Michael Cook — June 5, 2010, 12:48 pm

Leaving Italy

So, tomorrow is the end of our study abroad trip. I feel excited to go back home, but I also feel that I will miss Italy and the adventures I’ve had. Things I’ll remember the most would have to be, of course, the food, the people, and the people I’ve met on this trip. I think I’ll appreciate this journey more in the future, looking back at pictures and remembering the cities we stayed in and the things we ate. Now for the things that I won’t miss: thin scary roads, very limited A/C, and sharing a room with two other guys. Guys, if you read this, no offense.

Tonight is our final dinner as a group. It will be sad to think I won’t see any of these people again, and I’m sure they’re all sad that they won’t see me anymore. Today, I ate my last gelato, but I actually ate two for memory sake. We also saw the Trevi Fountain and The Pantheon. The fountain was awesome, and probably the most crowded attraction I’ve seen. I didn’t know that Rafael was buried in the Pantheon. It was cool to see his tomb and to read the tombs of other important Italians buried there. The first and second kings of Italy are buried there and some patron saints.

After we shopped and ate, we took a bus to the catacomes. This is where martaryed christians were buried hundreds of years ago. It wasn’t much to look at, but it was nice to cool off underground. Thanks for reading my blog and caring enough about my trip to check it out. See you all when I get back.

Michael Cook — June 3, 2010, 2:10 pm

Roma

Yesterday we toured the Vatican City, and saw the crowds gathered around to receive a blessing from the Pope. We saw Rafael’s rooms, where he painted some of the most famous pieces, including the school of Athens. The Sistine Chapel was also on our “to see” list. It wasn’t as big as I thought it would be, but made up for it in beauty. It was hard to move around in a crowd of anxious tourists, staring up at  one of Michelangelo’s most notoriuous works of art. It took great restraint for me to not snap a quick picture, but the guards were on top of things and prohibited many from doing so. Unfortunaely, St. Peter’s Basillica was closed when we were done touring the Vatican Museum. It opened back up after the Pope was done speaking, but an enourmous line had formed and a few hours in the sun was the last thing our tired group wanted to do. I was surprised there weren’t more gypsies and beggers. That’s all I heard when I asked friends and teachers what I should expect in Rome. Many told stories of being robbed, or at least seeing someone else robbed. I think I only saw about five or six. Not anything too shocking. They really give strong meaning to the title ‘begger’. These people would lay face down on the sidewalk, shaking there whole body, as if they were unclothed in a snow storm. Every now and then, they might try to make eye contact with a person walking by. It’s a little frightening to someone, the first time they see them. However, I don’t look twice when I see them now.

Ok, don’t judge me on what I’m about to tell you. There is only so much proschutto and salami one person can stand, and I’ve had my limit. That’s why I broke down yesterday when I stumbled upon the largest McDonalds in Europe. It was right past the Spanish steps, and I could hear a big mac calling my name. It was extremely busy, because yesterday was Italy’s equivalent to our fourth of July. So, everyone was out and about, shopping and waiting for the party to start at night. If it’s any consolation, I finished the night with a pizza and a glass of wine.

Michael Cook — June 1, 2010, 12:13 pm

Capri

Sunday, some of our group took the ferry over to the island of Capri. The island is so beautiful, and its clear water makes you want to jump right into the Mediterranean. We decided to rent a boat that would take us around the island for €25. I was sceptical of the salesman, but didn’t regret it after seeing the crowded tourists’ boats. Sailing around the island made me think of Jurassic Park because it seemed so mysterious and unexplored. There were hundreds of seagulls and jagged mountain sides that made me feel like I was exploring this Italian island for the first time. The ride was about two hours, and our friends followed in the boat beside us. They jumped into the ocean, close to a cave, and got stung by some  jellyfish. Fortunately, they were small.

Capri was one of the best places I’ve been on this trip and in my life. The ocean is so blue and the houses and shops fit snugly in the crevices of the hillside. Some of our group also rode the chairlift to the top of the island. Words won’t describe how beautiful and serene it was up there. However, some of the pictures on our group’s facebook page may help. Just search for CiaoItalia2010(no spaces).

Michael Cook — May 29, 2010, 4:17 pm

The Forgotten City

Today, we toured the “forgotten city” of Pompeii. Around 79 A.D. Mt. Vesuvius erupted and covered Pompeii with ash. Excavators begin to discover the city in 1748, and only three-fourths of it are uncovered today. We had an awesome tour-guide, professor Salvatore, who showed us around the ruins very enthusiastically. It was incredible that some of the marble structures were still intact, and the frescoes were beautiful colors of blue and red. The size of Pompeii was impressive, and I tried to imagine life 2000 years ago, before the city was covered. We got to see the coliseum and some of the original seating used to watch gladiators and sporting events.

After lunch, we visited Herculaneum, which was covered in mud. The mud actually preserved this city better than the ash that covered Pompeii, and many of the artifacts are still standing. We saw frescoes, furniture, and entire stores that were preserved from the volcanic mud from Vesuvius. The city seems to sit in a hole, but actually shows how far down excavators had to dig. We could also see the shoreline, which use to be bordering the city walls. It was pushed back when the lava hardened and formed new earth. 300 skeletons were found under the arches of this old beach. This experience was amazing because we got to see how this city lived 2000 years ago, and how smart these civilizations were, to build structures that could withstand time and mother-nature.

Michael Cook — May 25, 2010, 4:30 pm

Day Two in Florence

Today, we visited the Academia Gallery and saw some of the most famous sculptures and paintings in the world. Michelangelo’s David was amazing, and Rick Steves walking tour came in handy. David was hard to look away from. The detail in his hands and feet were beautiful, and the sculpture is much bigger than I thought. We also went to the Medici Chapel, where the Medici family were actually buried. The main chapel room was spectacular. Everything was solid marble, and the ceiling was painted with scenes from the Bible. I had to sit down, in order to really study the place, because my neck was hurting from looking straight up.

The Duomo in Florence was also incredible. The colors in the marble make it irresistible not to touch, and the sheer size of the place makes you feel like an ant. We looked around the chapel for a bit, and then we climbed to the top of the Duomo’s dome. It was about 500 steps straight up and around a spiral staircase with my head scrapping the ceiling. Again, we were rewarded with a tremendous view of Florence and the beautiful Tuscan hills surrounding us. We could have stayed up there longer, but they were getting everyone out in order to close.

The ride back to Siena is always fun because we get to ride in a double decker bus. If you haven’t been to Europe, you may not understand that the roads are very narrow and drivers weave in and out of traffic regularly. So, sitting in the front of the second level of the bus was an adventure and a nervous ride back to Siena.

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Michael Cook — May 20, 2010, 4:51 pm

Florence

Today, we journeyed to Florence. The bus took us from Siena and let us off in the busy downtown of Firenze. We visited the busystreet market and ate chinese at a small hole in the wall. We kicked away the pigeons, as we ate on the curb with our food falling off our lap. We visited Piero Tucci leather store, and I almost bought a $500 handbag. That is sarcasim, of course. Piero Tucci is one of the most renound brands of leather products in the world. We took a small shuttle to the factory and saw how the expensive company makes each product by hand. We actually left with some merchandise. Nothing over £30.

After a long day, our class did the last thing we wanted to do. We walked about three miles, mostly uphill, to Piazzale Michelangelo. As we complained and fought through the aching, little did we know that the view of a lifetime was building behind us. When we reached the top, we turned to see all of Florence from above. The crowded streets seemed so angelic from afar, and we agreed, every step was worth this view. The little cafe on the hillside had pretty good pizza, so we grabbed a bite before we headed back to Siena. On our drive home, the sun set on the beautiful Tuscan hills. It was more serene than any postcard or desktop wallpaper could portray. Tomorrow will be a new adventure in Florence when we visit the famous Academia, where Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David is kept.

Michael Cook — May 18, 2010, 5:41 pm

Siena Arrival

Tuesday is day three in Siena, and I’ve learned my way around this small medieval town. Yesterday we had a scavenger hunt, with the purpose of getting “lost” in Sienna’s streets. We found it helpful to ask the locals where certain things were, and some could actually make out our broken Italian accents. I find myself walking the streets thinking most buildings look very similar, and then I turn the corner to find myself gazing up at Il Duomo and its perfect detailed design. The beautiful cathedral was built for santa maria, and it stops me in my tracks every time I walk by it. Of course, Piazza del Campo always has a vibrant atmosphere surrounding its gelato shops and warm, romantic outside restaurants. I can’t wait to visit the market tomorrow.

Michael Cook — May 7, 2010, 1:41 am

Almost Time

Now that school is over, I can focus on Italy and trying to make sure I have everything I need. It still hasn’t sank in that I will be in Tuscany a week from Monday, and no matter how much I read about Italy and its culture, I know it won’t prepare me for the feeling I’ll get as we fly into Rome next Sunday. I think it’s a good sign when everyone I’ve asked has said that they never ate a bad meal in Italy. I’ll need a gym membership when I get back.