It's been a minute since my last blog post, so we have a lot to catch up on! I mentioned that traveling to other countries while studying abroad is high on my to-do list, but I also mentioned how important it was for me to immerse myself in Italian culture. In the past few weeks I've traveled all over Italy and I can't wait to share my experiences. So, strap in, we have a lot to cover! (P.S. We have seven cities to cover so feel free to skip around!)
Pompeii, Sorrento & Capri
In a two day trip I was able to experience the history of Pompeii, the culture of Sorrento and the beauty of Capri. Each city is special in it's own way and this was one of my favorite trips I've taken thus far. I started my journey by meeting a Lorenzo de' Medici Professor (who was our guide/guardian) and all other accompanying students at our bus to start on our six hour journey to Pompeii. Once we got to Campania, the neighboring city of Pompeii where Mount Vesuvius is located, we learned why Pompeii was devastated by the volcano while other neighboring cities were not as harmed. On that day, the wind was blowing northwest instead of its usual southwest direction which caused the volcanic ash to blow directly toward Pompeii completely covering the city. Once we arrived, we were guided through an extensive tour of the city, where we learned a great deal about what happened on that historic day.
Residents in the region were not actually aware that the volcano was, in fact, a volcano. They were blind to the warning signs, and when Mount Vesuvius erupted, they were so caught off guard by the whole event that they didn't know what to do. Many evacuated, but some hid in their homes in hopes that they would be safe there. Nonetheless, Vesuvius erupted with such force spewing tons of hot lava and volcanic ash, destroying much of the Roman city. Coincidentally however, the volcanic ash is what has preserved Pompeii so well. When the hot ash covered the bodies of those remaining it immediately burned and destroyed all human matter except for bones. But, this created a sort of vacuum of air in the shape of the people's bodies it covered which is how the plaster statues so famously seen in Pompeii were created.
On a brighter note, the city has some great history. Before its devastation, it was a popular vacation spot for wealthy Romans and it also has some amazing pieces of architecture. Interestingly, the sidewalks were raised as the city apparently flooded often. Raised stones across the roads offered safe passage for pedestrians over the flooded streets. As well, Pompeii's amphitheater is one of the oldest surviving remains of Roman architecture. It was built so well that it is one of the only structures in Pompeii that did not need to be rebuilt. The roof, of course, caved in from the ash falling on top of it, but the walls managed to withstand the other detrimental effects of the tragedy. Additionally, the Teatro Grande and the Basilica withstood much damage, but were crafted so well that they were also resilient to the natural disaster.
After visiting Pompeii, I was able to spend a few hours in Sorrento. While that is not nearly long enough to truly enjoy the whole city, I enjoyed a taste of some traditional dishes from the Sorrentina Peninsula and sampled some local lemon-based products. After our traditional dinner, we walked to a local factory where we got to taste a few of their different flavors of Limoncello. Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur that is mostly produced in this region, so being able to enjoy the product from the source itself was amazing. We concluded the night by walking through the streets of Sorrento where miniature flags of all different countries hung before resting in our 4 star hotel and waking for Capri in the morning.
Of the three cities I visited in this trip, Capri was by far my favorite. The Italian island is truly breathtaking! With its beautiful caves, flush foliage and delicious lemon-based products, it is a must see location when visiting Italy. Upon arriving, we were guided through a boat tour around the island. Though we weren't able to go into any of the caves due to the high tide, we were able to get pretty close due to our talented captain. Following the boat tour, we had an amazing lunch with a great view (and might I mention I had some of the best spaghetti alla carbonara in Italy there). We topped the trip off with some yummy gelato and a stroll around the city before embarking back to Florence.
Venice, Verona & Valpolicella
My next trip around Italy was to Venice and Verona. Unfortunately, it was a cold and rainy day when we visited Venice, but it was still a great experience. After a long bus ride and a quick boat, we toured the city learning about the history, culture and significance of Venice. After our tour we were able to explore the canals and streets of Venice. We had some tasty food, visited the Basilica di San Marco, and of course enjoyed a gondola ride through the canals. In this case there's not much to say -- Venice's beauty speaks for itself and it was incredible being able to appreciate its wonders.
The next day, we made our way to the city of love: Verona. Verona is the city that the famous Shakespeare play "Romeo & Juliet" takes place. A popular tourist location is visiting La Casa di Giuletta, where a replica of the famous balcony that Julie called out for her Romeo is placed. There are plaster walls leading up to the courtyard where tons of people have signed their names in a romantic gesture. Though this is mainly what the city is known for, Verona is quite a treasure, nonetheless. With trees lining the streets and foliage everywhere, it was a nice change of pace from busy city life. It did, however, offer a city feel with a touch of rurality that made it quaint and easily one of my favorite cities I have visited in Italy thus far (I even rank it about Venice!)
To conclude the trip, we made our way to Valpolicella for a wine tasting at a well-known family owned winery. The route of the name of the city actually comes from the words "valle," "poli" and "cellae" meaning "valley of many cellars," as the area is full of wineries. Once we got to Gamba Vineyard and Winery, we sat down and tasted a 2017 red blend, a 2014 red blend and a dessert wine, each paired with a complementary bite of food. We dissected each wine pondering the undertones, spices and basic flavors of each, and how the corresponding food paired well with each wine. After our tasting we were given a tour of the vineyard where we saw where the grapes are grown, dried and left to ferment until the wine is ready to be bottled. Winding down with friends with a beautiful view and a nice glass of wine was the perfect way to end this weekend trip.
Traveling is actually quite exhausting, and since arriving in Italy, I have yet to have a weekend where I stayed in Florence! I was expecting to finally have a break last week, but then I had the bright idea to take a day trip to Milan right before midterm exams! It sounds irresponsible, but since it is so easy and fairly cheap to travel within Italy, I figured a quick trip to the fashion capital was in order. It was absolutely worth it as the Duomo di Milano is breathtaking. Aside from the architectural beauty, Milan reminds me of a less crowded and much cleaner New York City. Being located in northern Italy, it is a central point for many international train routes, and due to this the Milano Centrale train station is absolutely huge bearing great similarity to Grand Central Station. But, once you leave the city center, the surrounding area is lush with greenery and absent of the hustle and bustle of city life making it incredibly charming and liveable.
Though I could have rambled on about each city, I hope that my anecdotes are enough to convey how wonderful Italy is. With incredible traditions, history and culture varying between each city and region, traveling throughout the country has been one of my favorite activities while here. I'll be able to check Rome and Pisa off the list when I visit in November, but hopefully I'll get the chance to discover even more gems while engulfing myself in Italian life.
A presto! (Talk to you soon!)