Monday, July 6, 2009

Final Blog

I'm sitting in our hotel in Madrid waiting for Penn to be ready (no surprise there) and I've realized that this is probably my last chance to blog before we head home for the first time in what feels like an eternity. Sorry I haven't been blogging during our whirlwind Europe tour, but I think the pictures on Facebook are an even more descriptive medium than the blog itself.

We said goodbye to Jule and Kyle yesterday in Segovia after a lovely few days in Salamanca and Segovia. Jules was the perfect tour guide and we were able to just enjoy our time. We especially enjoyed the 0.85 Euro canas, little beers that you can drink with your tapas. We're going to run around Madrid a little this morning before we fly back to Rome and stay in Orvieto for one last night.

It's been a strange last week or so far me while I switch back into USA mode and think about real life. We can't wait to see everyone and to break bread with you again! See you on the flip side...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Small Update

We're on our last full day in Prague. It snuck up on me because I can't keep track of days-of-the-week when we're just touring around everyday (I know, I know, tough life).

Yesterday we went to the Prague Zoo. We actually intended just to go to the nearby botanical gardens for a lazy day with our books, but I stumbled across the zoo in my attempts to find directions to the gardens. It's rated one of the top ten in Europe, so we HAD to go. It was actually an excellent zoo! Wayyyyy better than the Rome zoo. AND, the food and beverage there is wicked cheap. That made Penn happy. We ate well and had half a litre of beer for only about $6!

So, we've been trying to see anything we can and eat whatever we can. Tonight we're going to try to get to an opera at the famed opera house in the Old Town. I hope they have seats left and that they are surprisingly cheap. Wouldn't that be nice?

Well, we have to get our lazy bums going. Time for another fabulous breakfast out. Check out our pictures on facebook...there are a TON. Love and miss you all. (Happy Fathers' Day to our papas, again! Sorry we can't be with you...we'll enjoy a beer in your honor!!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Praha at Last!

We are safe and happy as clams in Prague. We've arrived and already done the preliminary sweep of the Old Town. Now we're in our hostel (which rules) getting settled and trying to plan out our six days in this wonderful place! We've already had a traditional Czech meal (mine of beef and dumplings, Penn's of pork and spaetzle) and a wonderful lager at a local microbrewery. I think we're going to like it couldn't be more different from Orvieto, so it's a nice change! Kit has helped us with a few suggestions to fill up our time here, but further suggestions are welcome. Though, it seems like one could just walk and walk here and never get tired of staring at the architecture...

The only goal I have is to drink a Pilsner for each and every one of you (just kidding, mostly). We'll keep updating you on the goings-on. I'll try to get up-to-date with facebook pictures so that I can start posting Prague ones. We can also try to Skype with people if you want to email/comment with a good time for you. Let us know!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Weird Beard

So, I'm sitting by the sea in Fiumicino missing all our friends from Orvieto. I can't wait to get to Prague so that we can occupy our minds with something else! Though, today we saw the archeological dig at Osta Antica and that was pretty amazing.

I'll let everyone know when we're safe in Prague!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Full Piece

I'm going to post the full piece here now that I'm done with it. I'm reading it tonight for the sort of closing ceremonies thing we're doing. Enjoy it.

La Passeggiata

Don't be fooled by their futuristic footwear; the Orvietani are an old-fashioned folk. Don't assume that the expediency with which they shoot their espresso is any indication of a rushed existence. Life to them is, in fact, steeped in an intentional, historical slowness. It is to be savored. Orvieto's citizens observe set times of day reserved for sitting, eating, sleeping, ambling and eating again. This phenomenon remains impervious to the generation gap and largely aloof to the inevitable pressures of a tourist economy.

I find myself now in the midst of one such convention. I intended to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail at the sleepy bar I had walked by during my morning shopping. Instead, my prosecco and I are surrounded. It's seven o'clock and, rather than slouching in front of Wheel of Fortune, all the townspeople have emerged en masse to admire one another. There is a seamless interaction between young and old, learner and learnéd. Each has a part to play in this pageant down Corso Cavour and each performs that part with skill and grace.
By now I've risen to join the performance. From this more vertical vantage point, I can satisfy my curiosity about the contents of the countless baby carriages rattling past me. A particularly extravagant carriage catches my eye and the bambina inside is no less stunning.
She won't pick out her own clothes for a few years yet, but she's Gucci from bonnet to booties. Skinny jeans squeeze her well-rounded legs. She won't walk until August, so for now she strolls with us aboard a private coach. It's fully loaded, having more cup holders than there will ever be sippy cups. She doesn't suggest Cafe Cavour for tonight's aperitivo, yet there she's parked. She is tucked among the patio furniture and the discourse.
Her role tonight is that of a student of leisure. She notes every ensemble; she hears every "Sera!"; she giggles at every terrier and pug on parade. Her hands flap to mirror her father's animation. All the details combine to form a bedtime preamble that is also her induction into the culture of her future.
She rejoins the throng when the crodini have been drained. Excited for another round of moseying, she shares her newly mastered wave/"Ciao" combination with an elderly woman poking her head out of a window above. She gets the desired response from the nosey nonna and lays back into her cushions. Already, she's becoming an active member of this community of inveterate meanderers.
Eventually, the rumble of the cobblestones weighs on her eyes. The crowds are thinning and she is drifting. Tonight she will sleep for the final leg of her passeggiata.
The nonna in the window disappears from view. Not a moment later, she has joined us by way of massive double doors, which her husband closes by yanking with all his scant weight on one of the golden lion-head knockers . I can tell they have timed their emergence to coordinate with the later portion of the parade, when they can negotiate the cobblestones unrushed.
For now, her husband accompanies her up the corso. They have a shared tempo, an understanding established years before. At the first piazza, he nods to her and peels off to join his bench posse for their nightly quarrel. She, however, will navigate the full circuit, only stopping for a chat or a necessity.
She models a woolen skirt, nylons and practical heels—always heels. She's laden with bags, some in the crook of her arm, some under her eyes and where a jawline used to be. She's regal in her wrinkles, somehow . . . or maybe she just looks a bit like Queen Elizabeth. The enormous onyx ring on her pinky betrays an enduring vanity—the result of dressing for decades in a couture country.
She's out now in search of a bit of gossip as much as a head of lettuce. The grocer up the road is happy to oblige on both counts. She parts from him having added a bundle of greens and some juicy details to her baggage.
Back on the move, I catch her faintly nodding in approval at the families passing by. This ritual seems to rejuvenate her. She's pleased to see the congregation of her neighbors, her family. Now she has found the energy to finish preparing dinner for her own portion of this flock, who should be assembling by her doors any minute now.
She must make her way back to collect her husband and to stir the stewing cinghiale. She wends her way through the street towards home surrounded by Orvietani—her rhythmic limp is the pulse of this town.

Caught somewhere in the purgatory between youth and wisdom, one Orvietano generation takes its place behind the gelato cases and bar counters. They are an intriguing collection of beautiful faces and as-yet unpolished ambitions. They are the dreamers of this town-set-in-stone whose discontent flashes on their faces only when they think no one is looking.
My spritz server tonight lives in this limbo. He embodies Italian trendiness with his narrow jeans, metallic sneakers and hawked hair. He seems too young to be so adept with a tray full of prosecco flutes, but he whirls them past me with ease. His confident, practiced strut takes him smoothly between tables. He flashes his shining smile to any willing swooner. He is attentive to his customers and to potential customers streaming down the corso.
It is in these flickers of connection with those beyond the umbrellas of Caffe Cavour that I sense his regret. He blends with the crowd whenever he can, finding quick escapes from the inevitable refill request. Pride in full glasses and crisp crostini for his patrons can't fully satisfy him tonight. Could a stroller filled with his own heir and pushed by his own inamorata be the answer? Perhaps an affair with one of the new American girls in town who will sweep him off to a new life? Or maybe this young man just wants a fast-forward button to bring him closer to a time when he has nothing more to worry about than finding an empty bench on which he can rest. Yes, he covets his neighbor's spot in the corso parade and the tourist's transient time in his small town. Yet, in and instant, his tray is full again and his smile is vibrant. He'll find another moment to dream before the night is over. For now, his must do his part to fuel our passeggiata.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Last Week

We're all freaking out about only having one week left together. Penn and I have decided to go on the bus that is bringing everyone to the airport so that we can say goodbye adequately. Then, he and I are killing time in Fiumicino, on the coast and very near the airport, until we leave for Prague! Those two days will be a good time for us to recuperate and clear our brains to leave Italy.

In the mean time, I am singing in the show that's being held at the monastery as part of the Art & Faith program in town. It's been fun and distracting from panic. Penn has been busily laying out the 40 page "A Guide to Orvieto" we've compiled as part of our Travel Writing class. Allyson did all the illustrations and Penn has been put in charge of making it printable before we do a reading from it on Thursday. He is wonderful and is almost done already!

Anyway, I have to focus my brain on finding a flight for the last leg of our trip and organizing our bags for travel. Can't wait to see you all in just a short while!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

First Travel Piece

The following is the final draft of the first half of the piece I'm preparing in Travel Writing class. The second half is due on Monday, so I'll share it when I have it completed! The second half is going to be about the generation stuck between the two I've observed below. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

La Passeggiata

Don't be fooled by their futuristic footwear; the Orvietani are an old-fashioned folk. Don't assume that the expediency with which they shoot their espresso is any indication of a rushed existence. Life to them is, in fact, steeped in an intentional, historical slowness. It is to be savored. Orvieto's tenants observe set times of day reserved for sitting, eating, sleeping, ambling and eating again. It's a phenomenon that remains impervious to the generation gap and largely aloof to the inevitabilities of a tourist economy.

I find myself now in the midst of one such convention. I intended to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail at the sleepy bar I had walked by during my morning shopping. Instead, my prosecco and I are surrounded. It's seven o'clock and, rather than slouching in front of Wheel of Fortune, these people have emerged en masse to appreciate one another. There is a seamless interaction between young and old, learner and learnéd. Each has a part to play in this pageant down Corso Cavour and each performs that part with skill and grace.

By now I've risen to join the performance. From this vantage point, I can satisfy my curiosity about the contents of the countless baby carriages now rattling past me. A particularly extravagant carriage catches my eye and the bambina inside is no less stunning.

She won't pick out her own clothes for a few years yet, but she's Gucci from bonnet to booties. Skinny jeans squeeze her well-rounded legs. She won't walk until August, so for now she strolls with us aboard a private coach. It's fully loaded, having more cupholders than there will ever be sippy cups. She doesn't suggest Cafe Cavour for tonight's aperitivo, yet there she's parked. She is tucked among the patio furniture and the discourse.

Her role tonight is that of a student of leisure. She notes every ensemble; she hears every "Sera!"; she giggles at every terrier and pug on parade. Her hands flap to mirror her father's animation. All the details combine to form her bedtime preamble and induction into the culture of her future.

She rejoins the throng when the crodini have been drained. Excited for another round of moseying, she shares her newly mastered wave/"Ciao" combination with an elderly woman poking her head out of a window above. She gets the desired response from this nosey nonna and lays back into her cushions. Already, she's becoming an active member of this community of meanderers.

Eventually, the rumble of the cobblestones weighs on her eyes. The crowds are thinning and she is drifting. Tonight she will sleep for the final leg of her Passeggiata.

The woman in the window disappears from view. Not a moment later, she has joined us by way of massive double doors, which her husband closes by yanking with all his scant weight on one of the golden lion-head knockers . I can tell they have timed their emergence to coordinate with the later portion of the parade, when they can negotiate the cobblestones unrushed.

She dons a woolen skirt, nylons and practical heels. Always heels. She's laden with bags, some in the crook of her arm, some under her eyes and where a jawline used to be. She's regal in her wrinkles, somehow . . . or maybe she just looks a bit like Queen Elizabeth. The enormous onyx ring on her pinky betrays an enduring vanity—the result of dressing for decades in a couture country.

For now, her husband accompanies her up the corso. They have a shared tempo, an understanding established years before. At the first piazza, he nods to her and peels off to join his bench posse for their nightly quarrel. She, however, will navigate the full circuit, only stopping for a chat or a necessity.

She's out now in search of a bit of gossip as much as a head of lettuce. The grocer up the road is happy to oblige on both counts. She parts from him having added a bundle of greens and some juicy details to her baggage.

Back on the move, I catch her faintly nodding in approval at the families passing by. This ritual seems to rejuvenate her. She's pleased to see the congregation of her neighbors, her family. Now she has found the energy to finish preparing dinner for her own portion of this flock, who should be congregating by her doors any minute now.

She must make her way back to collect her husband and to stir the stewing cinghiale. She wends her way through the street towards home surrounded by Orvietani—her rhythmic limp is the pulse of this town.

Friday, May 22, 2009


So, I've joined Penn's "Travel Writing" class. Scott Cairns is the professor (look him up) and I just couldn't sit out when I heard that their homework is to sit out in Orvieto and peoplewatch. By the end of the class, we will all have written a full travel piece about the town we've come to love. Is there anything more brilliant than that? Just being in the class for this last chunk of time is perfect for those of us who have felt far from Orvieto for a while with travels, travels and more travels. We're learning to see it in a more powerful way and to re-see all the things that struck us when we first arrived. We're all enjoying the work he puts to us and the inspiration he provides. I'm literally seeing so much more when I walk down the street now. It's crazy! If I get up the nerve, I may share my final product before we move out of town...

One part of mine is about the bartender/waiter at Cafe Cavour and he should be just about to start pouring the evening spritzes for the people taking their Passegiata. I'm going out to observe him! Wish me luck.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Back to Life. Bak to Re-al-i-ty.

It's a relatively normal morning here in Orvieto. I almost can't believe what the past month has consisted of. What I really can't believe is that a whole month has passed without me even realizing it! We've been flying through a dream of long-awaited Italian tourism and we've woken up on the other side having seen and done more than we can even express.

We started with a visit from wonderful Connecticut friends. Toby and Erin's special travel fund brought them over to our side of The Pond and we had a blast showing them around. First we did a night in Rome consisting of wandering around our favorite area of the city (near the Pantheon), dinner at Maccheroni, of course, and gelato at Giolitti, of course. We saw an orchestra playing in the Pantheon piazza and rode in a cab driven aggressively by an Italian grandma! We met up the next morning at the train station to buy tickets for a day trip to Orvieto. We had some time to kill, so we wandered over to the Spanish Steps, which were covered in azaleas for the Italian Independence Day celebration. After pastries and cappuccino, we wandered back to Termini for a quick trip over to our town. Orvieto really is the most perfect retreat after a loud, busy stay in Rome. We gave them a tour of the monastery and then of the town. We did a very entertaining lunch at Da Carlo where we lost our waiter/chef/entertainment halfway through our meal because he sliced his thumb on the meat slicer. His mother made us our gnocchi instead and it was still fabulous. We finished up the tour and sent our friends on their way back to Rome. It was so nice to have our American life invade our Italian life...

Then, T-minus 16 hours later, I was sitting again in Roma Termini station waiting for Mom and Dad G to arrive! We had a bit of a hitch when the line to store luggage for the day was 10x longer than we all thought it would be. After some wandering to find a better option, Dad and I ended up waiting in line anyway, which didn't take nearly as long as we'd thought it would. Thank God! Then it was Roman Whirlwind Tour #3. Maccheroni, again, for lunch, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Giolitti, again, and most of the ancient stuff until we all felt like falling down. Perfect time for a retreat to Orvieto...again. After a wonderful Penn reunion, we did dinner at Locanda (our "cafeteria" and where they were staying), gelato by the duomo (#2 for that day...though the women abstained) and then early to bed!

The next day was my laundry day, so the Glendinnings wandered through Orvieto until lunch time when we brought them to Mezza Luna for Carbonara. We did the Medieval Quarter tour after that and gave them wobbly knees by the edges of the cliff. Then it was: checking on Carlo's finger (we found him in a sling and a bandage gabbing with his mother outside the restaurant where she berated him for talking to us about the bloody event), enjoying Piazza del Populo and some more duomo - this time in daylight. Then, in the blink of an eye, we had rented a car (thanks to Laura!) and were winding our way up the hill opposite Orvieto to see Lake Bolsena. We got the most beautiful view of our Snow Globe-of-a-town while on the switchbacks, getting higher and higher and further and further from the cliff. Check the Glendinnings' flickr page eventually, you'll see how incredible Orvieto looked from that vantage point. Unfortunately it was sprinkling in Bolsena, so the lake area was a little chilly. We decided to see it from the car some more and eventually found ourselves in another small hillside town called Montefiascone where we enjoyed some macchiati and a little slice of their local goings-on. We somehow made it back in time for our reservation at Palomba, and thank God we did. I'm counting down the days until Penn and I can go back and enjoy that place again. Mom had cinghale and the rest of us had various preparations of fillet (yay, beef!). Their salads were exceptionally fresh and their peccorino was wonderfully aged. We even got dessert because we didn't want the meal to end!

The next day I went on a day trip to Spoleto and Assisi with the Glendinnings while Penn had class and got some work done. We enjoyed the ride through the Italian countryside and took a little detour through Todi, a nearby little city that we've all been meaning to visit. We saw the major sights in both Spoleto and Assisi, particularly enjoying the ancient bridge in Spoleto and St. Francis's monastic retreat in Assisi. I mean, how many times in your life do you get to see the very same oak tree that St. Francis enjoyed centuries before? We got back to Orvieto a little later than we had planned, but still with plenty of time to relax a bit before dinner at Charlie's! We brought some friends along this time and enjoyed every bite as always. Thank God for Charlie's. What would we do without you???

Thursday morning I met up with the Glendinnings in town and brought them over to the Orvieto open air market that is essential in any visit to Orvieto. We bought some artichokes to bring to Cinque Terre and some flowers for Laura as a thank you for helping us get a car to get around Tuscany and Umbria for two days! We sent the parents off to Cinque Terre ahead of us and waited for our turn to head up to the shore! With kebabs in our bellies and full backpacks, Jana, Allyson, Penn and I were finally on a train for our weekend getaway.

A thousand woohoos to Mama G for finding and putting us up in the most perfect house in all of Cinque Terre. A graduation present beyond anything we could have hoped for. We all ran right up to the rooftop terrace to watch the sun finish setting over the sea and couldn't believe our luck. Some wine, olives, cheese and crackers made it all even better. We had a late dinner at a seafood place right on the water and eventually made ourselves go to bed so that we could wake up and enjoy the sun and some more towns of the five. Little did we know...

TRAIN STRIKE. Those were the words that greeted us when we went to buy our hiking passes the next morning. In fact, this little 8.5x11 piece of paper informed us that the train strike was happening at precisely the wrong time: 9pm Sat - 9pm Sun. Unfortunately, that meant that the students, who had a ton of a work ahead of them and were planning on leaving early Sunday-ish, had no choice but to go home a day early, before the start of the strike. Boo Hiss. Oh well, it was our fate that weekend, so we had to make the most of the time we had! We started with the easiest "hike", more like a walk, over to the first little town, Riomaggiore. The flowers were lush and bright and the beaches were stoney and smooth. I collected a set of rocks/ceramics that I will someday turn into the backsplash of my dream kitchen, but in the meantime they weighed down the duffel we sent home with the Glendinnings. We all got some sun and exercise - what could be better? Lunch was back at the house in Manarola and was a bit of a smorgasbord of meats and cheeses and olives and pesto and bread to give us energy for the second leg of the day. Penn wrote on the terrace (and made friends with a pollen-covered bumble bee) while Dad G painted on the rocks, Mom G went to find their ATM-eaten debit card and the girls and I hiked to Cornelia. We treated ourselves to frozen yogurt upon arrival (because after a long hike, you have to climb about 300 steps to get up to this highly-situated little town) and enjoyed even more abundant gardens and the biggest roses you'll ever see. We headed back to Manarola to do some grocery shopping for the homemade meal we were planning for that evening. Through the combined efforts of all those present, we enjoyed the following meal on the roof while the sun set that evening:

Bow-tie Pasta with oil & cheese topped by sauteed asparagus and mushrooms.
Roasted fresh link sausage from the local shop slathered with oil and rosemary.
Steamed Orvietan artichokes with a lemon, garlic, pesto and oil dipping sauce.

There's nothing like the sound of the ocean while eating a freshly prepared Italian meal.

Stinking of garlic and full to the brim, we took a quick train over to Vernazza, the 4th town of the 5 and had gelato while walking along their beach and boardwalk. We watched the night fishermen seeking their catch and the lovers holding hands in this romantic, colorful town. After a rousing reenactment of the entire second book in the Twilight series by none other than Miss Allyson Arendsee, we were home again to sleep to the sounds of the waves.

The next morning we did a hike up to Doppo, a smaller hill town above Manarola where, again, flowers were abundant and there was a great view of the town and the sea beyond. Mom G got to play her pipes in front of a little stone building on a vineyard while we rested in the vines. We headed down for lunch at a place that was recommended in the guest book at our house and I had me some deep friend seafood and really good french fries (which I haven't had since being here). Unfortunately, then we had to go back to the house to send off the three students before the train strike stranded them in Cinque Terre. Even more unfortunately, the "train station" in Manarola isn't actually a TrenItalia vendor and couldn't sell them a ticket to Orvieto. Basically, they had to hope that they would have a big enough layover in one of the train-swapping towns to buy a ticket for the rest of the journey. We were all a bit annoyed, to say the least, and I wasn't convinced that they would be able to do it (they did, in fact, make it all the way back to Orvieto. Although it was by pure luck that they made it onto all the trains they did and that they didn't get caught by a conductor on the legs where they weren't able to purchase tickets during the very short layovers. I believe there was one stop where the doors of the train literally shut right behind them. Some of the other traveling students weren't so lucky...some were stranded in Pisa for an extra night - not the worst fate in the world!). So, for the rest of the evening I went down and read on the rocks below the house. That night we had a reprise of the homemade dinner on the top deck and enjoyed some relaxation.

Sunday was a fabulous Mother's Day of hiking, hiking and more hiking. The three of us attended Mass at the ancient church on the hill in Manarola, accompanied by only a handful of elderly Manarolan ladies and more than a handful of altar children - the most I've ever seen! The priest was shepherding them around the altar and lovingly pushing them out of the way when they were in the wrong places. The rest of the day was spent conquering the two paths from Manarola to Cornelia and from Cornelia to Vernazza. I don't think any of us knew how long the trek would be, but we enjoyed every hour of it and were pleased as punch when we finally arrived in Vernazza. We rode the ferry back to Manarola, which was a bit swell-y, but very refreshing. We showered up for dinner and had a fabulous meal at another trattoria recommended in the guestbook and had fresh sea bass and sole filleted for us right at our table! They also started us with this olive/mayo/oil/garlic spread on rounds of bread that was divine. That meal was a perfect way to go out in Cinque Terre.

The next morning was spent packing up and not wanting to leave that lovely place. We retrieved another rental car in La Spezia and drove home, with a pit-stop in Siena on the way, another beautiful, ancient town in our area of Italy. Thanks, again, Glendinnings for a perfect weekend away!

Back in Orvieto the Glendinnings found another place to stay for a couple of night because Locanda didn't have any rooms. It ended up being a good thing because the monastery up the street had rooms overlooking the TWELVE-sided tower in the valley and impeccably clean accommodations. We had another lovely few days in our town with Penn's poetry class providing a Reading of some memorized poems and some original poems in the courtyard one evening, another dinner at Charlie's (this one with Jana's whole family and some more friends from the program) and a soccer game at the turf fields over by the monastery up the street. Right after the game, Penn's parents left to drive up to Milan and we were supposed to pack up and get ready to go to Venice. Unfortunately, when we went to grab our really late train, there was no one in the ticket office of our tiny train station, nor could we buy tickets with the self-service machines because they were only regional machines. So, backpack-clad we went back up to sleep instead and decided to leave in the morning instead. That was a good decision in the end because we were well-rested for our lovely weekend in Venice!

I was going to write about this later, but I really have nothing else to do right now except maybe nap. So, I'll just do it.

Venice, Venice, Venice. Lovely, lovely Venice. I was a giddy little school girl visiting this city because it really is everything it's cracked up to be. And, if you avoid St. Mark's square during all hours of light, it's quite calm, actually. Though, we heard more English there than we did Italian, unfortunately. So, when we arrived in the afternoon, we wandered through the small canals and walkways over to our hotel, which was on the non-St. Mark's side of the Grand Canal, looking over the Canal and at the Rialto Bridge. I really enjoyed our location and I was glad we chose to stay there. Now that we know Venice a little better, I would love to go and stay in the Cannareggio area, where things are slightly more authentic and definitely cheaper. Though, for my first time, I wouldn't have stayed anywhere else! So, we crashed for a bit and had tea and biscuits in our room before venturing out to find this little pizza place I had read about. We found it, il Refolo, and we shared a caprese salad to start (me drinking a mimosa and Penn drinking a mojito), then I had a gorgonzola, arugula and walnut pizza while Penn had a tomato, mozzarella and speck pizza. We were completely distracted the whole time because there were tourists everywhere. No one was Italian in this whole place and there was no way they all just stumbled upon it. It was like everyone read the exact same book I did. It was creepy, but delicious. Then was gelato at Alaska, this tiny gelato place that makes entirely organic gelato. All his flavors were really strange and very natural tasting. I had chocolate, peppermint and almond and Penn has something undefinable that reminded Penn of sweet wheat bread (it was called malto or something like that), peppermint and something else I can't remember. It was definitely a unique taste experience! We did some wandering the rest of the night, window shopping in the crazy-expensive stores, seeing St. Mark's at night with the various orchestras playing and the tuxedo-clad waiters. That was quite nice, actually.

The next morning we had a lovely breakfast in our breakfast room overlooking the canal. The spread was great and the little Italian hostess was very sweet. AND, we got American coffee! I know it sounds crazy to miss regular coffee when we're living on cappuccinos and macchiatos, but it was nice to just sip and sit and have a refill! Then, we got over to St. Mark's early so that I could go inside. It was gorgeous, but the walk-around only took us about 7 minutes, so that was that. Then, we bought our passes for the vaporetto (water bus) and sat at the famous Harry's Bar for some olives and bellinis. It was cool to go to a place that had been a regular hang out of Hemingway, Byron and Orson Welles, but it's definitely not for the tourist looking for a glamorous or sunshiney morning spritz. There's no outdoor seating and barely any windows to speak of - a perfect spot for a writer to be left alone. We enjoyed it. Then, we hopped on the boat and rode over to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Dorsoduro. That was nice and not too expensive either! Then we visited the haunted palazzo next door (just outside) and grabbed some food to eat by the water in Dorsoduro. Then we hopped back on the boat and rode and rode. We went all the rest of the way down the Grand Canal and then around the perimeter of Venice, back to St. Mark's. I love traveling by boat. What a life! We saw the slightly-disappointing Bridge of Sighs (entirely surrounded by a Sisley advertisement) and then battled through the tourist back to our place to freshen up for dinner. We settled on a place over in Cannareggio run by a fisherman named Lolo who sells his stuff at the Rialto Market, but keeps the freshest stuff for his restaurant. Sign me up. So, since we weren't doing a Gondola ride, we decided to take a Traghetto across the canal. These are little Gondola shuttles driven by Gondoliers in training. That was just perfect for me (especially because after the 45 second ride, I was still riding the boat for about 5 minutes on land, if you know what I mean). We walked around this lovely neighborhood and eventually found this tiny little restaurant in the back streets. MmmmMmmmMmmm. We started with freshly grilled scallops served in their gorgeous shells drizzled with olive oil. For main course I had sesame-encrusted tuna steak (med rare) and drizzled with 40-year-old balsamic vinegar. Penn had scallop and zuccini gnocchi, but wished he had the gorgeous mixed-grill plate we saw delivered to the table next to us! Oh well, we made up for that by ordering the best chocolate lava cake ever made (one for each of us) and due macchiati to pep us up a bit at the end of the meal. Oh, and the Prosecco! We had this deliciously acidic Prosecco that was also made organically and worked very well with the fish we were eating! We rode the boat home and then did some more night walking around our area.

The last morning we checked out after another lovely breakfast and did another long boat ride to see the canal again. It was so hot. We grabbed a massive bottle of Coke Zero and a salami panino and sulkily went back to grab our train. Ciao, Venezia.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Back from the Dead

I cannot BELIEVE how long it has been since I have been able to sit during our normal internet time and blog. Since I finished drafting the novel that was my last set of blogs, we've had several visitors and been to loads of places. We've eaten more food than I can express and more wine, too. I seriously don't have the energy or time to write about everything right now, but I promise I was soon.

In the mean time, Penn is taking me to Venice! We're staying right on the Grand Canal only a few steps from the Rialto Bridge. I opted out of gambling on a hostel and we're doing the full-on hotel in Venice experience. Penn is busily finishing his last assignments for his poetry class and then we're off! We said goodbye to Mom and Dad G. this afternoon after a rousing soccer game on the edge of the cliff. We live in a pretty cool place. That Glendinning generation is driving up to Milan to send Paula off on her flight tomorrow morning and Charlie will be driving around the Lake District for a few additional days. It has been an incredible couple of weeks.

Now to finish our last month here...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Return of the King

Our first evening in Rome was pretty perfect to me. When we had arranged all the apartment stuff, we took a (free) bus over towards our neighborhood and vibrated our bags over the cobblestones to the place. This little jaunt, because we got off the bus too early, took us past the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, a perfect introduction to Rome. We settled in a bit and decided to take a small walking tour to several places that are great to see in the nearing-dusk hours. We gave them the schpiel about Bernini's Four Rivers and and enjoyed Piazza Navona for a while longer. Then we walked over to the Pantheon and went inside. Marveling at the dome and Raphael's grave, we had a nice little rest inside. Then we took Mom and Dad into Chiesa di St. Ignacio, where the ceiling had been painted to only look accurate from one spot on the floor. This was a pit stop on the way to the Trevi Fountain, which is GORGEOUS at dusk. We sat there for a long time, just relaxing and watching people take all sorts of pictures in front of the fountain. Rome truly is always flowing. We took the long way home and passed quickly by the Forum/ Colosseum at twilight on our way over to Campo de Fiori, a lovely piazza that fills during the day with a fruit market and is lined with restaurants at night. We eventually found a restaurant that wasn't a tourist trap. In fact, it was a menu entirely based around the Buffalo. Obviously, the mozzarella was to die for and I had something as UN-Italian as I could find. I had buffalo meatballs covered in a yogurt sauce and served with rice and salad and thick, heavy, amazing sour cream. Ahhhhhh! Sorry, but my life here revolves around mealtime. It makes or breaks my day. Ok, so that's true about my life all the time, I suppose. After dinner we went to the best gelato place in Rome, Giolitti's. Then it was crashing time.

Day two in Rome started with the most expensive cappuccinos & croissants of all time. So, I know that the price goes up if you sit down with your breakfast at a cafe, but this place DOUBLED the price! 24 Euros for breakfast! Unbelievable. Anyways, this morning we walked over to the Vatican from our apartment. We walked down an antique store lined street where my dad showed incredible restraint. It was a gorgeous day, so people were out in full force and the line to get into St. Peter's was just too long. We went over to the Vatican Museum instead and saw as much as we possibly could before we were falling down with hunger and thirst. It's an incredible museum, even the second time around! After, we found this phenomenal panini joint where they make everything fresh for you and have really interesting ingredients. Fuel for our tiring bodies! We checked the line again at St. Peter's and decided to still abstain. We walked along the Tiber River up to the Piazza del Populo and saw the two Caravaggios in the church and enjoyed a break in the Piazza. We walked down the Roman shopping streets to the Spanish Steps. It was swarming with lovers and shoppers. Mom and I sat on the upper section while Penn and Dad climbed up high to get a good view. We only stopped on the way back to shop at these little outside antique kiosks. Somehow I was able to resist Gucci, Prada and Armani (maybe it was the price tags). For dinner that night we took them to our favorite place, Maccheroni, where I had a lovely Gorgonzola & pear gnocchi. Ahhhh. Then we stumbled across the famous Sant Eustachio coffee shop and Mommy stocked up for the U.S. while we took a shot of their intense espresso. Then we stumbled across this awesome fountain where books are spouting the water out! Of course, Daddy and I got a picture of us sipping from it. Then we crashed again.

Day three in Rome was the fateful black-flats day. Even though everyone around you may be wearing them, don't ever try to wear useless flats around Rome. The cobblestones'll kill ya. Anyway, we started that morning apart from one another, while Daddy did some antiquing/walking and the three of us had coffee and saw some more Caravaggio paintings. The series on Matthew's life was unobstructed this time around and these paintings were well worth the wait! Very cool. So, we met up with Daddy at the Four Rivers fountain and headed over to the ancient sector of town. We started with Michaelangelo's Campidoglio, which is a piazza that he designed and looks nicely over the Forum. There were a couple weddings going on! We gaped at the Forum for a while and then went over to the Colosseum. It was free to get in that day! Woohoo! That was awesome. They have a really great museum inside and it's just crazy to think about all that went on there. We were all noticing the blatantly absent mention of the sacrifice of Christians in the Colosseum and the flippant mention of the destruction of Judea by the man in charge of commissioning the Colosseum. Strange how one's history gets skewed, the U.S. probably being the worst culprits of this practice.

Anyway, from there we went on a desperate search for lunch that might include a bathroom for me. Unfortunately, that means we passed by several lovely sandwich shops and got roped into a sit-down place by a very convincing and deceivingly charming old Italian man. Note: If they feel that they have to "sell" their restaurant to you, then you probably don't want to go there. Food was normal bordering mediocre and the guy was pushing lots of different items on us, all of which we resisted with much difficulty. Then, in the end his English suddenly wasn't so good when he was trying to explain why they didn't take credit card that day. So, Dad gave him a 50 for the slightly-less-than-50 Euro bill and never saw his change again, until the waiter came to our table holding up the change stating (not asking), "For me!" We referred to him as "Il Bastardo" for the rest of the day. Oh well. We got to go and see Michaelangelo's sculpture of Moses in the Church of Peter in Chains. Then we wandered towards something that was listed on the map as some sort of ruin, but ended up being the equivalent of Edgewood Park, but in Rome (for those of you who didn't grow up near New Haven, this park is the notorious hang out for gangs, drug dealers and just generally sketchy people the second the sun starts to set...). We got out of there pretty quick and slowly, slooooowly wandered our way back through the ruins and back toward our neighborhood. We took some better pictures at the book fountain, hit up the candy shop and lingered a while at the Communist rally going on in Piazza Navona. That was strange. Nights in Piazza Navona are so interesting. There are caricaturists with actual talent spotting the center of the piazza, chestnut roasters, street dancers and often live bands, among other things of course. So, we passed through this party of sorts and went to rest at the apartment. This ended up being about a 2 hour nap for most of us. It was well earned and much needed.

When we woke up and rubbed our eyes a bit, we went in search of the perfect wine bar for some light fare and heavy atmosphere. It was sprinkling a bit, but it stopped pretty much just in time for us to sit half-under the canopy of the Pantheon neighborhood's most popular wine bar. And rightly so! They brought plate after plate of hors d'oeuvres to us while we split a bottle of red and lots of conversation. Eventually we were able to move further under the canopy and feel totally immersed in the crowd. I think we ate three full plates of munchies and two large bowls of potato chips. Yum yum. Of course, we knew what awaited us: Giolitti. This time at the gelato place, the men went for medium cones and the ladies stayed with the already too big small cones. I think we ALL got the cinnamon gelato as part of our medley. Gotta go out strong! Just delicious!! We wandered the streets with our ice cream and found some nooks we'd never seen before. I love that area! I can't even tell you. We lingered again in Piazza Navona to take some night shots of the fountain and to resist going back, which meant that the weekend was almost over. But, eventually we did go back to pack up and clean up a bit.

The next morning was a leisurely one of packing, cleaning, locking up, wandering, breakfast, bussing and ticket buying. Because Mom and Dad came at the beginning of the middle, it was hard to say goodbye. It meant that we have even longer to wait before we get to see them again! I'm glad that the last few months are jam-packed with visitors and trips. Keeps my mind from homesickness! Love to all...

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Second Installment


We got up early to catch a train over to Florence! I showed Mom and Dad how the Italians drink their cappuccino (really quickly, that is) because we had about 8 minutes to have one before the train arrived. Ah, Florence. An incredible city all in walking distance. We started with The Church of Santa Maria Novella, the namesake of the train station, in fact. It has similar coloring to our duomo, but is much more ornate inside. It's set in an oval shaped piazza where they used to have chariot races! From there we did the obligatory walk through the tight streets over to the famous duomo of Florence. First we walked around the baptistry and gaped at the famous doors (now copies of the originals that are safely in museums). The original East doors of the baptistry were made by Lorenzo Ghiberti, who was chosen over both his mentor, Brunelleschi, and the one and only Donatello. Our book told us that these bright gold doors and their North & South counterparts (created by Brunelleschi) are "often regarded as the first products of the Renaissance" and Michaelangelo famously called them the "Gate of Paradise." I mean, heck, Dante was baptized there...they better be pretty nice! 

Next we went inside the duomo itself. My favorite part was the floor. It's very geometric and eye-boggling. Daddy liked the lock on one of the doors the best, go figure. We went down into the lower floor, too, but didn't get up into the cupola because of an insanely long line. I'm actually glad we didn't now because one of the new professors here said it's a claustrophobic's nightmare...though the view is to die for apparently. 

Next we did another thing I'd never done before: go to the Galleria dell' Accademia to see The David. The museum itself houses some pretty fantastic paintings and sculpture. And, someone very brilliant designed the corridor down which you walk to arrive at Michaelangelo's famous sculpture. One either side of you are several of Michaelangelo's unfinished sculptures, each in various stages of creation. It was marvelous to see how he started and how he saw these forms in blocks of marble.  At any rate, it really prepares you to see his finished product/masterpiece/slice of heaven. I was not disappointed at all. In fact, I was proudly a tourist who sat/stood/gawked for a very long time at every little detail of The David. It was unreal to me. After that have-to-do-it-before-you-die moment, we wandered back over to the main drag and did what Florence does best: surprise ourselves by what we came across in the most normal of streets. There are clothing stores in the bottom floors of ancient palaces and centuries old churches littering the main shopping drag. Again, Daddy was in heaven. We walked through the Piazza della Republica containing a triumphal arch that is a remnant of the short period when Florence was the capital of Italy. We also did the PIazza della Signoria, which is the original home of The David and many other important, inspirational sculptures of Florentine history. Some oft he originals are still there, but many are in museums. We decided to find somewhere to eat over by the river and Ponte Vecchio. Of course, we were enthralled by that bridge and all the history of it as well. There is so much to learn at each of these pit stops. In our search for a restaurant, by some perfect twist of fate, Daddy found a "Legatori di Libri". You guessed it. A book bindery. We watched the men do their work with great precision and skill; applying the gold leaf and wrapping the cover with the red cloth, hammering it into place. With broken communication we told them that my dad was a student of this practice in the United States and that he was interested in buying some authentic Florentine marbled paper. They recommended this old shop just up the street for some handmade papers. We thanked them profusely, grabbed lunch and had some nice time in a nice family-owned stationery shop. 

Now nourished and hands full of excellent Florentine souvenirs, we wandered up the river and climbed up to Piazzale Michaelangelo that shows all of Florence sitting prettily beside the Arno River. It is definitely one of my favorite places in Florence, minus the vendors and the PDA that inevitably inhabit the steps. We rested there for a while and decided to hurry back to the train station to catch an earlier train back to Orvieto. We ran a bit and found out that I was wrong about the departure point for the train and had to wait for the later train anyway. Oh well, live and learn. Note: there are no benches in the Florence train station. Don't plan on loitering there anytime soon.

Thursday morning back in Orvieto was a wonderful one. I took Mom and Dad to the Cappella Nuova, better known as the San Brizio Chapel. It is certainly one of Orvieto's finest gems. It is primarily painted by Luca Signorelli (with 2 panels done by Fra Angelico) and absolutely envelopes you when you walk in. There is so much to see, I swear 15 people came and went in the time that we gaped. Please look it up and read about it. We are very proud of our famous chapel. We also did the Papal Palace Museum, which is full of centuries of art and sculpture and artifacts all from Orvieto or done for Orvieto's duomo. Then it was shopping sprinting time. We got a lot done that morning before we had to pack up, grab lunch and (BARELY) make our train to Rome. Literally Daddy was sprinting up the stairs when the train was pulling in. Holy cow. Not much of a goodbye to Orvieto, unfortunately. Sorry M&D! It was very good in the end because we had a perfect evening in Rome to finish out the day.

I will finish with the intense Rome portion quite soon, I promise! We are staying in Orvieto for the weekend, so I should have some down time to work with over the next couple of days. Love and miss everyone! Can't wait for the next round of visitors to come see us!!!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We'll start with this:

Mom and Dad's visit 4/11/2009 - 4/19/2009

The Menzies Italian Tour has come to a close. We had a week filled with history and art, food and wine. It's strange to be back to "normal" here at the monastery. We saw three wonderful and very different cities: Orvieto, Florence and Rome.

We started with a lovely, long set of days in our Orvieto. The first day provided some time to get to know the little city. We started them on a tour of the monastery and a small respite in our room. Then we made our way over to Pizzeria Charlie, our favorite in Orvieto. We took them on a slow walk over to their B&B, finding out along the way that it was the Antiques Fair weekend in Orvieto, as though they knew my father was coming. There were more people in our little town than there have ever was actually bustling in the streets! We spent the rest of the day walking around the old part of town and visiting the antique shops that were actually open for once and spilling out onto the streets to meet the other vendors now crowding our piazze. We did the obligatory pause in the Piazza del Duomo and even popped inside for a moment. After some great shopping and gaping, we split up for a while so that Mom and Dad could relax and clean up a bit. We met in the Piazza della Republica later and tried to eat at a local place called La Palomba, but it was filled to the brim. So, we wandered around and found a little trattoria near the Duomo. We had a lovely antipasti of meats and cheese (drizzled with honey....mmmmm!). It was there that I had my first real meal of Cinghiale, Orvieto's famous wild boar meat. It was deliciously stewed in a dark brown gravy...yum yum. Then, of course, we took them to a late night gelato at our favorite place in town...Mommy ate every bit of her pile of chocolate gelato.

Easter Sunday! Penn and I ate a pancake breakfast with the others in the program and then met up with Mom and Dad. We surprised them with our membership in the Easter choir at our church in the old part of town. They came to hear us practice and to soak up the ancient building we get to worship in! Dad was in heaven. It was a good reminder of the incredible uniqueness of our life here; our church was built in 1004! The singing went very well and the priest gave us all hand-painted Easter eggs as a thank you. He actually acknowledged the American choir members during the service, noting our talent, energy and enthusiasm. Our director was very proud. Then we went back for a rushed lunch at Locanda del Lupo and a small wine reception in the courtyard at the monastery, hosted by the Howards. We had a small photo shoot of those all gussied up for Easter and then Penn and I took my parents on another walk around the city to soak up the Easter excitement of an Italian city. It seemed that everyone and their grandmother (literally) was roaming the streets that morning. We found our way over to the church where Thomas Aquinas spent 4 years in residency and then to our favorite little park that overlooks the cliffs and the Medieval Quarter. We got rest and pictures there. In town again we stocked up on food and wine for our picnic the next day, in case stores weren't open for Easter Monday, a national day of rest and do-nothingness in Italy. Again, we parted ways to freshen up for our Easter dinner with friends. Riel, Allyson, Jana, Penn, Mom, Dad and I went over to our friend's restaurant, Da Carlo. We weren't disappointed by our host. He was in top form that night, working with his co-waiter to keep us entertained and fed. It's always nice to go there because he does traditional dishes and non-traditional dishes, all with a very special...flare. We had a blast and ate very well. Unfortunately, we parted ways without making a plan for the next day and no cell phones to speak of, so I knew my next morning was going to be an interesting one...

I woke up early to get over to M&D's before they would have left from breakfast. I arrived at 8:40 and called up to them, occasionally using little pebbles on what I hoped was their window. The lady on the floor above them got very concerned about my presence and finally asked if I needed to get in. She buzzed me through and I rang the bell to the B&B. I did so three or 4 times and figured that they had gone out for some early morning antiquing or strolling (or both). So, I sped-walked around the city, making a pit-stop potty break at the monastery on the other side of town. Finally, I went back to the B&B thinking we must have just missed each other. The main door was open and I could get up to their place without having to ask the curious lady on the third floor. I rang their bell again and heard slow feet coming over to the door on the second or so ring. It was Dad. They had slept in until 9, having shut their shutters, blocking out all light from outside! Well, I got my exercise! We had another shopping and touring morning. We retrieved Penn after his class was done and went over towards the Etruscan tombs to find a place to picnic. I think it was fate that we decided to do that, because the cliff on that side is breathtaking and we found a private little triangle of land to eat our meats, cheeses, breads, olives and wine. By far my most favorite picnic and the most calming moments of our time here. So delicious. And we had Nutella and cookies for dessert! Penn went off to draw for his final and we explored some of the cliff and the Etruscan caves. We got some really good exercise and saw some of the city that I'd never seen before. We tried to go to Palomba again that night, but it was full AGAIN. No one told me about needed a reservation for that place! Oh well...we ended up at our favorite wine bar, Vin Caffe and had some lighter fare (salad, oh lovely salad, how I've missed you!) and delicious Prosecco. Gelato again and then bed.

Tuesday we shopped in the morning and met Penn to head over to the wine tasting. We grabbed kebabs on the way (MmmmMmmm) and had a nice, long time with the cellar lady. It was really interesting to go there with my parents, who know all the right questions to ask. After two big glasses of red and white, Penn and I made them walk up the steepest hill in the Medieval Quarter. Woops! Penn went back to draw again and I took Mom and Dad over to our side of the cliff. There we did a walk around the perimeter of the fortress and sat in the daisies for a while. Then it was time for the 200-some-odd steps of St. Patrick's Well. Unfortunately the camera died just before that, so we'll have to go down again to show you all the cool view. We made wishes at the bottom and stopped every 50 steps on the way up to breathe. I think the story of the well may be slightly more interesting than the actual trip down/up, but it's one of Orvieto's claims to fame, so we had to do it. We parted ways again to get ready for dinner at the famous Mezza Luna...Orvieto's best Pasta Carbonara. This night was definitely one of the most memorable meals of the visit!! We started with a mixed antipasta including pate and lard bruschettas! That was interesting. Three of us got the carbonara and mommy got ravioli with meat sauce. By the end, we were all a little giddy on the house white wine (infamously much stronger than normal bottles of wine...we forgot about that fact!!!!) and I was so full I couldn't even think about bacon anymore, though it looked like I had barely scratched the surface! Then, let's just say that there was a funny incident with the check (il conto) where Daddy was at one point following the owner into the kitchen until I called him back to the table. Tears of over-laughter were shed by all. Now I wish I had that pile of carbonara left-overs...

Wednesday was a day trip for the parents and me. And I will finish writing about Florence and Rome tomorrow!

Friday, April 10, 2009

M & D Come Soon

Sorry the blogging has been minimal, we've been preparing for the Menzies's arrival! Over the past few days, there's been a lot going on...

1.) Aftershocks galore. I've felt 2, but there have been upwards of 4 or 5 that have been pretty high up on the scale! It's soooooo weird. Like being on a really wavy, stone boat.

2.) There was a movie filming in our Piazza del Populo for a couple days! We went to a photography exhibit and peered out the window over the Piazza to see a big three-wheeled orange truck tipped over in the square. We watched as three men pushed it further over and couldn't imagine why the polizia were just standing there letting this happen! That's when we noticed the huge camera crane and the director shouting commands. We went down to the square to watch for about 45 minutes. During that time they probably shot about 7 to 10 seconds of the film. There's so much down time and set-up time in the cinema! How boring for the actors! Anyways, yay Orvieto! We're famous!

3.) Meeting with Matt Doll, director. Penn and I have found a wonderful mentor and friend in Matt. He and Penn have a ton in common and have great conversation together. He's been helpful in the decision-making process regarding our future. Thank God for Matt!

4.) Penn has been drawing up a storm. Above is a picture of the "Still Life" that they have been charged with drawing. Penn just finished his yesterday and it looks awesome. There are so many elements to include!

5.) Allyson's parents came in from California! We got have a lovely dessert with them at one of our favorite places and then a drink at our favorite pizza place. It's so great to have families starting to visit. Can't wait for Saturday!!!

6.) Holy week and Easter weekend has a lot going on here in Orvieto. Palm Sunday was amazing, and tonight we are going to a candlelit procession starting from Piazza de San Jiovenale and ending at the duomo. They also have an Easter Mass at the Duomo on Saturday late night and all the restaurants offer huge pranzi (lunches) Easter afternoon. I hope M&D's jet lag isn't too bad because they have a busy weekend ahead!

I'm sure there will be much to report once my mom and dad get here. We just CAN'T WAIT. Visitors are the best.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Alive and Well

Everyone in Orvieto is alive and well following the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit this region around 3:30am today. It was a town about 9 miles from us that bore the brunt of the damage and the casualties. In fact, most people in the program here slept through the entire thing (including Penn and me)! Those who didn't, woke up wondering why their roommates were shaking their beds. Our director was awoken by his wife saying, "We're moving." He thought she wanted to leave Orvieto! Penn and I were like rocks in our beds and were none the wiser.

We know everyone was panicking, so we're taking our first chance at the internet to tell you that we are all more than fine. In fact, we had a wonderful Easter party today for the kids and their friends with egg dying, cookie eating, basket making and Easter egg hunting. There was only one casualty from today, but that's inevitable with 12 tiny kids in a stone courtyard. He just got a little clonk in the head...but we all know how those bleed. Yikes.

Penn has been drawing like mad and I've been babysitting, so we're pretty tired here. We'll keep you posted as families start visiting and we do more traveling!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Florence by Bike

Daddy M, we got the package. Your timing is perfect and you know me too well. I love you!!! We've been very selective in our sharing of the Cadbury minis. Everyone loved the declaration on the outside of the box: "candy". And your handmade card was gorgeous! You're getting crafty...Bethy must be proud. Thank you!

So, yesterday Penn, Allyson, Riel and I did a day trip to Florence. Because the school-sponsored trips have been so jam-packed with culture and religion and literally running around the city, we made only two plans for this trip: shopping and renting bikes. We didn't set a schedule or hurry anywhere. We started with the shopping and found a few things to satisfy that urge (including several 1 Euro leather strap bracelets so that we could say that we bought SOMETHING leather in Florence). Then we had a lovely meal at a trattoria near the duomo: fixed, two course menu for only 9.30 Euros! Plus some good wine and people-watching. From there, we made our way to the bike shop I had googled via the market streets. We rented 4 "city bikes" and decided to take the advice of the bike shop lady and go up to the Piazza del Michaelangelo, though we knew we'd never make it all the way up with the bikes. We took the entirely convenient bike lane all the way around the city and to the river. We rode along it for a while, crossing just before the Ponte Vecchio and winding our way up to the piazza. There were lots of people there speaking all different languages and enjoying the view of another fabulously ancient city. After a long rest and a bottle of water (the weather was about 70 in the sun and breezy and perfect), we rode over Ponte Vecchio and did a little more market shopping. We returned the bikes after about a 2 hour head-clearing tour around that lovely city. I would recommend that rental place to anyone and everyone who visits Florence. We got around so quickly and got exercise in the process and it was only 6 Euros each for those 2 hours (or 8 Euros for 5 hours)! It's called "Florence by Bike" and it's got a great reputation around the city, which was apparent immediately.

We took the train back to Orvieto at 7:13, which meant that we were there for over 9 hours. Time flew by and it was a great day trip. We've got to do that more often...

I feel the need to mention that, though I am posting all the pictures on my facebook page, Penn takes about 40 or 50% of them. I cannot take credit for them all! We've got similar style, and often one of us will be behind the camera and the other one giving positioning instructions. We're a good tourist team. Though, I have been learning a lot about the camera here, which was one thing on my To Do in Italy list.

We're thinking about Croatia for one of our free weekends or for a chunk of our post-semester traveling. Suggestions are welcome!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Few Italian Thoughts/Questions

How do pigeons poop in perfect spirals?

Did you know that a pigeon's coo is actually quite beautiful?

What possesses 40 Middle School students to crowd around an artist and block his view?

Why haven't I had more wine since being here? I need to get to Tuscany.

Did you all know that Prosecco is the nectar of the gods?

My favorite thing to do here is wander the streets with Penn.

Penn has become famous for his handwriting here...and now Dad G has, too.

I have been come (in)famous for my Gretty laugh. You know that deep, guttural thing that tags on at the end of a good outburst? People try to impersonate it, but it's just me an Gretty. :)

I plan on eating a lot more sausage when I get back and I will make you all fall in love with it as I have. Finding a proper butcher to fit the bill may be hard...

That's all for now.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Back, Alive

First things first. Kill us if we really name any daughter Taormina. And, no, we're leaving babies to Rudy and Ika right now.

Now that that's taken care of, we just got back from a perfect three day trip to Rome with Matt. Penn's drawing class and I got a personal Baroque tour of the city. We saw architecture and paintings, ceilings and piazze, sculpture and fountains (often the same thing). We got to have pizza at this perfectly authentic Roman pizzeria (I had gorgonzola and speck pizza..Mmmmmm) and a homemade meal by Matt Doll himself. I will try to replicate that entire meal for everyone when we get back, but I just don't think they make sausage there like they do here in the tiny butcher shops on Roman side streets. It was to die for!

We saw a slew of famous pieces:

Michaelangelo's Moses
Bernini's Four Rivers
Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel
Raphael's School of Athens and his Transfiguration of Christ
Caravaggio's Crucifixion of St. Peter and his Conversion of Saul

I fell in love with a painting I'd never heard of before that weekend. It's called Madonna di Loreto or Madonna of the Pilgrims and it's another Caravaggio. Google's really incredible the way baby Jesus is portrayed. Put it this way, he doesn't even have a smile on his face, nevermind a halo, and Mary looks like she's been trying to put him to bed for an hour. It's just incredibly real and relevant, especially seeing it in its intended setting.

Penn and I finished out the weekend away from the other 15 students at Matt's favorite restaurant in all of Rome, Maccheroni. We split a Roman artichoke to start and a 1/2 liter of vino rosso. Then Penn had Penne alla Gricia, which is like Carbonara without the eggs and in a white wine sauce, and I had Fettuccini al Pesto, which I haven't had since we've been here! We both slugged down a caffe to finish it off and ran to meet up with the group. We have to bring at least one set of family there when you come to visit! It was so great.

Please pray for us while we await news of grad school and our future. We're happy with whatever the result, but big news is stressful to await...mostly for me. We'll keep you posted on the news.

Monday, March 23, 2009

We're Going to Name Our First Daughter Taormina (Maybe)

I guess all the so-called gypsies got the same memo to clear out of Sicily for our trip, because there were none to be found in our lovely little city of Taormina. In fact, it felt a little bit like we had reserved the whole city just for us (with a few locals and some exorbitantly wealthy Germans thrown in).

After a 13 hour train ride with some couchette confusion and a couple of sea-sickening ferry minutes, we arrived in tiny Taormina. We got a little worried there for a second when the only things greeting us were some Mafioso Taxi Drivers and torrents of rain. However, when we reached our hotel and saw the place we were allowed to call home for the next 2.12 days, everything seemed right with the world. The sun came out while we settled in and the Corso beckoned to us.

As Uncle Steve indicated, Taormina is the Gem of Sicily. Strings of coral and turquoise fill the walls of virtually every shop. Next to them are sometimes strange, sometimes beautiful things made of lava rock. That is, of course, because Mount Etna sits not-so-idly by in the no-too-far distance. In fact, "she" sat right in front of us as we munched on Nutella and crackers on our hotel balcony. We even saw a little section glowing red at night.

The coastline is quirky and interesting with its curly peninsulas and deeply cut inlets. The water bounces blue off the white rock beneath and the pebbly beaches are filled with treasures of wave-softened pieces of ceramic and porous balls of black lava rock. And the citrus fruit! It seems like everyone has a lemon or orange tree growing in their yard. They have these ridiculous lemons that we took to calling the "Football Lemons" because they were nearly the size of an American Football!

The shopping there is great...very slow and relaxed and varied. It helps that the main Corso leads directly up to the famous Greco Roman Theater that perches on a cliff, framing Etna in its tattered walls. We're pretty sure we got mistaken for famous Americans while soaking up the sun on the "bleachers" of the theatre. This young German couple was taking pictures of themselves with us conveniently and obviously in the background! Too funny. They got embarrassed when we noticed.

Ok, so here's the whammy. On one of our many jaunts up and down the Corso, right after a nice meal at La Casanova Cafe, we rediscovered this small (clean, professional, not at all sketchy) tattoo/piercing parlor. It was run by a young man and his brother who were Italian and spoke broken English with an Australian accent from living there for a few years. After much panicking, convincing and with a nod from Penn, it was there that we all (girls only) got our noses pierced! Ah! So, yes, right now I have a little stud in my nose, but I may take it out after a little while. We'll see the reactions I get from people. I've always kinda wanted to do it, and what better place than Sicily, right...??

Anyway, my most favorite part of the trip was one evening when we watched Mount Etna first come out from underneath her blanket of clouds. It was amazing to see the sun gradually burn off the cotton comforter and watch the snow-capped peak begin to differentiate itself from the cloud cover. It was overwhelming. It's exciting to know that the next time I fill "ETNA" into a crossword puzzle, it's going to mean so much more than just the satisfaction of a correct answer.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Going to See the Gypsies

We're rushing around to get ready for our overnight train to Sicily! Penn had an exam today and a presentation yesterday, with a paper due sometime this weekend, too. We're staying at literally the cheapest hotel in town and grocery shopping before we go to save money on meals. We're only bringing backpacks to save money on the flight (checked baggage is 15 Euros each). It's going to be a "roughing it" weekend, but hopefully the town is worth it!

We went to Florence on Tuesday for a whirlwind tour of important Dominican sites. Everything was quite beautiful, but my favorite part was walking down the shop-lined Ponte Vecchio, surrounded by glittering jewelry shops and suddenly opening up to the Arno River. Florence is a very tight city, which makes the Piazze and bridges feel so much wider and more open. I must go back there to go shopping.

Running off to visit the gypsies!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It was Right in My Journal, I Swear

So, you all know I meant Jackson Pollock, right? When I saw what I had written in my journal, I blushed to myself because I knew I had written the wrong thing on the blog! Forgive me...

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Few Tidbits

Agnes Howard, co-professor with her husband Tal Howard, is an eager and generous teacher in all areas. Not only is she currently teaching the second half of Penn's history course, but she has informed me of the best wine bar in town and has already taught some of us several different traditional Italian recipes. Tonight she is also in charge of giving us a history of the order of nuns that occupy San Paolo. Last night a handful of us went to their apartment (though Tal is in the U.S. for a conference) and had some wine and appetizers with her and her kids. She made a white bean salad, a cauliflower, carrot and dill chop salad, a sun-dried tomato and olive oil dish and a sauteed eggplant and ricotta bruschetta. All the salads went on a round of bread and tasted great with a freshly opened bottle of wine. At the end of our time with her, she quickly showed us how to make homemade caramel and we dunked our fingers in for a quick treat before dinner.

Every Sunday night, a different group of students is in charge of cooking with Laura (R.A.) for everyone. Last night they made us Carbonara, which is quickly becoming my favorite dish here. It's the egg and bacon pasta, which sounds gross, but is done just right here in Italy. The eggs are not evident even when you know they're in there...somehow they just add tons of flavor and no weird texture or anything. We had a version of it at our restaurant the other day and I could have eaten pounds of it. Last night's version was slightly different, but still great with a little extra olive oil drizzled on it. This dinner was also serving as a combo birthday party for the February/October birthday people. Sharona made a delectable white cake with a Sydney Pollack frosting design. This was specifically for one of the program members who is trying to learn how to truly appreciate art in all forms. Who better to start with than Pollack? Baptism by fire. At any rate, it was gorgeous and tasted just as good as it looked.

Then we got wrangled into playing a silly concentration game by our resident aspiring Youth Minister (coincidentally the same person who needs lessons in art appreciation and one of the birthday people). There was a lot of arm flapping and silly noises, but everyone was getting the biggest a kick out of Penn's participation. He was dancing up a storm and making everyone lose concentration and get eliminated. He and our Director, Matt, were definitely the favorite participants. Both had very unique dance moves and hip-action.

Today we're finalizing our Sicily plans (if it's the last thing I do). We've decided to stay primarily in Taormina, per Uncle Steve's suggestion. We're red-eye training it there and flying back out of Palermo. It's been frustratingly tough to coordinate even just 5 of us going, but we're going to bite the bullet tonight and get it booked. If we can't get it together, we're just going to go all-out and run away to Ireland for St. Patty's...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Big, Catch-Up Blog

So, the other day we got a tour of the parts of the monastery that we do not occupy. It’s actually quite a large place. However, only portions are inhabitable at this point in time because Gordon College has just started to refurbish and restore some of the previously dilapidated sections of our 13th century monastery. It was exciting to hear Dr. Skillen talk about all the dreams and plans that he has for that space. I have to start with a disclaimer because Dr. Skillen kept reiterating that everything is in very early stages, and that virtually none of these plans has been approve or confirmed, “ don’t go blabbing to your friends and relatives about it.” I am blabbing, however, because I know that those of you who read this blog would be interested to hear what I consider to be a noteworthy idea and one to be fostered.

Dr. Skillen started us in the interior courtyard, which is going to be turned into the performance space. He plans to have live theatre productions put on there in the open air, surrounded by 13th century arches and overlooking the Orvieto valley. The first floor that circles the open box theatre will house the book and gift store, the cantina, the kitchen and the dining tables that will line the stone-covered walkways that peer over the cliff. Going up the stone steps to the second floor (through the book shop), patrons will find their way to the active art gallery. This will wrap around the courtyard on this second floor and, again, look over the storey up. In this gallery space, Gordon has already renovated the ceiling and roof in the Medieval fashion. There are laws in a historical site like our Monastery San Paolo that any restoration has to be done with historical accuracy and keeping in mind the integrity of the structure. And they did it perfectly. Literally the next day, while walking through a Medieval monastery in Assisi, I saw the exact same huge, dark beams and interesting T-structured cross-beaming as they had constructed only a year ago here in our monastery. Through the gallery and around the upper floor to the opposite side of the interior courtyard are several divided rooms that he plans to rent out as studio space or scholarly space to artists or academics working on theses and/or on sabbatical. So, we walked through the studio spaces into what Dr. Skillen envisions as the “Patron’s Apartment.” Basically, anyone who donates to the cause of this vision will get a Time Share of sorts here in Orvieto. Reserve a month to come stay in a huge, open floor-plan, loft apartment with a private terrace looking over the exterior courtyard and onto the vineyards below. Yes, please. There is another huge, open room beyond that, which was previously a bunch of tiny, individual cells (for the monks), but the dividing walls were crumbling to bits, so they were all removed. This is now a monstrous, open room with little arched windows lining the edges and a huge open terrace running the length of it. This room has many potential uses from a library to a dormitory...or even a new Program Director’s apartment. Ah, the possibilities.

All these plans got me really excited and interested and I may just become the new Gordon College spokeswoman for the Gordon in Orvieto Arts Space. Any donors?

On another note, the other day Penn and I got our first piece of mail here in the monastery! Thanks, Bethy! The envelope full of Abel pictures and artwork just made our day (and everyone else’s to whom we flaunted them!!!). When we’re busy running all over the country, it’s nice to get a little breath of home!

So, one thing I didn’t mention on my previous Vatican entry was the meeting we had following our Papal visit, which was incredibly interesting. Now that I have a little more time, I’d like to tell you about it. As a non-Catholic group visiting the Vatican, we were granted a meeting with the PCPCU (The Pontifical Counsel for Promoting Christian Unity). Gordon apparently has a really good relationship with this section of the Vatican, so we got a private meeting with Monsignor Mark Langham, a British Priest who is the ambassador of the Catholic Church to the Anglican and Methodist Churches around the world (just two of many “Churches of the Reformation” to whom this branch of the Vatican reaches out). The PCPCU was born out of the Vatican II and was a rather revolutionary idea for the Catholic Church at that time. A German Cardinal, Cardinal Beae, was put charge of facilitating this new endeavor and oversaw the creation of a brand new, never before attempted Ecumenical document that no longer presented the Catholic role among other denominations as only for the purpose of “bringing them back to Rome.” Currently, the PCPCU is sponsoring 15 bilateral dialogues with leading theologians from other Christian Churches and also has a special office to deal directly with those of Jewish faith, a relationship they see as very important among the non-Christian religions. (There is a separate Counsel entirely to deal with the rest of the world religions.) It was so thrilling to hear this incredibly bright and well-spoken Priest present the Roman Catholic Church’s true intentions, visions and beliefs regarding relations with, well, us. He was excited to report great strides being made with the Church of the East, or the Orthodox Church. Strides towards understanding one another more fully and toward finding common ground and entire doctrines upon which they could literally write a book together explaining their commonalities. Conversely, he seems rather disappointed with the relative standstill he felt with the Churches of the West, as he called us. He mostly blamed it on the internal struggles we are all going through where we can’t even agree with one another in our denominations, never mind have a dialogue to work out centuries of misunderstandings and frustrations with the Catholic Church. He said they are reluctantly taking a step back from these talks and pacing themselves in these discussions. He said some lovely things about the Ecumenical Dialogue not being a debate or an argument, but “an exchange of gifts” among lovers of Christ and members of God’s one Church. He really thinks that there is only one Church in the eyes of God, but that we have “torn it asunder, obscuring that unity He intended.” He was great and seemed like someone whose brain I would like to pick for an extended period of time. When asked what success for his Counsel would look like, he simply said he would like to start with being able to just sit at The Table and share in Communion with all kinds of Christian believers. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Pope and St. Francis Send Their Best

Like I said, REALLY busy. Plus, we're trying to plan a trip to Sicily for next week on the break between classes and that takes up all our normal internet time. Sorry!

So, let's start with our Rome trip from last Sunday. We were church hoppers and saw so many Jesuit cathedrals and important places that I don't even know where to start. I will just relay my two favorite parts of the day. For Mass that morning we went to an ancient Roman Catholic church that now holds an English Mass every Sunday for the "English-Speaking Pilgrims" call Caravita. It was mind-boggling to hear the Mass held in English after hearing so many Italian ceremonies lately. A visiting Bishop performed the Mass and he was really cute and old. I was all choked up finally being able to sing along with the cantors and understand the Gospel readings. I really, really enjoyed it. Plus, Mozart played the organ there when he was a teenager! After the service they had an aperitivo in the back consisting of mimosas and potato chips. Divine after having woken up at 5am! Then we had a question and answer session with one of the priests from the church. He was very jolly and incredibly well-informed on the history of that space.

My next favorite part was our lunch. We were given about 2 hours to wander and find a place to eat for the afternoon. About 5 of us wandered over to Piazza Navona, a famous oval-shaped piazza where they used to hold chariot races. We sat outside at a table in the sun and had delicious pizzas and paninis. The soda tasted extra good because they actually put ice in our glasses! There was a street musician playing his guitar directly in front of our table and droves of people passing us by. It was somehow really peaceful...probably the blaring sun and surrounding fountains.......

Since that day, we've gone to both The Vatican and Assisi. This is the life.

Ok, I'll move onto the Papal Audience. This day will live in my brain forever. We arrived at St. Peter's Square, and as if that wasn't dumbfounding enough, our little red tickets brought us through the massive crowd, up onto the stage with the Pope. We were literally 100 feet from him once we found our seats. Through some connection, Gordon College got us VIP access to this particular Papal Audience. None of us knew what to say or do or think. People from all over the world surrounded us: French teenagers in front of us, little old Italian women behind us, some sort of Alpine men in top hats and tuxedos to our left and a couple Mafia American men sitting right next to us. Pope Benedict came through the crowd in his little Papal Buggy, waving his Papal Wave. He made his way up to us and gave his homily in Italian. Then, Bishops from various countries got up to "indroduce" the various groups to the Pope. We all went nuts when they said "The Eccumenical contingency from Gordon College in the United States"!! He leaned over and waved right at us...though I think it was more of a blessing than a wave. He gave a small, shorter version of the homily in each language (I think it was about 6 or 7 languages) and greeted the groups. I still can't really believe that we got to do that. See the pictures that will soon be on facebook.

Finally, today we went to Assisi. Everyone should go to Assisi. There is so much silence there, it's a perfect retreat from just about anywhere. We literally sang songs in an olive grove overlooking the valley below and were able to walk up to St. Francis's grave in the bowels of the most beautiful duomo we've seen yet. The streets are spotless and cramped in the most perfect Medieval fashion. Their motto is "Pace et Bene"...look it up. We went to a convent on top of the mountain and had a picnic of fresh bread, meats, cheese, tomato and basil salad and olives. I am rested and happy as I sit here with my ice cold Proseco and bar of dark chocolate.

Life is good.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Party e Arezzo

We've been so busy these past couple days...sorry to be MIA.

Three major events have happened in the past 3 days:

Friday was Silas's 5th Birthday Jungle Party. I'm trying to post pictures on facebook of all the goings-on. There was face painting, pizza, Tiramisu, jungle cake, a bongo, xylophone and recorder jam session and some gorgeous Italian children.

Saturday was our independent day trip to Arezzo. It was just wonderful. Exquisite churches, a cathedral with a famous fresco panel of Saint Mary Magdalene, incredible shopping and the best picnic park for a tired group of students (and one equally tired wife-of-a-student) to rest with local wines, meats, cheeses and breads. We found an open air market there with gourmet foods and handmade goods. We watched a man shaving truffles for customers! We were so tempted to buy some truffle oil, but we abstained and bought some good wine for lunch instead. The weather could not have been more calming and clear. It's a town famous for its Antique Festival that happens the first weekend of every month. We missed it by one week, but there are still incredible antique stores scattered around. A good day trip with good friends!

Don't have time to write about Rome...we did too much that day! Will let you know soon...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Travel Time

So, the weather's been pretty cruddy here for the past few days. That means they canceled our trip to Assisi for Friday. THAT means that we're free for most of the weekend, so a bunch of us are going to Arezzo instead. It came highly recommended by Dr. Skillen, an old pro at this area of Italy. That'll be Saturday and then we have another Rome trip scheduled through the program for Sunday. Followed by a third Rome trip on Wednesday during which we'll be having a Papal audience! This all seems so...unreal, but it's happening and we're trying to soak it alllll in.

Today Penn, Allyson, Riel, Erin and I watched the Doll boys and girl for a while so that Sharona could bake Silas's 5th Birthday cake (the party is tomorrow - a jungle theme). We started an indoor baseball/soccer game in the monastery so that the boys could get out some energy. All we had to do was make sure the we didn't hit the 13th century fresco of the Last Supper that covers the entire back wall of the room we chose. We..mostly...succeeded and the boys had a blast.

I just have to tell you all about the dinner we had last night. I don't know if we were just starving or what, but it was one of the best yet. We tend to get a bit of a smorgasbord for dinner and last night's was the following:

Fresh, sliced tomatoes, lightly salted and drizzled with olive oil.
Fresh, sliced buffalo mozzarella (which is way better than it is in America).
Warm flatbread with thin slices of prosciutto on top.
A mushroom and sausage pie of sorts, with a flaky crust.
And, as always, freshly baked and sliced bread to soak up all the extra goodness.

Dessert was a Nutella roll. Think jelly roll but with Nutella. Mmmmmmmmmmm

To answer a few outstanding questions:

Yes, cars drive around the tiny streets of Orvieto. Our RA has been hit 10 times. They don't drive very fast and they are all very practical, tiny cars, but it is definitely a hazzard!

Yes, technically Penn and I have separate beds, but they had pushed them together for us when we arrived. Bethy, I avoid the crack at all costs mostly because it's not two mattresses coming together, it's two thick, wooden IKEA bedframes coming together. Not so comfy.

Finally, Penn and I have loads of plans to go traveling across Europe. The only definite things are: 1.) a few places in Italy that we can't not get to while we live here and 2.) Spain to see Jules and Kyle! Some dream places are a few Greek islands, Paris and Prague. We'll see if I can make it happen! Suggestions are highly welcome as well. Ciao for now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Please Note...

I have changed the settings on the blog so that EVERYONE can comment! With that may come some comment-spam, but I'd rather deal with that than having to miss out on what all you lovely people have to say.

This morning was our first laundry day. First. This practice is akin to the showering procedure in that I have to put aside everything that I've previously taken for granted about doing laundry at home and get used to a seemingly very backward way of doing things. First off, the cycles take a million years to finish, so our morning slot has still not completed (it is now 6:04pm Orvieto time). Also, maybe this used to be how it worked in the good old days, but we have to empty the water from the dryer after each load. As Penn put it, "there's like a magazine of water" that you have to pull out and pour into the sink so that you can to load the new "clip" in for a second load. Ah, joy.

Speaking of joy, I did get to babysit Kiara this morning. She is joy at its purest form. If you haven't seen the pictures of her on facebook, steal someone's account. You'll smile for days at her little four-toothed grin. She and I read books and played songs so that Sharona could simply bake some cookies for the get-together they're having tonight. It was a nice time of getting to know the women in the Doll family.

It's been raining a bunch these past few days, so our exploring has been a little impeded, but we did discover a wonderful new gelato flavor today. It's called Capriccio, but it's basically heaven on earth. It's Nutella swirled in crema (vanilla). Perfection. Come have some!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

We Love Rome.

What a day yesterday. We woke up at 5:15am in order to meet in the vestibolo by 6:15. A special-sized bus (extra large on Orvieto scale) came to pick us up and bring us down the cliff to Orvieto Scalo. There, we got on the train to Roma! It was incredibly helpful to have Matt with us, who has lived and worked in this area and Rome for some time now.

It only took an hour and fifteen minutes or so to arrive at the terminal in Rome. Then the whirlwind began.

First stop was for cappuccino in the nearest piazza to the National Museum, which didn't open until 9am.

Second, as soon as the doors swung open, Matt took us into the museum to start our art history tour of Rome. He began with his favorite piece in the entire city. The piece is a fresco of sorts that originally lined all the walls of Livia's palace courtyard in the 1st century b.c. (She was Augustus's wife). It is a detailed, life-like and lively painting of various fruit trees and birds flying. It was pretty incredible to start there, surrounded by 2000-year-old walls. After gleening as much knowledge from Matt as we could, we went wandering in the museum for a while. We saw mosaics, sculptures and frescos of all shapes and sizes. We were so glad to have been told what things to watch out for as we perused the millenium-old artwork. I think the the mosaics take the cake for me - their intricacy is beyond anything I was imagining about that ancient artform.

Next, we swept off by bus towards the Pantheon. Matt took us through some side streets to find our way there. Oh my goodness. This was most certainly our favorite place of the day. The looming outside and the unasuming yet gorgeous inside just epitomized Rome for me. You could see the various centuries embedded in each different part of the building. We both loved the ceiling the most. It's just phenomenal to stumble upon this historial monster snuggled into a perfect Roman piazza complete with fountain, caffe, pizzeria e gelateria. Heaven.

Next was heaven's gelateria (yes, before lunch). Matt deemed it to be the best gelateria in Rome, so we just had to go. Penn got cinnamon, crema and Bailey's flavored gelato and I had chocolate, pistachio and After Eight flavored. It was a great moment in life, I tell you.

We walked with our gelato to find lunch. We took lunch (Italy's famous folded pizza, which ends up being really just like a panini when you eat it) in the open market square. Yum.

Next destination was the area containing the Forum. Again, holy cow. You just don't see this stuff anywhere else. The ruins looked so stunning sitting unbothered right next to a busy Roman street. It was a really peaceful break overlooking the Forum and then walking over to the Coliseum. Once there, too, we listened to Matt's wealth of knowledge a bit more and then rested from the sprinting around.

Finally, heading back towards the train station, Matt showed us one of the famous Basilicas of Rome. This one was St. Mary's, I believe. In contrast with the Pantheon, this place utterly smacked you in the face with its ornate insides. Gold as far as the eye could see and marble and frescos and mosaics. It was certainly something to behold, but not our style. It tuckered me out after just a few minutes of dropped jaw wandering. Then it was time to sit in the sun for a while before heading back. And yes, we did make it back safe and sound without a pick-pocket story to speak of.

This was, of course, one of many trips to Rome that are planned for the program. We are a lucky bunch - especially with a leader whose enthusiasm is so contagious. This is going to be a great semester.