November 30, 2011

Student Blog by Margaret Shoemaker: Where I've been the last few weeks...

So, our final travel week started with the usual amount of chaos and last minute planning. You’d think that after being here for three months we’d have it down. Well…we’re getting better.

We got into Rome since it was Sunday, we figured we’d  go down to see the Vatican City. There, we saw the Pope.  He stuck his head out the window, addressed the crowd in six different languages, and then went back inside. Since we’d been studying church history, it was interesting to actually see the Pope.  We couldn’t go into the Vatican or the Vatican museum that day, because it was Sunday so we went to the Colosseum instead.

The Pope

The Vatican

The Swiss Guard. 

We found the Colosseum easily. We got off the subway, walked up the stairs to the outside, wondered where it was for about half a second and then turned around.

Found it.
It really was an impressive structure, even in its crumbly state.  From the outside the whole structure looks huge, but the stage actually isn’t that big. All that room is to hold spectators. Underneath the stage, we could see it because the floor really isn’t there anymore, are a bunch of rooms and hallways.  We spent a good part of the afternoon exploring the Colosseum, and still didn’t get over to Palantine hill, so we had to go back to that the next day.
The inside

The stage

After we finally finished at the Colosseum, we went to see Trevi Fountain, except on our way there is started pouring. So much so that I actually bought an umbrella from a street vender. It only cost a few euros, and I found that it had a hole in it, but it was much better than nothing.  
We saw the fountain briefly, it’s giant thing, attached to the wall of another building, but it is really pretty.  We stayed for a bit and then booked back across town to the hotel.
The next day was our marathon day, we went to the Vatican and the Vatican museum in the morning, saw a lot of famous art including the Pieta, The school of Athens, and the Sistine Chapel, ate lunch and moved on.
We went back to Palantine hill since we didn’t get to it the day before. It started raining again, just as bad as the day before, but we were better prepared. This time I had my bright green, cheap umbrella with a hole in it ready.  Also, I managed to avoided slipping and falling on my face in a puddle like I did the first day, so the day was just drier and warmer all around.  
We made the Palantine hill circuit, then headed to the Spanish steps. After that we went back to the Trevi fountain and actually got pictures.  We made it to a few more sites before we decided that our feet needed a break. We found a wonderful Italian restaurant and ate dinner. We were back in our hostel by 9, and asleep before too much longer.
We left our hostel in Rome early in the morning to get to our next flight. This time, we were headed to Athens. Because of the political unrest in Greece currently, we would be spending the rest of the week on a little island called Aegina. We made the plane fine, found the right bus after a little bit of a search, found ferry tickets, found the ferry, almost missed the ferry, discovered there was an hour time difference, got on the ferry, made it to Aegina, and found our hotel.
The hotel we were staying at was great. I’d managed to find really cheap rooms in Greece because the tourist season ended a week before we got there so everything was half price or less. The island was quiet and beautiful so we just wandered around for two days. We went down to the port, found some beaches, went to the old ruins near the main town, explored some shops, and just enjoyed ourselves and learned a lot about Greek politics. Our hotel manager was very excited to find some tourists to explain  the news to and we were interested so it worked out well.

Ancient Temple Hill on Aegina

 Swimming in November

We spent our last day in Athens. We went to the Acropolis and saw the Parthenon.
On the Acropolis

The Parthenon

Another temple in the Acropolis. 

We wanted to be back at the hotel before dark so we ate dinner, made a quick stop at the Olympic village and headed back. Our flight was early in the morning so we packed everything up that night so we were ready to go.
Instead of meeting up with AmBex in Regensburg like we usually do, we met in Salzburg to start our last academic tour. We met at, 6 just in time for dinner, and went to an authentic schnitzel place, which was really, really good.
Our first and only full day in Austria we started with the Sound of Music tour, which everyone had been anticipating.  The day was full of Sound of Music sing alongs and beautiful places from the movie. After lunch we had the option of either going to a few more Sound of Music sites or going to see Berchtesgaden, the area around the Eagle’s nest.  I opted to go to Berchtesgaden. From the road we could see the Eagle’s Nest, and other incredible views of the Alps. We went farther up, to an area Coach described as the “postcard of Germany” and it was beautiful.

We finished our evening by hiking around an Alpine lake. When we got back to the hotel, which was wonderfully warm, I did some homework and enjoyed being back with the group.
In Venice, the academic portion of the day lasted until about 4. We went to St. Mary’s church and saw work by Bellini and other members of the Venetian school of the Renaissance.  From there we went across the Grand canal and into St. Marcos square. We went into St. Marks Church, which was a very different kind of  Cathedral , it looked more Greek Orthodox than Catholic and was covered in mosaics with gold tiles.  Next we went into the Doges Palace, which is now a huge art collection and saw even more incredible art.  Then the rest of the day we had to find dinner and explore the city.

The Grand Canal

Gondolas lined up

Venice is probably one of my favorite cities, the weather was wonderful when we were there, the canals are so pretty, the gondolas are everywhere, and it just has this atmosphere  that pull you in.
The next city on our academic itinerary was Florence, but on our way to Florence we stopped in Pisa, and saw the famous leaning tower.
it is definitely leaning

Mandatory pose with the tower picture

We spent two days in Florence. The first day we went into the Museum that held the David, where I discovered that the pictures do not do Michelangelo’s sculpture justice. It has so much more impact when you stand in front of it and walk around it. All the details are there, close to perfect even though right hand is larger than it should be. It’s even more impressive when you remember that Michelangelo did it out of one block of marble, he didn’t use a few pieces to cover his mistakes like other artists would. David is one piece.  The second day we spend at the Uffizzi, a massive museum that houses art from famous artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Botecelli, Cranch, and Titian.
Cinque Terre was the last stop on this academic tour. We had a free day to go wherever we wanted . Cinque Terre is a series of five villages on mountains along the Mediterranean. It’s a gorgeous area so I opted to join the hiking group.  We hiked from the first village, over the mountain, and into the second.  The hike was challenging and took 2 ½ to 3 hours, but it was so worth it.
castle at the beginning of the trail

The Mediterranean sea 

That's the trail


tiered vineyards in one of the little towns

 Watching the Sunset.
We visited four of the five villages.  One had suffered severe flood damage and was still closed. We ended the day by eating at a great seafood place.

Back in Regensburg we got right into class on Monday. Well, we moved class from the morning to after lunch to let everyone recover from the late night.  We just finished the final for that class today, so now we’re on to finishing up our German Geography and Culture class.
For Thanksgiving Coach took us out to a nice, traditionally German, restaurant in Regensburg.  We decided to make it a dress up event, since we haven’t really been able to dress up for much all semester. Everyone put on the one nice pair of clothes we brought and wandered out into the snow. For those who felt Thanksgiving just wasn’t the same without Turkey, some was available. Since I don’t actually like the traditional Thanksgiving meal, I had something very German and very good.  When we go back, Kelley had set up a dance party for us, followed by football, followed by homework. It was really a great Thanksgiving, even if I didn’t get to see my family.
Yesterday we went to the German National Museum in Nuremburg, a major Nazi rally ground during WWII, and the Christkindlmarkt. Something we’ve all been looking forward to.  We had a great time looking in the Christmas shops and walking by the booths, as a group we have now officially moved into Christmas mode. Christmas carols have begun in earnest.  It also helped that it snowed a few days ago, not a lot, but enough for it to definitely feel like winter.
So for the rest of the week we are wrapping up the semester.  We’re finishing up the last assignments and beginning to think about maybe starting to pack.
It really has been a great semester, it’s hard to believe it’s almost over. The time went so fast, but at the same time September seems so long ago. I’ve gotten to do and see so much.  I’ve been in more museums than I would have thought possible, seen pieces of history,  gotten pretty good at public transportation, made some great friends, and been on some fantastic adventures. 

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