Italy: Day 12, Packing and Farewell

Today is our last day in Assisi, and I find that I'm leaving with more questions and fewer answers. It may just be the nature of travel and growth, but sometimes it's rather painful - usually it's bittersweet.

We spent the day packing, cleaning, napping, eating and spending time together. For dinner, we went out to a nice restaurant in the piazza...

Left to Right: Me, Annie, Claire, Anna

Left to Right: Ashley, Suz, Elise, Claire, Me, Annie, Anna, Amanda

I won't be uploading posts for the next couple of days because I'll be traveling, but when I return I'll do a reflection.

Thanks for reading about my Italian experience with journalism! I'll keep posting about my upcoming wedding, married life, Wall Street Exodus, and my senior year of college!

E' tutto bene.


Italy: Day 11, Hike and Hermitage

Today was the day of our hike to the hermitage. We had planned this activity at the beginning of the week as a stress reliever after we’d finished our respective articles for the course. I haven’t been running at all while I’ve been here (the hills would make things more difficult), so I was happy for the chance to get some endorphins.

Each of us left with food in tow – we brought French bread, cheeses, fiber cookies, tomatoes, crackers, and other high-energy foods. Our professor didn’t come with us, as she was compiling our assignments, but her son led the way.

This hill was treacherous. Mostly because it wasn’t a hill, it was a mountain. I was climbing a mountain, in Sperry’s, with bread and a pound of cheese in my backpack, in the heat of the morning. It was divine. A few had trouble making it to the top, but I was flying clear after the adrenaline started to kick in. Plus, the views kept me going. The beauty of the mountain is addictive.

Along the way, we found a little hut, which housed a freshwater spring. There, will refilled our water bottles and ran into some rather judgmental German kids.

We stopped at some picnic tables to eat our lunch.

When we arrived at the hermitage, we’d walked about three miles. I’m not sure which was more picturesque and serene – the walk or the hermitage. We’ve been told that this was a spot that Saint Francis and his good friend, Brother Leo, visited regularly. I can see why. The nature surrounding this religious spot is perfect. It really is unexplainable, like being part of a fictional movie.

I found a quiet spot off the main road to sit, read and pray.

We spent an hour and a half at the hermitage, and then met up once more as a group and headed down the mountain. On the way, I fell and ripped up my left leg pretty badly. Around the ankle, it looked deep enough to need stitches, but as of right now I’m doing ok with a compress. I’m not even sure if doctors do stitches around the ankle… Thankfully, it doesn’t hurt too badly.

We stopped for gelato (of course) before returning to CEFID for showers, resting, and writing our own religious “rule”.

I’m sure we’ll go out later tonight for food, drinks and socializing with the surprising number of Canadians visiting Assisi.

Italy: Day 10, Knox, Groceries and Novices

Today is going to be a long one…

Yesterday morning we met to discuss our articles on the Amanda Knox/Meredith Kercher case. I’m opening the compilation of our exposes on the trial with an In Memoria statement about Meredith Kercher’s life. To conclude the compilation, I make another brief statement about how the Kercher family is moving on. This case has touched us all deeply, from meeting with Amanda Knox’s stepfather to researching the happenings of Meredith’s murder.

I share this because I realized only today how profoundly it has distressed me. During group discussions, I can go from 0 to 60 on my response. I’ve done expansive research on the subject, and have gone so far as to attempt contact with the media rep for the Kercher family (unsuccessfully, I’m afraid – they’re rather private). I had the opportunity to speak with a CBS News producer for 48 HOURS MYSTERY in April, who shared with me his thoughts and experience with the case. This is probably what sparked my investment in understanding justice and accusations in the tragedy.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Knox/Kercher case, I’ll give some details. On November 2, 2007, a young British girl (Kercher) was brutally raped and murdered in her own home. Knox, an American, and her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, along with an Ivory Coast native, Rudy Guede, were convicted within the next two years of sexually assaulting and fatally stabbing Meredith Kercher. However, dodgy logistics in the case have led some (including the producer I spoke with) to believe that Amanda Knox is innocent, and did not receive a fair trial. The Italian Supreme Court agrees with the latter, and Knox continues to re-appeal.

I’ll include my article for other details:


If Amanda Knox is the fox of the Italian justice system, then Meredith Kercher is a mouse.

The unceasing controversy around Knox’s involvement in the 2007 murder often overshadows its victim, leaving Kercher’s memory primarily existent in her death. However, Kercher’s background, along with her relationship to Knox, may lend more insight into the happenings of November 2, 2007 than forensic evidence.

This to say, also, that forensic evidence provided has been less than definitive. It has been a momentous struggle for the Italian judicial system to come to a conclusive decision on this case. It has been a perhaps an even greater difficulty for a significant faction of the American people to see past Knox’s likeness to a frivolous, though innocuous, American teenager. An Italian court found Amanda Knox guilty of murder in 2009, but controversy remains.

Data and presumed legal discrepancies have been highlighted over the last two years’ examination of the case, but such factors should be secondary to the tragedy of young life taken that night.

Meredith Kercher, a 21 year old British exchange student, was found with her throat slashed, bruises all over her body, and proof of sexual assault two days after Italy’s Halloween equivalent, Dia de los Muertos. At the time, Meredith had been studying abroad for two months.

By most accounts, Kercher is portrayed as the face of innocence – she criticized Knox for bringing boys to the apartment that they shared with two other girls in Perugia. She cut social visits short to attend to her academic duties. Ultimately, it is said that her death was instigated by her refusal to have sex with one of three convicted killers, the Ivory Coast native, Rudy Guede.

In contrast, Amanda Knox has been nicknamed, “Foxy Knoxy” for her seemingly ostentatious ways.

But Kercher was more than the face of innocence. The student hailed from Coulsdon, Surrey and was in Italy completing her Leeds University degree. She studied political history, and planned to graduate that year. Kercher worked diligently for the opportunity to study in Italy, finding two jobs the previous summer in order save money. She chose Perugia because of their annual Chocolate Festival, which she attended with her apartment-mate. According to Knox’s stepfather, Chris Mellas, in an exclusive interview, Knox’s destroyed hard drive would have contained a video of the roommates enjoying time together.

In the mornings, Kercher loved looking out at the beautiful Umbrian hills from her shared apartment. Like many young girls, she watched The Notebook with her friends, and took pleasure from shopping, reading, and writing poetry. In her teens, Meredith was involved in karate and ballet.

Her sister, Stephanie, remembers that she loved to dance. Meredith spent a good deal of time with her family and enjoyed their company; while abroad she telephoned and text messaged them regularly.

One week after her brutal murder, Kercher had planned to visit home with gifts and chocolates for her mother’s birthday.

Meredith’s mother and father, Arline and John Kercher, arrived in Italy shortly after the murder. Her father was a long-time journalist who found out about his daughter’s death from the foreign desk of an affiliate newspaper. Upon arriving, John was unable to enter the morgue to identify his daughter’s body “because it would have put a full stop to my memory of her.”

Arline Kercher grieved differently. “I still look for [Meredith],” she admitted after expressing the surrealism of her daughter’s death.

At the sentencing of Knox and once-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, Meredith’s father likewise lamented. “It destroys me,” he says. Still, the family acted with grace and dignity in the process of justice. At the same time, they have exercised extreme privacy. Attempts to get in touch with the family’s media representative were unsuccessful.

Three siblings, John, Lyle, and Stephanie, survive the 21-year-old; all have been actively involved in pursuing justice for their sister. The family wants irrefutable answers.

Given the presumably dodgy logistics, motive must be assumed another option in Meredith’s murder. And, based on her nature, there is none. Kercher was a diligent Erasmus scholar whose most wicked exploit may have been dressing up as a vampire for Dia de los Muertos. As Knox said herself, “Meredith was my friend.”

But perhaps it was a crime of passion, disregarding motive and acted through a drug-fueled sex-orgy. Perhaps Meredith Kercher’s personality, character and accomplishments could do nothing to save her on that fatal night. Now, such qualities can only save her remembrance. For her family, at least, Meredith’s memory lives through these things.

The family has said on multiple occasions that Meredith would have fought to the end.

AFTERMATH (Concluding Statement)

Meredith Kercher’s eldest brother, John, spoke at the end of a trial granting the family $6.5 million in damages, saying he’d like to remember Meredith’s life more than the way in which she died.

As the family continues to be surrounded by criminal debate, moving on hasn’t been easy.

It’s not my finest work, certainly, but it’s my best attempt at removing a bias towards Knox’s innocence. Today, it stopped being about that, as I recognized more fully that this is a tragedy, and it will always be a tragedy. If Knox is innocent, I pray that she is released – in that case, a terrible thing has been done to her. If she is guilty, she has done a terrible thing. No matter how you string it, a terrible thing has been done to Meredith Kercher, and her family is suffering something terrible.

What ultimately caused me to cry for this case was Meredith’s mother’s claim that she still looks for her daughter – that a mother must constantly re-awaken to the loss of a daughter. Second, this picture of Meredith’s father at a press conference:

It’s consuming to write about something so horrible. But, as a journalist, it’s also imperative to eventually let those things go. I am merely an observer, trying to relay truth. That’s the best I can do. And that, I suppose, is a writer’s most heartbreaking endeavor.

It’s trite to move on to the rest of my experiences from the day at this point, but I need to.

This morning we met again for a short class time, then our professor wanted me to run some errands for her. Danny and I walked to the grocery store (about a mile) to pick up more breakfast food and picnic food for our hike tomorrow. Today was the day I realized that Italian “Gastronomias” leave the heads on the chickens they sell. Rather disgusting.

When we got back to CEFID, I left for a solo walk along the hillside of Assisi. I took my iPod with me, and walked about two miles down the road past basilicas, apartments, olive groves and gardens. Along the way, I took a few pictures.

I came across these two gentlemen talking at the fountain in the Piazza:

I was taken by this quaint little street:

At pranzo today, it seemed as if everyone was exhausted. In every way, we were drained. Later, and for three hours, three other girls and I hid in our “bunker” and watched downloaded American television. Now, I know this is petty. We’re in Assisi, Italy. Why would we insult our intelligence by watching garbage in one of the most beautiful places in the world?

Well, I’ll tell you why.

We had just finished writing about a case that we had all become invested in, and needed some escape from that harsh reality. We were all missing home. We were all physically tired. We all needed to laugh.

So, yes… Even though I love learning about the Roman statues that decorate the Trevi Fountain and look forward to tours of Franciscan Basilicas, I can also appreciate the simpler things in life. J

Around dinnertime, we immerged from our bunker slightly more refreshed. We had plans to interview two Franciscan novices about their conversion to the Franciscan order and their plans to become friars. It was an interesting discussion, and a relatable one, as one of the novices had been an American college student (at Notre Dame). The other novice was French, and twenty-one years old – only a year older than I.

Danny and the French novice:

For dinner, we heated leftover pizza and stopped in a café for gelato.

At 10 PM, a few of us went out for a quiet celebration at Sensi. I took a few pictures of the beautiful streetlamps on the way back.


Italy: Day 9, Basilica and Sunset

I originally wrote a blog post about our morning discussion and article assignment, but I’ll have to hold out on posting that, as our professor is trying to keep it secret until the story is completed for our class site: www.ijsa.wordpress.com. Right now, I can include my local article (already posted), which is an account of the Peace Conference of 1986 held here in Assisi.


As I look out over the sloping hillside to see fog rise from the valley over the walls of an already-waking town, I can think of no better representation of peace than the harmony of nature and civilization that is Assisi, Italy.

Perhaps this is a vision that Pope John Paul II shared as he chose the location of his interfaith peace conference almost twenty-five years ago. On October 27, 1986, a day not unlike today with threatening skies and non-committal droplets of rain, thousands gathered in courtyards, basilicas, on walls and along pathways to pray for peace. Assisi seemed, on that day, a place far less tranquil than the idea the event was promoting.

That morning, a humble Assisi became perhaps the largest house of prayer the world had ever seen. The muted cobble landscape quickly erupted in flames of color from the garb of varying religions. The streets were overcome with thirty-two denominations of Christianity, including representatives from the World Council of Churches, The Lutheran World Federation, and the Anglican Communion. Amongst them were Zoroastrians, Japanese Shinto’s, North American Animists, Buddhists and Sikhs. Others arrived in droves. Religious “celebrities” like Robert Runcle, Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama crossed paths with bishops and rabbis.

The early hours of that Monday were filled with prayer in specified locations for the differing sects. Crowds of visitors and media workers went from group to group, observing or participating in rituals of worship. Television crews highlighted religious oddities. Brick walls were dotted with meditating visitors. The Church of the Minerva housed a 48-hour prayer session attended by youths and elderly alike. Assisi was alive with belief in the supernatural.

As morning became afternoon, the town transitioned into what can be likened to my Protestant understanding of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It was a mass entrance of joy and expectation into a holy place. I can only imagine the joy the sight would have been to Saint Francis – religious groups congregated in the lower square of the Basilica of Saint Francis to raise supplication and song in differing tongues to the Divine. Francis, who acted out of humility and love for others, would have been blessed by this testimony of peace in his hometown. He would have run to each, throwing his arms around them and fasting for the salvation of their souls. He would have preached from a rock with all the humility of a poor beggar. He would have handed out olive branches and found places for each person to sleep. In this town so centered around brotherhood and sisterhood of the Franciscans and Poor Clares, the practice of unity was fully understood in this gathering of various tongues, attire, and practices of worship.

But not all agreed in its mission.

The Vatican expressed early distain for the event, saying that it presumed validity for all religions equally – a belief not upheld by the Catholic Church. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would later assume the Pope’s position, refused to attend the Peace Conference on the same grounds. Catholic extremists passed out pamphlets claiming the heresy of Pope John Paul II. Some religious leaders were even bothered by the presence of military and security personnel at a conference promoting peace.

The proper response to this can only be seen through its instigator’s intent.

Pope John Paul II saw a need for peace. On his deathbed, he proclaimed, “So long as I have breath within me, I will never cease to cry out for peace.” He dedicated the year of 1986 to this idea, advocating for nations to put down their weapons. A few complied. In order to further his purpose, he sought this conference of open dialogue. It was said to be a time not for religions to pray together, but to come together to pray.

Why here? Assisi embodies the mission of Saint Francis, the patron saint of Italy. It is a town characterized by peace, not only in its landscape, but also in its places of worship, community of people, and history. Here, Pope John Paul II saw an idea come to life. Assisi is a model that would be followed for years to come. The Pope would have a repeat peace conference of 2002, which would inspire Pope Benedict XVI’s peace conference of 2007. Assisi was the perfect starting point of interfaith dialogue that would promote a biblical kingdom of peace.

As a Protestant gazing out onto the beautiful hills and valleys of one of Italy’s most reverential places, I try to soak up all that this largely Catholic place can teach me. It is not just Catholic history; it is my own. In its places of worship, I experience a newfound desire for structured worship. In its quiet shaded places, I can see the need for silence and contemplation. In its awe-inspiring architecture and well-constructed walls, I can have greater respect for the Almighty. In its dark tombs, I better appreciate the lives of saints who did their best to embody all of these things.

Though Pope John Paul II’s year of peace may not have accomplished much by earthly standards, its example through the Peace Conference at Assisi points to the importance of Saint Francis’ mission. When the conference came to a close and religious leaders began making their departures on that overcast day in 1986, Franciscans lined the streets to collect trash, hand out umbrellas and give directions. This may have been the most meaningful tribute to peace the day had witnessed. And perhaps that is the call Saint Francis had in mind all along: to be good stewards, to act humbly, and to serve dutifully.

Today was a beautiful day in Assisi. It was about 80 degrees and sunny in the afternoon, with a soft breeze coming up the mountain. Like I said, we spent some time doing work this morning (I’ll talk about that tomorrow) then we headed down to our restaurant for pranzo. Lunch was a meat lasagna and spaghetti with pizza as the second course. Needless to say, I usually save the second course for dinner.

After pranzo, which ran late because the restaurant was crowded, we walked around in the sun for a while. We met up at 2:50 and headed down to St. Francis’ Basilica, a stunning church that sits at the far left of the hill. Our professor has a friend from the States who works at the Basilica and was willing to give us a tour in English.

The church doesn’t allow pictures to be taken inside, so I’ll have to display one from the outside only.

Front Lawn (The “T” was part of Francis’ signature):

Our tour took us through the lower church, the original building, which was built from 1228-1230, shortly after Saint Francis’ canonization. The lower church is smaller and rather tomb-like, decorated in the 13th and 14th centuries by renowned artists like Cimabue, Giotto, and Lorenzetti. Our tour guide showed us one wall that epitomizes the evolution of art history – a beautiful depiction of how depth perception changed and how painting became more life-like.

We then went down into the crypt, which was reminiscent of Disney World’s Haunted Mansion. There lies Francis body (in a tomb), along with 4 of his early followers and a woman who took care of him on his deathbed. Essentially, the church has become somewhat of a graveyard itself, housing numerous friars and church leaders influential enough to be given immortality through placement in the Basilica.

As a contrast, we climbed the steps to the upper church, which looks more like a heavenly afterlife. It was the architects’ intent to create a feeling of rising from death to life when traveling from the lower crypt to the upper church. This church’s ceiling rises over seven stories from the ground, and has the same gothic arches that we saw in the Biblioteca. Along the walls are frescoes illustrating the life of the saint, many of which I recognized from reading our professor’s book.

I really enjoyed the experience, as it felt something like watching the movie version of a book just completed. I had read A Mended and Broken Heart, so I knew stories from the life of Saint Francis, but I appreciated being able to see the cloak he wore, read his handwriting, and see artwork that reflects his importance in the Catholic tradition.

In one of the bedrooms at CEFID (we each have our own room), three of the girls put their beds together to make a hang out room. For the next few hours we sat there, talking, writing and eating Nutella.

Most of us needed a break from our studies around 7:30 pm, so we took our leftover pizza up to the terrace and watched the sun set.


Italy: Day 8, Homework

Today is probably not a day that you want all the details of, so I'll keep it brief...

First off, the two students who separated from us in Rome (they were staying elsewhere) got robbed on the train. They had to cancel their credit cards, get new ones, and have their parents wire them some cash. In addition to the no-money problem, they were also on their way to find a cord that was necessary for completing a project for the class. They didn't get the cord. Not a happy day.

Second, one of the girls lost her passport. She needed to go to the American consulate, fill out paperwork, take new pictures, and she's going to Rome on Wednesday. Not a happy day for her, either.

For the rest of us, we had class. The morning began with a two hour lecture on endnotes, then an essay on the sources found in our professor's book. Because I am somewhat of a loser (perhaps more than somewhat), I actually enjoyed the assignment.

What I didn't enjoy was discussing more of the Amanda Knox case. We have beaten the dead horse. Drank the well dry. Finished the last of the barrel. Sucked the life out of it. I'll have to update more on that later, as the process is still underway.

We had pranzo at the restaurant we frequent - today I tried bacon and egg pizza. Surprisingly good. This is not what it looked like, but I wish it had...

I then wrote on the terrace, where the sun was scorching. I was out for ten minutes and already had tan lines. Sunscreen. Gotta do it here.

We reconvened for another brief lecture, then we all spent the night writing, researching and editing. Two of the girls share a room, so one other girl and I joined them for some homework bonding time. When I finished early, I got some thank-you notes done and read my Real Simple magazine. They have some excellent, easy recipes. I think being in Italy is making me a better cook. I haven't tested this theory yet, but I'm pretty sure.

Also, another exciting thing. This weekend, we got our engagement photos back! Yayyy!
For those of you who have been on facebook, this is old news. I'll post a few...

Also, I've decided that after walking all of these hills, I'd like to do a charity walk/run. I talked about doing the Disney Princess Marathon with my future Mother-in-Law next year, but I don't know if I can commit to running a marathon in the Florida heat. We'll see...

Italy: Day 7, Shopping and Relaxing

Today was pretty subdued, which seemed to be what everyone needed. I had planned on going to Brother Tom’s church service (he’s a good friend of our professor) because it’s done in English, but I didn’t wake up until 10:30. I opened my windows to an absolutely beautiful day, and took a hot shower. It was such a relief to wash the travel grease off from the last two days.

Once clean, I headed out on my own to find souvenirs for family and buy the purse that I’ve been dreaming about for the last three days. After my wedding dress fiasco (ask me later), I refuse to make any significant purchases without thinking about it for at least two days. The woman in the store remembered me, and brought down the light pink Italian leather purse that has since become my child. I bought it and a few other things around town, and then headed back towards CEFID.

(My generous grandparents provided me with some souvenir money before I left for Italy, which was used to purchase my wonderful bag. Thank you, Grammy and Grandaddy! J)

On the way, I ran into the girls who were headed out on a similar shopping mission. Together, we headed back from whence I came, and found a café in the center of town for pranzo. We chose a spot outside and ordered vegetable crustinis. Delicious.

One of the other girls on the trip fell in love with the same Italian leather purse, so we went back to the store and she got her own. The Italian shopkeeper wanted a picture with the two of us and our bags. Our friend Annie took one with her Polaroid and gave it to the woman. I haven’t met a shopkeeper or restaurant owner yet who hasn’t wanted to take a picture with the American college kids…

Tired, I then went back to CEFID to read and write on the terrace. I spent hours up there, enjoying the breeze.

Around 10, we all went out to Sensi (downtown) for spritzers. By midnight, I was ready for bed.


Italy: Day 6, Rome

I might not have slept more than five minutes at a time on Friday night. About an hour after we all went to bed, two intoxicated gentlemen from another group began pounding on the outside door. Apparently, they had lost their key. I can’t imagine how… Also, some people in our group talk in their sleep. And the pillows were as flat as toilet paper. But some people don’t have beds, so we were thankful.

Though we were all disgusting from the day before, only one person decided to shower. We were ready by 9:30 to tackle a week’s worth of Rome.

On the way out, we made a friend from the University of North Carolina. He was in Rome studying city planning, and asked if he could join the group on our adventure. He was nice, wore glasses, and had a bit of a southern accent, so we didn’t see the harm in it.

First, we realized that we had a lot of ground to cover, so we went, armed with our maps, to the nearest metro station. There, it took us thirty minutes to get everyone a day pass. The ticket machines in Italy are ridiculous. Some only take 5 Euros, some don’t take change, some don’t take credit cards, some simply don’t work at all. It’s silly. But we did it, and we felt accomplished.

Our first stop was the Vatican. For the first time since being here, I was sweating. The crowds permeated the square of Saint Peter’s Basilica, and a line wrapped all the way through the arches (to see the Sistine Chapel). We took some pictures, found a tour guide who would tell us where the Pope slept, and moved along.

Left to Right, Top to Bottom:

Me, Annie, Ashley, Amanda, Anna, Elise, Ricky and Danny

But I should note that I think I recognized Kseniya Simonova’s work in the square of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Kseniya Simonova is a Ukrainian sand artist who won Ukraine’s Got Talent in 2009. If you want to see her work, look her up on YouTube. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a picture. I think the people looking at me thought I was taking a picture of them. They look rather frightened.

Before we left the Vatican City, a few of the girls wanted to shop. We stepped in some stores to try on Italian clothes, and realized that – like shopping at J.Crew – shopping for Italian clothes comes at a cost. A high cost. And personally, not a cost I wanted to incur in the heat of midday at the Vatican City.

We caught a bus that took us down to the Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuele, a gorgeous palace in the heart of Rome. The statues in and around it are really incredible. We all kept commenting on the fact that these palaces and temples were built hundreds of years ago without the technology we have today. The dedication and design that went into creating these monuments of historical and architectural significance is epic. We were seeing buildings that have been the prototypes for modern architecture.

At that point, we were hungry again, so we scourged the city for McDonald’s. Yes, McDonald’s. Mostly because I had heard that it was different here, and I wanted to understand the hype; also, I didn’t want to spend more than 6 Euros. Oddly, in Italy you can’t just turn a corner and find a McDonald’s. You have to follow signs that direct you through five different streets before you find the McDonald’s. That’s how we ended up back at the Pantheon.

Some of the group sat down at a restaurant for the typical Italian lunch. I and two other students stood in a long line at McDonald’s for a chicken sandwich. I was missing chicken. I haven’t seen Italians eat a lot of chicken.

We then took our chicken to the Pantheon. This was a building erected in AD 128, and we were eating lunch underneath its massive pillars. Inside are the tombs of Raphael and two Italian kings. I felt a bit sacrilegious.

After lunch, we toured the inside because we weren’t able to enter the night before. I really loved the architecture of this building, especially the beautiful ceiling.

We found our way back to the place where we got off the bus and headed from there to the Colosseum. On the way, we spotted the Roman ruins of the Foro di Augusto and the Foro di Cesare.

Then we saw it: the Roman Colosseum, dating back to AD 72. 55,000 people could have sat in the stands of the Colosseum at one time. Thousands of gladiators lost their lives here, fighting to the death. Missing sections reveal its use as the source of building material during the Middle Ages. The Colosseum is a fascinating piece of history.

Next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine:

By the time we were done wandering, it was time to catch a subway to the train station. Luckily, it too was next to the Colosseum.

When we arrived at the station, we still had a bit of time to kill, so the boys went off to find our track number while the girls looked in the shops. Thirty minutes later, Danny (one of the guys) came back with some bad news. The 5:43 train that we planned on taking didn’t run one day of the week – Saturday. We would need to take a 6:45 train to Florence, and then hop a train from Florence to Assisi, arriving in lower Assisi with one minute to catch our bus up the hill. It wasn’t good, but it was doable.

So we all got something to eat, looked around a little more, and started walking toward our track fifteen minutes before the train was scheduled to leave. The track number said something like “PE”, which confused us, so we asked a gentleman what it meant. He didn’t speak English, but pointed toward track one. Once we got there, we realized that our train was not on track one, but the track 1,000 feet behind track one. It would be leaving in 5 minutes. We began to run. And that’s when it started to rain.

We got on the train and tried to sleep. I had to use their revolting bathroom twice.

When we arrived in Florence, we had a thirty-minute layover, so we used the bathroom (again) and crossed over to our track. We got on the right train and everything seemed to be working out nicely. That is, until we thought we had arrived in Assisi, but we had really arrived in the town before Assisi.

We got off the train. As the doors were closing, we noticed a sign claiming our error – this was a small town between Perugia and Assisi. One of the guys tried holding onto the doors as the train started to move, but it was no use. The train moved on, as did every fiber of composure left in me.

Thankfully, we ran into a woman who was able to tell us where we needed to walk. She said we had three miles to go before reaching lower Assisi; from there we would need to climb the hill, which was another three miles. All we could do was start walking.

It was an interesting walk. Inter-Milan beat Bayern in the Champion’s League Final (first time in 45 years), so the town was on fire. Almost every car that passed was honking and waving the Italian flag. To blend in, as proper journalists do, we took out the souvenir shirts that we had bought in Rome and hollered along with the best of them. Here’s a blurry picture of a crowd we passed:

This was right about the time (3 miles in) we hit the underpass. We took a vote, and it was pretty clear that almost no one wanted to go down there.

But we were saved: Ricky (one of the boys) saw a taxi van, flagged it down, and asked how much it would cost to get us up to Assisi. “4 Euros,” the taxi driver said, and I almost kissed him.

We piled in, and headed in the direction of sleep.

Italy: Day 5, Orvieto and Rome

I’ll admit, I’ve fallen a little behind on blogging, mostly because I didn’t have access to the internet for the last two days. I’ll do my best to recapture the events of our adventurous, interesting, and at times, very frustrating, trips to Orvieto and Rome.

We’ll start with Friday – Orvieto.

We had plans as a class to visit Gordon’s chapter in Orvieto, spending the day with students and professors in their gorgeous Dominican town, spared from much of what Italy has seen of war and hardship. In the morning, we walked down to the bus stop at the main gates of Assisi to wait for a bus crowded by tourists. This morning, we made friends with a group of Swedish students traveling home after a confirmation pilgrimage to Assisi. The bus took us down to the train station.

We took three trains to get to Orvieto, giving us (at least) an experience with the variety of trains in Italy. Having taken the train to and from New York City for the last four months, I must say that Italy’s commuter rail is far more accommodating. On the other hand, on trains to New York City I wasn’t as frequently – or ever, really - accosted by drunk men serenading me while using the lavatory. One of the blessings of not fully understanding the language, I suppose.

Orvieto is another hillside town, as are many ancient residential areas in Italy, and I think I already mentioned why. In any case, Orvieto was spared in war because of their strategic location and general good fortune. Even getting off the train, we were able to see much of the original integrity of the town. I’m fascinated not only by what perishes here, but probably more so by what is left behind. Every place I’ve gone in Italy, I could have sat for hours just taking it all in. The history is a fascinating testimony to who we are as people, how we adapt, and how we are naturally consistent. It’s beautiful.

Before we took a ski-lift-like tram up the hill, the class took note of a wishing well at the train stop and wanted to do our touristy duty. Though we’ve been advised to blend in with the culture, and in most positions we try to, I think this picture might be the most touristy out of the bunch. Please take note of the fantastic looks on everyone’s faces.

At the top of the hill, we first visited the building and former monastery where our Orvietani counterpart stays while studying. The Gordon in Orvieto program is a semester-long program primarily for Art students to spend February-June in this artistically endowed town. My good friend, Hannah Armbrust, has been studying there for the last two semesters – she fell in love with the culture and language and was asked to return a following semester as the Resident Advisor. Hannie is one of the kindest people I’ve known, and it was such a pleasure to spend some time with her in her own habitat.

We had pranzo with the Orvieto students in the restaurant that they commonly go to, which provided the most delicious peas I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what they did to these peas, but they were phenomenal. The supervisor of their program, John Skillen, then took the whole group (Group A – Assisi, Group O – Orvieto) on a tour of the town. He explained that Orvieto is a palimpsest – a scroll of writing that has many layers developed over time. Whether we like it or not, we’re all part of this palimpsest, building on the history of the town and changing it slightly by generation. There are physical evidences of these changes, specifically in architecture:

You see how these windows have been filled in with brick? It’s all part of the ever-changing landscape of a town with such rich history. In fact, Thomas Aquinas spent over five years in this town studying and writing. Everywhere you go, you’re walking where “the greats” have tread.

So we took in the scenery, much like ours in Assisi, only greener, near one of Orvieto’s most famous basilicas. This is a group of girls from the trip. Left to right: Annie, Elise, Anna, Me.

Perhaps most notably preserved in this town is their Duomo, which we were given a brief description and tour of. This church is one of the places where I could spend hours in reflection. It’s a stunning reminder of what man has done for the glory of God:

Do you see the small gazebo in the front of the church? It’s used on Pentecost (this Sunday) to celebrate the story in Acts of the apostles receiving the Holy Spirit in the form of the dove. On that Sunday, the square is filled with observers hovered around the gazebo. From a church steeple about 100 feet from it, a zip line cascades to the top of the gazebo. A dove is sent from the other church down the zip line (encased in a box, thanks to PITA) into the gazebo, which then spits fire onto the heads of apostles in the lower part of the gazebo. When the dove is proclaimed a survivor, everyone cheers. I wish we could be witnesses.

We visited a few other basilicas, then stopped in a small prayer room where John Skillen said a prayer for the remainder of our stay in Italy. Every street seems to have a secret and reverential history to it – even prayer rooms like this one give a glimpse into spiritual life, past and present.

But now it was time to head to Rome. While our professor, her son, and one other student returned to Assisi, the rest of us waited on the platform for our direct train to the capital of the Classical world. We were going to do it all, and we were going to do it in 24 hours…

When we arrived, we first purchased our train tickets for the following day back to Assisi. We checked the semi-confusing train schedule and found a train that left at 5:43 PM on Saturday. Our hostel was only available on Friday night, so our stay would be brief.

Now, let me just say I’m not the most stellar navigator, especially in a city where none of us have been, and none of us speak the language. But somehow, I ended up as map-reader. I got us to the street where our hostel supposedly was, and there was nothing. We walked up and down the street multiple times, walked down side streets, and asked storeowners if they’d heard of Ciao Bella Hostel. They all directed us to the same place, but there was no sign. At this point, I was just a little worried. I wanted English. I wanted America. I wanted a real bed. Here we are, wandering…

And then I happened to catch a glimpse of the name on a miniscule sign outside of a residential-looking building. This place was so well hidden, it actually made me feel safe. So there I stood, speaking English into the intercom to what we assume is the Ciao Bella Hostel. We’re buzzed through two doors (errr…yeah. A little sketch I suppose, but we had two very attentive male students with us) and were finally at our Roman hostel. Aside from the semi-weird people that ran it, it wasn’t too bad. The eight of us were in one room, there was a bathroom shared with two other rooms of 10, and we had clean beds. This is the view from our window:

We were all hungry, so we headed out again, with all of our belongings, to find sustainment. Around the corner, we found a cute Italian restaurant playing James Taylor from iTunes on their laptop. Finally, some semblance of our former lives! We took a picture with the restaurant owner:

At 10 PM, we were still fairly awake and eager to get a feel for Rome. Knowing that it was close, we took off for the Fontana di Trevi. I had heard that it was beautiful at night, but nothing could prepare me for how beautiful it was in reality. Most major monuments creep up on you here – but the sound of water sparked our excitement before we reached the spot. It’s one of the most breathtaking pieces of art I’ve seen. We threw more coins, made more wishes, and took more pictures, but they really can’t testify to the reality. Plus, my camera doesn’t work very well at night. You’ll have to check my Facebook later for better pictures…

Still not tired, we visited the Templo Adriano and the Pantheon. We revisited the Pantheon in daylight the following day, so I’ll put up pictures and a description for Day 6.

It then took us an hour to find our way back to the hostel… finally, we were tired.


Italy: Day 4, Interviewing

Today we had an interview with a fairly high-profile person who has been on the forefront of media attention for the last three years. I’m not allowed to give details on the interview or even say the interviewee’s name, but I’ll have an update for you later. It was informative and fairly exhausting to become so engaged in a story of such relevance and magnitude. For now, this is where we had our class discussion - a classroom in our place of residence:

After the two hour interview, we headed down the hill (and I do mean down, as the hill is at around a 45 degree angle) to lunch. Our professor ate with the interviewee, while the rest of us enjoyed stuffed shells with odd ham cubes and plates of meat. We were on our own for the next two hours, so I spend some time reading, up on the terrace, and editing my articles.

We soon reconvened for a debriefing of the interview, which became so heated that I’m now, at 9:45, ready for bed. Everyone had something to say about his or her own interpretation, and how they wanted to write about the story.

Brother Sylvestro, the “landlord” of the house, needs to leave tomorrow to visit his sick mother, and wanted a photo of the whole group. He was really sweet about it asking us to “friend” him on Facebook. Immediately after the photo was taken, he posted it as the background to the main computer. We really liked Brother Sylvestro, despite his rather harsh warnings about closing the door all the way – complete with a sign – and will miss him around the house.

Which reminds me, I was going to put up some pictures of my room. Blake wanted to see pictures of my weird shower, so I’ll put that up, too:

After our meeting, we had to go out and buy train tickets for our trip to Orvieto tomorrow, and from Orvieto to Rome. We’re staying in Rome overnight on Friday and coming back late Saturday. I thought I’d never have to stay in a hostel again after Miami Beach, but I’ll be staying in Ciao Bella Hostel in the center of Rome tomorrow night L I’ve heard international hostels are even more interesting than hostels within the United States. Don’t worry, I’ll take pictures.

For dinner, we went to yet another great gelato place. I’ve been noticing that almost everyone has chocolate-filled croissants, gelato, or other sugary desserts for dinner. Tonight I had Nutella gelato. Amazing. We walk around all day, so I suppose that’s justification.


Italy: Day 3, Biblioteca

Ok, let me just preface this post by saying that I meant no offense by my "selfish Americans" comment from yesterday. I originally wrote that post for a different audience, and intended to focus on the difference in simplicity between American and Assisian life. Thanks to Dad for pointing out my faux pas.

Last night after I posted, a few of us took another walk up to Rocca Maggiore to enjoy the view at sunset. We just made it back before the thunder and lightning erupted in the night sky.
Left to Right: Amanda, Me, Anna, Suze, and Tyler

After the rain subsided, we all went out to get gelato and a glass of wine downtown. Assisi is even more beautiful lit up by street lamps. I'll have to get another picture tonight.

That's when I learned my first lesson about Italian food: eggnog gelato=not so good.

Today I learned two other food lessons:
1. Coffee from a press is ridiculous to make.
2. A large pizza and a large plate of pasta is too much for one person (this is how they eat at pranzo).

I suppose you could say today was full of lessons, food-related and otherwise. We started off with a lecture from our professor on the necessary qualities of a journalist, and discussed our assignments for the coming week and a half. We each have two articles to write, along with multiple blog posts (ijsa.wordpress.com), small essays, and quizzes. I had already drafted both of my articles before I came, so I feel pretty secure about my workload.

Before pranzo, the three students who needed to do research in the library (including me) followed our professor down to the library gate to introduce us to the guard. The Biblioteca is primarily used by friars, nuns, and special guests, so we're fortunate to be able to research there. We then walked back uphill to Monaci for lunch:

The afternoon was filled with more study - three hours in the library researching the Assisi Peace Conference of 1986, which is a controversial and compelling event in the history of the town that I found a good deal of information on. We were able to speak to Brother Carlo, one of our professor's good friends, about his take on our stories. As uninteresting as it may sound, I really enjoyed spending time at the Biblioteca, learning how to communicate effectively in Italian and understanding the history of this beautiful town:

Walking to the Biblioteca in the rain. Yes, that is a backpack on my back. I'm extremely cool:

The Biblioteca closes at 6 PM, so we again walked the steep path up to our "home" to organize our research and make plans for the rest of the evening. A few of the girls wanted to go shopping, and they didn't have to ask me twice. We walked in and out of the little boutiques along roads beside the Piazza del Comune, and I exhibited excellent self-restraint in not buying everything I saw at a very expensive leather store. We're planning on going to Rome for the weekend, so I'd like to save any shopping for the real deal.

Hungry, we all sat down in a small cafe for a bite to eat. I had a delicious sundae-like dessert with crushed blueberries (I think) and lemon gelato (maybe). It looked amazing, anyway...

I should also apologize for talking about food so much in my blog. It's a little unnecessary. I'll try to tone it down.