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Italia. casa di gelato July 27, 2012

Posted by sidsinha in Travel Log.
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Following my short stint in Madrid to meet a good friend of mine, I hopped on to one of the finest airlines in the world, Ryan Air, and found myself in Rome. [At this point if you are not familiar with Ryan Air I suggest you look it up.] Once in Rome, I grabbed some Chinese food (If you haven’t had Chinese food in Italy, I don’t recommend it) and met up with my group. It was nighttime so we decided to grab gelato and head to the Coliseum. It is definitely a sight worth seeing at night as well as in the day. Fine Italian gelato only enhances your experience. The next day we decided to cover much of the major tourist attractions of Rome: Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps.

The following day, before setting off for Florence, we saw the Coliseum and the ruins in the morning. I can understand now why people rave about this Eternal City. From the earliest centuries to present-day, its rich history is very evident through the architecture, the food, the language, and the overall culture. I considered Rome a good city but one of the best cities (second only to Madrid) I have visited this summer has to be Firenze, or Florence as we know it. It was a fantastic mix of the past and present. Phenomenal, in fact. There weren’t too many major sites to see, but I think that’s what made Florence more special. My idea of a great experience is finding myself in a completely unknown city and roaming it to learn something that I never could have otherwise. Florence consisted of me doing just that. The Piazza Michelangelo, a spot offering a view of the entire city, was marvelous. The city of Florence, at the foot of the Apennines and outlined in red, boasted itself under the hazy weather that evening. Our time in Florence was rounded out with a fantastic Tuscan dinner followed by delicious gelato (Florence also had the best gelato in Europe…or the world for that matter) and live music. One of my favorite parts of a city is its market. Going to the market gives you feel for the city, I believe. Walking around, chatting [bargaining] with the vendors, and eating the market food gives me a sense of that culture.

The next morning was a bit rushed. On that day, we were to travel to, and hike, the five villages of Cinque Terre. But before that, we had to stop by the Leaning Tower, in Pisa. From Florence, Pisa was only an hour away. After taking the infamous picture with the Leaning Tower, we set off for Cinque Terre….

Cinque terre was simply breathtaking. from Riomaggiore to Monterosso, every village was unique. I had never been to such a place. It seemed as if everyone there were locals. Parts of the hiking trails literally meandered through the streets of town and in front of residents’ homes. I would liken Cinque Terre to an Italian paradise, and nothing less.

I had not thought that Italy would be one of my more memorable trips. I was completely mistaken. Italy, the people, the culture, the language, the food, and the gelato…Italy continually impressed me. I have become a fan. Below are links to my Italy albums. Feel free to enjoy them.



ITALIA July 5, 2012

Posted by Joshua Price in Travel Log.
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At GT-Lorraine we have a 5-day weekend in the middle of the semester. For this weekend, we decided to go to both Venice and Rome, Italy, 2 very well-known cities.  Simply because of the amount of time that we spent in those two cities, this blog post may be the longest I have composed to date though I will do my best to keep it succinct.

We started out in Venice Italy, of the most well-known canal cities in Europe.  Geographically, it is located in the northern part of Italy.  If you view Italy as a boot, it would be on the upper right side near where the wearer’s calf would be.

Once we arrived in Venice, we went looking for food, we found pizza.  Quickly I discovered that Italian pizza is not the same as American pizza.  One of the best ways to describe Italian pizza is to think about homemade American pizza.  The crust was made out of something similar to unleavened biscuit dough and the sauce was a rich tomato base seasoned with oregano and basil.  As much as I wish I could provide a picture for you, I’m not the greatest at taking pictures of food; I’m usually too busy eating it.

After lunch we decided to explore the city and to do so crossed many, many canals via bridges that allow navigation of Venice.  In the canal system, there are many small canals and the main canal, which ranges from one to two hundred feet at its widest points.  The picture that I have of the canal is at one of its narrower points.  One interesting effect of the expansive canal system and lack of roads is the fact that residents, the few natives who are left, typically own boats instead of cars.  Restaurants are supplied by boats, not trucks, water busses not traditional busses are used for public transport and markets are based on the side of the canals where vendors use their boats as stands, not their vans.  The canal system leads to a totally different culture that is almost totally independent of the automobile, something that it was difficult for me, an American, to grasp.

For me the most surprising thing about Venice was St. Marco square.  This square is at least 4 acres is size and is swarming with people and pigeons all day.  At the end of the square is an enormous church, much bigger than I would have ever expected to find in Venice.

The one night we spent in Venice, we stayed in a hostel on the island of Lido, one of the islands surrounding Venice.  Lido had beaches on the Mediterranean Sea that had relatively clean water.  We swam in the Sea for a while and then scoured the beach for some shells to take back to the hotel as souvenirs.  After a long hot day and 5 weeks of academics, the time on the beach was a much needed bit of relaxation.

When we tried to go back to the mainland to buy some souvenirs and catch our train for Rome, we experienced another part of European business culture that is difficult to find if not nonexistent in American business culture today, strikes.  The water bus drivers that took us to Lido the previous night were now on strike.  Thankfully, they guaranteed minimum service and we were able to visit a Leonardo de Vinci museum in Venice and catch our train to Rome without any major problems.

After arriving in Rome, we had a scheduled visit to the Vatican City at night.  We went through the several museums displaying sculptures, tapestries, and paintings before entering the Sistine Chapel, a sight that is absolutely phenomenal.  Every square inch of the walls and ceiling were painted by Michelangelo.  We spent at last 30 minutes staring at all of the paintings depicting stories from both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  The Sistine Chapel is a holy place and for that reason pictures are not allowed, but even if pictures were allowed, there is no way that they would be able to do justice to the sheer area covered by paintings.

Later in our trip we visited St. Peter’s Basilica at night.  The square in front of the Basilica is enormous and is capable of holding many thousands of people.  Though I am not Catholic, I found my visit to the Vatican to be a very worthwhile experience.  I am Methodist and though the Protestant and Catholic churches split several centuries ago, there is still a long common history and many common beliefs.

The next morning, we went to see one of the most famous Roman sites, the Coliseum.  When it was used, it held 75,000 people and had a floor on which gladiators fought one another in addition to exotic animals.  The floor has since collapsed and the stadium seating has collapsed.  However, with a structure this large, deterioration over two millennia cannot hide the resources and the technical know-how that it took to construct this colossal stadium. We were able to walk around inside and even go up to the second level where you can clearly see the rooms that were located under the stadium floor. The coliseum is one of the sights that you see pictures of throughout life yet actually going makes you appreciate the sheer size of the structure.

Along with the ticket that we bought for the coliseum, we purchased admission to the Roman Forum.  From here, you can look out over Rome and see the skyline, which looks totally different than the skyline of a large American city.  There are no skyscrapers and no buildings that dominated the skyline; the closest to achieving this status is the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

This brings me to one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip, buying excessive amount of Gelato.  During our time in Rome, the temperature exceeded 90 degrees every day.  With the heat from the stone buildings and asphalt roads, it certainly felt like it was over 100 degrees.  Thankfully, this gave us a great excuse to get gelato multiple times per day.  I didn’t keep an exact count, but I’m pretty sure that we got gelato 10 times during our three days in Rome.   One gelateria stood out, Valentino’s, which was near one of the more famous fountains in Rome, the Trevi Fountain that we visited twice, once during the day and again at night.

Probably our most cultural experience in Italy was when Italy played England in the quarterfinal of the Euro Cup.  In one of the squares, I’m not sure which one it was, there was a large screen set up so that a large crowd could watch the game.  As regulation time ended with the score still tied at zero, we wondered what the outcome of the game would be and whether there was going to be a happy mob or a relatively upset mob.  There were Italy flags being waved in the air as the first and the second overtime began, but again at the end of both overtimes, the game was still tied.  Then, it was time for the penalty kicks.  After four kicks, Italy clinched the game and the Romans when crazy while we quickly found our way out of the crowd.  Locals drove around in their cars well into the night honking their horns and celebrating the Italian victory.  I’m not a fan of soccer, but the game was enjoyable and the atmosphere was full of energy.  I’m sure that this was not the only place in Rome that there was a large gathering of people to watch the game.  As I knew before coming to Europe, but that I have really seen while in Europe, the Europeans really do enjoy their soccer.

We left Rome the next morning at 8am to begin our journey back to Metz, through Italy, Switzerland, and France.  The positive way to describe our travel back to Metz is that, because of some storms and specifically a landslide near Zurich, we took the “Scenic Route.”  We saw some very large wind turbines and a lot of farmland that was reminiscent of getting lost in the United States.  You can’t really say that we got lost; we just took a hodgepodge of busses and trains that got us where we needed to go.

In closing this blog post, I want to apologize for the length if you’re still reading this conglomeration of ideas and experiences.  But I would like to say that our trip to Italy was the most relaxing trip that we have taken so far.  The Italian way of life is much slower and more relaxed than the typical fast-paced American lifestyle. It is relaxing to experience this lifestyle, but for someone that leads a fast-paced life in America, I felt somewhat outside my element.  Italy has been fun, and hopefully my body won’t fuss at me too much for the massive amount of gelato, pasta, and pizza that I ate during my time in Italy.

Panorama from Orvieto June 18, 2012

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Between Florence and Rome, we stopped for lunch in the town of Orvieto, which is situated atop a volcanic tuff. The location offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

A Taste of Italy June 17, 2012

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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.

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 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 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!

Obelisks Everywhere August 15, 2011

Posted by Brian Wier in Travel Log.
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On our longest weekend of the year, we all decided to go see Italy, namely Pompeii/Naples, Rome, and Florence.  To talk about the entire trip would be entirely too long, so I’ll just to stick to what we did in Rome.

We arrived in Rome late at night and had to find our way to our Hostel, having only an address and my vague recollection of where it was in relation to the train station, which my friends weren’t too happy about.  We made it safely though without any real problems.  In the morning we took the metro to Piazza de Popolo and walked along the Tiber to Castel Sant’Angelo, which was originally a mausoleum for Emporor Hadrian but was later used as a Papal residence.

From there, we went into the Vatican and toured the museum.  I was particularly excited to the see the “popemobile,” which is apparently an often-missed item in the museum.  After the museum, we made our way into Saint Peter’s basilica and climbed to the top to get a good view of Rome.

After leaving the Vatican, we made our way towards the Pantheon and saw the famous fountain of the four rivers in Piazza Navona.  Upon arriving at the Pantheon, we learned that its currently used as a church and mass was being held.  Instead of waiting for mass to end, we went to visit the Campo de Fiori and eat dinner only to find the Pantheon closed for the day when we finally got back to it.  From there, we went to the see the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.

While we had seen Rome of the Renaissance on our first day, we saw the Rome of Antiquity the next.  We started by going to see the Colosseum, followed by a visit to Palatine Hill and the Imperial Forum.  We then went to see the Campidoglio and the museums on Capitoline Hill, and after that, we finally got around to making our way to the Pantheon.  The rest of our day consisted of aimlessly walking around the city and seeing random attractions.

Perhaps the thing I’m most proud of doing in Rome and the reason for this post’s title is that we saw all but one of Rome’s 15 or so obelisks (it has the most in the world) without meaning too.  We just stumbled across most of them as we walked around the city, but several of them are also in the major squares and plazas.  We decided that it would ruin accidentally seeing almost all of them if we intentionally saw the last, so that ended that.



The Coffee Culture: Un Caffè August 7, 2011

Posted by savannahcookson in Travel Log.
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Next to the hotel that so kindly housed us was a tiny caffè (that’s café for us Americanos) where I ended up getting my daily caffeine more often than not. It was a cute little place and I am now sad that I didn’t end up taking a picture of it. Imagine a 50s diner, then replace the kitchen with a coffee bar and pastry cabinet. Sort of Starbucks meets Grease. This is the world I got to enter in order to receive the nectar of the gods.

A morning espresso to leave me fantastically jittery all through Italian Film.

While neither surprised nor dismayed, I was amused at the fact that what we refer to as a “caffè” in America is in fact not a coffee–it is a shot of espresso. I ran into a multitude of these odd inversions between languages, including an interesting finding about pizza, which I will share later. I found it particularly ironic that for many years I have been counseled at café after café here in America that they do a “traditional” macchiato, which is apparently a shot of espresso topped with foam; however, all the caffès I saw in Italy were pretty convinced that a “traditional” Italian macchiato is in fact what we consider an artsy new-age macchiato–a shot of espresso “marked” with a small amount of milk, possibly with foam to note the difference.

Next door to the Grand Hotel Entourage.

The woman who I assume owns the caffè is a lovely lady. By the time the final week had rolled around, she knew me and my drink before I had time to say, “Ciao”. She was always very sweet and understanding of my bumbling American ways. If I go back, I will learn Italian and go to Gorizia just to thank her for being a wonderful person.

If only adhesion did not exist, then i would never miss out on the last lovely bits...

If you want to hear about the coffee itself, check out Sideways Sweets. There should be a GTTrips-only post coming soon to show you a little more of Gorizia, so check back!

The First Supper: Dinners in Gorizia July 27, 2011

Posted by savannahcookson in Travel Log.
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Dinners in Gorizia are provided by the lovely Grand Hotel Entourage, which is our place of residence for the duration of our stay. They take dinner very seriously in Italy, and even our study abroad group was pampered with a traditional four-course meal every night (except Fridays and Saturdays).

The first course, typically called the antipasti, is essentially an appetizer. We were usually given bread and veggies, though sometimes the kitchen went out on a limb and made french fries, possibly to cater to us American folk. Tonight was carrots, peas, and something along the lines of cabbage or onion… we weren’t sure which.

Carrots, peas, and ...?

Most of us passed on the… whatever it was. But the peas and carrots were good! Next was the primo pasti, which is typically a pasta dish that comes before the main protein. Tonight, as with most nights, we had a stuffed pasta. In fact, I don’t think I had any pasta dish that was not stuffed, except a select few gnocchi prospects. Common stuffings were cheeses, prosciutto, and mushrooms; tonight was of the second variety.

Stuffed and creamy tortellini.

As you can probably gather, the lighting in the dining room was less than stellar for photography, and the flash is a new technology for me.

The prosciutto center.

The tortellini was a solid pasta dish that became a pretty common staple during our dinners. I liked the cream sauce, and the filling was not so salty that it took over. It’s too bad that the only stuffed tortellinis you can get in America are the crazy-expensive designer kind on the special refrigerated shelves or the homemade kind that take 3 hours to make, or I would eat buckets of it.

If you want to check out the main course (hint: it’s pork) and dessert, head over to Sideways Sweets to catch the rest! Soon, you will be able to see pictures of my adventures beyond the culinary, so stay tuned.

Marzipan Cherries and Sfogliatina Nutella: More Gorizian Culture July 20, 2011

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Hey all! This is a short entry with plenty of pictures. For more from this adventure, check out Sideways Sweets.

My first look at Gorizian culture continued that day, leading us to a square near where I would discover to be the University. The festival opened up into an open-air market with summer clothes, bakeware, knick-knacks, and our favorite–Italian sweets.

A brief introduction into the array of sweets offered in Italy.

I am not sure where this guy came out of the woodwork because I haven’t seen a shop around town like this since, but he was here that day with a fantastic array of classic Italian pastries and sweets. Here is a look:

Marzipan fruits. Not real ones, but a fantastic doppleganger.

Fragola. I have yet to try this pastry.

Sfogliatina nutella and some fig-newton lookin' things.

The spread of the sweets under the tent.

I ended up having a marzipan cherry and the sfogliatina nutella.

Cherries: Fresh Produce and Culture Festivals July 19, 2011

Posted by savannahcookson in Travel Log.
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If there are two things Gorizians do incredibly well, they are produce and festivals. And I got a taste of both.

I dare you to eat just one.

The same day I got my tasty pizza, we visited the local culture festival. Gorizia has an interesting culture. Because it is a border town, it is not strictly italian; rather, it is a conglomeration of Italian, Slovenian, and even Austrian and German to some extent. In fact, it’s only a 15-minute walk to the Slovenian border (which, by the way, was recently opened).

All these different roots give the Gorizians a unique culture to celebrate. And in this sleepy little town, “celebrate” means pull out all of your old stuff and sell it. I got a hardback copy of the Divine Comedy–original language with footnotes. I’ve been looking for one for ages. Go figure I find it for 20 euro in its birth country. You could also find old World War II maps and objects, traditional glassware, and lots of different homemade fineries.

While we wandered, we managed to get embroiled in a conversation with one of the locals. It was an interesting mix of Italian, Spanish, and English, putting together sentences with the shared vocabulary we could muster. At the end of it, he was so thrilled that we would talk to him that he gave each of us a booklet of Gorizia photos and a bowl full of cherries. Gorizian local cherries, mind you. I have posted a fine little gallery at Sideways Sweets for you to check out these beautiful fruits! Keep in mind that this is just my first day of travels–there is much more to see!

Quattro Formaggi: My First Italian Pizza and Communication Fail July 18, 2011

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Man, I am so behind on this stuff! I can’t believe I have been here for two weeks and managed to post once. It probably has something to do with my choppy internet. Moving on though, I had my first pizza in Italy on my first full day.

Ordering was interesting.

We got pizza while we were wandering the city and getting ourselves repeatedly lost and unlost. The streets here don’t actually run parallel/perpendicular but branch at odd angles, so you think you are walking in one direction but you really end up further or the same distance from where you want to go. Finding our way back was particularly interesting. We happened upon this pizza place at a moment when the hunger was overtaking our tummies, and we caved to the pressure.

This was our first experience with total lack of communication. The servers didn’t speak any English except for one younger server with broken understanding. It’s truly mindblowing the first time you realize that other languages aren’t just things you learn in school because it’s cool; these people think and communicate in this language. They don’t just associate an Italian word with an English correlate, the Italian word IS the correlate.

It’s equally impressive how much of a grasp a lot of people have on English despite the fact that they don’t speak it at all. If an Italian person came to America, for the most part no one they encountered would attempt to communicate in Italian, let alone truly know how to do so. I actually feel bad that I have come to a foreign country without at least a firm grasp on the basis of the native tongue, because I know that I am getting huge concessions that a lot of people wouldn’t have in other places.

Check out Sideways Sweets for more of my thoughts on this delicious pie. Look forward to the next tasty something soon!