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Guest Post: Italian Food

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Greetings from Venezia! It’s hard to believe that this is our last full weekend in Italy, but we’ve experienced so much over these past 7 weeks. I know you’ve read a lot about our sight seeing adventures and fun trips we took on free days… but if there is one thing Italy is known for, then it’s the food! Since the start of the trip, I’ve been keeping tabs on every meal we’ve eaten so here are some of the highlights.

To start, our first and most exotic meal in Italy was cooked octopus! We had some right off the plane in Palermo, Sicily, and although it scared some people it wasn’t half bad. We’ve also had tuna fish pasta in Agrigento, swordfish in Taormina and shellfish in Venice.

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We’ve also sampled some traditional Italian favorites such as pasta carbonara (eggs, bacon and cream sauce), pasta bolognese (meat sauce), pasta genovese (pesto sauce), lasagna, risotto, pizza and gnocchi (potato dumplings). Everyone is a huge fan of gnocchi – it is so filling and delicious!

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My favorite thing about Italy so far has been the dessert! And whether we like it or not, we all have a sweet tooth. We ended our first night in Italy with a cannoli and our last night is still to be determined. We’ve had tiramisu, semi freddo (a frozen dessert specialty), panna cotta and tons of gelato! Saying that there is a great assortment of gelato flavors is an understatement. I’ve tried frutti di bosco (mixed berries), fragola (strawberry), stracciatella (chocolate chip), cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate), menta (mint), cafe and a whole lot more! There are gelaterias on nearly every street corner in Italy, but if you are ever in Rome you need to visit Old Bridge Gelateria near Vatican State – you won’t regret it.

Honestly, I am excited to come home and see my family and friends. I am definitely going to experience withdrawal from Italy’s famous three P’s: pizza, paninis, and pasta.

Ciao and see you soon!

- Angela
Italy 2012

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Guest Post: Secret Bakeries

After spending two weeks in Rome, our week in the smaller, quieter Florence was a welcome change. The main attractions like the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the river were all less than a twenty-minute walk from the hotel. Small shops and restaurants lined the narrow streets, and daily markets could be found near the city center, where most of the activity took place. However, Florence turned into quite a different city by night.

Around 1 am on a Wednesday night, we were wandering the streets in groups of four or five, hoping to find one of Florence’s famous secret bakeries. Personally, I hadn’t heard of these secret bakeries until we were in the city. These “bakeries” only operate late at night, starting around 1 or 2 am, baking the croissants, pastries, and other baked goods that will be sold in established bakeries much later that day. However, many of those delicious treats never make it to the bakeries. If approached, the bakery operators are more than happy to sell a couple individual pastries on the side. Since this practice is not exactly allowed, the secrecy is necessary. These baking operations usually take place in non-descript buildings at a variety of locations, which are supposed to be unknown. The idea is to simply wander the streets and hope you catch a whiff of the fresh pastries, which doesn’t exactly guarantee a successful late-night adventure. In order to avoid the disappointment of spending hours walking around the city with no baked goods to show for it, we decided to do some research beforehand.

We hit the streets with at least two street addresses that others had reported on the Internet to be locations of secret bakeries. The first address took us to a street only a few blocks down from the hotel. It was quiet and dark with no discernible aromas. The other address would take us to the other side of the city by the river, to a road that wasn’t on our map. We decided to go for it.

As we made our way through the city, it was nearly silent. The fairly busy streets were quiet, only an occasional speeding car passed by. The San Lorenzo area was deserted, the leather market packed up and the streets cleaned for some time. Even the piazza in front of the Duomo was empty, and we were able to actually see the cathedral and the baptistery without crowds of people blocking the view.

As we neared the area near the river, we began to grow a little skeptical. Considering the first location didn’t pan out, there weren’t high hopes this one would as well. Every now and then we’d stop and frantically sniff the air, thinking we caught the scent. Then we would get excited and pick up our pace, wondering if we were close or our imaginations were tricking our noses. After wandering around several smaller streets and walking in circles, we finally narrowed down the area where the Via Rivolta must be located. As we turned onto an especially hidden and small street, a wave of sweet bakery aroma overwhelmed us. We eagerly followed it, getting more excited with every step, the smell growing stronger with every turn. And then we saw it. A small building in the middle of an alley with lights on and muffled buzzing sounds. We found the door, which had signs saying “Closed” and asking us to remain quiet.

At first, we didn’t know what to do. Were we sure this was it, that people actually show up and ask for pastries all the time? We decided to knock and waited. Nothing happened. So we knocked again, louder this time. Eventually, a shadow approached the door from the other side, and it opened. A young man poked his head out and looked at us expectantly. We turned to each other, again unsure of how this transaction worked. By this time a couple other people had joined us at the door. They were obviously experienced, because they walked straight up and told him their order. So we followed suit and simply asked for four chocolate croissants. The young man nodded his head, disappeared for about 5 minutes, returned with two white paper bags, held out his hand, and quietly asked for four euro. We gave him the money, and he disappeared once again behind the frosted doors.

The croissants were well worth the hour of sleepless wandering. They were big, warm, and melt-in-your-mouth fresh. By the time we reached the hotel, our stomachs were warm and full, and we were too excited about actually finding a secret bakery to go to sleep right away. Our late-night Florence excursion had indeed been a success. We had indeed followed our noses to a sweet reward.

-Casey Lovegrove
Italy 2012

Guest Post: Florentine Opera

Hi all!  Here in Florence it’s been all about the Renaissance.  We have seen so much amazing art and architecture that amazes me every single day.  One night a few of us decided to part from the Renaissance theme of Florence and go see the opera Carmen by George Bizet.

For those of you who may not know, Carmen is a tragic love story set in Seville about a girl who is a gypsy. She and a soldier, Don José, fall in love, but their love is not acceptable because of the difference in status. Don José leaves his post to be with Carmen, but eventually Carmen becomes bored with him and tells him to go back to his mother. In the last scene, Carmen is with a new man, Escamillo, the bullfighter. When Don José sees this, he is so angry that he stabs and kills Carmen.

So after dinner one night Margaret, Catherine Anne, Heather, and I went across the Arno to a charming little church where the opera was being performed. I have seen Carmen in a large stage production, so I was surprised at the small size of the church and a little skeptical that this amazing opera could be performed in small space, but it was an absolutely incredible production. The actors had great voices and they were able to interact with the audience because of the small size, which made the experience very fun and special.

This opera was a great experience and all four of us are very happy we were able to see it!

- Hannah
Italy 2012

Guest Post: The Pallottine Nuns

While in Rome, Heather and I decided to visit the convent of the Pallottine nuns. Heather was able to contact Sister Patrice, a friend of her family, who kindly showed us around. We couldn’t stay for very long, but the time we had there was unforgettable. She first took us to two different chapels in the convent that were small but so beautiful. The first was very simple but it had vibrant marble floors and housed a kneeler that had been used by Pope John Paul II (I knelt on it!). They have mass here every morning at 6:45 am. The second was a lot more modern, covered in white marble with abstract stained glass on the windows. She also showed us some of the living spaces, such as the kitchen where we were able to see some of the nuns cooking. Finally, she led us into a room where she had tea, cookies, and fruit prepared for us. We were not expecting this at all! We were able to sit and hear some of her life story (which was incredible!), more about daily life in the convent, and ask any questions we had. It was such a great experience and definitely improved my understanding of this unique lifestyle.

- Brittany Mathews
Italy 2012

Guest Post: Piazza del Popolo

Of all the places we have stayed in Italy, Rome was our longest stay (two weeks). You would think, in two weeks, we would see all that there is to see. Unfortunately, we weren’t even close. We did get to see all the big, renowned monuments and museums but, as a group, we missed one of the things that I was most looking forward to in Rome: two of Caravaggio’s famous paintings in the Santa Maria del Popolo church. Before leaving for Italy, while we were still back on campus, I had done a presentation in Dr. Letteri’s Communication Studies class on Italian public spaces. My presentation was an introduction to Baroque art, with a focus on architecture by Bernini and painting by Caravaggio. This presentation introduced me to Baroque art as well and after doing the research, I became extremely interested and amazed by Caravaggio’s paintings.

Santa Maria del Popolo was on our itinerary for our tour with our guide multiple times. Every time we tried to visit it, however, it was closed. On our last day in Rome, we got done touring pretty early so we had some free time on our own before dinner. Fortunately, our hotel in Rome was only about a 10-minute walk from the Piazza del Popolo, where the church was located. I decided that I would be very disappointed if I had come all the way to Rome, stayed in a hotel less than 10 minutes from the paintings, and still didn’t see them. So Brett and I went to visit Santa Maria del Popolo, one of Rome’s first Renaissance churches. That extra trip down there was definitely worth it. The two unbelievably realistic paintings (The Conversion of St. Paul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter) looked even more real and intense in person. It also was very meaningful to see the paintings that I had read all about in our texts and informed the class about just one month earlier back at Furman. I am very disappointed that they did not allow photography in the church, but I think that makes it even more worth it since I got to see it in person. I love that we have been able to learn about specific places or subjects, develop a genuine interest for them, and then actually get to visit and enjoy them over here in Italy. It makes everything we learned back at Furman so much more relevant and fascinating.

-Kacie Schoen
Italy 2012

Guest Post: Bologna

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Wow! Hello from Italy. I cannot believe that we have been here for more than a month now! It seems like yesterday that we were leaving Greenville. Right now, we are in Bologna, Italy, located just north of Florence. Because of the University of Bologna— the oldest university in Europe— the town seems very young and alive. Honestly, we stand out in Bologna much more than Florence or Rome because there are no tourists here. It has been neat to experience a city that does not revolve around tourism though.

Our group has spent the last couple of days touring around some of Bologna’s biggest churches and important museums. Daniela, our knowledgeable tour guide, has given us the cultural background and highlights of the San Pedro Basilica, the church of San Dominico, and Bologna’s governmental buildings. We even went into one of the city’s libraries, which used to house the school and were able to see their old anatomy classrooms.  One of my favorite highlights was seeing University of Bologna’s museum. They actually had terracotta anatomical models from their medieval and renaissance anatomy classes. I think our group appreciated the fun change-up, especially our science majors Chelsea and Brittany.

Today was a free day from touring. Several members of our group went to Predappio—Mussolini’s hometown. They said it was really fascinating because there are people that still love him and visit the town regularly.  I decided to stay back and relax today. Kathryn, Hannah, and I went to a wonderful little place for lunch called “Eataly.”(They have one in New York if you are looking for a delicious meal!) We had THE BEST tortellini (Fun Fact: Bologna actually invented tortellini) After lunch, we strolled the streets and popped into some of the market booths and shops. Tomorrow we are going to Ravenna to see Dante’s tomb and some important churches there!

We miss you America!
-Hilary Dahl
Italy 2012

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Guest Post: Florentine Fashion

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There are many wonderful things about Italy: the food, the art, the history, and the culture. I came to Italy to experience all these things. However, you cannot think about Italy without also thinking about the influential fashion houses that originated here. Versace, Missoni, Gucci, Pucci, Armani, Valentino, Fendi, Dolce & Gabana, Prada, Miu Miu, Salvatore Ferragamo. The list goes on and on.

When I came to Florence, my mission from the outset was to go to two fashion museums here: the new Gucci Museum and the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. I luckily found a like-minded individual to share in my celebration of all things high fashion and culture, Margaret Rettinger. We then donned our newly purchased Zara dresses and leather jackets and set off to experience the finer side of Italian life.

Our first stop was the Gucci Museum. This museum opened its doors in September of 2011 and had three chic floors. The ground floor was the travel section of the collection. It had beautiful antique luggage pieces and even a Gucci Cadillac! The next level was evening wear, handbags, flora prints, contemporary art space, and jewelry. One of my favorite things on this level was the collection of evening gowns Hollywood starlets had worn that were on display. You can’t truly appreciate how intricately these couture dresses are made until you’re really close up. So much detail! The final level was sport, lifestyle, and logomania. We ended our tour of the Gucci Museum by having lunch at the café attached to the museum.

After our very deliciously chic lunch, we headed off for the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. It was in the bottom of the HUGE Ferragamo store near the Ponte Vecchio. This museum was considerably smaller than Gucci’s but certainly not less fun. They had all these beautiful shoes on display that had been made for famous fashionistas through the ages like Carmen Miranda, Audrey Hepburn (a personal favorite), Judy Garland, Meryl Streep, and Lady Gaga. It was awesome seeing all the molds of their feet that had been made to perfectly fit the shoe. There were also quotes around the museum by Salvatore Ferragamo that were very entertaining. In one of them, he talks about how there are three kinds of women in the world. The first are the Cinderella’s and they wear shoes smaller than a 6. Venuses are women who wear a size 6 (that would be me!!). The final group of women are the Aristocrats who wear a size larger than 6. I thought that that quote was very entertaining and a solid description of the different types of women.

I know visiting fashion museums maybe isn’t the most academic pursuit but it provided a refreshing glimpse into the pop culture side of modern Italy. It was definitely one of my favorite things I’ve done so far on my own during this trip and it will be greatly cherished for years to come. To anyone travelling to Florence: visit the Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo museums!

- Catherine Anne Culbertson
Italy 2012

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Arrivederci, Roma!

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Our two weeks in Rome were wonderful. After constantly moving around for the first few weeks of the trip, it was nice to get to settle in and stay in one place for a while. We’ve been busy, though. We spent most of our days touring, exploring the city’s 2700-year-old history first-hand. We’ve seen everything from the crumbling ruins of the Roman Empire to the impossibly beautiful churches of the Renaissance to the simpler (and hideously boring) architecture of Fascist Italy. We’ve toured churches and museums, seen some of the most significant art and architecture of the last few thousand years, and learned so much about the culture and history of this city.

Interspersed with all this touring are free afternoons and entire free days, and we’ve used this time to rest and to experience and explore the city. Between the 23 of us, we’ve spent countless hours (and countless euros) shopping, gone to mass at the Vatican, visited jazz clubs, gone dancing, strolled through open-air markets, gone on picnics in the city’s sprawling gardens, and gone running along the banks of the Tiber River. We’ve even gone to a professional soccer match and were amazed and overwhelmed by the sounds of cannon-fire and fight songs, the sight of massive red and yellow flags waving all around us …and the smell of cigarettes.

It’s surreal and wonderful just being here in this country, and being here with such incredible people has made this trip all the more amazing! In case you can’t tell, I’m more than a little excited about this adventure and the people with whom I’m sharing it. Everything about this trip has been wonderful! We’re almost four weeks into this Italian adventure, and I’m honestly still loving every moment. I still wake up every morning just as excited, just as amazed that I’m actually here.  It’s actually really sad to think that our trip is over halfway over; I don’t want it to end!

You should be hearing from us a lot in the next few weeks, not only from the official blog writers but from our classmates as well, writing about their own experiences in Rome and the cities to come. Stay tuned! We’re heading to Florence next—the city of Dante and Petrarch, Michelangelo and da Vinci, the birthplace of the Renaissance. I honestly can’t wait! There’s so much to see and do and experience in this country, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead!

- Brian
Blog Team
Italy 2012

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Sorry the blog has been a little quiet lately- we’ve been awfully busy running around Rome seeing as much as possible. We should have a new post up for you sometime in the next couple of days, but until then, have some pictures! -SH

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St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

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The Colosseum

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The “Wedding Cake” monument to Victor Emanuel