On Tuesday, we were allowed to explore Rome for ourselves. The sophomore boys seized the day and visited many of the churches of Rome. Some of them especially liked the Church of Saint Ignatius. This church’s ceiling was an optical illusion, showing incredible depth and perception. Others decided to climb the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The 555 steps to the top were completely worth it; the view was fantastic! You can see for miles and get to revel in God’s beauty. I especially liked being able to take in the Holy See; it goes so much further back behind Saint Peter’s Basilica. The private gardens are incredibly beautiful. We ended our day with a ‘group dinner’. About 20 of us decided to go find a restaurant off the beaten path. They were very accommodating to our large size and we got to have a great meal in great company. We then went to the Spanish steps and Trevi fountain and all made a wish together into the fountain. It was a perfect end to a great day!
On Wednesday, we took a walking tour of Rome. We got to officially see the Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, and Pantheon. It was interesting to hear the history behind each of these monuments after we had first experienced them. For example, the Spanish steps are only known by this name in English; the nickname doesn’t translate into Italian or any other language. Also, there are 3 sections of the steps representing the Holy Trinity with each flight of these sections having 12 steps to represent the 12 apostles. Next we saw the Trevi fountain. This exquisite fountain is the end of the aqueduct system of Rome. Thousands of people come to wish on a coin and toss it into the fountain. They say that each month thousands of Euros get collected and are subsequently given to the poor. Next we went to the Parthenon. I found it fascinating that they still celebrate mass in this old, beautiful building. The open dome on the ceiling allows the elements to come into the church. When we were there the fine mist was settling on the marble floor. It was cool to see the rain fall so delicately through the hole in the ceiling. Then, we spent the rest of the day at the Leonardo da Vinci museum. He was one of the first to revolutionize mechanisms. Imagine all of us engineers in a room full of these mechanisms; we were like kids in a candy store!
On Thursday, we traveled by bus to the beautiful city of Florence. Here the river serves as a gorgeous backdrop to the city known for its art. We started our day by attending a tour at the Uffizi Museum. This museum started as just a private collection of one wealthy family and is now a large exhibit. Here the halls are lined with the works of great sculptors and each room displays a different period. I found it interesting to see how the depiction of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus changed throughout history. Then we got to have our first taste of the exquisite shopping that Florence has to offer. From the flagship Gucci store to the leather market to the stand selling 3 ties for 10 Euro, we all found what we were looking for. The evening ended with a fabulous meal at a local restaurant. The owner of this restaurant served as our waiter and showed off his establishment with enormous pride. He should be proud because that meal was fantastic!
On Friday, we started our day taking a walking tour of Florence. It was amazing to see an entire bridge filled with 40+ jewelry shops, all sparkling in the sunlight. Too bad everything was out of our price range. We then ended up at the Duomo in the heart of the city. This exquisite church took over 100 years to complete and the façade of the outside along with the craftsmanship on display inside show it off. The outside of this church is actually a green color as opposed to the white churches we have grown accustomed to seeing. Our afternoon was spent at Museo Galileo. We had a fantastic tour guide that showed us all of his inventions along with other artifacts from that time. I found his work with astronomy to be most fascinating; he figured out so much about our solar system with a telescope equivalent to the ones you can buy at Target.
Saturday was an absolutely picture perfect day. We took an hour train ride from Florence to Pisa. Here not only does their famous tower lean, but in actuality the entire town does. The soft ground is the root of their problems; it was too soft to support the buildings. Fun fact, the town is located below sea level, so if you dig in the ground you will find water. In fact, most of the buildings in Pisa don’t have basements for this very reason. In addition to seeing the town, we did get to climb the famous bell tower that is the leaning tower of Pisa. It was interesting to hear about the different solutions the engineers had on how to make sure it wouldn’t fall over. It blew my mind to hear how much money that tower brings in each year. We calculated that each summer the climb to the top alone brings in over $4 million. Don’t worry; we all got our typical tourist picture of holding up the tower. J Although the view from the top of the tower was breathtaking, lying in the grass and soaking up the sunshine was also a great way to spend our afternoon. We got a chance to take it the beautiful day before we have to come home to negative temperatures.
On Sunday we left Florence to return to Rome. On the way we got to stop in the cute little town of Orvieto. It was clearly a tourist destination seeing as all of the shops were closed up and there were very limited restaurant selections, but we didn’t mind. The view from the town’s walls was stunning. The rolling hills of the countryside, complete with the backdrop of misty mountains, provided the perfect scenery. We then returned to Rome and had our final class meeting. Drs. Shakiban and Hennessey had bought some of the dumb toys that we were asked to buy off the street in every city we went to and gave them away as prizes for various awards. Then we got all dressed up and went to our 3-course farewell dinner. The food was amazing, but the conversation was better. I am going to miss this group so much; this experience was unbelievable. We spent the rest of the night exploring Rome and seeing the monuments all lit up. One last wish at the Trevi fountain was the perfect way in which to end our wonderful month here in Europe. I can’t wait to come back!
Alex getting fed by the restaurant owner in Florence
Alex on top of Saint Peter’s Basilica
Molly showing off a mechanism at the Da Vinci Museum in Rome
The Pantheon in the rain
The Capitol Building in Rome – my favorite building
The Duomo in Florence
A sculpture that represented our solar system and the 7 levels of the Heavens at the Galileo Museum in Florence
All of the boys posing in front of the Trevi Fountain
Kyle, Alex, Andy, Steph, Garen, and Connor showing off their great strength to keep the leaning tower upright
All of us in front of the leaning tower of Pisa