This past week was an extremely eventful one. Our 6-day excursion to the Emilia-Romagna region in central-northern Italy was quite the experience. We visited multiple cities, such as Parma, Ferrara, Modena, and Bologna. The capital (and largest city) of the Emilia-Romagna region is Bologna, and we actually stayed in that city for three nights of our entire trip.
On the morning of day three of our excursion, we departed our hotel in Parma for Bologna. The bus ride between the two cities was only an hour long, so we reached the city of Bologna shortly after 10:30 AM. It was May 1st, the Italian Labor Day, so we were lucky to have a tour guide who was willing to work and take us around the city. His name was Balda (short for Baldassare) and he met us outside of the Basilica of San Domenica.
We then met up with his colleague, who brought us audio devices since he cannot speak loudly when we enter the church later. It was my first time using this machine on a tour, and I actually like it a lot. I didn’t feel the pressure to walk at Balda’s pace to be able to hear him, thus I was able to focus on my surroundings a lot more.
My first time using the “whisper machine”, as Balda called it.
Our first main stop of the walking tour was Piazza Maggiore, the city’s main square. As I mentioned earlier, it was an Italian holiday, so the square was extremely busy. There were vendors, a stage set up for performances, and just people everywhere. We entered the Basilica of San Petronio, which was one of the buildings surrounding the piazza.
Basilica of San Patronio, exterior is only half covered in marble.
This church has the most controversial backstory of all churches I’ve learned about thus far. It was built in 1390, and funded by the people of Bologna, not by the church. This was because the people of Bologna wanted to counter the power of church. Centuries past, and the many Popes in power attempted to regain authority by either stopping the construction or placing a statue on top of the church. This explains why the exterior of the church is only half covered with marble. After many challenges, the Church of San Petronio was finally consecrated in 1957.
The city of Bologna has a few nicknames; la rossa (the red), la grassa (the fat), and la dotta (the learned). “The Red” refers to both the city’s red buildings and its support for the Italian Communist Party. Its second nickname, “The Fat”, refers to its cuisine.
Finally, the last nickname, “The Learned”, is because Bologna is home to the oldest university in all of Europe. The University of Bologna was founded in 1088, and some of history’s most notable figures taught or were taught here. I was fortunate enough to visit the room where Leonardo da Vinci gave the first lectures on human anatomy; it is called the “Teatro Anatomico”, and located in the Archiginnasio of Bologna. The Archiginnasio today houses the city’s library, where books from the 16th century are on display.
Built in 1637, the Teatro Anatomico remains one of the historical rooms of the medical school of University of Bologna.
Galileo’s books, located in the library of the Archiginnasio.
The peculiar beauty paired with the rich history of the city definitely made Bologna a unique city that I most certainly want to visit again.
Every time I visit a new city, I have some of expectations or a personal visual representation of the city (which most of the time is very far from reality). But this time I had none. I boarded the plane to Amsterdam with no expectations and no personal depiction of the city. So as we got to Rotterdam late Thursday night I was ready for anything and everything.
Rotterdam is an architectural city, very modern and very different from history-loaded cities like Paris or Rome.
We walked around, met with Dutch friends of Florence’s and went to the discovery of Rotterdam. We walked up to the Erasmusbrug Bridge, and also went inside the Cube House.
Those oddly shaped apartments were surprisingly spacious and comfortable to live in. Then we went to the city of Delft, which is very known for their windmills and the Delftware (which are potteries painted in white and blue which is typical of the city).
Of course we saw some wooden clogs and bought typical Dutch cheese.
We spent the next two days in Amsterdam visiting and walking around. We took the train from Rotterdam to Asmterdam. We were able to see the fields of tulips. They were all blooming and the colors were out of this world. No picture will ever do it justice.
The first thing went to the Heineken Experience. We got a tour of the old brewery, which is now a museum; we participated in a beer tasting. With the bracelet we got from the entrance, we were able to enjoy two free beers and a free gift from the gift shop.
We then walked to the “I Amsterdam” sign and took pictures. We ended up passing through the Red Light District after dark. The streets of the district were so crowded that is was almost impossible to walk. We rapidly went through a couple streets then left.
The next day we walked the streets of Amsterdam, crossed the little bridges over the canals, and even got to enjoy the Vondelpark under a bright sunshine and gardens filled with tulips.
Though the city is very famous for its coffee shops and the Red Light District, my favorite part was our hotel. We booked a room in Rotterdam at the Citizen M hotel. It is a new boutique hotel brand. From what I could see it is oriented towards a younger hype crowd. We did the entire check in process by our self. I had heard about this new method of self check-in several times in class but I had never witnessed it before.
(theses are the computers used to for the check in process).
It took is less than five minutes to get to our room from the moment we walk in the door. Though the room was very small it did not feel like it at all. It was ingeniously distributed with a bathroom, a sink, XL king bed and a desk all fit in the tiny room.
We also had a tablet to control the lighting, the television, the curtain and the music. We had very small interaction with staff but the service was of a very high quality.
Another very interesting concept was in a fast food restaurant that we went in. Instead of having people lined up to order their Bitterballs (a typical Dutch veal croquette), they had individual servings of croquettes in compartments in the wall. The compartments could only be opened if the exact amount of coins were inserted. Behind the wall was the kitchen were the cooks can monitor the temperature or refill the compartments if needed. Just like a vending machine.It is call automatiek vending.
So as interesting as it is to travel around Europe to discover new countries, cultures and sightsee, is it also very interesting to see how the service delivery systems changes from region to region, from country to country.
When I left for a short weekend trip in Rome, I had no idea what was in store for me. I knew it was a city rich with culture and history, but it was actually much, much more than that. Upon arriving at Rome, I literally felt like I was in a movie.
Our first stop was the Colosseum. It was bustling with dressed-up gladiators, souvenir vendors, hundreds of other tourists. The amphitheater, made of cement and stone, is almost 2,000 years old. It’s so mind-blowing to me that something of this scale built in 70 AD can still be standing today.
When we stopped for lunch, we were serenaded by a street performer and his accordion. Our next couple of stops included the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II, the Mouth of Truth, and the Tiber River. We made it to the Spanish Steps just in time to catch the sunset (see below).
The Spanish Steps was filled with both locals and tourists. People sat on the steps eating gelato and chatting with their friends. There were also a few men walking around with bundles of roses in their hands, and they were passing it. This site features the widest set of stairs in all of Europe. At the base of it is Piazza di Spagna, and the Trinita dei Monti was located at the top of the steps.
I was so glad that our day in Rome was by foot, because it allowed me to see so much more. The city was so alive, and I just wanted to take everything in. I definitely plan on returning. A presto!
Being deadly afraid of any natural disaster, I was dreading the excursion to Pompeii. The only thing I knew about this “place” before this trip was that it was destroyed by a volcanic eruption sometime in the past. Never would I have imagined that it used to be an actual city that inhabited 10,000 to 12,000 people and that it was 160 acres big. I still didn’t realized how big it was until I pulled the map and realized that Pompeii was bigger than Castelammare (The city we are staying in).
As we followed the guide through the streets of Pompeii we leaned quite a lot. Pompeii was destroyed by an eruption once before the famous one of 79 AD (that covered Pompeii with 20 feet of ashes) and most of what remains of the city today was build on lava stone. Pompeii being a coastal city (300 yards from the sea at the time) served as a port and welcomed sailors from the Mediterranean Sea. Pompeii was an agricultural city with main productions of olive oil, onions, and most of all wine. We can see this with the amount of jars that were found (the wine was stored in those jars to keep their cool or warm, they served as thermos).
Pompeii was a commercial town with almost all the businesses of the Roman Empire present within its walls. This explained the presence of at least 1,200 shops in the city.
From an archeological stand point Pompeii is a perfect representation of a typical Ancient Roman city and showed how such a city worked. There are vestiges of a Basilica, a Forum, a communal business where the rulers of the city had their offices, an amphitheater, and a brothel (used by sailors passing by the city) among other things.
You can see the skeleton of a city and you can easily picture the life of the people at the time. All the roads are still here, the terms, the shops, everything. The only thing missing are the roofs of the buildings. Only 66 % of Pompeii is excavated, so there is still 33% that is still unknown of and bodies still buried.
In the hangar along with the jars is a man frozen in a sitting position, and the famous pregnant women covering her eyes clearly seeing her death coming.
At some point our guide lead us outside the walls of the city to go up a hill and have a panoramic view of the ruins.
As we walked outside we could see evidence of events that occurred before the eruption such wholes of the outside walls. We were told they were the marks of rocks that were thrown at it during a civil war in the 80’s AD.
So to finish off our visit we went to the amphitheater and experienced the amazing acoustic is produces, then went in the tiny brothel that had very descriptive pictures of what happened in there (I will spare you the pictures).
So we strolled the streets of ancient Pompeii singing the song “Pompeii” from Bastille (very cliché isn’t it?), with the Vesuvius staring at us, under a bright sun and soaked in all the history that this once beautiful city had to offer.
Ciao Ragazzi !!
Though it is my fourth time in Italy, our excursion to the Cantina Del Vesuvio submerged me into the Italian way of life like never before.
On the 28th of March we went to the Cantina Del Vesuvio for lunch and a wine tasting. This vineyard is known for producing the genuine and famous Lacryma Christi (Christ’s Tears) wine. It is located on the slopes of the Vesuvius, which offers a very fertile soil filled with minerals that yield high quality crops.
(Left vines are the white grape vines and on the right the Red grape vines, with the Vesuvius in the background)
The vineyard is located at an altitude that provides the perfect balance of moisture and minerals. Before tasting the wine, the owner, Mauricio, gave us a tour. He showed us the different type of vines; the white grape vines and the red grape vines that they grow on 26 acres. They take pride in producing organic grapes and they recently received the Organic Stamp (which I might add is very difficult to acquire). In front of each row of vines, there is bush of roses, and they can tell by the rose leaves if the grapes are going to be healthy, the presence of parasite and the quantity of moisture in the crops. Rose bushes can tell a lot because it is such a delicate and fragile plant.
Aside from the grapes that they produce they also grow among other produces tomatoes, olives, fennels and apricot. The family business, which was established in 1948, focuses more on quality than quantity. When the grapes are ready, they are picked and pressed the same day to avoid the use of preservatives.
After our tour we headed for lunch in an open and rustic cafeteria. We first tasted a White, which was pared with a sharp provolone, salami, homemade bread (baked that morning), with home made olive oil (made with olives from the vineyard as well) and Bruschetta.
As soon as our glasses were empty, they were filled with the next wine, the Rosé. We could almost immediately taste the minerals in the wine because it was a little bit salty.
Then we had the Red, which was pared with spaghetti and Pomodoro sauce (need I add that the pasta was handmade, as well as the tomato sauce).
The third wine, the Reserve, is a very valuable wine that has been aged in barrels for 18 to 20 months. You could also very much taste the difference; it had a more robust yet sweet taste.
For desert we had wheat berry pie accompanied by the Rosé “frizzante” (Sparkling). To top is off, we had Apricot liqueur as a digestive (that they also grow and make themselves.)
Tutto era delizioso !
At the end of the meal we were able to buy some of their products (wine, olive oil, apricot liqueur) and take those unique and delicious flavors home with us.
We had a 3 course organic lunch and were able to taste a typical Italian meal that will make us salivate every time we will think about it.
3 Words: La Dolce Vita !
Great Memories Made with a Fantastic Company!
This week flew by.
This week we learned about Spain, Switzerland, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Spirits. It was a quick three days!
On Tuesday, with our Switzerland wines we tried some cheeses from Switzerland! They were really good!! It was awesome to try wine with so many different textures and flavors of cheese. My favorite was “monks head”, It was really cool because you shaved it off with a knife that goes 360 degrees around the wheel of cheese.
That night we went on a tour of Marksburg (a Castle.) It was awesome. Our tour guide spoke english well, which is always great! She had some really awesome stories to tell. The castle is the only one on the Rhine river that hasn’t been destroyed. I thought the castle was so cool except the front stairs are stone carved (there was no stairs at one point because of horses) making it like walking up rocks.
After the castle, we went to a winery about an hour away. It was a small one but still really nice named Jean Stodden. We had a lot of fun! The wines were really nice and they served us sandwiches for dinner. It was really sentimental for all of us because it was our last winery tour. Our guide was the winemaker and he shared some stories from when he went to work in the United States at wineries. It was a really nice time!
Today we had a review session in the morning. Then we were free to do what we wanted in the afternoon. I went to the ‘post bank’ and mailed home 10 pounds of laundry. My suitcases are full of souvenirs so I needed some room and mailing home my laundry was cheaper than checking another bag. For dinner, five of us went to a restaurant and split a few pizzas. It was so delicious. Then we had some gelato! Gelato places are everywhere! Almost one on each corner. I’ve only had chocolate gelato because it’s my favorite but I never had bad gelato here.
After tomorrow’s good-bye dinner at the hotel, we will have tasted 303 wines in class and at wineries. That’s a lot of tasting in 4 weeks! We all go our separate ways on Saturday morning. I’m not flying out until Sunday so I’m staying in Frankfurt for a night. I’m already upset that we’re leaving each other. Everyone is friends with each other and it’s upsetting that some of us might not see each other again. I suppose it’s just another reason to visit the other JWU campus’ though!
Time to go do some last minute studying for the WSET exam in the morning. It’s 50 questions in an hour. It does not effect our grade but it would still be nice to have it.