Tuscany 2010 Reunion! Saturday, Sep 18 2010 

2010 Program: Our final day … great friends and great memories! Friday, Sep 17 2010 

Our final day of Tuscany: A Creative Journey began with a bus ride up to the Galleria Borghese, one of the finest private collections of art in Rome. The palazzo itself is a work of art —- frescoed ceilings, beautiful fabrics and, of course, Bernini!

While the paintings and other works at Galleria Borghese are incredible, this is the place you come to fall in love with the genius of Bernini. His sculptures, which include Aeneas and Anchises, Pluto and Prosepina, David, and Apollo and Daphne provide the term “Baroque” with its true definition. A room full of works by Caravaggio was also a big hit with everyone.

We then hiked down the hill to the Cappucin church that contains the bones of the monks who had been buried there in previous centuries, exhumed and used as decorative elements in the cemetery. While not for the faint of heart, it was an amazing experience to view the patterns made on the walls by vertebrae, femurs, scapula and other skeletal parts. “I was once as you are, you will be as I am now” is the take-away message for the living…

We agreed to meet at the largest apartment where 8 of the women are staying for a reception to share our sketchbooks and enjoy some appetizers before heading out for dinner. Everyone was dressed beautifully and we shared our thoughts and appreciation for each other for making this such a wonderful four weeks. A surprise birthday cake for Kendra who turns 20 tomorrow!

Off to dinner at a restaurant whose name translates to something like “Tripe is not for Cats” — a neighborhood place run by an elderly woman named Giselle. Though we had a few bumps in the road based on a miscommunication over the menu on which we settled earlier in the day when we made the reservations, we had what was inarguably the best meal we’ve had in Rome. Fantastic primi, secondi and contorni followed by tiramisu. It was a wonderful culminating group dinner together. Each student was given a certificate of completion, a group photo taken at Scarperia, and a miniature Romulus and Remus with the She-wolf, symbol of Roma.

There were some teary moments, but as a few of the students had ridiculously early flights tomorrow morning, we savored our last moments together and gave hugs all around.

Ciao, tutti. Tuscany, out!

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Subiaco and Frascati — a day trip with the design group Thursday, Sep 16 2010 

Today we joined another Exploration Seminar group, the design program led by Chris Ozubko, and boarded a charter bus for Subiaco, a two-hour journey from Rome. It was an early start, so many of the students took the opportunity to nap along the way.

Subiaco is an important site because it is where Saint Benedict went into seclusion to pray, meditate and reflect and then found the first monastery in the 6th century. We were guided through the site by Sara, a knowledgeable young woman who provided us with a great tour of both monasteries (Santo Benedetto and the second which is dedicated to Santa Scholastica). We learned a great deal about the history of the sites. We also were able to visit both churches and the library.

We were served a lovely (and much-welcomed lunch) at the Foresteria. Then, back on the bus and off to visit Frascati on our way back. Frascati (the name may sound familiar because it is a type of sparkling white wine) is a sweet little town with a beautiful view back towards Rome and a major Renaissance garden.

Back to Silvio’s for dinner —- everyone was hungry after a long day on the road. Tomorrow is the final day of the program and we are beginning to fully realize how much we have seen and experienced together.

The Vatican Museum and Ancient Rome Wednesday, Sep 15 2010 

Our timed entrance to the Vatican Museum was for 10:15 a.m., so we met at our gathering place (the fluted column in Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore) at 9:00 to walk to the termini and take the bus back to Saint Peter’s.  A very crowded bus, very warm temperatures, and a lot of stops made for a challenging commute, but the effort was more than rewarded. The piazza was absolutely stuffed to the gills with worshippers who had come to see Il Papa give his weekly address. We skirted around the periphery to the museum entrance.

Once in the museum lobby, the students received guides to the Vatican collection and were set loose to explore.  Many headed to the Pinocoteca (painting galleries) first to see works by Raphael, Leonardo, Caravaggio and more. The museum also holds an immense collection of antique sculpture, maps, coins, and to our amazement, the plaster models for Bernini’s altarpiece in Saint Peter’s (very rarely on display.)

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The museum tour ends in the Sistine Chapel, home of Michelangelo’s frescoed ceiling and the Last Judgement wall. Between admonishments of “Shhhhhhhhh” and
“No photo”, one can sit along the sides of the chapel to gaze up at the heroic figures of sibyls, prophets, and the panels that reveal the creation of the world (including the panel often referred to as “the spark of life” when God creates Adam) through the Drunkenness of Noah.

Everyone has the afternoon free to visit the sites included on the combo-ticket. The Colosseum will not disappoint!

Dinner tonight was at a trattoria in the neighborhood. Pasta, pizza and calzones were the most frequently ordered items. Great food after a long day of exploring Rome.

From the tallest viewpoint in Roma… Tuesday, Sep 14 2010 

Remember our motto — if there’s something to climb, we’re climbing it. Today we met early to take the bus to Saint Peter’s and to be one of the earliest groups to climb the cupola. Despite some challenges at the check-point (and, by check-point we mean the men who have the enviable job of scrutinizing mainly the women for exposing too much flesh), we began the ascent. Arriving early not only gives you an advantage in terms of entry but also affords a cooler experience as you haul yourself up to the top of Saint Peter’s dome.

Once again, a spectacular view. We could look down onto the papal residential complex, including the gardens, as well as enjoy the vistas of Rome. When we returned to the bottom, we were able to skip the line already queuing up to enter the cathedral and found ourselves in the largest Catholic church in the world (able to hold 60,000 people!) The scale is immense and slightly over-whelming, but you are drawn in and toward the apse by the immense baldacchino (tabernacle) over the site of Saint Peter’s remains.

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We spent a full hour in the church, viewing the sculpture and “paintings” (all original painted works have been replaced by mosaic replicas) and then congregated together outside to walk to the Campo di Fiore to find lunch. Along the way, we stopped at the Pantheon to go inside and to find the answer to the pop quiz: “What famous people are buried in the Pantheon?” Answer: the first two kings of unified Italy and the artists, Raphael and Annibale Carraci.

We agreed to meet at 2:30 in front of the Vittoriano. The students received their tickets to see the Forum, the Palantine Hill and the Colosseum. These tickets are good for two days. We have two free afternoons this week (today and tomorrow) in which to use them.

Dinner was at a neighborhood restaurant, Osteria Suburra. Silvio, the owner,  served us himself and we had a fantastic meal of various pasta dishes.

A later start tomorrow morning — back to the Vatican to visit the museum and the Sistine Chapel.

La Citta’ Eterna Monday, Sep 13 2010 

Up and out of the hostel at 9:45 — a caravan of luggage, bags and backpacks down the street to meet our charter bus. It was clear that people were leaving with more items than when the arrived — yes, the shopping is that good. Our stay at the Foresteria Gould in Firenze was perfect. We said good-bye to the staff: Ani, Andrea and Shiella.

The bus ride took about four hours (including one pit stop and one wrong turn.) Roberto, our driver, brought us to the pizza of Santa Maria Maggiore, a central location to the five apartments that we are renting for the week. We met Enzo from the rental agency and spent several hours getting the students to their apartments. We agreed to meet at 6:00 at Santa Maria Maggiore for a city orientation walk and then dinner.

Curt took us on a orientation tour of Roma: the Forum, the Campidoglio, the Jewish Ghetto and on to the Campo di Fiori (home of UW’s Rome Center.) We ate dinner at Sora Margarita and then took an additional passagiata to Piazza Navona (and gelato), past the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain.

A long day, but everyone is excited!

Off to Roma! Monday, Sep 13 2010 

We leave today for Rome. Here is a slideshow of some of our program highlights thus far!

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And now for something completely different… Friday, Sep 10 2010 

La Specola is possibly one of the most unique museums in Florence. While Museo Galileo is dedicated to the history of science, La Specola is the city’s zoological and natural history museum. In it’s 34 galleries are 24 dedicated to fossils, insect specimens and taxidermied animals, birds (lots of birds), and fish. 10 galleries contain anatomical waxes, carefully created to provide medical students the ability to study human anatomy without the use of cadavers. There is also a beautiful tribunal dedicated to Galileo. The museum opened in 1775 and was the first public museum of its kind.

As is our tradition on Friday, we ended programming at lunch to allow everyone to move on with their weekend plans. Venice and Cinqueterre sound to be popular destinations, but there are a few who are going horseback riding instead.

We will have our last group dinner in Firenze on Sunday. Then, it’s off to Roma!

Artisanal Cheese Thursday, Sep 9 2010 

We checked-out of the Residence Mugello and headed by bus into the country-side, just 15 minutes out of Scarperia, to the family business of Giovanna (la mama), Sandra and Roberto (her children) to experience the true meaning of “fatto al mano” (made by hand.) The family (which at that time also included Giovanna’s husband), moved from Sardengna to start up a cheese “factory.”

As we neared the property, we saw sheep grazing in the nearby fields. The family produces two types of cheese made from sheep’s milk: pecorino and ricotta.

We were able to see both types being made, literally by hand (at one point, once the curds have formed, Sandra immerses her entire arm into a 200 liter vat and breaks up the curds that way). We learned how the pecorino is aged (al stagionato) and how ricotta is created from the remaining milk after the pecorino is removed.

We were served a tasting of both cheese in various forms (fresh, partially-aged, and aged.) We then got to sample the ricotta, still warm from the process, with marmalade made from berries that grow on the property.

Everything here is “biologico” (organic). The sheep only are fed with grass and other grains grown on the farm. No steriods, no hormones, no antibiotics. We learned about the different tastes of the cheese depending on the time of the year as it is all related to what the sheep eat.

Then, back on the bus and home to Florence. Later in the evening, we had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant just a few doors down from our hostel, Il Ginone. A great ending to a fun field trip.

Should we stay or should we go? Wednesday, Sep 8 2010 

Ominous clouds, no word from Scarperia — what to do? Luckily, we had a contingency plan in place and, with the help and advice of our local coordinator, Caterina, we forged ahead!

While we had a charter bus reserved for the trip up, we decided to cancel it and instead wait until later in the day with the hope that we would receive word that the games were on. To keep ourselves busy, we headed off to the Museo Galileo in the morning. Formerly the Museum of the History of Science, this museum holds scientific instruments from the Medici and Lorraine collection and has recently reopened after an ambitious remodel. Physics, optics, chemistry, mathematical sciences, astronomy, navigation — amazing and beautifully-crafted works filled the collection.

We agreed to meet at 1:00 to walk to the bus station to take a public bus up to Scarperia, comforted only by our intense hopes that the games would take place that evening. After a short (50-minute) trip, we arrived and checked into our hotel, the Residence Mugello. We then walked to the historic center to meet with our museum guide, Cristina, for a tour of the Vicar’s Palace and the Knife Museum. As we neared the palace, we saw men working on the bleachers around the piazza where the Palio takes place and confirmed: the games were on!

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After the knife museum, everyone had a few hours to do as they pleased. We had dinner reservations at 7:00 and would meet Caterina and her boyfriend, Tommaso there. Tommaso is from Scarperia and knows everyone there (it is a small town of 6,000+). Dinner was amazing: traditional appetizers of salami and prosciutto, crostini with pate, two pasta dishes, pizza and mixed salad.

Next, off to the games. What must be appreciated at this point is the very fact that we would be the only people at the games who are not from Scarperia. In fact, the announcer for the event acknowledged “gli studenti dagli Estati Uniti” and people cheered and waved from their places in the stands.

A huge processional walks from one end of the town to the other to the beat of a drum corps and the heralding of trumpets. They then enter the piazza  — women in beautiful gowns, escorted by men in tights 🙂 Standard bearers, soldati (soldiers) and four men lugging a cannon. The games are on!

Four teams, representing four of nine neighborhoods, have battled their way to the Palio. Viola (last year’s victor), Nero (black who missed last year’s title by a single knife throw), Bianco (white) and Rossa (pink).

The events: brick-walking, knife-throwing, tug-of-war, pole-climbing and barrel-racing. Points are awarded after each event and a tally is displayed on banners corresponding to the color of the team. Nero was the winner — a hard fought battle.

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