Wow. Traveling abroad can be a real struggle at times. This week was filled with so many mistakes and miscommunications that I’m just grateful it’s over and we’re all back in Siena. Let me start from the beginning.
In preparation for our planned trip to Florence, Dr. Parker had assigned each of us an artist of the Italian Renaissance to study and report on. My artist was Masaccio and Joe had the more well-known Botticelli. Others included Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. We gave our presentations Tuesday, in order from the earliest artist to the most recent. This way we would have a better understanding of what we were seeing when we visited the Uffizi, a famous art gallery in Florence.
The trouble started the next day after lunch. We were scheduled to take a wine-tasting tour of south Chianti, the area in which Siena is located. As everyone left the classroom and moved out into the hallway, I ran ahead to make a quick trip to the bathroom before we left. I told Joe, so he waited for me, but when I came out everyone else was gone. We hurried to the bus stop, practically sprinting across town only to realize they must have meant another bus stop because no one was there. So we turned around and headed back to the school, hoping someone would have come back for us once they realized we were missing. Well someone did come back, but they left again before we could get there, so we missed the wine tour altogether. We later found out that we could still take the tour, but we would have to go another day with a different group. I felt pretty miserable for missing out on the fun our classmates had together, but at least we will still get to go. Either way, this was only the first of our problems.
The majority of Thursday went fairly smoothly. We all took an hour-long bus ride to Florence, which is called Firenze in Italy. Our first sight to see was the Church of Santa Maria Novella. The inner walls were lined with frescoes and great paintings from the Italian Renaissance. Several of us recognized works of the artists we had studied, including one of the most famous frescoes, the Trinity, of my own artist Masaccio.
From there Dr. Parker and her husband took us to lunch at a lovely restaurant near the Medici Chapels. Florence is famous for its steaks, and we were all amused to see the gigantic slices which Brian and Jon ordered. They were like something out of The Flinstones –caveman-sized chunks of juicy meat. The rest of us took the opportunity to try other Italian dishes which we had not tasted before. Joe had an interesting mix of penne pasta, Gorgonzola, and bacon. My dish was linguini pasta with alfredo sauce and shrimp, plus two giant prawns. Absolutely satisfying.
After lunch, the Parkers gave us a few hours to explore Florence on our own, with the instructions to meet back up in front of the Uffizi gallery at 3:45. A few of us decided to use this time to find the hostel we had booked and deposit our backpacks which we had been lugging around the city. The others stumbled across an intriguing tourist trap –a so-called “museum” of torture, which they decided to explore.
When we found each other again in front of the gallery, Dr. Parker had our tickets for us. We did not have to wait in line because our group had paid for entrance at a set time. Inside, we climbed four stories to the top in order to work our way down. Fantastic statues lined the halls and the rooms were filled with grand Renaissance art. Again many of us recognized works by our artists. I did not find many by Masaccio, but there were two of the most famous pieces by Joe’s artist, Botticelli –Primavera, which is “spring”, and The Birth of Venus. I really loved both of these paintings in particular. We also saw some of da Vinci’s lesser known works among the hundreds of pieces in the gallery. It was a nice tour of some of the truly great works of art that we studied in class.
At this point we decided to split up and explore the city some more. However, we were unable to meet up again for the rest of the weekend due to some unforeseen problems. First, neither Joe nor I have a phone to reach anyone while we are abroad. Until that night it had not been much of a problem, but when the others decided not to stay at the hostel and to return to Siena instead, they could not find or call us to let us know. Their rooms at the hostel were uncleaned and their beds unmade, and they were so furious that they decided to cancel and leave. We had no idea that they were gone or that they had broken their plans to go to Rome for the rest of the weekend. Joe and I figured we would find them at the hostel there and we continued with our plans unaware.
Before we left Florence, Dr. Parker required us to visit one more monument or museum on our own. Joe and I decided to climb Giotto’s Tower and visit the Duomo Museum. Giotto was one of the earlier artists from the Italian Renaissance who had a profound effect on the development of later artists’ work. We climbed 414 steps up his bell tower to get a beautiful view of the city and the Duomo, which is Italian for something like “grand church.” The one in Florence is a Gothic cathedral with the most amazing artwork from corner to corner across its outer surface. It is a wonder to behold as there is hardly an inch of space undecorated. We did not go into the Duomo because our guidebook told us that there was not much to view inside as most of the art has been removed to the Duomo Museum, which is where we went next. There we saw many more paintings and sculptures, including Donatello’s Mary Magdalene.
Joe and I spent the rest of that day traveling to Rome. On the way, we discovered by expensive accident that we had taken the wrong train. At the station in Florence there was no way to tell for which train we could or could not use our tickets. Thankfully the lady sitting next to us on the train translated this to the woman checking the tickets and was able to convince her not to charge us the full price. We paid only eight more euros each, rather than a miserable thirty euros. Though we arrived at our hostel in Rome fairly early in the afternoon, Joe and I decided to take the rest of the day to rest and wait for our classmates to show up. They never did.
Despite being a bit worried and irritated that no one had yet met us in Rome, Joe and I got upearly the next day to see the sights. We used a cheap guidebook to get us to what we thought was Trajan’s Column but turned out to be a different one which wasunlabeled in the book. By the time we had realized our mistake, we had already found our way to the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II which was a grand castle-like building decorated with magnificent statues and sculptures. Nearby we found the actual column we had first been looking for. It stood on the ruins of Trajan’s Forum, next to the partially restored Trajan’s Market.
There we made another mistake which cost us more time than anything else. Confused by the cheap guidebook and the unclear explanations on a free pamphlet, we spent a few hours exploring the Market which had been used to house the Museum of the Roman Forums. For the majority of that time, I thought we were in fact looking at the actual Roman Forums, not just a museum. Even so, it was an excellent place to explore; dark alcoves and steep stairs led from one level of ancient ruins to the next. Many broken pieces of columns and sculptures still lay strewn on the lawn of the Market where they had likely been marked and counted by archaeologists. We got quite a workout making sure that we had seen every interesting hidden corner of the ruins that we possibly could.
Next we strolled alongside the true Roman Forums, choosing to mostly ignore them in favor of the more exciting destination ahead of us –the Colosseum. Our anticipation grew as we caught short glimpses of the massive amphitheater between buildings. When we got a better view I took a volley of photographs as we approached. It felt amazing to see in person the great site which I had previously enjoyed finding in Google Earth, an online view of the entire earth by satellite images. Unfortunately we were pressed for time and the lines were long, so we did not go inside the Colosseum. But as Joe said, sometimes just being there and seeing it is enough.
Originally we had planned to see the Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel on our way back to the hostel, but by the time we had gotten on the metro we decided to save it for the next day. It would have been better if we had just gone that afternoon, for when we had hiked all the way to the Vatican the next morning we learned that the Sistine Chapel was closed on Sundays –something we could have easily discovered if we’d just researched beforehand.
But that was only the beginning of the worst day of the week. Joe and I took the metro back to the train station and made certain that we got on the right train. However when the train reached Florence, where we already had tickets for the return bus-ride to Siena, we got off at the wrong station. We didn’t even know Florence had more than one train station until after we had walked up and down the street outside and finally looked in our guidebook to find out where we were. Fortunately tickets from that station to the main one only cost us about one euro each.
At the main station we walked in circles again trying to figure out where exactly the bus station was. Our guidebook map was not exactly clear but we finally managed to make it show us the way. Unlike the bus we had taken to Florence on Thursday morning, the return bus made many more stops and took much longer to reach its destination. By the time we arrived, the inner-city buses that ran to Vico Alto were no longer running. We asked one bus driver which bus we should take to get to the train station, where we knew that we could get a taxi. But the one he told us to take went nowhere near the station. Instead it took us on a wild, frightening ride through the north side of the city, out into the country on dark twisting roads, and finally right back to the bus plaza where we started.
By this point Joe and I were exhausted, hungry, and clueless as to how to get to Vico Alto. We thought to go into our favorite pub and ask the bartender to call a taxi for us, but just before we did we saw someone we recognized –our classmate Christian. He told us everyone else was in the back of the pub playing darts and they planned to take a taxi home later. Considering the weekend we had just had, I convinced Joe to stay and we spent the evening catching up with our friends and making up for being separated from them for three days.