11.14 Måndag, 8 April, 2013
Last week was a busy week! I spent my Easter break travelling through Italy, starting in Rome (Roma in Italian) and making my way up through Florence (Firenze in Italian) and Venice (Venezia in Italian). I got back to Stockholm on Saturday afternoon, and classes at KTH resume today (Monday).
The Flag of Italy
Map of Italy
I started off my stay in Italy by arriving in Rome on the evening of Good Friday (March 29). On Friday and Saturday night, I stayed at the home of one of my friends from KTH, Marta, who lives in Rome and was visiting her family for Easter. This was a great experience because I got the opportunity to experience the real Italian life – including real Italian food!
On Friday evening and on Saturday, I got a personal tour of the city by my friend, and we saw all of the mandatory sites in Rome, such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon! We also stopped for some great pizza, gelato, and espresso.
I got the largest size!
In Italy, the ‘Hook-em’ sign is very insulting!
The Forum, the heart of Ancient Rome
The Column of Trajan, in the Forum of Trajan
Throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain
The next day, Easter Sunday, I had breakfast with Marta’s family, and I got to experience an Italian Easter tradition: trading giant chocolate eggs and then breaking them with your fist to find the trinket inside! As much as I love chocolate, it still took me a whole week to finish this huge egg!
After breakfast, I left Marta’s house so she could spend Easter with her relatives, and, after dropping my bag off at a hotel, I headed over to the Vatican to say ‘ciao’ to Papa Francesco. When I came out of the metro station, I found myself in the middle of possibly the largest crowd I have ever been in; there were millions of people squeezing their way through the streets to get a view of St. Peter’s Basilica to watch the pope’s Easter address, called Urbi et Orbi (Latin for ‘To the City and the World’). It took me a while, but I finally managed to make my way around a corner and into the main street extending from the Vatican – only to find that I was right behind a large media set-up. So, after about 15 more minutes of squeezing between people, I finally had a view of the pope! The speech was projected on loudspeakers throughout the whole area, so I could hear what he was saying, but he was speaking Latin, so I couldn’t understand!
The Pope giving his Urbi et Orbi Address
The crowds gathered to see the Pope
After the pope’s speech, I explored the city some more, and went to a castle called Castel Sant’Angelo, which is a large fortress-like building that was originally the tomb of the emperor Hadrian. Over the years, it was modified for use as a military fortress and as the pope’s safe-haven in times of unrest. In fact, there is an elevated, fortified walkway leading from the Vatican City to the Castel Sant’Angelo that the pope could escape through if he was in danger. During the middle ages, one pope even had to hide in the castle for seven months to avoid the violence in the city! Of course, nowadays, if the Pope used this passage, he would be heading into the danger – the hoards of tourists around the Castel – rather than away from it!
View of the Tiber River from Castel Sant’Angelo
View of St. Peter’s Basilica from Castel Sant’Angelo
Panoramic view of Rome from Castel Sant’Angelo
A garden in Rome
In the evening, I went to Easter Mass (said in Italian) at a church about two blocks from the Vatican, then I went to the train station to meet another friend who was just arriving from Stockholm and was going to travel with me for the rest of the week. It probably would have been smarter to just pay the €1.50 to take the Metro to the train station, because it ended up taking me almost an hour to go by foot at a fast pace. It’s okay though, I can blame this on the map, where everything looks so close!
The next morning, we walked around and explored the city some more, and on Tuesday, we got up very early and went back to the Vatican to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. We didn’t go into St. Peter’s Basilica because the line was very long. Fortunately, we got a place near the front of the line for the museum, and we didn’t have to wait too long once the museum was opened. The museums were very impressive! There are so many different collections of all sorts of art and artifacts from many different times and places, so the range of things to see was very diverse. They had everything from an Egyptian mummy to Renaissance paintings and hand-painted wall-sized maps of Italy to a modern-art thing made out of twist-ties. And, of course, a giant pine cone!
Papal Pine Cone
Helical Stairs in the Vatican Museums
Unfortunately, after we left the Vatican, the weather turned horrible and it was raining/hailing torrentially, so we just spent a few hours sitting in the train station attempting to dry off while we waited for our train to Florence. However, when we made it to Florence, the weather was much better, and we were able to walk around the city for a while before stopping at a restaurant to try some Tuscan food (Florence is in the region of Tuscany).
The River Arno in Florence
The Palazzo Vecchio in Florence
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, a.k.a. the Duomo
Sunset over the River Arno
Another view of the Duomo
Streets in Florence
On Wednesday, my friend and I set out to explore the city, but after only one hour, we lost each other in the crowds on the Ponte Vecchio (a famous bridge with jewelry shops on it), so for most of the rest of the day, I explored Florence by myself. In the afternoon, I climbed the 400+ steps to the top of the Duomo for a great view over the city. On Thursday morning, we climbed a hill to a place called Piazzale Michelangelo, from where we could see the entire city and the surrounding hills.
View of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo
After a quick train ride, we arrived in Venice on Thursday afternoon and found our hostel, then went out to have a look at the city. Venice is a very interesting and very strange city because not only is it built on an island in the middle of a lagoon, but it has no roads and thus no cars, and the primary form of transportation is boat! There are many canals, ranging from two to several hundred meters wide, that crisscross through the city, making most areas accessible by boat. To get from place to place, you can either take a ‘bus’ (a boat) or walk through the alleys between the buildings and over the bridges that cross the canals. Since there is essentially no logic behind the organization of the buildings in Venice, the entire city is like a giant maze, and even with a map, it is practically impossible to not get lost. On our first walk around the city, we decided we would walk along the main canal, called the Grand Canal, just to get ourselves oriented. However, we quickly discovered that it is not possible to walk along the Grand Canal, because the buildings go right up to the water and the alleys to walk on are behind those buildings and only occasionally go up to the edge of the canal. To make things even more complicated, the alleys twist and turn so much that after ten minutes of walking, you are completely lost and have no sense of direction left. In order to find you way back, the best thing to do is just follow the arrows pointing towards the main sights such as the Ponte di Rialto!
Map of Venice – the purple lines through the city are canals!
On Friday, we went out to see the city and found that the tide was up – and over the edges of the canals! Many of the main alleys were flooded with several centimeters of water and there were even people walking around with plastic bags tied around their shoes! In addition, it was raining (it rained continuously the entire day), so there was literally water coming from all directions, which made for a rather uncomfortable day – I even had to change my clothes in the afternoon because they were completely soaked through. Yet, despite the wetness, we saw many things in the city, such as Piazza San Marco (the main square) and the Ponte di Rialto (another famous bridge with jewelry shops on it). We also went to a ‘suburb’ of Venice called Murano, which is located on a nearby island and is famous for its glassblowers. We took the boat bus to Murano, where we saw a very impressive glassblowing demonstration. In a matter of minutes, we watched the glassblower make a vase and a multicolored horse! Back in Venice on Friday evening, we found that the hostel we were staying in, which had been nearly empty the previous night, was now filled with many new student guests, mostly from China, Canada, and Australia. They were very friendly, and we had a great time that evening discussing about our travels!
The Grand Canal in Venice
A canal in Venice
An island near Venice
The Ponte Rialto, which crosses the Grand Canal
The Ponte Sospiri
An interesting thing about Venice is that the city is actually sinking. A combination of the rising sea level and the settling of the ground under the city is causing the buildings to get closer and closer to the waterline – not a good thing if you’re living on the first floor and there is a canal just outside the wall! A common sight around the city was stacks of wooden platforms that are set up in a row when the tide comes in so that people can walk dryly through the main alleys and piazzas! Currently, the city is working to construct movable barriers at the entrance to the lagoon to prevent high tides from invading the city. However, this situation reminds me of a certain city in Louisiana that is maintained precariously below sea level by barriers…
Piazza San Marco, the main square in Venice, flooded
After our stay in Venice, we got up early on Saturday morning and headed out to the airport and back to Stockholm. I arrived back to my room in Lappis around 2:00 in the afternoon and was greeted by a long list of homework that I had to finish! Oh well, procrastinating on your homework is okay when you’re sitting in Italy eating pizza and gelato! Which reminds me, I forgot to mention how delicious the mozzarella cheese is in Italy! It is amazing (except in Venice – it wasn’t that great in Venice)!!! My new favorite sandwich is one I had almost every day in Italy, called a Caprese, which contains thick slices of tomatoes and mozzarella cheese – delicious!
Wow, this may be my longest post yet, so I think it’s time to say ‘ciao’!