Browsing Category



New blog

The st thomas ENGR 298 trip to Rome can be found here:


So Long, Farewell

January 24th

Rise and shine! Today was an early morning and obviously a day dedicated to traveling. We wanted to be at the airport at a decent time because we had an international flight and such. Our flight was expected to be almost 11 hours. Yes 11 hours, and unlike the accomodations we had on our flight to Rome, we did not have individual tv screens. Luckily there were 4 movies that were played, and most of us watched all of them. Not alot of sleeping was done because let’s face it, sleeping on a plane proves to be difficult. 11 hours later we were arriving in Atlanta. We not only survived the flight, but survived customs! It was nice to be back in the States. Only a 2 hour plane ride separating us from our actual home state. We were lucky to not have anything dramatic happen on our travels and made it home safe.

A few closing remarks. Now being back, we’ve all been bombarded with the question, “So how was your J-Term?” Obviously this is not a question that can be easily answered. We had three weeks of seeing things that people dream their whole lives of seeing (being there was really like being in a dream). Not only that but the amount of material we were exposed to was un-real. So don’t be offended if we respond “good” and can’t seem to come up with some fantastic remark right away.

We have all been able to take something different away from this trip, something we will all carry with us for the rest of our lives. So a special thanks to all the friends and family that made this trip possible for all of us! Words cannot describe how thankful we are.

One last thing,



Last Day in Italy

January 23rd

Already the last day. I think it’s safe to say that this trip went by incredibly fast. Maybe too fast. Today we had a chance to go to the Museum of Science in Florence. (This museum was a little different than the one we have back in St. Paul) We had our own time to stroll around the exhibits, and had an electronic device to help guide us. Cameras weren’t allowed in the museum but there were some really interesting things inside, things that we take for granted. Some of the coolest things had to do with Galileo. Not only did we get to see his fingers and a tooth, but we got to see his telescopes. What a brilliant man he was. After we finished at the Science Museum, we had a couple hours to do whatever we pleased. Naturally we all went shopping to the markets and got some last minute gifts. We all met back at the hotel and hopped onto the bus, a place we’ve grown accustomed to. We had our last glimpse of Florence and then headed for our last meal together.

What an adventure our last night together was. We ended up having dinner in a town in a mountain-esque town where there was actually snow. The bus dropped us off at a certain point and we had to walk the rest of the way to the restaurant, which doesn’t seem like a big deal. Try walking downhill on ice! On the way we stopped and admired a palace that was a summer home for one of the wealthiest families in Italy hundreds of years ago. We were almost at our destination when four little kids bombarded us with snow balls. Their aim was definitely accurate, I should know I got hit by one. Dinner was relaxed and absolutely wonderful, another 5 course meal. The professors said their last remarks which included Barbara presenting us with mini awards, of coure there was alot of laughter. After a fantastic meal we were headed back to Rome.

We stayed at a hotel close to the airport  which would be fantastic for our early morning flight. This was by far the nicest place we stayed at all trip. It was nice to get a comfortable sleep before our big day of travel.


Fast Cars and Motorcycles

January 19th

(Apologies for having these out of order)

Today was all about cars and bikes. We had the privelege to go on factory tours of both Maserati and Ducati. The first tour we went on was that of Maserati. We had a chance to walk through the factory as the cars were being hand assembled. Maserati is all about the quality. We learned that they only produce around 5,300 cars a year. This is extremely low, no wonder the cars cost so much! It was pretty cool to see the whole process in action. I think secretly we had all wanted to “test drive” one of those cars. There are only 4 test drivers that put on about 60 miles before the car is shipped off to a dealership. How would you like to have that as your job? After the tour we all tried to get pictures in the cars in the showroom. That didn’t last too long as you can imagine, and finally a worker came out and locked all the cars on us.

Before heading to the Ducati factory we took the bus out into the middle of nowhere. We all wondered where we were at. Apparently on the outskirts of Modena, the town that the Maserati is based out of. Anyways we were at the place we were going to eat for lunch. I don’t think any of us were prepared for what was instore for us. We had a five course lunch! For once we didn’t have pizza! The food was delicious. The day was looking good so far.

Now that we were all fueled up, Ducati was next on the list. This tour was enjoyable because the tour guides kept a good pace, and many of us didn’t get too bored. Most of us enjoyed watching the testing chambers where men would get the bikes going fast and test the brakes and emmissions and such. After the tour we all got to walk around the museum which was awesome. It was in a circular shape with rooms off the main way. It started from the first bikes (think a bicycle with an engine) and then progressed up to the modern day models. It was great to see the evolution of the bike, and how far the technology has came in 50 years.



January 21st

Carrara is where it is at. That is if you want marble. Today we got the chance to go into the marble quarries that have been around for over 2,000 years. Woah! These are also the same quarries where Michelangelo hand picked his marble for various statues and monuments. The marble in these quarries are of the best quality, pure white, and minimal veins. It was an interesting adventure to take our huge tour bus up into the quarries. Once we got up there we had a chance to see how the marble was actually taken away using a wire rope diamond saw. We also had the opportunity to meet the owner of the specific area and he gave each one of us the diamond beads as good luck charms. Don’t get too excited, I’m pretty sure the diamond was synthetic and not real. We then had a chance to go down into the studio and look at all sorts of marble carvings.

We had a bag lunch which consisted of pop and lard. Yes, lard. It was actually pretty good, but probably not too good for you!

Last destination today: Pisa. Home to the leaning tower of Pisa and also the birthplace of Galileo. While there we had a chance to go inside the baptistry, cathedral, and graveyard. The baptistry was huge! What was special about this specific baptistry, was its acoustics. We got to hear/see a live performance of a man singing notes. The sound was incredible in the space. The cathedral had a chandelier which inspired Galileo to calculate the “period” of a swinging object. We got to see the actual lamp too, however it was located in the graveyard. Some of us were able to climb all the way to the top of Pisa, and what a hike that was. Of course we all took the classic picture of pretending to hold up the tower.

We ended the days adventure with a little Mc Donald’s. It was nice to take a break from all the bread and pasta.

Now let’s get down to business and talk about the bell tower. It was ironically due to an engineering mistake. Mainly not knowing that the soil was not suitable for such a heavy structure. Quick fun fact, both the cathedral and the baptistry lean as well.


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”


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!


On to Florence

January 18th

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

Mike's birthday beer in Florence.  St fitting

Mike's birthday beer in Florence. St 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


Goodbye Roma

January 17th

Our last day in Rome… Where did the time go?

We had the morning to pack and hang out before heading to Naples. A few of us went to our favorite pizzeria to say goodbye to the owner Alberto and have one last decent meal before traveling.

Before we could actually leave we had one last thing to do. We met a professor at the Roman Forum to be geeky. The topic: technology used on old monuments to monitor the integrity of the structure. This professor that we talked to was the head of the project that set up all the equipment on this basilica in the forum.  What was neat was we had been to this exact spot a few days ago and none of us noticed the technology… they did a good job of designing it! The purpose is to monitor the natural shifting of the buildings over long periods of time.

We took about a 3 hour bus ride south to Naples to Hotel Rex. Had a chance to have a group dinner at a pretty swanky restaurant  where we had… PIZZA!! One thing we’ve all learned is that the Italians sure like their pizzas. After dinner we took a very short walking tour where we befriended a stray dog, which followed us back to the hotel. We appropriately named him Rex.


Free Day

January 16th

One full day to do whatever we wanted. Oh the possibilities!

A majority of us (13) decided we wanted to be extra adventurous and take an excursion to Venice. We were up at about 6 am. Headed to the metro to get to Termini which is where we caught the bullet train. It took less than 4 hours with multiple stops to get to our destination. We were all expecting sunny skies because that’s what it was like on the majority of the train ride. We arrived and were surprised… foggy and cold. And when I say cold I mean hat and mittens weather. You could imagine none of us were prepared for this. Anyways we all made the best of it and walked around all day and ate as we went. One nice thing about Venice: no cars that could potentially run you over because Venice is all canals. Before we knew it the day was over and we were headed back to Roma.

Some of the other students that didn’t come with us to Venice went to a soccer game and just hung out around the hotel catching up on miscellaneous things.