Around Italia in 10 Days

Written by Melissa November 26, 2014

Part of the uniqueness of the CIMBA program is its emphasis on learning through experience, with which I wholeheartedly agree. In total, students get about 27 days of travel in a semester of only 89 days. That’s 30% travel time, which has been so great, but in reality each of us has been looking forward to the main event: travel week.

We are now about half way through the travel week and I’ve seen and lived and learned so much that it would take several hours for me to effectively narrate it all to you. To be honest, I wouldn’t even be able to pick a favorite part thus far, nor rank events in terms of enjoyableness because every moment has been enjoyable in a different way.

While most students chose to spend their weeks seeing other countries all over Europe- checking them off the bucket list- I’ve chosen to spend my entire week in Italy. I’m living here for three months and there’s no way I’m leaving without knowing it inside and out. I want to see as much of Italy as possible.

So far in my Italian travels this semester, I’ve seen Venice, Bassano del Grappa, Florence, Pisa, Asolo, Cinque Terre (La Spezia, Manarola, and Monterossa), and Verona.

Since this past Saturday, I’ve been to Siena (in Tuscany), Naples, and Pompeii and I’ve never felt Italian culture so alive inside me as I do right now. Southern Italy has been so overwhelming with culture and history, I’m so fortunate to have seen all that I have seen. With all these magnificent places so within reach (only a train ride, or two, away), now I can say that it’s finally hit me: I’m living in Italy.

In Siena, the atmosphere was so relaxing and laid back. Not a single person was rushing to be anywhere; there was no shoving or running. Everyone took their time in Siena. This might be because the majority of the population there was over 60 years old. The only thing I can attempt to compare it to is Boca Raton, FL (retirement community for everyone from NY). Even our guardian angel, the woman who ultimately walked us through the city toward our hotel, was a ripe old 75. While in Siena, we were able to get an all-inclusive pass to the Duomo (a large, beautiful church building- most major Italian cities have one, the most famous being in Florence) and experience all the history and art of Siena. In the Cathedral, there were statues sculpted by Michelangelo, Donatello and Bernini. Then we walked through the Baptistery, also featuring work by Donatello, and down into the crypt, which had been hidden for over seven centuries and its walls all painted in the brightest colors. In the museo, we saw some great Italian artworks including my favorite, Golden Rose by Bernini. After all this, we still had time to climb to the top of the Facciatone where we saw the most breathtaking views of the Tuscan countryside and the city of Siena. At the end of the day, I was able to experience a meal of wild boar for dinner, a specialty of the region, and drink Chianti, a red wine for which Tuscany is also known. Above all, Siena has been the most scenic town in Italy to which I’ve traveled so far. Looking out over the luscious, green rolling hills of Tuscany from the midst of a sea of terracotta roof tiles was everything I imagined Tuscany would be and so much more.

[slideshow_deploy id=’5255′]

Napoli (Naples) is known as the birthplace of pizza for a reason. After getting off the train from Siena, all we wanted was a hot meal and, thankfully, Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo was just steps from our airbnb apartment. It was the best pizza I’ve ever tasted in my entire life and that’s not an exaggeration. Truth: I would come back to Naples just for that pizza someday.  I also had my first authentic Italian cannoli that night. It changed my life. We were even able to tour a limoncello factory and sample some types of limoncello, a liquor traditionally used by Italians as a digestive after dinner. Aside from the incredible tastes, Naples had an overwhelming amount of culture to offer. Everything I’ve noticed about Italy became so much more pronounced in Naples. The large Italian families, across from our bedroom windows, who shared four-hour long dinners together and yelled (or… well… projected) their conversations loud enough for the whole world to hear for the entire night. The driving- I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. The Neapolitans were able to make a two lane road with lines of cars parked on either side, into a four lane road. There were cars coming in every direction. Vespas made room where there was none. It was outrageous. We learned a lot from observation of the Neapolitans, but we learned a lot from their stories as well. After walking down Christmas Alley, we saw so many renditions of Corno, what look like red chili peppers but are actually horns that the Neapolitans use as good luck charms and to ward off the Evil Eye, and so many sculptures of Pulcinella, a masked man who is infamous for his pranks and has been made the unofficial mascot of Naples. Naples even has a city underneath the visible city! We were able to take a tour Naples underground, “sotterraneo,” a series of Greek and Roman aqueducts that were transformed into a bomb shelter for 2000 people during WWII. We learned so much about ancient Greek and Roman culture simultaneously with 1900s Italian culture. We even toured part of a Roman amphitheater that was swallowed by the apartments standing today. Apparently, after some exploration, archaeologists found that families were living in apartments that were compartments of the amphitheater (when the plaster was removed from the walls it revealed ancient Roman architectural techniques).  There was so much religious presence in the city as well, which is a huge part of Italian culture. In the catacombs (crypts) of San Gennaro, patron saint of Naples, there were incredible frescoes (murals) of Jesus as well as other religious figures. I could go on and on; Naples was a remarkable place.

[slideshow_deploy id=’5263′]

Everyone has dreamt of seeing Pompeii since they learned about it in elementary history classes; at least, I have. Now, I can successfully say I’ve toured the ancient city of Pompeii. It was unbelievable how much history I had at my fingertips in a place where 11,000 people died in a volcanic eruption almost 2000 years ago. The structure of the houses (which were mostly all roofless after having collapsed due to the build up of volcanic materials during the eruption) illuminated so much of the ancient lifestyles. I could say I was in awe the entire four hours I walked from street to street in the city, but that would be an understatement. I walked on marble mosaic creations that were 2000 years old! I stood in the home of some poor family who didn’t make it to see the year 80 AD. I saw the petrified bodies of Pompeiians who died as they slept and the body of a dog that belonged to some child who also didn’t make it out alive. There were columns and kitchens and indents of tracks in the stone street from thousands of carriages. There were murals and altars and stairs with grass growing over them after so much time has passed. We saw the ancient paintings in the prostitutes’ dressing room of different sex positions that were way too explicit. Still, at the end of the day, nothing was as spectacular as climbing up the hill above Pompeii and looking out over the ancient ruins of the old city next to the modern creations and dwellings of the new Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background, knowing that it’s due for another show anytime now according to geologists.

[slideshow_deploy id=’5360′]

Now, as I type, I lay here in my hostel waiting to see what Rome has in store for us over the next three days.

Ciao for now!