Monday, June 30, 2014

“Travel far Enough, you Meet Yourself”

“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” 
- David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas 

Citrus Hybrid
The last trip we went on for Horticulture was to the Medici Villas in Florence. We got to see a lot of the citrus collection grown there which I truly enjoyed. Of those, we got to see a hybrid citrus which was a mixture between two different citrus plants. It was really neat to see this unique display of genetics at work while in Italy and see some of what I study back at A&M mix in with the horticulture I've been studying here in Italy. Even though I am not a horticulture major, I've definitely enjoyed seeing the world around me through new eyes and learning about all of the plants that surround me. This trip has been an amazing opportunity and I have not regretted a single moment. If I could, I would do it all over again. I've gained so much and I got to experience it all with amazing people and a great team of professors and staff at Santa Chiara behind us. This isn't a good bye, but a see you later Italy.

Until next time,
Erin Fore

Here is a list...

A list of the things I'll miss..
1. GELATO. Ice cream shops everywhere you go.. It's heaven to me.
2. Good pizza. Cheap pizza. Pizza at restaurants. Pizza to go. Yum.
3. Cute Instagram-worthy alleyways everywhere you look.
4. Flowers decorating patios and windows and just everything!
5. Being able to walk everywhere.
6. Streets with just countless shops down them.
7. Fountains. Drinkable and non potable.
8. Sculptures everywhere you look!
9. Pretty plazas with people scattered about. (Piazza de popolo.. Piazza de Campo) 10. COBBLESTONE! It's hard to walk on, but oh so pretty.
11. Castle walls that block off most smaller towns.
12. PRETTY VIEWS. I will miss seeing the hills outside windows and from every high point in towns.
13. Nice Italians who know how to speak English.. Or at least try to
14. The good weather we had majority of the time.
15. Three course meals. Yummmmm.
16. Fresh fruit! Or just fresh anything! As much as I miss greasy food, the freshness here is so appreciated.
17. House Wine at dinner tables.
18. As much as trains did kinda get old, I'll miss not having to drive far distances on my own. And when they were comfortable, they really did possess the prettiest of views.
19. Heck, the fact that Italy has trains is something I'll miss too.
20. Vineyards and the oh so amazing wine!
21. Fresh CHEESE!
22. Farmers markets with the freshest of fruits. (Specifically kiwis and peaches!)
23. No wifi. I know it sounds silly, but I've always hated dinner tables where everyone's on their phones. It's nice getting used to that not happening.
24. Saying ciao and grazie.
25. Italian architecture - medieval, gothic, all of it. Even the just the architecture of houses around here. So simply beautiful.
26. Cappuccinos. Good cappuccinos.
27. Having real spices in my food! (Like basil, Rosemary, etc..)
28. Culture and history at every point in every town.
29. Pasta that's not just meat/tomato/Alfredo sauce. As much as I am slightly tired of it.. I know I'll miss it.
30. CHOCOLATE SALAMI. Don't leave meee!
31. Deliciously simple bread and salami sandwiches.
32. Tomatoes that I actually really want to eat
33. The absolutely enchanting palaces, churches, and basilicas we've visited.
34. The wonderful talks of room 11.
35. Cafe Sandy and how it was basically the McDonalds of Italy.
36. Italian Iceeee!
37. The accessibility of Nutella.
38. Kindercrem everywhereeeee
39. The beautiful bodies of water that run through and touch so much of Italy.
40. Exploring towns and being forced to find my way back.. Really teaches you to pay attention to your surroundings!

41. The fresh nature that was always around us. This is hard to explain, but it was always so easy to just go for a walk and be surrounded by trees or even just walk through a garden.
42. Castiglion Fiorentino, because it was the perfect small town for us to really experience italian culture, not to mention it's medieval feel.
43. The beaches of Cinque Terre.
44. The water canals of Venice.
45. 100% Gelato man and how much he reminded me of my Dad.
46. The kindhearted people at La Posta
47. Lombardini's unexpected jokes in class
48. Dr. Wilborn's passion for music
49. The friends I've made here!
50. The experiences and memories that will last me a lifetime.

Albeit, there are definitely some things I WON'T miss (paying for water at restaurants, paying to use the bathroom, walking the STEEP hills, etc...), I would still have to say that I will miss far more things, I'm sure this list doesn't even cover it all! It will probably grow once I'm back in the states and realize just how much I had while I was here.

I seriously would never trade this memory for a lifetime and will definitely go in my book as one of the best summers of my life... Heck, one of the best birthdays I'll have too! This study abroad has done exactly what I wanted it to do.. Introduce me to a country I've always been enamored with and taught me so many things about myself and my capabilities.

Italy Summer 2014, you will be oh, so, so, missed.


Christy Adkins '15

Vatican Gardens - Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

We were lucky enough to visit the Vatican City gardens today, which Dr. Lombardini said most people aren’t able to do. Throughout all of the gardens we have visited while on this study abroad program, the Vatican gardens were my favorite. Being the Catholic capitol of the world meant that many people from all over the world had donated various flowers and trees to the gardens. Since they were from all over, they had to try to maintain their original climate, so they had several “regional” sections of the garden. The most prominent of these was the desert climate region where there was an overabundance of species of cacti. My favorite out of all the cacti was the artichoke flower which literally had an artichoke that was blooming with a purple-bristle-like flower on top. Also within that region were reed-like plants that Dr. Lombardini informed us was the papyrus plant that the Egyptians used to first make paper during the fourth millennium BCE. They had a rose garden filled with all of the colors of roses – reds, yellows, and pinks. I’ve never seen such a perfectly blooming bunch of roses that were obviously full of life and well-taken care of. My favorite trees I saw while we were there were the umbrella pine trees. I really enjoy the look of those trees for some reason and I definitely hope to have one in my front yard later in life.  Anyway, they also had a grove of olive trees that were donated that Dr. Lombardini estimated to be around 500 years old, which is definitely old for most things, but for olive trees they were somewhat young compared to other ones around the world. Dr. Lombardini also pointed out an interesting relationship within a palm tree. Resting on top of a palm tree was a live fig plant that was thriving. Some bird must have had some droppings there with a fig seed inside and the top of the palm was a suitable climate for it to begin to grow, but Dr. Lombardini told us it may live to grow some fruit but it won’t be able to live there indefinitely. The Vatican gardens also had an English garden section and several fountains throughout the grounds, one of which was directly in front of the house of the Pope. Walking through these gardens, I could definitely see why so many Popes loved to stroll through these vast, tranquil gardens daily to ponder the teachings of Jesus Christ – I know I would do the same if I was in their position. Also, there are 40 gardeners that tend all of the various sections of the gardens, which sounds like an excessive amount but it really isn’t. When you look at the size of Vatican City, over two-thirds of the land is dedicated to these gardens, so overall these gardens are absolutely massive. Now that our trip is nearing its end, the Vatican gardens are the one place I would love to go back to that was a natural environment instead of a building. I wish I could go for an entire day and just stroll ever so slowly throughout the landscape and take everything in and be at complete peace.
Stay classy Castiglion,
Quinten Plumer

Boboli Gardens - Medici Style

My next personal favorite gardens we’ve visited are the Boboli gardens. These gardens are located within a Medici family estate on the “new” side of Florence. This estate used to be isolated by being on the other side of Florence but over the centuries Florence grew and engulfed the estate. So this is why there is a gigantic right smack in the middle of Florence, not just because someone decided to do that recently and had the money to do so. When you walk into the gardens there are several focal points that were mainly large fountains. There was a famous grotto within the gardens that had stalactites to give it that authentic cave-like feel. A normal occurrence for Medici estates is to have citrus fruit lining the walkways throughout the gardens. There wasn’t any citrus lining the walkways, but they did have a large nursery area for their citrus that was mainly lemons and a few orange plants that I saw. There were a large variety of different species of lemons and only a couple of different species of oranges. After stopping here for a little while, we began to tour the English part of the gardens that used to be a maze in the original gardens. In this section housed the largest fountain of the estate and it was quite beautiful and tranquil. I believe it was used as a quiet place to think and meditate originally because the walkway to the center of the fountain was barricaded by a gate. There was a small “river” fountain we stumbled upon later and Dr. Lombardini informed us these were extremely popular when the estate was built because they would draw birds to the fountain and would then scare them into a net they couldn’t see behind the fountain. So they basically had an easy way to hunt game on their estate. Also, on the estate was a small vineyard. Dr. Lombardini told us these were probably the grape varieties that were originally grown here or at least a variety close to those.
Stay classy Castiglion,
Quinten Plumer

Italy, You've Been So Good To Me

Well here we are. It is the last week of our study abroad and I have to say, it's be the best experience of my life. On the first day of horticulture, we had to say what our best trip has been and I had no idea at the time, so my answer was that it was going to be this study abroad. Boy, was I right. I've learned so much about the culture, the people, the TRAINS and just the overall lifestyle these past five weeks. I would not have traded this study abroad for any other. The horticulture and landscaping in this country is amazing. Everything just grows so well here. Everywhere I go, it all looks so luscious and well kept. In our video, one of the questions that was asked was why you chose Italy and all I could think about was the language and FOOD. Italian sounds so beautiful compared to other languages. At first I thought it sounded similar to Spanish but now that I've spent time here, I can definitely tell the difference. Now, the food is just always delicious. I have consumed quite the variety of cheeses, pastas and PIZZA. But Italy is more than just those two things. The history and artwork behind every building and statue dates back so far and there is so much to say about everything. I can't help but appreciate each tour guide for helping us all become aware of the many historical figures through the time periods. I've been taking notes throughout each field trip to help me keep track of the inspirational people and facts about each town. And I have noticed that from famous painters to the popes, everyone was so influential in Italy. This trip has also made me want to travel so much more. I'm looking forward to coming back in a year and experiencing it all over again with more knowledge about this country. Ciao for now, Italy! KLM

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Ciao Italia

     SH: My time in Italy is quickly coming to an end much too quickly. I cannot believe how fast it has flown by and that we only have a few days left. This week has been a whirlwind of traveling with two trips to Florence, a trip to Assisi and a weekend trip tomorrow to Verona and Venice to see the opera Aida for music class. I have loved being able to travel and see all the different sites even though I go to bed exhausted everyday. Sleep is for the States right?  
     During our first trip to Florence this week we went to the Academia Museum which is home to the famous statue David, by Michelangelo. It was quite spectacular to see this work of art up close and personal and be amazed by the sheer size. For some reason I was under the impression that it was much smaller but boy was I wrong. We also saw some old instruments that were the ancestors of many modern day instruments.
St. Francis Basilica

Temple of Minerva
           On Thursday we made our way to Assisi which was a beautiful little town with a lot of personality. We had the opportunity to tour the Basilica of St. Francis which was actually a church on top of another church. The Pope did not think one church would do St. Francis justice so he had some of the best architects and painters build and decorate the Basilica in record time to honor him. We then made our way towards Santa Chiara but on the way we passed a very old building, the Temple of Minerva. This temple was built in the first century B.C. and has not had any restorations or renovations to the outside. The 6 columns still stand tall and intact and it is mind-blowing to see how at one point in time, people made things that were meant to last for a long, long time. We then continued our walk to Santa Chiara which was another lovely church dedicated to St. Clare. After a delicious lunch we had some time to walk around and explore. I unfortunately bought something that I thought was chocolate salami but was mistaken. It was still good, but it was not the same as the craze causing chocolate salami of the Santa Chiara study center.
Medici Villas
     On our second trip to Florence today we were able to visit two of the Medici Villas that are towards the outskirts of town. At the first villa we were able to go into an area that is usually closed to the public. It was a garden enclosed in a wall, otherwise known as hortus conclusus. This specific part of the garden was once used to grow the most important species for the prince including a variety of jasmine. In fact, there was a whole building constructed just to keep the jasmine alive during unfavorable weather conditions. This area of the garden is no longer considered a principal part of the garden. The garden was designed in a Renaissance style and had a main axis of symmetry down the middle. This garden was home to 500 pots of citrus fruits and 100 different varieties. In the second villa, the garden was dedicated to flowers and there will be something blooming at all times of the year. In certain areas there was some French influence to the garden because the whole thing was redesigned when the villa became the summer palace to the king of Italy. We were able to tour the inside of the second villa and there were some beautiful frescos as well as glass inlaid tables. It was quite a treat to be able to see where the wealthiest family of Italy at one time lived and entertained.
     There are so many things that I will miss about Italy when I go home but I am so thankful that I was blessed with such an amazing opportunity to make great friends and explore a new country.

Hiking Through Hillside Towns is Oh-So-Wonderful

Alexis M.: Last weekend we traveled to the beautiful Italian Riviera! Cinque Terre is a series of five towns along the coastline of northwestern Italia; their names are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. The apartments we ended up renting were actually in a town called Levanto, just north of Monterosso. Even though we did not stay in one of the five towns, we were just a short train ride away from all of them. 
Our first day was just spent hanging out on the beach in Levanto and grabbing dinner right there with an ocean view. The beach was so pretty, with emerald-colored umbrellas and chairs lining it and also the bright buildings in the distance.

We had an early start the next day. Around 8:45 in the morning we boarded the train to head to the tiny, sleepy town of Corniglia. We ate breakfast there and then embarked on our hike to the next town – Vernazza. The hike was about an hour and a half and the views were absolutely spectacular. 

A-A-A WHOOP! Left to Right: Moe, Macy, Me, Aly, Meredith, Abby, Jennifer, Julia, Quinten, and Emily
Vernazza Beach

The view from our hike overlooking Vernazza

After hanging out there for a bit, exploring the rocky beach and buying some gelato, we decided to leave for Monterosso. That part of the hike was without a doubt very difficult – extremely steep inclines and many loose rocks. But we eventually made it! The view we were met with made it all worth it. 

Approaching Monterosso

When we descended into the town, some of us walked to a shop that sells frozen lemonade, plus limoncello and even orangecello. Later on we all went to the beach, where I accidentally bumped into a sea urchin while climbing up on some rocks in the water! It stung and hurt really badly, but one of the lifeguards told me I would be fine (in other words, it happens often). I ended up just buying some ointment for it and it was fine after that, thankfully!

To conclude, we had a great time at Cinque Terre! Hiking was definitely the best part, I thought! I hope I will get to go back one day. Ciao for now!

Last Days in Italy

Sarah, Erin, and I at the leather market
Violin at the Academia
As our last full week here is closing out, we were able to go to awesome places this past week. On Tuesday, we all took a trip to Florence to the Academia. Before we went to the Academia, we went to the Mercato Centrale which is an indoor meat market which recently had its upstairs section renovated. We ate lunch/breakfast at their food stands. We then headed to the Academia where we were able to see some old instruments. These included violas, violins, the serpent, a guitar, and clarinets. We also viewed paintings and sculptures. They had some sculptures there that artists can use as an example for proportions of the human body. While there, we saw the main attraction which is Michelangelo's David sculpture. It was much bigger than I expected it to be. We learned that this piece was actually non-proportional to his body. David's hands and head were too big for his body. There also was a huge crack in his back. After the Academia, we had free time to shop around the leather market. One thing to always remember in the leather market is that you can usually get a lower price for something you would like if you can bargain with the vendor.

Saint Francis Basilica
Assisi Cafe
On Thursday, we all got on a bus and went to the small town of Assisi. It had a lovely view as it was near the top of a hill. We first visited the Saint Francis Basilica. It was a Gothic structure that had undergone some renovations but still had most of the original structure still intact. We then headed to the town's main square and the Santa Chiara Basilica. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed in the Assisi churches. After the churches, we had lunch and shopped around for a while.

Hercules fountain at Villa di Castello
Friday morning, we took a train to Florence to visit more of the Medici Villas. We took a bus from the train station to Villa di Castello. It is an Italian Renaissance garden which means it has symmetry and levels to it. We visited the enclosed garden which houses the real Jasmine plant. In the center of the open garden is a fountain the has a statue of Hercules squeezing Antaeus so hard that water is coming out of his mouth. We then walked about fifteen minutes to the Villa la Petraia. That garden is also an Italian Renaissance garden. we took a tour of the villa which had a beautiful opening ballroom when you walk in. It contained many frescoes and elaborate furnishings. After the villas, we took a bus back into the main area of town to enjoy our last few hours in Florence.

This coming weekend, we are going to Verona to watch the opera Aida. Afterwards, some of us are going to Venice to celebrate our last weekend of the trip. This journey has gone by so fast, but I have enjoyed seeing all the new places and getting to know all of the people on this trip. I hope we are able to continue our friendships and keep our memories forever. Thank you to everyone who has helped make this excursion unforgettable! Signing off for the last time.

Bethany Kennedy

Friday, June 27, 2014

Medici Villas - Last day in Florence

NM: Today, June 27th, our class visited two different Medici Villas in Florence. Today marks the last day I’ll spend in Florence for a long time, but I know I’ll be back someday. The Medici Villas both contained characteristics of Italian Renaissance gardens, having symmetry, citrus fruits, and a terraced (containing levels) approach to the garden itself. Both of the Medici Villas that we visited today, as with almost all of the Medici Villas, were built on preexisting military structures so that the Medici’s themselves wouldn’t have to spend time fortifying their residences. The first Medici Villa is know known as the Bran Academy, although it does not any longer pertain to horticulture purposes (Bran is the material around the seed of a plant that must be removed for the plant to grow). The Bran Academy studies language and perceptions of language, and the hold that for language to be understood correctly you have to remove the unwanted things like slang, holding true to the notion of the world Bran. The first Medici Villa was also home to the “Real Jasmine” as opposed to the Jasmine that is grown in Texas. The above picture is of the wormwood plant, which is used to make absinthe, a hallucinogenic alcoholic drink. This blog is actually bittersweet, for it will be my last post of our amazing trip. I’d love to publicly thank Dr. Lombardini and Dr. Wilborn for this life changing experience.

Castiglion Fiorentino

AH: Now that we are closing in on our trip we have seen many diverse towns and I have enjoyed them all. Most of them all for different reasons. My favorite town of all surprisingly was the Castiglion Fiorentino. I loved the quaint feel of home and the back porch view. So much horticulture out there growing. I was able to do some wandering on my own during our free time. Some others and I were able to find a back road to a church that we would often work out on. On this road we encountered many different things. The locals would zoom by of vespas, the snakes would slither by and the dogs would even try to run with us from time to time. During this run we would first pass by the vineyards, that we now understand a little bit better after attending our first agriturismo. The further we traveled the smaller our path would get and the more only nature would be surrounding us. We passed many native cypress trees, cacti and flowers. The farther we ran the smaller Castiglion Fiorentino got in the distance. It was a beautiful site that truly made me appreciate the little things, including the horticulture that I was embraced in.

Wine-Tasting Round II

On a toasty afternoon in Montepulciano, our group experienced our second wine-tasting event.  Our guide, a delightful British woman, took us through wine cellars where we saw giant barrels of wine, some valued at 35,000 euro.  The cellars were cold and damp and obviously ancient, also very dungeon-esque.  The staircases on which we descended were also featured in the New Moon movie, an obvious point of excitement. 

We then went to a large dining room with place settings set with four wine glasses.  Two glasses were of the same size, one was a bit larger, and one was very small.  We snacked on bread, cheese, and cuts of ham while our host explained the different types of wine we would be sampling.  He poured us three different red wines, showed us how to look at the wine’s color through the glass, how we should savor the wine in our mouths before swallowing, and what cheeses went best with which wines. 

The oldest wine was my favorite.  It had been aged since 2007 and was served in the largest wine glass to increase the surface area.  We ended with a dessert wine and pieces of delicious chocolate. 

The sentiment often expressed these days among us students is a new-found appreciation for wine.  Many of us barely tolerated it before this trip, but we are glad to now appreciate the various tastes and types and are starting to develop our own preferences.

-Macy Hicks

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Gardens Near and Far: Comparing and Contrasting the Gardens of Tuscany and the Texas Gulf Coast.

"No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden." ~Hugh Johnson

I thought I knew everything there was to know about gardens until my eyes were opened up to a new world of possibilities in Italy. I was shocked at the variety of plants and herbs the first time I stepped foot in a Tuscan garden!

After touring through the local gardens of Castiglion Fiorentino, I observed that vegetable gardens in a typical Tuscan town are much more diverse in contrast with those of Texas. The primary reason for this difference is that the Italian climate is more temperate and ideal for a wider variety of crops. Texas soils (especially in College Station) are not the best, though they vary by region (because Texas is huge!). Additionally, Texas experiences extremes throughout the seasons. Summers are miserably hot and dry while there are unpredictable freezes or ice storms in the winter. 

Cherries from a tree in Italy

My home garden is in Richmond, Texas, located southwest of Houston near the Gulf Coast. My mother, a Texas Master Gardener, typically grows a spring/summer vegetable garden and sometimes a fall garden. On the Gulf Coast of Texas, the most common crops for a spring/summer vegetable garden include tomatoes, potatoes, cucumber, okra, green beans, various melons and peppers. Tomatoes, leaf lettuces, carrots, and onions are successful crops in a Texas Gulf Coast autumn garden. Almost all fruit trees can grow in Texas, including pear, peach, plum, and apple. However, on the Gulf Coast there are not many chill hours (hours below a certain degree when a plant stores up it's energy in order to produce a fruit), so only certain varieties are successful in Texas.

Typical residential garden in Italy

Tomatoes in my garden in Texas

In Texas, the size of a vegetable garden depends on the size of the lot and the amount of time the owner has. Ten by twelve feet is about average for a residential garden. Planting in raised beds, also called square foot gardening, can range from a four by four bed to larger. Raised beds allow the gardener to bring in soils and compost, rather than planting in the existing soil. This is done in areas of Texas where the soil contains too much clay. 

Artichokes bloom in Italy

In Tuscany, residential vegetable gardens are much larger and commonly include a large variety of crops such as tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, eggplants, cabbage, zucchini, artichokes, fennel, mushrooms, celery, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and lettuce. Fruits include berries, citrus fruits such as oranges, blood oranges, citrons and lemons, figs, pears, cherries, apples, and plums. Beans are also very popular, especially in Tuscany. Common legumes include chickpeas, green beans, and lentils.

Potatoes grow in feed sacks in my Texas garden
Peach tree in my yard in Texas

Attitudes among Texas gardeners regarding fertilizers have changed dramatically in the last several years. Compost, a natural option, is brought in to increase soil fertility. Local Texas stores such as Home Depot and Lowes now carry compost as many gardeners are becoming more informed about the fertilizers and soils that they use. I have gathered from my tours that the same is true of Italy. There is a progressive movement towards all-natural agriculture here. One farm that we visited went above and beyond the organic standards to ensure production of high quality produce, completely free of harmful chemicals and fertilizers. One practice, for example, is to leave weeds and bugs undisrupted in the vineyard. These types of organisms exist in nature for a reason and it is unnecessary to eliminate them with chemicals.

Example of progressive agricultural practices in Italy

Vineyards, both large and small, characterize the Italian countryside. It is not uncommon for homeowners in Italy to grow grapes in their home gardens. While wine is part of the lifestyle in Italy, we also enjoy wine in Texas! Grapes can also grow in Texas, and vineyards are rare but do exist.

Tomatoes in my garden in Texas

My time in class and spent touring through Italian gardens has changed my perspective on gardens throughout the globe. While I now realize that significant differences exist between Texan and Italian gardens, there are also fundamental similarities between the two. As the saying goes, some say tomāto, some say tomăto, Italians say pomodoro! (Too cheesy?)

Until next time, Ciao from Italia!