Follow Derek's Adventures Through Italy

The train home at dawn was interesting. After spending hours in the Venice station we boarded our train only to find absolutely zero seats to occupy. It (the train) arrived from Germany. It was an overnight regionale heading to Rome. It was packed with Germans, who I found quite territorial. Quite frustrated, we disembarked and waited for the next train to Firenze to arrive. We had a few hours, so we found a comfortable marble bench to rest upon. Time passes quite slowly after being up and away from home for nigh 24 hours. Ah, the train finally arrives and we rush inside. Luckily, we found an empty sleeper cabin and claimed it as our own. Quite pleased with our victory, Janie, Ashtin and myself settle in for our four hour journey to Firenze. Well, turns out there was an issue with the train and we sat on the platform for another two hours without a bathroom, might I add. Finally on our way I catch a few hours of sleep and wake semi-refreshed in Firenze. I’m looking forward to the last leg of the journey from Firenze to Siena and finally to my bed to rest. Domani!

I woke early today excited about my adventure. Upon arrival at the train station I examined my tickets. Realizing we had a return ticket leaving from an entirely different station than where we were arriving in Venice made me feel a bit perplexed. Between Ashtin, Janie and I, we will figure it out somehow. The EuroStar to Venice was by far the nicest train trip I’ve experience yet. I can’t help to have an overwhelming sense of envy for the European rail system. The ease of use and availability paired with great value is unparalleled to anything available in the US. I am happy to be taking advantage of it. Venezia is amazing. Upon arrival, the Grand Canal was busy with boats darting one direction, then another, constantly busy. Ashtine, Janie and myself hopped a vaparetto heading for the Piazza San Marco to catch some great sites - the Doge’s Palace and Basilica. The vaparetto is packed with fellow tourists. I watched a toddler smear gelato all her face apparently ignoring everything but her delicious treat at hand. It was reminiscent of innocence that’s easily forgotten as an adult. However, most Italians seem to hold on to much more than I’d imagined.

The Doge’s Palace is quite amazing. The opulence is moving in ways unimaginable - very overwhelming. Gold gilded ceilings hanging above sprawling rooms with the most intricate and ornate artwork lineup on after the other throughout our tour. The Piazza San Marco just outside is crowded with people. Most were snapping photos, but it’s still easily imaginable centuries ago. It seems nearly intact, even today, complete with its 11th century Basilica as it was 1000 years prior.

Surrounding Venezia are lots of little islands begging for exploration. Each lack cars and mopeds, almost unbelievable for Italy, welcoming each person on foot. The islands are quite refreshing compared to Siena . It is a city of wonder lacking the one thing that gives the modern world its fast pace. I can imagine a relaxed pace of centuries past would provide for a more tranquil, patient life.

Finally a day of relaxing and exploring Siena even more. The past two days of classes left me feeling drained, so today is definitely needed. I walked the city alone. Grabbed a cappuccino paired with a preferita for breakfast at my favorite spot on the Piazza del Campo. Shortly after I strolled to the train station outside of the city walls to purchase my tickets to Venice. The walk was nice. Streets were busy with tourists nearest the city centre, but just outside it’s filled with Sienese businessmen following their daily routines. Navigating the ticket counter was a difficult task as the concierge didn’t speak english. It was my first opportunity to put my freshly-learned Italian to practice. The purchase was a success. On the way back to city centre I chose some abandoned paths to follow. It was an adventure of sorts. I found a few points of interest off the beaten path. It gave me a sense of accomplishment finding sites the regular tourist probably had no clue about. Dinner is in a bit. I’m thinking a giant slice of pizza paired with a Peroni on the Campo sounds irresistible. Venezia domani!

Another long day of classes. Ashtin, Janie and I are planning to travel to Venice this weekend which currently holds the majority of my attention. After class, a few of us shared a craving for which no Italian food could suffice. We found ourselves beneath welcoming golden arches being tempted by classically American aromas. It was awesome. In retrospect, and after having found out it was made of horse, it was an unhealthy indulgence that should have been avoided. Although the craving for familiarity grows greater each day, I strive to resist. I am fighting a cold. The nights are growing brisk. I hope it passes without developing further. Enza, my landlady shared some excellent organic remedies. They seem to be helping. This experience has continually tested my patience. So far I have surprised myself with the lengths I can be pushed. I’m looking forward to another delicious dinner tonight at Dante Alighieri. I’m also looking forward to everyone finding themselves and growing a bit, especially myself. I hope certain one’s can do so more than others.

Today is my chosen day to neglect modern conveniences. Homework. Assignment deadlines are approaching. It will be hard ignoring my surroundings and focussing on my tasks. Although, it makes it easier knowing the surrounding city and country is what I will be learning - its history and culture. The weather has turned from mild to chilly. I find myself in need of a sweater, which I neglected to pack assuming the climate to be more closely to that of home. As I walked through the city this morning I found myself noticing tourists more than usual and feeling more like a true Sienese. With modern conveniences neglected, Siena was, I’m sure, as amazing back during Medieval times as it is now. After all, the bought of plague that struck the city in 1347 left much of Siena in tact. It’s easy to imagine as the charm of centuries ago seems so purely intact today. I would miss a few modern technologies, but I surely could have been very happy. At the current moment, however, I am about to roam the city for a bit to take in more of what Siena has to offer. I may even shop a bit.

Tension between the students is growing. I urge any future travelers to branch-out from the groups in which you travel and familiarize yourself with other students or locals. There will truly be no better time to network on such an international level. It will be great knowing friends to visit in Europe. Don’t misunderstand me. I enjoy each person here, but inevitably I will return home with each person I traveled here with. I’m pushing myself to break out of my shell and experience a life in which America cannot offer.

There’s never a shortage of things to see or do in Siena. The people are beautiful and welcoming, their demeanor is patient and sweet, and every corner holds another ancient building or view of the countryside. Janie, Ashtin, Ashley and I found Siena’s botanical gardens. Great opportunity for some photographs. The views here are again, amazing! After wandering the city, I found a nice bar on Piazza del Campo and indulged a bit. I will definitely make this a regular spot to soak in the culture. While sitting on the Campo I experienced a vision of perfection I fear I will never be able to replicate. It made me sad.

Class. I’m still baffled by the history surrounding me. I don’t think, scratch that, I could never become too familiar with it. There is way too much to learn and it deserves much more than complacency. It seems to influence me more knowing the great works I’ve read were produced here centuries ago. It really gives an extra punch to the impact. I am having trouble with the course readings mainly due to the urge to continue to explore this beautiful city each day. I would rather experience what it has to offer today rather than read about what it was like, but I must force myself to do the work. Medieval Philosophy met today in a breathtaking olive grove. It overlooks the Tuscan countryside just outside of Siena’s city walls. The views are amazing. Nothing even close to what can be seen back home. The group was given the assignment to live technology-free for a single day - I think I’ll spend mine next to the adriatic reading or maybe perched on the ledge of the city walls somewhere otherwise inspiring. As long as a good view is involved, I don’t care and there are no shortage of views down each cobblestone street. Although technology has provided modern day with efficiency and convenience, I expect to get more accomplished without it, hopefully. Wish me luck.

It’s been over a week, and I’m still in love with Siena. Our group seems to be understanding each other better each day. I’m trying to find myself and share in the group, but I’m not quite sure where to start. I still rather enjoy being a stranger amongst my peers. It’s nice feeling like a lonesome tourist this far from home. I think I’ll quit focussing on, relax, take it all in and hope for the best. Today’s lectures were productive. The ambience of a cafe setting partnered with the history surrounding me everywhere is a powerfully intoxicating feeling. Walking in the footsteps of influential men of centuries past is an overwhelming experience unparalleled by campus classrooms. There will be surely nothing to regret about this trip. Livia, our culture instructor seems to be struggling to connect with the group, or maybe it’s the other way around. I’m unsure. Either way, she conveyed an understandable description of the Italian youth. Tomorrow is another day and I’m looking forward to getting to know the city, its people and my friends better.

8/23/09 - 8/24/09
Arrival in Siena and adjusting to the setting

Sunday I arrived in Siena tired, hungry, but overall quite excited — it's to be my home for the next 7 weeks. Upon arrival, I immediately fell in love with this beautiful city. The bus dropped us at the Piazza Gramsci just on the edge of Siena's main shopping venues. It was bustling with tourists soaking in the beauty of Siena. After trekking with the girls to their apartment, the guys set off for theirs. When we arrived Enza, our landlady, greeted us each warmly and made me feel quite welcome. Although I was tired, I did not want to sleep. I just arrived in a gorgeous place that I was dying to explore, so I set out on foot to see what I could. Gelato was atop my to-do list.

The following day we were welcomed at Dante Alighieri with a reception dinner. Rules were accompanied, but none seemed too far from basic common sense. I am eager to begin learning the language and start to get a true feeling of Italian culture. The classes I selected seem like they will be interesting, plus the professors are pretty much awesome. Some downtime was in order for today, so the group gathered for some wine on the Piazza del Campo — Siena's main square. While we sipped wine and got acquainted I realized that this trip will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

End of the week and Firenze Uffizi and L'Accademia

I was happy to see Friday arrive. After classes all week and the journey here, I was in some need of a much slower pace. I travelled to Firenze today. Dr. Belzer planned for us to tour two major museums housing some of the world's most priceless artwork — Botticelli, Michelangelo, Rafael and many more. The group of students arrived early — we plan to trek up the stairs of the Duomo's dome. I believe it was a total of 483 stairs, one-way. Atop the dome and during the journey up, one gets a true sense of the immense size. The Duomo is the tallest point in Firenze. There is a great view in each direction and I can't help but think of the history these lands have seen for millennia. Walking up to Michelangelo's David is an overwhelming experience. Sure I have studied it in class from a PowerPoint perspective, but the actual David in person is so great it is difficult to explain in words. It reminded me of being a kid. As a kid size is misconstrued and much seems larger-than-life. The David is enormous. The sheer ability of Michelangelo and the detail he put into the sculpture is astounding. This centuries old masterpiece is a moving experience. There are tourists wall-to-wall, but the magnitude of the statue offers a bit of solidarity to any one person viewing it. Prior to the David I viewed the great works of Botticelli at L'Accademia.

Close of the first weekend

Words cannot explain the experiences to be had in this small, medieval city. Every corner is amazing. I define amazing as visiting the Fonte Branda, a site of Dante's Divine Comedy, walking in the footsteps of great artists and saints, viewing relics in some of the world's most amazing cathedrals — that is an experience everyone needs once in their life. Emotion is everywhere. People-watching in the Piazza del Campo, I see friends, couples, families all embracing each other. The city is so intimate it just brings it out of people. I dream of moving here. I find myself surrounded by my new friends in the Campo, again sipping wine and having good conversation. What a perfect way to end the week and start a new one at the same time

Today has started off uneventful. I had a nice bus ride to Firenze from Pisa after breakfast. The city is absolutely beautiful as I remembered it to be. I have found myself on the edge of a group of local tourist who are people-watching, like myself, on the white marble steps of the Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore. Its funny how they sit back and take in the sights like the tourists. I am having a slight difficulty adjusting to the interesting, yet foreign culture, and I know why. When I visited back in 2004 I had a fabulous group of friends to share this amazing place with, and now they are absent. I miss them. Firenze is amazing. The Duomo's green and white marble is breathtaking. The sculptures are goregous, even life-like. I am waiting on Ashley now in the Piazza del Duomo. It will be so refreshing to see a familiar face. Ciao for now!

Today is my first day abroad. I'm all alone and taking in all the wonderful sights Dublin has to offer. I do find my current scenario precariously cliche - I'm sitting in a Starbucks just off the main shopping district enjoying an iced mocha. Typical American stereotype. Don't pass judgement! I had to find something remotely familiar. Dublin is a bustling city filled with tourists, so naturally people-watching is at the top of my list. It is interesting to observe the European way of life. Although everyone seems to be hurried, every corner you find crowds going at their own pace, locals grabbing luch with their friends, and even as I sit and listen I find their accents to be as muddled as my mind feels. Well I'm off to explore more. Next stop, the Guinness Storehouse - yum!

So, today is my absolute last day in Savannah. I have an insurmountable feeling of leaving something super important behind, so I have resorted to checking my bags like 800 times before leaving tomorrow morning. How crappy would it be to get to Europe without my laptop charger!?!? Today I ordered my books for my classes and realized I waited entirely too late in doing so. I am having to trapse all over the state to find the books that are undeliverable before Wednesday. Word to the wise - order early! I'm dead tired from work this week, but the extra cash will definitely come in handy, otherwise I believe I would starve, or only be able to afford one meal per day - lol. Only a few hours left and I can't wait! It will be extra nice spending time with friends and family before setting out for two months on my own.

Ciao — Derek


Siena, Italy