Friday, June 28, 2013

End of a new beginning!

Buon giorno!
The days in Italy are still running into days back in America. The last leg of our journey was in Rome. While I wrote this post in Italy, I am posting it from my kitchen table back in Texas...
Pantheon in Roma!
Shannon and I washing our apples! 
Water rushed over the skin of my green apple. I rinsed my breakfast and as a group of us stood facing the Pantheon early Saturday morning enjoying fresh frutta, ready to begin our last day in Italy. I am going to pause for a minute to let you soak up the fact that we casually strolled less than 1 kilometer from our hotel to have breakfast outside the PANTHEON! The historical building is in the midst on a typical Italian plaza with shops, restaurants and the usual hussle and bustle. After breakfast we set off toward the Spanish Steps and the Medici Villa. The Medici family was once the most wealthy family in Italy. They owned several villas and dozens of famous paintings and art works. The villa we visited set up above the Spanish Steps and had a spectacular view of the city. We ventured into the garden grounds that stretched over three kilometers. The grounds were lined with sky high trees that canopied the garden making it a beautiful retreat for the warm day. An area along one of the edges was filled with a variety of roses. The group took our time meandering through the paths and taking in the change of scenery that laid in the middle of Rome. People spread out blankets on the lawns to take afternoon naps, others peddled around on bikes and some enjoyed their picnic lunches on the serene benches. 
Take three of our group shot. 
John, Kim, Shannon and me in the Medici Garden.
As I wondered past ancient sculptures and freshly pruned hedges I thought back to the Boboli Garden and the differences between the two garden grounds. The Medici grounds are used as more of a public space, welcoming everyday visitors to spend time in nature. The past three weeks had been filled with site seeking and train rides, so having a few moments on a park bench brought my mind back to something very important. I study Recreation, Parks and Tourism Science at A&M and I have spent the past two years in classes learning about the importance of nature and it's restorative abilities. Traveling Italy has been an amazing journey but my moments in nature are the moments that stand out most to me. The days we got to enjoy the rolling hills of Tuscany, the wild poppies on the side of every road, the olive trees that were hundreds of years old, the moments of complete silence looking out our windows in Castilion Florentino. The importance of restoration is easily forgotten when we walk among our everyday lives, so having time in the Medici Garden in Rome was a blessing to the end of a wonderful adventure. 
Rose garden in the Medici Garden.

As I reflect now on the time I spent in Italy I am overwhelmed with how much I learned. While lessons about plants and cuisine snuck their way into the trip learning about Italy and about myself was more than I could have imagined. I am still jet lagged but if there was a way for me to get back on a plane I would be back in Italy in a heart beat! 

Until next time Italia, Ciao! 
Josie E

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Vatican Gardens

The Vatican Gardens were established during the Renaissance and Baroque era and cover about 57 acres. Various sculptures, fountains, trees, vibrant flowerbeds, green lawns, and grottoes fill this picturesque garden. My favorite part of the garden was the Lourdes Grotto. Donated by the French in 1902 to Pope Leo XIII, a statue of The Virgin Mary is framed by bright green American ivy above the grotto donated by Pope John XXIII. 

Lourdes Grotto
Italian Garden
Olive tree
French Garden

I recognized the different garden types from what I learned in class. We saw an Italian Garden with box hedges clipped into rounded and angular shapes lacking flora. 

There are many trees in the garden that were donated over the years by different people visiting the Pope. There were many olive trees in the garden, but most importantly, we saw an olive tree that was planted in 1995 to commemorate the first anniversary of diplomatic relations with Israel. 

A bunya-bunya donated from Australia stands by a guava tree from Brazil and a Magnolia from North America. Just before the French Garden lays a heliport lined with azaleas and Australian silk-oak trees. Cedar trees and Redwoods also call the Vatican Garden their home. 

I was very surprised to see such a big variety of trees. From palm trees, to cactus, to Redwoods, the Vatican Garden is filled with a plethora of different plants and flowers that create a unique, tranquil, and beautiful place for the Pope and the people of Vatican City to relax.

Palm trees in the Vatican Garden
There were many types of cacti in the Vatican Garden
-Taylor R.

Ancient Rome

We  finally made it to Rome! Our first stop was to meet our awesome tour guide Rich at the Colosseum.  Thankfully he talks and walks very fast became we had so much to see! It was incredible to be in the presence of this amazing structure that was completed in 80 AD.  It has been damage by earthquakes, and from people harvesting the stone it is built out of.  However,  the Colosseum still remains an iconic attraction in Rome.  Rich described that the Collesesum was used for contests - man versus man, man versus beast, and beast versus beasts.  Re-enactments of famous battles, and many other public spectacles also took place here.  The views from outside and inside the Colleseum are incredible, and it is so easy to picture how things may have looked so long ago. 
Casa delle Vestali

After the Collesum we walked to the Roman Forum where many of the oldest and most important structures of ancient Rome were located.  All of us were picturing how the buildings must have looked back then.  The earliest shrines and temples are located here.  One of which is the Temple of Vesta.  The complex of the Vestal Virgins is located in the Forum as well.  Vesta is the virgin goddess of home and family in the Roman religion.  The Vestal Virgins were priestesses of Vesta, and had ranks in the government.  

Casa delle Vestali

Rich taught us about so much during our time at the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, but it would take ages to fully explore the ruins of ancient Rome in its entirety.  It is truly incredible how much history can be absorbed in this amazing place!

 - Emily Darling 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Truffled this even real?

Among some of our amazing day trips was a wonderful trip to Orvieto! The town was very small, yet so warm and welcoming. We started the day by touring some underground caves that have been used over the years for several different reasons. Originally, they were used for a place for the families to grow and store extra food and supplies in case of an attack. Each family in the town had their own cave underneath the house at the time, but only a few are open to the public today.

After the amazing cave tours, we headed for a quiet lunch. We walked the town for about thirty minutes trying to find the perfect place when we stumbled upon this little restaurant tucked up in the corner. We sat down and immediately drank so much water because of the extreme heat outside. Little did I know, I was about to order my absolute favorite meal of the entire trip. I ordered black truffled gnocchi and it was easily the most decadent, rich meal I had the whole trip to Italy. It was a pretty big helping and it was extremely rich, but I managed to finish the entire plate. Truffles are a true delicacy so I was more than happy to eat them!

I hope I can find a similar version of that pasta once I get back to the United States. I've had gnocchi several times back home, but nothing that was as incredible as that dish! I couldn't be more ecstatic that we chose that little hole in the wall restaurant to eat at!

-Hannah Auer

Pine Nuts in Rome!

We have finally made it to the beautiful city of Rome! The size of this city is absolutely incredible. The streets are filled with locals and tons of tourists as well. We only have three days here so we will definitely be rushing through the city trying to do as much as we can in this short amount of time!

We started off with a tour of the Colosseum, the forum, and the Pantheon. We had to walk so incredibly fast to keep up with our tour guide, Rich! We all really enjoyed all of the knowledge he had offer and interesting facts about each of the sites that we visited. I wish he could have been with us the entire trip!

After a long day of walking, we walked by a little bakery near our hotel that sold bread and all sorts of pastries. Millie told us to try these pine nut cookies, which were her favorite when she lived in Rome. They were absolutely delicious! The cookies were very fresh and they had the pine nuts on top of them. As we learned in class, it takes three whole summers for the pine cone to form. The seeds are then taken out of the pine cone and used for baking or other things. The pine nuts in Italy definitely have a different taste about them compared to the ones that are in the United States. I thought they were much better! I wish we could have a bakery in Texas that baked those cookies. I will definitely miss this little treat!

-Hannah Auer

Monday, June 24, 2013

Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad
My favorite dish in Italy is the Insalata Caprese. It consists of sliced tomato and mozzarella in olive oil and balsamic vinegar topped with a couple basil leaves. It is a common dish and can be ordered in most restaurants. I enjoy it because it is a light, healthy snack.

The tomatoes served in all the Italian dishes are fresh. The first record of tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) in Italy dates back to October 31, 1548. The Medici family was very powerful and the new world had many plant varieties unknown to Europe. Having these new crops in their possession symbolized the Medici family’s power. The tomato’s first written appearance was when the house steward of Cosimo de’Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany, wrote a letter informing the Medici’s private secretary that the basket of tomatoes sent from the grand duke’s Florentine estate had arrived safely. The early use of the tomato in Europe was as an ornamental garden plant because it was believed that the tomato was poisonous. The tomato belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae) which does contain poisonous plants so it made sense to assume the tomato was also poisonous. I was surprised when I learned that they assumed tomatoes were not edible. Luckily for us, they discovered the tomato is edible and integrated it into their diet.
Making ricotta cheese

Mozzarella is also produced in Italy; it is made by heating milk with a little citric acid. After removing the heat and setting, the curds will coagulate, separating from the whey. Then the curds are scooped out. After heating the remaining mixture and draining more of the whey, you knead the cheese and add some salt until it is dough like. Finally you form it into a ball shape and it is ready to eat. All the mozzarella here is shaped into a ball which I think is fun.

While at the second agriturismo, we watched the owners make ricotta. It's a very similar process to mozzarella except that they used goat’s milk and added fresh milk after removing the curds to add protein. The agriturismo doesn't waste anything so the leftover milk, after the cheese is removed, is fed to young cows. I like the fact that nothing is wasted. Also, it was fun to watch them make the cheese because we ate it at dinner that night.

Grinding stone
Where the mats are stacked and pressed

Balsamic vinegar and olive oil are set on the table for you to add yourself. We traveled to olive oil factories and have seen the machines that grind the freshly picked olives and the mats where the paste is laid and pressed. My favorite olive oil processing place is in the underground caves of Orvieto. This city is built on a hill where space is the most valuable resource. To conserve the land they did have, the Etruscans dug out artificial caves. I think this is very inventive; if you don’t have room, go underground. For olive processing, their mills were driven by a donkey tethered to the top stone. After crushing, the paste was spread on mats and pressed, just like it is nowadays. The caves also served as good storage for the oil since it offered a constant temperature. When served Caprese salad, you must add your own olive oil and vinegar which I enjoy because it feels like I am part of the process.

Caprese salad is delicious, nutritious, and very Italian! It is a great, refreshing snack and I can't wait to make it when I get home.

"The Tomato Had To Go Abroad To Make Good." Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, n.d. Web. 23 June 2013.

Toth, Mary J. "Easy Mozzarella Recipe." Make Mozzarella Cheese at Home. Hoegger Goat Supply, n.d. Web. 23 June 2013

Shannon Murray

Sunday, June 23, 2013

All in All

When it comes to nature, Italians love the land they inhabit and that which it produces for them. Walking around Rome today, i witnessed many a fresh made pizza covered in veggies from local farms nearby alongside flower pots and gardens abundant with plant life.  They are lovers of all that is wondrous in nature.  For example, Italians love food.  Not just food in general, but food that is real. Food which is organic and has been payed the utmost attention throughout growing and production.  Whether it be in the wine they produce or the toppings on a pizza, the Italians are very consciencious of what they put in their mouths.  This attention leads to some of the best food on Earth. There is something to be learned from the Italian's love of food. Especially that which can be produced in a garden.  Speaking of gardens, that is another highlight of Rome.  Myself and several of the girls explored a garden near the Medici Roman villa. This garden was not any discernable style, but rather that of an ordinary strolling city park. Lawns, gravel walkways, and a plethora of plant and tree life cover the landscape. Naturally forming to the undulation of the hilltop overlooking Rome, this garden captured quite simple beauty and backsplashed it with a magnificent overlook of the Roman skyline. One of the perfect biews to end our trip on.

Our trip is coming to and end, and what an adventure it was. I have gained several new friends and experiences i will remember for a lifetime.

- J. Langford

The Beautiful Vatican Gardens

The importance of shade to Italians
According to our tour guide, non-diplomatic Rome has no such thing as VIPs, but I definitely felt Very Important when our Horticulture class privately toured the Vatican gardens. We began our adventure by meeting our tour guide, Isabella, inside of the building outside of the gardens. Courtney and I took her name as a great sign, as we had been searching for semblances of the Lizzie McGuire Movie in Rome since we had first arrived. It was the perfect start.
Pebbles used in mosaic work
Throughout our trek in the gardens, Isabella pointed out many of the historical and interesting Catholic monuments and memorials that were scattered throughout the property. As we passed through a shady pathway to one of the first sections of the garden, Isabella explained the significance of the walkway. She referred to the lack of flowers in Italian gardens, and told our class that because of the heat in Italy, shade was much more precious and appreciated than floral landscaping. In the baking heat as we walked, I have to say that I wholeheartedly agreed with the Italian need for shade. After we meandered through the shady pathway, we came across an entrance to a private courtyard area. We discussed the mosaic on the outside arch of the closed courtyard, and Isabella noted that the components of the tile work were stones and pebbles from nearby Roman rivers and streams—local treasures. It gave a rustic look to the beautiful designs of the structure when one looked up close.
New olive trees
An English garden with
Asian Jasmine Arches
An old olive tree
from the Holy Land
One of the many fountains
in the Vatican gardens
            Further into the Vatican Gardens, we came across many fountains and pools, which showed the importance of water to the Romans—a resource even more precious than shade in gardens and landscaping. It was fun to identify familiar plants throughout our tour, as well as to learn about new ones that grew in the Vatican Gardens from all over the world. I saw gorgeous hydrangeas growing beside a building: a sight that I have never seen at home in Texas! I enjoyed identifying the styles of various gardens that we walked near, such as Italian gardens (that included nontraditional flowers) and English gardens. It was interesting to find the priceless, old olive trees that had been collected from places like the Holy Land—a symbol of piece and brotherhood for the Mediterranean. We also came across many new olive trees, which produce a different flavor of oil and grow in a different section of the Vatican gardens.
Some familiar Texas plants in the Vatican
Plants used as a barrier
One of my favorite things about the Vatican Gardens was seeing many plants that are commonly grown in Texas, many of which were gifts from various places in America. I saw many cacti, bougainvillea vines, and Asian Jasmine flourishing, and Isabella explained that some forms of cacti are used as barriers to keep visitors out of certain areas. It was both serene and lavish to be able to see the gardens in the Vatican City. I greatly enjoyed hearing about the history and significance of many plants, and felt incredibly privileged to be able to tour the Vatican Gardens. 

An Italian garden with added flowers
Molly Mitchell

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Flowers in Assisi

Whether in a large city, small town, or the countryside, you will always see flowers while traveling through Italy. Flowers add on to the beauty of Italy. Our visit to Assisi was filled with churches, shopping, and of course, flowers. Outside the majority of every house, there were flower boxes in front of the window filled with various types of greenery. From store fronts, to cafes, to housing, the city of Assisi was filled with beautiful flowers.

The store fronts and cafes were also blooming with flowers. 

 Climbing ivy was a very common sight in Assisi.

The smell of lavender filled many stores in Assisi.

-Taylor R.