Monday, July 25, 2011

Last Day in Roma!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Last day... I think we're all sad about that. It feels like we just got here! It's not only difficult to leave Italy, but the kids are sadly saying goodbye to new friends from Texas, Montana, and Iowa.

Today was chock-full once again - we began the day by visiting another country - the smallest country in the world as a matter of fact. It sits within the city of Rome but it is walled off and has it's own ruler. Still guessing? It's the Vatican - Vactican City, with a population of about 450 priests, nuns, Swiss guards, and a few civilians who work for the Pope.
Worst part of the visit - crowds. Best parts that made up for the crowds - the incredible art, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica. There is just nothing like it and it's an experience we'll never forget. The incredible story of Michelangelo's painting of the Creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel makes you appreciate it all the more! Even for those who may not be Catholic, Christian, or even religious, the Sistine Chapel is a moving experience!

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the chapel because the paintings are fresco, and flash photography apparently takes its toll on that stuff.  So here is a link if you want to see a picture of the famous ceiling done by Michelangelo.

Some of the most interesting aspects of the story - 1. Michelangelo was a sculptor, not a painter, 2. Pope Julius II picked him specifically to do it, even though he had some pretty great painters like Botticelli and Raphael at his disposal (they did paint some other parts of the chapel), 3. Michelangelo had to take a 6 week crash course in the complicated and difficult technique of fresco painting so he could learn how to do it, 4. He didn't want to do it, and in fact refused several times until he was threatened with death,  5. He included a few of his own interpretations within the creation that were his way of getting back at the Pope for making him do it, 6. It took Michelangelo 4 years of painting standing on a scaffolding, painting above his head , yet the perspective can only be appreciated from the floor which is 120 feet below, and  6. When the Pope Julius II finally saw the finished work, he was so moved he fell to his knees in awe!

Here is a picture of the ceiling in the long gallery hall leading to the Chapel, and of St. Peter's Basilica:

The late afternoon and evening was spent even further back in time as we walked through the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. The Colosseum was amazing! Well over 2000 years old - it was the ultimate entertainment center for Romans. While much of it has been ravaged by time, barbarians, wars, and pollution, it's really incredible what still stands! It was a feat of engineering what they were able to do in terms of keeping animals, moving props and settings (and dead bodies!).

After the Colosseum we toured the Forum - which at one time (over 2000 years ago) was the heart and soul of Roman political and intellectual life. Parts of many of the old buildings and temples have been excavated and are open to the public to walk through. It's like walking back through time- easy to imagine Roman streets filled with citizens, horses and the like!

If that sounds like a full day it was! We are NOT looking forward to our long travel day, saying good bye and leaving Italy, but probably it will be nice to sleep in our own beds soon!

Another successful and memorable adventure for the Tok World Classroom is coming to an end - and this group of students are now world class travelers! Wonder where we'll go next year??!!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rome - The Eternal City

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Long day in the eternal city! We had a day in Rome jam packed with sight-seeing, shopping, eating, and repeating that process many times throughout the day!

Some of the big highlights of our day included the following;

Piazza Navona- located in the historic center of Rome, it used to be a Roman stadium, but now contains lavish fountains, including Bernini's masterpiece, Fountain of the Four Rivers. The statues represent the four rivers known at the time it was built in 1560 - the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges, and the Plate.

The Pantheon - saying this is the oldest building any of us have ever been in is sort of an understatement! The Pantheon was built in A.D. 126 as a temple to the Roman gods. It has the world's largest UN-reinforced concrete dome! It was a really amazing structure, and we spent some time staring around with our mouths hanging open!

Giolitti - not a historical site, but the best gelato place in Rome! We found out that it is possible for one to  purchase a liter serving of gelato there!

Piazza Colonna - Rome's political center. It is the place where, as our guide told us, the Italian politicians "supposedly" go to work each day         ;-). The center also contains the enormous column of Marcus Aurellius built in A.D. 196.

Via del Corso - street with lots of great shopping - yes, we shopped it!

Via Della Vite - street with the restaurant where we had the best meal of our trip!

Trevi Fountain - Baroque fountain built in 1762 as an homage to the importance of water to the Romans. It also marks the end of an aqueduct. It was common to build fountains over them - this one just happens to be the most spectacular one in existence! People throw coins in and make a wish. Over 3000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day, which is collected and given to local charities.

Spanish Steps- nothing to do with Spain, but they come off of the square called Piazza di Spagna. The Italians call the steps the Scalinata. It is the widest stone staircase in Europe and yes, we climbed all 136 steps to get a great view of the rooftops of Rome!

Via dei Condotti - more shopping.

Piazza di Poppolo - Huge square - the main importance of it for us was the place where we met our tour director for dinner. Dinner was great - arancini, pasta wrapped in eggplant, more gelato for dessert!

If it sounds like today was full, wait till tomorrow - Vatican, Colosseum, Forum!

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Today was a pretty easy day in terms of activity. We (sadly) said good bye to Florence and headed to a little hill town in the Umbria region called Assisi. Assisi is well known mostly because of St. Francis of Assisi - the founder of the Franciscan order (Friars). We walked up the hill to the famous St. Francis Basicilla, where we were met by one of the Friars who gave us a fantastic tour of the Basicilla.
As we toured we learned about the life and death of St. Francis, saw his tomb, and best of all got to see the story of his life as it paralleled the life of Christ painted on the walls by Giotto. It's really an amazing experience to see something so important yet so old - still there for everyone to look at. After the tour, we took in the views of the beautiful Umbrian countryside, and then took time doing some shopping, having our daily dose of gelato, and people-watching by the fountain in the central piazza.

The end of the day brought us to Rome and our hotel just south of the city. Tomorrow morning we head into the city where we'll have a bit of a walking tour to get us oriented, and then a free day in Rome, with dinner in the city tomorrow night. Our itinerary says the Vatican for tomorrow, but because it's Sunday and there is mass, that has been switched to Monday.

Buona Serra!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Florence Our Way

Friday, July 22, 2011

Free day in Florence! Our intention was to take the train into Florence this morning as we are staying outside of the city in a suburb called Montecatini. However, apparently Italian train workers decided to go on strike about an hour before, so after about a 45 minute wait we had to face the fact that no train was coming. At that point we had to improvise. Luckily, there is also a bus station, so we made tracks getting there and were just in time to catch the next bus going into the city.

We arrived in Florence around 11:30, and set out to do a little shopping and a little looking around. In the afternoon we met our Tok connection - Jen Smith who helped us with great tips about language and culture met us in the Piazza della Republica. She is taking some classes in Florence this summer, so some of us went to lunch with her.

By the afternoon we had split into several small groups to do fun things like shopping the markets, eating gelato, taking horse and carriage rides around the city, sipping espresso, and a few other adventures!

 However, everyone was very prompt about our meeting time for dinner, and over dinner we all agreed that today was the most fun so far!

Tomorrow we leave with a final destination of Rome in the evening, but will spend most of the day in Assisi seeing the sights.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Thursday, July 21,2011

We began the day with a little breakfast (here that means some kind of roll and coffee) and then hit the road for Florence. When we arrived, we walked to one of the larger squares, the Piazza de la Signoria, and hunted down a little lunch - panini, followed by something Florence is famous for - gelato! Everyone agreed the gelato here is the best so far!

The Piazza de la Signoria is famous for it's many Renaissance statues, among them one of the two replicas of Michelangelo's David.

 Although we're told the real thing is quite an experience (it's here in Florence in the Academia Museum) the copy was pretty impressive! We took a great walking tour that covered a few of the highlights of Florence, such as the famous Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge in Florence not destroyed in World War II. The bridge spans the Arno River.

We also saw several other piazzas, the famous Duomo, and the church. The cathedral and it's magnificent painted ceiling was pretty amazing!

In Florence, everywhere we go we see and feel the influence of the famous artists and others who helped start the Renaissance right here in Florence - Michelangelo, Giotto, Dante Allegheri, the Medici family, Leonardo da Vinci - just to name a few you may have heard of!

Later we went to see a leather making demonstration. Florence is also famous for it's fine leather goods. The students had the opportunity to buy some beautiful leather goods (I believe most of them did a little shopping).

Finally, we took the bus to a town on the outskirts of Florence called Montecatini to get to our hotel. Tomorrow is a free day in Florence for us, but we already have big plans!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tok to Venice!

Wednesday July 20, 2011

We made it! We had a long two days of travel - Fairbanks to Minneapolis, then Minneapolis to Paris, then finally Paris to Milan! Our Paris layover was long enough for everyone to change and freshen up, plus check out all the cool shops at Charles de Gaulle.

We finally boarded our Alitalia flight and soon landed in Milan. We were met by our tour director, Andrea, and soon left Milan until we arrived in the town of Verona - yes, the Verona of Romeo and Juliet fame! Although Shakespeare's story of the star crossed lovers was fictional, he based much on the society Verona at the time - including the prominent Montague and Capulet families in the town. The old Capulet home still stands , and their courtyard and balcony still draw crowds - including us!

By the time we reached our hotel in Venice we were all DONE with traveling! We kept our heads up through dinner, then crashed!

Everyone was fresh and ready to take on beautiful Venice this morning. There are no autos in Venice, the only way around is by foot or boat. We were able to experience both- a ferry ride to Venice proper, a walking tour, a gondola ride through the canals, then lots more walking.

Venice is a really interesting city built on a series of islands. There are over 400 little bridges connecting them. Some of the more prominent ones we saw were the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto Bridge, and the Academia Bridge. We also saw beautiful St. Marks Square, the basilica, and went through the impressive Doges palace. Venice was a city state for hundreds of years, ruled by a series of minor royalty called Doges (kind of like dukes and earls).

We finished off the day with some great shopping- I believe some Venetian (Murano) glass was purchased by a few, as well as some other items that some mothers will be very happy with!

Tomorrow - on to Florence!