Thanksgiving Week: Rome & Florence


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It was really fun having my mom fly in a stay with me over Thanksgiving week.  I got to show her all around Rome and then we took a little trip up to Florence.

Straight off the plane (after a train ride, a bus ride, and dropping off her suitcase), we were off to grab some coffees and see the town.  These coffees are called marocchinos – to make them they put fudge in the bottom of the glass, pour espresso over and then top with milk foam and cocoa.. simply delicious.


We took the elevator up to the top of the Vittorio Emanuele Monument (pictured behind us) so we could get a better look at Rome.


I didn’t realize how well I knew this city until we were up there and I was pointing out all the famous sites (and not so famous ones)..

We then climbed up a lot (I mean a lot) of stairs up to see Basilica of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli (Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven).  The exterior doesn’t look like much, but the interior was beautiful, complete with a gold ceiling and dozens of glass chandeliers.

When it turned dark, we walked over to the Trevi Fountain, which I believe best viewed at night.


As a class, we took a little architecture field trip to see Renzo Piano’s Parco della Musica and Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI Museum, and mom came along.

The Parco della Musica houses three music halls, each in these beetle-like structures.





The connections under the beetle shell are pretty nice.  I can’t say I love the buildings, but I can appreciate them from an architectural perspective.. haha.

MAXXI, or National Museum of Art in the 21st Century, was design by Zaha Hadid and took 10 years to construct, only opening in 2010.



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I’m not sure how much mom enjoying being an architecture student for a day, but I enjoyed having her tag along 🙂

On Wednesday, I took mom to see the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.  I was happy to go back when there was much nicer weather.. it was rainy when I went.



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The Colosseum will never get less-impressive.

On Thursday morning (Thanksgiving Day), we had an early-morning tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s.


It also happened to be the day that they were going to set up the Christmas tree.

The Vatican Museum was really amazing.  I wish we had had more time to look at everything, but we would had been there all day..

And I can’t get enough of these tiled floors!!


We also spent some time in the Sistine Chapel to take in Michelangelo’s masterpiece ceiling, but unfortunately, no photos are allowed.

We went into St. Peter’s again. I just can’t get past how large this building is.. it’s unreal.

Right after our tour of the Vatican, we hopped on a 2-hour train north to Florence for a few days.

Florence (Firenze in Italian) is the capital of Tuscany, a region in central Italy.  In the Middle Ages, it was the the center of European trade, which made it an excellent location for the birth of the Renaissance.  The powerful Medici family from Florence were huge patrons of the arts, which brought a lot of big Renaissance artists to the city, including Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli.  It is still one of the wealthiest cities in Italy and has been called one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

We were greeted from the train station with Christmas Lights!  Christmas season is officially upon us!



Architecturally, Florence is known for its Duomo (“cathedral”) which is home to the largest brick masonry dome in the world, designed by Brunelleschi.


You can actually climb stairs up within the dome, which we wanted to do, but the tickets were sold out.. Bummer. But we did get to go into the church.


The interior is relatively plain except for the beautifully painted dome.


After leaving the church, we ventured down to Piazza della Signoria where Palazzo Vecchio is located, as well as the Neptune Fountain and the original location of Michaelangelo’s David (the original is now in another museum in Florence).



We’re feeling the same way, Mr. Lion, about David’s lack of clothing.. haha

The Palazzo Vecchio (“old palace” in Italian) is now the town hall of Florence.  It changed names many times, but was given the name of Palazzo Vecchio when the Medici family moved to another palace across the river.

The palace has an excellent art collection, and so we bought tickets to the museum.


We first toured some Roman amphitheater ruins that they have recently found underneath the palace.  It figures.. I think it would be a bigger surprise NOT to find ruins while digging anywhere in Italy, haha!

Photos from the courtyard (#1 in above diagram)



This is the Great Hall (#9)


Italy knows how to decorate their ceilings.. they need to provide chaise lounges so you can look up and admire them without falling down!






After touring all the rooms, we climbed up the tour to see a better view of the city and the Duomo!



I spy David from a hole in the floor up above.


And there’s the Duomo.. So beautiful.


Florence is really a beautiful city! I’d love to return and stay a while more.


And I’ve really loved having my mom here in Italy.  It’s fun to share with her what I’ve been learning and seeing since being abroad.

Up next: My final days in Rome and traveling back to the States!







Rome: Week 6 & 7

I apologize for the lack of posts in recent weeks! I have been moving nonstop here in Rome, between getting work done for class, running around the city exploring, and catching up on sleep, the weeks have slipped by.

But now the classes are all finished, the apartment has been cleaned, and I’ve seen just about everything I wanted to.  My program quickly came to a close, and I’m leaving Rome for the States early tomorrow morning.  I can’t believe how fast time has gone.

I’ll update you on the happenings in the last few weeks 🙂

As soon as we got back from Puglia, we jumped right back in to classes (we may have missed a class or two..).

The class took a trip north to the Villa Borghese, a huge English-type garden on the northern side of Rome, to see the Borghese Gallery.


In 1605, Cardinal Borghese began turning the grounds of an old vineyard into these extensive gardens.  The Villa Borghese now houses the extensive art collection of the cardinal, who was a patron of both Bernini, a Baroque sculpture, and Caravaggio, a Baroque painter.  I’ve mentioned Bernini many times before in this blog, but the sculptures we saw here are some of my favorites.


Over the weekend, we took a trip in the bus north to Tivoli, a little hill town just north of Rome, to see Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este.


Since Roman times, Tivoli a resort area known for its beauty and good water.  Hadrian’s Villa, which sits just below the town of Tivoli, was built as a retreat for the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd Century AD.




After spending the morning at Hadrian’s Villa, we drove up into the town to Tivolli to see,  Villa d’Este, which was built in the 16th Century AD by Cardinal d’Este.




While the house itself was beautiful, the real beauty is the gardens.


While we were at lunch, we were reading the handout about the Villa d’Este and the different things to see there.  Of course they wrote it in Italian and then translated it to English so we got a kick out of what they said about the Neptune Fountain: “The  Fontanta di Nettuno is the most impressive and scenographic of the villa because of the plenty of the water and the powerful jets throwing high squirts in the air.” The Neptune Fountain had some pretty high squirts.. 🙂 (pictured below)




One of the guys, Joe, found a tree to climb into… 🙂

Back in Rome, we took a class trip back to the old Testaccio Slaughterhouse to see an architecture exhibit there.


Parts of the old slaughterhouse have been repurposed for other uses, including a museum.


Of course I was more interested in the paper they had on one of the hidden back doors.. 🙂

Audrey and I also took a little trip to the Capitoline Museum to see the giant Constantine statue.  They only have remnants of the statue, but they are impressively giant.


We also saw the original Marcus Aurelius statue, which originally sits in the middle of the Campidoglio plaza (pictured in the model on the right).  The museum is housed in the three buildings that surround the plaza, which was redesigned during the Renaissance by Michelangelo.

At one point in the museum, we popped out underground and had a spectacular view of the old Roman forum.


Oh and the tile floors… America needs to step up its floor-game.  I’m going to miss all the tile floors!


Stay tuned for the next post!

Coming up: My mom comes to Rome to visit for Thanksgiving & the final wrap up in Rome!





Rome: Week 3

Audrey and I have really enjoyed exploring Rome by night

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Saint Peter’s Basilica on the Tiber

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A peek at the Pantheon through the locked door


The Trevi Fountain is so beautiful at night.  Designed, again, by Bernini.

Speaking of Bernini, Audrey and I took a little trip to a church so see his Ecstasy of Saint Teresa sculpture.


We also saw Borromini’s (Bernini’s rival) Church of the Four Fountains, which is a dream as an architecture student.


Here is Tiber Island, which has been around since ancient Rome.  It houses one of the oldest continuously-operated hospitals in the world.


We also visited one of the Da Vinci Museums, to see some of his inventions.  He was a pretty neat guy.


Also, I need to add that we’ve been really busy with classes as well.  We had a watercolor pin-up last week, and we’ve been in studio as well with a lot of work involved.


And here is a rainbow I saw in the middle of a studio review from the UW Rome Center.


Our studio project is located in Testaccio in the old slaughterhouse, that has since been abandoned as a slaughterhouse, but a university, museum, and some other uses have moved it.  But still some of the site is sitting vacant.





The highlight of the week was traveling north one hour to Orvieto.

Audrey and I got up really early to catch the train.  I missed riding the train so much!

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Orvieto is a medieval hill town that sits up on a hill peak surrounded by a wall.


When we got there, we were engulfed in dreamy fog. Oh I love the fog.



Here is the Duomo, the city’s cathedral.



The city is famous for it’s underground Etruscan tunnels, which they used in the Middle Ages for various business, such as making wine and olive oil.  The city apparently sits on 1,200 tunnels like these but we only went into two.


Around lunchtime, the fog cleared off and we could see the surrounding valleys.




I could have wandered the streets of Orvieto for days.

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It took some convincing, but we decided to climb down the 250 steps to the bottom of St. Patrick’s Well.  We were happy to climb down, but we were worried about climbing back up.


It was worth the climb though.



We’re off to Southern Italy to see the Amalfi Coast, Naples, and Capri for the next week!


Rome: Week 2

To start off the week, we visited the Roman Forum.  The Forum served as the public open space in Ancient Rome, which was surrounded by government buildings, and it was seen at the center of public life in Rome.  The Forum grew organically as the rulers each added buildings and monuments of their own.


After the fall of the Roman Empire, the site was more or less abandoned and many of the buildings fell into ruin.  Because of the way the often Tiber flooded, the ground level raised over the years, burying many of the old buildings.  Only in the last hundred years or so, the site has been excavated and pieces of old building reassembled.


The layers and layers of history at the Forum is overwhelming to say the least.

Just south of the Forum, sits the Coliseum.


Constructed between 72 and 80 AD, its the largest amphitheater built by the Romans.  After the fall of the Roman Empire, it largely sat unused, and so much of the building material was taken for other construction projects, leaving it in its partially deconstructed state today.


As Trina, one of my professors says, “It’s the most over-visited and under-appreciated piece of architecture in Rome.” It’s truly a wonder, one of those pieces you can’t believe they built without the use of computers, and large machinery.



The theme of our study in Rome is Food City, as so we’ve been visiting a lot of markets.

Here’s one of the ones my group was in charge of visiting.


On our way home, we decided to stop by Vatican City.  We heard that it is crowded all the time, and that we should avoid it while we’re still in tourist season, but we thought we’d just walk by and see what we thought.


What this photo doesn’t show is the mobs of people pushing up against the fence all taking photos of St. Peter’s Basilica.

We somehow managed to bypass the crowds and after a quick bag check we found ourselves walking into St. Peter’s (I’m still not sure how it happened..)

St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world.  It’s certainly the largest church I’ve ever been into.  Designed by some of the big names in architecture: Bramante, Michelangelo, Maderno, and Bernini, it is seen as the most famous works of Renaissance architecture.


I literally could not stop gasping at its beauty.  I walked around the entire time looking up with my mouth open, hoping I wouldn’t run into someone else or fall over.  It’s stunning.



And I still can’t believe we slipped in without having to wait with the rest of the crowds.

We still need to go back to see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum.


On Saturday, we went to visit Tarquinia and Cerveteri, two towns north of Rome, made famous by the Etruscan tombs that have been found there.


The tombs in Tarquinia are underground rooms, which they have since been topped by these little huts to protect them.  No worries, there aren’t any bodies left, but they leave interesting insights into the lives of the Etruscans, who made their tombs able to last centuries while their towns quickly faded.

The Necropolis, “town of the dead” in Cerveteri is a different in that that tombs were already topped by these round hut-like mounds.




It was a beautiful day, and we had a great time romping around looking at the mounds.



We also had a great time playing with this majestic dog, White, who lives here.


More to come! Ciao!





Rome: Week 1

We moved into our apartment, a cute little place right off of Campo de Fiori.



Six of us girls are sharing this place, and Audrey and I are sharing a room with a window right off the Campo.


Campo de Fiori is located in the heart of the old city center of Rome.  The campo is a produce market by day, and roughly around 4pm, it transitions into a lively open plaza.  We’ve been enjoying leaving our window open and listening to the musicians that frequent the plaza.

The UW Rome Center is just around the corner.

On our first day in Rome, we went on a walk as a class to see what’s immediately around our new home.


Here’s my first look at the Pantheon, which is ridiculously close to my apartment.  It’s the one with the oculus in the roof that allows light into the building.  The original building was completed around 126 AD, and still remains the largest unreinforced concrete dome.  It is one of the best preserved ancient Roman buildings because of its constant use (it has functioned as a church since the 7th Century)


It started raining, but these Seattleites are fine.


This is Largo Argentina, a few blocks from my apartment.  It’s an archeological site where four Roman temples and Pompey’s Theater once stood.  It is believed that Julius Caesar was assassinated somewhere on this site.  Now there is a cat sanctuary on the corner of the site, so while the square is off limits to humans, many cats roam the ruins.


A beautiful sculpture by the great Bernini, whose work is found all over Rome.


National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of united Italy.


We took an elevator up the back of the building to take a look at the city.  Do you see the Colosseum?

On Saturday, we took a train half an hour to the coast to visit Ostia Antica, the harbor city of Ancient Rome.  It sits at the mouth of the Tiber River where it empties into the sea.  The city was abandoned in the 9th Century due to its repeated pirate attacks, and so now we’re left with a city-sized archaeological site.


We did have fun wandering around the abandoned city.



The city is also known for its Mithraem – underground temples to Mithras.  They are kind of hard to find because they don’t really want people down there, but after a little exploring, we found one and all sat down to paint/draw.


We’re loving Rome so far.  It’s nice to finally be in the same place for more than a few nights.  We love exploring without a destination in mind, going wherever our feet lead us, knowing we have time to take longer routes and explore other than the big destinations.  We love going the the same Caffé and Bakery everyday, where the people are starting to recognize us, and we love having time to sit and really enjoy this city.

More to come! Ciao amici!