Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back Home

The journey home from Italy was tiring, but I have already adjusted to jet lag well. I left my hostel at 7:00 AM, took a 7:45 bus to the airport, and took off at 12:30, since my flight was running an hour late. I flew into Chicago and felt happy to be home. It was strange to realize that Chicago felt like home. Being abroad made me think of all of the United States as home, whereas before I had always thought of Connecticut as home (and now Virginia). Ordinarily Chicago would feel far from home, but coming back from Europe it felt like a familiar place to me. It felt nice to be home after traveling for 45 days. I went through customs, which was a breeze because I ran off the plane before everybody else and was among the first people in line. The customs officers chose not to inspect my bag and so I walked through without any hassles. I even got through TSA security very quickly and so I had nothing to do in the airport for about 4 hours while I waited for my connection. My first purchase in the United States was at a Starbucks, where I bought some banana bread as a midnight snack, although it was only 5 PM in Chicago. When I landed in Richmond I was tired since I had barely managed to sleep all night and to me it was 6 in the morning. Luckily mom was waiting right outside the door for me and the drive home felt fast since we had a lot to talk about. As soon as we were talking I didnt feel tired anymore and ended up staying up until almost 3 in the morning.

I have been home for a day and a half and am relaxing before I have to finish my Monroe Research project and then head back to school. My facebook friends will probably already have noticed that I uploaded my favorite photos to my profile. I also ordered prints of my favorite shots today and will pick them up soon. If I have time I plan to put them into a scrap book along with some of my ticket stubs, and put a few into frames. I hope to finish my Monroe research project soon so that I have time to relax before going back to school, but knowing me I will probably keep working on it up until the deadline anyway, perfecting the final product rather than taking it easy.

Last night we had ribs with barbeque sauce and mashed potatoes, an all-American meal that I haven't been able to enjoy for a long time. I missed my mom's cooking for sure. Tonight we will have fish since the seafood available in Perugia never looked very appetizing to me. I thought it was strange that the grocery store always offered octopus as an option, but my mom told me that octopus is a typical food in Italy. I may have been in Italy for over a month, but I clearly haven't learned all there is to learn about Italy. I guess I will just have to go back some time!


I really enjoyed Rome a lot. On my first day in Rome I saw the Trevi Fountain, which I thought would be sort of deserted at night time but which was completely packed. I couldnt even get near to the fountain, and gave up on the tradition of throwing a coin into the water because there were just too many people.
There were so many people at the Trevi Fountain that I decided to take a picture of them!

I also found my way to the Quirinale before the sun set and took a photo of this monument

The next morning I decided to get up early to get in line for the Pantheon. I arrived at the Pantheon shortly before 8, only to find that it did not open until 830 and that there was no line whatsoever. It turned out that I was wrong and that people do not stand in line for the Pantheon but that you can just go in whenever you want. While I waited for the Pantheon to open I went to the nearby Piazza Navona, which is shaped like an oval and used to be used to track meets in ancient Roman times. Now there are three beautiful fountains in the piazza, and it is also known for its art market.
Piazza Navona is not very busy in the morning, which allowed me to enjoy the fountains by myself. The statue in the background is the central statue and also the biggest. It has four men who, according to my guidebook, represent the four corners of the world: Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Each man was not labeled and I had a hard time telling which was which.
The left-most statue relative to where I entered Piazza Navona
I also went to Campo dei Fiori where there is a fruit market. I bought a huge peach bigger than my fist and a croissant for breakfast. The peach was expensive but I was glad I bought it when I bit into it and tasted how sweet and delicious it was. After, I went back to the Trevi Fountain, which by then was deserted except for some workers cleaning the coins out of the fountain. I wonder if they sweep the fountain each morning of each week. There were a lot of coins in the fountain.
In front of the Trevi Fountain
By the time I got back to the Pantheon it was open and several people were inside, but only a few. It was silent inside and every little sound echoed on the inside. The atmosphere inside was really great and I am glad that I got to see it without a crowd.
In front of the Pantheon

It is difficult to understand just how big the Pantheon is until you see a person standing next to one of its enormous pillars

The morning sun was on the right side of the dome. The dome is 7 meters thick at the bottom and 1 meter thick at the top and made of progressively lighter materials

The painter Raphael is buried inside of the Pantheon slightly to the left of this photo
After going to the Pantheon I found the Vittorio Emmanuele monument at Piazza Venezia. The outside of the monument was impressive and entry was free, but the inside was rather dull. There was a flag display in the front part of the museum and some military relics. The roof was the most interesting place because it had a great view of the city. I found the monument only when I was lost looking for the Colosseum, which I could see from the roof of the monument and helped me find it later that afternoon.
The Vittorio Emmanuele monument from the outside

The view of the Colosseum from the roof of the Vittorio Emmaneuele monument
At the Coloseum I met a man in line who is a high school teacher of ancient greek and latin and who had come to see the exhibit. We became friends and he gave me a tour of the inside, telling me some of its history in Italian. He was very nice and we exchanged names so that we could be facebook friends.
Inside the Colosseum

A giant arch near the Colosseum

Part of the Foro Romano, which was part of a combined ticket with the Colosseum
I also went to the Foro Romano and the Palatine Hill. The day before there had been a strike and the Palatine Hill was closed, but luckily it was open because I enjoyed walking around and seeing the Roman ruins. After the Colosseum I headed towards the river, hoping to find something to eat for lunch and a bench by the river. The region over the river is known as Trastevere, which means "over the Tiber," but there was not much there. I did manage to find an alimentari and so I ate a mozzarella and prosciutto crudo panino by the river and walked along the river, enjoying the views.
A view of the Tevere from the retaining wall where I ate my lunch. The river was very quiet and had some bridges that only pedestrians could cross
I returned back to my hostel where I met some boys from Poland who ate dinner with me and told me about Eastern Europe and asked me about America. One of the boys had been living in England and so his English was quite good. They made me curious to travel to Eastern Europe some day. The next morning I woke up early to get in line at the Vatican. Normally the Vatican museums are closed on Sunday but since it was the last Sunday of the month, they were free. I met my apartment mate Ping there and we saw the Pio Clementino and the Stanze Raffaelle and the Sistine Chapel. There were so many scultures and so much rich artwork that it was difficult to take it all in. It struck me that the Sistine Chapel was much smaller than I expected, although the word "Chapel" rather than "Cathedral" perhaps should have given me a clue as to its size. It was very crowded and very loud inside. I saw several people get thrown out for trying to take photos or videos. It's a shame that people were being disrespectful, but I still enjoyed it very much. Ping had some information on the artwork with her and we read about Michelangelo's frustration while making it. Apparently blue paint was very expensive then and he painted large portions of the walls in blue in part because he was angry about all the criticism. I also remembered from my European History class in high school that many of the figures had been covered with clothes although Michelangelo originally intended for them to be nude. The Sistine Chapel was great, but one of the parts of the museum that I enjoyed a lot was the hall of maps, because it inspired some great conversation among Ping and I as we talked about the places in Italy we had been to.
Statue of the Laocoon in the Museo Pio-Clementino. He tried to convince the Romans not to accept the Trojan Horse

The hall of maps. The ceiling was also intricate and beautiful and in this photo looks like it is made of gold. There was gold on the ceiling, but it was predominantly covered in art work

Me in front of the map of Umbria. Perugia, the city where I lived for my month long study abroad, is found in Umbria. Umbria is one of 20 regions in Italy and is the only one that does not touch the sea

The stanze Raffaelle were impressive. They were covered with paintings on all walls. Even the floor was an ornate mosaic
Ping and I went to the Basilica of San Pietro after the Vatican Museums and saw the Pieta' and listened to the Pope give a sermon. We ran into Helen from the University for Foreigners, who was in Rome along and was glad to have some company. Together Ping, Helen, and I saw the Trevi Fountain again, where I finally threw in a coin and made a wish this time, and we went to the Pantheon, which was interesting to see again since the light was shining to the left now in the afternoon. We also went to the Spanish Steps, where some street vendors tried to get us to buy roses insistently and tried to put the rose in my purse so that I would have to pay for it. Helen and I went to the Castel Sant-Angelo and Ping had to catch a train, and she told me she had been accepted to a Masters Program with scholarship at the best university in Estonia called Tartuf. She is very proud to be from Estonia and told me that many people who visit do not expect much but leave very impressed. I also heard her speak Estonian to some strangers from Estonia that she ran into and it sounded very beautiful. I hope some day I can return to Europe to travel in Eastern Europe.
Me, Ping (Singapore), and Helen (Estonia) at the Spanish steps

A Castel di Sant'Angelo turret. The castel had a long and interesting history. At one point it was a fort, at another a prison, at another a home to the Pope, and now is a museum.
I was glad to spend my last day in Italy with great company. It was a great coincidence that we ran into Helen in Rome because I think it made her day much more enjoyable as well!