Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Boys in Bologna

So we were left all alone. That's right. Me and the men (Alex and Chris), as all the ladies had run off to Siena. After a day of lounging around, visiting the beach, making diner for one, and flinching at the impermeable silence that echoed through the house, I had about had enough. But for the time there was nothing I could do.
That night two friends of mine Katie and Katy came over to play cards. As we're chatting about what we've been up to, they propose, since we clearly have no other plans, to scrap staying at home and join them in Bologna. Instantly we snatch the opportunity and agree. Carpe Diem, right?
This proposal was delivered around 12:30 that night. By 7:30 the following morning, we were on the train to Bologna on what would be one of the weekends for the ages.
Bologna is the largest city in Emilia-Romagna, a relatively flat, fertile region of Italy, that was control for many centuries by the Pope. The city has three nicknames: the Turreted, the Learned, and the Fat. Bologna experienced much factionalism and division during it's period as a city state, and so the skyline was dotted with towers. It was also extremely well known for being the oldest constantly running university in the world. Finally, it's region of Italy is the only one that has enough open land to make wise use of cattle farming, so it's diet has much more cream, cheese, and beef (hence "Bolognese" sauce).
Upon arriving in the city we dropped off our luggage off at a storage facility to hit the streets ASAP. After a bit of wandering through the central piazzas, we decided we had the energy for a more rigorous hike. We set fourth for the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Saint Luke. The basilica church sits on a mountain over 300 meters above the city level. To get there, we climbed through the 666 arches of the arcade around 4 kilometers. It was a beautiful site from the top, but it was a lot of work to get up there
From there, we split up, and I spent the rest of the say with my friends Alex, Katy, and Laura. The rest wanted to rest back at the hostel.
Of all the sites we visited, the most interesting by fat was the Basilica di San Petronio. It was originally planned to be the largest church in the world, and in it's incomplete stat it is still the church is still the 13th largest in the world. It was amazing to see painting reaching part way up the wall, and stopping. The facade looks like it was chopped in half by a giant. Ambitious growth was stunted by respect for tradition and papal decree.
That night we ate at the Osteria Del Orso, and if you are ever within 50 miles of Bologna I highly recommend you get there by 7PM because if you come any later you'll be waiting for a seat for hours. We found out about this place from some students at the university we met and it makes perfect sense why this place is the student gem. Between the four of us, we each had a huge plate of pasta, we share two liters of the house wine, and two of their apple torte deserts, for 10 euros a piece! You can't find a deal like that, for food that good in Venice. Impossible! I swear- if you have no desire in a vacation beyond eating, just rent an apartment in Bologna.
Later we caught up with the rest of the nannies, who were, to put it gently, less than capable of walking in strait lines. After playing the sitter for a few hours, we decided that if they really wanted to run away, we really couldn't stop them, so we stopped chasing. The next morning, while the rest were still asleep and planning on directly returning to Venice, the four of us decided we would rather continue the weekend for a bit longer. We packed our bags, caught the early bus, and made it to the train station in time to go to Ravenna.
Ravenna, once the Italian capital of the Byzantine Empire until the 11th century, is well known for it's mosaics. The great thing about mosaics is that unlike frescos or paintings on canvas or wood that fade significantly with age, mosaics require much less maintenance because they are made of stone, glass, and gold- materials that do not rust and rarely fade. My favorite site was either San Vitale, which was so different in it's plan than any other building I've seen except the interior of the Templar monastery in Tomar, Portugal, and that was similar in respect of it's intimate, rounded shape space, with imposing soaring height. Vitale's colors were stunning in their brilliance, which came almost exclusively from natural light. The Mausoleum di Galla Placidia nearby was much smaller than I imagined, but it has a mosaic of Christ as the good Shepard that was beautiful.
Having made two new friends and had more than my fill of beautiful things for the weekend, I returned to Venice to begin preparations for Carnevale!

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Leisurely we left our most serene islands for Verona, our first of may group trips to come. Verona was a stunning change from the lagoon. This is primarily because it was on land. It was strange to see buses and cars, sidewalks and trees. The things we thought would always feel more homey, were now a bit foreign.
Verona is clearly, unlike Venice, a living city. By that I mean that even in the relative low season of January, there are still normal people carrying on their lives, uninterrupted by the swarms of strangers that descend on holidays and for the annual summer opera festival. The festival is held in the roman amphitheater, one of the largest and most complete outside of Rome.
We arrived in the early afternoon. Starving after a rushed breakfast, we stopped at the first place we saw, a kabob shop on the way into town. After wolfing down one of the tastiest Egyptian wraps I've ever had, we started walking again. However, our noses soon picked up the scent of cannolis and coffee, and we were again diverted. I do believe it has become clear where this is going.
Yes, our romp around Verona could easily be traced by highlighting on the map the best smelling pasticerias, pizzerias, gelato shops, restaurants, and local delicatessens and connecting the dots. Along the way, we made a point to divert our attention to other objects of aesthetic import. These included some magnificent buildings and statues, most specifically the dozens of lions around the city. Why would a city like Verona, so far from a lion-inhabiting region, be so adorned?
Verona was for centuries, and to some degree still is, under the domination of it's local capital, Venice. Venice has since the 12 century considered itself the ecclesiastical descendent of Aquileia on the mainland because when the Lombards invaded there in the 6th and 7th centuries, the Bishop of Aquileia fled the terrafirma for the safety of the lagoon. The founder of the first church of Aquileia is St. Mark, who traveled to Italy with St. Peter. After Peter's crucifixion, Mark left Rome for northern Italy, before leaving Europe for Alexandria, where he was martyred. History has always a much more complicated answer than its questions let on. St. Mark's symbol has traditionally been the Lion. When Venice began establishing its own political identity independent of Byzantium, it chose St. Mark's Lion as it's representative.
For centuries the Veronese struggled over the question of subjection and independence. When Napoleon invaded Venice in 1797, he took all the lions in Verona, and every other Italian city, down. Since then however, many have been put back up. In a very interesting twist of history, culture, and economic interest, the Veronese are associating themselves with their vast history of subjection to Venice. This coincides with the development of the Northern League in Italian politics. This political party is united under the purpose of separating the north from the south of Italy. This also has helped in part the tourism increasing in the city, which is but an hour train ride from Venice.
Of course the city is most well known for the famous star-crossed lovers old Bill was inspired to write about here. Although the characters are completely fictional, there are quotes of the Bard of Avon on a dozen walls, as well as a house that claims to be Juliet's. On the walls are posted perhaps 10,000 love letters, to either character or reader. When we arrived there, about 200 Asian tourists were smiling and taking pictures, one at a time, with a hand over the breast of Juliet's statue.
That night of course we tested what the world considers is the greatest delicacy to be enjoyed in Verona: the Opera. The evening was marvelous. After what was until that point the most delicious meal I had yet that semester (as well as the first time I had eaten out since school started), La Boheme was the best desert that could have been served. Like a dense dark chocolate cake, bitter as well as sweet, with subtle tones of nuts or fruit that are detectable only to those that take the time to ponder and appreciate what is before them. The opera was a spectacle of such delight in the details, such power in the presentation, that I am certain if it did not leave me speechless, at least it left me no other voice than that to sing it's praises. Never before have I witnessed such beauty in tragedy.
Floating on such an air, we strolled back to the hotel, and departed for our watery home the next morning.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


My first most recent adventure was spent yesterday in my Sestiere. Venice is divided into six sestiere, and we've been divided into teams to research and get to know our part like experts. I chose Cannareggio, the northernmost part and most populated by actual Venetians, because it's furthest from the most touristy stuff. It's also really cool because that's where some of the more famous and infamous immigrant communities lived. The Jewish Ghetto- the oldest in Europe and where the word ghetto comes from- is there, along protestant refugee communities who arrived there in the 16th, century. Next week I'll hopefully go to the Lutheran Evangelical church there, although services are in German and Italian only I believe. Venice, being a city that has always been populated by refugees, has had an interesting history of diversity and consistency. People could come from anywhere in the world, and were for the most part tolerated fairly. What everyone had to have in common was that they all wanted to make money. Venice, unlike the rest of Europe, never had a landed nobility- for the simple reason that there is no land in Venice. Instead, Venice was ruled by a wealthy merchant class. You you helped them make money, then you were welcomed. Printers from germany, Jewish bankers, professionals and traders from the rest of Italy and pilgrims from all of europe were welcomed to a greater degree than many other countries- Turkish and Slavic pirates, Jesuits, and invading Austrians, French, or Milanese were not.
The only street (i.e. strada in Italian) in all of venice is there too. Venice has a completely different way of labeling streets than the rest of italy. Instead of via, strada, and piazza, Venitians use the words like sottoporteggo (streets that buildings are on top of), campo (like piazza, but only St. Mark's has the honor of being a piazza), fondamente (meaning it's a street next to a canal), or calle (streets without water on either side). However, when Napoleon invaded Venice, he decided he wanted a nice street that he could march down, so he had a canal filled in a paved over. Thus strada nuova was born. It's kind of nice to walk along a street and not have to think about watching out for where the road ends and the canal begins.

The image was from


With my history of Venice class I went on my 2nd most recent adventure to Torcello, an island in the northern part of the lagoon, that used to be far more important and populated than archipelago of Rialto. By 1000, it has over 10,000 residents. By about 1200, the lagoon around Torcello had become a swamp, all silted up. Unnavigable canals and malaria did it in, and the islands around the Rivus Altus (ri-alto) became Venice. Sadly, this is home now to little more than ruins, with fewer than 20 residence. When building the Venice we know today, Torcello was used as a mine, so almost nothing is left of the city that used to be here. Much of the land has been converted to artichoke farms of people from nearby Burano and Murano.
The one exception to this is the Cathedral, which has some of the most fantastic mosaics I've ever seen. Built around 1080ish, some of the best of Byzantium are on those walls. Climbing the bell tower, I got to see all the way to the sea on one side, and Venice and the lagoon on the other. Unlike every other bell tower I've been in, instead of having just stairs, the inside of the bell tower also had ramps.
Thy also have a large stone chair, that locals claim was the throne of Atilla the Hun. and yes, I did sit upon it.

This image was from, a really good site for info and pictures about Torcello and late Byzantine art.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

First days in Venice!

Arriving in Venice on Friday afternoon was an adventure in itself. Getting up at 6am, I found that although Viterbo is only 1 hour at the most from Rome, to get to the train station in the city, because of the insane amount of traffic, would take almost three times that. After the 4 hour ride to Venice, and as I exit the train, the sky opens up. Within minutes I was drenched. After getting the waterbus to the academia, the closest stop, I hiked across the city. Now, wheeling these three bags wouldn't have been a big deal, if it were not for the distinct features of Venetian city planning that made wheeling very difficult. My luggage almost didn't fit though some of the alleys I had to walk though to get to the house. Canals entail bridges, 7 of which I needed to cross to get to the house. Also, because it is sinking into the sea, the city is under constant reconstruction, so my route included a lot of backtracking and dead ends. But now I'm here- safe and sound.

House really isn't the proper word to use when describing Casa Artom. More accurately, it should be called a palace. My triple room, which is at least five times as large as my double at wake, has direct access to the Grand Canal. That means that when police boats come speeding by, we can hear the waves crash right up against our door. Our library is HUGE and the house is decked in bookshelves, overflowing. The kitchen even has a pasta roller! I'm all set.
Casa Artom also has a fantastic location. If we talk a right out our door, we immediately run into the Guggenheim and the Academica. If left, we hit La Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute. It takes 10 minutes to walk to the supermarket, and less than 2 to get to a fishmarket that is open every morning with the catch of the day.
On Saturday I visited the Academia museum and wandered through the San Marco district.

I am learning to appreciate all the things my parents did for me so much more now that all the planning, preparation, and performance of all activities essential to life, I must now do myself. To cook, clean, do laundry, while doing everything else you want to do during the day was a feat I successfully accomplished today- hopefully by the end of this semester I'll be a well-oiled machine ready for the real world. My first dinner- cooked for myself: mashed potatoes with green peas and pancetta. Adding that fatty Italian bacon makes everything taste better.

I received a text being invited to a theater house party- Thanks for the invitation Nathan, but I won't be able to make it.

Tomorrow is our first day of planned activities: intense touring around the city. Wish me luck!

Love and miss all of you, and you are certainly in my prayers,
yours truly

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Morgan I have just arrived back in Viterbo from spending a week with family friends, my Uncle Herman and Aunt Lisa in Germany. But let me quickly bring you all up to speed with my experience. From the minute we arrived, we were comsumed by german culture. Our first dinner: a delicious batch of bratwurst and potatoes dumplings. Later I watched a comedy that I couldn't understand on TV. Not only was there a language barrier, but I didn't understand why it was so funny. It seemed to me to be a bit scary. two people took turns yelling from the screen at the audience, in german. anyway, breakfast was fantastic- big and long, the exact opposite of an italian breakfast. Fruehstueckwurst, fresh rolls, homemade jams, fried eggs, austrian mountain cheese, fruit- it was delightful.
Then we visited Ronneburg castle, where there was a view of Frankfort from the top of the tower. One of the things I like about these out of the way places is that they let you do stuff you just can't at most museums. Like trying on the medieval armor, that sort of thing. After that we sampled the black forest cake and headed home.
Story about magic table, donkey, and baseball bat
Then we visited Gelnheusen where there was a castle of Fredrick the First, Holy Roman Emperor (the original Barbarosa)in ruins and early lutheran cathedral.
At Bad brueckenau there was a very interesting art deco church and bath complex- The story goes that one of the kings of Bavaria had a palace there, and built another for his mistress across a park. Whenever she wanted him to come over, she would put a candle in the front window. This distraction apparently caused him so much difficultly to perform his duties as king that the state could not function properly. They call the river that springs from the spring beneath the bath complex the "sin river".
At Kreuzberg we visited a fransiscan monestary located at the top of a mountain. They are well-known for the beer brewed there in the ice. After scaling the icy summit, we feasted on Frankfurterwurst and lentils, boiled sort rib, sauerkraut and maskedpotatoes, dumplings and gulash. Before leaving we visited st. Bernard breeding kennel they had at the monestary.
Finally I wanted to tell you a story that the Grimm brothers wrote down that was originally from Hanau, the city were we stayed. Three brothers were all kicked out of their father's house for being lazy, and so each became apprentices at different workshops in a town two days journey away. The first worked for a carpenter, the second for a miller, and third for a turner (someone who works with a lathe to turn wood). When they each completed their apprenticships, they received their rewards for their good work and went home. The first received a table, that when he said the magic words it would instantly be covered in food, sumputous enough for the finest feast. On his way home he stayed at an inn overnight, and hosted a feast with his magic table there. The innkeeper, who was a very greedy and clever man, replaced the table with a look-alike while the boy slept. When the first son arrived home, he gathered all his friends and family around, talking up the feast they were about to have. Needless to say, when nothing happened, it was a flop.
The second son reveived a donkey, that when you said the magic words, gold coins poured out of its mough, nose, and ears. Using said gold coins to pay for his stay, the innkeeper saw the donkey's value, and switched the donkey that night as he did the table. When the second son arrived home, he also prepared his family for a surprise, that turned out to be of little excitement.
When the last son arrived at the inn, with a big piece of turned wood (similar to our baseball bat) in a bag, the innkeeper was certain it must be of great value. More careful than his brothers, the third pretended to be asleep as the innkeeper took the bat our of the bag. Then the boy said the magic words and the bat proceeded to beat the innkeeper to a pulp. Sorely beaten, he confessed to his crime and handed the donkey and table over to the third son, who brought it all back home.