By Mike Myers
Medieval cities, breathtaking paintings, majestic cathedrals, massive vineyards, cobblestone streets, ancient canals, and thousands of steps to climb were all part of an amazing journey back in time.
Five Potomac State College students and two staff members
embarked on a spring break trip of a lifetime. The group included:
Group leader,Debi Cruse; Karen Sommers, PSC Residence Hall Director;
and students, Caitlin Woodson, Courtney Helmstetter, Kiana Sturtz and
Lyndasia Jones journeyed to Italy to experience the culture, food
We suffered through lost luggage and a ride through the narrow streets of Rome with a reckless driver before we made it to the hotel. I enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner of Tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese : Flat noodles covered in a thick bolognese sauce and topped with bacon, ground pork and fresh mozzarella cheese.
As I walked into the Sistine Chapel, to view the beautiful artwork of Michelangelo, the Bible story came to life. I gazed toward the creation account and followed the story to Noah and then back to the judgment, my mind couldn’t comprehend how a man could paint such and awe-inspiring story.
Stepping off the bus and gazing up at the massive Colosseum was breathtaking. I walked through the massive arches into a structure built nearly 2000 years ago and imagined the torture, mayhem, gladiator battles and celebrations that took place. I could imagine the roar of the crowd as they cheered on their favorite gladiator and imagine the lions devouring a condemned criminal.
Pantheon and Piazza della Rotonda
Monday evening we took a walking tour of Rome. We visited the Pantheon an ancient
temple constructed in 125 AD by Emperor Hadrian. The huge concrete pillars and interior are absolutely amazing. The Pantheon remained unused until the Byzantine emperor Phocas (602-10) gave it to Pope Boniface IV (608-15). In 609 AD, the Pantheon was consecrated as a Pantheon Christian church. We walked the Piazza della Rotonda and admired the ancient Fontana del Pantheon and the beautiful Church of Saint Mary and the Martyrs, Rome’s only Gothic style church. It was built in the 13th century over what is believed to have been the Temple of Minerva.
The Italian Gothic architecture in Medieval Orvieto in the Umbria region is spectacular. I climbed the 164 feet to the top of Torre Del Moro to get an amazing 360-degree view of the city and surrounding landscape.
PSC Sophomore Courtney Helmstetter said, “Orvieto surprised me. I didn’t expect to like the countryside of Italy as much as Rome or Venice, but the medieval structures of Orvieto probably won my vote over for my favorite place.”
Castello di Vicchiomaggio
We stopped at Castello di Vicchiomaggio to tour the winery, hear how wine is made and sample three types of wine: a white, red and dessert wine. There has been a castle at Vicchiomaggio since the 9-10 AD.
The adventure continued on to Siena to shop, dine and visit the famous Piazza del Campo where the city holds the Palio horse race. The Basilica San Domenico, the most important church in Siena, houses many paintings and Chapel of Saint Catherine.
In San Gimignano in Tuscany, a medieval city that dates back to the 3rd century BC, we visited the IL Poggio, a vineyard and restaurant, for wine tasting. We tasted seven kinds of wine and learned which to drink with each part of the meal. We sampled grappa, which smelled and tasted like turpentine. Grappa, made from leftover grape skins from the wine making process, is about 45% alcohol and drank following a meal to “help with digestion.”
In Florence, while relaxing in the Piazza Santa Croce, I met former WVU football player, Milo Austin. He noticed my WV cap and asked to have his picture taken with me. Santa Croce, rebuilt for the Franciscan order in 1294 by Arnolfo di Cambio, is the burial place for Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli and the Pisan-born Galileo Galilei, who was tried by the Inquisition and was not allowed a Christian burial until 1737, 95 years after his death. There is also a memorial to Dante, but he is actually buried in Ravenna because he was exiled from Florence.
Friday morning we traveled to Pisa, home of the famous
leaning tower, Pisa Cathedral, dedicated to the Assumption of
St. Mary; a Baptistery dedicated to St. John and the cemetery
called “Campo Santo” all located in the “Piazza del Duomo”
(Cathedral square) although people tend to call it “Piazza Dei Miracoli” (square of the miracles) after a poetical expression by Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio (1910).
I climbed the 294 steps to the top of the tower. The lean of the tower made it feel like I was falling or drunk as I climbed the spiraling marble staircase. The cost to climb the tower is a “mere” charge of 20 Euros. (About 22 US dollars). The construction of the Tower of Pisa began on August 9, 1173. Originally designed to be a bell tower, the tower actually stood upright for over five years, but just after the completion of the third floor (1178), it began to lean. Construction stopped for 100 years, and in 1272 construction continued. The tower was completed in 1372. The tower continued to lean further over the years to 5.5 degrees off center, so the Italian government took measures from 1990-2001 to strengthen and the lean is now at 3.99 degrees off center.
We took a motorboat ride across the Giudecca Canal to Venice. There are no sewers in Venice; therefore, waste spills directly into the city`s 176 canals. As a result, there are three feet of sewer sludge at the bottom of most canals and in the summer an awful stench fills the air. The water is green from all the algae in the water due to the sewage. Canal cleaners harvest over 500 tons of algae a day. Fortunately for us, the weather was cool; therefore, no bad odor. Helmstetter said, “I never thought I could be speechless when seeing something. I’ve learned about these places ever since I can remember and all of a sudden I was standing right in front of them. It was a feeling like no other.”
We returned to Venice for a Gondola ride through the centuries-old canals and were serenaded by an accordion player and vocalist. We took a boat ride to the island of Burano, famous for its lace-making. Sturtz said, “The highlight of my trip was the gondola ride in Venice. Venice definitely stood out from all of the other places in Europe, because everywhere you would turn, it looked like something from a postcard.”
Sommers said, “The highlight of the trip was watching the students experience Italy for the first time. I took a similar trip my junior year of undergrad, so it was cool to see the same excitement from them that I had experienced 5 years ago. I got to relive the experience a little.” Sommers said, “I truly hope that the abroad program is something we can continue at PSC. The world is full of adventures and opportunity that I know our students can benefit.”
Cruse said, “The students effectively learned monetary exchange and how to travel in a foreign country. They were exposed to Italy’s history while also gaining first-hand insights into Italy’s culture, people, arts, architecture and cuisine. Experience outside of the classroom serves to enhance what’s learned inside the classroom.”