Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Italian Experience: Volume 3

Rome is a place full of amazement and antiquity, yet is so full of life it is almost busting at the seams. The city is expansive, prominently declaring itself the center of Italy. As a group, we spent last week in Rome, touring some of the most famous places such as the Colosseum, the Roman forum, Vatican City, Trevi fountain, the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Capital, the Spanish steps, and the Pantheon, as well as some other sights. Needless to say, I think Rome has been my favorite trip so far. The juxtaposition of ancient and modern is such a common occurrence that it isn't even thought of. Strolling through the Campo di Fiori by day, you see stand upon stand of fresh fruit, vegetables, pasta, and souvenirs. By night, the square turns into a strand of restaurants enticing your taste buds to stop in and have a seat. The music being played by several instrumentalists carries your heart away and won’t give it back until the sweet sound of jazz fades away as the musicians find another ear to entertain. 

Ceiling in the Vatican

        Vatican City proved to be a home run; what country inside another country wouldn't be? We took a tour of the gardens first, because a heat wave had just embalmed the area with Texas sized temperatures. The flora within the garden was stunning. There was an immense amount of plants, as there should be, but what impressed me the most would have to be a driveway down a hill. It was covered in succulents and cacti species that was beyond beautiful. Sometimes the meanest looking plants can produce the most beautiful flowers. We spent the rest of the afternoon touring the Vatican museum, walking through rooms that could only be in the Vatican. The Sistine Chapel was on our way out of the museum. The most famous Michelangelo painting ever created was here, the Creation of Adam. Do not be persuaded by the blown up pictures circulation the internet; this painting is microscopic in comparison to those. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel has many paintings on it, and this just so happens to be one of them. My expectations were different coming in, but it was still breathtaking. St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the entire world, so upon stepping foot in the door, my breath was immediately taken away by the immense and vast space that was the church. Every intricate detail was ornately arranged and manicured to the point where you weren’t sure how on they managed to build it all.

Monument for the Jews taken to concentration camps during WWII
          Walking through side streets one day, trying to find our way to the island in the Tiber River, we stumbled upon the Roman ghetto. At first I was confused, because you never really hear about Rome or even Italians being Jewish. But sure enough, veiled from the rest of the city was a haven for Roman Jews. There was a placard on a building right in front of the Synagogue which stated that two thousand Jews were gathered in the plaza I was standing in on October 16th, 1943, and were shipped off to a concentration camp, where none of them returned. A haunting and humbling chill ran down my spine as I read the words, imagining the fear these people had lived in.

At the botanical gardens in Rome

        Our last day in Rome a small group of us went to a botanical garden with Dr. Lombardini, our horticulture professor. He somehow managed to sweet talk the lady at the ticket office into letting us in at half price. The gardens were spectacular, as we got to see many plant species that I have learned about in class, but have never seen outside of a slide show. There was a greenhouse dedicated to an entire cacti collection, as well as a xeric area, full of agaves, yuccas, cacti, and other plants that are very heat and drought tolerant. There were very many palm trees here too, as well as a rose garden, an Asian garden, and a bamboo forest: a definite must-see if you come to Rome and have time.

The Aggies take on the Mediterranean
      The weekend was free for us as we really weren’t given time to rest during the week. All twenty seven of us went to Sorrento. The city was beautiful, gracefully merging with the next town at every edge, creating a string effect between each village on the coast. Our first afternoon there, a few of us went to the beach, which was not very beach-esque. The coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea is a sharp cliff, with minimal sandy beaches, where the sand itself is black from the degradation of volcanic rock that makes up the cliff.  The Mediterranean was so beautiful, yet so salty at the same time. The summertime sun hadn’t quite heated the water up enough to swim comfortably, but it wasn’t comparable to the arctic waters either. The next day we took a boat trip around the island of Capri, a small establishment in the sea. Although the waters were incredibly choppy, I loved all the views of the island. Our boat stopped closer to the main land, and we were able to jump into the sea and swim around for a bit.

Field of flowers in Pompeii
           On Monday, a small group of us went to Pompeii on our way back to Castiglion Fiorentino. Despite having to deal with a strike the workers of the archeological site were doing, we made our way in to see the city that was buried alive. Everything was so well preserved that it makes you step back and think how much things have changed from that point in time. We wandered around the city for a while, and then were abruptly forced out to find shelter from the furious storm and impending doom that it brought with it. The scene was reminiscent of when Mount Vesuvius erupted so long ago. With that, I leave you with week three of our trip in Italy.

                      Ciao and love,

                                         Keith Tamborello


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