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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.

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!


ITALIA: gelato, pizza, and more gelato! July 17, 2011

Posted by shinjinidas in Travel Log.
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Italy was a lovely lovely country. I had visited Rome last year and had in fact met a President’s Scholar, who later became my PSMP mentor, at the Colosseum of all places! Our first stop was Florence, and what a quaint and cultured city that was. With such a rich cultural and artistic history, I was ready to be mesmerized by the world renown art, sculptures, and monuments, and was I! The birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence was the emblem of artistic intellectualism, and I experienced the beauty of the city through museums, the Uffizi, Bargello, to name a few. Of course, this was where my love for gelato was reignited.

One of my most memorable times in Florence was watching the sunset at Piazza Michelangelo, with several other eager tourists, and Oxford group students during dusk. Not only did we catch an absolutely gorgeous sunset, but we also viewed an awe striking skyline of the entire city! The Duomo, the baptistry, and the cathedral were all peaking brightly for us, and it was a beautiful night and a beautiful sight, one I will cherish. After Florence was the historical and political behemoth, ROME!

This was my second trip to Rome, and I have to admit, I think I loved it more this time around. Witnessing such crucial and important monuments, like the Pantheon, Colosseum, and the Roman Forum, up close was just mind boggling! In fact, we even saw what is commonly believed to have been the burial place of Julius Caesar within the Roman forum ruins. So much history, Rome had the foundation of future civilizations within its grasp, and to witness and revel in that glory was just inspiring and awe striking. Moreover, Rome has a very exciting big city feel, while still remaining relatively easy to navigate through. It really strikes the perfect balance for tourists. Of course, I gorged on yet more pizza and pastas here, not to mention more gelato. My last night in Rome culminated with an utterly delicious meal of fettucini with sausage, cream, and mushrooms, whose taste I can still remember! It was an absolutely fabulous time, not to mention, my one year anniversary since I met a few GT President’s Scholars within the colosseum as a rising freshman. Time flies!

My last and most absolutely favorite destination in Italy was without a doubt VENICE! This city is very special for a number of reasons. First, it being completely built on water was a point of intrigue and fascination for me. Moreover, the city is unnaturally and unbelievably gorgeous! We arrived amidst a few showers, but were in for great weather afterwards. Although our hotel was a tad too small without any form of internet, we were situated in an amazing and a prime location, near several hotspots, including of course McDonald’s, from which we outsourced several hours of internet connection. I enjoyed every minute of walking and shopping in Venice- in the evenings, the weather would just be perfectly cool with a light breeze, and I would browse through murano glass jewelry shops and admire the beautiful craftsmanship of Venetian artists. There were a slew of shops and bustling restaurants on the strip of street our hotel was located on, and I thoroughly loved exploring each and every one of these quaint stores.

What’s more, the city has one main center stage canal, called the Great Canal, which was so interesting to see, as Venice has no cars, surprise, surprise! This was a peaceful and much welcome realization, as I thought the tourists and residents were so much at peace with walking everywhere. Although the water surrounding every inch of the pavements and walkways was an utterly gorgeous sight, at times, the stench was unbearable, as pollution and sewage affect the quality very much.

This city was also the one in which I bought the most souvenirs! I fell head over heels in love with the intricate murano glass bracelets, and bought 3 very delicately handcrafted ones, the first with ruby red colored crystals, the second with emerald green colored crystals, and the third with sapphire blue colored crystals. Of course, a trip to Italy would be incomplete without delicious food, so on the last night, I treated myself to a plate of penne pasta with crab, salmon, and shrimp! This was mind blowingly delicious, and I have vowed to visit Venice in the near future with my family. This was an unbelievably gorgeous city, and its spirit really connected with me in a very special almost indescribable way. By far, my most favorite city on this trip, Venice has now has carved a niche into my heart!

Rome, Italy June 29, 2011

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Another city down and six more to go! Rome was beautiful and full of some of the most amazing history I’ve ever seen. A diet of pizza, crackers and water had been consuming all of us until we decided we’d risk the E coli scare for some good fruit. We’re getting in great shape hustling after our COA professor, Mr. Pearsall. Street vendors harassed us, we are averaging 3 hours of sleep per night, but we had a great time and got to know each other even better.

Day 1

We traveled from Florence to Rome on Sunday, June 5th.

During the three-hour bus ride, we stopped in a small village called Orvieto. Let me be the first person to tell you: never go there! Kelsey and I ordered food with shrimp, and it came out with worms on it. Jessica and Carson saw a dead cat. People were dressed as freaks at some Sci-Fi convention, it rained… it was just a terrible and strange experience. The only cool thing that happened was an ADPi from Arkansas noticed my GT ADPi shirt and we talked for a little while.

After we arrived at our retro-themed hotel in Rome (Hotel Albani), we had our second family dinner (aka Welcome Dinner). They served us veal and flan, which obviously didn’t go well with the cracker eating pickiest eaters in America. We all stayed in one night to work on our Architecture notebooks.

Day 2

Our first COA quiz was Monday morning, followed by a 2-hour music class. I felt really sick after class so I crawled back in the bed while everyone went to the Coliseum (jealous!). I ordered some expensive and disgusting room service, attempted to wash my clothes in the bathtub (never again) and FINALLY got to Skype my mom and sister. That night, we all headed out to the Spanish steps, Trinity College Bar, and the Trevi Fountain. It was beautiful. According to Lauren, one coin means you’ll come back to Roma, two means that you’ll fall in love soon and three is that you’ll get married soon! Of course, I only threw one.

Day 3

My favorite day in Italy so far was Tuesday. We visited Vatican City and it was absolutely amazing. My pictures don’t do it justice! We started in the main part and then left for the museum. I looked around and couldn’t find Colleen, Jen, David or Mark. I flipped on my BlackBerry and sure enough, Jennifer had BBM’d me that they were lost! After one overly priced phone call and a bunch of detailed directional BBMs, Jen and Colleen made it to the museum. The boys, however, were left on their own to explore the city. Our tour guide moved quicker than Mr. Pearsall, who said she was the best guide he’d ever had. Lucky us! After we finished the 2-hour tour, we went back to the hotel for literally 5 minutes before heading to the Borghese. Of course, David and Mark were completely fine and waiting on us at the museum.

To follow our daily ritual, we hiked back up to the hotel and passed out for a few hours. (We don’t sleep over here, we have two 3ish hour naps.) That night, Carson, Colleen, Jennifer, Jessica and I went to a café called Ayers. It was great! We got free water (hot commodity), free dessert and free salad. I think we’ll go to dinner sans the boys more often! We went to a very popular plaza called Campo de Fiori that night. Jessica and I had the best gelato in Italy (from Blue Ice) and the bars were lots of fun. Bradley got us home in an hour and a half via the bus system.

Day 4

Day four was a morning of church tours. It was a lot of fun! We saw the Pantheon, which was amazing. The night before, Jessica and I spotted a Hard Rock Cafe and decided we just HAD to go. So of course, we talked it up all day to all of our friends. By lunch time, group 2 was craving a nice burger and fries. We hiked to the Hard Rock for a meal of honey mustard, freedom fries and some red meat. Did I mention the free refills? After stuffing our faces (literally, everyone ate everything), we looked around only to find other Americans in Rome looking for a little piece of sanity. In bliss and feeling 20 lbs heavier– calories don’t count when we’re eating American — we took yet another nap.

That night, the gang headed back to Campo de Fiori. We stopped at the Trevi again and some people threw some coins in and we took some pictures. Outside the Pantheon, we drank wine and listened to a street performer (they are all really good!) who played some good home music like “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, “Every Move You Make” by Sting and we shagged to some “Stand by Me”. Then we saw some club promoters we had met the night before. They dragged us to a club called 18 and it was terrible. Then for some odd reason we decide to follow these “club promoters” to a place called Bloom, which was the strangest place I’ve ever seen. Twilight zone, again. (Note to readers: quickest way to make me stop talking to you is to tell me you’re a club promoter.)

All Roads Lead to Roma June 18, 2011

Posted by Joseph Mattingly in Travel Log.
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Friends, Romans, countrymen–lend me your ears!  For everyone wondering why I didn’t make this post in Venice, and also for those who didn’t, it is because Venice most decidedly has one of the worst communications infrastructures on the planet.  (Sorry folks, no postcards.)  Rome has definitely been the most interesting part of the trip thus far because of its *minor* historical significance as the cradle of western civilization and the fact that the Romans revolutionized engineering (see previous post).  So let’s just say I was excited to go to Rome.

It was in Rome that I came to the realization that the things I like about Italian food may not, in fact, be Italian.  I was thoroughly confuddled by the lack of anything alfredo with anything on any of the menus in any of the restaurants.  All the pastas and all the pizzas seemed to include a certain pomodori ingredient.  That means tomato, a flavor I find repulsive.  This made Italy significantly less exciting for me and significantly more so for everyone else.  Enough of that, though.

Our first day in Rome, we discovered the Pantheon, a magnificent piece of Roman art and engineering that fell into the hands of the Pope before it fell into the hands of history.  Instead of standing a magnificent marble-clad building with a grand bronze dome and magnificent Roman statues, the Pantheon is now a large hunk of concrete gutted of its proper interior and refitted to be a Catholic worship space and the eternal resting place of the artist Raphael.  We also went to the Borghese Gallery, a Cardinal’s house (seeing a trend yet?) turned art museum with some very famous statues and a very big (several acres), very nice front yard.

The next day, we made the journey to the Vatican City, which consequently is the first country we haven’t vanquished in a war yet, to visit the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica.  (Catholic-ness for the win!)  To put it bluntly, the Holy See is loaded.  Its interior walls and ceilings are painted by all the great artists and the rest of the empty space is filled with sculpture and such that might best be described as highly sought-after.  On top of that, St. Peter’s, which clocks in at the biggest Catholic church in the world, is a magnificent piece of art dripping in fine carving and gold leaf.  It was quite visually spectacular.

The last day in Rome was dedicated to the Roman ruins, the obvious thing to do when in Rome.  Our first journey was to the Coliseum, which was quite exciting to see.  I was quite shocked, however, at its size; I was expecting a ruin exceedingly massive.  Indeed, the Coliseum is massive, but it could probably still fit comfortably inside Bobby Dodd (or for the folks back in the homeland, the KFC Yum! Center).  Right across the street was the ruins of the Roman forum area.  As we ventured through the massive complex, we saw what remained of the Temple of Romulus (later converted into, you guessed it, a church), the forum, and the curia (home of the Senate and place of expiration for Gaius Julius Caesar).  It was a fantastic way to spend the morning, but I would really have liked to see the remains of the circus maximus and Via Appia (in true nerd form), but nobody else seemed to share that sentiment.

 So it sounds like I’ll have to go back to Rome again at some point in my life, but the first experience was definitely a great one.  I’ll post Venice in a day or two, so stay tuned for more exciting stories!  Ciao.

When in Rome, take lots of pictures of Roman ruins.

July 2-5: Italy August 10, 2010

Posted by Stefanie Olivier in Travel Log.
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During our long Independence Day weekend, we decided to visit three different Italian cities. We got to Italy by taking a Ryanair flight. (Can you believe it costs lest than twenty Euros to fly from Germany to Italy?!?) In order to finally arrive in Venice, however, we had to take another train trip from the airport, the ending of which was a very unusual experience since the train tracks were surrounded by water and little else. It felt as though the train was traveling on top of the water. Unsurprisingly, my eyes were glued to the window during that part of the train ride.

I was even more fascinated by my surroundings, however, when we took a ferry to our hostel in Venice. Venice is truly unlike any other city in the world. It seems like all the buildings are drifting in the water just like our ferry was. After we grabbed some of the best pizzas I’ve ever tasted in my life on the way to our hostel, we set out to discover the city. This city is ideal for souvenir shopping. Venetian masks, Venetian glass jewelry, and leather-bound journals were everywhere to be seen, especially on the Rialto Bridge. After doing some window-shopping, we devoured some Italian gelato next to the water and then took in the sights while traveling in the ferry all around Venice. We finally stopped and relaxed within a Venetian park (Yes! A drifting park!) before buying “gondolas” for dinner. We finished the night in a café that was streaming a world cup game from its large television. We went to bed with sinking hearts when Uganda lost.

We took a train to Florence the next morning and ate some more pizza and did some more souvenir shopping when we arrived there. I have to say, Italy is definitely the place to buy souvenirs! Their open-air flea markets are excellent! After checking into our hostel, we visited the Duomo (whose outside decorations make me think of the candy house in the story of Hansel and Gretel), the Uffizi Gallery, and the Ponte Vecchio (one of the few remaining medieval bridges in Europe). On the Ponte Vecchio, we danced along with some gypsies to their music and then hurried back to our hostel to ready ourselves for the evening. That night, we signed and stapled a Georgia Tech t-shirt to the roof of one of the Florence’s most famous Irish bars.

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I was sad to leave Florence the next morning, but knowing that we were on our way to Rome made me feel much better. Once we arrived there, we bought tickets for a “hop on, hop off” bus tour and then sat on top of the double-decker bus while it drove all around Rome. It was amazing to see the modern architecture mixed with old architecture mixed with very old architecture, and this kept on amazing me throughout the two days we spent there. The first stop where we dismounted the bus was the stop next to the Trevi Fountain, where we made wishes, filled our water bottles from water spewing out of a wall, and bought gelato from San Crispino, a shop that is judged to be the best gelaterias in Italy. I sure thought so, anyway! We finished of our day with a visit to the Coliseum and then our trip the next day with a visit to the Vatican.

Rome July 25, 2010

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May 31-June 4

It is crazy how small this world is.  Our second stop on the trip was Rome.  I am experiencing so much more of the city culture, especially the nightlife, than if I was in these cities by myself.  It is so much fun hanging out in large groups of 20 kids.  I am also surprised at how many Americans are here in Rome.  Last night we met a few from UGA.  They had been studying here all spring and that was their last night before they headed back the Atlanta.

The craziest and most exciting encounter of Americans happened at the Coliseum.  As we were posing for pictures, a girl walks up asking if we went to Georgia Tech, one of our boys was wearing a Tech t-shirt.  She was an incoming freshman and thrilled to run into us.  Small world.  Well, the world got smaller as I soon learned that she was a PS!!  Being an incoming freshman, I announced excitedly that my brother was as well!  The look on her face was priceless when I mentioned my brother’s name.  It couldn’t be, yes it could be, no it couldn’t be, “are you a President’s Scholar?” I asked.  “YES!” she excitedly responded.  Talk about an instant bond.  Cole was with me so he introduced himself and the three of us along with her parents had the best 20 minute conversation about Georgia Tech and how wonderful the PS Program is and how you get to meet so many amazing and interesting people and how the PS Program is a family.  We all surely felt it that afternoon in Rome.  Goodness, besides my brother, she is the first incoming PS freshman I have met.  It makes me miss being a Fall Retreat Leader!

A Taste of Rome June 22, 2010

Posted by Ethan Craig in Travel Log.
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Where to begin? Rome is so jam packed with things to do it’s easy to just stumble upon things, something that occurred quite often. Saturday evening we decided simply to start walking, with no particular destination in mind, and see what happened. We managed to find ourselves at the Fountain of Four Rivers, in front of the Vatican, at the Castel St. Angelo, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum. We saw all of this just walking through the city! That being said, there was so many other things we could have done. I went to Rome with the mindset that there is simply too much to do in a weekend so I’ll just have to come back someday and do the rest, which isn’t so bad. Consequently, we took our time going around and instead of sprinting from site to site, we were able to stay and enjoy our time at each place. It was an exiting time to be in Rome! Priests were being ordained (or so I was told) and the Pope was actually at the

Vatican, though we didn’t get to see him in person. Also, Italy was playing in the World Cup! We worked our way over to the Fifa Fan Fest, which was packed with Italian football fans. It’s great to be in a country that enjoys football this much! It is truly an international sport and one of the few things that links distant places of the world together. That’s all for now. ‘Til next time, EC

Viva Italia! June 10, 2010

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Hey all! Greetings from Vienna, Austria- I just embarked on a twelve hour bus ride along with the other 42 members of Group 2 from Venice, Italy to here. Our trip began in Florence thirteen days ago, and we’ve been going 1000 miles per hour ever since. After 4 days there, we trekked over to Rome with a small side trip to Sienna along the way. Four more days in Rome, then we headed to Venice, stopping in at Ravenna to see the famous mosaics at St. Vitale. After four days in Venice, we’re sad to be leaving the gelato and pizza of Italy but excited to see Austria!

Florence was the perfect place to begin because it’s small enough that you can walk pretty much anywhere, but it’s still filled with young people and cool places to go/ things to see. We hit the ground running from Day 1, and spent our first night exploring the city. The next 3 days were filled with museums, and we saw things like Michelangelo’s ‘David’, Massacio’s ‘Tribute Money’, and Donatello’s ‘Mary Magdalene.’ I’m learning so much about art and architecture, and it’s so cool to be able to talk about and appreciate the many pieces of art we’re seeing! Another highlight of Florence was my climb to the top of Il Duomo- 463 steps for the most gorgeous view I’ve ever seen. We spent our first 2 evenings hanging out in a square next to the Uffizi, where they had a pianist playing and light shows being reflected off all the artwork surrounding the square, then on the third night we discovered a spot on the hillside facing our hotel with a view rivaling that of Il Duomo. I really enjoyed spending four whole days getting to know the city, figuring out the cool spots to hang out and how to get around. (more…)

When in Rome! June 9, 2010

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My weekend was incredible! Most of our group traveled to Venice Friday morning to receive a tour from a true Venetian, our very own Professor Dalle Vacche. It’s absolutely beautiful there. All the boats glide down the canals lined by many homes, each one unique. I felt as if it was all surreal, too perfect to actually be a city in which people lived. The train station was even decorated with mosaics, as if to prepare you for the cultural immersion ahead. Professor Dalle Vacche led us to the Jewish ghetto, which is relevant to our Holocaust in film class, and we had lunch there. Besides the closely packed buildings that were much taller than those outside the ghetto, I thought it was hard to distinguish the two spaces. It is now a very bright and happy place, with the classic clotheslines blowing in the afternoon breeze and flowers on every windowsill. An accordion player serenaded us as we ate delicious pizza and a painter stood in front of his latest work of art. However, I’m sure this is a stark contrast to the space during the World War II era. After lunch, we walked around the city and tried to soak in as much as possible. My favorite spot was a huge bridge that crossed the largest canal right in front of the train station (Venizia St. Lucia). I could have stayed up there for hours just people-watching and relaxing in the sun. Lexie and I also found a Murano glass store that sells gorgeous jewelry, but we didn’t have time to fully explore it so we made a mental note to return there later.

View of Venitian Canal from a Bridge


Ciao! June 9, 2010

Posted by Megan Sweeney in Travel Log.
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We are just finishing up our three stops in Italy and so far the trip has been amazing!  It’s hard to believe I have only been here for two weeks; we’ve done and seen so many things in such a short amount of time, which I thought would have worn me out by now but I am still hanging on.  (I think all the excitement of exploring a foreign country with 43 friends is helping.)

Our first destination was Florence (or Firenze in Italian).  There we stopped in Santa Maria de Carmine, the Uffizi, the Accademia, and Bargello (the last three all in one day).  All the art and architecture was beautiful and learning it by seeing was definitely more interesting than in a classroom like the first week…  A group of us also splurged and paid the eight-euro to climb the 463 steps to the top of Il Duomo—definitely worth it!  Parts of the stairs going up and down were terrifying but the view from the top was incredible. (more…)