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KWC in Rome

vatican

David Bertschinger is a KWC junior majoring in physics. He is spending the Spring 2010 semester studying in Rome. He will be providing regular updates to KWConnect. This page will be an aggregate of all his posts through the semester (newest posts at the top). View a larger gallery of his photos on KWC’s Flickr channel.

To find out more about study abroad opportunities at KWC, click here.
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Monday, May 10

Research papers have dominated April. I have an 8-12 page one due in all three of my classes. I journeyed to Assisi on April 10th. It was a fascinating town and seems to have more churches per capita than Rome. I personally did not think that was possible. I found several interesting museums, one of which was the excavations of tunnel systems used by the early Church, similar to the catacombs.

After another week of papers, AIFS had its spring dinner party. Almost the entire program attended the banquet thrown for us at the Hotel Marriott on the seventh floor balcony. We had a very good time.

That weekend, I went to Tarquinia on a class field trip to explore ancient Etruscan tombs and visit a museum of Etruscan ruins. Yes, it was boring, but getting out of Rome for another weekend was pleasant.

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As soon as I returned, it was back to research papers. But they were soon finished and I took my final in Italian that week as well. At the end of the week, some family friends vacationing in Italy arrived in Rome and I enjoyed their company for the couple days they spent in the Eternal City.

The last week of April and the final week of classes was one of the easiest. I went to see the Holy Father twice that week, both at his Sunday and Wednesday audiences. It was such a wonderful experience to hear him speak to us in seven different languages (English included) and reveal his love of cappuccino. Towards the end of the week, half the program roster crammed themselves into our apartment for a party.

On Saturday (May 1), I spent the day riding both lines of the metro to (almost) every stop outside the city center. There was not much interesting to be found, but it was a fun adventure nonetheless. On Sunday, my last in Rome, I attended Mass at St. Peter’s once again, just as I had my first Sunday in Rome.

Finals consumed me from Monday to Wednesday. I’ve never had such mixed feelings about being finished with a semester as this one. I’ve spent the last few days walking all over the city, buying last minute souvenirs, seeing all my favorite sights, just one last time.

rome tour 1

But three months ago today, I tossed a coin in the Trevi fountain, and by local legend, that ensures my return to Rome. So maybe I’m not saying goodbye to Rome, but just “see you later.”

Home – it is both what I leave today, and what I return to …

rome tour 3

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Monday, April 26

The weekend after I went to Interlaken, Switzerland, another amazing adventure awaited. AIFS had planned a three-day trip to Naples, Pompeii, and Capri for us. The bus ride to Pompeii was on the short side, only three hours long. Once we got there, we toured the ancient ruins of the city that had been preserved in volcanic rock after Mt. Vesuvius’ 79 AD eruption. Seeing life on the streets of an ancient Roman city was fascinating. I recalled reading of this city and seeing Discovery Channel specials on it, but here I was.

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That evening we checked into our hotel, which had an extremely scenic overview of Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius from across the bay. I went to get some food with some of the kids, and ended up having the best pizza I’ve had since coming to Italy, probably the best of my life.

On Saturday, we took a bus to Naples and then a hydrofoil ferry to the Isle de Capri. What heaven this island is! Given two bus tickets by AIFS for the day, we took a bus up to the city of Capri, enjoyed the view from there (higher than the port we docked at), and then took another bus up to Anacapri, a smaller town at a higher elevation and on the other side of the island.

From there we took a chair lift up the side of Mt. Solerno and basked in the breathtaking beauty that was found on the highest point of the island. Dozens of pictures and “oh my gosh’s” later, we descended the mountain in search of some excellent Italian pranzo (lunch).

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Later, we slowly made our way down the island, and enjoyed finding the various stairs that provided shortcuts both through the woods and through the suburbs of Capri. Even the hydrofoil back was exhilarating as we literally caught air at one point during the return journey.

Sunday was another early morning, with us checking out of the hotel and heading to Naples to see a museum of artifacts, statues and paintings, some removed from Pompeii, some brought from Rome as part of the Farneze collection. Oddly enough, the Farneze’s were once a powerful ruling family of Italy, whose Rome palace has now become shops and apartments, one of which is mine.

Afterwards, we ate lunch and boarded the buses to drive back to Pompeii to climb Mt. Vesuvius. The view from the top was worth the cold hike and a splendid cap to a surreal weekend.

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The next week of school consisted of midterms, which only meant that spring break had finally sprung. That Thursday I busted out of Rome, ready to city hop the rest of Italy. Early in the morning, I packed and caught a taxi to the airport for my flight to my first destination: Sicily. I had booked a hotel in Cinici, a town near the airport and close to my primary interest on the island, Terrasini. My great-grandparents had both been born there and my grandma had never gotten a chance to see the town. So I hiked there, since it was too early in the morning to check in.

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Terrasini is nothing but a small coastal fishing town, but it was quiet, slow and very relaxing. I climbed around on the rocks and cliffs on the shore before finding a secluded ledge where I put my head on my backpack and took a long overdue nap by the ocean. My second day in Sicily I stayed fairly lazy. I wandered around Cinici part of the day and even ended up back in Terrasini for a few last looks. I flew back to Rome that evening and reached my apartment very late at night.

A few hours of sleep later, I was up and getting ready for my next early morning flight, this time to Milan. Stepping off the bus from the airport to the central station, I was amazed at the modernity of the city. It stood in stark contrast to the classical architecture of Italy’s other major cities. My father later informed me that this was due to the fact that Milan was bombed heavily during World War II.

I was able to check into my hotel when I arrived, so I dropped off my bag and headed toward the city center. I walked through the Galleria, a mall of designer fashions, Prada, LV, D&G, etc. However, in the center was a McDonalds.

On the other side was the impressive and magnificent Duomo of Milan. Its neo-gothic design set it apart from the mostly baroque cathedrals that dotted Italy’s towns. The interior was no less impressive, with giant columns that stretched toward Heaven itself. Later that day, I wandered over to the old fort, now an array of museums, with an expansive park behind it. My feet (and the rest of me) were tired by the evening, so I called it a night.

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Today, I overslept the early train to Venice because I completely forgot about Daylight Savings Time beginning over here. I boarded a later train and found that this was truly the way to travel.

Once in Venice, I found my way the section of the island I had memorized the weekend we came here two months ago. To my surprise, the hotel I had booked was literally right next to the one we stayed at in January. I walked around the city, revisiting San Marco square and several other places I’d already seen. The weather was beautiful, but the city was crowded.

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The next morning, I took the train back to Milan and wandered around there a while before my flight. I used some maps that my father had given me to find his old school buildings and apartment. I even had coffee at a coffee shop that he frequented across the street from his school.

I caught the bus to the airport and flew back to Rome. It was nice to be back in my apartment, excitedly awaiting my parents arrival on Thursday.

For more photos of the adventures described here, check out the latest in the “KWC in Rome” set on KWC’s Flickr channel.
 
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Monday, March 15

–Yes, this is late and very overdue. This blog update begins on Sunday, February 7th, my first full day in Rome, and concludes with last weekend. Va bene, enjoy. –

Ah, Rome at last. Early our first morning there, the entire group met down at a ristrotheatre near our school for yet another orientation meeting. Sitting in the theater section was very cool, but everything we went over was purely bureaucratic and academic.

Afterwards, that afternoon, I turned to the map of Rome we’d been given the day before to see what was in walking distance. To my great pleasure, I found that to be just about everything. So I hit the streets in search of the Circus Maximus and the Coliseum. The former was not all that, just a long grassy field where joggers, soccer players, lovers and poets all shared space.

The Coliseum, however, was all that. As so with so many other things I’ve seen thus far, words cannot do this feat of empirical engineering justice. It looks just as picturesque as a postcard yet so striking against the modern backdrop that you might think it’s leftover from the set of Gladiator.

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The Colosseum

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And at night ...

However, turning northwest up a main street brings you to walk straight through the ruins of the Roman Forum. I made my way through this and on to the Pantheon, which is very close to our school. What a feat of architecture! A perfectly round dome inside of which a 43 foot diameter ball could rest. I will definitely be visiting this site often. Perhaps the most amazing part is that this ancient pagan temple is now, oddly enough, a Catholic church.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

My first day of “real” classes: the school weeks will all fly by quickly on the wings of boredom, as I could see on this day. I had a Big Mac for lunch, which was very tasty and reminded me greatly of home. After class, I went home and fixed dinner and then went out to hang at the Coliseum with my friends Maria and Tamara. It was so much fun just enjoying the fact that this behemoth was our backyard for the next three months.

We also visited the Spanish Steps and the Trebi Fountain. Maria and I tossed our respective coins into the fountain, ensuring our return to the Eternal City. Overheard by the fountain… Me: “I can die now.” Maria: “Me too.” Tamara: “Wait, what?!”

My first full weekend in Rome was somewhat uneventful. On Friday, I went to get dinner at a small mom-and-pop restaurant with some friends. Afterwards we walked to the church of the souls in purgatory, and saw their fascinating display of items held to be evidence of deceased souls leaving marks to prove their residence in purgatory. Most were books, aprons, and pictures with burned on handprints from where an apparition had touched an item as seen by a living person. On our way to this church, we stopped and rode a carousel. I don’t think the operator was amused as he should have been at four college students riding a kid’s ride, but he didn’t refuse our money either.

Sunday the 14th, I made my way down the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica for Mass that afternoon. The beauty of St. Peter’s was absolutely breathtaking. From the towering columns and the ornate golden ceiling, to the multitude of statues and frescos, the entire nave was a microcosm of Christendom. The main altar was equally impressive, dominating the center of the church with its four high pillars supporting the canopy. I walked around the basilica four times before I sat down at the side altar of St. Joseph.

Vespers began at 5, and to my great pleasure, they were all chanted in Latin. Mass was celebrated by a number of deacons, priests, and bishops, with a cardinal presiding. While I could follow the Mass propers easily enough, I could only grasp singular words here and there of the Italian homily. An all-boys school choir was singing at this Mass as guests, and since they were American, all the hymns sung were familiar English ones.

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica

The week went by quickly with classes the way it always does. On Friday, I spent the morning researching flights for spring break, putting together an itinerary. Saturday, I walked around Rome a lot and enjoyed the sights, the crowds, and lovely weather.

The next school week flew by, and Friday was upon me. I booked my flights for Palermo and Milan in the morning and bought my school books that afternoon. The rain kept me indoors for the rest of the day, but Saturday was extremely beautiful and my wanderings led me up to Villa Borghese for the afternoon. A huge, sprawling park in the north section of Rome, Villa Borghese lays host to picnickers, joggers, and poets alike. I came back home and enjoyed the company of some of my flatmates over dinner and drinks. Sunday was my usual lazy day, heading over to St. Peter’s mid-afternoon to take pictures and attend at Mass.

The following week saw too many quizzes in my classes, but, as usual, raced by due to my high anticipation of my trip to Interlaken, Switzerland, on the coming weekend.

Thursday night finally arrived and I boarded a bus for the night. We caught as much sleep as the ride allowed, but morning still came before we wanted it to. Our hostel was extremely chill, but the accommodations were cramped, as six of us were fit into a room barely made for two.

Friday was a beautiful day for hitting the slopes and the backdrop of the Alps had me stopping just to take a picture. In my wanderings over the mountain, I found a trail that let me ski right into and through a small Swiss town, right up to the train station.

 

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Wegen, Switzerland

After a long day on the mountain, I found my way back to the hotel to leave again for night sledding. Imagine Mario Kart, only live action, in the dark, in the snow. Twelve of us rocketed down a mountain trail sitting on plastic sleds, using our feet stretched out in front of us to brake and steer. Afterwards, we enjoyed Swiss fondue, salad, and eggs and hash browns at a restaurant at the end of our trail. I got back to the hostel and joined the kids at the Metro in the basement of the hostel.

Saturday morning came quickly and we hit the slopes again, this time to a different mountain. I enjoyed the fresh powder and blizzard/whiteout conditions that were found at 9,000 feet, and we spent the whole day there.

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After I returned to the hostel, I met up with a girl from Florence who came up on our bus with two of my roommates and we built a snowman in the courtyard, occasionally broken up by a snowball fight. After dinner, we headed back down to the Metro, where we stayed up until nearly 3 a.m.

 

Sunday morning saw us slowly shuffling to life at various hours of the morning. I played pool and table tennis, while some of my friends went to play curling at a nearby rink. We headed home that afternoon, enjoying the sights of Switzerland and northern Italy from the road.

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Tuesday, March 9

New photos of David’s adventures in Rome added to the “KWC in Rome” set on KWC’s Flickr channel. General photos (including snow in Rome), plus a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. Check ‘em out here.

Michaelangelo’s Pieta:

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Monday, February 15

“In restless dreams I walk alone, narrow streets of cobblestone.”

Paul Simon penned these words over forty years ago in the immortal classic ‘The Sound of Silence,’ but they have resonated with me over the past weeks I’ve spent on the other side of the Atlantic. Until today, I have been walking through a dream, always expecting to walk around the corner and see a distinctly American world once again.

However, there is no America to be found. Even the McDonald placard has been replaced with McItaly. The narrow streets, alleys and tall ancient buildings box me in like an architectural canyon. I let the flat, snow-covered farmland of northern Italy remind me of Illinois as the endless bus rides ship us from destination to destination. Every new stranger’s voice takes me farther from home as they chat in a language
that is still mostly gibberish to me.

Now, walk down the cobblestone, breathe the air and see Italy from the ground up with me.

The biggest difference between Italy and the United States … isn’t. Everything is smaller here. The streets, the cars, the stores, the restaurants, even the bathrooms are all notably diminutive. The average American driver would tremble at the thought of navigating the narrow and packed lanes of traffic that spider-web through the cities of Italy.

But even our coach (private tour buses) drivers deftly maneuver amongst the Fiats and Alfa Romeos through tight corners and roundabouts. Pedestrians have to be as fearless as the drivers when crossing streets, for they have no right-of-way but what they boldly claim for themselves by stepping into the crosswalk.

Off the streets, the stores are built into the old architecture of the city and some could not even fit 10 people who have no personal space issues. Not to be alarmed — there are many comfortable sit-down restaurants, café’s and bars where standing elbow to elbow is not required. However, you will get acquainted with those you sit with, as playing “footsie”, bumping arms and tapping knee caps is unavoidable at the small tables.

Public bathrooms are generally engineered so that there is enough room for the door to open inwards and just miss the fixtures, and no more. Getting in one requires mild contortionism at times.

Although, as a future engineer and overall practical person, I cannot solidly object to this efficiency of space.

Italians take great pride in their work. The squares (piazza) in Firenze house many street merchants and outdoor markets, where shop owners set up stands to display and sell their goods. While there are many souvenirs stands, others mainly include leather goods (jackets, gloves, wallets, purses) and scarves. When you barter with any of the store owners, they always detail the products and sing their praises as fine craftsmanship. They are eager to say how many generations have been in their business and to make you appreciate their work.

The culture, history and very atmosphere of Italy are vibrant and rich, but different from anything we’re used to in America. The true sights of a country are not found at the tourist-touted landmarks, but right on the street, feet on the cobblestone, walking through the dream of seeing the world.

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Monday, February 8

 At the beginning of this incredibly long, yet short week, I woke up in Venice. We went to a modern art exhibit for our final tour, which was a solid bore. Throwing paint around on a canvas like Jackson Pollock or doodling with abstract shapes and colors does not make you an artist. But it provided a few good laughs before I headed out to take some pictures of Venice and get lunch before we bussed back to Firenze.

 

February 1st marked the start of my first full calendar month away from home and outside the United States. It’s easy to forget that I’m in a foreign country until I step outside and no one is speaking English. School is still uneventful and tiresome. I very much enjoy the first teacher, as she explains grammar concepts very well, and with some English if we need it. The second teacher knows hardly any English and only explains things in Italian. While being immersed in a language is the best way to learn it, no one learns to swim by being thrown in the deep end while someone shouts instructions from the lifeguard stand. That’s what it feels like anyway.

This afternoon, I researched a lot on the ski trip to Interlaken that we’re planning in a few weeks. I’m getting really pumped about hitting the slopes at Jungfrau

Tuesday was one of the best days I’ve had since I’ve gotten here. Class was nothing to sneeze at, although I’m still blowing my nose like it’s my job. After class, we went to the academic gallery and saw the original Statue of David in all his Apollo-esque glory.

The highlight of my day came afterwards though, when I walked with some friends up to Piazza di Michelangelo, a square up on a hill at the northwest corner of Firenze, overlooking the city. It was the most beautiful sight that I’ve seen since being in the duomo. Words and not even pictures can truly describe the view.

Florence Panorama

The next day, we took another bus trip to a winery near Sienna. The wine tasting definitely was the highlight of the day. We sampled four different wines while we were there, and my table got seconds. The bus ride back was loud…and then quiet.

Thursday saw much rain and cloudiness to cover Firenze, and the extra two hours of class did not help anyone’s mood. Friday was our last day of class. I went to the first session with Constanza since it actually covered our final. After that, I left. Lunch tastes so much better eaten when you are supposed to be in class. That evening we signed forms in preparation for going to Roma, and received a map, more housing info and a bus ticket.

Saturday was one of the longest days I’ve had thus far. I was up early at the usual time to eat breakfast, pack the last few things, and check out of my room. I then headed over to the school early so I could do some extra study for the final. The test itself was very straightforward and I feel confident that I did well.

Kids slowly drifted back to the hotel with food, preparing to leave on one of four buses, departing at fifteen minute intervals. Last night we learned our bus assignments, made in accordance with our housing. I grabbed lunch at a kebob place down the street from our hotel, and enjoyed my last meal in Firenze. The bus ride to Rome turned into the most successful bus nap I’ve had in a while. We parked on the southwestern outskirts of the city, where AIFS coordinators had taxis coming in at a relatively constant flow rate, each designated to take us to our various apartments.

The five of us finally got our taxis and got to our apartment, and it was absolutely the coolest flat I have ever seen. We have two large common areas, a kitchen, and three bedrooms. The walkthrough of our apartment is as follows (skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to read this): there is a dining room area as the first room when you enter; on the opposing corner, you walk down the hallway, there is a bathroom with a tub and a washing machine on the right, then the kitchen on the right, two steps down the large living room on the left; straight ahead is one of the double bedrooms, and to the right, through the kitchen and left, is the single bedroom; right and into the living room, you walk across the room, and there is a very narrow, very steep, concrete spiral staircase; down just a few steps is a bathroom that redefines the word tiny; the whole room is a small shower, with a sink and toilet included; up the stairs is another double bedroom.

Through an almost hour-long discussion process that is hardly worth repeating, I got the single room. The five of us unpacked and moved in, something I have been looking forward to for almost three weeks. We then walked down to a local supermarket to buy some groceries — a convenient five-minute trot from our flat. After stocking up, we then tap-danced around each other in the kitchen, fixing our pastas, salads and sandwiches before sitting around our dining room table, eating together as flat-mates for the first and most likely last time.

After dinner I grabbed a map and plotted a surprisingly short route to the Vatican. Standing in front of St. Peter’s Basilica was one of the most humbling and awe inspiring experiences of my Catholic life. I absolutely cannot wait to go back (as I will many times in the next three months) and even go inside, and assist at Holy Mass there.

On a side note, “when in Rome” has quickly become the most overused phrase in our group … 

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Monday, February 1

Waking up in Firenze is getting to be very addicting — until I realize that we are still living out of suitcases in a hotel. And, my room is a mess. I assisted at Mass in the duomo on Sunday morning. It was crowed and in Italian, but otherwise relatively impressive.

Mid-afternoon, a few tour guides gave us a practical tour of Florence and showed us several sites, including a bridge market, the post office, our language school and the bookstore. Afterwards, I returned to the hotel and turned on my TV to find Forrest Gump. In German. Life is different here.

Monday saw the beginning of intensive language classes. We have class from 0900 to 1330, but it is divided up into three segments, with breaks in between. Our professoressas are very nice. Our grammar teacher mixes Italian and English to help us out but she says that will end tomorrow. Our conversation and vocabulary teacher does knows hardly any English in my opinion. But she engages the class, and we catch on to what she is saying eventually.

After class, my fellow future engineer friend Maria and I decided to get lost in Florence for the next few hours we had until our welcome cocktail at a bar downtown. And lost we got. But Florence is a very hard city to stay lost in forever, as long as you are up for some major urban hiking. We found the residential side of the city, complete with tall apartments and sandstone colored houses.

Our second day of class was more challenging, but I’m still enjoying it despite the stress. After class, I grabbed a quick sandwich (they are very cheap, and amazingly good too) and boarded the bus for our day trip to Pisa. It was rainy and cold once we got there, and we were a miserable crowd. However, we all made the best of it and took our touristy photos with the Leaning Tower, and learned a bit about the history of the Cathedral for which it was built to be the bell tower.

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He’s gonna push it over!

Wednesday was the first relatively average day I’ve had here. Class went well; it’s very hard to keep up with our second teacher but maybe I’ll pick up Italian through some form of auditory osmosis. Afterwards, Rosanna held an academic meeting in which she discussed our classes in Rome and some of the expectations for them and I found out that I am in all the classes I signed up for.

Our first quiz was on Thursday but I found it encouragingly easy. After class, Maria and I visited the Da Vinci Museum. What an amazing tribute to the original mechanical engineer! They had full scale replicas of many of his designs that he drew, including his tank, both of his most famous one man gliders, and a mechanized suit of armor. There were dozens of models of his many other inventions such as cantilevers, pulley systems, bridge designs, and ball bearings. I was right at home examining and “geeking out” at the hands-on working models, as I’m sure many of you can easily picture.

After dinner was the opera, and, while fascinating on some level, I could not stop from nodding off. I left at the intermission with a huge majority of the rest of those Americans that went.The five-hour bus ride to Venzia (Venice) gave us a bleak view of a foggy, snow-blanketed Northern Italy. Once in the city, we hopped off the bus and onto boats to head up a channel to our hotel. My colleagues needed reminding that we were in fact “on a boat” but I got everyone connected with their inner T-Pain soon enough.

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It snows in Venice once every 10 years …

Venice is a beautiful maze of calm waterways, meandering sidewalks and tall bridges for the sidewalks to cross the waterways. There was an art gallery tour that fascinated me as I recognized many of the Titian, Caravaggio and Bellini paintings. But after four hours of walking around to different galleries, I was more than sufficiently beat. I grouped up with some friends and went out to a nice restaurant for dinner and enjoyed some delicious Italian pizze (pizza).

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A good Italian dinner …

Saturday, I woke up sick, but I tried to not let it stop me for too long. Another tour departed our hotel this morning (starting with a short but exciting gondola ride!) and we visited several 15th century seats of government, as well as Piazza di San Marco and the cathedral itself. We even went underneath a building to see an old stone prison of medieval Venice. After the tour, I headed back to the hotel for a long afternoon’s nap.

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No streets in Venice … only sidewalks and canals.

I’m very much looking forward to being in Rome, settling into my apartment, and starting a regular class schedule. There has been so much going on, and there is still so much left that we’re doing. I need a break…

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Tuesday, January 26

Tuesday, January 19, was the last day I woke up in the United States until this spring. Once we arrived at St. Louis International Airport, I got my baggage checked into United, said goodbye to my parents and headed through security. It was hard saying goodbye, but the reality did not hit me in full until much later.

The flight to Chicago was uneventful and sunny once we rose above the low cloud ceiling. At O’Hare it was a very long walk to my gate, which was thankfully not in the international terminal. It struck me as I plopped down at my gate, that for all the car, train and plane riding I had done in the past 24 hours, I still had not left the state of Illinois. It also hit me that this terminal was the last sight I would have of America until May. Once on the plane, I got comfortable and was served dinner. The cabin lights were significantly dimmed afterwards, and I slept on and off for the next four hours.

We were woken up at 0630 GMT (0030 CST) when the cabin lights came on and breakfast was served. Then, as we began our descent into Heathrow International, I watched the plane fly right into the sunrise. It was so beautiful to see the light break across where we were going as we left the darkness behind us. Unfortunately, this sight was not mine to see for very long as our descent took us below London’s thick cloud cover. Once we landed, I met up with my AIFS hotel representative who had already wrangled three other girls, with me being the last on his list to shuttle to the hotel. The drive over there was long, but I enjoyed every minute. London itself is a fascinating city, albeit rainy and cold at the moment. Motorcycles zipped in between and in front of cars, reckless driving by any American policeman’s judgment, but commonplace and very acceptable here. Our hotel is quaint and small. The lifts (elevators) carry on the crisp politeness of its citizens, announcing the floor and door openings and closings.

After chilling in my room, eight of us set out for some real British food. We found a small pub and enjoyed salad, sandwiches and burgers. There was a meet-and-greet social at the hotel bar/restaurant, which was fun, I met a lot of people and I even remember a few of their names. I met another group of kids and we went exploring the area around our hotel in search of some good London food.

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The typical London tourist photo ...

Thursday began after a short night of sleep (still pretty jetlagged). The entire group met down in the lobby for a coach tour of London’s main tourist attractions. Our first stop was Buckingham Palace, where the Union Jack flag atop the huge building told us that the Queen was not there at the time. We drove around the city, around Trafalgar Square with its statues, fountains and sizable art museum. Other sites on our tour included St. Paul’s Cathedral, Parliament, Westminster Cathedral, the Tower Bridge and Covent Gardens.

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Buckingham Palace

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Tower Bridge

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Westminster Abbey

After the tour, we were free to explore London on our own. A convenient all day pass for public transportation (buses and “the tube”) was available for us to purchase, which I did. I bought a pasti for lunch, and it was delicious! Me and a few other colleagues made our way back over to Trafalgar square to get some better pictures and explore the art museum. Afterwards we headed south towards Big Ben and Parliament. After asking a few “bobbies” (policemen) for some guidance, we found the visitor entrance to Parliament and, after going through security and turning over our cameras, purses and cell phones, we were able to sit in on a debate of the House of Lords. Unfortunately, none of us were caught up from jetlag, so sitting in one place for any length of time remained incredibly sleep-inducing. Also, no photography was allowed in either the art museum or any part of Parliament, so I apologize for the complete lack of pictures to go along with this section.

Once outside, we boarded a double-decker bus just for the heck of it, and to find somewhere else random to go. Some of us headed over via London’s Underground to King’s Cross, the train station made famous by Harry Potter as having the magical entrance known as “Platform 9 ¾ .” The “tubes” are extremely crowed at the end of the work day, and I became very “close” to many Londoners on the way back to the hotel that night. And yes, I had fish and chips for dinner.

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Going to Hogwarts, anyone?

0430 came was too early and the bus ride over to Heathrow did not afford any extra relaxation. Walking through Heathrow with more sleep under my belt made me appreciate just how modern it looks and how cool it actually is. I believe I have a new favorite airport. Apparently, at Heathrow, they do not list the gate of a flight until under an hour before take off, and even so, the gate is only open for check in for half an hour. The flight to Pisa was beautiful, as I got a clear view of the French countryside and, later, the Alps. The airport at Pisa was small; I was surprised it had ever seen an Airbus 321 like ours before.

alps
First view of the Alps and Italy

The Italian landscape was beautiful, but I wanted sleep so I took advantage of the two hour ride to Florence. Our hotel is a four star relic, very upscale and very old. My particular room is not large, but has two levels, with one bed and a bathroom on the first floor, and two beds and another bathroom above. The city’s modern stores are housed in ancient architecture; the streets are canyons with solid walls of four-story buildings that range from shops or eateries to offices and apartments.Saturday morning, we walked to a 17th century mansion where we gathered in a large common room for icebreaker games. Yes, they were lame. However, during the course of this, I met a girl from Kansas State University who is majoring in chemical engineering. It was so refreshing to talk to someone who is both from the Midwest and a major science/math nerd like me. Lunch was an amazing three-course meal, with lasagna, chicken (again) and a delicious dessert that seemed part coffee cake, part pudding. The early afternoon consisted of various members of the AIFS Rome staff going over policy.

Once all this was over, we had the rest of the afternoon free until dinner at the hotel at 8. I went off exploring Florence for the entire time, finding the cathedral, other churches, pastry shops, some yummy gelato, and finally accidentally stumbling across the Statue of David. Time advanced so much more slowly than it ever had for me before. Every time I checked my watch after what should have been over half an hour in my mind, was never over ten minutes. Italy is wonderful…

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January 19, 2010

KWC in Rome: Applying and Preparing

Filling out the AIFS application was not as complicated as you would think. They required one brief essay and one teacher recommendation, along with forms to be filled out by other teachers and faculty. Plane tickets, meal vouchers and housing are all included in the AIFS package. I enrolled by an early deadline of July 1st (the regular one is October 15th) to receive a promotional offer of 200 Euros free spending money when I get to Italy. After I was accepted into the program, there were more forms to fill out and much more literature to read.

The biggest challenge was to obtain a visa, but even this went without complication. AIFS supplied a guide to filling out the application for a visa. The process includes required travel to the Italian consulate that covers your jurisdiction. In my case, the consulate that covers Kentucky is in Detroit. This process can only be completed within 90 days before leaving, so my father and I went there in mid-November, after AIFS supplied me with the necessary forms and letters.

I have spent the past months reading up on Italy and Rome, organizing things to pack and eagerly awaiting my plane ride out of the United States. Just recently I received my final package from AIFS, which included my plane tickets, an itinerary, and contact information for overseas and of my fellow travelers.

Now all that lies before me is to pack for this adventure and board a plane in St. Louis and then again in Chicago that will take me across the Atlantic. I will first spend a few days in London before flying to Florence, Italy, for a two-week orientation program, and then on to Rome to start classes for the semester at the beginning of February.

Wish me luck, and be sure to check out my future notes about my adventures over there!

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January 13, 2010

Studying abroad has long been a goal of mine. Over three years ago, I began my college search (September of 2006). Little did I know a hunt that took me around the entire Midwest would land me less than three miles from my house at Kentucky Wesleyan.

From the very beginning, one of my important criteria for a college was a good study abroad program. I even applied for a study abroad scholarship at the University of Illinois, a top contender at the time. I finally settled on Kentucky Wesleyan, and this goal was set aside for a time, but not forgotten.

Early on, my plan was only to stay at KWC for three years or less. This set back my study abroad semester to when I was to go to the aforementioned University of Illinois. However, when my plans changed to stay and graduate from KWC, I realized my study abroad plans would also have to be revised. Numerous changes in my academic schedule made this seem like a daunting task.

In the middle of my sophomore year, my parents drew my attention to the imperative nature of finalizing my academic schedule so that I could spend a semester in another country. After many visits with the Academic Dean and emails to my advisor, Dr. Johnson on sabbatical at the University of Kentucky, my class schedule for the next two years was chiseled out so that a semester of my junior year was freed from classes at KWC. However, this required me to take two upper level classes over the summer (Calculus IV and Differential Equations) and pack 18 hours into this past fall semester.

In February, I obtained an application for study abroad from Pam Parr, our academic support advisor at KWC. KWC required an application, mostly for scholarship purposes. I had looked over a program book from the American Institute for Foreign Study, and I decided on their Rome experience. While it was a top contender with other locations, the class “Religions and Cults of Ancient Rome” offered there sold me on that program. Needless to say, I am enrolled in it right now.

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  1. David, I’m enjoying your blog. Keep em coming! :) Pam

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