Hello! This post concludes my travels to Italy and completes the first part of this blog. It has been a wonderful adventure, with many new discoveries and experiences. I am grateful for all the trips and the chance to see for myself a different culture, and am content with moving on to new adventures. Italy was a blast!
My last week began with a final visit to my friends in Bologna. The father drove me to Ravenna. We were limited in time, so he showed me the major sites and squares of the picturesque city. Reminiscent of Siena or Ferrara, Ravenna had a complex and dense center of small streets and small squares, all held together by the city wall with major monuments scattered at the edge. On the left: the main church in Ravenna, San Vitale, shared the hexagonal characteristics of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, but on a much smaller scale. My favorite of the trip was the tomb to Dante. Thus Ravenna was a good end to my travels: I had arrived in Florence and immediately stumbled upon his statue near Santa Croce, now I was leaving having seen his tomb.
Very reminiscent of Venice, I would say. The small squares, the columns, the organization. The photo of the square above (without the columns) could also be compared to Santa Croce in Florence or the smaller market in Rome.
Above: two photos of the tomb of Dante.
The Monday before had been an hour long trip to Fiesole. The city perches on the hills north of Florence, overlooking both sides of the Arno and the whole Florentine Valley. Our class visited the Villa Medici, a retreat for the famous but often disliked family that ruled the city below. While students presented, I sat on the brick walls of the complex and sketched. A beautiful view expanded from east to west – the sun in early evening orbit casting shadows on the Duomo and greater Florence.
Above: the photo actually includes a page from Como on the left, 4 days before Fiesole.
The night before I left is called the “white night” in Florence. It is the eve of the European labor day, May 1st. My host mother told me about previous years’ celebrations being worthy of Mardi Gras in the states. 2012, reportedly, had featured ballerinas dancing on tightropes (or suspended from the air, this wasn’t too clear) in major piazze and streets, along with music, masks, and merrymaking. 2015 had a couple of events that we decided to skip, some music – including a heavier rock band performing on the same street as a merengue/flamenco mix (what? why?) band. My host other and I ended up at the Synagogue in Florence, which I had not previously visited. A beautiful building, it was surrounded by a high wall with Italian military police at the entrance. This was confusing at first (the three policemen carried semi-automatics and loaded sidearms), but made more sense in context of Italy being a Catholic state. Inside the church, beautiful detailing decorated the walls and apses. It is always interesting to note the similarities between a Jewish temple and a Catholic church, and then to contrast that with the temples of Anglicanism and Orthodoxy. The former are elaborate and grand, with lots of detailing and gold… the latter are quieter (still big – much bigger than most Catholic architecture), with blank walls and a focus on light, bronze, and stone. The synagogue concluded my adventures in Florence.
Below: the Synagogue and the Duomo from the Oblate library roof, a confusing mess of circulation.
The next morning I left for Pisa. I had gotten tickets to London with RyanAir, which turned out to be a great choice! I only had to pay for one bag, a train, and a bus, making the total cost ~60 Euro. Even with the hassle of having to go to Pisa, this was a great way to travel for a student! Moreover, I had the chance to stop in a city I had not seen before and go see the famous tower. After a 15 minute walk from the station via the main route to the tower, I sat on the grass in front of the Duomo and sketched it, the Tower, and the people holding it up. There were a lot of Russians and Senegalese, the former posing for 15min+ in front of the attraction, the later trying to sell stuff to the Russian-speaking guests. I was content with sitting in the sun on the bright green grass of spring and enjoying the scene and the activity.
My walk back followed the same path – the side street that approaches the tower, the main street back to the station, the two major squares on either side of the river on that street, all this ending at the station. The city presented itself, thus, as almost a smaller version of Siena or a cut-out piece of Rome – major spaces strung together on one narrow band of circulation, bends in this circulation cutting off straight views of the major monuments. So if Ravenna was a necklace of beads with many strings, Pisa only had one.
I hiked to the airport. It struck me as surreal – the low rising plane of the building against the low-rising hills, surrounded by buildings that got progressively less modern as one walked away from it. But it was nice to have completed the first leg of the journey. I was thinking of England.
I must say, with the Italy part of the trip over, that the adventure was worth it. Now that I am in Scotland, I cannot get enough of the beauty of these lands, and I find myself liking the highlands more than I did Italy. But my semester-long trip definitely had its highlights, and I would certainly do it again if I could. Everything from Modena to Ferrara to Siena and Bologna left an impression on me with its food, culture, and art. Rome was amazing to be in, surrounded by the history of ages and the power of empires built upon empires. I saw Vesuvius and walked over Pompeii, which captivated me with its amphitheaters and broken cobble streets, its graveyards and towers. And the last days in Verona, Vicenza, and Venice – filled with sun and water and green – were a gift from Nature. I am glad I did this, traveled more than I could have and challenged myself to draw and see and discover. It will be wonderful to come back again.
Below: sunsets from the last week in Florence. Villa Rossa, piazza Donatello.