5/23/10

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.

1 comment:

  1. Trevi fountain was incredible! On the day I was there, there was this Asian guy w/four cameras (one was a video, one was a polaroid, and the other two were 35 MM) He snapped pictures over and over.

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