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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!


First Impressions June 4, 2012

Posted by kmorrisey3 in Travel Log.
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Today marks the beginning of my third week abroad. It’s strange to think it’s only been 14 days! I feel like I’ve already become a world traveler! So far, Oxford Group 3 has visited Budapest, Hungary, Prague, Czech Republic, and Vienna, Italy. Currently we are in Venice, Italy and next on the itinerary is Florence, Italy. To say I’ve been having the time of my life would be an understatement. The experiences I’ve already gained in the short amount of time I’ve been abroad is remarkable. In just two short weeks, I’ve attended 3 concertos  (an instrumental performance centered on contrast between soloists and a string-dominated orchestra), 1 opera, 1 ballet, 6 churches, 9 museums, and other numerous historic monuments. A couple of things I’ve noticed about Europe…

  1. Bread, meat, and cheese are a part of nearly every dish-especially for breakfast. Nutella is nearly as abundant!
  2. NOTHING is free. Water and public restrooms included.
  3. Wifi is hard to come by…explaining my lack of blog posts thus far!

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest was Group 3’s first stop on our trek across Europe. It was absolutely beautiful-clique, I know. Upon my arrival in Budapest, I quickly realized two things: 1) I was definitely no longer in America, and, the more painful realization, 2) I had packed way too much (shocker)! We had to carry our suitcases up and down a few staircases in the city of Pest (Buda and Pest are actually two main cities that are separated by the Danube river-I had no clue either!) to get to our hotel. Taneisha and Derek, our group leaders, weren’t kidding when they said to practice carrying our suitcases up three flights of stairs before we came on the trip. The ornate architecture of the city of Pest distracted me from the weight of my suitcase as we trudged through cobblestone streets and down into underground tunnels to get to our hotel.  The city’s architecture was very strange to me; it is nothing like the architecture of American cities. Throughout our stay in Budapest, we visited multiple museums, cathedrals, historic monuments, and, of course, local pubs. One of my favorite tours in Budapest was our visit to St. Stephen’s Basilica. I was overwhelmed by the amount of detail in the interior and exterior of the building. European architecture is just so different than what you see in America-the history here  is so rich!

St. Stephen’s Basilica- Budapest, Hungary

Another tour I enjoyed was our tour of Castle Hill. The Castle Hill area was just precious. It’s a picturesque blend of cobblestone streets, quaint restaurants, and historic monuments. The most impressive part of Castle Hill was the view atop it. A couple people in our group watched the sunrise from atop Castle Hill one night. I decided to get some sleep instead of trek up the hill early in the morning-a decision I’ve regretted ever since. Who needs sleep, anyway?

View overlooking city of Pest from atop Castle Hill- Budapest, Hungary

Prague, Czech Republic

I was sad to leave Budapest (and their incredibly weak currency, the Florin), but excited to be in Prague! Unfortunately, our trip to our second city was rough. We got little lost, and then held up at a gas station, but our hilarious and amazing bus driver, Baloo, got us to Prague safely, and that’s all that matters, right? (I’m trying to not stress about things this trip…..mission impossible, but I’m trying) Our welcome dinner in Prague was DELICIOUS. The caprese salad was so fresh, and my chicken dish was cooked and marinated to perfection. But even that delicious meal doesn’t compare to the new dish I discovered in Prague….KEBABS! Kebabs are kind of like European burritos, made from skewered and slow roasted meat, fresh veggies, and a creamy ranch like sauce. I can already tell I will miss those in America! I saw my first opera in Prague called Tosca. Tosca is a melodramatic piece set in June 1800 in Rome, a time when the leadership of Rome was threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy.  This opera centers on the main character, Tosca, a famous female singer, Mario Cavaradossi, a talented painter and Tosca’s lover, Scarpia, the police chief and main antagonist, and Cesare Angelotti, the imprisoned former consol of the former Roman Republic. Angelotti escapes imprisonment and seeks refuge from Cavaradossi, his longtime friend, causing a chain of events which end tragically in torture, murder, and suicide. Initially, I didn’t think I would like Tosca, but I made sure to keep an open mind throughout the performance. I was pleasantly surprised by the opera; it was fairly enjoyable! I’m definitely coming to appreciate art and music through my experiences on this trip.

Allison and I at the Prague State Opera House before Tosca- Prague, Czech Republic

Vienna, Austria

Prague was definitely too short of a trip. I wish I could’ve spent more time there! I was eager to move on to Vienna, though. Our first day in Vienna was crazy busy-we only had 3 hours of free time to eat dinner, change, and get ready for a concert later. After our classes and tours for the day, my friend Mary and I decided to skip dinner and shop (shocking). There is literally an H&M every 3 blocks, so we just had to stop in one. We shopped for a little (I only got a pair of shoes, mom and dad! …..and two dresses…..and a shirt….hehe) and decided to explore the city for an hour and then walk back to our hotel. BAD IDEA. Mary and I got so hopelessly lost. With every turn we took, we just walked deeper and deeper into the city and away from our hotel. To make matters worse, it started pouring-not just raining casually-POURING. Our map, of course, got wet and ripped. We asked many locals and eventually found the underground metro, where we discovered the routes to take us back to our hotel. We had to switch routes so many times; we had unknowingly and unintentionally wandered so far! The good news is we made it back to the hotel safely. There is no better feeling than getting lost in a completely unknown place and finding your way back. I felt so empowered and independent! It was definitely a learning experience. The bad news? Well, by the time we arrived at our hotel, we were supposed to be ready and at the concert hall for our second concert, a Mozart Concerto featuring the premier violinist, Anne-Sophie Mutter. I’m not sure how we did it, but Mary and I changed into our business casual and got back downstairs to the lobby at the same time as our professors/group leaders. We walked with them to the concert and all was well. It was definitely a success.

Mary and I in the Musikverein (Vienna Concert Hall)- Vienna, Austria


I’m currently in Venice, and loving every second! I can’t wait to write about the rest of my experiences in Italy! Ciao!!

Kelliann, World Traveler.

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!

Venezia and the End of Italy June 22, 2011

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So, Venice.  I’ll keep this short and sweet since I don’t have too much to say about our final Italian destination.  Of all the Italian cities we stayed in (Florence, Rome, and Venice), Venice was definitely my least favorite, which is kind of funny since most everybody else thought it was the best.  For me, Venice was nothing more than a set of bridges linking distinctly non-gridded alleys, as well as a heat and humidity sink, with very little in the affordable attractions department.

In Venice, we went to two art museums, the Accademia (yes, another one of those) and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.  The Accademia had a lot of interesting art (interesting in its colossal size), but nothing spectacular.  The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is a museum dedicated to modern art.  I appreciated the Spanish art (Picasso, Dali, and Miró), but the rest didn’t do much for me.  We were also treated to a concert interpretation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which was quite excellent, possibly the high point of Venice.

Our last in the Venice area was actually used to explore not-so-nearby Padua to see the Arena Chapel, a religious building painted by the early Renaissance artist Giotto, and Maser to see a really nice villa designed by the Italian architect Palladio.  This trip was an interesting break from the regular and gave us the opportunity to walk on the beautiful Italian countryside.

To resolve any questions I know you, my ever-diminishing fan base, might have, no, I did not go on a gondola ride.  Because of the prices involved, nobody wanted to go with me, so I did not partake in that distinctly Venetian tradition.  I promise I’ll get Munich posted soon, so stay tuned for more exciting European adventures.

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.

Venice July 25, 2010

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Hello my friends!  I am on the bus headed to Vienna.  We have just crossed the border from Italy to Austria.  I am very excited to be headed to a new country – new food, scenery, and experiences.   One thing I am already noticing is that the food is more expensive and the cars are no longer fiats and other brands not common in the U.S., but instead, I’ve seen my first Ford and BMW.  Austrians are stylin’!

Cole and I in St. Mark's Square

It will be an 11 hour bus ride…which probably means more like 12.5 hours.  So far we have driven 3 hours, got a way to go!  This just means I’ll get some sleeping and reading and praying done in the interim.  Though I always say that and it turns into movies and solitaire on my cell phone while listening to my ipod and taking pictures of the scenery as it passes.  That is one thing I can’t stand about sleeping, I miss the beautiful scenery.  Sometimes I wish I was a photographer, I would be in heaven right now, taking phenomenal photos.  Venice was perfect for this.  (more…)

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…)

Greetings! By Cole Ellertson June 9, 2010

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Guten tag! And in the words of the great Miller Templeton, “Good morning sports fans!” I am in Vienna, Austria arriving yesterday after a long but beautifully scenic trip through the mountains of Northern Italy. My Oxford group has now left the marvelous country of Italy after residing within the cities of Florence, Venice and Rome and visiting the town’s of Sienna and Padua.

Our journey began after flying  into Rome and busing to Florence, where the quaint architecture of this urban environment, its central river, and of course the marvelous Duomo of Florence (designed by the great Brunelleschi) 😉 created a truly captivating scene. The highlights of Florence for me included the great Italian food, running along the bridges over the river in the afternoon, climbing at sunset to the Piaza de Michelangelo for some amazing sunset photographs, and hearing about the rich heritage in art and music engendered here. (more…)