For my Travel Writing class, we go on little excursions that are in place of class time. I had mentioned before about how we went to see the Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing, and this week we met at the Old Jewish Ghetto in Rome. The Old Jewish Ghetto is where all of the Jewish people were made to live in a small 3 block area of Rome near the Tiber River before and during the time of World War II.
At the edge of the Ghetto is the Great Synagogue which still today is the main Jewish Synagogue in Rome. It is grand and instead of having a rounded dome, it is squared, giving it a unique look apart from the Catholic churches throughout the city. Across the street from this Synagogue stands a Christian church, which has an inscription on the front telling all Jewish people that they are foolish for not believing in Jesus Christ as the Savior (rough translation). When it was built, it was put there as an embarrassment for the Jewish people, but it still stands as a reminder of how the religious community has changed and is more open-minded.
During our tour, we also passed by the square named Largo 16 Ottobre 1943, where the old forum/market was held, as well as where Nazis parked and demanded 110 pounds of gold in 24 hours from the Jewish community, or they would all be taken to concentration camps. The demands were met, but later over 1,500 Jews were taken to concentration camps. After the war, only 16 Jews returned to their home here in Rome, 1 woman and 15 men, out of the 1,500 that were taken. The tour was a very interesting bit of history included with seeing the place first-hand.
The next day, my Art History class went to the Ara Pacis (ah-rah pa-chis) Museum of Art. The museum itself was a beautifully created architectural masterpiece, with the walls not more than windows, letting the natural light shine into the building. The Ara Pacis Altar itself was so beautiful, and made of marble. This altar was originally made as a symbol of peace and prosperity that was gained by the result of the time of the Pax Romana (time of peace in Rome). Each side of the nearly square enclosure shows real-life heads of state and large political figures, as well as gods and mythical stories. The entire altar is now white marble, but it is believed to once have been entirely painted with bright colors. What a great way to start my Tuesday!
Then there was my Wine and Culture field trip to a vineyard on Friday... but more on that later!
All last week, me and 2 of my friends were getting antsy around Rome. It was that time that we needed to get out of the city and see somewhere new. So, me and 2 friends decided to travel south for an all day Friday and all-day Sunday excursion to Naples, the Island of Capri, and Pompeii, and man was it an adventure.
First off, our train was scheduled to leave Termini (the central train station) at 5:40... AM! We got up in enough time, but calling a taxi was a nightmare. We called 3 different times, but within 20 minutes, no taxi came. Thank goodness a nice old man told us about a taxi stand a block away. By the time we got to Termini, it was 5:50, just missed the train by 10 minutes. However, there was a train that left at 6:15, and we decided to take that one, but we weren't sure if it we had to change our tickets or not, but remembered they were good for 4 hours, which was great!
After a 2.5 hour train ride getting in at about 9am, we arrived in Naples, and walked to our hostel. Between the three of us, we had never stayed at a hostel, so we were a little anxious to see what was in store for us. However, we had nothing to worry about. Hostel Of the Sun was as good, if not better, than some of the hotels I have stayed at. The people working there were so helpful, giving us a tour and telling us about the services offered (including free breakfast!). With the hostel being right by the hostel, we dropped or stuff off, got information about a ferry, and hopped on to Capri!
Right on the shore of Capri.
Me by the water!
Stairs walking up to the top by the city center.
Made it to the top!
Capri was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. We planned it so that we had better weather for Saturday in Capri, and we were so happy about that. The water was a fantastic blue-aqua color, almost matching the color of the sky, with the mountains and lemon trees scattered around the island. We walked all the way up (a SUPER long walk) to the city center, and walked around the island admiring the view, the shops, the animals that were meandering around, etc. It was absolutely wonderful. We got paninis for lunch, then caught the ferry back to Naples, napping the entire way back because of climbing up and down all the stairs and being on our feet all day.
We also napped when we got back, then headed out in the town for PIZZA! We stopped at a pizzeria, and got delicious pizza. I was starving so I ordered one with substance; mozzarella, parmesan, ham and egg. I thought the egg would be scrambled-like, scattered around the pizza, however it was like they cracked the egg on the top and cooked it like that! It was delicious nonetheless. We got back, watched The Gladiator (there was a movie library in the main part of the hostel) and passed out for the night.
The next day, we caught a train to Pompeii. Everyone probably knows about it's history and the destruction of the city due to an eruption of the volcano Mt. Vesuvius. This town was completely preserved, including the buildings and roads. All over you could see plants springing to life, destructed homes, a wood-burning stove (bread or pizza shop perhaps?), and all-over destruction. It was a bit eerie to be there, but the burned bodies that were kept there still were moved to a museum, which we didn't have time to see. After Pompeii, we went to pick up our bags from the hostel, and caught the train back to home sweet Rome.
Such a nice day in Pompeii.
There were stray dogs everywhere! There was a sign that said that dogs have always been welcome in the ancient city, they were fed and cared for. However, if you want to adopt one, you can! I should have gotten a puppy for me and my roommates!
Mount Vesuvius in the distance. It was weird seeing grass, because living in the city you barely see any!
Notice how I didn't mention a lot about Naples? Well here's the ugly truth; I didn't like it there. All over there was trash, like it was next to a landfill. It was dirty, entirely TOO much construction going on at once, and it smelled like old dirty feet. Also, we were warned of the high chance of us getting robbed/pick-pocketed in the city, but thankfully it didn't happen. The three of us were extremely aware, and watched each other. However, I thought it was very nerve-wrecking walking around the train station, because the streets surrounding it were filled with a flea-market type shopping, but half of the vendors were selling very weird items. Overall it was not my kind of place. However, visiting Pompeii and Capri more than made up for the experience in Naples! (We also rejoiced in the fact that we made our train back to Rome!)
Friday was a day of semi-rest in the middle of the weekend. Earlier in the week, I had signed up to go with the Religious Studies class at school to go on a tour of the Vatican Necropolis.The Necropolis lies underneath the St. Peter's Basilica, where there are mausoleums from pre-Constantinian times (before Constantine ruled the Roman Empire, when Christianity was still outlawed), as well as grottoes where some of the deceased Popes are buried, and supposedly where the remains of St. Peter are kept. It was a very interesting tour, as we went through the mausoleums of wealthy families of the pagan religion, saw what was left of the beautiful decorations of mosaic tiled floors, urns for a person's ashes, etc. We were also able to see the differences between those mausoleums that were pagan religion, and those that were Christian, built during/after Constantine's time.
Small layout of the Necropolis, the top map shows the new St. Peter's Basilica, the pink is the Grottoes, and the blue is the mausoleums underneath. In the times when the mausoleums were used, people could walk through the main "street" (the central long path in the middle of the lower picture) and look up and see the sky, so the entire Necropolis, at one point, was not all underground.
We were also able to see where St. Peter's remains were located, what little was left of it. It was humbling to think that those were the remains of the first apostle of Jesus, and to whom Jesus gave the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
One of the most interesting things about the tour was definitely when we were in the Clementine Chapel below the floor level underneath the dome as well as Bernini's Canopy of St. Peter's Basilica. Our tour guide was informing us that in three places in the small Chapel, there are grate-like places in the ceiling of the Chapel, where you can see straight up into the dome and the canopy in the main of St. Peter's Basilica. While looking up into the beautiful church, canopy, etc. etc., a choir began to sing a beautiful song. It was fantastic to be there at that moment, so close to the tombs of many popes, and so much history. Wow!
As we ended our tour with the guide, we were ushered through doors that led right to the tomb of Pope John Paul II. It was both a happy and sad sight to see people of all ages, races, religious-ness (word?), etc. kneeling down in front of the tomb, praying, crying, or both.
On a lighter note, after the tour we went to where the current Pope Benedict XVI used to get coffee and pizza near Vatican City, before he was ever Pope. Of course it was very expensive because of their claim-to-fame, but it was really cool to see! I still need to make it to see the inside the Vatican, as well as to see the Pope wave from his window some Sunday while I'm here, so hopefully that'll happen soon!
To start off my crazy-fun weekend, me and 3 friends went to The Teatro Brancaccio in Rome to see La Bella e la Bestia, or Beauty and the Beast. We were so excited to go, because it is one of all of our favorite Disney movies of all time. All day leading up to the performance, we were excitedly singing the songs from the animated movie.
The four of us after the play! Cindy, me, Dana, Melissa.
Once we got to the theater, the show started immediately, with a giant book to preface the events leading up to the Prince's transformation. The show was absolutely amazing, despite the fact that I got scolded for using my camera to snap a few pictures of the show. (I did, however, manage to get a couple good ones before I got in trouble!)
Belle, Gaston and Lefou. You can't really tell in this picture, but Gaston was a little short, so he was romping around in platform red fake-leather boots!
The costumes, set, and actors were amazing, but the best part was the singing. The way these actors were able to belt out beautiful melodies, sounding prettier in Italian, amazed me. Each of the actors were superbly casted, and Belle was such a fantastic singer, I don't know how I didn't just cry from hearing her voice!
Beginning screen of the storybook!
It was a little different because a couple songs were added into the musical, but all in all they were good additions. As the musical was in all Italian, it was so easy for me to follow along with story, as well as to get the jokes that were put in by the body language and the situation.
Two little girls dressed as Belle, getting their picture in front of the wall!
Overall, if you are ever able to see a musical in a different language you don't know, I'd go for it. It is a different and fantastic way to experience a favorite, like Beauty and the Beast!
So as everyone knows, Monday was Valentine’s Day.Throughout the week and weekend before this day, it was surprising to NOT see a lot of flowers, cheesy heart balloons, etc., as you at home probably saw.This was one change, however, that was very welcome. Instead of sitting at home on this unnecessary Hallmark Holiday, my roommates and I had signed up for a cultural exchange at an aperitivo. Aperitivo is sort of like a happy hour, but you go to the restaurant and order a drink, then you are welcome to a sort of buffet-style dinner. This aperitivo was located at a cute little café called La Bohemian. This was a cozy but charming little place with a library room full of shelves of books, and a bar area with the walls covered in (for only that day I assume) cheesy paintings about love and hearts. When we got there, there were students from a university here in Rome ready to practice their English, and waiting for us to practice our Italian (and what little of it I can speak). Despite the language barrier, it was really interesting to sit and talk and eat with people our age about places we've traveled, how we like Rome, etc. etc. It was a no-pressure way to meet new “local” people. Throughout the night we forgot about the day being the super-Americanized feaux-holiday, and just had a little fun on a Monday with some Romans.
I've had a lot of catching up to do with this past week, so on I go.
This past Friday two of my friends and I decided to walk on over to the Vatican, a mere 4 blocks away. We were all surprised it took us that long to get there, but we finally made it. We didn't go in or take the tour of the inside, but we stayed for a while just in St. Peter's Square and marveled at its size and beauty. There weren't a ton of people there, and the weather was so spectacular for a great afternoon. It is so amazing to see not only the Basilica, but also the columns surrounding the Square, the sculptures on top, as well as the fountains. It was very humbling being next to such an important, historical, and beautiful place!
Me in St. Peter's Square!
This weekend from Saturday to Sunday was also the first trip that was included with my program through my school. Me and 9 other girls spent those two days in the Italian region of Umbria, which is just north of Rome. The entire trip was a little cold, rainy, and overcast, but was extremely fantastic overall!
After a 2 hour train ride north, we took a short bus ride to a small town named Deruta. This town, which consisted of 2 main streets and few people, has a great history with Maioliche (pronounced like may-ol-icka). THis is a type of ceramic art of plates, vases, and various other items. While in Deruta, we went to a Maioliche museum, and were able to decorate our own plates! They had the ceramic plates already made, so we chose a typical Italian design, and traced it onto our plate. We then painted the plates, and they are going to be sent to us at our school when they are glazed, fired and had the last parts of the cooking completed. A great souvenir! After our arts and crafts time, we got a tour of the exhibits that were in the museum, which had a large span of modern art, as well as art from many years Before Christ. After the tour of the exhibits, we had a short time to walk around the tiny town, grab an espresso or a croissant, and just take in the town's sights (the little of them there are). The town was clearly very religious, as we noticed pictures of Mary and Jesus painted and hung on the side of buildings, by houses, etc.
Me and my plate!
Building in Deruta, very colorful with Jesus and Mary.
After our little excursion to Deruta, we took another bus ride to Assisi! We went to the hotel, and the two other girls from ISU and I decided not to nap like everyone else was before dinner, so we explored the town. I was surprised to see how little the town was, but not how religious. We walked around and found a Gelateria (desserts = yum) because we could not resist. On our way back, we realized how high up Assisi is, and that our hotel was at the way top, because the walk back to our hotel was much more strenuous and at a large incline.
We did make it back to the hotel in time for dinner though, which started out with a wine tasting of 2 white and 2 red wines from the region of Umbria, where Assisi is located. It was very cool to know exactly where the wines were made, and that it was not far from where we were staying. Dinner was so delicious, starting with the appetizer of a plate of prosciutto, salami, cheeses, flat bread, and spinach. That alone could have counted for a meal! We were then served pasta with a meat-alfredo sauce, followed by a flan-like desert with caramel drizzled over the top. We sat for a while talking with all of the girls from school, which was really really cool. After dinner, much to the surprise of the other girls, four of us went to find gelato to finish off the amazing day of food. Where we went for gelato was a little far from our hotel, which we knew meant that the climb back up would be miserable, but it was really worth it!! Coffee and cream gelato is the greatest food ever.
The next morning we woke up early, and went out on a tour of Assisi with our tour guide, who was extremely knowledgeable about the town wherever we went. Throughout the day, we went to the Duomo di San Rufino, not far from our hotel, which was where St. Francis was baptized, and where the baptismal font is still today.
Duomo di San Rufino at night.
Then, we walked to Piazza del Comune, which was the main forum of the town where the community got together to go to the market, discuss politics, and is very central in the middle of Assisi.
Piazza del Comune at night.
The next stop was the Basilica di S. Chiara, or the Basilica of St. Claire. This basilica was tinted pink, not meant to be that way, but was beautiful, and right on the edge of the cliff looking over the towns below. When the Italian cities were not unified, there was fear of attack from the town of Perugia, who had said that if they conquered Assisi, would take both St. Claire and St. Francis's remains from Assisi to Perugia. So, the people of Assisi put St. Claire's remains under the alter as to deter the Perugians from taking them so they wouldnt commit a sacrilegious act. Later, St. Claire's remains were moved to underneath the Basilica, and we were able to see her tomb as well as relics from her and St. Francis.
Basilica di S. Chiara
Overlook by the Basilica di S. Chiara.
After the Basilica di S. Chiara, we walked by where St. Francis once lived, and we saw the wall of his original house. Our tour guide told us about how his father chained him up for not being a wealthy merchant like his father wanted him to be. His mother felt so remorseful for St. Francis, that after a few days she broke his chains, and St. Francis went on to publicly renounce his family, money, wealth, etc., and gave his material items to his father. Near the wall to his house was a statue that depicted this very event, showing the father holding the clothes of St. Francis, and his mother holding onto the broken chains that bound him.
After a quick lunch, we saw St. Francis basilica, which was absolutely beautiful. It is a huge basilica, and the upper level walls are covered with painted religious events. The lower level was the best sight of the entire town. Everywhere you were to look was covered in painting, some allegorical scenes, historical scenes, one depicted hell, earth, and heaven, probably signifying judgment day. There were people on the left rising to heaven, and others on the right going down to hell. The entire place was covered in beautiful colors, including the ceiling which had a dark blue background with gold stars, symbolizing the heavens. I wish I could have taken so many pictures while we were inside, but no one is allowed to for fear of further deterioration of the art. The lowest level of the basilica is where the tomb of St. Francis is. This smaller area smelled of fresh cut flowers which were placed on the alter, simple stone all around. It was a very peaceful place.
Basilica of St. Francis
Overlook by St. Francis Basilica
Everywhere within the Basilica was absolutely beautiful, and outside there was a ledge, where you could overlook the rest of Assisi below. We had bad luck of crappy weather, but we made the best of it. On our way back to our hotel to get our bags to go back "home" to Rome, we stopped in a cute cafe and got some much needed espresso and delicious pastries. In the cafe, there was a dog (pug), who walked around like he owned the place, and jumped up and sat on the chair like he wanted to order some pastry or gelato with us!
Went back to the hotel, gathered our things, and on our way back to the train, we had time to walk around and were able to see the Basilica of St. Maria degli Angeli, which was beautiful, with a large golden statue on the tip. Across the street from the Basilica was a flea market, where you could find anything you would ever want, from fur coats and hats, to jewelry, old postcards, light fixtures, and so much more. It was such an interesting place!
Basilica of St. Maria degli Angeli.
After those two long but productive, we made it on the train back to Rome to finish homework (bleh!) and sleep! I had a great weekend end of the weekend, and was able to get a lot accomplished!
I have been very busy this past week and weekend, so here is an update! Last Monday, our school hosted are really cool wine tasting session, which was like an abbreviated version of my Wine and Culture class, so we were taught simple tips for tasting wine. The woman that held this session was our teacher for the W&C class, so it was really good to see what exactly we will be doing in the future, and she is very knowledgeable about the wines of Italy. We learned that people that know wine will only hold the wine glasses by the stem, as to not warm up the wine with the heat of your hand (which I had no idea). We also learned that you should first be able to look at the color and tell if it is good. If the color is too brown, for either whites or reds, then it has been in the bottle too long. After assessing the appearance of the wine, you are to smell it and get the preliminary thoughts of the wine, as to its flavor and what you may taste once you do taste the wine. Finally comes the tasting, and that is self-explanatory. Taste, and see what you taste, and determine through all of that analysis whether you like it for legitimate reasons, based on what we learned. The first was a really light and fruity white wine, which had a bit of a sour apple taste. However, we were able to try a delicious type of prosciutto with it, and the saltiness of the meat with the wine complimented each other and was so tasty! We then tried a red wine, which had a very strong taste, and very earthy. We were able to try a type of cheese with this wine, and the two paired together were absolutely delicious! It was overall a fantastic intro to what the class will teach us, in addition to more about the different regions and how the wines from each region of Italy differ. The teacher also gave us recommendations of inexpensive wine bars that we should try, each having a different atmosphere to them. Overall a very informative experience!
Tuesday was interesting, because my Travel Writing class all went to a performance of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. This was not something I would have liked to spend my money on in Rome, because it was definitely something I could see in Chicago. This play was in English, and despite the great talent in the play, it was 3 hours of my time that could have been put to better use. I love theater, but I didn't think it was necessary to have us attend this production. I think what she wanted us to do is get out and experience something, because one of our assignments every week is to have a certain number of pages of a travel writing journal of all that we do. It was a good idea, just not exactly something we were all interested in doing in Italy.
Wednesday was an extremely fun night. There hasn't been a time that me and all of my 5 other roommates had been in the same city on a weekend (yes, Wednesday is a weekend night for me!), so we all bonded and got dinner, then proceeded to talk for hours at the restaurant. One of my roommates, Melissa, is from Mexico, and she had mentioned a few days before this to us that she wanted to find a Salsa bar to go dancing. So, we found one not too far away from our apartment, and all went together. I was really nervous about going, because the only dancing I know is Irish dancing, much much different from any other types of dancing. However, my roommate Melissa knew a little, and taught me some simple steps. The place we went was such an interesting place, there were two big rooms with stages where, during the "real" weekends, live bands perform, and very good couples or even single dancers come to dance and practice their steps. There is not only salsa that was being danced, but may other types of dances. There were a few couples there that had very clearly danced for a long time, and watching them was extremely interesting, with the way they moved and the intricate steps they performed. We danced for a few hours before exhaustion hit us, and went home with some great new bonds formed. We are all extremely different, but we all get along very very well. What a great end to our school "week"! More on the weekend to come...
This weekend was so amazing, to say the least. Firstly, it was a while 4 days, which is longer than my entire week of school. Secondly, I had some amazing and new experiences. Thursday was the day of rest after a hectic first week of school, figuring out where to get books, starting to get into the groove of being back in school after being on winter break for more than a month. We ended up sleeping in, then going to a meeting at school with the U.S. Embassy. The meeting was pretty informative, but seemed as if it's sole purpose was to scare us into behaving, which I would have done without the scare. The woman presenting at the meeting told us what to look out for while at extremely tourist-y places, not to accept open beverages from strangers, to be safe if/when we would go out at night, etc. It was mainly a refresher scare from freshman year of college when they warned us of the safety issues and what will result from irresponsibility. Afterwards, I had talked to a girl who knew about my computer situation (refresher: it was not charging because of the cord, but there was no problem with the computer) and told me about a computer store called Euronics, which, to my EXTREME delight, had a cord that worked! That night, 3 of my roommates and I went to a wine bar, where one of our teachers had recommended us to go. So, we sat around for a couple hours, just talking and laughing. It was a great way to celebrate our first successful week in Rome!
Friday we had wanted to go to visit the Colosseum, but we ended up sleeping in a little too late, so me and Cindy (one roommate) made the trip to the supermarket, finally, to get food for ourselves for the apartment. The supermarket was not what we had imagined, as it was MUCH smaller than your average Jewel or Dominick's, with tiny aisles and an extremely different selection. There was so much more pasta, different cheeses, salami, and bread than there was at home, in comparison to the chips, pop, and junk-food aisles. However, there were still frozen pizzas, to both of our amazement! I got a little of what I would need for a week or two, then scooted off back home.
Saturday, again, we woke up very late, but ended up making it to the Colosseum! I went with a classmate, Dana, as well as Cindy, one of my roommates. By the time we got there at 4:30pm, the inside was closed, but we were able to wander around the entire Colosseum a few times, up and around the streets surrounding it, and get MANY good pictures, both in daylight and at nighttime. The Colosseum was one of my favorite places to visit, as of now, but that may change! Around the Colosseum there were tourist shops, but further along the winding streets we came upon a mini fountain, a quaint market, beautiful stores with huge selections of cheeses, pizza, paninis, and anything delicious. After a couple hours of walking, it got to sunset, and we made it back to the Colosseum, and got amazing pictures of this wonderful building at night, (I will post some after).
The next day we got up "early" (compared to the rest of the weekend) and made it to the Colosseum before it closed. The line was a LOT longer than we had anticipated, but we eventually made it in. Let me tell you, it was phenomenal. We opted out of spending the extra money for the guided tour, but we still were able to take in the sight of the place, and appreciate what happened there so many years ago. Looking over into the arena, I thought it wasn't as large as it seemed from the outside, but the entire Colosseum is not only grand for the arena, but also for the areas around it, where people used to flood through the entrance arches, squeeze between so many others to get as close as possible to see all the action. In the arena was no main ground, but it was fallen apart enough to see the entire underneath of the arena. This is where the wild animals, slaves, and gladiators would stay. We saw parts of an unworkable pulley system, which is how they released the gladiators and animals for the fights. In the upper level, you could see that the Colosseum was as grand and masterfully built as you would think. There were parts of marble statues of emperors, animals, heads of commoners, and mosaics that would have been found in the Colosseum in all it's glory. It was simply amazing. Looking out over Rome surrounding the Colosseum, you could see the old Roman Forum that is now in ruins, part of the Vittoriano, Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy, who was the first King of Italy. Beautiful.
Once we had our fill of the Colosseum, we walked down the main street near it, which was closed off for the afternoon. Walking down the street we saw a Michael Jackson impersonator on a lunch break, a man and a woman dancing the tango in front of a statue of Marcus Aurelius, as well as a team of break dancers. I do not think it was for a festival, but was fun and an exciting place to be none-the-less. By the time we reached the Piazza Venezia, we were able to marvel at the Vittoriano, which was absolutely beautiful. Not only was it grand for size and for its statues and sculptures all around it, but also for its color- bright white marble. This was, at that moment, my favorite place to be. We walked up all the stairs and just stood in the warm sun, leaning on the cool white marble overlooking the Piazza.
The rest of the day paled in comparison to our exciting morning and afternoon, but we walked around, then took the Metro back to the apartment, took a nap, and worked on homework the rest of the night. Oh the life of a student in Rome! Quite a long post this is, but it was one of the most amazing days I've had so far. I have also talked with my mom and she has booked our flights to Athens for the first weekend in April! I am very excited for my family to come visit; Dad in a couple weeks, and Mom, Emily, Carol and Kathleen a couple weeks after that! What a great weekend! More to come, including pictures.