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J-term 2014 Trip

J-term 2014 Trip

Rome til the end

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

J-term 2014 Trip

Rome part 1

On Saturday, our day began early when we left for the airport at 6:30 am.  We then had a short plane ride over to Rome.  We actually had the same flight attendant crew that flew us to Greece and they remembered us!  We arrived in Italy and had a delicious lunch of pizza; this would be the first of many pizzas for us.  Everyone settled into their new rooms and then we set out on our adventure of the evening, the Roma vs. Livorno futbol game.  It was so cool to take in a game with all the eccentric fans of Roma.

On Sunday, we started our day with mass in the Vatican.  Again I was amazed by the universality of the Catholic Church.  It is such a cool experience to take in mass with people from all over the world.  In fact, during the intentions, the priests spoke in Italian, French, English, and Spanish.  We then got to experience the pope’s weekly blessing out his window.  It was breathtaking to be cheering as he emerged from his office and then hear the entire square go silent to take in his blessing.

Next we went to the coliseum and it was incredible.  The workmanship and the story behind the stadium is amazing to experience personally.  Our day got interesting, though, when it started to pour and we were only part of the way through our tours.  Our day actually ended soon after we went to the Roman Forum, the place of Caesar’s burial, and we took the metro back to our hotel.  Our group definitely gave the street vendors selling the umbrellas and ponchos a lot of business yesterday.

Today, we went to the Vatican.  Again it was raining, but we got to spend most of the day taking in its immense beauty.  First we started in the museum seeing the inspiration for Michelangelo’s works and the hall of maps and tapestries.  Our minds were blown because the ceiling was painted as if it were three-dimensional.  Then we got to see the Sistine Chapel.  I was surprised by the size of it; I thought it would be much larger.  Michelangelo was truly an artistic genius; pictures do his works absolutely no justice.  In addition to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he also helped design St. Peter’s Basilica.  That church is BREATHTAKING.  To hear our guide explain all of the various shrines and chapels within it makes the entire experience even better.  We got to see the incorruptible body of John XXIII and the tomb of John Paul II within the main church.  These two amazing men are going to be canonized as saints this coming April.

Then in the afternoon we got to go to the Scavi.  This is where they excavated the tombs located underneath the basilica in search of St. Peter’s remains.  Each day only about 200 people get to take this tour so it was an incredible experience.  Our tour guide, actually, graduated from St. Thomas in 2012.  He was amazing, providing little tidbits of information with that Midwestern accent we understand so well. 😉  Hearing the process of searching for St. Peter’s remains was so interesting and seeing them in person was an incredible experience.  For me personally, seeing the founder of the church’s remains was an out-of-body experience.  To see something so important to my faith was extraordinary.


Futbol game!

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Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica

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Ceiling that looks 3-D but is just painted

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View from Vatican Museum

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Alex, Garen, Claire, and Ethan showing off our new umbrellas at the Coliseum

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Nick and Garen taking part in selfie-nation


Neil, Alex, and Evan joining selfie-nation


View from the Coliseum


Claire, Lisa, Hannah, Molly, and Garen showing off their gladiator faces


Rainbow in Rome (actually it was a double rainbow)


Molly and Claire in St. Peters Square


John Paul II’s tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica


Relic of Veronica’s wiping of the face of Jesus (it is in the balcony)


Papa Francesco’s address to the crowd in the square


Claire and Steph waiting in line to go to mass



J-term 2014 Trip


I apologize for the mass blog post, but we’ve been without internet for quite some time now. On Thursday we visited the museum of natural history in Athens. It contains various artifacts such as jewelry and sculptures from centuries past. It was very interesting to see how the gold pieces are still dazzling even though they are thousands of years old. I also found it fascinating to see how the body forms of the sculptures changed throughout the ages. For example, the men, at first, were always depicted as super muscular with long hair. Then, as the years passed, their bodies showed more movement and they were sculpted with short hair. This museum also contains one of the most famous bronze statues in the world. It depicts either Zeus or Poseidon throwing his respective weapon. Helen, our tour guide, said that there are only 38 bronze statues left in the world because the others had to be melted down to become armament.

We then went to the Technical University of Athens and had a guest lecture with a professor of architecture and some of her graduate students. It was interesting to hear how much our education systems differ. Their college tuition is completely covered and they graduate with a masters degree within 5 years. However, almost all of their graduates are jobless. Also, it was strange to see that law enforcement is not allowed on campus; it is a place for students to learn and express themselves without fear of repercussions.

On Friday, we had a free day to explore the city. Some of the boys got up early to go take in the temple of Zeus and the lookout to the pier, while others went to the beach. I went to the Aegean Sea and we all went swimming for a bit. Most of the locals looked at us like we were nuts, but the rush of being out swimming in the middle of January was enough for all of us to jump in! We then found some locals that hustled us in a game of beach volleyball. Although we didn’t win, the games were close and it was a lot of fun to play against them. We then had some time for shopping at the stores along the beach and made our way back to our hotel for an amazing group dinner. The food in Greece was awesome! The boys especially loved the cheap gyros available at all times of the night!


Everyone checking out the jewelry at the Natural History Museum

Bronze man statue

Class at the technical college

Derek, Will, Quinn, and Alex outside the technical college


J-term 2014 Trip


Ghia (hello) from beautiful Athens!


We’re truly roughin’ it these days with no free wifi in our hotel rooms 😉  We’ve spent the last few days getting to see the major landmarks in one of the world’s oldest cities.  Yesterday we got to tour the Acropolis or high city.  This ancient wonder was amazing to experience.  We had a wonderful tour guide, Elenia (Helen), who pointed out all of the features of the site that included the theater, temples, concert hall, and the Parthenon.  The most unbelievable thing is that the entire site was constructed with perfect math and without our modern machines.  For example, the columns are actually sloped at an angle that enables the Parthenon to appear perfectly vertical.  This in turn makes the Parthenon appear much taller than it actually is.  Also, most of the complex was constructed using marble and limestone that had to be taken from the quarries on the outskirts of the modern city (~2 miles away) and then carried up the massive hill.  The fact that the Parthenon was completed in just 15 years is simply amazing.


We then got to visit the new Acropolis museum located right next to our hotel.  Archeologists have found many of the sculptures and friezes (depictions of important events such as the birth of Athena) and put them into this museum.  The artifacts are so new and not researched, in fact, that you cannot take pictures, as their work hasn’t been published yet.  It was pretty incredible the amount of detailed placed in each sculpture of the Acropolis; no two pieces are the same.


Today we got to relax and take in the city by ourselves before class at 3.  We then walked to a dinner of kabobs followed by a jazz concert on the other side of Athens.  It was quite the hike to get there, but now we’re so much more cultured. 😉


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Dr. Shakiban showing her love for the stray dogs at the Acropolis



Herodium – concert hall



Rock that St. Paul preached Christianity



Garen, Claire, and Kyle focusing their zen in a place of great historical significance



Neil, Evan, and Alex in front of the Parthenon


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Lisa, Garen, Claire, Steph, Nick, and Kyle at the overlook to the city center


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Molly leaning against the Parthenon



Dr. Shakiban is very confused why her presentation was translated to Greek


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Jazz concert

J-term 2014 Trip


Hola from our last stop in Spain!  We’ve spent the past 2 days having a wonderful time in Barcelona.  We arrived around 8:30 am yesterday and quickly began to see the great views this city has to offer.  After a couple presentations and class time, we were free to explore the city.  Some went to the beach while others just wandered around the city.  We ended the night by watching the Madrid Atletico vs. Barcelona futbol game at a pub called Cheers.  It was fun to take in a soccer game with the locals.

Today was packed full of tours of the city; we started at 9 am and ended a little before 5 pm.  However, the places we visited were well worth the exhaustion we felt afterwards.  Our tours started with views of the city from the mountain top.   Next we went to the olympic stadium.  This was used when Barcelona hosted the games in 1992.  Then we went to La Sagrada Familia.  This incredible church began construction in 1882, 3 years before St. Thomas was established, and it’s still not complete.  The projected date of completion is 2026.  I’m definitely planning on making a trip back here when this church is complete!  The pictures do not do it any justice!  Also, some of us went to church in the chapel at the church and got personally blessed by the priest.  It was a cool experience and showed the great universality of the Catholic Church.  Next, we went to a park in the city called Park Guell.  It was here that we got another taste of Antoni Gaudi.  He was a spectacular architect that has a very unique style.  We also got to see his work in 2 different ‘house’ museums this afternoon.  He was able to take something ordinary and make it exquisite!

Pictures don’t give these sites justice!  Off to Athens in the morning!  Better start working on my Greek…


see we actually ARE studying on this trip!


Steph, Molly, and Claire at Cheers for the futbol game


Olympic Stadium

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exterior of La Sagrada Familia


Steph and Lisa with the tortoise at the base of the column at La Sagrada Familia

it represents the slowness of the construction of church
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the incredible stained glass windows of the church

it can hold 8,000 people including a 1500 person choir!
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the doors to church tell the story of Jesus’ death

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every row, column, and diagonal add up to 33 – the age at which Jesus died
very cool mathematically!

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Andy, Garen, Connor, and Christine posing with the Gaudi lizard at Park Guell

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one of the houses that Gaudi renovated



J-term 2014 Trip

Granada – day 2


We had a fabulous day on Friday we got to spend the entire day exploring what Granada has to offer.  The day started with a short class and then everyone visited the Cathedral of Granada.  The church was absolutely breathtaking, showcasing incredibly vaulted ceilings and a newly renovated tabernacle.  This church had a display of past royal wardrobe items and is the place of burial for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, the royalty that sent Christopher Columbus to America.  Then the boys and girls split up to explore the city for themselves.  Of course, the girls ended up bonding over shopping and good conversation in one of the plazas of the city.


Then we had to depart for the train station for our overnight ride to Barcelona.  The quarters were small and the ride sometimes bumpy, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed my first train ride!  The night was spent playing cards and chatting before trying to rest up for our first day in Barcelona.

girls day

Quinn, Steph, Claire, Hannah, and Molly enjoying some  churros and coffee

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Quinn, Andy, Christine, Connor, Garen and Hannah in front of Cathedral of Granada

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view inside the Cathedral


authentic market in Granada – she’s gutting the fish


Dr. Shakiban was pumped to be on the train and so was Andy!

J-term 2014 Trip

Toledo and Granada

Hola!  We had a wonderful day on Wednesday seeing the Jewish Quarter of Grenada.  Our tour guide wove us through the narrow and extremely hilly streets pointing out the different arches and building styles.  We were able to see the beautiful facade of the Cathedral which included the Last Supper scene.  Throughout our last day in Toledo we got to take in the gorgeous scenery over the Tagus River and experience local culture.  We then took a 4 hour bus ride to Granada for the next stop on our trip.  Big shout out to Anna Hyronimus for providing different places to explore during our short visit.  We got tapas (appetizers) and drinks and had some great shawarma (basically gyros) and experienced a Granada cover band of Led Zeppelin at a bar.  It was fun to go out as a group and see Granada!

On Thursday, our first day in Grenada, we got to see the Alhambra.  It is considered one of the wonders of the world.  It is actually a citadel (city within the city) of Grenada.  It has a couple palaces, a church, and many gardens upon the grounds.  However taking in this beauty comes at a price; today we walked about 10.5 miles as we trekked through Grenada.  It was exhausting but fun nonetheless.  Our night consisted of a group dinner of paella, tempura, bread, and delicious sangria!  We also got to experience a true flamenco dance performance.  We then danced the night away with the locals at La Tantra.



Evan and Molly checking out the symmetry within a mosque


Entire class in front of 3 different arches

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A lot of the group showing their ‘buttresses’                           Inside of a synagogue in Toledo
(structures we see surrounding arches)

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Dr. Shakiban showing her true love of                        Part of the group seeing the true beauty of the
marble pillars                                                                      cliffs in Toledo up close and personal

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Entire group in front of wall that demonstrates                              Claire, Molly, Lisa, and
the Golden Ratio within the Islamic palaces of Granada            Dr. Shakiban at Alhambra





View from the windows of the Islamic palace in Alhambra


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Frank (left) and Ethan (right) get in on the action of the true flamenco dancing of Granada!


J-term 2014 Trip


Buenos Dias desde Espana!! After a full day of travel we have arrived to a beautiful morning here in Spain.  The airport in Madrid was quiet with few flights arriving at 0830, but that made customs check-in a breeze.  We then took an hour bus ride to Toldeo and were able to view the countryside.  It was surprising to see more roundabouts than stoplights, signs without any writing, and an inordinate amount of graffiti.

Today we got to spend time exploring the city after our first classroom session.  Many were able to take in the breathtaking views over the Tagus River, see the beautiful exhibits in the Museo de Santa Cruz, and take in the magnificent artistry within the Cathedral of Toldeo (the second largest cathedral in Spain).  We continued to bond over a group dinner and time spent taking in the rooftop views of our hotel room!

Hasta manana!


the beautiful sunrise over Madrid International Airport



view from the scenic lookout next to Tagus River

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Museo de Santa Cruz

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entrance to Cathedral of Toledo                            amazing rooftop view from our hotel

J-term 2014 Trip

Jan 6 – MSP to MAD

Well what a wonderful start to our trip.  The delayed plane ahead of us has pushed our flight to JFK back a half hour.  We are currently passing time in the terminal by getting to know one another.  Here are some pics of our day thus far!  More to come when we land in NY!

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Hasta Luego!


J-term 2014 Trip

Getting Excited!

I can’t wait to leave!! Only a few more days filled with packing and last minute shopping for travel supplies are all that stand between us and our grand European adventure!  Stay tuned for exciting airport updates on Monday 🙂


hasta luego!