il primo de giorno)
Day 6 – Wednesday
Today, two of the most memorable parts of the whole trip happened: first, I was able to go to the Uffizi that morning and had the gallery almost entirely to myself, and second we had a cooking lesson at the Accidental Tourist house.
(A picture of a Rembrandt sketch I got before I saw the no cameras sign)
I got to the Uffizi at 8:07 AM, and after entering, got to the top of the stairs, turned left, saw a room of Rembrandt sketches and knew I was now in the Uffizi. This morning I saw iconic pieces like Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, Caravaggio’s Sacrifice of Isaac, and so much more. Touring the museum gave me a great moment of peace away from people, and allowed me to get lost in my chosen major more than I’d been able to so far with the rest of the group, and half the tourists in Italy following us around. It was a great experience.
After this, we went to take the cooking class outside of Florence and had the best food I’ve ever had in my life. Making the pasta was a lot of fun, but sitting at the table and eating while listening to our hostess talk about the house’s history, and the food we were eating was my second favorite part of the day, next to the Uffizi, and definitely in my top 5 favorite parts of the trip.
(Jeff with the holy wine)
Dinner that night was ridiculous. Ridiculously good, ridiculously large, ridiculously rich, and generally all round amazing. My favorite was the penne with beef sauce, but it was all delicious.
Day 7 – Thursday.
Today was a rush as we fit in everything left for the trip into one string of events.
The wine tasting was fun, (although I don’t really like wine, it was still cool in an educational sense) and I could tell the wine drinkers had a lot of fun with it, and was some people’s favorite part of the trip.
What really struck me was San Giovanni, of which words can simply do no justice. We arrived at the top of a mountain after trying to play some catch phrase, and I honestly had no idea what we were doing. But, as we walked around the corner and saw the city gate there, I knew this part of the trip was for me and my kind. Emma and I proceeded to lose the others as quickly as possible, although I doubt we had to because no one seemed to try to follow us, and we first got a Latte Macchiato after we could move again without looking up at the buildings. Unfortunately my camera still hadn’t dried out from the Florentine rain, so my pictures were a little blurry.
We walked up the city and found a square to the top left where we took lots of pictures from a fortress built there in the Middle Ages. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful place in my life.
I also experienced one of the strangest blends of the modern and ancient world yet, seeing a Kodak store in one of the medieval towers.
Day 7 – Friday
Today was sad, but not terrible. We all said good bye to Giorgio and without him this trip would have never been so great. We then boarded a new bus without the famed Nello, and headed to the airport. On the plane I watched three movies, and when we landed customs wasn’t all that bad, however it was an interesting experience to walk up to the customs officer after being in Italy for a week, and hearing him speak perfect American English as his native language. That’s when I started making the internal transition to being home again.
All in all, the trip was amazing, and has made me seriously think about my life plans in the next several years. I won’t be surprised if I end up back in Italy soon on a more permanent basis.