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A Taste of Italy June 17, 2012

Posted by williamsessions in Travel Log.
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So after spending the last few weeks traveling from through Venice, Florence, and Rome, I’ve had somewhat of a taste of the culture, music, arts, architecture, and, of course, food of Italy. Being a cultural center for music and the arts, Italy had much to offer us in the way of museums and concerts.

Venice
My first impression of Venice was that it was quite overcrowded, with people everywhere. By the evening, however, I realized that the vast majority of the people I saw were tourists who had traveled to Venice just for the day.
Dr. Ciejka led us on a walking tour of the city where we meandered through alleyways and across bridges, stopping and pointing out important buildings or interesting architecture along the way. Of the most note was San Marco, a very beautiful and imposing church. On one of the days, we took a drive to Padua, where we visited the Scrovegni Chapel with its floor-to-ceiling Renaissance frescos, painted by Giotto. One of the afternoons, some friends and I took a gondola ride, a very unique experience. Our gondolier was very knowledgable about the history of Venice and pointed out some additional sights that we had not seen on our walking tour.

Florence
Florence was likely my favorite city thus far. With its combination of great architecture and beautiful skyline, it was a very pleasant city to visit.
We had a very busy start to our stay in Florence with a trip to the Accademia to see David by Michelangelo. Standing 18 feet tall, the sculpture is very imposing. After studying the sculpture, one may notice that the proportions of David’s head and hands seems not to match with the rest of his body. I learned that this is because Michelangelo originally sculpted David to be placed at the top of the Palazzo Vechio, high above the plaza. The exaggerated proportions of the head and hands would look appropriate from ground level. As it turned out, when people saw the finished sculpture, they decided that its beauty would be more enjoyed if it were set on the ground in front of the Palazzo Vechio instead. From the Accademia, we set off on a walking tour of Florence including visits to the Duomo and San Lorenzo. In the afternoon, we visited the Uffizi Museum of Fine Arts where we studied some of the great Italian artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
On one of the evenings, a group of students climbed to the top of one of the hills close to our hotel with a great view of the city skyline. From there, we had a beautiful view as the sun set behind the city. The Florence skyline is one of my favorites, especially at sunset.

Florence Skyline
Florence Skyline

Rome
Rome holds so much to see and do, it was impossible to get a full account of the city in our short time there, however, we made the most of the time and visited some of the great landmarks of the city.
During our first full day in the city, we went on a walking tour of ancient Rome. This included the Capitoline Hill, the Roman Forum, and, of course, the Colosseum. As an engineer, I was amazed at the advanced skill of the Roman architects in constructing such large and functional structures as the Colosseum, which could hold up to 50,000 people. Even considering the bloody battles that were staged there, the structure is extremely imposing and awe-inspiring.
The second day, we visited the Vatican where we saw the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican was extremely crowded with tourists, which made the tour progress slowly and with difficulty. Nonetheless, it was exciting to visit the Vatican and see the great work of Michelangelo’s frescos in the Sistine Chapel.
One of the most interesting experiences I had in Rome was not even on a scheduled tour. Some friends and I decided to tour one the Priscilla Catacomb, which was near our hotel. We learned that, located just a few feet below street-level, the catacombs contain 3 separate levels and about 8 miles of tunnels that hold approximately 40,000 tombs. Contrary to what many might think, the Christians in ancient Rome did not use the catacombs to hide from persecution, rather, they used them solely for the burial of their dead. Regardless, it was an uncanny but extremely exciting experience to walk among the tombs.
The last full day in Rome included another walking tour during which we visited the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and several churches in the area.

Now, after a two-day bus ride and a stop in the beautiful city of Lucern, Switzerland, we are in Ghent, Belgium, where we are enjoying fantastic waffles and chocolate!

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