My Italian Study Abroad Adventure: Part 4 of 5

Friday, June 11, 2004

Since there was no climate control in our room, we had to sleep with the windows open, so in the morning I had accumulated a collection of itchy bug bites. The humidity was intense and my hair was frizzy and damp. Thankfully we would not be spending another night at Camping Fusina, leaving directly from Venice to travel west to Milan. We checked out of the hostel, hopped a bus back to the train station, put our luggage in a locker, then embarked on another bus ride that would take us across the bridge to Venice. The city looks like it’s floating in the middle of the Adriatic Sea, but it’s actually built on small islands and wooden piers. If that seems like a strange decision, apparently it’s catching up with them, because the town is gradually sinking and the government has neither the ability nor the funds to save it. I can only imagine that in a few hundred years Venice might exist only in legend, like the story of Atlantis forever resting beneath the waves.

Canal Grande view from the Rialto Bridge.
Canal Grande view from the Rialto Bridge.

The bus dropped us off outside the city walls — Venice’s narrow streets make Montepulciano’s look like airport runways. Narrow alleyways that meander, turn, and dead-end suddenly, with small bridges being the only method of crossing canals by foot. This layout makes automobile travel impossible, so there are absolutely no cars in Venice, which certainly adds to the old-world charm. Gondolas are so much more romantic than buses. However, walking around was not as leisurely as I’d assumed it would be. I think it was mostly just the heat roasting my brain, but the road signs were not very clear (although that seems to be common — maybe Italians think big, legible signs are ugly), and our map was confusing. Every step I took gave me the constant feeling that the ground was about to disintegrate and I would tumble into the lovely black lagoon.

St. Mark's Square.
St. Mark’s Square.

We managed to find our way to St. Mark’s Square. Across the bay is the basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, which has the appearance of emerging directly from the sea.

Looking out across the bay.
Looking out across the bay.
Bridge of Sighs
Bridge of Sighs

Our other famous landmark of the day was the Bridge of Sighs, named for being the bridge that condemned prisoners would cross on their way to execution. We chose not to pay the exorbitant prices for a gondola or water taxi ride, and continued walking to find some shade and a meal. All the food in Venice costs at least twice as much as anywhere else because everything has to be imported from the mainland. Water is expensive too, even though the city is sitting on it. After lunch, we went shopping. Venetian carnival masks and Murano glass items are popular souvenirs. There was certainly no shortage of delicate porcelain masks or whimsical glass confections. We wandered around until we found a shop where they actually demonstrate glass-blowing. We didn’t take the tour, but we did see an enormous Murano glass sculpture of a horse.

Venice Venice Venice

Venice is an absolutely amazing city, and I hope to return again someday!

After a sweaty day of exploring, I was not at all excited to be crammed into a bus again with other sweaty tourists. By some benevolent act of fate, our train to Milan had air conditioning! We turned it up as high as it would go. I had originally planned to visit Milan by myself, but Shel and Margie weren’t opposed to more traveling. For our one-night stay in Milan, we reserved a real hotel room! It had a 2-star rating, but the website had photos of the rooms and everything looked decent, especially compared to our previous accommodations. The room cost €100, but split three ways, it wasn’t so bad. When we arrived at the Hotel Demó, we discovered that pictures can be deceiving. The bathroom was a closet with the smallest toilet and sink I’ve seen, and a shower head jutting out from the wall. I think we were all just glad to have the bathroom in our room. The room also had french doors that opened up onto a little balcony, so at least we could get a breeze.

Lovely balcony view!
Lovely balcony view!

We turned in early, hoping to recharge for another day of walking around.


Saturday, June 12, 2004

Around midnight, I woke up. I was sleeping with earplugs so the first thing I remember was hearing a faint tapping sound that escalated into banging. I thought it sounded like someone was knocking on our door, so I ignored it, assuming it was a drunk person and they would soon realize they had the wrong room. Instead, the banging grew even more urgent. I stumbled out of bed and slowly opened the door, prepared to receive an Italian apology by whomever was on the other side. Much to my surprise, the front desk clerk and another man both shoved me aside and barged into the room, shouting “Your room is on fire!” Shel and Margie were wide awake by this point. “Um… no it’s not?” was the only thing that I could manage to say. The unidentified man started laughing. The desk clerk rushed over to our balcony and flung open the doors. Sure enough, there was a roaring fire!

Dumbstruck, I stood there with my mouth hanging open as the two men grabbed Margie’s bottle of water and used it to douse the fire. The man I didn’t recognize spoke a little English, and the gist of it was that they tried to put out the fire from the adjacent balcony but couldn’t reach it with the extinguisher. The desk clerk glared daggers at us and said something about fumare (smoking). We said no, we don’t smoke and we were asleep this whole time! Somehow we managed to go back to sleep, and the next morning, we examined the aftermath… the window box that once contained flowers had melted into a pile of charred plastic.

So... that happened...
So… that happened…

The only conclusion that made any sense to us was that someone from one of the upper floors must have flicked a cigarette off their balcony, which landed on ours, and the dry heat caused the flowers to combust. However, we decided that we were going to tell Dr. Shealy that we received a message from god in the form of a burning bush. (Shel gets to be Moses.)

After we had our breakfast cappuccinos, we approached the desk to check out of our room. The woman behind the desk frowned at us and started ranting; the only word I could really catch (because she kept repeating it) was “fuego” (fire). When I shook my head, she frowned again and another hotel guest tried to translate. “She says your… vegetables caught on fire. You are not supposed to smoke in the room.” When we said we were asleep the entire time, people behind us started laughing. We ended up being charged €50 to replace the fire extinguisher. It bothered me, but we couldn’t really defend ourselves due to the language barrier, and it wasn’t worth arguing about or potentially getting police involved.

After this bizarre turn of events, we decided not to let it set the tone for our whole day. We checked our luggage at the train station then decided to take the bus to Piazza Duomo.

Milan's Il Duomo.
Milan’s Il Duomo.

Milan’s duomo is a magnificent gothic cathedral, with dozens of pointed alabaster spires extending towards the heavens. It’s probably one of my favorites I’ve seen so far! (And we have seen a lot of churches.) Margie was the only one dressed “modestly” enough to be allowed inside the church, but she could only take a peek inside because there were services going on.

Milan Milan

We walked around window-shopping in the galleria for a while, but pretty much everything was way out of my budget! Eventually we split up to do some shopping. I purchased a few things at H&M. People-watching was fun too. Italian women always seem put-together and classy, even on the hottest days.

Later we visited a chapel that contains Leonardo Da Vinci’s fresco of “The Last Supper.”

The Last Supper / photo via Wikipedia
The Last Supper / photo via Wikipedia

There were a few things that we did not get to see, including a contemporary art museum. We made it back to the train station to catch our ride just in time, only to be delayed an hour due to mechanical problems. We missed our ride in Chiusi so we ate bus station sandwiches while waiting for the next one. Shel made a drawing of a carrot and a head of lettuce on fire, with little speech bubbles that said “FUEGO!” We could not get over the “flaming vegetables” incident.


Sunday, June 13, 2004

Today was fairly uneventful, but sometimes that’s a good change of pace. Shel and I went down the mountain to Margie’s apartment, which is located outside of the city walls in the newer section of town. Her apartment was built in the early 90’s (yes, 1990’s, not 1490’s). We spent the morning working on our sketchbooks.

Working hard, hardly working...
Working hard, hardly working…

After lunch, we went back to town and used the internet for a while. Afterwards, Shel and I took Margie back to show her our apartment. We were hanging out watching television, when suddenly we heard music coming from outside our window. We wandered down to the street to see what the commotion was about. We found Dr. Trendell, who explained that today Montepulciano was celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi. From what I’ve observed, Italians seem to have an interesting relationship with Catholicism. Younger generations are becoming more secular, but the church is still important to them because it has been the backbone of the community for so long. Sometimes these festivals seem less about Catholic doctrine and more about celebrating a big part of the national culture.


Monday, June 14, 2004

I can’t believe that we only have two weeks left! Time has been flying by so fast. Sometimes it’s overwhelming and I can only stare at the blank pages in my journal and wonder how on earth to possibly describe everything. I wish I could spend another month here, but I’m running out of money so I don’t think I could afford it even if I had the ability to stay. Although I probably never would have had the chance to come here if not for the study abroad program, I do admit that being herded around major cities and rushed through museums in large groups is probably not the best way to enjoy everything that Italy has to offer. Hopefully sometime in the future I can come back, but if not, I’m glad to be keeping this journal so I can remember everything. Spending five weeks here is an opportunity that not everyone has, so I’m grateful to be able to do it.

I’m also grateful to have friends around to travel with, because it seems like I don’t share a lot in common with most of the other students. Most of them are under 21, and since they can buy alcohol here they have made the trip into a 5-week pub crawl, so they spend most of the time complaining about their hangovers.


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Today’s field trip was to Pienza, located a few kilometers south of Montepulciano. The interesting thing about Pienza is that it was basically rebuilt entirely by Pope Pius II and his wealthy cousins, the Piccolomini family. The Pope wanted Pienza to be the “ideal” Renaissance town, so it was laid out entirely to his specifications. Pienza is considerably smaller than Montepulciano, and very quiet as if on permanent siesta. Pienza is known in the region for its production of pecorino cheese.

We stopped by a cathedral where we saw a few frescoes that had partially peeled away from the wall. There are two types of fresco: Buon fresco is a painting done on wet plaster, so the pigment actually becomes part of the wall. Fresco secco is done on dry plaster, so the paint is a layer sitting on top of the wall. This latter type of fresco is often removed from its original site and placed in museums for preservation. (An example of buon fresco would be the Sistene Chapel.)

Next, we visited the Piccolomini palace. Our tour guide spoke English, but her accent was so thick that I could only understand some of the things she said. We were given a tour of the whole palace, including a room where the Pope stayed during visits.

Nice view from the Pope's room!
Nice view from the Pope’s room!

Finally, we visited the Diocesian Museum, with yet another early Christian art collection. After a while, all those Virgin Marys start looking the same, and I think I have seen enough crucifixions to last a lifetime. There were also several robes and garments that belonged to Pope Pius II.

After lunch, we went back to the bus stop, to find out that we missed the bus. We waited for an hour, and when the next bus came, the driver said it wasn’t going to Montepulciano, so we waited some more. Finally the right bus came, but we could have walked back home in the time we spent waiting for it. At dinner we heard a story about Dr. Trendell accidentally leaving his camera on the counter in a store, and the owner actually tracked him down to return it.


Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Not much going on today. Went to class, worked on sketchbooks, walked around a bit and ate lunch at the little restaurant near our apartment (the owner makes an utterly amazing lasagna). And I got mail!

Us “three amigos” are staying in Montepulciano this weekend. It will be nice to relax for a few days, but we’ll probably spend some time finishing up our sketch journals. We’re planning to spend next weekend in Rome since we will be going there for a field trip. Veronica (one of our art history classmates) is making the hotel reservations. I’m excited, but also a little sad because the trip to Rome will be our last adventure in Italy.


Thursday, June 17, 2004

Today is our final trip to Florence; visit #4 for me, and I still can’t get enough! My classmates, on the other hand, seem like they’re sick of it.

First on the agenda today was a visit to the Bargello museum. Contained within are mostly sculptures, including Michelangelo’s “Bacchus”, a marble portrait of the Roman wine god with a playful satyr.

Bacchus / photo via Wikipedia
Bacchus / photo via Wikipedia

On the second floor was Donatello’s bronze statue of David. His approach in portraying the Biblical hero was different than Michelangelo’s; Donatello’s David is shown as younger, with softer features, representing strength in a more subtle way as his foot rests under the severed head of Goliath.

Donatello's David / photo via Wikipedia
Donatello’s David / photo via Wikipedia
Ghiberti's panel / photo via Wikipedia
Ghiberti’s panel / photo via Wikipedia

Also in this museum are two gilded bronze quatrefoil panels that were created as a competition to decorate the baptistry doors. Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi were the two artists who wanted the privilege. The theme of the contest was the Biblical story of Isaac, and although Ghiberti won, both entries are hanging side-by-side in the museum. Ghiberti’s panel is more classical in style and features more drama, while Brunelleschi’s panel is somewhat violent and not as idealized.( Another factor that contributed to Ghiberti’s victory is that his panel is cast all in one solid piece of bronze, thus making it easier to reproduce, unlike Brunelleschi’s, which was cast in pieces and assembled.)

Our last stop for the day was the Giardini di Boboli (Boboli Gardens) and the Pitti Palace. Ms. Murray turned us loose to wander around the gardens, which reminded me of the hedge maze from Alice in Wonderland, with lots of hills.

Florence Florence Florence

It was a really hot, sunny day so we tried to keep in the shade as much as possible. The gardens were sprawling and included fountains and statues, including several sculptures of turtles, which were supposedly a Medici family symbol. We stumbled upon a small vineyard and encountered a lot of stray cats. Eventually we climbed high enough to reach a cliff side where we could see a lovely panoramic view of the Florentine skyline.

Arrivederci, Florence!
Arrivederci, Florence!

My Italian Study Abroad Adventure: Part 3 of 5

Friday, June 4, 2004

This morning, we decided to hop back on the local train and go tour the ruins of ancient Pompeii. In the year 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the entire city. Everything happened so quickly that the city was almost perfectly preserved under layers of ash, turning Pompeii into a life-size time capsule.

Hanging out in Pompeii.
Hanging out in Pompeii.

Pompeii is already so large that it would have been impossible to see entirely in one afternoon, and more buildings are still being excavated. We just sort of wandered around, occasionally checking the map to see what we were looking at. We were able to view mosaics and frescoes that were still mostly intact — amazing considering that the city was once buried under lava and volcanic debris.

Pompeii Pompeii Pompeii Pompeii

There were a couple of preserved human bodies, and even a dog, both frozen into positions that looked as if they were trying to hide from the eruption.

Hey there, preserved dude.
Preserved dude.
Etruscans were pervs.
Etruscans were pervs.

Apparently phallic imagery is big in Pompeii. We found one memorable fresco of a man weighing his penis in a scale, and in a building that apparently used to be a brothel, there was even more penis art. I’m glad nobody asked for a postcard from Pompeii, because they all had pictures of penises.

After we finished in Pompeii, we returned to Sorrento for lunch. I had been wanting seafood this entire time, so I ordered spaghetti con polipetti locali — “spaghetti with local baby octopus.” It came out as a plate of noodles and tentacles with marinara sauce, and turned out to be very delicious. The server also said my Italian pronounciation was very good, so gold star for me. At least I know that I can read from a menu and not offend someone.

After our meal, we spent some time walking around Sorrento. It’s apparently famous for its enormous citrus trees. I think some of those lemons were the size of my head! Being situated on the cliffs overlooking the Gulf of Naples, our hostel’s property has a path that leads down to the “beach,” but it is really just a rocky outcropping that provides access to the water, if you want to jump in.

Beautiful but freezing!
Beautiful but freezing!

While waiting for the bus back to Santa Fortunata, we met up with the rest of our classmates. Apparently two girls who forgot their passports on Thursday ended up getting into Naples so late that that trains had stopped running, so they had to take a taxi to Sorrento, which cost over €100. I kept thinking it would have been cheaper to find a hotel and stay the night in Naples, then ride the train in the next morning. Of course, later on I heard some stories and realized why nobody wants to stay the night in Naples — it sounds kinda scary.

When we returned to the hostel, we noticed a sign by the office that was advertising a boat ride to Capri for €21 a person. We tried unsuccessfully to ask the man behind the counter whether or not it was a good value (he did not speak English as well as the night clerk), until he finally told us that the public ferry was only €19, but this tour would take us around the whole island. Sign me up!


Saturday, June 5, 2004

Departing from Sorrento.
Departing from Sorrento.

We woke early so we would have time to catch the boat to Capri at 8:30. When we arrived at the dining hall, someone asked to see our complimentary breakfast tickets, but we were never given any, so we had to run over to the front office to get them. We barely finished eating with time to sprint down to the beach and hop on the boat. We picked up a few more people at a local marina, and then set sail for Capri.

The water was a little choppy, and a lot of my childhood memories involve fishing in the Gulf of Mexico with my dad, where I was seasick the entire time. I was concerned about vomiting, but thankfully I didn’t. The ocean was such a vibrant, iridescent ultramarine color — something I had never seen before. The shallower areas were clear as crystal, and we could easily view all the way to the bottom.

Approaching the island.
Approaching the island.
White Grotto
White Grotto

The boat circled the island and took us past the Grotto Bianco (White Grotto), a small cave like a mouth opening up out of the the rocky cliffs. They took us around to the back side of the island, and we passed through a natural rock archway jutting up out of the water like the fin of an enormous fish. We docked at a public beach located near the city of Anacapri. We would be given the day to explore the island, and the boat would pick us up again at the end of the afternoon. The beach was mostly pebbles, unlike the smooth white sandy Panama City beaches I was used to. It was far too cold to swim, so I spent a while walking up and down the shore to pick up sea glass.

Where we spent most of the day.
Where we spent most of the day.

After an hour or two, we started getting hungry, so I went to find my flip-flops, but they were conspicuously absent from the spot I left them. I was bewildered until Shel spotted one of my shoes bobbing on the waves! She didn’t mind the cold water, so she managed to swim out and retrieve it. Unfortunately it seemed that the other castaway flip-flop was gone for good. While searching for my shoes, we were being observed the whole time — by a little old man we’d soon come to know as Giovanni. When Shel finally came out of the water, we saw him standing in front of a beachside restaurant. He was calling out and motioning for us to come over. We were still hungry, so we decided to accept the invitation. (Besides, where could I go with one shoe?) He spoke a lot of English, and immediately introduced himself and offered us the best seats, no service charge, “anything you want!” At some point I realized he was talking mostly to Shel, who was only wearing her swimsuit. As he ushered us over to a table, he made some random comments about how “Your mothers raised very good daughters!” (Whatever that means.)

At least the view was good!
At least the view was good!

After we ordered our food, he asked if anyone wanted a side salad, but we had been in Italy long enough to find out that sides usually cost extra. Giovanni exclaimed, “For you, no charge!” so Shel replied, “Okay sure, I’ll take a free salad.” He frowned at her and said, “I did not say that!” before walking away. By this time, Shel had dried off so she put her clothes back on. Giovanni ignored us for the remainder of our meal, refused to take my Visa card, and told us to leave a tip “in cash.” (Didn’t he promise no service charge?) I deduced that if we had all taken our shirts off, we might have gotten a free meal.

I decided that I could either go barefoot for the rest of the day (which is admittedly a pretty normal thing for me to do) or buy a new pair of shoes. Luckily we found a little shop near the beach that was selling flip-flops. The cashier thought it was funny when I came in barefoot and told them “what had happened was…”

So pretty, but so cold!
So pretty, but so cold!

After buying lunch and replacement shoes, I was left with no cash. We decided not to bother taking the bus into Anacapri and just hung around on the beach for the remainder of the afternoon. We ran into a few other girls from our group, and eventually we all decided to be brave and go swimming. The blue water was so seductive, even though it felt like being submerged in a bucket of ice. But, at least I crossed the Mediterranean Sea off my list of places to swim.

Enjoying our last few moments on Capri.
Enjoying our last few moments on Capri.
The Blue Grotto
The Blue Grotto

We spent the final few hours just avoiding a sunburn, until our boat came back and we began the return trip to Sorrento. As we circled back around the island, we stopped by the Grotta Verde (Green Grotto) which was basically just another archway where the light reflecting off the water made it appear to glow green. Our final stop was the Grotta Azurra (Blue Grotto) which is similar to the Green Grotto (only blue, obviously), and a very popular tourist attraction. If you want to, you could pay money to take a small rowboat into an even smaller cave. The tide was so high by this point that people were having to lay down in the boats in order to get into the grotto. To that I said no thanks.

Back in Sorrento, the other girls went to take showers while I decided to go find a bancomat. For some reason there was no ATM on the hostel property even though they only took cash payments. The hotel across the street didn’t have one, so I just started walking in hopes that I’d stumble across a bank. I had walked probably half a mile — and almost been run over by several trucks and a Vespa — when two men, whom I assumed were my age if not younger, pulled up next to me on a motorcycle. The conversation that followed went something like this: one asked me if I spoke English, I said yes. The other asked me if I was Canadian, and I said no, I’m from the US. For some reason this made them suddenly very excited, and one asked me if I wanted to go out with them later. By this point I was getting uncomfortable, so I said I was meeting a friend and excused myself. When I relayed this story to Dr. Comerford later, she told me that Canadian girls are considered prettier, but American girls are considered more promiscuous. Good to know…


Sunday, June 6, 2004

We woke up really early to catch the train back to Naples. For whatever reason, the train was delayed, so we missed our connecting train to Chiusi and had to wait for another. We arrived just in time to hop on the last bus to Montepulciano!

At dinner, we learned that Ronald Reagan died. Dr. Trendell also reminded us of the anniversary of D-Day, because without the people who fought and died in World War II, we might not even be able to visit Italy today. Speaking of dinner: have I mentioned that several girls have a crush on our server, Eliseo? He seems to be a typical Italian playboy. It’s really very funny. Our other server is Fabiola, who doesn’t know as much English as Eliseo, but is still as sweet as can be. I think at the end of the trip we are going to take up a collection so we can give them a gigantic tip, for putting up with 40+ hungry, cranky, tired Americans every night.

Our group having dinner.
Our group having dinner.

Monday, June 7, 2004

Photo via Wikipedia, since none of mine came out good.
Photo via Wikipedia, since none of mine looked good.

Today, sketchbook class hiked all the way down the mountain to see the cathedral of San Biagio. It’s one of Montepulciano’s “landmarks” but was not swarming with tourists. In fact, we were the only people there. Just like almost every other church we’ve seen throughout our trip, it had scaffolding all over one side because it was undergoing restorations.

Crociani Family wine shop.
Crociani Family wine shop.

Later in the evening our entire group had a wine tasting at the Crociani family vineyard. We were told a little bit about their history, then given a selection of four wines to sample. Well, it wasn’t really a sample, they just left an entire bottle at each table. The varieties of wine included three reds and one white. The first was a young red from 2002 called Rosso di Montepulciano, and had a robust flavor that I enjoyed very much. The second was Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, an aged red from 2001, followed by another Vino Nobile from 1999. Both were made from the same grapes, but each had a distinctly different taste. Vino Nobile is one of the 27 types of wine produced in Tuscany that have gained recognition as being best in the region. The last wine we were given was called Vin Santo, a dessert white made from grapes that were pressed after they began to ferment, then aged for 7 to 10 years. The bottle we were given was from 1993. However, I did not like this one as much because I found the flavor to be sickly-sweet. I only enjoyed it when I dipped biscotti into the wine.

Montepulciano

I soon realized that Italian wines appear to have a much higher alcohol content than those bottled in the States. I only had a couple of glasses, but my face felt flushed and I wanted to go take a nap! I don’t know if it was actually the wine or if my brain realized how tired I was. Waking up at 7am or earlier, day-long field trips, and weekends completely consumed by travel don’t leave a lot of time to relax. Lately I’ve been feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day for all the things we’ve been doing. I also realized that we’re now about halfway through our trip, when I overheard a couple of people talking about how much they’re ready to go home. I haven’t quite reached that point yet, and I don’t know if I will. I love almost everything about being here, and the few little annoyances don’t really bother me too much. It’s really cool how much of the language I’ve picked up in such a short time.


Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Another field trip; today our sketchbook class went to Siena. As usual, a bunch of people showed up at the bus stop with hangovers. Ms. Murray told us that the ride to Siena was “a little rough,” so anyone who feels like they might get sick should probably sit up front. Basically the whole group sat up front. To make matters worse, we had the most aggressive bus driver — he would ride other cars’ bumpers and honk incessantly until they moved over, and he would speed around blind curves without slowing down, even as cars in the opposite lane were barreling toward us. And he was ranting in Italian the entire trip. The few people in the back of the bus kept yelling, which was funny, but I’m actually surprised nobody threw up. Or that we didn’t all die.

Photo via Wikipedia
Photo via Wikipedia

Siena is a quintessential Tuscan city; a lot like Montepulciano, only larger. The city is centered around the Piazza del Campo, and all the major roads converge there, so it seems pretty hard to get lost. Our first stop was the art supply store of course, which was quite small so we had to take turns going inside in groups of three. Fun art fact: the soil from Siena is the original source for the color burnt sienna. They were selling little jars of dirt that could be mixed with a binder (such as linseed oil or egg yolk) to create paint.

Our next stop was the Piazza. It’s divided into nine sections, reflected by patterns in the brickwork, representing the nine political districts of the city. There were quite a few people sunning themselves out in the Piazza. Some of us had lunch in the shade while waiting for the rest of our group to meet up.

Piazza del Campo
Piazza del Campo
Nope, not high at all...
Nope, not high at all…

Following lunch, we visited a Christian art museum, which did have a few interesting pieces but overall was in dire need of restoration. Afterward, we visited the duomo and baptistry, which were undergoing restoration at the time; the duomo’s museum presented yet another medieval Christian art collection. We were given the the opportunity to climb to the top of the clock tower for a great view, but the weather was balmy and there were over 400 stairs, so I can’t imagine why nobody wanted to. (Sarcasm.) Shel and I found a Leonardo Da Vinci museum hidden in an alleyway, and since students get a discount, we’re hoping to return to visit later on.

On the way back to the bus station, a couple of us bought linen scarves from a street vendor. Mine is a really pretty cranberry color. They seem to be a trendy item here, even in summer (I assume to keep the sun away, or to cover shoulders in church). I also keep seeing tote bags that all say “Pink Bag” on the side even though they come in colors other than pink. Occasionally I will see one that says “Pinko Bag.” I can only assume that the people who buy them don’t speak English, because I also saw one that said “Kevin Bag.” Maybe Kevin is a fashion designer or something.


Wednesday, June 9, 2004

I’m going to dedicate this entry to the wonderful world of Italian food!

1. “Breakfast” in Italy is a cappuccino. Since I don’t really drink coffee I’ve been eating croissants or yogurt with fruit instead. Occasionally you will see restaurants offering “American Breakfast” (bacon, eggs, etc.) on a separate tourist menu with stupid high prices.

2. Tuscans eat a lot of meat. I think we’re given beef for dinner at least three times a week, and they like their steak rare — bloody and practically still mooing, which is how I like it too! Most people in our group don’t seem to want it unless it’s cooked so long that it becomes impossible to tell that it was alive at some point. Italians aren’t known for their meat-free lifestyles, so the vegetarians in our group have started complaining because they’ve mostly been stuck eating tomato slices, eggplant parmesan, and cheese plates. There are some items on menus here that you probably wouldn’t see in the States, including horse and pigeon. Rabbit is also common. To my knowledge, we have not been served any of these… yet. I wouldn’t be opposed to trying any of them, but I can’t imagine that horse would taste very good.

3. A couple of nights ago at dinner, everyone requested salad. When Eliseo and Fabiola brought out the salad plates, most of my classmates just sort of stared blankly, until someone said, “Where’s the dressing?” Dr. Comerford leaned over and said, “No Italian dressing here, guys!” One girl’s jaw dropped and she exclaimed, “We have to eat dry salad?!” I pointed at the bottle of balsamic vinegar in my hand and said, “You’ve been putting this on your bread every night, but it can go on lettuce too.” It was hilarious, like nobody has ever made their own salad dressing before?

4. Pizza doesn’t always come with tomato sauce. Some versions have alfredo or pesto sauce. Some have no sauce at all. My favorite toppings are funghi (mushrooms) and carcofi (artichokes).

5. I’ve really grown fond of these hand-made fat spaghetti noodles called pici. I’ve been buying it in little bags from one of the produce markets on the Corso and it cooks in almost no time. I really like one that is flavored with tartufi (truffles).

6. For some reason, peanut butter is either expensive or unavailable here. Italians substitute Nutella, which apparently most people in my group had never heard of until we arrived. It is a chocolate-hazelnut spread and tastes good on almost anything.

7. Restaurants only offer bottled water. You usually have a choice between naturale (mineral water) and frizzante (sparkling water) — but don’t expect ice cubes. Also, don’t expect free refills… on anything, even water. I admit that I do miss being able to drink all the water I want, not to mention buy a Coca-Cola for less than five dollars. It’s funny that beer is cheaper than water and wine practically falls from the sky, but you have to sell your soul to get a Coke.

8. In addition to gelato, I’ve discovered panna cotta, a creamy custard usually drizzled with chocolate. I actually found some in prepackaged cups at the supermarket. Also, real tiramisù is soaked in alcohol.

9. Italians prefer their food to be made fresh, so preservatives aren’t very popular and they don’t appear to like food dyes very much either. Even McDonald’s is no exception. The food is better and even the ketchup tastes different. I think it’s the tomatoes, or maybe the absence of corn syrup. There are a couple of items on the menu that don’t exist in America, including a salad with salmon and shrimp, a “Crispy McBacon” sandwich, and a “Caribbean combo” (a pita bread sandwich with some kind of tropical dressing). The missing food dyes are really obvious in things like candies and sodas. Orange Fanta looks like Sprite, compared to the scary neon color it is back home.

10. Plastic bags and cling wrap don’t seem to exist here. It’s difficult to pack a lunch without them! Wrapping in brown paper is the best I’ve come up with so far.


Thursday, June 10, 2004

Another trip to Florence today, this time with the art history class. This makes visit #3 for Shel, Margie, and me. From there we will be heading north, to Venice (finally)!

Florence is so beautiful!
Florence is so beautiful!

Of all the cities I have visited so far, I think Florence has left the strongest impression on me. At first glance it is a crowded, chaotic place; absolutely saturated with museums and cathedrals to the point of absurdity. However, there is rhythm to the city that truly demonstrates its role as the birthplace of the Renaissance; the dirt and noise does not overshadow the beauty and history. Each time I leave I’m left with a feeling of nostalgia, almost like I’d been there before. Of course, Florence is also the chosen city of one of my favorite fictional characters — Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Michelangelo's David / photo via Wikipedia
Michelangelo’s David / photo via Wikipedia

Today we visited the Accademia, which was originally the first art school in Europe. Now it’s a museum that is well-known for housing Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Biblical hero David. (There is a copy outside in the Piazza della Signoria, but this is the real one, so no photos allowed.) “David” is 12 feet tall, standing on a pedestal under an arch at the end of a long hallway. His face is very lifelike, with a pensive expression as he stands poised and ready for battle. Several unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo also line the hallway preceding David. These sculptures include his second Pietà, which was the last piece he began before his death. This exhibit gave me the feeling of stepping into the artist’s studio and viewing his works in progress. Since I’m not a sculptor, it’s always amazing to me that someone can concieve a form and bring it out of a block of stone with nothing but a hand chisel.

The most sweaty ride ever.
The most sweaty ride ever.

Since we had seen the duomo and baptistry already, us three were excused from class to go back to the train station to wait for our ride to Venice. We’ve been walking around all day, so naturally we’re exhausted, and the weather had gradually warmed up to a sweltering 90 degrees (no, I don’t know what that is in Celcius and quite frankly I was too hot to care). By the time we boarded our train to Venice, we were practically drenched in sweat. As fate would have it, our train’s air conditioning was broken — I don’t know if it was just our car, or the whole train, but either way we roasted for the entire duration of the three hour ride. Yesterday I made another reservation for us, at a different hostel. This one was recommended by several people who went to Venice during the first week of class. Camping Fusina was located just outside of Venice, predictably in a town called Fusina. As we were waiting for a bus, a stranger approached us and asked us for the time, then used that as an opening to engage us in a conversation. When our bus pulled up, he got on with us and continued to talk, then finally he asked, “My English is like macaroni?” When I said I didn’t follow, he replied, “Americans like macaroni. So, my English must be like macaroni, yes?”

After walking around all day in the heat, riding in a hot train, and getting on a hot bus, we arrived at the hostel, checked into our room… and it was hot. By this time I was going to cry if I didn’t at least get a shower. Fortunately, Camping Fusina was much nicer than Santa Fortunata. We actually got our correct room this time, and it was okay, aside from the lack of air conditioning. It was clean and had real beds. I think this is about as close to actual camping as I ever want to be.

Hostel, sweet hostel.
Hostel, sweet hostel.

My Italian Study Abroad Adventure: Part 2 of 5

Friday, May 28, 2004

Munching Italian McDonald's, waiting for a bus.
Munching Italian McDonald’s, waiting for a bus.

Shel, Margie, and I woke up early and bought intercity bus tickets (“biglietto” in Italian) to Florence. All by ourselves! There are different routes and times for weekdays, weekends, and “festival days” (holidays), but I think I finally have the bus schedule figured out. While waiting for the bus, we met a nice Canadian couple who are also staying in town, so we talked with them for a while. In Florence we decided not to use our Eurorail passes for such a short trip, so we purchased a group ticket to Pisa. The train ride was about 45 minutes, and when we arrived we were instructed to get on Bus #3 for the Leaning Tower.

The Leaning Tower, along with the baptistry and duomo (which are not leaning), stand together in the Piazza di Miracoli (Miracle Square). These are pretty much the only attractions that anyone really comes to see in Pisa, so it was very crowded.

Piazza di Miracoli
Piazza di Miracoli
The Leaning Tower
The Leaning Tower

The Leaning Tower pretty much looks just like every photograph I’ve ever seen, but I was pretty excited to finally see the familiar structure in person. We decided not to bother buying tickets to get inside the buildings, even though it would have been fun to climb to the top of the Leaning Tower — which, by the way, has been stabilized and straightened a bit over the years. The reason it leans is because the soil underneath is not strong enough to support the building’s foundation. Apparently it was quite a feat of engineering to keep the tower from completely falling over!

After we finished looking around, we assumed that if we got back onto Bus 3, it would return to the train station. Well, we got there… eventually. What we didn’t know was that Bus 3 would end up leaving Pisa altogether (seriously, there was a sign that said “Pisa” with a big slash through it) and cruising around the countryside for half an hour. I think we just barely made it in time to catch our train back to Florence. When we got back onto the bus for Montepulciano, we met up with our Canadian friends again! As we arrived at dinner, we discovered that a couple of people were already back from Venice. From what I heard, they had a horrible time because nobody bothered to check the weather (it was raining) and a few people didn’t even bother to make hotel reservations. I definitely want to visit Venice, but it seemed like everyone was so eager to start exploring that they didn’t think through their plans completely.


Saturday, May 29, 2004

We were walking around town as usual this afternoon, and stumbled upon a film crew! A few of us sat and watched a camera mounted on a long crane swing back and forth across a section of rooftops. Dr. Shealy described what he knew of the basic plot of the movie and said they are filming in small towns all over Tuscany. The remainder of the day was uneventful; we mostly just avoided the rain by staying indoors and working on our sketch journals. We set up a few still lifes with fruit we had purchased that week.

Strawberries

Fortunately, since the weather has been warming up, the poppy fields have started blooming. They are sprouting up everywhere, growing all along the hillsides. They have quickly become one of my favorite flowers because of their amazing vermilion color. Ms. Murray says that before we leave, they will be overshadowed by enormous sunflowers.

Poppies

We’ve gotten into the habit of putting on Italian MTV for background noise while we do schoolwork. Our television only picks up a couple of channels, and MTV is the best of what we have to choose from. Sometimes they will air a program in English with Italian subtitles, but mostly they play a lot of music videos from the States. We’ve also been exposed to some catchy Italian pop music too.


Sunday, May 30, 2004

Some things I’ve learned in Italy so far:

1. Just attempt to speak Italian, even completely butchering the pronounciation or sounding like a cave man and most people will just be delighted that you didn’t walk up to them and start babbling in English.

2. Womanizing appears to be the Italian national pastime. Men don’t notice me 99% of the time, so it’s strangely flattering to suddenly be considered “exotic” or something. A lot of it really is just innocent flirting, but sometimes it can border on sexual harassment since there is a stereotype that American women come to Italy to have an affair. If you possess breasts, you might find that random men twice your age want to buy you wine, flowers, and small Tuscan villas.

3. How to use the metric system, read a 24-hour clock, and tell temperatures in Celcius.

4. Italians take a mid-day siesta, so a lot of businesses are usually closed from 13-15:00 (1-3pm), and sometimes even until 16:00. I think Americans could benefit a great deal from daily “nap” time.

5. Italians smoke like volcanoes. “No smoking” signs appear to be just there for decoration.

6. I’m glad I don’t have to drive here. Often there are no marked lanes on the roads. Motorcycles can go wherever they want, including the sidewalks and between lanes of cars. Red lights and stop signs appear to be just suggestions? And don’t expect anyone to stop or slow down for you just because you’re walking across the road, or even on the sidewalk (where motorcycles like to go). Also, Italian road signs appear to be just clusters of arrows pointing in random directions. Gas might seem cheap at 90 eurocents a liter, until doing the math: that comes out to almost $5 a gallon. (Curse you, metric system!)


Monday, May 31, 2004

Today was fun! After class, Dr. Shealy led a small group of us into a wine cellar belonging to Cantina Redi, one of the local vineyards. We descended a spiral stone staircase into a hollowed-out portion of the mountainside. We were told that when the soil oxidizes it becomes an almost concrete hardness, creating natural underground rooms. Inside the cellar were stacks of giant oak and cedar barrels, each carrying hundreds of liters of wine. The entire cavern had the pungent aroma of fermenting grapes. This cellar was constructed during the Renaissance, but has only been used for storing wine since the 1940’s. When we finished our tour of the cellar, we climbed another set of stairs and exited through a sliding glass door that brought us into the Redi wine shop. Dr. Shealy spoke to the woman behind the counter and she set up a free sample of about six different local wines, including five reds (vini rossi) and a white (vino bianco). I don’t know enough about wine to really comment on the flavors, other than simply say that I liked them! I think the white was my favorite. Unfortunately, we consumed just enough that we giggled the whole way back to our apartment! There is no real drinking age in Italy, but public drunkenness is frowned upon and considered quite tacky.

Wine


Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Today our sketchbook class visited the Tuscan capital city of Florence. Ms. Murray almost put us on the wrong bus, but she finally listened to the three of us who actually took the bus to Florence last week. We ran into our Canadian friends again at the bus depot. They mentioned that they were going to the Uffizi Gallery, but didn’t have reservations. Since that’s where we were heading too, Ms. Murray said she would try to pull some strings so they could get in with our group. Without a reservation, the wait could be anywhere from one to six hours, because it is such a popular attraction. When we reached Florence, we walked through an underground tunnel, which led across the street to our first stop: the church of Santa Maria Novella.

Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella

The art majors from VSU were excited because nearly every square inch of this building was sandblasted into our brains in previous classes (if you’ve had Dr. Davis, you know what I mean). I finally appreciated all the art history tests I crammed for because now the information was actually useful; not just words and pictures in books, but actual, tangible objects. The non-art majors and everyone else just kind of stood around looking bored. Ms. Murray talked about Masaccio’s Holy Trinity fresco, and the gilded altarpiece by Giotto. We were also told that the placement of the interior columns creates an illusion, making the cathedral appear longer than it actually is. Black and white alternating stripes seem to be a recurring design motif in cathedrals from this time period.

From here we dashed across town to the Uffizi Gallery. We had reservations for a specific time, and Ms. Murray didn’t want them to give our space away because we were late. We were told it was easier and quicker to navigate the city by foot rather than bus, which didn’t make a lot of people happy. I love walking around because you get to see a lot more that way!

Uffizi Gallery
Uffizi Gallery

“Uffizi” translates to “offices,” because the building was used by the Florentine government before it became a museum. Outside the building are marble statues of many famous people, including Leonardo da Vinci, Plato, Galileo, Donatello, Machiavelli, and Giotto, among many others. Our Canadian friends were able to get into the museum with us, thanks to Ms. Murray’s powers of persuasion. (I think she told them that she forgot two students who needed tickets. Every once in a while it’s okay to play the “oops, I’m a stupid American” card.) The Uffizi has several floors, each with interconnecting rooms in the center and a main hallway along the perimeter. In most contemporary galleries, paintings are hung in a single-file horizontal line, but here the walls are literally stacked floor to ceiling with paintings, where it seemed as though they were trying to cram in as much art as possible. The result is such a visual cacophony that it’s hard to even figure out where to begin enjoying pieces individually. One of the non-art majors in our group wondered why Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting of “Judith Slaying Holofernes” was so graphic, so I told her the story of how Artemisia was raped, and painted her attacker’s face onto the severed head of Holofernes. Thanks, art history classes!

Judith and Holofernes / photo via Wikipedia
Judith and Holofernes / photo via Wikipedia

Eventually a few of us went off to explore on our own. A room near the entrance was full of pencil sketches by Da Vinci and Michelangelo. In one of the larger rooms were the famous works of Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. Among them included “Pallas and the Centaur” and the famous “Birth of Venus.”

Birth of Venus / photo via Wikipedia
Birth of Venus / photo via Wikipedia

Botticelli’s art has such wonderful movement and elegance, it’s awesome to see these paintings in person. The colors are still incredibly vivid even after so many centuries. “La Primavera” is another of my favorite Botticelli paintings, portraying the Roman goddess Venus surrounded by other deities and playful woodland spirits in her sacred garden on the island of Cyprus.

La Primavera / photo via Wikipedia
La Primavera / photo via Wikipedia

Annoying tour groups would congregate directly in front of the Botticelli paintings, keeping the rest of us from getting a clear view, so we explored and found a few lesser-known Botticelli works, and some by Raphael, Michelangelo, and El Greco.

The Laocoön
The Laocoön

At the end of a hallway, we found a copy of The Laocoön. This piece is a Hellenistic sculpture portraying a scene from Homer’s “Odyssey” in which the soothsayer Laocoön and his three sons are killed by Poseidon’s serpent after Laocoön warns the Trojans against “Greeks bearing gifts.” The original is actually somewhere in the Vatican museum, though I didn’t get to see it. After we were finished at the Uffizi, we met up in the Piazza della Signoria, which is home of the “Rape of the Sabine Women” statue, the Neptune fountain, and a copy of Michelangelo’s “David.” I didn’t feel like battling the crowds to see a copy when we’d be seeing the real thing later this month.

Piazza della Signoria, now featuring even more tourists!
Piazza della Signoria, now featuring even more tourists!

We walked to the Ponte Vecchio, which is a famous bridge across the Arno River (and it’s flanked entirely with jewelry kiosks).

Arno River Arno River

From the Ponte Vecchio, we walked back in the direction of the bus station, stopping by Piazza Duomo to visit the church of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Baptistry of San Lorenzo. The cathedral was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, and inside the church is the tomb of Brunelleschi himself. It is capped by a slightly conical dome almost 140 feet in diameter. At the very top is a lantern, which admits light into the interior of the church. After the dome was completed, a decree was issued to ensure that no other structure would be built higher than the church. The result is a dramatic and easily recognizable skyline belonging to Florence alone.

Church of Santa Maria del Fiore.
Church of Santa Maria del Fiore.
Baptistry doors.
Baptistry doors.

The baptistry is on the side of the plaza opposite the duomo. It is known for its famous bronze doors, designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Panels on the doors portray scenes from Bible stories, including the life of Jesus and the four evangelists. The panels are all three-dimensional relief sculptures, and very detailed for their size! At some point we realized that a few people were missing, so Ms. Murray went back into the church to find them, while the rest of us waited outside. We might as well have been wearing neon signs advertising our fat pockets, because almost immediately we were approached by women holding infants and shaking cups in our faces (their way of asking for donations). When we shooed them away, they were replaced by men who kept trying to sell us knockoff designer sunglasses. It got to the point where we would walk away from them, and they would collectively pick up and move over to keep bothering us. I accidentally made eye contact with one of them, and he would not get out of my face until I physically walked away. Despite the crowds, aggressive grifters, and the occasional bad smells, Florence is one of my favorite places so far.


Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Happy Italian Independence Day! Fun fact: Did you know that Italy has 16 different political parties? I often wish that United States had more choices, since neither of our two accurately represent me.

Almost every afternoon between classes, a few of us will eat lunch sitting on steps of a church near our apartment, but today we got kicked off by a gigantic group of tourists. Even though we are technically tourists here as well, we have started thinking of Montepulciano as “our” town because it seems like we have been living here for so long. I’m sure I’ll be homesick when I return to my actual home. I’m actually glad to have a break from the American news media, but it feels so strange to be out of the loop. I wasn’t even aware that President Bush was visiting Rome until almost every building in Montepulciano was displaying a very specific flag, a rainbow pattern emblazoned with the word PACE. Dr. Comerford explained that the word means “peace” and the flags are being flown to show President Bush that they are protesting the war in Iraq. While Americans seem to be split in half over the war, the overwhelming majority of Italians seem to be adamantly against it. I don’t think a lot of Americans really care about what happens to the rest of the world, or what the rest of the world thinks. I feel very fortunate to be traveling abroad, in hopes that it will help expand my horizons beyond what happens within United States borders.

Peace


Thursday, June 3, 2004

Today we visited the Etruscan museum and Christian catacombs in Chiusi, located a short distance from Montepulciano near the border of Umbria. It turns out there is more in Chiusi than just a train station! Shel, Margie, and I were among the students who would be leaving for the weekend, so we had our bags all packed — and they were heavy. We innocently assumed that we would be able to check our luggage at the station like everyone else did last week, so Shel and I decided to cram all our clothes into one suitcase. As luck would have it, the lockers at the train station were broken, so we were told that we would have to carry the overstuffed bag around with us the entire day. Thankfully, the people who ran the catacomb tours offered to watch our bags while we were visiting.

Death march!
Death march!

We hopped on a bus that drove us around for a while until Ms. Murray finally instructed us to get off. We ended up about a mile from where we actually wanted to be. We trudged up and down the hilly terrain, which provided a lovely passing view of the countryside, punctuated by everyone with a hangover saying they were going to die. The temperature was rather mild so walking actually wasn’t so horrible for those of us who got a good night’s sleep. When we arrived at our destination, we realized that our bus actually passed by here earlier in the route, but Ms. Murray didn’t realize it was our stop.

To reach the catacombs, we were led down into a thicket, where we were greeted by a large brick entryway in the hillside. Our guide only spoke Italian, and since Dr. Comerford is the only one of us who is fluent, she provided the translation. The guide explained that the tombs were constructed in the 4th century and hidden away due to the persecution of Christians at that time. Monks in the 1500’s unearthed the tombs when they were breaking ground for a basilica (which no longer stands), and put up the entryway and gate that still remains today.

Entrance to the catacombs.
Entrance to the catacombs.
Walking through the catacombs.
Walking through the catacombs.

The interior of the tombs was basically a series of cave tunnels; very dark and humid, lit only by halogen lamps placed every few meters. Baby stalactites hung from the ceiling like little fangs. Because of the humidity, there were mosquitoes everywhere, and they were enormous. At first they didn’t bother me, but when the ceiling dropped and they started flying into my face, it was pretty gross.

Writing on the catacomb walls.
Writing on the catacomb walls.

The guide led us to an area where along the walls were dozens of hollowed out indentations where bodies would have been placed. Some of them were child-sized, and many even had bone fragments remaining in the graves and words carved in the walls. She led us to one particular burial site where, according to history, an unnamed person was laid to rest and since at the time it was considered disrespectful to leave a grave unmarked, someone had written “God knows his name” (in Latin) into the wall.

After lunch, our next stop was the Etruscan museum. The artifacts were similar to those we saw in Orvieto. This museum contained a wider array of pieces, including ceramic vases painted with intricate designs and marble sarcophagi covered in delicate sculptural relief. I’m constantly amazed by how well-preserved these objects are, considering how ancient and fragile they must be.

In the museum.
In the museum.
Waiting for the train to Sorrento.
Waiting for the train to Sorrento.

A group of us were heading south to the Campania coast, to visit Sorrento for the weekend. From there we would be visiting the ruins of Pompeii and the island of Capri. We didn’t have any definite travel plans, but Ms. Murray said both places are easily accessible from Sorrento. Our train ride from Chiusi to Naples was almost four hours, and in Naples we had to catch the local ‘Circumvesuviana’ train to reach Sorrento.

Sunset in Naples.
Sunset in Naples.

We arrived in Sorrento around 21:00. By this time it was dark and pouring rain. We were all soaked and tired. After what seemed an eternity, some buses pulled up, and by some stroke of luck we encountered a British couple and they directed us to the right one — the very last bus of the night.

A few of us were staying at a hostel called Campogaio Santa Fortunata. When we got off the bus, the first thing I saw were tents. I thought, “I’m so glad we’re not staying in a tent!” because yesterday I had reserved a cabin for the three of us. We approached the desk, and fortunately the guy working the desk spoke English (and as it turned out, he also spoke Italian, German, and something that sounded like Swedish). Our luck took another wrong turn when the clerk could not find our cabin reservation. He said something about how normally when this happens, he gives people a “present” (upgrade) but tonight he “ran out of presents.” He said there was a single cabin and a double cabin available, if we didn’t mind being split up. He gave us the keys to our cabins and told us where to find them. We found one with no problem, but we could not find the other — keep in mind that it is dark, still raining, and we are hungry and really tired. We went back to the desk and he looked a little suprised. “Of course it’s there. You must not have looked in the right place.” So we went back to look for a second time. When we returned to him again, he suggested that we go have dinner before the dining hall closes, while he goes to make sure the cabin didn’t wash away, I guess. When we were finished with dinner, he admitted that he couldn’t find the cabin either (I think it got sucked into a black hole) so he said he would give us one caravan instead of two cabins. That seemed fine to us, we weren’t picky as long as there was a place to sleep. When we found the caravan, it turned out to be a small aluminum camping trailer with a flimsy plywood door. We barely had enough room to move around without hitting our heads on the ceiling (even though none of us are tall by any means), and our beds were two wooden platforms with sheets of foam laid on top. The “four-person caravan” only had two beds so Shel and I finally decided we’d share. The window over Margie’s bed was broken and had been hastily taped back together. We had to take the sheets off our beds and create makeshift curtains for the windows so we could change clothes. All this time, my inner monologue kept repeating, “At least it’s not a tent.”

It was hilarious.
It was hilarious.

After taking a hike to the bathroom I was happy to find the showers were at least hot, but I had to use my own towel and the bathrooms didn’t include toilet paper. Now I realized why youth hostels are so cheap. Don’t expect much for €12 a night. All we really needed was a place to sleep and shower, and that is pretty much all we got.