31 May 2015

At the Castle: My Odyssey from Verona to Merano

Hello all! Natalie and I made it to the castle today at around 5 - it is GORGEOUS here! But I am getting ahead of myself. First, for our tour of Verona.

We spent the afternoon Saturday walking around Fair Verona - one of Shakespeare's favorite settings. We saw Juliet's Balcony, the Roman Arena and various and sundry churches, piazzas, restaurants and walkways. The bridge in Verona is a particularly beautiful place to watch the sunset. We were tired of Italian cuisine (shocking I know!) so decided to have the age old American classic McDonald's for dinner (two cheeseburgers and one large fry later I was one happy Texan).

Juliet's Balcony

This morning we started out on our epic journey from the heart of Verona to the hills of Merano. One very long bus ride (we got a little lost...ok more than a little, a ten minute bus ride turned into an hour), two trains, one short bus ride and a steep hill later we arrived at Castle Brunnenburg, high up in the South of Tirol. On the way my suitcase handle broke...that was fun. But we made it safely! We were welcomed by the other students, most of whom arrived before us, and rushed off to dinner with Dr. Redman.

The food here is amazing! We had a cold dinner prepared by Brigitta, the lady who works the farm, full of organic vegetables grown onsite and cheese, freshly baked bread, olives and more. We were also allowed to sample the wine that they bottle here at the castle made from grapes grown in their vineyards. It was exquisite.

The castle runs solely on solar power and since it was rainy today I had a FREEZING shower! But the weather is perfect. Right now I sit typing in the wide open window, enjoying the cool mountain breeze. I will post pictures of the dorms tomorrow. Until then - goodnight from Castle Brunnenburg!

29 May 2015

The Middle...and The End: Rome in Just Three Days!

May 28th: Yesterday Natalie and I went to Vatican City. We got up around 8 and ate breakfast; breakfast at Adele's is different than an American breakfast, but no less delicious! We had frittata, cheese, bread, jelly, juice, cappuccino and salad (like ACUTAL salad with tomatoes and mozzarella).

Then we caught a tram (super packed, we barely fit!) to the Vatican. I was nervous we'd be late, so we went early. We got to the Vatican at around 10:30 - our tour was not scheduled until 12:30! So we looked around the gift shop and waited, we also had some great conversation!

When the tour started the sheer amount of art was overwhelming! Pablo, our tour guide, started us out with an overview of the Sistine Chapel artwork, commenting on the history behind each piece. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed in the chapel so I do not have any pictures to share. However, I have a lot of pictures from the next leg of our journey.

The next step was to go see all the original Greek and Roman statues which the Vatican has collected throughout the years:

After that came the tapestries:

And then the paintings...the paintings were exquisite! I particularly enjoyed the Raphael Rooms:

Then the crowning glory of the Vatican Museums - the Sistine Chapel. After that we shopped for a little while, getting some souvenirs for our families (which I can't show here because they follow this blog) ;) Finally we made our way into Saint Peter's Basilica:

While we were in the church Pope Francis entered to perform Mass, which was pretty cool! Then - my phone and camera unanimously died and I was left to finish out the day (sadly) picture and text free. :( Natalie and I had a lovely dinner at a roadside cafe (white wine and pasta for me - muy delicioso) and then we searched high and low for the Trevi Fountain which is supposed to ensure a return visit to travelers who throw in a coin. Unfortunately, the fountain is undergoing restoration, so we were not able to throw in a coin. I took this as a sign that we were FOR SURE coming back because we needed to have the opportunity to throw in a coin. 

Today - May 29th - was our last day in Rome. Natalie and I went on a whirlwind tour of all the places we missed the first two days, First we went to the Pantheon, a heathen temple converted into a memorial for the Christian Martyrs. 

Next we went to the Keats-Shelley House, a memorial dedicated to two of the most famous poets in British Romanticism. The room where John Keats died is preserved in the house as well as many first editions/manuscripts of his books and his personal letters. It was a moving experience for me to see the place where one of my favorite poets died, to walk where he walked and to read his thoughts about the Eternal City.

They had a drawing by John Keats of THE Grecian Urn...maybe I'm fan-girling but I was about to pass out.

 This is a picture of Natalie and me on the terrace of the Keats-Shelley House...

The Compete works of Percy Shelley

Painting of John Keats

This is me after I just saw all of that awesomeness...

After the Keats-Shelley House we went to lunch! Our friend Gaspare, the Italian man we met on the Metro, had recommended a pizza place and a gelato bar to us. They did not disappoint:

Then it was time to see some more sights. Natalie and I split up. She went to some art museums and churches while I went to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill - anyone who knows me well knows that Ancient Roman history is one of my all time favorite things...it was amazing to see!

Now all that remains is dinner and SLEEP!! I'll check in tomorrow from Verona! :) Goodnight, my friends!

27 May 2015

Italia 2015: Arrival Day

My adventure to Italy started off with a spectacular flourish. I left on time from DFW Airport and arrived ahead of schedule on May 26, 2015 at the beautiful city of Milan. I tasted Indian Cuisine for the first time during the flight, an interesting experience:

Then we changed our dollars to euros (I would NOT recommend changing money in an airport for anyone who is considering traveling to Europe) and continued in our quest to find the train station with a grande total of 3 hours sleep between us. We made it successfully to Milano Centrale (by God's grace) and were greeted by a scene straight out of Harry Potter. I found myself looking around for platform 9 3/4:

The trains in Italy are fantastic! Very comfortable and quiet. We had a hard time not falling asleep, but stayed (semi) awake with a valiant effort. On the train we met Gespare, a very kind, intelligent Italian man who looked at our map of Rome with us and explained how to get around the city. He also mentioned some must see tourist locations and his favorite place to get Tiramisu (which I specifically asked for). He told us of some affordable, authentic Italian restaurants and the best places to get Gelato. After a long (but extremely fun and comfortable) train ride we arrived at the Roma Termini station in Rome. The station is huge (by this time I was regretting my thinking I NEEDED a hair dryer, two razors, a straightener, shampoo and all my denim products - seriously, who needs all that?) and we lugged our luggage all over creation looking for bus tickets which are NOT sold in the metro station. After much aimless wandering we found the bus ticket booth (right outside the doors to the station!!) and were on our way to our hostess' house. Adele, our hostess, is just about the sweetest person alive! She welcomed us with open arms (literally, she hugged us!) and gave us a tour of her house and some water (Natalie and I were super thankful for the water even though it was fizzy - travel tip #1: never travel without a water bottle, it's definitely worth the space in your bag/a few dollars). We rested for awhile then went across the street to a pizzeria that Adele recommended:

The food in Italy is SOOOO good! Very fresh ingredients. The pizza has very few toppings which make for simplistic, but STRONG flavors!

Today - May 27th - we went to the Colosseum. It was a very satisfying historical experience:

 Then we went and ate (pizza again, but it was very good!) On our way to the Roman Forum we got caught in the rain...without an umbrella!

We caught a train home (thoroughly cold and drenched) and now we are chilling (pardon the pun) until tomorrow! Thank you for your prayers for our trip. I will continue to update the blog with our adventures and provide traveling tips for those who with to see Italy someday in the future.