Monday, June 19, 2017

Vacanza in Puglia

Hi, everyone! We have officially returned from our vacation in Puglia a little older, a little wiser (about the history of Puglia), and a little tanner, too. The second part of the program is in full swing, but before I get to that, let me tell you about all of the amazing things we did and saw during our trip.

The last Thursday I posted was overall a travel day. We had lunch, traveled to the Pisa airport, and took a plane to Bari before going to sleep to rest up for the next day of exploration. We took advantage of every minute of our vacation to visit various important locations, and our first day was no exception! We hit the ground running on Friday in Bari by visiting la Cattedrale di San Sabino, la Basilica San Nicola, Castello Normanno Svevo, and Palazzo Fizzarotti. Some highlights of the day included seeing a real Italian wedding during our time at Basilica San Nicola. Pictured below is the inside of this church, and if you look to the bottom of the image, you can see the bride and groom facing the altar.


We watched not only the religious ceremony but also the post-wedding tradition of throwing rice and flower petals at the newlyweds as well as the release of several doves. It was an absolutely gorgeous day to have a wedding (which we soon discovered as we walked along "il lungomare" or boardwalk of Bari to find lunch), and Yasmin even gave her best wishes to the couple!

Saturday we rented a mini-bus just for us and traveled first to Castel del Monte. This castle was part of a movie, "Il Racconto dei Racconti," that we watched based on a literary story we discussed. The view was absolutely breathtaking! After that, we drove in our bus to Alberobello to spend part of the afternoon. There we discovered houses called "i trulli," historic houses that were built completely of rock in a circular formation. The residents of Alberobello built their houses to avoid heavy taxation; because trulli were originally made of only stone and did not include any cement in their construction, the residents avoided taxation. Many of them now have plaster to complete the construction as well as symbols on the roofs, and people still own, live in, and run businesses in them today! Here is a picture of trulli:

Before heading back to our hotel in Bari, we stopped outside of Polignano a Mare to walk along the beautiful water and look at the cliffs. It was a wonderful spontaneous excursion that everyone enjoyed!

On Sunday morning, we packed up our things and headed to Lecce, another city in Puglia. After we arrived and dropped our luggage off at the hotel, we walked around Lecce and visited several important sites. We started off with Basilica di Santa Croce, a large, beautiful church that featured fourteen different chapels as well as a crypt, Palazzo del Governo, a building attached to that of Santa Croce and that led us to the public gardens, and finally Piazza del Duomo and the Duomo of Lecce. The image below shows the Duomo of Otranto.

Monday was a day we had all been waiting for as it was finally the day we got to go to the beach! Before anything, we sang "Happy Birthday" to Cristina as it was her 20th birthday! We then took a bus trip to Otranto, and after I bought a new pair of shoes (because mine sadly broke on our way to the bus station), we visited la Chiesa di San Pietro, la Cattedrale of Otranto, and last but not least, Castello Aragonese di Otranto in the morning. Neisis and Yasmin were so impressed with Castello Aragonese that they, in fact, claimed it for their own, so now the rest of us have a place to stay right by the sea ;) After lunch, the professors surprised us with an amazing three-hour boat excursion in which we sailed beside the coastline, stopping a couple of times to swim and explore grottos in the cliffs. We also had an aperitivo after our second stop and sang once again to Cristina. In honor of her birthday, after we had returned to Lecce slightly tired but happy, we got gelato as a group and sang once again. Monday was definitely one of the best days of the trip. Here's a photo Professor Lerner took of all of us swimming during our first boat stop!

Before leaving Lecce on Tuesday, we explored Castello di Carlo V. We celebrated yet another exciting birthday - Alessandra turned 21!! After visiting the castle, we returned to Bari to catch a late flight to Pisa, and while we were waiting for taxis to take us to our hotel in Pisa, we sang "Happy Birthday" to Alessandra just before the clock struck midnight on the day after! Everyone went to bed right after we got to the hotel, however, because we were all tired and wanted to save our energy to explore Pisa the next morning. We got to spend the morning walking through Piazza dei Miracoli where we not only took pictures of the Leaning Tower but also visited "Camposanto Monumentale," a cemetery built for influential people in the history of Pisa. Inside, there's a small garden, as pictured below:

During the afternoon, we traveled back to Vicchio before having our first dinner with our new professor, Professor Castelli. For the rest of the week, we started the second part of the program: "Paesaggio a Mugello," in which we're going to learn about the geographic region of the Mugello Valley (where Vicchio is located). We started off by talking about the famous painter Giotto who was born in Vicchio, and we got to visit his house. Below is a picture of one of the rooms where they keep the paint for current students taking art classes (the colors in the jars are materials they use for painting).

As you can see, we've been quite busy, but the program isn't over yet! We still have several excursions around Mugello to experience, so I'll be sure to keep you updated.

A dopo,

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Le Avventure a Firenze

Happy Thursday, everyone! As hard as it is to believe, the first half of the program is coming to an end today. The students are taking their exams right now, and then we will all go to the infamous "Casa del Prosciutto" for lunch before finalizing our things and heading to the Pisa airport! But to pick up from where I left off on Tuesday...

We finally made it to Firenze on Wednesday! Led by the students who chose all of the locations for us to go, we visited Chiesa di Santa Maria del Fiore (or the Duomo), Chiesa di San Lorenzo, Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio, and Ponte Vecchio. These are some of the most popular sights in all of Firenze! Although we could not get into Palazzo Vecchio that day, we still were able to explore the other sights and learn about all of them thanks to the young scholars that researched each one. Here is a picture of us on Ponte Vecchio after we finished our mini-presentations for the day! Shout out to Christina for letting us use her selfie stick :)

Thursday and Friday were standard class days. Both days we discussed "La Mandragola," and we also practiced our grammar by reviewing the Imperative. In addition, Thursday we were able to go to the market again (where I bought a pair of shoes that I had my eye on the week before), and Friday we ended slightly early so that we could prepare for the weekend.

What an exciting weekend it was! Most of the students planned a trip to Venezia for AnnMarie's birthday, leaving Friday and coming back on Sunday afternoon after seeing Piazza San Marco, riding in gondolas, and of course, making new friends. Alessandra tackled Cinque Terre in one day (che brava!), and I went to Milano with Professoressa Lerner Friday night, returning to Vicchio on Saturday. Milano was absolutely amazing! Professoressa Lerner and I took a nice walk around the city Friday evening and finished off the night with delicious pizza, and the next day, I explored the city a little on my own. I even climbed to the top of the Duomo!

On Monday, everyone seemed a little tired from the weekend (which just means everyone had fun!). Regardless, we took our last group trip to Firenze. After we returned to Palazzo Vecchio to finish up the presentations from the prior visit, we crossed the Arno River via Ponte Vecchio. We visited Palazzo Pitti (sadly the gardens were closed so we weren't able to see them... this time) and Cappella Brancacci before returning back to Vicchio for some food and rest. Here's a picture of the group listening to Kris give his presentation on "Salone di Cinquecento" inside of Palazzo Vecchio:

The rest of the week has gone smoothly and quickly. Tuesday we began our first exam review during class after discussing a novella the students read. After dinner, we went to the Professors' house to watch a film based on the novella. It was a bit of a strange film but was well-made and thought-provoking, plus it was fun to have a movie night all together with the professors! Yesterday we finished discussing both the film and the exam, and then we planned our trip to Puglia which will begin promptly after the students are finished.

We have had a wonderful first half of the program. Learning about Firenze and experiencing its history first-hand have been amazing. Everyone has been nervous for the exam, but speaking from experience, they have no reason to be. They're all wonderful students and have been working diligently up until now, so I know they'll do well. I've seen so much improvement already! But for now, Puglia awaits, I can't wait to write about our experience there. Gotta go pack!!

A dopo,

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Vi Manco?

Hey everyone! So sorry that I've fallen behind, but I'll make it up to you by posting for the next three days in an effort to catch you up on our adventures from the past week and a half.

The last day I posted was Thursday, May 25 - Professor Fognani's birthday! Although she wanted it to be kept secret, Professor Lerner helped us plan a surprise for dinner that night. We got Professor Fognani flowers from the open-air market, Professor Lerner brought a pie, and we sang "Tanti Auguri" (Happy Birthday) to a mildly confused Professor Fognani. After the surprise wore off, she was very pleased and happy to have had a small but fun birthday celebration.

Friday we had another day of class in which we discussed selections from Boccaccio's Decameron. After that, we had a nice, relaxing afternoon before enjoying dinner that evening. After dinner, students do a variety of things from walking a few laps around the lake to planning excursions to getting gelato. Friday night was absolutely beautiful, and some students even went out to interact with locals in Piazza Giotto!

Saturday morning, I participated in "La Marcia di Barbiana" (The March of Barbiana) along with Neisis, Alessandra, and Professor Lerner. This event was to commemorate Don Milani, an influential religious figure who founded the first school in Barbiana and significantly changed the way people thought about education. The march itself started at Lago (Lake) Viola, followed a 3 km path up a mountain to the Chiesa (Church) of Don Milani, and descended the same 3 km path back to Lago Viola. Here's a picture of our group right before we started the march!

Those who did not participate in the march still had a fun Saturday. Most went to Firenze - some for the day to explore and shop, some for the night to experience the nightlife. Everyone returned Sunday for a day full of R&R (but also some homework, too).

Monday was quite an interesting day. During morning class, we were introduced to "La Mandragola" (The Mandrake) by Machiavelli and Renaissance theater. After this introduction, students attempted to make plans for Firenze the next day by identifying present-day places in Firenze significant to the Medici family. To do so, we traveled to the library after lunch to do some research and make an itinerary. Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi at the library chose to not function properly for the afternoon, so we had to push back our second excursion to Wednesday with the hope of doing research on Tuesday instead. The weather was beautiful, though, and I got the chance to go on a nice run at the lake, one of my favorite places in all of Vicchio! If you check out the picture below that I took of the lake, you'll probably be able to see why.

So, we ended up having class on Tuesday instead of taking the trip to Firenze. We discussed the first selection of "La Mandragola" and also reviewed our prepositions. After discovering that the Wi-Fi was still not functioning at the library, the students were given (much to their delight & much to the dismay of the professors) the Internet password for the Locanda so they could do research here. Everyone created an itinerary together and then did some individual research about places they found to be interesting in order to prepare for our second Firenze adventure.

Tomorrow I'll recount that excursion as well as the rest of last week. For now, please enjoy a picture of "le mucche carine" (cute cows) with part of the amazing landscape we saw on our way up the mountain at "La Marcia di Barbiana." Until tomorrow!

A dopo,

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ci Siamo

Good evening from Vicchio! Today is our third full day in Italy, and we will soon be meeting to have our fourth dinner of the program. We have had quite a few adventures since we arrived! Here's what we have done during the past few days:

On Monday, we had the annual first dinner of the program and began to refresh our brains with Italian as we ate. We also met Simone and began to get settled in the "Locanda," the "hotel" that we will be staying in for the next six weeks.

Tuesday was the first day of class. After a breakfast prepared for us by the lovely Lucia, we split into three different teams to explore Vicchio. Each team found a handful of different and important locations in the town and marked them on a map. After our fun exploration, Professoresse Fognani & Lerner introduced us to Giovanni Boccaccio's "il Decameron" from which we will be reading during the first part of the program. We then went to the library to research Firenze (Florence) and Fiesole, two of the places historically relevant to the Decameron, and to prepare travel arrangements for the next day's excursion to both areas. We had quite a busy morning!

However, the day was not finished yet. Alessandra and I led the students to "Casa del Prosciutto," a restaurant on one of the lists that we had not previously found but of which we knew the general location... or so we thought. We walked for quite awhile on a few perilous roads without sidewalks and asked a few locals if we were headed the right way, and after walking for quite a bit, we found "Casa del Prosciutto!" How exciting! There was one slight catch - the restaurant was closed as it is every Monday and Tuesday. All was not lost, however; there was a sign for a pizzeria right down the road! We decided to investigate, but alas, that too was closed as it was too late for lunch. So, we had no choice but to return to Vicchio the way we had come, taking a short cut up a quite steep hill, finally finding a nice restaurant in Piazza Giotto, the plaza right next to our hotel. Finally, we (tiredly) ate a delicious lunch of Italian handmade sandwiches and drank plenty of water. Here's a picture of the students with their sandwiches looking much happier after we had settled in the shade with some food. Some even managed to have fun on our first adventure in Vicchio!

Yesterday, we took our first trip to Firenze to visit Santa Maria Novella, an important church of the Renaissance and the location from which the characters of Boccaccio's "Decameron" left Firenze for the countryside to save themselves from the plague. A few of our students chose various parts of the church to find information about, such as "Il Crocifisso di Giotto" (The Crucifix by Giotto), one of famous painter Giotto's first notable works, "La Trinità di Masaccio" (The Trinity by Masaccio), a fresco depicting the Holy Trinity, and "San Filippo scaccia il dragone dal tempio di Hierapolis" (Saint Phillip slays the dragon from the Hierapolis temple), a fresco in one of the chapels of Santa Maria Novella. Below is a picture of "la facciata" (the face) of Santa Maria Novella that has a history of its own!

After having a delicious lunch in Firenze, we took a bus to the town of Fiesole, the town in the countryside where Boccaccio's characters arrived and stayed for 10 days to recount their 100 stories. We saw and learned about "La Chiesa di San Domenico" (the church of Saint Dominic), "il Museo di Fiesole" (the Museum of Fiesole), and "il Teatro Romano" (the Roman theater), an amphitheater situated in the Museum of Fiesole. We also climbed another hill, though not as steep as the one from our Tuesday adventure, to see "la vista" (the view) of the entire city of Florence. Although this picture definitely does not do it justice, it was absolutely amazing!!

We then descended the hill and returned by bus to Firenze. Led by one of the students, we found our way back to the train station and rode the train back to Vicchio. In another adventure, we almost left behind Professoressa Fognani, who was waiting for us at the front of our platform but did not see most of us walk by. Luckily for her (and us!), she made it to the train right on time with our tickets. How interesting it would have been to ride the train without our professor... and without any tickets!!

This morning, we learned a new past tense in class called "il Passato Remoto," a tense of the distant past used mostly in literary works such as "il Decameron." We then went to the open air market in Vicchio that occurs every Thursday morning. Each of our teams from Tuesday bought an item to share with the group after our return, and each student interacted with at least one vendor at the market. Hopefully we can go in the future, too! After discussing selections of Boccaccio that we had read, we broke for lunch and have had a nice, relaxing afternoon since then.

As you can see, the past few days have been quite busy but definitely a lot of fun. I can't wait to see what adventures we have next!

A dopo,

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Buon Viaggio!

Welcome to the offiical blog for 2017 session of the F&M in Tuscany Program! My name is Juliana, and I am the TA for the program this summer. I will be posting bi-weekly with updates on our studies, travels, and cuisine, and I will be including lots of pictures (of course). Hopefully the students and/or professors of the program will also agree to be guest writers during our time abroad!

I'm currently at the Pittsburgh airport. I'm checked into my flight, and my luggage was (luckily) less than 50 pounds - 48, to be exact! I have quite a few flights ahead of me, so I'm relaxing with my mom before I start my journey. Here's a picture of us sitting in the lounge right outside of security.

Check back for more updates soon. Safe travels to everyone, and I can't wait to meet you all in Italy. Buon viaggio!!