Orvieto and First Day in Florence

We drove to Orvieto this morning, a gorgeous fortified town on top of a hill in Tuscany.  We saw the cathedral started in the 14th century (and finished over 300 years later!), including a few frescoes inside of poets Dante, Virgil, Horace, and Ovid!  We then had a chance to explore the town on our own and grab lunch.  I ended up eating at a lovely little place with Seth & Melanie, Lucy (a parent), and the Lagors, and enjoyed an amazing pasta with rabbit ragu, as well as baked artichokes, wine and an amazing risotto with radishes and cheese—one of the best meals I’ve ever had in Italy.  I followed this up with a wonderful hot chocolate from a shop down the street.  It’s basically liquid chocolate (it thickens after a few minutes in the cup) with unbelievable homemade cream on top.

The drive through Tuscany was beautiful (and a little sleepy J), and we arrived in Florence around 4.  We first took in the entire city from the Piazzale Michelangelo on the top of a hill across the Arno.  What a view of the city, the river, and the surrounding mountains!  From there we headed to check in at our hotel, the Tornabuoni—a four-star hotel, formerly a Medici palace, on a fancy street of expensive shops one block from the river.

Henry took us on a (cold) walk around some of the major landmarks, including the Piazza della Repubblica, the Baptistry (with the still-in-renovation gold doors of Ghiberti, currently replaced with fakes), the Tower of Giotto, Brunelleschi’s Dome, and the Piazza della Signoria (including the spot where Savonarolla was burned at the stake, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Loggia, and the outside of the Uffizi).  Dinner was a ragu pasta, pork and potatoes, salad, and a little ice cream dessert, and then we continued our walk by visiting the Ponte Vecchio and getting some gelato.

Definitely a couple of beautiful places today, and I look forward to seeing the real David statue tomorrow and further exploring Florence!

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Vatican & Last Day in Rome (for now)

Our departure was delayed by rain this morning, but I ventured out on my own for a brisk walk.  I first saw a colossal foot not too far from the Pantheon, then continued through the Piazza Barberini (where the Bernini sculpture was being restored and was not visible) to the Cappuccini, the church of the Capuchin monks.  There is a small museum and a crypt decorated (yes, decorated) with the bones of over 4,000 Capuchins—one of the weirdest things to see here, to be sure.  I finished my walk with a trip to the top of the Spanish Steps, and then joined the group at Piazza Navona.

On the way to the Vatican, we saw the house where Dante lived and wrote, the Italian Supreme Court building (with a statue of Cicero out front), an unusually high Tiber River, and all the press getting ready for Pope Benedict’s last public audience.  Highlights of the Vatican Museum were the Rooms of Constantine and Raphael, as well as the Sistine Chapel (the whole place was much less crowded than last summer, which made for a more pleasant experience).  After a brief trip inside St. Peter’s, Henry took us briefly into the Hotel Columbus, where Pope Julius II (who pressured Michelangelo into painting the Sistine Chapel) once lived.

I walked home on my own, doing a little shopping on Via Cola di Rienzo near the Vatican, and continuing to Piazza del Popolo, past the Mausoleum of Augustus and Ara Pacis, and back to the hotel.  For dinner, we ended up back at the same spot we ate at twice on Saturday, so after a rock-paper-scissors tournament (a tradition on the Lagors’ trips), I went with Jason King (a parent on the trip) to find better food.  I had some homemade pasta with cheese and pepper and a glass of prosecco before heading back to Gelateria della Palma for a big cup of chocolate cannela gelato.

It has been an interesting few days in an unusually chilly Rome, and I am sad to be leaving but very much looking forward to seeing what Florence and Sicily have to offer.  Arrivederci, Roma!

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Back in Rome: Spring 2013 Hill Trip

First Night and Day in Rome:

I don’t know if anyone is still hooked up to read this blog, but it’s mostly a personal record anyway.  In any case, I am back in Rome!  I am here as part of The Hill School’s Spring Humanities Trip to Rome, Florence, and Sicily, led by Dr. Henry Bender.

After a long overnight flight, we arrived in a rainy Rome and made our way by bus (driven by Fabio, who drove our American Academy group many times last summer) first to EUR to see the plastic model of Rome, then to the Albergo Santa Chiara, which sits one block south of the Pantheon.  After checking in, I obtained free espresso in the small dining area downstairs, hit an ATM, and had a prix fixe lunch at a nearby restaurant consisting of bruschetta, pasta with red sauce pasta carbonara, mediocre pizza, plenty of house wine, and a pastry with strawberry wine (frangelino, or “sexy wine”).  After an overly long rest at the hotel (I forgot to set an alarm, thinking I would get a call, then was left behind for dinner), I woke up, re-oriented myself, and joined everyone for dinner at the same restaurant at which we had eaten lunch (and had basically the same meal).  We then made our way to Gelateria della Palma, an excellent little shop near the Pantheon that I had failed to try last summer, and I had an amazing chocolate cannela (cinnamon).  I finished my evening with a long, late walk down to the river and up to the Garibaldi Monument on the Janiculum, recalling some of my summer evenings.

After a night of fitful, limited sleep, I awoke for breakfast at the hotel and then set out with the group for a wide-ranging day of exploration.  Henry took us by Largo Argentina and Piazza Venezia, down the Via dei Fori Imperiali to the Colosseum, and into the Colosseum, where he gave us an informative tour.  We proceeded up the Palatine Hill and then down into the Forum, both of which yielded a few new views for me (the Farnese Gardens on the Palatine, the inside of the Temple of Romulus, an un-scaffolded Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, and the mound, covered with flowers, where Caesar’s body is said to have been burned and where later stood a temple in his honor).

One parent and I took a walk over to Trastevere for lunch at my favorite pizza place, Dar Poeta.  I had a wonderful margherita pizza and house wine, as always, but also had something new—an amazing chocolate mousse that I had never tried!  After a stop in the bookstore on the way back to the hotel, I headed back out with the whole group to the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, where we saw the tomb of Fra Angelica and a Michelangelo statue of Christ, followed by the Church of St. Ignatius, where we saw a really neat perspective ceiling (it’s flat, but is painted to look like a dome from a certain spot).  We then hit the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps before stopping for dinner on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II—wine (of course), rigatoni bolognese, and veal.  We ended the evening with a trip to Giolitti’s for gelato (still disappointing compared to other gelato shops, in my opinion, though the cinnamon was not bad).

Hopefully I will brace myself with better sleep tonight for tomorrow’s trip to the Vatican.  It’s great to be back in Rome!

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Capodimonte & Rome

Saturday we finished our Vergilian Society tour of Campania with a trip to the (unrelated to ancient Rome) Capodimonte art museum in Naples.  There was lots of religiously themed art, including a giant dead babies painting (about the slaughter of the innocents), and a very cool Artemisia Gentileschi painting of Judith and Holofernes (unfortunately, no pictures allowed in the museum).

After the museum, the bus took us back to Rome (stopping at an Auto Grill along the way for lunch).  It took Kathleen and me a few minutes to realize we were standing right next to our hotel, but we eventually did get in.  After catching up on emails, a number of us headed over to the Vatican for a trip to St. Peter’s and some shopping.  Nicole and I got gelato at Gelateria del Theatro on Coronari (I got pure chocolate, Nicole got white peach—they have like 40 cool flavors!), then met everyone at Trevi for a ceremonious tossing of a coin over our shoulders to insure a return trip to Rome one day.  For dinner, we had a last helping of Dar Poeta pizza in Trastevere, then went to hang out by the Garibaldi statue and get more gelato at Miami.  It was a fun extra night remembering our time in Rome.

Sunday was a very long day, of course, with gaining six hours and spending 10 hours on an airplane.  Everything was happily uneventful (I watched 2 tv shows and 3 movies on the plane), and I arrived home to meet Jamie, Robbie, and Gus at the airport.

It has been an amazing summer for me and my toga-clad sheep!  Now it’s time to move and start life in Pottstown!

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Saepinum & Beneventum

On our last full day of the Vergilian Society program, we started (after our typical breakfast of fried eggs) with a long bus ride into the mountains to Saepinum, an old, small Samnite town with well-preserved walls and bits of a triumphal arch of Narratius Priscus (once a potential heir to Trajan).  The weather was wonderful (a nice, cool breeze), and we ate our lunches there before we left.

Our next stop was Beneventum, where I finally got to see in person the Arch of Trajan that I wrote a grad school paper on five years ago.  Happily, I had re-read my paper the night before, because Anne found out that I knew about the arch and asked me to speak on it.  We also walked over to a museum, where there was a cool sculpture of a knitting woman and some artifacts from a Temple of Isis.

We drove through a bit of a storm on the way home, where I did some packing before dinner.  For our last dinner, we had pasta with clams, calamari (and shrimp that I didn’t eat), carrots, french fries, lemon ice, lemon cake, and house-made limoncello (a bit strong).

This post is being made a bit late, as we had internet problems our last day at the Villa.  I will post on my return to Rome and then home when I get back to the states!

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Capua & Caserta

We went down to Capua today, the training site of the rebellious gladiator Spartacus back in 73 B.C.  The big amphitheater there (2nd largest in Italy and 3rd largest in the Roman world) is of Hadrianic date, but we did get to see remains of the amphitheater that Spartacus would have used, as well.  We also saw a Mithraeum with a neat painting of Mithras slaying the bull.

After Capua, we ate our lunches and then headed to Caserta, an enormous Bourbon palace from the 1700s.  I did not think that I had heard of this place, but I actually have seen pictures of the two best sculptures that are part of a giant fountain complex—those of Diana and Actaeon!  There are also some pretty English Gardens, and the inside of the palace was used as a Naboo film location for Star Wars.  I probably walked about 5 miles in the palace & gardens total!

For dinner, we had spaghetti, chicken, eggplant lasagna, and profiteroles.

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Baiae & Misenum

Today we visited the Castellum of Baiae, which guards the Cape of Misenum on the Bay of Baiae.  We had a view over the bay where Nero failed to have his mother, Agrippina, killed in a planned shipwreck (though he did have her stabbed afterwards).  The castle itself houses a museum with remains from Cumae, Puteoli, and the region in general.  We then went to the Baths of Baiae, basically a giant resort for noble Romans back in the day.  An interesting highlight of this visit was the so-called Temple of Mercury, which is a very early dome that has very good acoustics and attracted a couple of singers.  We also saw an inverted fig tree.

We came back to the Villa for a lunch of pizza, fried zucchini flowers, and watermelon, then headed out for an afternoon at the beach in Misenum.  Ryan, Peter, and I swam over to the cliffs and joined the Italians in jumping off (my dive turned into something of an embarrassing flip, but it was fun); unfortunately (although, I am sure, somewhat humorously to Jamie, who has experienced much worse), I seem to have brushed up against a sea urchin.  On the drive home, we stopped at the top of a hill for a great view of Baiae, the Bay of Naples, Capri, and Ischia.

For dinner we had pasta with meat sauce, steak, salad, bruschetta, and gelato.  I am loving my experience, but I am on a bit of a countdown for home…Sunday is getting closer.

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