Monday, June 29, 2009

Thanks!

Welcome to my blog detailing my adventures in Rome in the Plan II Summer Study Abroad program! Thanks for visiting, and I hope you enjoy reading about my action-packed four weeks studying abroad in the heart of Italy. If you have any questions about how my experience was, please leave a comment, and I'll get in touch with you!

Also, a very special thanks to:

American Airlines - for generously awarding me the AA Global Leaders Travel Scholarship that made it possible for me to get to Rome and back!


Austin Ligon, founder of Carmax - for the generous donation that made the Plan II Travel Grant possible that I was so benefited by!


The University of Texas at Austin - for awarding me a scholarship that also helped make my study abroad experience possible!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Chiese, Catacombe, Esami Scritti, e Villa Borghese

Ciao a tutti,

It's been forever since I blogged last (four days), and for that I apologize. I am having a bit of separation anxiety with Rome, and I can't believe these last few days have passed by so quickly. Thus, I am going to go ahead The second to last day of class, we had a guest lecturer Dr. Irene Baldriga come discuss Baroque and Renaissance architecture and art by bringing us to some of the ubiquitous churches in Rome and using them as her textbook examples. That afternoon, we had a review session with Dr. Prieto where we crystallized what we did in the course and what we need to think about for the midterm. The next day, Dr. Galinsky took us out to see the Jewish and the Christian Catacombs, which were both really cool and unique but in different ways. That afternoon was Dr. Galinsky's seminar and discussion, which was also helpful to crystallizing the whole experience in Rome. Finally, today, I had my finals in the afternoon followed by an amazing 7 course dinner and some fun games of Bang!.

Wednesday, January 24, 2009

Churches

We started the morning near the Pantheon as people got breakfast apple croissant pastries and Italian coffee to brighten up the morning before classes officially started. It was there that we met Dr. Galinsky and Dr. Irene Baldriga, who was our guest lecturer for the day. Trained in art history, we first visited what used to be the old university of Rome, which was really cool because it had a church built into the university in the back area. This was supposed to be an excellent example of Baroque style because of the ornateness of the top dome area.

We then visited a couple more churches featuring works by people like Caravaggio with various different styles of art. The last church that we visited was in the Piazza Navona, which used to be a stadium where people would watch games after the rule of Emperor Domitian. There was a really nice fountain in the middle of Piazza Navona called the Fountain of the Four Rivers built by Bernini (who also built St. Peter's Square) which was right across the street from the Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone.

Review Session

After the review session and a simple meal of sandwiches, we had our final review session/wrapup session for HUM 350 with Dr. Prieto at the AIRC. He was very helpful in directing our thoughts as to what the final would probably be covering, and I felt much better about the review session about the final itself.

Dinner

That night, we went to go and have Da Baffeta, which is by and far away the best pizza I've had in Rome so far. Even though the wait for our food was probably around forty minutes, the wait was completely worth it as I ordered their Da Baffeta pizza which had every possible desirable topping imaginable on the pizza itself. After demolishing the pizza, we stopped next door to go to Frigidarium, the best gelato place I've been to in Rome (including San Crespino's which the guidebooks say is the best gelato in Rome).

Thought of the Day

Despite the fact that the food in Italy is almost universally great, pizza and pasta really do get tiring after awhile. Although the Italians do have something called the secondi piatti or second dish that usually consists of some various meat or fish, it is usually prohibitively expensive for a student on a budget. Thus, I have no more wish for pasta or pizza

Thursday, January 25, 2009

Catacombs

So today was the big day - my presentation for the class. As I have mentioned before, part of the academic component for the study abroad program is to make a ten to fifteen minute presentation on one of the subjects in Rome. Mine was examining the reasons for the rise of Christianity despite the many obstacles it faced. Before that, however, we visited the Jewish Catacombs, which was really cool because they are located on private property and usually off limits to the general public. We got special permission to visit this site, and it was very much worth it. It really felt like a catacomb, as there were no lights there for us to see everything.

At the Christian Catacombs at San Callisto, everything was much different. First of all, it is a huge tourist draw mainly for Christians who want to see where some popes and bishops were buried in antiquity. Additionally, you have to make reservations so that a tour guide for the area (really a priest charged with taking care of the catacombs) can show you the way down. The tour group was humongous, and it was not really as conducive to having the best experience there, but it was still enjoyable. Interestingly enough, an old friend from high school was coincidentally on the tour, and it was such a coincidence. Finally, after all that I gave my presentation.

More Vatican

After finishing my postcards, I went to the Vatican yet again to go and mail the last of my postcards that I am sending from Europe. It's always nice to be able to see St. Peter's again, and I also managed to pick up a few more souvenirs on the way back before heading over to the AIRC by bus to get to the last class session of my study abroad experience - a joint seminar/final exam review with Dr. Galinsky.

Review Session

We had a really interesting discussion about unity within the Roman Empire and whether or not the toleration and pluralism of the Roman Empire was ultimately good or bad for the Roman Empire. Dr. Galinsky challenged us to come up with solutions to the problems of unity in the Roman Empire, and we had some great debate over what the most effective means would be to achieve these goals. This segued nicely into our discussion of what we would need to know for the final, which essentially pursued similar lines of thought.

Dinner

Dinner that evening was a simple homemade affair courtesy of Harvey once again, who is officially the cook for the Plan II Rome trip. After dinner, I started collecting my thoughts about the final and began rereading the different articles to prepare for the final.

Thought of the Day

It's hard to believe the academic component of my study abroad experience is over. Even though the workload is relatively light compared to some classes I've taken (and I've only been at UT one year mind), it's still been a burden to have had to write two papers a week five pages in length each. That everything is finally about to be over and that my summer is about to become free of academic obligations makes me wish I was taking the finals now.

Friday, January 26, 2009

Final Exams

After studying in the morning for the final, I walked over to the AIRC for the last time ever to take my finals. I thought that the T C one was particularly interesting, as the topic was something that I was very comfortable in talking about especially with my previous experience in speech and debate. The HUM 350 topic I also enjoyed a lot, as it required both a lot of recall to the sites that we visited (almost all good memories) and application of my own opinions, which is both easier than memorizing facts and fun to provide.

Dinner

We had some great dinner courtesy of the AIRC at a place called Il Desidero Preso per la Coda (don't ask me what that means :P), which was probably the longest name of a restaurant I've been to. It was also the longest meal I've had in my life as far as courses go, with no less than six whole courses including: appetizer (proscuitto e melone - ham and cantaloupe, which was surprisingly good), bread and cheese, a primo piatti (first dish - pasta), a secondi primo piatti (a second first dish - pasta), insalata (salad), and desert (some ice cream and pastry thing, which was fantastic). All in all a good way to finish up the day. It was also here that we said goodbye to Dr. Galinsky, Dr. Arya, and Lynda Albertson, all of which have been instrumental and crucial to making my study aborad experience so enjoyable.

Bang!

After we got back to our apartment, we played a game of Bang!, as Stephen and Alex left us early to go on to have more travels in Europe (Greece to be specific). As Bang! has been such an iconic game of our study abroad experience, it was entirely fitting that we kicked back and relaxed by having a time of fun and games. Additionally, Bang! was designed by an Italian named Emiliano Sciarra who owns the company called Leonardo da Vinci Games, which made it an even more fitting end to our time in Rome.

Tearful Goodbyes

It was then time for Alex and Stephen to leave, so we accompanied them to the local metro station Barberini to see them off. It was sad seeing these two new friends depart for their continuing adventures abroad, but I wish them the best in their travels and hope they have a safe journey.

Thought of the Day

This month in Rome in June passed by way too quickly. I can still vividly remember the AIRC orientation and the complement to our farewell dinner, the welcome dinner, in great clarity. It's hard to believe that from here on out I won't be waking up at 8:20 a.m. in the summer to go to a site where history actually happened like the Colosseum, the Imperial Fora, the Catacombs, or Ostia Antica. If you ever consider studying abroad, make sure you cherish every last minute of your time abroad, because I guarantee you the end of your time will sneak up on you and surprise you before you're ready for it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Final Vatican Trip

I started off the morning (later than usual as I could finally sleep in) at the Vatican, where I picked up a few last souvenirs from there and saw St. Peter's one more time. This time I approached from the avenue with the columns near Castel Sant'Angelo, so now I can finally understand firsthand why Benito Mussolini decided to destroy the apartment buildings leading up to St. Peter's. It does look really impressive and grand.

Villa Borghese

I then went to the Villa Borghese, which essentially was a huge park that was once owned by a very wealthy private individual that was absolutely beautiful. A lot of the time initially was initially spent looking for a place where we could rent a quadriciletta (not the real name for it). Essentially, all it was is a covered four person bike that was really really fun to ride. We had a great time pedalling around the Borghese Gardens, but especially down a really long hill that was just like driving a racecar in the video games at a slower speed but more exciting.

Grocery Shopping/Dinner

After that relatively exhausting bike ride, I began to pack and get my stuff organized, and then it was time to prepare the last dinner that we had in Rome. Despite my slight desire to go out and eat in my last night in Rome, I decided against wasting even more food in my apartment and consequently did not eat out. Still, the pasta that Harvey made was excellent, second only to the time we had asparagus in our spaghetti.

Bang!

After dinner, I enjoyed some more Bang! with the remaining people: Adam, Vicki, and Harvey (Chris was worn out and sleeping) as I am leaving tomorrow, and I wanted to enjoy some more Bang! with the people who were left in Italy. I lost the first two games I played and died the third game but still managed to win in the end. Bang! is such an amazing game to play with good friends, and all of the people that have come with me to Rome I can definetely call good friends now.

Gelato

The last event of the evening was to go to Frigidarium and get Italian gelato (for me the very last time in Rome). I had previously gotten menta (mint) and tiramisu every single time, but this time I varied it up some and got menta and crema fiorentina. I can think of no better way to end my time in Rome.

Thought of the Day

It is so helpful in Italy and especially Rome to know English. Seemingly most of the foreign tourists, even if they are not English/American speak English and obviously all of the Americans and the English speak English, so if one is at all interested in workign in the tourism business to parle inglese is amazingly useful. Still, I do make a conscious effort to use as much Italian as I can (which is not very much) because the Italians do appreciate it even if you just make a token effort with a couple words. I will miss the hospitality of the Italian people and the AIRC.

Now I'm off to play another quick game of Bang! with Chris who was sleeping earlier and then going to sleep before going to Leonardo da Vinci/Fiumicino Airport tomorrow morning at 7:15. Vicki is making eggs and bacon to acclimate me to American food, and I can hardly wait! My time abroad has flew by so quickly. I came for four weeks, I saw a lot of Rome, and I conquered ... six more hours of credit!

Fino alla prossima volta (for the last time! :[ )

David G Liu

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Basilica di San Pietro, Giulio Cesare, Acquedutto, e Piu! (St. Peter's Basilica, Julius Caesar, Aqueducts, and More!)

Ciao a tutti,

Hey everyone so sorry for the delays in updating. It has been four days, but a really full four days since I've shared my adventures in Rome now. Obviously, though, some things have changed in the meantime to my blog - I replaced the picture in the header with the one Harvey took for me on the top of St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday. Saturday was the first time I visited the Vatican, and I saw the inside of the largest church in the world. Sunday was a very relaxed day with paper writing in the afternoon and a performance of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in the evening - in the actual Forum of Julius Caesar and the Forum of Augustus! On Monday, we went to an archeological dig sponsored by the American Institute for Roman Culture, and we visited some ancient Roman aqueducts. Today, we visited various Mithraeum and then had a seminar at the AIRC. This was followed by a late afternoon visit to the Vatican Museums, which was really fun. Now, I am blogging in the middle of a Bang! game late at night to celebrate the end of paper writing.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

St. Peter's Square

Despite intending to wake up extra early to see the Vatican, I was far too tired to get up at 7:45 to get out of bed. Consequently, I did not wake up until around 11:30 to get to the Vatican. Harvey and I took bus number 62 to the Vatican, and we arrived right in front of St. Peter's Square. For anyone who hasn't been to the Vatican St. Peter's Square is an awe-inspiring sight. The obelisk with the cross on top is an especially nice touch. After taking in the enormity of St. Peter's we headed over to join the rather long line to climb the cupola.


Me in St. Peter's Square


The obelisk in the middle of St. Peter's Square

The Vatican's Cupola

The cupola, for those who are not familiar with the Vatican, is the top of the dome of St. Peter's Square. The line started in front of St. Peter's and continued for a while inside until we finally reached the ticket office. Here, people who wish to get to the top of St. Peter's have two options - to climb the whole way up for 5 Euros or take an elevator halfway and pay 7 Euros. Feeling still exhausted from my trip to Naples, I thought I would take the elevator. This is until I saw the line for the elevator, at which point I decided that I was just going to go ahead and climb the cupola.

The climb was somewhat challenging - more challenging than the Duomo in Florence, for example. The sights on the way up, though, were pretty good, as I got to get to the top of St. Peter's roof, where there was already a pretty good view of the Roman skyline. This is not to mention the fact that on the way up you get to see the top of St. Peter's dome from up close. The rest of the way on up was more intense, as the stairs were much more steep. Still, every bit of effort used to climb the cupola was worth it, as the view on top was the best I've seen in Italy. Only at the top of the St. Peter's Basilica can one appreciate the symmetry of Bernin's columns, as you can see from the picture at the top of this page.


The inside of the dome of St. Peter's


It's windy up top


The view from the top of St. Peter's Basilica on the climb down from the cupola

St. Peter's Basilica

After appreciating the view on top of St. Peter's, Harvey and I climbed back down to the ground, stopping only once for souvenirs and pictures midway. It was really cool as the midway point allowed us to see the statues of the siaints on top of St. Peter's which allowed for some excellent pictures. Once we descended to the basilica itself, I was awed by exactly how big the biggest church in the world actually is. Apparently, it has more than 6 acres of ground space, which can accomodate 40,000 worshippers. As Rick Steves's travel guide puts it, to say that the Vatican is big is to say that Einstein was smart.


Me in St. Peter's Basilica


Paintings inside St. Peter's Basilica

More Vatican

After being sufficiently awed by the majesty of St. Peter's, we walked back outside to St. Peter's Square to buy stamps at the Vatican post office. Apparently, the Italian post is so slow that postcards might not even arrive in a month, while the Vatican only takes a week to a week and a half. After getting enough stamps for the postcards we were sending and stopping briefly in the square to observe all the columns in St. Peter's Square perfectly eclipsed from one point, we headed back to the apartments.


The columns of St. Peter's Square perfectly eclipsed

Postcards

The rest of the day was consumed with writing postcards that I had procrastianted for far too long on. During this time, some of the rest of our group came home from travelling to Venice for the weekend, and we had an enjoyable time reliving their experience through their stories.

Thought of the Day

Seeing the largest church in the world and witnessing the majesty of St. Peter's Square really demonstrated to me the power and influence that Christ's life has had on Earth. I was truly impressed by the scale and magnitude of everything in St. Peter's, the result of the desire to glorify Jesus Christ on earth. As someone who recently made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, visiting the Vatican meant much more to me than any other sight I had previously visited in Rome.

Sunday, June 21. 2009

Paper Writing

The majority of Sunday was consumed by writing the last two papers of my study abroad experience here for the two classes that I was taking. I chose to write my first paper about the Museum of the Ara Pacis that I visited last week and how it sets a terribly low bar for future museum construction in historic Rome. The second paper was about the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire, which was a very interesting subject for me personally as well. Midway through the paper writing, we went to the AIRC to do some research.

Julius Caesar

From the AIRC, Dr. Galinsky led us to the performance of Julius Caesar, which started in the Forum of Julius Caesar. This was a very expensive chorice of entertainment for the night, as it was 30 Euros a ticket, but this experience was completely worth it even if it was in Italian. To see Julius Caesar stabbed in the Forum of Caesar and then to see Brutus kill himself on the Temple of Mars Ultor (the avenger) in the Forum of Augustus was an unforgettable experience. The actors were really good, and the only complaint I have about the night is that it was entirely too cold. I have no idea how the actors were able to manage the cold so well.


Brutus plotting with his fellow conspirators


Et tu brute?


Brutus after committing suicide on the steps of Mars in the Forum of Augustus

Thought of the Day

I am very fortunate to have stayed here in Rome the summer I did. Traditionally, this last week of the program in June has been when Rome tends to really start heating up. Because, however, of the rain that we all had on Sunday morning, the weather has been very cool if not even chilly - as evidenced by the late night in the Imperial Fora for the performance of Julius Caesar.

Monday, June 22, 2009

AIRC Dig

On Monday we took a long Metro ride to Lucio Sessio, where we walked to the excavation of Villa delle Vignacce, the supposed house of one of the richest brickmakers during teh reign of Hadrian. His influence, in fact, was so widespread that one can still see the stamps of his brickworks on various Hadrian-era monuments throughout the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, due to bureaucratic delays with the archeological authorities in Italy, the dig site was not yet dug out, so we didn't get the chance to actually excavate an archeological site. We did, however, get to play the role of glorified gardeners by de-weeding the top of the archeological site.


At the AIRC dig site

Aqueducts

After that part of the morning, we listened to a lecture by Dr. Prieto on aqueducts in Roman society. After the lecture, however, we had a very long march to examine various aqueducts that existed near the area. It was tremendoulsy cool to be able to see in person the aqueducts that I have learned about in the classroom starting in the 10th grade. We even all managed to climb on top of one and stand where once water flew that made life in Rome possible.


Me on top of a Roman aqueduct

Paper Writing

The rest of the day was consumed with finishing the papers, which unfortunately took much longer than I originally anticipated.

Thought of the Day

I really like the structure of the academic program that I have here in Rome. Instead of sitting around all day at the AIRC, the program is designed to make the most out of the fact that we are located in Rome, and consequently all but perhaps two or three formal class meeting times were outside "in situ" or in the field. This was particularly evident today with the aqueducts, as the trek immediately following the lecture made the lecture itself much more interesting and engaging.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Mithraeum #1

The first Mithraeum we visited this morning was underneat what is now a modern day warehouse/apartment complex, and it was strange to see a full archoelogical site underneath the facade of such modernity. In case you aren't familiar with the significance of a Mithraeum, a Mithraeum is a temple built to honor the god Mithras where followers of Mithras could come to congregate for religious and entertainment purposes.


The Mithraeum

Mithraeum at San Clemente

After pausing briefly in Tiber Island for Alex's presentation, we moved ahead to the next Mithraeum, which was iroincally located under a modern day Christian church - San Clemente. This was a significantly different site, however, in that it also featured a small school to allow newly inducted members of the Mithraic cult to learn more about the faith that they accepted Unfortunately, this part of the museum closed at 12:00 so we had to leave early. I would definetley recommend stopping by if you're visiting Rome and just got done with the Colosseum and huge crowds.


All the Plan II Romans who had dr. Woods

Vatican Museums

After class today, Harvey and I returned to the Vatican city for the second time to mail postcards as well as to visit the Vatican Museums, as we did not realize until too late that entrance to the Vatican Museums is no longer allowed after 4:00 p.m. the first time. The Vatican Museum was by far and away the best house of art I have seen yet in Italy. I saw so many famous paintings, including the Transfiguration of Christ and the Philosophers by Raphael that I was almost continually in stunned awe. This is without even mentioning the grandeur and beuaty of the Sistene Chapel. A major highlight of the trip that Harvey and I had, hoewver, was how deserted the Vatican Museums were. This was very helpful because it allowed us to set our own pace and travel more leisurely than if we were going in a significantly biiger crowd.


The Philosophers and I


Nice Sphinx


The Transfiguration of Christ

Dinner/Bang!

I ate for dinner tonight outside for the first time in quite awhiles, and it was an extremely good assortment of grilled meats that were delectable. I will definetely miss the quality of Italian food in general once I return to the United States. And after dinner, because everyone wanted to celebrate the end of paper writing for our study abroad program, we kicked back and relaxed by playing Bang!

Thought of the Day

It really is incredible to beleive that I only have four full days in Rome and that I have so much to do before then. Besides writing the rest of my postcards, getting a chance to visit the top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, and going to the Borghese gardens. Hopefully I get two-thirds of that started or even done by tomorrow!

In any case, I'm exhausted now from a really late night laast night, so Buonosera!

Fino alla prossima volta,

David G Liu

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Museo dell'Ara Pacis, Castel Sant'Angelo, e Napoli (Museum of the Ara Pacis, Castel Sant'Angelo, and Naples)

Ciao a tutti,

The last few days have been so eventful and action-packed. After starting out Thursday at the highly controversial Ara Pacis museum, we visited the Castel Sant'Angelo, which is a former mausoleum then castle with tons of history behind it. After getting back home and sleeping relatively earlier, I spent the entirety of today traversing the Bay of Naples, with stops in Herculaneum, Pompeii, Sorrento, and then back to Naples.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Forum of Augustus

We began the morning at the Forum of Augustus, which is pretty exciting because normally people don't get to go in there. It's restricted to only those who have acquired special permission from the correct ministry. This permission is even more difficult to get because the people who give permission change, so you don't always know where to go to. In any case, we got to the Forum of Augustus by walking through the Forum of Julius Caesar. We were able then to see the Temple of Mars (the Avenger) and actually walk up the steps of the temple as well. I, along with seven others in our group, will be going back here to see Shakespeare's Julius Caesar performed in the Forum of Caesar and Augustus Sunday.


The Temple of Mars Ultor


Me on the Temple of Mars Ultor

Ara Pacis

After the excitement of the Forum of Augustus, we went to the Ara Pacis museum, which is a jarring sight when compared with the rest of the architecture in Rome. This site has apparently been the site of much controversy for its modern look, as Rome is a city that really does not mesh too well with the modern look. After walking the length of it and seeing the list of Augustus's accomplishments on the side of the museum, we went in to see the monument to Augustus, which was rather impressive even if it wasn't entirely the original work. After seeing the main exhibit, we went downstairs to an exhibition of Italian modern art, which was also pretty cool.


The Ara Pacis Museum


The Ara Pacis, with guard


Part of the Italian modern art exhibit

Castel Sant'Angelo

After having lunch at Dr. Galinsky's place, Dr. Prieto came and got us to go to the Castel Sant'Angelo, which initially served as the tomb of Hadrian but was later converted into a castle to defend alternately the city of Rome and the pope. This was the first legitimate castle in Rome that I had been to, so needless ot say I was pretty excited. It was almost as if I were walking through a scene from The Two Towers as the nation of Rohan defended themselves in Helm's Deep. After walking up a huge series of stairs, we managed to get to the observation point where I got yet some more scenic pictures of Rome.


The Castel Sant'Angelo from street level


The view from the Castel Sant'Angelo

Dinner

After heading back to the AIRC and catching up on the world's affairs, I went out to dinner with almost everyone else in the group to a place that literally served what seemed to be one hundred different flavors of pasta. My pasta was named the Pasticchi, which ended up tasting rather good. I am tempted to go back and try at least one more flavor of pasta, time permitting. In any case, the night ended early as I had to get up early the next day as well.


Dinner for the night

Thought of the Day

Given the respect that the Pope commands today, it is difficult for me to imagine the fact that the Pope could be under serious threat in antiquity. The Castel Sant'Angelo, however, was once used to defend the pope from sieges by even Catholic nations, such as Spain. That the Pope would have to hide and run away in such an undignified fashion is completely the opposite of the contemporary view. Also, this event also explained why there are only Swiss Guards - the Swiss were the only ones to stay behind and fight to the death to protect the pope. That is why there are only Swiss Guards now employed by the papacy.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Morning Train

We (Harvey, Vicki, and I) took a 6:41 train out of Rome this morning, and I had a great time catching up on some more sleep for the approximately 3 hour train ride to Naples in the morning.

Naples

Once we arrived in Naples, the first order of business was to purchase a Campania Art-e-card, which gave us access to the Circumvesusvia train route that ran the entire Bay of Naples as well as included admission to the first two sites in the Bay of Naples that we visited. After purchasing this card for an actually reasonable 27 Euros, we stayed within the train station to board the next train to Herculaneum.


The train station in Naples

Herculaneum

Now at this point you may be asking yourself, what is Herculaneum? The answer is that it is simply a town in ancient Italy named after Hercules that was buried in the same explosion that Pompeii was buried in. This site was really great, as it was much more compact that Ostia Antiqua and Pompeii and much less crowded. While there, we visited the men and women's baths in Herculaneum, various residences, and a Temple of Neptune that featured some of the best preserved mosaics and artworks that I have seen in Italy.


A typical Herculaneum street with modern-day greenery


The well-preserved mosaic I was referring to

Pompeii

After visiting Herculaneum, it was time to go to its bigger and more well known sister town, Pompeii. The site itself was very close to the train station, a fact I appreciated greatly as there was a lot of walking to do. Pompeii was not quite what I was expecting, as the excavation was much larger in size than I had imagined, and everything was so very well preserved. Besides seeing the central forum of the town, which was in excellent shape, we also saw a number of other signifcant sites including more baths, some extremely well-decorated private homes, and of course some plaster casts of people buried in the explosion. After looking around for some souvenirs, we left Pompeii and went straight ahead to Sorrento.


Me standing in an arch in the Forum of Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background

Sorrento/Boat Ride

We arrived in Sorrento without incident after a half-hour train ride, and we immediately went to check the port there to see when the boats left for Naples, as that was how we intended to get back. Our only other alternative would have been to take an hour and a half train ride back to Naples. It was a good thing we checked becaused we arrived five minutes before the last boat left. Despite the fact that we had spent all of fifteen minutes in Sorrento, we went ahead and boarded the boat ride, which was completely worth it.


The view of Sorrento from the shore


The boat we took across the Bay of Naples


The view of the Bay of Naples from the back of our boat

Naples/Dinner

We got back to Naples on the entirely opposite side from the train station, so we had to walk through quite a bit of Naples to get back to wheree we wanted to go. After being a little bit lost at the beginning, we managed to get our bearings to find supposedly the best pizza in Naples. Incidentally, Italian pizza was supposed to have been invented in Naples so this was the best of the best. The place we finally found is called Trianon, and it completely lived up to my expectations. We had the Pizza Gran Trianon, and it was amazing. It had eight slices with different toppings, and I cannot imagine having a better pizza in my life.


The Duomo or central church in Florence that offered us shelter

Thought of the Day

I am amazed again at the great sites that there are to visit in Italy that I had previously never heard of like Herculaneum and Sorrento. I had the option this weekend of going to Venice, which would have been a more appropriately tourist move to take; however, I am very glad that I chose instead to take this (much less expensive) day trip to Naples, as there was so much new to see in these small ciites that I didn't even think existed. Naples, however, I am not going to lie, was a little intimidating, as it is a much sketchier city than Rome, and it also has bigger problems with organized crime. I was glad, therefore, that our trip passed without incident.

Time to sleep to go to the Vatican bright and early tomorrow. Pictures to come later!

Fino alla prossima volta,

David G Liu

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Esami Scritti, Una Accademia, e Piu! (Tests, An Academy, and More!)

Ciao a tutti,

I know it's been a long time (three days) since my last blog post, so I'll try to do a good job catching up today now that the midterms are over and the papers for this week are due. So Monday was the day of our midterms, which took place in the afternoon. We were then rewarded with our efforts by a visit to the prestigious American Academy in Rome, where we had an excellent dinner. The next day we went to visit the Pantheon and the the Circus Maximus, followed that even by intensive paper writing. Today, we spent the entire day in Ostia, Rome's port city.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Midterms

I woke up bright and early this morning to ensure that I was prepared for the two seventy-five minute essay-type midterms that we had later that day. Preparation consisted mostly of going over the textbooks and course packets that we have and writing out outlines for potential paper topics that were presented to us during the review session. It ended up being that the topics that were on the actual midterm were similar enough to the themes of the potential paper topics that writing the midterms proved to be not excessively burdensome and even rather enjoyable. The only problem I had was with time - I had too much to write, but I guess not the worst problem to have.


Studying hard for the midterms

American Academy

Afterwards, we went to the American Academy in Rome, which was initially sponsored by people like the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and the Carnegies as well as institutions like Harvard. It's where people who are incredibly good in the classics and fine arts go to study during or after graduate school (Dr. Galinsky taught there!). Before dinner, we first went to the top of the academy to get some incredible views of the city of Rome, and then we had an amazing three course dinner at the Academy. It was really intimidating eating there in the presence of so many extraordinarily intelligent people, and it made me sort of want to be able to join them one day.


The entrance to the American Academy


The view of the Victory Emmanuel monument from the top of the American Academy


The best appetizers I've had in Italy - tomatoes


The main course of the dinner - rice and sausage in a red pepper

Thought of the Day

It was very refreshing to be able to speak freely in English in the American Academy. We were told before leaving to go abroad that it would be better to not speak English in public places, but because there are so many tourists in Rome, it's not as big a deal. Still, the immediate impression that I want to give is not clueless tourist, so I have tried to learn some basic Italian to get my by. Even so, to have English be the norm around me was comforting.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pantheon

We were supposed to go see the Forum of Augustus in the morning, but because of the incredible bureaucracy in Italy when it comes to cultural sites, things didn't turn out. Still, we did go see the Pantheon which was an amazing site. Stephen, who presented on the subject, called this building the best architecturally in the entire Western world, and after being inside and seeing it in person, I could see why. The place is just awe inspiring, and interestingly enough, it now serves as a full fledged church, which I did not know previously. The Church has done a good job redoing the place to become a full fledged church, and the Italian state has also done a good job placing important tombs in there.


The altar in the Pantheon


The ceiling of the Pantheon, which is open to the outside


Christ and I in the Pantheon

Circus Maximus

We then went to the Circus Maximus, which in ancient times served as an outdoors Colosseum that seated 250,000 people at once. I was expecting some remains or ruins, but actually all there was was a big grassy field where you could sort of tell exhibitions had been had. It was fun runnign down the big slope all the way down, however, and running back up (although I almost lost my precious camera on the way back up :X).


A view of the Victory Emmanuel monument as seen from the Circus Maximus


The American embassy to the Holy See (Vatican) is in the background, as evidenced by the American flag in the middle

Paper Writing

After getting back from the somewhat long day, the rest of the evening was devoted to starting and finishing the second of the two papers that were due this week. In case I haven't already clarified, the academic workload for this study abroad program is two five-page papers a week, two midterms, two finals, and one individual presentation (which can be one of your paper topics). So at the moment of writing this blog entry, I am now done with everything but two papers, two finals, and one presentation.


Working hard on my papers

Thought of the Day

There is often such a disparity between what I expect at certain sites and what I get. For example, the Circus Maximus was somewhat of a letdown as I was expecting a more Colosseum-like spectacle, although now that I have seen it in person I don't know what I was thinking before. A similar thing occured with the Pantheon, as I was expecting an old ancient temple preserved by archeologists not a fully functioning and lavisly decorated Catholic church. This makes me want to see more sites, so I don't hold false preconceived notions about them to be true.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ostia

Ostia, in case you haven't heard of it (like me before this trip), is the port city of the Romans where Rome got a lot of its marble and other goods from other countries/colonies as well as where Rome placed defensive fortifications so nobody would try to send naval forces up the Tiber to attack Rome itself. The site was remarkably well excavated as there was so much of the original city we could actually walk around in. The morning was spent walking about the predominantly excavated sites in Ostia, where there were a lot of houses, apartments, and even a tavern.


The Theater of Ostia where performances are still held


A typical Ostian street


The tavern in ancient Ostia. See where the bottles would have gone in the back?

In the afternoon, we were taught by guest lecturer Dr. Michael White, who is from the University of Texas at Austin as well. He is in Ostia leading an excavation of what is the oldest known synagogue in the entire continent of Europe, and after walking through some more of the already excavated part of Ostia, it was exciting to be able to visit the actual site where he is excavating. This was particularly interesting because we are going along to an archeological dig at the American Institute for Roman Culture this next Monday.


The menorah carving seen on the oldest known synagogue in Europe


Dr. Michael White walking through the oldest synagogue in Europe, which he is excavating

Thought of the Day

On the way to Ostia, a woman walked on the train with what I initially thought was a suitcase. It actually ended up being a speaker that she used to play music and karoake with on the train to Ostia, which I totally did not expect at all. It was very interesting to have this happen, as I know this has never happened in any form of public transportation in the United States. This woman was by no means alone in Italy, however. Accordion players near restauarants abound, and it is interesting to see so many people rely on music in this fashion for their living.

Time to go relax some after all that hard work and a long day in Ostia. I'll try to get pictures to go along with this post very soon :)

Fino alla prossima volta,

David G Liu