Entry 3: Rome and The Vatican: Travel Break Two
For my second travel break I went to Rome with a group of eight other students. This travel break was a lot different than our first travel break because Rome is such a huge and fast paced city. We spent Monday traveling to Rome, which took a little longer than expected because we had to unexpectedly change trains due to a problem with the tracks. Tuesday we went to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. We attempted to go to the Pantheon, but we got lost and ended up in Vatican City. On Wednesday we woke up really early and attended the Papal blessing in Vatican City. Because we arrived so early we were able to sit in the area that is typically reserved for people with tickets. After seeing the Pope, we toured St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine chapel. On Thursday we went to a church close to our hotel, Basilica S. Maria degu Angeli e dei Martiri, which was built on top of the Roman Baths.
Seeing the Pope and touring St. Peter’s Basilica was my favorite part of Rome. According to Rick Steves, many people believe that Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, was one of many Christians killed for entertainment in the area that is now St. Peter’s square. Peter was reportedly crucified upside down because he “felt unworthy to die as his master did.” Old St. Peter’s church was built at the site of Peter’s death by the Christian Emperor Constantine, and it lasted 1200 years. Pope Julius II laid the cornerstone for new St. Peter’s in 1506, and the new church was built around the old church. The church we see today took 120 years to complete (Rick Steves’ Audio Europe).
Seeing the Pope was fascinating because the Pope is one of the most, if not the most, influential men in the world. According to Rick Steves when a Pope dies and a new Pope must be chosen, the world’s Cardinals meet in the Sistine Chapel where they must vote and reach a two-thirds majority. If they vote and a two-thirds majority is not reached, the ballots are burned and black smoke is sent out of the Sistine’s chimney. When white smoke appears out of the chimney, a two-thirds majority has been reached and a new Pope has been chosen (Rick Steves’ Audio Europe).
I am not Catholic, but St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the most astounding places I have ever seen. One of the most amazing aspects of the church is how huge it is; however, because of the way it was built it is difficult to grasp how large it actually is. The church has a capacity of 60,000 standing people and covers six acres (Rick Steves’ Audio Europe). However, somehow the church still seems intimate and welcoming. Today, we like to think that we are much smarter than the people in generations past; however, St. Peter’s is arguably one of the most magnificent buildings in the world and it was built without all of the modern technology and machinery that we rely on today to build our much less magnificent buildings. Today we rely on technology for almost everything that we do. It is really hard to imagine how people in the 1500 and 1600s were able to accomplish so much without all of the luxuries we have today. We may be able to build and do things faster with our technology, but I do not think that our modern architecture is anywhere near the level of complexity or as structurally sound as the architecture of the past.
In class we have been talking a lot about the economy in Italy and how it is in a downward spiral that shows no signs of improving. While walking through St. Peter’s basilica, I thought a lot about how much money it must have cost to build the church. I know that the Vatican is an independent country, but it is ironic to me that there is so much wealth in the form of architecture and artifacts in the middle of Italy while Italy itself is suffering economically. There are hundreds of paintings, sculptures and artifacts that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars in museums and churches all over Italy. I am in no way suggesting that these should be sold or melted down for material, but it is interesting to see that Italy is suffering so greatly economically while being surrounded by things worth so much.
I also thought about the economy as I was paying to enter the Sistine chapel and the Colosseum. There were thousands of tourists all over Rome visiting places that they were paying an entrance fee to see. I am not sure how much money places like the Colosseum make from ticket sales each day but I imagine that it is a huge sum. A lot of this money goes towards paying the people who work at these sites and maintaining the sites themselves. I think that an interesting way to add some extra cash flow to the economy in Italy would be to raise ticket prices by 3-5 euro. Most tourists would be more than willing to pay this extra money to see historic sites and many would not even notice that the prices had been raised. This money could go towards creating new jobs or paying back the debt Italy has. One potential problem with this idea is that there is so much corruption within the government that there is a chance that the money would never go where it was supposed to. While this is nowhere near being a solution to Italy’s economic problems, I think it is a reasonable way to raise some money.
I had a great time in Rome, but one negative aspect of the trip was dealing with the throngs of tourists everywhere that we went. I already knew that Rome was a huge tourist location, but it was way more so than I ever imagined. I often felt like tourists where we went were more interested in a photo opportunity than the actual place they were visiting. I was taking pictures right alongside of them, but I was also trying to soak in the experience and learn from what I was seeing. I went to the Sistine chapel but I only stayed in there for one or two minutes because I could not appreciate the beauty of Michelangelo’s work while standing in the room with hundreds of other people who were talking and moving around. After being in Capri and Sorrento, Rome was a really overwhelming experience. I wish I would have had a few more days in Rome because I missed seeing some sites that I really wanted to see like the Catacombs and the Pantheon. Also, I think it would have been helpful to have a tour guide that could guide me around all of Rome; however, a service like that is a little too expensive for my wallet! Overall, Rome was a really great experience and I saw so many truly amazing sites, buildings and pieces of art. One lesson that I have learned from my travel breaks so far is that the trip is never going to go absolutely perfect, especially while travelling with a group. I think I have learned a lot about compromising and standing up for myself through travelling with a large group of girls, and I will definitely continue to use these experiences and lessons during the rest of my time abroad and when I return to the United States.
Capri and Sorrento: Travel Break One
For my first travel break I traveled to Sorrento and Capri with a group of seven other girls. We left from Arezzo on a train to Rome, and after a short layover, took a train from Rome to Naples. When we arrived in Naples we went underneath the train station to catch the Circumvesuviana, which is kind of like a subway system but not completely underground. All of Monday was spent travelling. On Tuesday, we went to Meta where we found a beach called, Lido Marinella. We spent all day exploring Meta, laying out on the beach, and swimming. On Wednesday, we booked a boat tour of the Sorrento coast and Capri. We spent a couple of hours on the boat seeing the coastline and the green and white grottos. The tour guides pointed out various historical sites to us like the house of the Last King of Sorrento. He told us about how the King would bathe in the natural spring pool, but that he had specials tunnels to get back to his house so he did not have to mingle with the common people. Then the tour guide dropped us off at Capri where we explored and shopped for four hours. On Thursday, we travelled back to Sansepolcro.
Capri is a Mediterranean island off the coast of Sorrento, and it is part of the Campania region of Italy. Capri is the name of the entire island, but it also the name of the most largely populated town on the island. From Sorrento, you can travel to Capri by jetfoils, ferries, and other boats via the Marina Piccola. (http://www.capritourism.com). The Grotta Azurra, Blue Grotto, is one of Capri’s main attractions. In the Blue Grotto, the blue water illuminates the cave because of the way sunlight passes through the water. In the past, the cave was avoided by local people because it was thought to be occupied by witches and monsters (Wikipedia).
Sorrento is a small town that is also in the Campania region of Italy. It is a popular tourist location partially because of its desirable location. Sorrento is close to Naples, Pompeii, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast. Sorrento is also well known for its limoncello, which is a drink typically served after meals to aid with digestion (Wikipedia). While we stayed in Sorrento, we chose to go to the beach in a nearby town because there are not very nice beach in Sorrento. The beaches tend to be rocky rather than sandy. Sorrento reminded me a little of Sansepolcro in that it was small and quaint in comparison to other places we have been like Florence.
Since we have been in Italy we have heard about the concept of “Italian time” over and over. I have noticed this somewhat during my time in Italy; however, I really noticed it in Capri. We booked a boat tour for Wednesday morning and were told to be in the lobby to be picked up by a bus at 9 am. Typically in America the bus would be at the hotel before 9 because that would be considered professional. However, our bus was 45 minutes late, and when the bus finally arrived there was only room for two people. The driver was going to try to fit all eight of us in the van by sitting us on a board in the trunk. I was really turned off by this because in my eyes it was completely unprofessional. However, Italians have a much more relaxed view of situations like this. Whereas I was annoyed that I was late for a scheduled tour, an Italian may feel that “you get there when you get there.” In general, the American view of time is much more uptight. We feel that sitting around with nothing to do is a waste of time; however, Italians often find this relaxing. I have noticed that the view on time is much more relaxed in smaller towns that in the bigger cities. I think this is because these smaller towns have been much less influenced by modernization. In the grand scheme of things, the tour guide being an hour late was really not that big of a deal. We still had plenty of time to do everything we wanted to and see everything we wanted to see. Also, I think that the tour guide would have gladly let us stay on the water for an extra hour if we had asked. We were not wrong to be frustrated, but looking back I think we would have been a little more relaxed had we been thinking of the situation with Italian culture in mind. I also think that maybe I should try to take some cues from the Italians. By getting upset about the bus being late I only put myself in a bad mood and stressed myself out. I ended up feeling really sick on the boat and I probably would not have felt as bad had I not stressed myself out early on.
Something else that I noticed was the differences in tourism. Capri is very touristy, and it is one of the most popular tourist locations in southern Italy. There are a lot of shops and stores in on the island that are catered to tourists; however, what they sell in the shops is not at all what I expected. I live near the beach and as North Carolina beaches have become increasingly filled with tourists I have noticed the types of stores that have opened to cater to this. At beaches in North Carolina, shops cater to tourists by selling items like hats, swimsuits, and sunscreen. Also, in places like Nags Head there is even an outlet mall. I was expecting the stores to sell similar items in Capri because it is an island town. However, when we were looking for a swimsuit we had a really difficult time finding one. Often in America it seems like if you have seen one tourist location, you have seen them all. Because of this, I was really surprised at how well Capri has stayed true to its past while still managing to cater to the thousands of tourists that pass through on a daily basis. I think one reason that Capri is less modernized than other tourist locations is because of the fact that it is an isolated island. If it were accessible by car or train it would be much easier to modernize. Also, I think the people in Capri probably realize that too much commercialization would make Capri less of a treasure and therefore less appealing to tourists. Tourism is already focused more in the North, so keeping tourism heavy is essential to the economy in Capri.
I had a really great time in Sorrento and Capri. My favorite part of the trip was relaxing on the beach in Meta. I really enjoyed seeing Capri on the boat tour, but getting so sick kind of ruined the day for me. I feel that I became more familiar with Italian culture and customs during my travel break, and I am looking forward to learning and seeing more on my next travel break to Rome!
On Tuesday we went to the Museo Civico. I really enjoyed my time at this museum because it was small and I was able to take my time looking at each piece of art. When I have been to museums in the United States, I always feel so rushed and never get the chance to really take in and examine the art. We saw four pieces of art by Piero della Franscesca. It was obvious that Franscesca is really important to the people of Sansepolcro and that they are very proud to claim him as the Son of Sansepolcro. Fransesca was born in Sansepolcro around 1418 (Museo Civico brochure). The four works by Fransesca in the Museo Civico are the Polyptych of the Misericordia, the Ressurection, St. Julian, and St. Louis (Museo Civico brochure). Fransesca reportedly did self-portraits of himself and slipped them into some of his most famous works including the Ressurection, in which is he thought to be one of the sleeping soldiers (Blumenthal). We also saw works of many other artists including Giovanni de Vecchi, Giovan Battista Cungi, Matteo Di Giovanni, and Andrea Della Robbia. All of the paintings in the museum were related to religion. There were paintings depicting the resurrection, the annunciation, and other key Biblical moments. On the bottom floor of the museum there were large collections of huge keys. Also, there were ten or more statues depicting the Madonna with baby Jesus on her lap. The majority of the statues were carved from wood. It was very interesting to see how different the statues were from one another even though they were depicting the same thing. Some of them had Jesus as a tiny infant, while others showed him as a toddler with a crown on his head. Overall, the museum was very interesting and I definitely gained a greater appreciation for art.
While we were at the museum, I really tried to absorb the paintings and pick up on the small details that were actually really significant. One thing that I noticed in two of the paintings was that the artist had depicted God. This is extremely uncommon because the Bible says that no man can see the fullness of God’s glory and live, meaning that no man is able to look at God’s face and continue living. The fact that both Giovan Battista Cungi and Giovanni De Vecchi both painted the face of God in Annunciazione and Nativita Della Vergine respectively really stood out to me. Not only was God depicted in these paintings, but he was also depicted in a way that seemed familiar to me. When I picture what God looks like the image that comes to mind is very similar to what was depicted in the paintings, particularly Nativita Della Vergine. I grew up in a Methodist church in North Carolina, yet my vision of God is extremely similar to the vision of two artists in Italy during the 1500s and early 1600s. This thought really resonated with me because I think as Christians we easily get caught up in our denominations and forget that we are all in fact Christians. The prayers we say in church, the hymns we sing, and the communion we take may all vary, but the backbone of what we are worshipping and why we are doing it is the same. It is really easy to slip away from your religion; however, I feel like seeing all of the Biblical paintings reminded me of where I want to be as a Christian. Being at the museum was truly a religious experience for me.
At the museum I really focused on the paintings and tried to interpret them using my knowledge of the Bible. This was this first time that I have ever really tried to focus on paintings and understand the meaning. I am not a huge fan of art, so I really was not looking forward to the trip to the museum; however, I was surprised at how interested I was once we started to examine the art. The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca was one of the most interesting paintings to me. Jesus was standing over the sleeping soldiers, and in that moment he looked strong, powerful, tired, and intense all at the same time. The emotion that I saw most clearly, however, was peace. Although he probably felt as if he had the world on his shoulders, he looked ultimately at peace. It seems as if Francesca was probably very devout and in touch with his religion to be able to capture the emotion that Jesus must have been feeling at the moment of his resurrection. It seemed to me that Francesco was able to literally translate the scripture into a masterpiece. Ultima Cena by Remigo Cantagallina was my favorite painting in the museum. This was a painting that depicted the Last Supper, and it showed Jesus Christ and all of his disciples. What struck me about the painting was the depiction of Judas. He was turned away from the table and the other disciples with a look of guilt and dread on his face. Jesus and the other disciples had halos; however, Judas had no halo and instead appeared to have horns. The horns were actually the hands of the disciple sitting behind him, but they looked like horns. Also, there was a demon under Judas’ chair. I was so impressed with myself that I was able to recognize and interpret all of the small details. Even what seems like a coincidence in art is typically intentionally done by the artist. I realized through this painting how tricky art can be. Painting Judas as the devil would have been too obvious, so Cantagallina inserted small details into his depiction of Judas. He left it to the viewers to recognize and interpret what all of his details represented.
I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed our visit to Museo Civico. I found that I do actually appreciate art; I just do not like enjoying art with hundreds of other people surrounding the same piece of art I am looking at.