Rome is Where the Heart is.

Well this is it.

It has been one hell of a semester.

Yes, I do still have to blog about my trip to London and this past week (when my Mom and Uncle Ken visited me), but I have been so busy between finals and being Miss Tour Guide USA in Rome that I have not had time to blog. When I do post those, they will hopefully be below this one, so this will be my last post.

I came to Europe 108 days ago, not knowing what to expect. Prior to this, I had been out of the country once (to an all-inclusive resort, aka: an American colony). However, a little over a year ago, I decided that not knowing what I was missing out on (in traveling the world) was not a good thing. Yes, I didn’t know what I was missing out on, but in this case, ignorance was not bliss. As I have quoted once before, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page” (St. Augustine). So this is the end of my book, for now, but it already consists of chapters that no one else can understand.

Tomorrow I will be boarding a plane back home and my study abroad experience will be over.

I am so grateful for the experience I have had.
Over the past 108 days, I traveled from NJ to JFK Airport, over Canada to Dublin to Rome, where I then ventured to Vatican City, Tuscany, Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, through Austria to Munich (Oktoberfest), Venice, Paris, Florence, laid over in Zurich, Switzerland, Amsterdam, laid over in Frankfurt, Germany, then went to London, and Paris again– not to mention all of the amazing places I have visited around La Cittá Eterna.  Counting the layovers, that’s 10 countries.

I have learned so much in each of these places, especially in Rome, where I have had the time of my life and have learned so much, academically, culturally, linguistically, and historically. I would like to thank my parents, grandparents, and family members who have all made it possible for me to have this experience.

Thank you, grazie, danka, merci, dank u, cheers, and gracias. No matter how many languages I can say “thank you” in, it cannot even express how grateful I am.

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Arrivederci, e ciao, Roma.

Baci.

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18

Last Monday, my New Testament class was fortunate enough to get a Scavi Tour, under St. Peter’s Basilica, in the excavation site. This tour is extremely difficult to book, as my teacher had to book it 3 months in advance. 

Upon entering, we were able to see what the excavation site would have looked like prior to the church being built on top. Here’s a little history for you:

Simon was renamed Peter by Jesus. As we learned in class “new name, new mission” (this is why the Popes change their name. They select it after a pope or saint that they want their ministry to focus on.). Jesus came up with the name Peter for him, because “Petra” in latin means “rock,” and he is the rock of the church. Peter and Paul went on spreading the Word, until they were put to death, after being arrested. At the time, Christianity was illegal in Rome. Since they were under the Roman empire, they were brought to Rome. Nero, who had set fire to the city in hopes of rebuilding it, blamed the fire on the Christians, to pass the blame away from him, since they were a new group in town, if you will. In Nero’s Circus, there were gladiator fights and other events, and instead of a halftime show, they would kill Christians. Peter was crucified to set an example. He chose to be crucified upside-down, because he felt unfit to be killed in the same way that Jesus had. Nero’s circus was located here: 

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The green is Nero’s Circus, the gray is St. Peter’s Square/Basilica, with the brown semi-circle in the middle being the altar. Nero’s circus was upon the Vatican Hill (named before the Vatican). It was here that Peter was crucified. At night sometime after his crucifixion, Christians secretly cut him down by his feet and buried him right outside the circus, where some others were buried. For years, people visited this site to kneel and pray to St. Peter, who did not bring the religion to Rome, but rather was the first Pope, appointed by Jesus to build a church. A little structure was soon built over his tomb, so people knew where to go. When Constantine legalized Christianity, he commissioned the building of a few (I forget the exact number) of basilicas in Rome, including the Vatican. Taken from a website to confirm what I was about to say (and I’m too lazy to rephrase it), “He leveled a cemetery on Vatican hill and built a vast martyr basilica on the spot where tradition located the grave of St. Peter the apostle.” So instead of leveling the cemetery by disturbing graves, he filled in dirt over the hill. There was an altar placed over the alleged site. However, until Pope Pius XII, this spot was not confirmed other than a piece of graffiti on a wall that said “Peter is here.” So in 1939, he had the guts to allow excavations to take place to confirm that Peter was, in fact, under the alter. If this failed, this would look really bad, but it was important. Also, since this was during WWII, he only allowed workers to work at night, and they couldn’t use power tools, because it would look sketchy that the vatican was digging underground during that time. They found a tomb, but after analysis of the bones inside, they found the bones of two middle aged women and a rat. Later on, in the 1968ish, an archeologist noticed a piece of the wall that held St. Peter’s tomb was missing, and asked if they knew where it was. It was in a drawer somewhere in the Vatican, and this little piece held the information they needed. St. Peter’s bones were found, or at least the bones that had substantial evidence to be his bones. They were found wrapped in purple cloth with golden threads (symbolizing royalty) and Pope Paul VI, who was pope at the time, declared that there was substantial evidence that it could be St. Peter. It’s never actually been confirmed, but based on the cloth and the DNA analysis that said they were the bones of a 1st century robust man who lived until his 60’s or 70’s (which was VERY uncommon for the time), it’s pretty substantial. 

So we went along this scavi tour, walked down the side of the original Constantinian basilica was (they built up from that), saw some pagan mausoleums that were buried along the way, and eventually saw the original structure that marked Peter’s tomb, the original alter that was above his tomb (that the present day altar is on top of), and we walked around to see the hole in the graffiti wall, where Peter’s bones were in a plexiglass box. Pretty cool. 

Today, we went to the ending of the Year of Faith mass, declared by Pope Benedict, but fulfilled by Pope Francis. For the first time in history, St. Peter’s relics were on display to the public. We showed up to the square at 6am, and surprisingly, the line wasn’t that long, even when we entered. We got as close as we could to the front- 4th row. We didn’t care about being at a barricade, since this was a mass, and Pope Francis wouldn’t come around on the Popemobile until after the mass. We celebrated mass so close to St. Peter’s relics and the pope. 

Check out this article on the mass:
http://www.ucatholic.com/news/relics-of-st-peter/

We were given booklets to follow along with mass, but it was just the text of the words that were being spoken- aka in Italian or Latin. However, I was able to understand a lot of what I was hearing, because I was able to read and recognize words! That, and for what I didn’t understand, I often could piece it together with words I did know and put them in context with the mass to figure out what part of the mass they were at. 

I have photos from today, but I have not uploaded them yet. However, there are much better photos than the ones I took on that article. We were not allowed to take photos in the scavi tour, so there are none of that. 

I’m slightly embarrassed I just found this article, because it literally says everything I just wrote. I swear I found this article afterwards… Anyhow, there are some pictures included from the Scavi tour. The article is written by a father who studied at the NAC (North American College), which I went to for a prayer service and dinner with a few friends. A recent PC grad is studying to be a priest there, and invited us to come. Anyhow, here is the article with photos. If you want to skip over the reading, it just confirms everything I have already said.

http://thecatholictraveler.com/expert/vatican-scavi-tour/

So, there ya go. Today I celebrated mass with the first pope and his 265th successor!

It’s not a bad life I have here…

 

Amsterdam

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.”
– Anne Frank

I boarded my plane from Florence via Swiss Air (which I loved… mostly because they fed me). For the first time, I had headed to the airport alone, and I was flying alone to meet my roommate from PC at the airport, where we arranged to meet at her flight’s baggage claim. This was the first flight that I’ve ever flown that was also delayed by about 40 minutes. Usually, that wouldn’t be bad, but I was originally supposed to leave at 7:05 to arrive at 8:15, but with this delay, we took off around 7:45. Funny, because I had a layover in Zurich, Switzerland, and was supposed to board at 8:35 to take off at 8:55. This didn’t stop me from sleeping for the entire plane ride (except when they came by with a sandwich-like pretzel (bun) with butter in the middle, juice, and swiss chocolate), but as soon as I landed, I was definitely in panic mode. However, when I got off the plane and onto the ground, there was a man standing in front of a bus holding an “Amsterdam” sign. They were going to take care of us. I boarded the bus, and thankfully, double checked with the people around me, who were strangely going to places like Munich. I hopped off the bus, to find out that I was supposed to stand with the man. Good thing I did that. He shuttled the 7 or us over to the next plane, that was now delaying itself to wait for us. Bless their souls.

Within a few minutes, we were up in the air again, on the way to Amsterdam. This time, they fed us cold-cut chicken and mustard sandwiches on a baguette, I got my apple juice again, and swiss chocolate. We landed within 5 minutes of our originally scheduled landing time, which was fantastic. I went through the huge airport to baggage claim, and found her, no problem. We took a cab with her two friends from her program in London, and arrived at the hotel, where we planned our next day and crashed.

Saturday morning, we woke up, ate the complimentary breakfast at the hotel (in case you can’t tell, I love my food… and traveling/trying new foods. This will be evident throughout this post.). We were going to go to the Heineken Factory, which was right across from our hotel, but it was more money than we wanted to pay, so we decided to bypass it and go to the Van Gogh Museum. On the way, we passed the “I AMsterdam” sign, which was empty for once, since it was only about 9 in the morning. We took several photos on it while we could, of course. Climbing up the letters was harder that I thought it would be (I often forget I’m short), but we figured it out.

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Afterwards, we went to the Van Gogh museum. It was unreal. In front of all of the paintings/drawings, there was a little barrier (like a lot of museums), but it was maybe a foot away from the paintings. If I leaned over the little maybe 2.5 foot barrier bronze fence thing, I could essentially touch the works of Vincent Van Gogh. You could also see his name signed, bright and clear, which was just weird to see in person. I guess it just makes it more human. Seeing his works reproduced do not do his work justice. Seeing his brush strokes in person was fascinating. One could see the depth and layers and color mixtures in them, as well as the texture of the paintings. They’re certainly not flat. At one exhibit, we were able to look at a chunk taken off his paintings under a microscope. I wish I could have taken a photo of that, because the paint mixtures were astonishing.

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BRUSH STROKES. (See full painting below- I took a close up of the bottom left corner).ImageImageImageImageImage

We then ventured to the Red Light District, which is actually a very nice area, but it was very interesting how different Amsterdam is from any place in the world. We just walked around the city and explored a bit. Amsterdam is beautiful; it’s very similar to Venice. At some points in time, I didn’t know how it doesn’t have the reputation that Venice does. The canals are throughout the city, and there’s more to do than in Venice. The entire town was very cute, and EVERYONE rode bikes. It’s a very eco-friendly town, and it’s adorable. Example A:

Venice?

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We wandered to a notorious pancake place… I can’t figure out what is so good about Dutch food, but their specialties are foods like pancakes, waffles, and I had delicious apple pie there. Their pancakes were similar to a crepe, but a little sweeter, and I got mine with apple slices in it. I think their flour is something special, I don’t know.

From there, we wandered to the Anne Frank museum. No photos were allowed out of respect for the museum, which is fair enough. This was also an unreal experience. We entered the old jam factory on the ground floor, where her dad worked prior to going into hiding. We watched video interviews with Meip, who had taken care of them with meals and hospitality while they were in hiding, and who had also worked in the factory. The house they hid in was in the back of the factory- not on top, like I had originally thought. There was a back house that was attached, that cannot be seen from the front. We turned a corner, and there was the bookcase that had hid them for so many (I think 8? years). The bookcase was still the original one, with the original, now yellow, books on them. It’s propped open now, but we had entered the house the same way that Miep had, as well as the Nazis upon arresting them. This photo was taken from Google:

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Before:

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What you cannot tell from looking at the first photo is that, yes, you can enter and go upstairs, but you could also enter and go left, where there was a ground floor level, where their kitchen was and living room. It wasn’t a little attic, but almost a whole house. Well, it was small for a house and living quarters were relatively tight, but I expected it to be much smaller. The house was cleared out after the Franks and Von Pels were captured, and Otto Frank, who survived Auschwitz, wished it to stay that way. Photos were taken of refurbished rooms for the purpose of giving the viewer an image of what it was like, but after they refurbished the rooms for the photos, they gutted it again. The windows were all blacked out, like it was for them. We saw artifacts, such as Peter Van Pel’s birthday present (a board game) and some photos of celebrities that Anne liked to look at.

At the end, there was a video taken of Anne’s best friend, who she hadn’t seen since she went into hiding. I forget for what reason, but she was put into a camp that was different than the others (I believe her nationality was more respected because of them being allies with the Germans, although she was Jewish). When Anne was in Bergen-Belson camp, her friend saw her at the fence that bordered it, and they were reunited. However, at this time, her sister Margot had been killed, and Anne said she had no one. Little did she know, her father was still alive in another camp. Anne died one month before the camps were liberated. Her friend said that if Anne had known there was a reason for living, she would have been stronger.

This is a picture of the Anne Frank House from the outside:

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From there, we went to get some of the best apple pie I’ve ever had. It was at a well known place, and it was very different than anything I’ve had in the US. It had almost a banana bread filling, but not banana. It was just cakey. And it had apples, obviously. Mmmm.

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This is me in a shoe.

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And we ran into Barry Weiss, which is pretty funny to me. Sarah (my roommate) and I somehow discovered that we were both obsessed with Storage Wars, and we began to play the simulated game on Facebook last semester. No one else that I know watches it, except for Sarah and my family. I saw him, and said to her, “That looks like Barry from Storage Wars…” (which is also funny, because I never watch TV or movies, and probably couldn’t identify Kim Kardashian if she was standing right in front of me. I certainly do not even know what her sisters look like, never mind what their names are. I don’t follow celebrities, just Storage Wars…). Anyhow, Sarah was like “Oh my God… he does!” We walked closer and heard his voice, and he was undoubtably him. A waiter saw us bugging out and was like “Ooohhh take a picture!” (somewhat mocking us). Barry’s friends also saw us, and asked if we wanted to come in closer, at which point I was like, “Excuse me, I don’t want to bother you, but would you mind getting in a picture?” He was very nice and said of course, and was like “Yeah! Just selfie it! That’s the best way to take a picture!” when I held up the camera to take a picture, but a lady who worked there took my camera and took it for us.

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We went back to the hotel from there for the night. Upon arriving at this hotel, we saw the staircase and was amazed. It was the steepest stair case I have ever seen. However, Anne Frank’s stairs were like this too. I think it’s just how the Netherlands do things. The picture below doesn’t do justice… I was standing up straight and one leg is 4 steps up from the other leg.

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The next day, we just did a lot of wandering. We got in line for the Rijksmuseum, but the line was too long. We stopped at a diamond museum though, which was pretty cool. There were lots of diamonds. They were big.

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We then checked out Vondel Park, which is the park that Central Park is modeled after. After, we ate a delicious waffle with chocolate ice cream on it. The waffle was so so good, as was the ice cream that I haven’t had in a long time.

Eventually, I found my way to the train station and got back to the airport. Amsterdam was a very quaint city. It was simple with the bikers and the houses all looked like gingerbread houses all smushed together, all on canals.

I end with a very irrelevant quote that is only relevant because Anne Frank said it and I like it.

“We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”
– Anne Frank

“Consider your origins: you were not made to live as brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge.” -Dante Alighieri

Last Friday, I finally made it to Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, as it was another included excursion with my program.

Let me start off by saying that I hate, hate, hate audio tours. If you hand me a walkie-talkie looking speaker and give me the ear bud, I will automatically be put into a bad mood. In Florence, I was in less of a bad mood, but I get very aggravated listening to someone lecture as we walk around the city looking at things I care less about than the things I would tour on my own. Plus, by the end, it was 2:00 and I hadn’t eaten a thing all day, so I wasn’t paying the most attention.

So, in case you haven’t picked up on my tone, we started off the day with an audio tour. We walked around, stopped in a few churches, and went to the Academia Museum, where we saw the Statue of David. We passed by the infamous Duomo, but didn’t go inside until after lunch.

We went to our included  lunch and had probably about 4 or 5 different dishes.

After lunch, we finally had time to explore on our own, which I wanted to do all along. However, I only had maybe an hour and a half.

First, we went to the Basilica of Santa Croce, which, according to Wikipedia, says, “It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile, and Rossini, thus it is known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories.” It is also the world’s largest Franciscan church. There’s also a memorial for Dante Alighieri there.

It was cool to go into, but I didn’t want to pay to get into a church because I don’t agree with that, so we went in the separate line that allowed us in to pray. We couldn’t walk around too much, but we were able to see the basilica a bit.

After this, we went to the Duomo. I was shocked how bland it was on the inside. We walked in, and the walls are white and bare. I notified my friends that the dome was decorated to illustrate Dante’s Divine Comedy. That part was amazing. The whole church was simple, until we arrived under the magnificent fresco and were able to identify characters and instances from the series. I immediately identified Charon (The Ferryman of Hades), the skeleton from Greek Mythology that carries souls across rivers that divide the living world from that of the dead. Satan was also chewing on Judas (and maybe Brutus and Cassius, but I only noticed one of his three heads).

All in all, Florence was pretty cool. I would have liked to look more at museums and explore on my own, but at the same time, I was fine doing it for a day. I’m glad I’m studying in Rome; it’s just bigger with more to do and to explore to, in my opinion. Florence was pretty small and intimate.

From the Duomo, I left, got my postcard (I’m getting one per place that I go to), hopped in a taxi, and boarded a flight to Amsterdam!

It was definitely a jam packed day, but it was cool to see the birthplace of the Renaissance. Pictures to follow.

Santa Sabina

Yesterday, we had a site visit at Santa Sabina, up on the Aventine Hill. This church has been around since the 5th century AD, and the hill overlooks Vatican City. We went to mass here two weeks ago, but I didn’t get a chance to blog about it, so this will be a combined blog.

2 weeks ago, Father Dominic Izzo, who from America and is in charge of the North American Dominicans (from my understanding), gave us a tour and said for mass in St. Dominic’s cell. For those of you who haven’t caught on, Providence College is run by the Dominican Order, founded by St. Dominic. It was in Santa Sabina where he lived (we had mass in his room) and prayed. It was also here that Pope Pius V chose to live instead of in the Vatican where popes traditionally live (similar to Pope Francis). He was also a Dominican who chose to wear his Dominican Habit (white robe) when he became Pope instead of their traditional red habits that made them look like Cardinals, which began the trend of the pope wearing white habits. Yesterday, we also visited his room. 

The doors leading into the church are solid wood with carvings on them, still standing in what looks like perfect condition, from 412 AD. Here, on the top left hand corner of the doors, is the earliest depiction of the crucifixion scene, displaying 3 “criminals” (Jesus in the middle) with their arms spread and feet crossed below them. The somewhat strange thing (well, strange to you and I, but not for the 5th centurions), is that there is no cross behind them. There are triangles above them to differentiate the 3 separate individuals, but the figures are kinda floating in mid air. This is because the cross was a sign of crucifixion (duh), but that was a sign of execution. In the 400’s, crosses weren’t accepted in art like they are today. We have come to accept it as a sign of martyrdom or as a sign of Christianity, but, as my teacher described it, at the time, wearing a cross on your necklace would be like wearing an electric chair charm on your necklace. Or a syringe. Or a noose. Because they are known as execution tools, we just don’t do it. Same with those times- crucifixions were still going on, and therefore, weren’t socially acceptable to wear, draw, carve, etc. It was kinda gory. 

After Santa Sabina, we went to the Knights of Malta keyhole next door.  There, you look into a keyhole, and directly in front of you is St. Peter’s Dome. It’s really hard to capture a picture because of the lighting, so I found this one off google: http://travelphotos.everything-everywhere.com/Europe/Italy/Rome/Keyhole-Knights-of-Malta-2/534807682_LT4qQ-S.jpg

You can see other images here.

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Romping Around Ruins (Pictures of the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum)

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I feel tall:
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Thanks for the visual, Lady!

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An old track/stadium of some sort on the Palatine Hill:ImageImage

The Huts of Romulus:Image

Arch of Titus:
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