Entry 12- November 25, 2012
Starting to say “goodbye”
This week made it clear that the end of the semester was near. It all started with our Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday night. Since the beginning of the semester, we were told that we would have a special Thanksgiving dinner with those who played an important part in our semester in Sansepolcro. For a few weeks now we have been figuring out who would be invited and at the beginning of the week we sent out invitations. On Wednesday night we all gathered in the dining room and made eight pumpkin pies, which really got us in the holiday spirit. Making the pies turned out to be the easy part, trying to transport all of them a few blocks away for the dinner the next evening was quite stressful, but all pies arrived safely. After getting them to the Servi, the place where the dinner was being held, we all rushed back to the palazzo to finish getting ready for the dinner.
Once we arrived back at the Servi we immediately had to start greeting the many guests who were arriving. Once everyone was in we took our seats and began the first course. Paisley and I were seated next to two young men from our conversation class and Sara, and her family. Delightful conversation filled the room. The young man sitting next to me saw cranberry sauce sitting on the table and asked me what it was—Italians do not have cranberry sauce. I explained what it was and did my best to try to convince him to try it. After a little hesitation on his part, I kindly put about a tablespoon full on his plate for him to try. He liked the taste, but was a little taken aback when I told him he should try it with the turkey when it comes out. Since Italians don’t like to mix salty and sweet flavors together, I could tell this would be a more difficult thing to convince him to try. When the turkey came out all of the Meredith girls stood up and sang a hymn and then the Italians joined in. Then, it was finally time for the carving of the turkey. When the turkey, and many delicious sides, were served I convinced the Italians sitting near me to try the cranberry sauce with the turkey. After some hesitance they finally did it and actually enjoyed it. I was so excited to for them to enjoy one of the staples of the American Thanksgiving dinner!
After we finished that course the Meredith girls gathered and presented our thanks to all those who had been a part of our semester in Sansepolcro. Then Sara and the students from our conversation class presented us with beautiful gifts to remember our time here and the wonderful people we have met. It was at that moment that I realized the end was near. My semester was coming to a close. Sure, I have been keeping a countdown of how many days until I get to see my family, but it didn’t hit me till that moment that I was really getting ready to leave. I realized that I was going to have to say “goodbye” to all the wonderful people whom I had become friends with while in Italy.
This realization made me remember all the things that I have learned and love about the Italian people. Italians are so expression filled and affectionate with friends and family. They have a great sense of style; many Italians will wear sweatpants and tennis shoes and still look as if they stepped out of a magazine. Italians love to help foreigners learn their language; they are always willing to teach us the words that we do not know. I love the fact that Italians put such an emphasis on the importance of family. Another thing that was interesting to learn is that Italian men are often Mama’s boys. We were taught that boys are treated as princes, spoiled, and girls are treated like queens, respected. It’s funny, because I was warned, before coming to Italy, that all Italian men are aggressive towards women, or at least American women. This is an absolute lie that I want to counter. From my experiences, many Italian men act like ‘good’ol boys’ from the American south. They are complete gentlemen; they are caring, have manners, and very respectful. We had a difficult time, at first, meeting the Italian girls, but once we got to know some of them we found out how sweet they are. There are a few young ladies, who are from our conversation class and that I teach with service learning, whom I have grown particularly fond of. Their personalities are so kind and they are very intelligent. I can tell that they have a bright future ahead of them, and I wish that I could be around to see where they go.
Before we left the Thanksgiving dinner one of the students invited us to come to his house Saturday night to play “Just Dance” on the Wii and have pizza. We all agreed to come and on Saturday evening he stopped at the palazzo to show us to his house. He told us before we left that we were going to stop by the Carabinieri (a type of Italian law enforcement) station to meet his dad, because he is the captain there. I was a little confused about the situation, since I thought we were coming over to his home, but nonetheless I thought it was cool to meet the local captain. When we entered the station the student showed us the family crest of the Carabinieri and gave us sheets of paper with all kinds of information about them. He then took us upstairs to meet his father. The man welcomed us into his office and gave us all kinds of souvenirs (bookmarks, pencils, information book, etc.) and gave us a tour. We not only were able to step inside the captain’s office, but we also got to see the room where emergency calls come in, the temporary prison cell, and one of the emergency vehicles. It was our own private field trip. The officers were so happy to have the “American girls” there. They were taking pictures of everything we did. It was obvious they were very proud to have the Meredith students visiting their station; we were very honored to be allowed to.
After the tour the students took us upstairs to his family’s apartment (there were a few apartments in the building for the Carabinieri and their families). When we walked in we were greeted by his mother, a very sweet and funny lady, and his younger brother. We were then given a tour of their apartment; it was apparent they were happy to have us over. We then settled into the living room and the mother (in Italian) tried to figure out what time we had to be home, so she knew when we should sit down to eat. We told her we had planned to leave around eight and she was very shocked. She told us that there was no way that we could eat and be out by then. We were a little confused, because we thought we were just having pizza. Then, the mother ushers us into the kitchen and shows us the sauce cooking for pasta on the stove; it smelled wonderful! Then, she opened the oven and we saw a beautiful roast and potatoes cooking—we realized we weren’t just having pizza. We told her we would stay as long as we need to; we didn’t want to be rude to the mother after she cooked such a lovely meal for us.
We went back into the living room and played “Just Dance” for a while—it was a lot of fun! Then we sat down for dinner at their table. It was beautifully decorated with table cloths with gold stitching and what, I’m sure, was their finest china. I couldn’t believe that they had done all this for us. This woman didn’t know us from Adam, but she was willing to make this beautiful dinner and present her finest table settings for us. The course was a delicious, Italian four course meal. The appetizers were even made in the color of the Italian flag. I was so astounded by all this wonderful woman had done for us.
Her hospitality is another great Italian trait that I will miss. I love the way the people of Sansepolcro have welcomed us into their town so graciously and have been so generous to us. I will miss this town and its people.
Entry 11- November 19, 2012
This week was hectic as I tried to catch up from my many days in Poland, but eventually things got back to normal around the palazzo. I had been planning, since the first time we went, to take a day trip back to Florence, to go shopping again in the main market. Realizing that the semester was drawing to a end, Katie and I decided that we were going to go this weekend. On Friday evening, I asked Katie if she had found out what time we should take the bus and train. When she responded she had not looked, I knew that it was time for me to do this on my own. I spent 45 minutes in the lounge downstairs that night finding the best schedule for me. I knew I did not want to arrive back to the palazzo late and that I wanted to stop in Anghiari on my way back. I estimated that if I boarded the 6:50am bus I could get to Arezzo by 8:00am, have enough time to buy train tickets, and board the next train to Florence. Then I planned two alternate options to get back to Sansepolcro and make a detour in Anghiari on the way back, one allowed me to stay about three hours in Florence and the other allowed me to stay for four. I informed Katie of my plan and awoke the next morning early to put it into action.
I have to be honest: I was nervous that my plan wasn’t going to work out. I had a lot of self-doubt, but everything went off without a hitch. We arrived in Florence about 9:30am and then shopped for a few hours. I got some last minute gifts for friends and families, whom I hadn’t bought anything for the rest of the semester, and then got sucked into one of the leather goods booths and bought my second leather purse since being in Italy. I would advise anyone who plans to go to the leather market in Florence to bring a limited amount of money with them, because it is very easy to fall in love with the beautiful leather purses. We finished in time to catch the early train and then went back to Arezzo. We had about 40 minutes to eat lunch and then board the bus. Everything I had planned was going great, but I knew my next step, if anytime during the day, is when I would be most susceptible to messing something up. Katie chose to continue on to Sansepolcro and I got off the bus at Anghiari. When Dr. Webb took us there earlier in the semester we went to this charming little shop that had handmade items. When we were there I had seen a lovely hand-painted terracotta nativity set and was bound and determined that I would come back to get it. When I jumped off the bus I walked down the street to the main hill in Anghiari. I didn’t have a map with me, but thought I remembered enough of the small town to find my way around easily. I should have remembered the lesson that traveling has taught me this semester—I have no sense of direction!
I began to climb up the hill. This hill was the same hill that I dreaded at the beginning of the semester. It is a steep hill and I remember thinking the last time that it was so big and very difficult to walk up. Yet I walked up this time with little effort. I turned around when I got to the top and thought “how could I ever have thought that was a difficult hill to climb?” I figured, after three months of walking around Italy, my legs have built up some muscle. I walked through the main center and started to wander the streets for the shop. I realized very quickly that I should have brought a map with me. I had no clue where I was in this small town, but then I saw an archway that looked familiar. I walked through and finally realized where I was. Then I remembered the beautiful view that was just down some steps in this location (I spoke of this view in one of my earlier journals). It was a little sitting area, surrounded by a stone wall on the edge of the hill, which overlooked the fields and houses below. I took a detour and walked down the steps to look over the view one more time. As I stood there and gazed over the wall, I realized that the view, though beautiful, wasn’t as large as I remembered. The valley seemed a little smaller this time—the world seemed a little smaller. The world was no longer as big and scary as I thought it was. I reflected over the last few months in Italy and how far I had come. I could have never planned out this entire trip and stopped in a town all by myself at the beginning of the semester, but now things were different. I am no longer fearful to travel or to go out on my own. Studying abroad has taught me so many skills that I know will be useful for the rest of my life.
From that spot I remembered how to get to the shop and soon found my way, bought the nativity set, and wandered my way back to the main part of town. I thought I would see if there was an earlier bus, and if not find a café to sit at. I went to the bus stop and discovered that there was another bus in four minutes. I was thrilled! Not only had I planned everything out and it all happened smoothly, but now I was able to catch a bus back an hour earlier than planned. Sure enough four minutes later the bus came and I went back to Sansepolcro. It was my ideal day trip, not because I went shopping and had fun, but because I realized just how much I have progressed and that I can do anything I set my mind to.
Entry 10-November 13, 2012
When I first started to research into Meredith’s semester program in Italy I spoke to many students who had participated in the program. One suggestion that many had was to apply to the Auschwitz Jewish Center program for American students studying abroad. I didn’t know much about it, but I was told that with the program I would have the opportunity to visit Auschwitz. As someone with a deep interest in history, I have always been interested in studying the holocaust. I thought the program would be a great experience while abroad. A few weeks after we arrived in Italy I submitted my application and a few weeks later I found out I was accepted into the program—Katie, Rose, and Paisley also. I was so excited to have what I knew would be such an amazing opportunity.
We began travelling on Thursday morning. After a bus ride, a train, another bus, and a plane we arrived in Krakow, Poland, on Thursday evening. We all squished into a cab and set off to our hotel, or so we thought. We ended up going to the wrong one and had to walk across the center of the city. 30 minutes and a stop to ask for directions later we finally arrived there. We checked into our rooms, unloaded our luggage, and rushed to find a cab to meet the rest of the group at dinner. From the first dinner I could tell that the group was going to get along well. Conversation flowed easily at the table as we all tried to get to know the eleven other people we would be spending the next few days with. Dara, Maciek, and Hlib, who would be leading our program, also joined us at dinner and described the adventures we would have for the next few days. Our dinner was a delicious welcome to the many Polish foods we would be having that weekend. My personal favorite was the tomato soup—best I have ever had!
The next morning we awoke bright and early to take a tour of the old Jewish area of Krakow. Maciek—who soon earned the nickname “Magic Maciek” as a way for us to remember how to pronounce his name—gave a wonderful tour, full of so much historical information of the town. We had the chance to see many synagogues, a Jewish cemetery, and many other significant places all before lunch. At the Jewish cemetery he described to us the history of the interesting looking wall that surrounded the cemetery. During the German occupation in Poland Jewish grave stones were broken and used for other things, like to pave roads. Since all the grave stones were broken and scattered, it was difficult to know where and to whom they belonged. As a way to honor the deceased they made a wall of all of the different tombstones; this wall now surrounds the Jewish cemetery. Another interesting fact I learned is that it is a Jewish tradition to place rocks on and at gravestones, rather than flowers. Since flowers wilt and rocks last forever, it is a way to honor the dead eternally. I saw this practice repeated throughout the weekend at different monuments. I think that is such a poetic way to honor the deceased.
For lunch we stopped at a bagel shop. I was very excited to eat bagels—I haven’t had any since I came to Italy. After lunch we walked to the Jewish ghetto. We walked from the main square to a piece of the outer wall that was still standing. When we realized it only took us five minutes to walk there, we also realized how small the ghetto was. Over 15,000 Jews had been crammed into this tiny area. After years of hearing about Jews being forced into ghettos, to see the area and be given the statistics, I finally realized the extremity of these conditions.
We were then given an hour to explore a Museum that focused on the German occupation during World War II. I have watched a lot of documentaries on the control of Nazi Germany and World War II, but I had never had the opportunity to see actual artifacts of this group from the period. The Nazis were a horrific group, but they are still a major part of history, and I found it interesting to see actual artifacts from the past. The section in the museum which focuses on the German occupation during World War II starts with large red banners that hang from the ceiling with swastikas on them. I was hesitant to walk through, because the setting made it feel as though I was walking right back in history into a Nazi meetinghouse. Postcards with Hitler stamps, weaponry, SS uniforms, and swastika tile floors were just some of the pieces that made the room feel all too real. Later in the museum an exhibit simulated the feeling of being within the Jewish Ghetto. In one of the rooms there was a giant display of pots that were taken from the prisoners in the concentration camps. The display was the size of a bedroom and reached from floor to ceiling. I thought seeing that was shocking, but I would be stretched far beyond that in the following days. One display that I also found interesting was books that were burned during the German occupation. It didn’t say, but I would assume they were religious Jewish books, based on the rest of the exhibits in that area.
After that opportunity we were able to listen to a woman who was awarded a medal by “Righteous Among the Nations” for her part in protecting a young Jewish girl during World War II. It was so enriching to be able to hear how this woman and her family risked their lives to protect this young girl, whom they had never met before this woman’s aunt asked if the young girl could move in with them. Afterwards we had dinner at the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, where we were treated to a real Jewish Sabbath dinner—it was delicious! I was so excited to have this opportunity. I have always been interested in learning about the practices and beliefs of other religions. I think, because I am devout in my own, I love to meet others who are devout in theirs. Two girls in our program were Jewish and I took the chance during dinner to ask them questions and learn much more about the Jewish faith. I learned a lot about the rules of the Sabbath and other Jewish practices.
The next morning we boarded buses to the town of O?wi?cim, known as Auschwitz by the Germans. It is important to establish that I am talking about the town, not the concentration camp. We learned a lot about the town and the concentration camp while there, but one important thing we learned is that they are two separate concepts. After checking into our hotel Hlib gave us a tour of the Auschwitz Jewish Center and described the Jewish history of the town. The last Jew in O?wi?cim died about a decade ago. A town that was once roughly 50 percent Jewish now has a Jewish population of zero! This, we learned, was one of the many effects of the holocaust.
Later that day we visited Auschwitz, where we were given a private tour of the camp. I was shocked by how picturesque the camp actually looked. With tall brick buildings and autumn trees shedding brightly colored leaves I couldn’t imagine this place as the concentration camp it once was. We discussed this as a group later that night—the internal conflict of trying not to let yourself find good in something that you know is bad. As we approached closer to the actual entrance the double-layered barbed wire fence reminded me of where I was. We stopped right in front of the gate. “Arbeit Macht Frei” (‘work will set you free’ or ‘with work comes freedom’): I read the eternal words that hundreds of thousands saw immediately before they entered a life of misery and sure death. Before going onto this program I thought of these camps as one more place on my list of places to see where history happened, but the program taught me to remember and honor the people, not the tragedy. For this reason, I am choosing not to include many details from my experiences while visiting the camps. Writing these stories in words, by someone so disconnected to the actual event, will not do them justice, and so I choose instead not to describe the incidents that we were told about. I will say though that the piles of belongings that were displayed made the reality, of how many people there actually were, much more comprehensible. This was truly a tragedy.
The next morning we toured Birkenau; unlike Auschwitz it was clear this was a death camp. The camp is depressing and extremely large. We saw many different parts of the camp, including barracks, where the gas chambers were located, and the registration building. We took the long walk, from where the train would drop prisoners off, through the long road lined with barbed wired fencing, past gas chambers, all the way to the registration building. I could not imagine what went through the minds of the people who arrived. The camp was a miserable place to be. One thing that I did think was wonderful was the huge monument devoted to those who were killed. In many languages plaques read “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau. 1940-1945” I loved the fact that not only was this monument made to honor those people, but it was made in so many languages. It reminds visitors that this was not just a tragedy for Poland; this was a tragedy for the world.
That afternoon we returned to Krakow, where Maciek gave us a tour of the main part of the city. The main city square in Krakow is absolutely charming. There is a beautiful gothic cathedral where a fireman blows a horn every hour on the hour—the reason for this tradition is based upon an old town story, which “may or may not be true” as Maciek described. We went into the cathedral and saw the beautiful gothic architecture within. Though we have seen a hundred, or more, cathedrals in Italy, this cathedral was a little different and had a unique, breathtaking beauty. We continued around the town until we saw the castle in Krakow, which is now a museum. We couldn’t go in, but we sat at the edge while Maciek described a little history of the castle. Then, he enthusiastically pointed out that we were going to see the fire-breathing dragon. I thought at this point the man had lost his sanity, but sure enough after about a ten minute walk we saw the fire-breathing dragon—which is actually more of a modern art piece that resembles a dragon and shoots out fire every three minutes. He told us how a witty, young boy defeated the dragon and won the right to marry the princess; a sweet story that the town tells about the dragon. Afterwards we were given free time to go back to the main square or to any other place we wanted to go. For me, this meant my chance to finally pick up a few souvenirs. Afterwards we returned to the hotel, where Dara met to walk us to dinner.
At our final dinner I was quite sad to be leaving everyone. Even though I had only known these other people for a few days I had made some real friendships with them. As strange as it sounds, there is nothing like experiential learning of the holocaust to bring twelve strangers together. I also learned a lot from the leaders of the program, whom I, as a future history teacher, found inspirational. Dara and Maciek work for the Auschwitz Jewish Center program as educators to try to teach everyone about the tragedy of the holocaust in a much more significant way. As Dara said at our last dinner together, it’s about focusing on the concept of “never again.” Like me, they believe that through educating others the reoccurrence of a tragedy like this can be prevented. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to go to Poland and participate in the Auschwitz Jewish Center program for American students studying abroad. It was truly a weekend I will never forget!
Entry 9- November 5, 2012
I returned from Rome on Sunday evening and when I woke up the next morning I knew I was sick. I could feel my throat becoming sorer as the day progressed. By the next morning my voice was practically gone. I went to the local high school early that morning to do my service learning and observations. Despite the fact that I could barely speak I was able to teach three great lessons—preparing myself for the demanding job of being a teacher.
Though I felt miserable, and I think my students could see that, I found ways still to teach my planned lesson. I typed instead of speaking and was able to use pictures from my PowerPoint as examples, since I couldn’t describe topics aloud. I taught my classes about American holidays in the first three months of the year—we ran out of time, so my lesson will continue this week. Many students were fascinated by the American holiday of groundhogs day. I also explained to the students about Mardi gras, which is celebrated similarly to the Italian holiday Carnivale. Mardi Gras, though French in origin, was an easy holiday for the students to understand, because it stems from Catholic beliefs. I knew that Mardi Gras was French for “Fat Tuesday” and that it dealt with Lent. Though I had learned a little bit about this holiday from my roommate last year, who is a devout catholic, I took advantage of this time for the students to share something that many of them knew much about, while speaking in English. They described to me how Lent is a Catholic holiday in remembrance of the forty day fast by Jesus Christ in the desert. At one time there were very strict rules as to what one could eat and do, but now it is much more casual. The period use to be a time of mourning and repentance. Now it is used not so much in repentance, but as a way to rid one’s self of bad habits. Many Catholics give up sweets or soda, some even give up activities, like spending time on Facebook. Many in the class were happy to tell me what they have given up for Lent previously. I was very excited to give these students a chance to share with me their beliefs.
After my lessons and observation period, I came back to the palazzo and spent most of the afternoon resting. I woke up intermediately for classes. By the evening I was feeling much better. The Italian students in our conversation that night class helped us decorate for the Halloween carnival. The next day we were all anxious about the party. We had so much to do, but we managed to get it done in time. We dressed up in witches’ hats and all took part in running activity stations for the kids to visit.
I was helping children make ghost out of paper towels when one little boy brought up a pipe cleaner spider we had made for decoration. He looked at me and said something in Italian I did not understand. I wasn’t sure what he wanted, but I asked him if he would like to make one. The little boy’s shy face turned to a big smile and then he sat in the seat next to me. I led him through the process of making a miniature version and then let him add some creative touches. Within five minutes I had about six little Italian children surrounding me, grabbing at pipe cleaners and supplies. They didn’t understand my English of “wait and I will get you everything you need.” They didn’t know how to make the spider, or exactly what was needed. I eventually got the dozen little hands to drop the supplies, and then I had them each sit down and I gave them what they would need. I went through a tutorial of how to create one and then assisted them as needed when they tried. The experience was chaotic. I look forward to being a teacher, but I am very glad that I did not choose elementary school.
Though I have been sick, I had some fun experiences. This trip continues to provide me with opportunities that I just could not experience anywhere else!
Entry 8- October 29, 2012Visiting the buried city and the eternal city!
This week I went on the trip that I’ve waited my entire life to take. On Wednesday evening Katie and I boarded a train to Rome. We arrived at the Rome terminal late that night and found our way to the hotel, where we were sharing a room with Rose, who came earlier that afternoon. The next morning Katie, Rose, two of Rose’s friends, and I went to Pompeii. Unfortunately, our train was delayed and we missed our connecting train to Pompeii. We did eventually arrive in Pompeii at about two in the afternoon. We split up, because a few wanted to climb Mt. Vesuvius and a few wanted to see the ruins. I wanted to see the ruins, so I, along with two others, ventured into the ruins of the city of Pompeii. As I bought my ticket and got ready to walk into the city I thought about the first time I learned about Pompeii. I was in third or fourth grade when I first learned about Pompeii. I remember thinking to myself at that moment, in class, that I would go to there one day. When I saw the ruins on the hillside I knew I would reach that goal.
I have to be honest; it was not as I pictured it after all these years. Because Pompeii has become a tourist attraction, there are clear signs of modern day involvement in the Ruins. From signs, to class casings, to iron gates for support of the ruin buildings, and to keep tourists out of special areas, it was obvious that Pompeii had changed much since the eruption in 79 AD. I realize that it would change a bit in over 2000 years, but the history major in me really wanted to see the ruins as they were originally excavated with volcanic dust and all. Despite these modern influences, it was still very exciting to see Pompeii. It was much larger then I imagined—I had to remind myself it was a whole city. One thing that I was eager to see was the mosaic floor saying “Cave Canem” (Beware of the Dog). I’ve seen a picture of it in many history books, so I was thrilled to see the real thing. We only spent about three hours in Pompeii, which was not enough time to see it all; then we traveled back to Rome. I would love to go back to Pompeii one day and have a full day, or even two, to see the full city, then climb the volcano that destroyed it.
The next morning Katie and I woke up early to see Rome. We started the morning by visiting the Coliseum. It was actually a little bit smaller then I imagined, but it still was magnificent. I was somewhat surprised to see that the floor was gone, though it was interesting to be able to see the hidden tunnels that were underneath. We listened to the Rick Steve’s audio guide while touring the Coliseum and learned all about where everyone sat and what kind of shows happened there. I did not know that when it first opened Rome had a one hundred day celebration. I thought it was interesting that the top of the amphitheater had awnings, which shaded the poor sitting at the very top, but not the rich sitting on the ground floor—I would think the rich would think the rich would have thought of themselves first. I was so excited to visit the Coliseum and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to go.
After visiting the Coliseum, Katie and I visited the Forum. I thought it was really interesting to see the Temple of Caesar, where fresh flowers are still laid by those who admire Julius Caesar. After walking around the Coliseum and the Forum our feet were exhausted, so we decided to stop and have some lunch. We planned to go to the Pantheon after lunch, but noticed a sign near our table pointing to the Trevi fountain. When we realized we were right around the corner we decided to go there first. After enjoying the view of the Trevi fountain and taking a few pictures of ourselves throwing coins in, we went to see the Pantheon. It was much bigger than I expected. We learned how, even though it was originally built as a temple to the Roman gods, it has had many interior modifications to fit in with Catholic beliefs. I thought it was interesting that many of the ruins from Ancient Rome were built with dedication to their polytheistic beliefs, but now (in almost every one) modifications have been made to fit Christian beliefs—even in the Coliseum a giant cross now stands on one side. We walked around for the rest of the evening visiting small churches and shops, then we ate dinner and visited the Trevi fountain one more time before heading back to our hotel.
On Saturday we spent the morning at the Vatican. After waiting for forty minutes we were able to see St. Peter’s Basilica. We learned from our Rick Steve’s audio guide that even though St. Peter’s is believed to be the largest in the world there is a church in Africa that now questions that theory. Be that as it may, St. Peter’s is huge! We learned that the decorations within are sized to make the very large church look smaller then it is, in order to create a much more welcoming atmosphere. I caught a glimpse of Michelangelo’s Pietro, but with my short legs and the many tour groups in front of me I was unable to get a view from close up. After visiting St. Peter’s we went to see the Sistine chapel. No one told us that we must make our way through the entire Vatican Museum (a quarter of a mile, though it felt like a few miles) before we reached the Sistine chapel. With the thousands of people on tourist groups it took a long while to get to the Sistine Chapel. Eventually we arrived and took half an hour to view and analyze Michelangelo’s amazing work—again thanks to our Rick Steve’s audio guide for explaining the history. Thirty minutes and two sore necks later we made our way out of the Vatican and found a place to eat for lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting a museum and different piazzas and churches, and shopping around the city.
The next day Katie and I decided to do one final walk through Rome before leaving. We walked by the Coliseum, the Roman Forum and the Trevi fountain—where we threw coins in one last time in the hope that we would return again one day. We then went back to our hotel, collected our bags and headed to the train station to go back to Sansepolcro.
I really enjoyed this week. I am so happy that I was able to see all these sites that I’ve always dreamed about seeing. It reminds me that if I work hard and keep at it I can do whatever I want in life!
Entry 7: October 22, 2012
This weekend was much more relaxed than previous weekends, yet I have still enjoyed it greatly. On Saturday many of us girls awoke very early and boarded a train to Perugia. This weekend was the city’s annual chocolate festival. We arrived early in the morning and after Dr. Webb showed us to the tourist office to get maps we quickly went in different directions, amazed at the different chocolate booths. There were iPhone and laptop cases that looked like chocolate. There were household items and clothes which portrayed a love of chocolate. There was even a booth for chocolate dog treats. Every kind of fruit imaginable was covered in chocolate. There was chocolate you could drink, both hot chocolate and liquor—of course I didn’t have any liquor. It was all absolutely adorable and very delicious! I have to admit though: I was most excited to find candied apples. I have seen pictures of my friends at the fair on Facebook and each time they describe the delicious fair food they ate that day. I have missed the opportunity to get fair food, so I was very pleased to find candied apples—a fall favorite!
After walking around the festival a little bit, Meredith and I decided to visit the art museum in Perugia—Dr. Webb told us it is one of the top ten museums in Italy. Meredith and I took great notice to the various ways Mary is portrayed in paintings of the Annunciation. In most paintings her reaction is painted in a subtle way, but in others she is painted in amazement—I found these much more interesting. We also took notice to the different ways the baby Jesus is portrayed. Some artists paint the baby Jesus in an angelic way, he looks very pure and innocent, but others paint him in a way so that he is portrayed almost as a star. In these paintings he almost has the expression of cockiness; he knows that he was sent to save all and that he is very important. It was very interesting to compare the different ways these two very important, and popular, figures were portrayed.
After eating lunch, Meredith and I walked around the market and then I decided to go back to the train station to go home. Meredith wanted to stay, so I went alone. I ended up walking the wrong way for about ten minutes. I knew the train station had not been that far away and I kept looking for a map that would say “you are here,” so I could find my way back. Luckily, I ran into a policeman, who kindly showed me how to get back with the little English he did know. I followed his directions and finally ended up at the train station. This was the second time that I walked around a city on my own and went the wrong way completely. I’m learning that I have no sense of direction!
Tonight (Monday), Heather and I had dinner with our host family. They cooked us a lovely dinner and tried their best to communicate with us. We mainly spoke in English, because their daughter, Erika, spoke English very well and translated between us and her parents. We did try to communicate in Italian when we knew the words and they helped us when we had difficulties. After dinner we continued to talk at the dinner table and the mother asked if we would like coffee, of course being Mormon I politely declined. Erika then offered me tea, which I also politely declined, because I’m Mormon. I then tried to explain that it was because of my religion that I don’t drink these things. To my surprise they had never heard of the Mormon religion. I knew that the church was very thinly spread out in Italy, but to meet someone who had never heard of the LDS church was shocking. Though, somehow the question of whether we practice polygamy still came up—which we do not practice! I guess some things never change no matter what country one is in. Erika said that she would love to attend a Latter-day Saint church service with me sometime and I offered for her to come with me when I go to Florence to try again. She told me when she has a free weekend she would love to.
Talking to her about it made me think about the ways I could try to get to church that had not crossed my mind. I now think that I have figured out a way to get to church on Sundays and I am excited to try this plan the week after I go to Rome. It has been difficult for me to not be able to attend church every Sunday, because my faith is such an important part of me. However, I have actually found that my testimony has grown stronger. At first it was difficult to be the odd one out, but the other girls now understand my beliefs and try to help me live them. When someone offers me wine or coffee, before I even have a chance to kindly decline, I have noticed the other girls in the group quickly jump to decline for me. While I sometimes think “I can tell them myself,” I know that they are simply trying to help me, and I find it kind. Though, it was fun to play a joke on them and ask “why didn’t you give me any” when they passed out wine one evening and didn’t offer me any. Their faces were priceless at the shock that I wanted some. Of course I was just kidding, but it was fun to see their reaction.
This week was a nice chance to slow down a little compared to the last few weeks. Attending the chocolate festival was fun and I enjoyed finally being able to meet my host family. Now I am looking forward to Rome in just a few days!
Entry 6: October 14, 2012
This has been an extremely busy week! On Tuesday morning I woke up before the sun was out in order to be at one of the local schools to start service learning. I felt as if it was the first day of high school all over again. I was tired from waking up early; I had no clue where anything was; then, my first class was spent sitting at a student desk as I observed a class for an assignment for my education class. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as my first day of high school. I was fascinated to observe a class in an Italian school and compare it to what classes are like in America. After observing the class I went to start my service learning. My first lesson was simply about my students getting to know me and allowing me to have the chance to get to know them a little. A few of the students noticed that I spelled words differently than the way they do. I then realized that they were taught to use British spelling and I had a short lesson about the some of the differences between the British and American spellings. I really enjoyed getting to teach in front of a high school class for the first time. Sure, they might have not understood everything I said, yet it went well. I’m looking forward to Tuesday mornings now!
On Wednesday Paisley and I were invited to join the Tuscan Intensives on a journey around different towns that were affected during World War II—It related to our Justice and Liberty class. I loved spending time getting to know the alums and their husbands. Though the rooms are full, I have really enjoyed having the various guests at the palazzo. One of the most fascinating opportunities during the trip was the visit to Little Jerusalem in Pitigliano. There were various different ancient rooms within little Jerusalem; the rooms ranged from the women’s bath house to kosher ovens. We also had the opportunity to visit inside the restored synagogue. This was my first opportunity to visit a synagogue—not knowing much about the Jewish faith, I was very excited to visit. Little Jerusalem was in the area of the Jewish Ghetto, which we were able to walk through on our way to and from it. I love learning about different faiths and, while it has been absolutely fascinating to learn about Catholicism, it was interesting to learn more about one that I am not familiar with. I am very thankful for the opportunity to join the Tuscan Intensives on the trip!
After two packed days of amazing scenery and sites, while visiting multiple towns, we returned back to the palazzo—where Paisley and I unpacked, repacked, slept for a few hours and woke up very early the next morning to head to Venice with Katie, Heather and Kasey. Since Paisley and I had been traveling most of the week, we had not had the opportunity to buy our train tickets like the rest of the girls. After boarding the bus very early we attempted to buy train tickets at the train station in Arezzo. Unfortunately we were not able to get on the same train from Florence to Venice, so we had to arrive later. Unfortunately our train was delayed by an hour and we had to wait even longer. Eventually, we caught our train and arrived in Venice. When we stepped out of the train station we were greeted by the beautiful Grand Canal of Venice. I have to admit, my jaw dropped at the view. I could already tell that Venice was going to be full of incredible scenery.
After walking around a little, we made our way to the place we were staying for the night. A fifteen minute bus ride and a twenty minute walk later we arrived. Hidden on the mainland is a camping resort named “Camping Jolly.” Five of us shared an adorable little cabin for the weekend. The resort was a great place to stay and, when split between the five of us, was very cheap.
The next morning we all attempted to take a boat to the island of Murano to see the glass factory, but we were not all able to get on the same boat. Katie, Paisley, and I were on the first boat together. When we arrived to Murano we went to the glass factory and had the opportunity to watch a person working at the factory blow glass right in front of us. It was incredible to watch, because the man made it look so easy. After buying some souvenirs we boarded another boat to Burano. Burano is known for its brightly colored houses that line the small canals and for its unique handmade lace. Although it was dark and stormy at this point in the day the bright houses were still a beautiful contrast against the water. Two boat rides later we were back in Venice and walking around the Piazza San Marco. It was cold and raining, so we soon decided to try to make our way back to the camping resort. Before doing so, Katie and I stopped and ate dinner and had the chance to see Venice at night—night or day, that city is breathtaking! Before leaving Venice, Katie and I decided to take a gondola (and paid way too much money to do so). During the ride we learned that the sea level has been rising at a rapid rate the last few years and that Venice is literally sinking under the ocean. Walls are being built to try to stop the rise in water level, but they are not expected to be finished until 2015. By that point the water level is expected to rise another meter. This is a serious problem for Venice; it made me sad to think that the incredible scenery and buildings in Venice could disappear into the sea. I hope that the plan to help stop the water level rising works, because it would be a shame to lose such a beautiful city.
I had not planned to visit Venice originally—I decided to join Katie when I found out she wanted to go—but, I’m so glad I decided to go! I had been so busy the last few weeks I did not make any plans for Venice; I just decided I would go and would do whatever I wanted when I got there. I enjoyed seeing Venice and I couldn’t imagine a better place to go this weekend- even with the very cold temperatures and non-stop rain!
Entry 5- October 1, 2012
This weekend we were finally able to go on our first travel weekend- as in not a day trip. I stayed busy the whole week preparing for our journey to Florence and when Friday finally came, with a book bag on my back and my comfortable walking shoes on (or so I thought), I boarded the bus with everyone else to begin our trip to Florence. Two and a half hours, a bus, and a train ride later, we were finally there!
After an hour long walk to the other side of Florence, mind you in nearly 80 degree weather and with full backpacks in tow, we arrived at out hotel, the Convitto della Calza, which is a former convent. Though the rooms were small, it was a very nice hotel and a comfortable place to lay my head at night, after the long days exploring Florence.
Quickly after arriving Paisley and I headed back into the main part of Florence. I had planned to pick up a few tickets and then go to the Galleria dell’Accademia, but I discovered that many of the major museums, including the Accademia, were closed, because the employees of the museums were on strike. Eventually we found an alternative plan and ended up getting last minute tickets to tour the Duomo. The Duomo is a part of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and was completed in 1436 by the design of Arnolfo di Cambio. I thought seeing Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia would be the best start to seeing Florence, but I was wrong. The Duomo tour was the perfect way to start our weekend. I thought I would faint walking up all 463 steps to the top of the Duomo in that heat, but once I climbed the final set and stepped onto the balcony on top I knew the hike was worth it! We could see all of Florence from the top, and it also allowed us to familiarize ourselves with where everything was located in the city. It was an absolutely breath taking view! On the tour we met a few Australian girls whom we later ate dinner with.
On Saturday I woke up very early and went to the Uffizi. Three hours, many famous, beautiful works of art, and two very tired feet later I finished walking through it. I saw The Birth of Venus and The Allegory of Spring by Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Annunctiation, and many other remarkable pieces of artwork. After seeing the Uffizi I went to the Museo del Bargello. There were many interesting artifacts within there, but my favorite thing to see had to be Donatello’s David. The image of David that Donatello displayed was very dainty, though still strong, compared to Michelangelo’s David. After visiting the Bargello I went to the Leonardo Museum. This museum was small, which housed replica life size models of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions. I’ve have always been fascinated with Leonardo da Vinci and to have the chance to see examples of his inventions in person was extremely fascinating. The museum also had copies and analyses of his most famous artwork, which are now found in various countries among the world.
At this point I was exhausted and met Paisley for lunch, mainly to be able to sit down for a little while. After taking a short break we again went our separate ways and I headed to the Accademia. I explored the first room and then followed into a modern art exhibit that was going on. I was excited to see Andy Warhol’s The Last Supper and a painting by Picasso. When I walked out of the modern art exhibit I was blown away. There before me, standing 17 feet tall with broad shoulders and chiseled abs was Michelangelo’s David! I let out a little gasp. I took nearly twenty minutes walking around the monument, examining every detail of Michelangelo’s painstaking work. I had seen many statues of “David” that day, but this (in my opinion) was the one, the best. I’m glad that the Accademia was the last museum I saw, it was the perfect choice as I had definitely saved the best for last! After spending an hour at the market, where I picked up a few beautiful scarves and a gorgeous leather purse, I grabbed some dinner and headed back to the hotel to rest my aching feet!
Though Florence was tiring it was an amazing trip! John Rose told me that in my last journal entry I made it seemed as though Arezzo was just any other town, when in fact it is a marvelous place, and the truth is I didn’t take that much out of it. After thinking about how much more I enjoyed Florence I realized that I didn’t take the time to plan for Arezzo, instead I just followed the crowd, so I wasn’t as interested in the things I saw. However, for Florence I worked hard to plan out nearly every detail of my trip, and instead of joining a group I intentionally went and did these activities on my own. I spent time on what I thought was important and skimmed over the things I really was not that interested in. I learned that when I take the time to plan my trips I appreciate it much more. I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to go to Florence and I’m looking forward to Venice in a few weeks!
Entry 4-September 24, 2012
From the time we arrived in Italy, Dr. Webb has described how we would eventually travel using the bus and train systems in Italy. We knew this weekend would be the first, and on Friday afternoon Dr. Webb taught us how to read the bus schedule—a task which can be quite bewildering. She then explained where and how we can buy bus tickets. As an effort to teach us to do it ourselves, she told us to buy our own tickets and to be at the bus stop by 8:30 the next morning. Afraid we would not be able to get a ticket, a few of us girls got up early and went to the coffee shop (yes, bus tickets are sold in a coffee shop here) where the tickets were sold at eight the next morning. After realizing that it literally takes two minutes to buy bus tickets we sat down and enjoyed some delicious hot chocolate and pastries. Soon after everyone else arrived and shortly after that so did the bus. We boarded the bus and enjoyed the short, fifteen minute, bus ride to Anghiari.
When we arrived in Anghiari Dr. Webb led us up a large, steep hill to the center of town. It turned out it would not be the steepest, or the largest hill I would end up walking up that day! It is no wonder many Italians are so fit! We continued to walk through town—strengthening our calf muscles with each step! During our walk we encountered a beautiful sitting area near a café. This setting was on a hillside circled by a stone wall that overlooked a breathtaking view of fields and houses in the valley, and of mountains filling the horizon. Others enjoyed coffee and pastries, but I just stood and delighted in the view. When we continued our walk through town we came across an interesting little shop. The owner created handmade lace jewelry and other handmade crafts. I found it completely fascinating that in little towns, in little shops, one can still find artisans making handmade items through a craft that is hundreds of years old. We eventually made our way back down to the bus stop and headed to Arezzo.
Once we arrived we had a mini-orientation in the tourist office on all the great sites to visit. When we finished, after a day of describing how we were to get home, Dr. Webb let us fend for ourselves. We were finally able to explore a new town alone, doing as we wished, and were responsible for getting ourselves back to Sansepolcro- a challenge I looked forward to proving myself I could do! We then divided into groups based on what we preferred to see. Katie, Rose, and I ate lunch together and then went to the Basilica of San Francesco to see Piero della Francesca’s The Legend of the True Cross, which was painted in the 15th century. It was interesting to read about the fresco, which (as the title hints at) tells the legend of the cross which Jesus Christ was crucified upon. I found it interesting how I was able to understand the story presented through a series of detailed frescoes. After visiting a few other important places in town we shopped a little and I decided to go home on the earliest bus. Of course the others were a little worried for me to travel alone, but I was worn out from the day and knew that I could do it on my own. When I arrived at the bus stop I ran into some of the other girls and I was able to travel home on the same bus as them, which ended up being a great thing because I had someone to watch out for our bus stop while I took a nap. The day was tiring, but it proved to me that it is really easy, and much cheaper, to use the bus system to travel. It makes me look forward to next weekend when I will ride on a train for the first time, when we go to Florence!
Entry 3- September 17, 2012
This is why I came!
The town has been much quieter this week, with the end of the festivities and the start of school for some of the locals. However, the palazzo has been buzzing! This week we welcomed eleven individuals that are part of the Meredith community into the palazzo. They are all part of the Tuscan intensive class for art and drawing and have been a lot fun to get to know in the few short days since they arrived. They planned a trip to Spoleto this weekend and invited us along—I was very excited to have a chance to explore more of Italy.
I wasn’t very fond of waking up earlier than usual on Saturday, but I knew the adventures of the day would be worth it. I even found the bus ride to be entertaining. Driving through Umbria we were able to see all sorts of small towns built on hillsides. It was picturesque and just the type of scenery one would read about in a Frances Mayes novel. It was beautiful!
When we finally arrived in Spoleto, after about two hours, we were going to see an ancient church which was built somewhere around 10 A.D. just right out of town, but the bus driver had trouble finding it. After forty-five minutes of searching we finally decided to go ahead and start in the main part of town. We began to walk through the town and I had to pull my camera out immediately, because there was beautiful scenery around every corner. First, we saw the Casa Romana (a house from ancient Roman times). The house was over two thousand years old! I toured the small multi-room house, admiring the archways and displayed artifacts within.
Then—knowing that I probably looked strange, but not caring—I bent down and slowly ran my hand along the mosaic tile floor. As a history buff to be able to feel the intricate mosaic design preserved from ancient Rome astounded me. I truly appreciated the historical significance of something as small as a preserved tile floor. I wondered who could have walked on it. Were they rich or poor? Were they a Saint or a Roman soldier? The possibilities that went through my head were endless.
As Dr. Banker led us through the town to the Piazza del Duomo she described how we would turn the corner and would all gasp aloud at the view. I have to admit that I didn’t believe her at first, but when I got to the top of the hill and turned to my left my jaw dropped. The view was absolutely breathtaking—none of my pictures do it justice! We walked down the pathway with lovely piano music playing out of a café on one side and mountains in the distance on the other—I felt as if I was in a Dean Martin song. We then toured the cathedral, admiring the beauty of the different artwork within. After spending nearly an hour inside of it, we grabbed lunch and went to the Archeological Museum and the Roman theatre. The artifacts within the museum were very interesting, but I have to admit I was much more excited to explore the ancient roman theater!
While exploring through the tunnels, under the amphitheater, I was reminded why I came to Italy. For the first time in my life I was able to walk among and touch the things of ancient Rome, a period I have always been fascinated with. I didn’t see them in a glassed display case or in a picture in a book; I was there!
As I said in my earlier post, I have been homesick lately. I even began to wonder if I made the right decision to come, but visiting Spoleto reminded me why I came to Italy. Why I thought about Italy day after day, month after month, annoying my roommate last year with my persistent day dreaming (aloud may I add) of all the adventures I would have here. I would never have had these experiences if I had stayed home. Sure, I miss my friends and family and the distance can be difficult at times, but I don’t question my decision to come here. I’m really glad that I chose to study abroad in Italy and I look forward to the many experiences that are yet to come!
Entry 2: September 10, 2012Getting to know Sansepolcro!
After two weeks in Sansepolcro I feel as though I finally am not the lost tourist anymore. I know a few good places to eat, where to get the cheapest gelato, and where to buy cute shoes without emptying my bank account! I have learned the main roads and don’t worry if I actually do get lost on my outings, because I know what to look for to get back to the palazzo. I’ve had the opportunity to go through the town alone a few times for various reasons. I love just getting “lost” in this town. There are new surprises around every corner! Last week, while doing an assignment for my Italy today class, I ran across an old church that was built in 1272. The exterior walls and three of the gothic windows were still original. The churches here are breathtaking, both in their architectural exterior and artistic interior.
This week we also went to the local art museum and saw Piero della Francesca’s The Resurrection, along with many other interesting paintings that are important in Sansepolcro’s history. It was interesting to notice little details in paintings that were specific to Sansepolcro.
On Saturday evening we had special front row seats for the flag wavers’ show in the main Piazza. The show started off with a band from Belgium playing various well known tunes. When they played crocodile rock a few of us girls started singing along and dancing in our seats. No one else in the crowd seemed to enjoy Elton John as much as we did. The show then followed with some comedians and finally the “infamous” flag-wavers of Sansepolcro. They were very impressive and well synchronized. We were invited to attend a party afterwards for all involved and special guests. I must say: Italians certainly know how to party! There were belly dancers, fire performers, people on stilts, and the song YMCA was played various times (a big hit here). It was definitely an entertaining night.
Sunday brought to an end the Palio Della Bellestra (the annual cross-bow competition) and the town’s millennium celebration. Sadly Sansepolcro lost to Gubbio, a town nearby. That didn’t get the great people of Sansepolcro down; they could still be heard beating their drums and playing their trumpets after the festivities. I was sad to hear the drums played for the final time; after ten days of looking out of our window every night to watch the procession of drummers, trumpet players, and others dressed in renaissance costumes I really enjoyed and got used to them parading through the town in the evenings. As I said, Italians know how to party. The nightly processions brought life to the town, gearing up for the many festivities through the ten days.
Though I have found myself quite homesick over the last week, Sansepolcro has made me feel as though this is my home too. This town is beautiful, the people are very kind, and my experiences here are like no other.
Entry 1: September 3, 2012
The start of a new adventure!
After a long day of traveling, our bus finally arrived in Sansepolcro on Tuesday afternoon. I was exhausted, but very excited! The bus dropped us off right outside of the medieval wall that surrounded the main part of Sansepolcro. We unloaded the bus, gathered our luggage, and followed Dr. Webb through the archway of the wall, into the main part of the city where we would be staying. I looked around and couldn’t believe that I would actually be living here for the next few months. The cobblestone streets were lined with beautiful buildings with terracotta roofs reflective of the Renaissance era when the town grew and thrived. The town was silent and there were very few on the streets-which I would soon learn was because the town shuts down between one and four when everyone goes home to eat. Dr. Webb stopped at the door to the palazzo and we entered the grand wooden doors. After getting all our luggage in and choosing our bedrooms, we were treated to a delicious lunch from our very sweet cook, Margherita. After lunch, we finally toured the palazzo, which I learned is much bigger than it looks- and it looks gigantic! I’ve been here a week and I still am not sure if I could pinpoint where every single room is.
The week was filled with visits around the city and meeting new people, mostly friends of Dr. Webb and John Rose. We are lucky because we are visiting Sansepolcro during the celebration of its 1000 year anniversary. The celebration started on Thursday night with a parade of drums and trumpets, and doesn’t end till next Sunday. On Friday night we went with Sara to get our Renaissance style dresses for the festivities that weekend. While we watched some of the show on Saturday night, we were actually in the procession on Sunday night. I felt like royalty as we paraded in beautiful dresses in front of all the townspeople carrying our Meredith banner. The people of Sansepolcro are very generous to share their town with us and make us feel as one of them. When we walk through the town I often hear people saying “Americana.” They know who we are and are happy to have us here. Many of the shopkeepers and café workers will help us with our Italian when we ask for something. I visited a café the other day and asked (in English) for a Coca-Cola. The bartender pulled out a can and then pointed to the can and the tap-asking which one I preferred in Italian- I pointed to the can and she said “lattina.” I repeated and she corrected me until I had the correct enunciation; then she finally gave me the can. I appreciate how the Italians are so willing to help us learn their language; they are also very patient with us.
I learn more about the history of this wonderful town through a mixture of our professors and the locals. This town has so much history stretching over a millennium. Piera dello Francesca, who I learned was a famous renaissance painter, is very important to this town. He painted a fresco named the Resurrection, which ended up saving the town from being destroyed during World War II. The person given orders to attack the remaining Germans in the town remembered reading about these beautiful frescoes and refused orders to attack Sansepolcro, because he thought it would be terrible to destroy the art. I learn more about the town every day. I feel so blessed to be able to live in a place that is filled with so much history. I look forward to what I will learn this semester. I do believe that this may be the most enriching semester of college I will have of my years at Meredith.