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agmcgehee

2011

Horse Races and Wine Tastings

January 22

Today was a long day!  We started in Siena.  We took the hour bus ride from Florence then met our tour guide for a foot tour of Siena.  We started at the Basilica of St Dominic.  This is where the skull of Siena’s patron saint, Saint Catherine,  is kept.  When St Catherine died, her body was split up and sent to many different locations.  Siena got the skull.  We then walked to the main street of Siena.  the main street runs north south and used to run all the way to Rome in the south and up to Canterbury in England to the north.  Main street also had many good examples of Gothic architecture which is slightly different from what we have most often seen in Italy thus far.  We also saw the first bank of Siena which is called Monte dei Paschi and is still active today as a private bank.  Next we saw the Cathedral of Siena.  This cathedral had pretty vibrant colors on the outside and an awe-inspiring inside.  The pulpit of the cathedral was highly praised by our tour guide.  She said that when a person addresses a crowd from atop this pulpit it is somehow more moving and powerful.  It had many intricate carvings on it, and one can see how this would be true.  The cathedral also contained some works by Donetello.  We haven’t seen much Donatello art on this trip so that was interesting to see.  We ended the tour in the Campo where Siena’s most famous event is held, il Palio.  Il Palio is a bareback horse race that takes place twice each summer.  Each of the districs of Siena are represented in at least one of the races and three are represented in both. The four days leading up to the race as well as race day itself are very chaotic and intense in Siena.  According to our tour guide, everyone gets a little crazy around the races!  We grabbed lunch and wandered around Siena for a bit then headed to the bus for the rest of our action-packed day.  Next we stopped at San Gimingnano.  San Giminignano is a walled medeival town just outside of Siena and is surrounded by countryside.  We climbed the bell tower of this town and saw the spectacular view of San Gimingnano and the Italian countryside.  Finally we went for dinner and a wine tasting.  the dinner consisted of a starter, a vegetable dish and probably the best lasagna I’ve ever had.  Throuout the meal we tasted 10 different wines as well as 2 or 3 olive oils and a balsamic vinegar.  the tasting was led by Luigi, the owner of the vineyard.  His family has owned the vineyard for generations and we was an absolute riot!  He spoke pretty good English and was just funny as all hell!  He taught us how to do a proper tasting of wine including the swirl , the smell and the full taste using all the senses in the mouth.  We ranked some of the wines on a scale from 0-10 with 0 being “pee-pee” and 10 being perfect beyond belief.  The ratings varied greatly between the 24 of us which was the same throughout the trip.  Everyone liked each site or duomo or piece of art or wine differently.  Luigi gave us a slogan for this phenomenon that we experienced daily on this trip:

“What’s good is not what’s good; what’s good is what you like”

2011

First day of Florence

January 20

Today we took a short foot tour of Florence. To start, we went to the Accademia.  This museum holds many famous works of art including Michelangelo’s David and The Rape of the Sabine Women.  After browsing through the museum for a bit we continued on to see the Cathedral of St Mary of the Flowers, also known as the Florence Cathdreal. The dome of this cathedral is the third largest in the world and stands out in the landscape of Florence.  The dome of St Peter’s basilica was even modeled after this dome.  On our way to the final stop on our tour we passed by the Piazza della Repubblica and Orsammichele, and ended at the Piazza della Signoria. The town hall stands here which is called the Palazzo Vecchio. Just as the title implies, the hall looks like a castle and in front of it stands a replica of the statue of David. We also saw the Galleria degli Uffizi from the piazza. The galleria contains an exhibition of replicas of many famous statues including a replica of the Rape of the Sabine Women from the Accademia. One thing we didn’t expect on the tour was the temperature. So far in Italy we have experienced comfortable weather, comparable to a Minnesota spring or fall rather than the winter.  So, by the end of the tour we were all feeling the cold. We were shivering and huddling together for warmth, so we were ready to head back to the hotel or for lunch; anything to get inside!  The afternoon was free but in the evening we met for a discussion. We had a really good discussion on American culture versus Italian culture and modern Italian culture versus ancient Roman culture and everything in between. Every one had had different experiences to share and our native Italian guide, Claudio, shared a few things also. Overall, the discussion was very thought provoking and enjoyable. After the discussion we all decided to go to dinner together. So, we went out for yet another dinner as a large group (all 22 of us) then went our separate ways for the remainder of the evening’s activities.

Florence Cathedral

Florence Cathedral

The Galleria degli Uffizi - The Rape of the Sabine Women is the second one from the right

The Galleria degli Uffizi - The Rape of the Sabine Women is the second one from the right

The group huddled together for warmth!

The group huddled together for warmth!

2011

On to Florence

January 18th

Happy Birthday to Mike St Dennis!! Another birthday to celebrate in Italy.

Mike's birthday beer in Florence.  St Denise...how fitting

Mike's birthday beer in Florence. St Denise...how fitting

The day started out with a bang…or rather a crash.  Our hotel in Naples had beds that pulled out from the walls so we could fit 3 into each room, and some rooms even had pullout bunk beds.  Around 6am one of these bunk beds gave in and fell off the wall.  Two of our travelers were on the two beds and another was sleeping on the other side of the room.  No one was hurt but it made for a very entertaining breakfast story (and a full refund for that room).  After that jump start we headed to the engineering department of the Federico II University in Naples for some lectures.  The first lecture was about the tower of Pisa.  The lecture focused on how to make the tower more stable without compromising its historical and artistic integrity.  The tower is leaning about 5 degrees from vertical and the less lean the better.  The second lecture was on earthquake protection of historical buildings.  Italy lies on a fault line so it does experience occasional earthquakes.  With all of Italy’s historic landmarks, this is something they constantly think about.  We also toured one of their labs which had a lot of cool tools.  Their tools were also on a much larger scale than the tools in the St Thomas labs. 

Next we moved on to Pompeii.  Pompeii was essentially frozen in time when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD.  The city is so well preserved as are some artifacts such as pots and pans and even some human remains.  The city is huge and we only had a couple of hours so we only got to see some things.  We saw a villa and stores and restaurants.  We also saw a theater, which was pretty big and very impressive.  After Pompeii we loaded up the bus and started our 7 hour journey to Florence.  We watched Gladiator on the bus thanks to Barbara, which made the time pass that much faster.  We arrived in Florence and checked into our new hotel which is a very nice hotel (compared to the Naples hotel).  After settling in, most people stayed in to shower, sleep or check Facebook/email, but a brave few went out for a drink to celebrate the last hour of Mike’s birthday.  We had a drink then went back to the hotel to prepare for tomorrow.  Maserati and Ducati factories tomorrow!!

A diagram of the bunk bed collapse

A diagram of the bunk bed collapse

The group sitting in the Teater at Pompeii

The group sitting in the Teater at Pompeii

2011

We didn’t reserve the bus long enough…

January 14th

Our first event of the day was to visit the Villa dei Quintili.  This was a villa for the Quintili brothers, but Emperor Commodus had them executed and took control of their villa out of jealousy.  This is the emperor depicted in the movie Gladiator, he was actually a jerk just like in the movie.  We had a private bus to get there which took about 45 minutes.  Once we got there we were taken aback by the amount of greenery.  Most of Rome is covered in pavement, but this area looked more like Ireland than Italy.  The ruins of the villa were very well preserved.  Many walls were still standing and mosaics and wall decorations were also still visible in the ruins.  Another interesting thing was that they are still excavating the area.  We got to see a portion of the villa that has only been open to public viewing for a couple months.  We also saw where they would be excavating next.  There was a building top sticking out a little ways away from the main ruins, that is where they would be digging next.  Additionally, we saw part of what an aqueduct looked like up close.  This was the aqueduct that was an offshoot from the main aqueduct which used to supply water to the Villa dei Quintili.  We also learned a little about bathing in ancient Rome.  Commodus was obsessed with baths, he was even assassinated in one.  They had three different baths for warm, hot and cold water.  But we will learn more about this when we study the Diocletian baths, which were public baths used in ancient Rome.

Next, we wanted to eat lunch before going to the aqueduct park, but we didn’t have the bus booked long enough!  It was 1pm already and we were hungry, but first we saw the aqueduct park.  Nine of the eleven aqueducts that supplied ancient Rome run through this area.  An interesting sight was a piece of a multi-level aqueduct in which a cross section was visible.  So, from a distance, we were able to see how the inside of an aqueduct was structured.

Villa dei Quintili

Villa dei Quintili

Perfectly preserved mosaic at the Villa dei Quintili

Perfectly preserved mosaic at the Villa dei Quintili

On the bus ride home we ordered the pizza.  We couldn’t even wait to get there.  Because we ran into the time crunch with the bus John and Barbara covered lunch for us, we didn’t end up eating until 3 or 3:30! Aren’t our instructors the best!? We ordered from our go-to pizzeria and Alberto hooked us up with 21 pizzas.  We ate almost all 21 of them in no time at all on the rooftop terrace at the hotel.  After lunch, most wanted to do some laundry before we left Rome and this was the last opportunity to do it, so we had free time for the remainder of the day.

The aqueduct park

The aqueduct park

2011

Projects…

January 13th

Today was pretty laid back.  In the moring we heard presentations from Claudio and Alessandra on aquaducts and Villa dei Quintili both of which we will be seeing on January 14th.  After these presentations we had time to prepare for group presentations which were assigned on earlier this week.  Then we listened to the 15-20 minute presentations prepared by our classmates.  The presentations were as follows:

  • Wine: how to tell good from bad and some proper wine tasting procedures
  • Venice:  the history and attractions
  • Arches: including a SolidWorks analysis
  • Italian Cars:  including Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Lamborghini
  • The Colosseum: some history, past and present uses and some information on the Gladitorial games

After the presentations, Barbera and John treated us to dinner.  We boarded a coach bus and were taken to a small resturaunt for our delicious meal. We were seated at a table for 23 in an enclosed tent coming off of the front of the small resturant.  The meal consisted of an appetizer of cod and artichoke, a first dish of pasta, a second dish consisting of meat and salad, then finally a dessert of a berry filled cake.  Most of the group also enjoyed wine with their meal.  Wine is enjoyed by the Romans almost daily and you know what they say…When in Rome!

Claudio on the left - our Italian coordinator and guide, John on the right - one of our instructors

Claudio on the left - our Italian coordinator and guide, John on the right - one of our instructors at the resturant for dinner

Getting home from the resturant we were on our own.  A majority of the group walked back taking many different routes.  Some strolled by the river while some took a more direct route.  After the laid back day we had, I was ready for some walking so I walked back, it took about an hour at the slow pace we were going.  It was a wonderful night!

2011

Back to the Vatican

January 12th

We started the day with a public pope audience.  Every Wednesday the pope appears in front of a packed auditorium for passages, hymns and blessings.  We left the hotel at 9am for the 10:30am appearance.  Once we arrived at St Peter’s Square, we realized why we left so early.  There was already a huge line waiting at the security check to get in.  There were groups from many different countries present including St Thomas, St Kate’s and St Olaf from Minnesota.  We were seated in the front section of the auditorium so we had fairly good seats when we got in.  Closer to the starting time they opened the front section to people sitting in the back section.  At this point there was a mad dash of people trying to find the best possible seats in the front.  These people were on a mission for a close spot, they had such intensity in their faces. You could tell how important this event was to the people there.  Once the pope came out the auditorium erupted into cheers, screams and camera flashes.  He reached the middle of the stage and called for silence.  We then heard passages from the book of Luke in several different languages including English, Italian and Spanish.  Then, different groups present in the audience were acknowledged and cheered to receive a non-verbal acknowledgement from the pope himself.  The appearance ended with a mass blessing and a hymn led by the pope, sung in Latin.

After this we grabbed some lunch then met again to go into the Scavi so see ancient excavated tombs below Vatican City.  We saw where St Peter’s remains were buried along with the sarcophaguses of different popes.  We also saw the Vatican necropolis which showed where bodies were cremated and what a family mausoleum looked like for the rich in ancient times.

After the Scavi we had a class session followed by dinner.  A few went to get a doner kebab, which are fantastic.  A large group tried a Chinese restaurant, which was a good change of pace.  We then settled into the hotel for good conversation and wine with our instructors.  Our dean, Dr. Weinkauf,  came to Rome to hang out with us for a few days, but it was his last night so we spent it enjoying each others’ company

The Pope

The Pope

2011

A picture’s worth 1000 words: The Vatican

January 10th

A statue from the Octagonal Courtyard in the Vatican Museum

A statue from the Octagonal Courtyard in the Vatican Museum

A statue of Hera from the Sala Rotonda (Round Room) in the Vatican Museum

A statue of Hera from the Sala Rotonda (Round Room) in the Vatican Museum

The floor in Sala a Croce Grece (Room at the Greek Cross)

The floor in Sala a Croce Grece (Room at the Greek Cross)

A tapestry in Galleria degli Arazzi (Gallery of Tapestries)

A tapestry in Galleria degli Arazzi (Gallery of Tapestries)

St Peter's Basilica

St Peter's Basilica

The dome at St Peter's Basilica from the inside

The dome at St Peter's Basilica from the inside

And last but not least…The view from the top of St Peter’s Basilica!

view

2011

The smallest country in the world: Vatican City

January 10th

Today was all about the Vatican.  We saw almost everything that the vatican had to offer and there was so much!! First we walked through the vatican museum which had so many interesting works of art.  We went into room after room of statues, tapestries and murals, it all seemed never ending.  The Vatican has such a history and it was all there, told through pieces of art.

Finally, we made our way to the Sistine Chapel.  There was no photography allowed in the Sistine Chapel, but it was extremely impressive.  Literally the entire inside of the church was painted, and each painting told a story.  The stories of Christ and Moses were present and, of course, the famous “Creation of Adam”.  The entire ceiling and all four walls had intricate murals on them.  The paintings also had perspective to them, they weren’t just the ordinary two dimensional paintings, everything looked to detailed and real.  The 20 minutes we spent gazing above at the stories of Michelangelo were simply not enough.

Later, we finally got to go into the largest church in the world, St Peter’s Basilica.  We had seen the outside of this monumentous church, but the inside was just as breath taking.  The enormous alter stood at the far end underneath the dome and left us in awe at the door.  The statues and art all around the basilica were simply beautiful.

After we had taken in the basilica, the rest of the day was free.  But most of us, if not all, hadn’t had enough.  We wanted to climb the 550-ish stairs to reach the very top of the dome.  I don’t know what 550 may seem like to others, but that is ALOT OF STAIRS!  But we made it, and it was totally worth it!  The view was amazing.

After we came back down, we grabbed a quick lunch then headed back to the hotel to catch up on homework and have a class discussion.  Once the business was out of the way, we all grabbed dinner.  Some went to a place famous for its orange tortellini, while a few decided to mix it up some.  Italian is so good, but you have to mix it up every once in a while, so some went to a Mexican restaurant:  La Cucarach.  Despite being called “The Cockroach”, the food was delicious and a nice change of pace.  Afterwards we all returned to the hotel for a quiet night of pool and Uno, then off to bed!

PS:  We are having some issues getting pictures to upload into the blog right now.  We have emailed IT but we may find a different solution.  We will keep you posted.

2011

The Colosseum – New Pics Added!

January 7th

The Colosseum described in one word would be AMAZING.  Words simply do not do it justice.  It is 527m around, which is about 1/4 larger than a standard outdoor track, and 162 ft high.  We took the metro (subway) to the Colosseum, and when we left the station it was right in front of us.  It is simply breathtaking.

col_outside

Each of the arches are 23ft high, and to the left you can see that it used to be even taller all the way around.  All these dimensions don’t mean as much until you’re standing next to this enormous arena.  The Colosseum could seat upwards of 50,000 people and had 76 public entrances in addition to 4 private entrances for the elite.  Some of the numbers above each entrance are still visible today.  It could also be emptied in a relatively short amount of time because it had so many entrances.

The inside of the Colosseum

The inside of the Colosseum

What’s left on the floor of the Colosseum is the gladiator staging area. A number of lifts and trap doors were present so gladiators and animals could appear anywhere on the arena floor.  Most of the seating areas have collapsed but there was seating all around the arena floor, all the way up to the top.  First the senetors, then the upper class, then the comman man, then in the “nose-bleeds” were the peasants.

Palatine Hill from the second level of the Colosseum

Palatine Hill from the second level of the Colosseum

Arch of Constantine from the second level of the Colosseum

Arch of Constantine from the second level of the Colosseum

The Colosseum closer to dusk

The Colosseum closer to dusk

After the Colosseum we made our way up the street to Basilica di S. Clemente.  There was no photography allowed inside the Basilica, so I don’t have any pictures of this one.  This basilica was built on top of many older Roman buildings (as is most of Rome).  We traveled back through time, to lower and lower levels until we reach levels that were 1900 years old!  After the Basilica, we were on our own for dinner and getting back to the Hotel.  Most took the subway, but a brave few made the walk back to Hotel Alimandi the first day.  It is between 2-3 miles between the Colosseum and the hotel, depending on the route you take, but we got to see so much!  I made the walk this first night, and we walked past the Capitol again as well as to Campo di Fiori.  It was a long day, and we were all in for some sound sleeping!

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II after dark

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II after dark

Gino telling us about the Colosseum

Gino telling us about the Colosseum

The group out in front of the Colosseum

The group out in front of the Colosseum

-Ciao

2011

The Sights of Roma

January 6th

Wonderful view of Rome!  On the right, next to the tree you can see the Pantheon (the large dome)

Wonderful view of Rome! On the right, next to the tree you can see the Pantheon (the large dome)

Another view of Rome - The white monument on the left is Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II near the capitol building

Another view of Rome - The white monument on the left is Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II near the capitol building

Just a general view of Rome

Just a general view of Rome

Bridge we crossed to reach Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island)

Bridge we crossed to reach Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island)

Basilica di San Bartolomeo on Tiber Island

Basilica di San Bartolomeo on Tiber Island

Circus Maximus

Circus Maximus

Capitol Building

Capitol Building

The she wolf with Romulus and Remus - the twin founders or Rome

The she wolf with Romulus and Remus - the twin founders or Rome

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II

The Trajan column

The Trajan column

A group of us at the wine bar.  One of our instructors Barbera is on the far right

A group of us at the wine bar. One of our instructors Barbera is on the far right

More of us at the wine bar!

More of us at the wine bar!