Thank you so much for visiting my blog. I hope that this will be an excellent way for me to keep all of my friends and family up to date on my semester abroad in Rome. Please feel free to post any comments you would like, or shoot me an e-mail and I will try to respond as soon as possible. Also, if you click on each of the photographs below, it will display them at their full size.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Florence: Day 2

We woke up a little later than expected this morning and were running late for our train to Pisa. When I say running late I mean exactly that as Monica, Malia, Krista and I were late and had to run from our Hostel to get to the train station in time. With the running we had bout four minutes to spare when we got to the train station and then quickly ran up to one of the many ticket kiosks to get our tickets. Instead of waiting in line behind everyone, Monica and I thought we might be able to speed the process up a bit if we went and found another kiosk that wasn’t being used. The first open kiosks we came up to looked a little different from the ones we had used before but we were in too much of a hurry to think anything of it. So we proceed to purchase the tickets and then the machine spits out these two little tiny pieces of paper, which were very different from the large tickets we were used to…so we kind of started freaking out. Meanwhile, all of Monica’s roommates had gotten their tickets and proceeded to get on the train. Monica and I run across the terminal and get in the information line where there are four people in line in front of us. We wait about five minutes before we can talk to someone and ask them if these tickets will work and the guy starts nodding yes and tells us that we still have to validate them. So we run off (yes, we were in a full sprint at this point, not just a little jog) and go validate the tiny little tickets and continue running towards the terminal (also keep in mind that it is probably a good five minutes after the train was supposed to leave by now. We finally get to the right terminal and are frantically looking in the windows as we run by trying to spot Monica’s roommates. We finally see them when we are about half-way down the length of the train and hop in through the next door. As we are stepping onto the train, we notice that there are two train personnel arguing with a younger guy right outside of the train. They finished shortly after we boarded and it was then we realized that we wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for this guy arguing.

The train ride was only about an hour long and before we knew it we were off to see the leaning tower. Pisa is a nice little city with a population around 95,000 but there is not much to it apart from the leaning tower. It the tower was about a 30 minute walk from the train station so we headed off right away and picked up a little breakfast on the way (a cappuccino and a cornetta). It was pretty busy when we got there but the whole Piazza del Duomo was very open and pleasant. There are huge open grassy areas all around the tower and the Duomo and they are called the Field of Miracles. We got a few good pictures and then wandered around the area little bit before heading back to the train station. Then we picked up a quick lunch and again found ourselves running to catch the next train. We were sitting down and eating and just lost track of time and sat down on the train about a minute before it started moving.

This is the river we crossed on our way to see the leaning tower of Pisa.

The leaning Tower of Pisa!

This is me in front of the leaning tower.

This is a view of a little more of the piazza where the leaning tower is. There was one other temple and a couple other fields in the piazza.

Another shot of the leaning tower. The church kind of helps put in perspective how much it is actually leaning.

When we arrived back in Florence it was about 13:50 (or 1:50 PM) and our plan was to go and check out the Uffizi museum, supposedly one of the best museums in all of Italy. We passed through Piazza della Signoria which holds a replica of Michelangelo’s David as well as a number of other amazing statues. When we got to the Uffizi the line was really long and we knew the museum was only going to be open for a couple more hours so we decided to come back in the morning just to make sure we had enough time so as to not rush through it.

This was one corner of Piazza della Signoria.

One of the statues in the piazza.

We walked over by the Boboli Gardens and then spent the rest of the afternoon checking out Ponte Vecchio and Piazzale Michelangelo. Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge that was left intact after WWII and currently houses a large number of different extremely pricey jewelry vendors. It was actually kind of strange walking across the bridge and seeing nothing but bright, shining jewelry lining both sides of the bridge. Piazzale Michelangelo is a magnificent Piazza at the top of a huge hill on the southwestern side of the city. We made the hike up and enjoyed the views of the city, the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and Santa Croche. By this point we were all pretty exhausted so we started the walk back to our Hostels. The plan was to go back and rest for a couple hours and then meet up for dinner to celebrate one of Monica’s roommate’s 21st birthday.

This is the Ponte Vecchio bridge, the only bridge that was not destroyed in WWII.

This is the road leading down to Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi.

This is on the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Notice all of the jewelry in the shops in the background.

This a shot on the way up the Piazzale Michelangelo.

This is me at the top of Piazzale Michelangelo.

You could see almost the entire city from Piazzale Michelangelo. This is a view of the Duomo from a distance.

This is a view of the river and Ponte Vecchio from Piazzale Michelangelo.

When we got back to the Hostel I went and picked up a bottle of Chianti for about four euro (which is the most expensive bottle of wine I have bought to date) and we all sat back and relaxed for a couple hours.

At 4.50 euro, this is the most expensive bottle of wine I have bought since arriving in Italy.

We met up later that night at 21:15 (or 9:15 PM) and ate dinner at this little jazz club near Ponte Vecchio. We finished around 10:30 and then went in search of a discoteca. It was kind of an ordeal trying to find one but we eventually found one we were looking for called Andromeda. I went up and talked to the bouncer and he told us they did not open for another 20 minutes…and by this time it was 23:15 (11:15 PM). I would like to say that we came back and danced the night away in the discoteca but we didn’t. We were all so exhausted that we just went home and went to sleep. I know, we are kind of lame.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Florence: Day 1

I woke up around 5:30 this morning and went and met Monica and her roommates around 6:00. We didn’t exactly know how to get to Termini Station so it was a little hectic trying to find out way there. We took the tram up to Area Sacra (the cat sanctuary) and then started looking for a bus there that was headed towards Termini. We couldn’t find on the signs which ones went to Termini so we eventually just asked one of the bus drivers. As we were asking and he was trying to answer us he looks up and points at a bus all half-way across the Piazza. We all make a mad dash to try and catch it, but it pulls away before we can get close enough. So we wait for the next bus. Luckily it takes us right to Termini station. When we get inside we all take care of getting our tickets and then we go and find the terminal that our train is leaving from.

Monica and her roommates heading for Termini Station to catch our train to Florence.

Termini Station in Rome.

We're going to Florence (Firenze)!

We have about 20 minutes to spare before the train is set to leave so Monica’s roommate Krista and I go and try to find the bathrooms. We finally find them in the basement of the Termini and get ready to head in when we see that there is a gate in front of them blocking them off. We look a little closer and see that it costs 70 euro cents just to use the bathroom. I pay it and get inside and there is a line of about 15 stalls and every single one of them is in use. I have to wait about five minutes before anyone comes out and after five minutes only one person does. I guess the Italians like to get their money’s worth in the public restroom. When I get back, everyone is already on the train, so I get on and we are on our way.

These are the gates that you have to pay 70 euro cents to get through to use the bathroom.

The train ride wasn’t bad at all. I slept for about 20 minutes and spent the rest of the time looking at travel books figuring out where would be the best places to go when we got there. We arrived in Florence a little before 11:00 and then went in search of an information booth to get a couple of maps to use while we were there. After that we split up to go and find our hostels.

Me on the train to Florence.

I just held the camera over my head for this shot and it actually turned out alright. Yes that is my forehead.

Four of us booked a hostel called Emerald Fields and it was about ten minutes away from the train station. So we eventually find it and ring the buzzer three times for them to let us in. We wait a little bit longer and two guys come down and open the door on their way out. One of them is an Australian guy with huge white-rimmed sunglasses on and he tells us that there is no one there to check us in now but if we wanted to leave our stuff outside the door and come back in a couple hours we could do that. We didn’t really want to do that. We rang the buzzer when we got up to where the hostel was and this girl came and opened the door for us. She had been vacuuming and jamming out to music when we buzzed so I don’t think she heard us. She was very nice and luckily was able to check us all in but she told us that the hostel was split and had rooms in two different buildings. We were in the other building.

So after we were checked in she pulled me over and handed me a copy of a map of Florence on a pink sheet of paper. She drew a line from where we were to a street corner about 6 blocks away. She told us to go and wait on this street corner and a guy named Marco would come meet us and take us the rest of the way to the where we were staying. She also told us to keep the pink maps out so he would be able to recognize us.

We leave and walk to the street corner that she specified thinking that Marco was going to be there waiting for us…but he wasn’t. We make it to the street corner and just stand there for about ten minutes thinking that every guy that walked by might be Marco, but none of them were. Marco actually never showed up. A guy named Dan did, however, show up and took us to the hostel.

A street in Florence.

The hostel is really nice. The rooms are big and there were two bathrooms and a kitchen and it was all very clean. We had two of the five rooms in the place and I think the other three were all occupied by Australians. We dropped our stuff off and then headed to the Duomo to meet the others.

One of the bedrooms.

The Duomo is like nothing I have ever seen before. I was amazed by the detail and the sheer size of the Duomo. Not only was the wide array of colored marble amazing, there was so much detail on every inch of the entire cathedral. From the sculpted figures, to the engravings, to the different designs, it was definitely a sight to see. Right next to the Duomo is Giotti’s Tower and the Baptistery of St. John. The Baptistery was originally a roman temple and is believed to be the oldest building in Florence. It has eight sides each with huge bronze doors on them. The doors facing the Duomo are known as the Gates of Paradise.

The front of the Duomo.

This is a close up shot of the Duomo and Giotti's Tower (right).

The Gates of Paradise (I think these are a replica, however, and the actual ones are in the Duomo Museum).

After checking out the exterior of the Duomo, we went searching for a place to eat. We eventually decided on a cafeteria right across the street from the Duomo that had a lot of ready-made lunches and panini’s.

This was the caffetteria across from the Duomo we stopped at for lunch.

When we finished lunch we went to the Galleria Dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. All in all, the museum wasn’t that spectacular but it is definitely worth it when you turn the corner and see the David at the end of the hallway. No matter how many pictures you see of it, none do it justice. When you see the 5.17 meter (17 foot) figure in person it is an unbelievable experience. The detail of the figure almost makes it look alive. We spent a half an hour just standing in awe of it. If you ever have the opportunity to see it, definitely take advantage of it.

We weren't allowed to take photos inside, so you'll just have to trust me that I actually saw the David.

When we left Accademia, we headed back to the Duomo to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Dome. This was definitely worth the 6 euro it cost to get in. You get inside and then there is this little door in the stone wall right after you enter. The whole way up to the top you are in this very small stairwell and pretty much have no idea where you are. It was so tight that when someone started coming down going the opposite direction you had to stop and hug the wall to make enough room for them to get by. All the way up there are little windows that give you a small peak at the outside. I soon realized that this wasn’t just a leisurely walk up some stairs, I was huffing and puffing and could feel my legs getting a little weak. When you get to the top, there is this little opening that you walk up this steep stairs to get out to the roof. As soon as you get your bearings and take in your first sight of the cityscape you can’t help but stop in your tracks in awe. We spent about 35 minutes on the roof taking pictures and just simply enjoying the view. After a while it was fun just watching the reaction of the new people emerging out of the opening and seeing the view for the first time.

This was the first part of the stairs walking up to the top of the dome in the Duomo.

This was one of the small windows to the outside as we were climbing the 463 stairs to the top.

This is a shot I got when I held my camera facing down out of the small window shown above.

This was a quick shot of the inside of the dome as we were ascending. We walked around this ridge and then went back in between the inner dome and the outer dome to continue our climb to the top.

Here is a shot from the top of the Duomo.

And another.

And another.

We stayed at the top until the sun started going down.

My roommate Kurt just showed me how to upload video onto my blog. If this does work, it is a shot from the top of the Duomo. If it doesn't work, let me know.

Going down the stairs wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either. When we finally reached the bottom again I’m sure we all looked a little funny walking out of the doorway as our legs were a little wobbly from the climb and descent. We took a few more pictures of the inside of the Duomo and then headed back to the apartment.

Inside the Duomo.

The inside of the Dome.

We went out to dinner a little bit later and then headed to bed early. During dinner we decided that we were going to make a trip to Pisa to see the leaning tower in the morning.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Washing My Clothes

Today was the last day of classes for the first week. Before I went to class, however, I had my first experience doing laundry. The washer is very small and front loading and it is located in the kitchen where you would normally find a dishwasher. Everything is in Italian and if it weren’t for our landlord showing one of my roommates how to use it I would have had no idea where to even start (as a side note, I went to the grocery store and thought it might be nice to pick up a huge family size bottle of detergent for me and my roommates to share. I was pretty proud of myself until I found out that it was fabric softener and not detergent). Anyway I put a load in and it finished pretty quickly and then laid everything out on the drying rack. Pretty much everything was dry by later this evening except for some jeans and my cotton socks.

Yes, those are my boxers.

The cold rainy weather continued into today and it actually started hailing for a while when I was in the computer lab this afternoon. I went over to Monica’s earlier this evening and cooked dinner with her and her roommates. We bought some farfalli pasta, chicken, fresh mozzarella de bufala, pesto, olive oil, onion, garlic, and oregano. We diced up the chicken, onion, and garlic and sautéed it in the olive oil while we boiled the pasta. Then we cut up the mozzarella ball and mixed the pasta and the olive oil, chicken, garlic, and onion together and slowly stirred in chunks of the fresh mozzarella. The mozzarella kind of melts over all of the pasta and the chicken and it is delicious. Later we packed and figured out what all we wanted to check out while in Florence. It was pretty exciting packing up the pack for the first weekend trip; hopefully it will be the first of many. Our train leaves at 7:14 tomorrow morning and is scheduled to get into Florence a little before 11:00.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Textbook Journey

Today was pretty low key as well, other than the three hour adventure that Monica and I went on to try and buy textbooks. We were supposed to go to the Anglo American Bookstore by the Spanish Steps and directions there seemed simple enough…then soon enough I remembered that I was in Rome. We walked from the school to a bus stop across the river and looked for the bus that was supposed to take us right next to the bookstore. We didn’t see the bus stop at first because it was on a somewhat narrow stone street. When we finally realized where it was we went back and waited for the next bus. About two minutes later we saw the bus turn the corner and head towards us…and then go right past us without stopping. We started running after it and luckily an older gentleman on the bus saw us and told the bus driver to stop. We hopped on. This was a pretty small bus, and the directions told us to stay on for seven stops and get off at the eighth. Fifteen minutes later at what we thought was the eighth stop we got off and looked at the map and (we should have known) the bus driver skipped a couple of stops. It was about this time that it started raining too. So we tried to make sense of where we were and I (using my flawless sense of direction) started walking the exact opposite direction of where we were supposed to go. We ended up walking through this long tunnel and when we got to the other end of the tunnel Monica grabbed the map from me and took me back the other direction. So we kept on walking and eventually found where we needed to go. All in all, the trip should only have been about one hour and it ended up taking three. Oh, and they only had two of the four books that I needed, so I have to head back sometime next week.

This is the tunnel that I led us down going the wrong way (really I just wanted to get us out of the rain, but Monica didn't buy that).

This is Monica taking us back through the tunnel...the right direction.

Also, earlier today we bought train tickets and booked a hostel in Florence for the weekend. We got round-trip train tickets for 28 euro and the hostel is only 19 euro a night (we are hoping it will be nice). Monica, 5 of her roommates and I are all making the trip.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

First Day With No Pictures

Today was pretty uneventful. I had my two other classes and think I am going to enjoy them as well. I have the same professor for both of the classes and she has a very interesting accent, one of her parents is from South America and the other is from Italy, so she has kind of a mix between Spanish and Italian. She has a rule that if your cell phone rings in class, you have to bring chocolate for the entire class the next time we meet. It was also a very sad day because it is the first day I did not take a single picture. I’m sorry.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Today was the first day of classes. My first class was at 10:30AM, I left my apartment at about 9:30 just to make sure that I made it on time. My professor for my first is from London and I think he is going to be pretty cool. The class is Ethical Theory in Business and I actually think I am going to enjoy it quite a bit. My second class for the day was my Italian 101 class…and it was a little scary. We walked in and the professor just started asking us all of the questions in Italian. I looked around and most of the class, including myself, just had that open mouth, deer in a headlight look on our faces. The funny part about it is that he just kept talking in Italian and didn’t repeat anything in English. Luckily one guy in the class actually knew a little Italian and started answering the questions and then we all just king of copied him.

After class we started on our way to the tram to take the number 8 home. We got there and were waiting for a little bit before it pulled up. Let me take the time now to tell you a little bit about how the public transportation system works here in Rome:

Basically if you are going to use any form of transportation it is partially based on the honor system. You can buy a ticket at any Tabacchi (which is kind of like a convenience store) and then when you get on the tram, bus, or metro there are little machines that you stick the ticket in to validate it. But nobody ever really checks to see if you are doing this. At random times, the Carabinieri will get on and check everyone’s tickets and those who don’t have them or don’t have theirs validated will get fined 50 euro.

Anyway, I was the only one with a bus ticket in my group, so we all walked on the bus and looked all the way in the back and there was a Carabinieri standing in full Carabinieri attire in on the other end of the bus, so everyone immediately went right back out the door. And then we all walked home.

We have spent many a conversation discussing whether or not it is worth it to spend your money on getting tickets for the bus and came to the conclusion that it is just a risk you are either willing or unwilling to take. Some people get by the whole time just staying attentive and making sure not to get, or stay on the bus, tram, or metro with a Carabinieri on it. And some don’t.

After we got back, I went to the grocery store and got a few things for breakfasts and dinners and bought my first jar of Nutella. I just want to say that Nutella might be one of the greatest inventions in the history of man…I only hope I can contain myself and not skip dinner every night just to leave room for more Nutella. But seriously if you haven’t tried it, it’s available in the states and you should definitely go get yourself a jar (David, I know you understand what I’m talking about).

This is Nutella, one of the greatest substances known to man.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Trevi Fountain

I slept in again today. I think that maybe the change in time zones is finally catching up with me. I didn’t really have a lot to do so I called Monica and we decided to go and get a long lunch together. Instead of wandering around aimlessly we looked in a couple of books that we had and the JCU handbook for some recommendations.

We decided on this nice little place called Augosto that is located close to our school in Trastevere. We walked in and the place was absolutely packed. We eventually get the attention of a waiter and he squeezes us in one of the back corners, the very last space that was available in the whole place. Also, we are still at that point where it is a little awkward to go into a sit-down restaurant because there is a lot of interaction with the waiters and waitresses and we don’t speak the language very well (and by this I mean we don’t speak the language at all). All in all the entire meal took about two and a half hours and the food was pretty darn good. We got three different courses: pasta, meat and vegetables, and dessert (we split them all because eating out is pretty expensive here if you want to sit down and take the time to eat in a restaurant). We tried the tiramisu and it was good, but still not quite as good as Popi Popi’s.

After lunch we went and got a few notebooks and some other supplies because class is starting tomorrow. We were going to head back home before we realized that it was the last day before classes started, so we went exploring again.

We walked by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (which I recently found out is actually the Monument de Vittorio Emanuele, the tomb is just the part of the monument with the marble and gold figure in the center that the guards are always standing on either side of) again and snapped a couple more photos and then went in search of the Trevi Fountain. We finally found it and it was absolutely packed. Actually pretty much everywhere we walked that was crowded with people. The Trevi Fountain was amazing. It is on the side of a building and just sprawls out into the big pool underneath it. I got a few shots but it was too crowded to for us to really take it all in and it was starting to get dark, so we continued on our way (we are definitely heading back when we have more time).

Trevi Fountain = Awesome

Next we came up to the Spanish Steps and they also were extremely crowded. We weren’t very impressed at first sight, but it was pretty dark by this time and we were concentrating on getting through the masses of people. The road that heads straight down from the Spanish steps is Via Condotti and when we turned down it, it was packed, from wall to wall with people. This is the road that has all of the higher end shops like Gucci, Prada, BVGLARI, Ferrari and so on. It was pretty cool. We took this road until we hit the river and then headed back home.

I couldn't really get a good shot of the Spanish Steps, but here is a shot of Via Condotti. Hopefully it gives you some idea of how crowded it was.