Sicilian Vom-o-Rama and Spring Break
Trip Start Jan 24, 2009
10Trip End May 17, 2009
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I realize that I have not blogged in nearly a month. I apologize profusely and promise, seriously this time, that I will not let it happen again! The past month has been so busy for many reasons, but I've had a great time nonetheless. So, since you last heard from me:
1) I went on a day trip to Perugia one weekend and bought some chocolate! Perugia is a town famous for its chocolate, but unfortunately now it's been bought and commercialized by Nestle. Still, I went to the Sweet Sweet Way and got some traditional homemade chocolate. I also purchased a European-looking jacket for about 60% off and now feel like I can somewhat blend in as a European!
2) The next week, I went on a short trip to Assisi with some friends from the Centro. The town is quaint and absolutely beautiful, with distinct rose-colored stone. We went on a hike to St. Francis' contemplation spot on Monte Subasio--it was an intense hike up the mountain, but the weather was splendid. The paths at the Eremo were so peaceful as well, probably the most satisfying moments of solitude I've had in a long time. The Basilica of St. Francis, which houses the saint's tomb, was unique and very interesting. It's actually divided into an upper and lower church, centered around a cloister courtyard. The sunset in Assisi was breathtaking. . .
3) On a free Friday afternoon, I did some research for two upcoming projects/presentations I'm working on. It was strange to venture away from the Centro by myself, but it was oddly pleasant to find my way around alone and have a moment to myself. I went to the Colosseum, the site of my presentation for the Ancient City next Tuesday. I'll be talking about the velarium, the awnings that protected spectators from the sun. I still have to organize and practice my presentation, so I need to work on that later this week.
In more significant news, we took a week-long trip to Sicily last week. It was exactly the break we all needed: excepting the first rainy day at Velia, it was sunny, warm, and we were always close to the sea. Each day, we traveled to a different city, visited archaeological sites and museums, and stayed at a new hotel every night. It was great to have a break from our normal class schedule, and I feel that we all got to know each other on a new level. Taormina, a town on the coast, might just be one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The view from the Greek theater there is simply awe-inspiring. The sea shimmers with the clearest hue of blue imaginable. We saw Greek and Roman theaters and many Doric temples. These serve as examples of the extent of Greek influence on Roman culture and especially the island of Sicily, which was home to many Greek colonies. Another highlight was Morgantina, a remarkably well-preserved Greek town set up in the mountains; one of the Classical archaeologists at UVa has excavated at this site for many decades, and I had already heard a lot about the twon, so it was cool to finally arrive there.
Unfortunately, this is when some people from our group came down with some type of virus that quickly spread among more than half the students. During and after our visit to Morgantina, people began to vomit, and we had to stop the bus multiple times on our way back to the hotel. More gradually got sick, and eventually people were dropping like flies. This continued through Thursday, when I finally succumbed. At 4:30 in the morning, I woke up nauseous, and then vomited off an on for 3 hours. I felt awful, but we had to move on to Palermo, which means I had to get on the bus. I sat outside by the sea with another sick friend while the rest of our group visited various museums. . .luckily I felt well enough to brave the boat to the island of Mozia later that morning, and by the time we arrived in Palermo that evening, I felt so much better. When we got to the hotel, I took a glorious half-hour bath, which furthered my convalescence. All in all, the Sicily trip was a great time despite the widespread illness. We took an overnight ferry back to Naples on Friday night, and drove from there to Rome in the morning.
However, I only had a few hours to pack before I was on a flight to Bergamo, my first Spring Break destination. I traveled with two friends to this town, about an hour's train ride from Milan. It is in fact small city, divided into lower and upper sections (the cittą bassa and cittą alta, the historic city situated on top of a mountain). I liked Bergamo a lot, mostly because it has a more small-town feel, nicer people, and it is not completely overrun by tourists. Our hostel was on the outskirts of the city. This is the first time I had ever stayed in a hostel, and the experience was unfortunately not a good one. First of all, the place was definitely not per la gioventł ('for youth'), as advertised. Most of the people in my room were older adults, and on the second night, one of them stole my nicely-made bed. On top of that, my locker and the room itself smelled like feet. At any rate, I enjoyed my time in the area with Tracy and Lana, two friends I've made at the Centro.
On Sunday, we walked into the cittą bassa, where we went to Mass and walked around a bit. After lunch, we took a train into Milan. We spent the rest of the day visiting the Castello Sforzesco, with its free Egyptian museum, and took in a carnival going on in the park outside. I also had a delicious warm chocolate milk at Bianco Latte, and we headed to the Duomo at sunset. This church, with its 135 massive marble turrets, dominates the piazza where it's located and is one of the most impressive structures I've seen. The main shopping/fashion district is nearby, so we walked around there for a while. Exhausted, we found a restaurant that was still open and enjoyed a well-priced meal; I had the famous risotto all milanese, with saffron, and tiramisu for dessert.
Monday brought us to Lake Como, about 40 minutes outside Milan and the home of Pliny the Younger as well as George Clooney. The lake is as gorgeous as everyone makes it out to be, and thankfully we had the warmest weather possible. We intended to take a hike on top of a mountain overlooking the lake, but instead of taking the funicular up to the hiking trail, we thought we'd hike up the mountain itself to get to Branate. Well, this turned out to be a tall order, as we found ourselves gasping for air ascending a steep path. We finally made it to the top and ate lunch overlooking the lake. . .Needless to say, we ended up not doing the 2.5-hour hke, as we had already finished our impromptu hike. We rode the funicular down, explored the town of Como, and sat on a dock as the sun was setting. I used the calm and solitude to write in my journal, and just enjoyed a moment of peace.
Last night, I arrived in Berlin with Lana, and we took both the S-Bahn (above-ground ring train) and U-Bahn (underground) to our hostel near Alexanderplatz. The hostel has character, is clean, and in a trendy area with a lot going on. From our walk around the area upon arrival, I knew that I loved Berlin! It seems to me more open and friendly a city than Rome, with reminders of its more recent history. Today we met up with four other Centristi, and spent most of the day around the Museum Insel. There we visited the Altisches Museum (Classical Greco-Roman art), the National Gallery, and the Pergamon Museum. All of them were fascinating, well-laid out, and house a wealth of important art and artifacts. The Pergamon in particular was a highlight: the reconstructed Pergamon altar and its reliefs and an interesting exhibit on Dionysos and the gods were well-worth our time. For lunch, we went to get falafel at an awesome kebab place--I had never had falafel before, but now I'm definitely a convert! We wrapped up the day by walking around Alexanderplatz, and I finally got a much-needed haircut for only 10€.
I'll be spending the rest of my break this week in Berlin, and will have some time to myself for the next few days. I'm looking forward to exploring Berlin in more depth--there's really so much to see here. After that, it's back to the Centro on Sunday. Many projects are due in the next 2-3 weeks, so getting back into the groove of classes is going to be difficult after essentially 2 weeks of break!
I hope this entry finds you all well. I promise I'll post photos from the past month when I get back next week. I've seen so many beautiful places lately!