Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dolomites feel just so right:Italy Blog Number Five


Here is a fun fact; time has evolved through the age of flying and has entered the age of teleportation. I can’t believe that the final days of our five-week excursion have dawned upon us. Even through we have premeditated anxiety and sadness concerning the conclusion of our trip, we still managed to ensure a very happy ending to our story. The storybook ending was found in the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my entire twenty-one years of life. My love for traveling was forever captured in the Dolomiti mountain range; in the small city of Canazei, Italy.

Our journey to Canazei was a thrilling experience from the get-go. We climbed aboard a charter bus that felt like it was actually a competitive speed racing bus, which somehow slithered us through meandering roads, as skillfully as any taxi driver in Italy could do. As we climbed higher and higher into the mountains, the elevation began to become evident. The feeling of my ears popping is something that I thought I
would only get to experience while in a Trenitalia coach (those tunnels will get you). As we continued our ascend into the Dolomiti, I began to notice how obvious the dominance of spruces and firs was becoming. The tree-line brilliantly acts as a living barrier separating the abundance of life from the frozen grey and white mountain tops. The Dolomiti left me with some of the most memorable and remarkable panorama views of my life. The snowcaps atop the mountains rewrote the meaning of enchanting for me, which was formally defined as cookies and cream gelato from Gelateria dei Neri in Florence. I would have to say that this was the perfect way to top off our study abroad. A month before the trip I had no idea that I would be coming along on this journey and I have a very special man to thank for the endless amount of good that he has done for me. Dr. Lombardini has been a true leader, mentor, professor, boss, and friend to me. He has lead me (figuratively and literally) toward paths in horticulture that I would have never imagined to see. The invite to join the program as a late entry is just a small instance of how he continues to embody what a truly great man and professional is. The innate ability to make your students happy day in and day out is a skill that separates the good professors from the great; and there is no question that he is great. Thank you so much Dr. Lombardini I owe this all to you. I will always remember how much you have done for me in such a short amount of time. The time spent here has allowed me to have a new and lively perspective on how international horticulture has impacted the history of human civilization. This Study Abroad has been a gift that will allow me to deepen my love and passions for horticulture, for traveling, and for becoming a better man.

Medici Garden in Florence and Final post!

IH- On Friday, June 27th our class went to go see the Medici villa gardens in Florence where we saw yet another rendition of what type of plants the Medici family produced back in the day. We had a wonderful guide as seen above who told us all about the garden including the different sections all the way to how the estate was laid out on the lopsided hill. He explained how the fountains used the pressure of gravity to force water up and down the pipes as well as showing us all the different production of the variety of citrus trees in the garden. You can see a citron fruit above that our professor is holding alongside our guide. Citron was surprisingly huge if you couldn’t tell by looking at the hand/fruit comparison. This symmetrical garden was full of this fruit as well as many other plants that I can’t remember right now. I do remember though some plants were sectioned off from others as a smaller garden that included jasmine, woodworm, and lavender. We were very lucky to see that part of the garden because that section is closed to the public but we got special access! The Medici garden was also symmetrical and very beautiful. It appeared to take the form of the number 8 or infinity sign which was really cool to see as well as the paintings of all the Medici gardens inside the house. After touring all throughout Italy, I feel very glad and truly blessed to visit all these ornate gardens that I probably would have never gone too if I wasn’t on this study abroad program. I want to thank my professors and all the staff at the Santa Chiara Center for making my stay at Castiglion Fiorentino one of the best experiences of my life. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre was by far one of the most exciting trips I have ever been on.  We took a long hike along three of the five towns and saw some amazing views! We got to explore around and go at our own pace while we took in the true beauty of it all. I thought that I was getting a good leg work out on all of the hills in Castiglion Fiorentino and then I hiked in Cinque Terre and experienced a whole other kind of sore!  Although my legs were burning the day after it was totally worth the effort. While on our hike we saw many beautiful wild plants and greenery. There was a lot of green with splashes of color everywhere and it was absolutely gorgeous! I got to take some great pictures of the scenery with my camera and the pictures cannot even come close to what I saw with my own eyes. I believe that to truly capture the beauty of it all one most go see it themselves because although it may seem cool on Pinterest it is not nearly as amazing as it is in real life. I cannot believe this trip is almost over because I do not want it to come to an end! MMH

Wrapping up

And now, five weeks and 3 days from the day I stepped foot on Italian soil, I’m here doing my last load of laundry. It is rather sad to say that today and tomorrow will be the last of my time spent here in the wonderful Castiglion Fiorentino. I remember applying for this study abroad program as well as the acceptance email and I never thought I’d consider this place home to me; but here I am, thinking of how sad I’ll be to leave Santa Chiara.

Now that the sad stuff has been said, I wanted my last blog post to be about my amazing weekend I just came back from. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to end my study abroad program than to be in the Dolomite Mountains. Italy has continued to amaze me from the day that I got here until I am getting ready to leave. Just the other week, I was on the beaches and hiking some trails overlooking the ocean in Cinque Terre. Sitting out in the hot sun, enjoying the waves and sand. Then I got to end my time here in Italy 6,000 feet above sea level while we hiked the snowcapped mountains in the Dolomites. It was awesome to be in two completely different terrains; hot and sunny with the beach as my playground, the flowers very tropical to go along with some great seafood followed by putting on as many layers as I could to keep warm with the snow around. It wasn’t that unbearable but there were some times where we thought of turning back because our fingers were going a bit numb. I suppose we also weren’t rightfully dressed for the weather after we got our fair share of looks from the locals thinking, “These kids are a bit crazy.” I just embraced being THAT American one more time. I had never been in an environment like that of the Dolomites before and I just could not get enough of the moss covered rocks and trees, pines all over the ground, or how we literally walked through a cloud on our hike up one of the mountains on the first day.

The second day completely blew the first day out of the water with the amazing views and the snow (I have never really been around any sort of snow coming from south Texas). My buddy Nick and I took a ski lift up to the top of one of the mountains early in the morning. Since it was still rather early and the sun wasn’t out yet, the snow was still very present in some areas. As the day continued it started to melt away but not before I could make a small snowman. I named him Mr. Dolomities. Other than experiencing completely different horticulture that we had seen in Italy so far, we got to experience a different culture as well. I sparked up a conversation with this lady on the bus ride there and she explained to me that most of the people there were Italian by nationality but German by culture. The residents spoke both languages but the towns we were in all had a German feel to them with the building structures. So not only did we see another part of Italy that was different from the rest, we got to see ‘Little Germany’ as well. Again, Italy always had something up its sleeve that kept us amazed. This entire summer has just kept me wanting to come back for more one day and I am so excited to have the opportunity to make it back here to see more. I love Italia!

Until next time, Ciao! Peace, Love, & Moe. Go USA!

The Italian Experience: Volume 5

Double Pomegranate

    Strolling up to the Medici Palace, the tree lined pathway beckons for attention, quietly sighing as yet another pedestrian has ignored the dilapidated walk. The cracks in the sidewalk are filled with grass, easing the strain from the concrete jungle that the city has become. The gates of the palace would be considered huge in the eyes of giants, as they set the scene for the proportion of the entire garden. A large double flowered sterile pomegranate tree greets you to the start of the Medici gardens, with tons of bright red-orange blossoms that add a touch of zest to your day. We walked up the garden (a component of Italian gardens is having terraces) to see a hortus conclusus, which is a type of garden that is enclosed. This particular garden was shut off from the rest of the main garden because back when specimen plants were brought over from the Americas, this protected them from unfavorable weather conditions and separated them from the less valuable crops. Some of the plants that were in the garden were citrus and other viny crops including true jasmine (not Asian jasmine which is used in the US). There was a small pool of water in front of a statue that contained water lilies that popped up from the water as if trying to pull you in. I wouldn’t have minded being drug into a cool fountain on a hot afternoon.
Water lilies at the Medici Gardens
          After seeing the front part of the garden, we ventured to the back part, which mostly contained the citrus plants. The citrus is grown in clay pots that were made to be moved inside because they cannot handle the cold weather that the winter months exude. The largest tree was a pommelo, standing at a whopping two tons. We came across a strange alien looking fruit that I had seen before, a buddha’s hand. This fruit’s name will make sense once you see it. The fingers of the citrus thwart and curl like a witch’s left pinky toe. Although crazy looking, this fruit has no edible value because it is made up of mostly skin and pith.
Streets of Venice

                  This past weekend I traveled to Venice. Getting lost in this city is something akin to a past time. You think you are trying to get to St. Mark’s Basilica, when in fact you are wandering around the island, not being close to remotely anything that looks familiar. The streets get lost in themselves, creating a maze of paths that traps your heart in the city and won’t ever give it back. A wrong turn down an alleyway brings you to a street made of water; the canals are the main mode of transport around the island because cars and bicycles are not allowed. Overall, a beautiful last trip to go on.

Live jazz at Santa Chiara
            Tonight is one of our last evenings here in Castiglion Fiorentino, and even Italy. As surreal as it seems, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the first half of my summer. I heard about this trip when I came to A&M my freshman summer for orientation. As I type these words, live jazz in the courtyard of Santa Chiara, my home for the past five weeks, sings my sorrows away and gives me a renewed look of the time I have been here in Italy. This program would not be the same without the friends I have made on the trip. Our faculty also gave us the confidence to power through difficult situations that we encountered. Without them we would be but mere mundane entities strolling through a forest of sticks shoved into the ground looking for any semblance of hope for the unknown. Without this trip, I would be stuck in a vacuum, trying to escape; yet there is no physical way to. I will miss every single waking hour I have spent here, but I know that my future is a pen awaiting the author to pick it up and write.

Ciao for awhile,

            Keith Tamborello

P.S. If you are reading this and have at all been inspired to travel to Italy, please do. This has been the best experience of my life and I would recommend it to any and every person. It makes me sad that we are leaving, but joyful in the hope for our future.

Castig Palio Race

JR: Last Sunday I was able to make it home in time for the Castiglion Fiorentino Palio. I don't think I've ever seen the town so crowded! There were people everywhere lining the roads getting excited for their neighborhood to win! Most people were dressed in their neighborhoods colors or had the neighborhood flag tied around their necks. Lots of areas were blocked off to get into the center where the Palio was held so I had to walk around the whole town to the other side. I finally found the ticket booth and of course was so confused on which ticket to buy and where to sit. A very nice Italian lady who is a resident of Castiglion came up to us because she knew we were Americans, not surprising! She spoke English and helped us buy our tickets, she also said we could follow her into the arena to stand with her and her husband. I was so glad we ran into her because she started showing us the ropes immediately and guided us to a great spot to stand and watch the Palio right in front of the starting line. The horses and riders came out and made a lap around the arena while the announcer recited all of their names. The announcer told everyone to be patient because the event was about to start and not until later did I realize why he said that. There are 2 horses plus riders for each neighborhood, and before they can race they all have to line up in front of a big rope in a certain order. The order was drawn randomly by the announcer earlier that evening. I wouldn't have known any of this if it weren't for the Italian lady that translated to me everything that was being said! I was surprised at how hard it was for the jockeys to line the horses up but the horses didn't seem too tame and they also have to ride bareback! I think there were about 12 or more false starts because if it looked like they were lined up a man would shoot off a gunshot, and the jockeys would think the race started but there was always a mistake in the order so they would have to come back and start all over which isn't a fast process. At first I thought it was all really neat and interesting but by the end, along with the rest of the crowd, I was getting frustrated and just wanted the race to start! Residents of Castiglion were getting very upset with the announcer also because they blame it on him if the outcome isn't what they want since he's in charge of if the race is the real thing or just another false start. The Italian woman next to me said that when the race is finally happening the announcer gets down off the podium immediately and runs off with police escorts because usually people will actually come after him! About an hour after the Palio was supposed to start there was finally no more false starts and the real race began! The funny part is that the actual race is only about 2 minutes because the riders only ride around the arena 3 times and then it's over. The Cassero neighborhood won (blue and white) and everyone from there went crazy!! They were awarded the Palio (banner) and paraded around town singing and shouting. It was such a cool experience, and I'm so happy I stuck it out long enough to actually see the race!

Things I'll Miss About Italy #2937493875: An Abundance of Flowers

We leave Italy in just two short days.  Recently I’ve been making a list of all of the things I will be sure to miss about this wonderful country, and an item near the top is the abundance of flowers.  Flowers are seemingly everywhere here, and because walking is our most frequent mode of transportation, we often get to stop and enjoy the scents.  Here are a few of my favorites and statements of whether or not I might encounter them back home...

True jasmine: Lately the scent of jasmine as been abundant in the area near the Castiglion Fiorentino train station.  The aroma is strong and spell-binding, and it has became a thing of comfort for me, a sign of nearness to home here in Italy.  True jasmine doesn't grow in Texas, but other varieties do.

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Calla lilies: Graceful, tasteful, and startlingly white, these beautiful flowers are also a frequent sight here in Italy.  They can grow in Texas, so I might also see them there.

 [picture source:]

Magnolias: Magnolia trees and their flowers are one of my absolute favorites.  When not encumbered by small spaces, these trees can reach enormous sizes.  Their glossy leaves are breathtaking and contrast their striking white blossoms.  They are native to the southeastern U.S., so I will continue to see many of these at home.

Antique roses: Unfortunately, most of the experiences I have with flowers at home are the random findings around campus and the floral section of HEB, so whenever I see roses, they are your typical, average medium-sized variety.  Here in Italy, the majority of the roses I've seen (they're so abundant!) have been of the antique variety.  These also grow in Texas.

-Macy Hicks

Hiking Through Cinque Terre

JR: One of my favorite trips while studying abroad so far has been visiting the towns of Cinque Terre.  On Saturday morning a group of us planned to hike the trails through a couple of the towns.  We left from Levanto and took a quick train to Corniglia which was three towns over.  We started our hike in the beautiful little town of Corniglia after getting breakfast in a local cafĂ© where I was able to order actual eggs and bacon!  My morning was off to a great start and the day only got better due to the amazing views I was surrounded by.  The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza was absolutely breathtaking with views of the sparkling sea on the left and wooded hilly areas on the right.  I saw many different wild species of plants, gorgeous wild flowers, and even cacti!  When we made it to Vernazza we hiked down to the rocky beach and watched the waves crash into the cliffs just taking in how pretty everything was.  The hike from Vernazza to Monterosso was a little more of a trek, but definitely still worth it! The trail was up and down constantly, crossing little creaks, and winding all around the mountains.  Monterosso was the perfect place to end a gorgeous hike where we all laid out on the beach and enjoyed the rest of the day together.