Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Classical Italy Day 7: The Villa Borghese, Pincian Hill Park, Piazza Del Populo, Ara Pacis, and Rome at night

After the chaotic and dispersed nature of the previous day, the next began far more auspiciously, with each hotel room receiving a general itinerary of the day. The arduous and interminable walking of the previous would be counterbalanced with comparative leisure, including the oft requested siesta. Day 7 began with a visit to the villa of the Borghese family: a rather infamous but influential clan of bishops, cardinals, and popes, who used their considerable power, and duplicity, to accumulate enormous wealth and a vast collection of art. The tour was done through an audio piece that looked peculiarly like an overripe banana. The stilted and awkward voices made some of the more strange and controversial depictions a painfully awkward affair. In comparison to the illustrious collections of the Capitoline and Vatican museums, the Borghese collection was clearly inferior. However, it still warranted the two hours of time allotted to it. This was almost entirely thanks to the museum holding an impressive number of sculptures by renowned sculptor Bernini, as well as some paintings by the Baroque-style pioneer Caravaggio. In particular, the sculptures 'Ratto di Proserpina' 

and 'Daphne and Apollo', 

which both displayed immense talent, with Pluto's fingers realistically digging into the thigh of Proserpina, and the rapacious look of Pluto, juxtaposed with the terror in Proserpina's eyes created a memorable dichotomy. Apollo and Daphne somehow managed to make the marble, the material with which Bernini used, turn into delicate flowers, and the statue also captures the same disparate expressions between those portrayed. Finally, after these two hours we walked briefly to a spot on the villa grounds and enjoyed a picnic lunch. The lunch, which was simple in scope, ended in its own, though brief, siesta, and some of the students/chaperones opted to play soccer as others napped or quietly talked.

After recovering, we then made a half an hour walk to the Ara Pacis: a propaganda piece created by the senate and emperor Augustus to commemorate his various accomplishments up until that point. 

Along the way there was a stand of propaganda for an extreme religious cult. Although initially excited for the prospects of seeing the Ara Pacis, I left disappointed. The museum houses nothing but the Ara Pacis and fails to really do much of anything to hold your attention after the initial viewing. Even the altar itself was small, with portions of it destroyed. At last, it was time for the siesta. The vast majority of the students caught up on previous sleep, though a few students managed to stay awake and went to a convenience store or explored the immediate area around the hotel. At ~8 the group left the hotel and had an excellent dinner at a restaurant we reached through the metro system. After dinner, our esteemed supreme leader Mr. Hochberg "guided" us around town where we stopped sporadically. Sequentially, we got crepes, paid a street artist to create a rendition of Mr. Arndt, which turned the normally proud, aloof, and stoic man into a hyena-like charicature. We stopped at a souvenir shop so that we could waste some more money before finally going to Giolitti's for gelato. The quality can not be overstated and we took 30 minutes to enjoy the succulent and creamy treat. At last, at 11:30 we power-walked (which apparently was us being in a hurry) to a bus stop, took it to the Metro and were quickly back at the hotel. While the day was not the most didactic, jaw dropping, or even memorable, the unhurried pace and general disposition of everyone was far higher than the disillusionment of the previous, leaving us ready to tackle the final day with our previous ebullience. 

Classical Italy Day 5: Roman Forum, Colosseum, Capitoline Museum, Forum Boarium, and Pantheon

Today was our first full day in Rome and the longest day of our trip.  We left at 8:30am and didn't return until 11pm.  After a fifteen minute walk to the Roman Forum, we toured the Palatine Hill and then the forum below with Francesca, our tour guide.  It is quite hard to tour the entire forum in just three hours.  I was surprised by house much work has been done in it in the past seven years.  New parts were open and many more unfortunately were closed.  This means, however, that these sites will eventually be opened in better condition and with new discoveries. This is what I choose to believe anyways.  The forum was crowded and it rained for a few hours.  Nonetheless the students seemed to have a good time.  JP and Jacob presented on the Curia and Mamerrune Prison, respectively.  Then the group tours the Colosseum where Joshua presented and shared with us a cartoon he had drawn which covered the highlights of his talk.  

To the east of the Colosseum we looked for a long respite at separate restaurants.  Mrs. Streed, Mr. Arndt and I chose an Irish Pub. It turned out to be an inspired choice.  Albums of Neil Young, The Doors, and Aerosmith provided the perfect background to our chaperone bonding time.  This was our first time away from all students and I think we appreciated the bizaar fusion of Italian, Irish, and American culture not to mention the BBC's coverage of the Lufthansa crash.  We walked to the Capitoline Hill in a downpour with a heavy wind in our faces.  Along the way we visited the Carcer Mamerrinus, the prison in the Roman Forum where many famous prisoners of war stayed.  This used to be a free site, but now is cost 6 euros a piece, which I covered, and has become more like a miniature museum as it has been privatized.  

Students loved the Capitoline Museum.  They enjoyed the hall of the emperors, the Dying Gaul, the Capiroline Wolf, and the view of the forum to name a few highlights.  

After a little time in the cafe, we walked to the Bocca Della Verita, the Temple of Hercules, and the Temple of Portunus, all found in what was the forum Boarium where Hercules originally brought the cattle of Geryon.  Then on to the Pantheon we went.  Dokken and Katie presented and students had time to walk inside and then shop along nearby streets.  

After that we had our best dinner in Rome in my humble opinion at Trattoria Der Pallaro, a restaurant I have visited many times.  The hostess held me and kissed me on the cheek for a full minute. Needless to say, she remembered me from my many prior visits.  Then we compared the gelato at two of the best gellaterias in Rome, Della Palma and Giolittis.  Della Palma boasts 150 flavors and they are all good.  Giolittis has amazing sorbet flavors of gelato. I recommend limone e fragola (lemon and strawberry).  We spent a long, eventful day visiting ancient Roman sites and enjoying the gustatory pleasures of Italy. 

                        Say, "gelato!"

Will didn't believe there were 150 flavors so I took a picture of the list.  

Lucius Sergius Malcolmius Catilina (aka Malcolm Reynolds) found a painting of Catiline bear the gelateria.  Students did an impromptu staging of the scene with JP as Cicero, Malcolm as Catiline, and the rest as senators. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Classical Italy Day 8: Baths of Caracalla, St. Callistus Catacombs, Via Appia, and Janiculum hill

Today we took a short bus ride to the Baths of Caracalla.  The bath complex was massive, the second largest in Rome.  The bus dropped is off in a location I didn't know well.  The baths had ten foot tall fencing all around it an appeared closed.  We headed left to find the entrance.  It turns out it was a few hundred meters to our right around the side.  As a result of our mistake we were able to appreciate just how large the complex was.  Tara and Sylvie gave their site presentation and then we realized that the baths were open when we saw a tourist group inside.  Just within the entrance to the site were three great diagrams which had the the layout of rooms and representations of the original bath complex. 

Fun facts: 
The baths of Caracalla were the inspiration for Penn Station and a few other major subway stations in the United States.  

The Farnese Hercules and Farnese Bull statues were in the large exedrae of the symmetrical palaestrae (wrestling rooms).

The bath complex was completely symmetrical and covered entirely with mosaic floors.  

The complex included a Mithraeum, shops, and gardens.  Six thousand Romans could visit it at once.  

We then headed to the Catacombs of St. Callistus.  Our guide Father Mason gave us a lot of good information about the catacombs which were the first official Christian ones in Rome.  The catacombs contained the remains of sixteen popes.  Students either really enjoyed or very much disliked them.  Some thought it was cool to see so many loculi in which the bones were set.  Others were creeped out by their proximity to the location of so many dead bodies, regardless of the fact that most bones had been removed. 

We grabbed quick paninis and then headed to the Via Appia for bike rides.  Everyone chose to ride a bike. Aside from a few chains and a popped tire, there were no major issues.  Some of rode two-thirds of the park and absorbed the shock of the cobblestones all the way.  I really enjoyed seeing the countryside and only hearing nature with Rome far behind us.  On the return ride, I almost met disaster as a truck turned a corner quickly (to ride down the ancient road which is infrequently travelled by cars) and didn't notice me.  I only had one hand on the handle bar at the time so I had to break with only my front break.  This caused the bike to flip over and me with it.  It looked a lot worse than it was and I came away with not even a knick or bruise.  It seems that most students had a great time on the Via Appia.  For me it was one if the highlights of the trip despite the incident.  

The bus then took us to the top of the Janiculum Hill. We walked to the Doria Pamphili Park, which in my opinion is the best park in Rome.  There we lounged on the grass or went for stroll enjoying some much needed down time.  

On our way to the park, we stopped at the Intercollegiate Center for Classicl Studies (known as Centro) where I had studied for a semester in college.  I was able to see three members of the administrative staff, whom I haven't seen in years.  I also ran into current Classics majors from UVA, Virginia Tech, Hollins College, and Bowdoin. I already knew the student from UVA.  It was wonderful to see them all again.  

We strolled out of the Doria Pamphili Park and found an ATM, cafe, and pizzeria which served rectangular slices in wax paper.  We then hopped on the 44 bus headed for Trastevere and then transferred to the 3 tram.  This was a day of much transportation.  After a dinner in Trastevere we took the 8 tram to the 3 bus to the 3 tram at the Pyramide stop, right next to the Pyramid of Sestius.  Students were happy to get home and pack for our flight home tomorrow.  

Classical Italy Day 6: the day started out promising

 Laocoon statue in the Vatican Museum

Hands down this was the most memorable day of the trip. It started off really promising. We were going to the Vatican and I was excited because of the small chance I would get to meet the pope. I've been watching a show called the Borgias which is about Pope Alexander VI and his reign as pope, and it is a very good show. Anyways, I was all dressed up, ready to go, and very very excited. We toured the Sistine chapel and the Vatican museum. The first incident we had was a split between the groups. Half wanted to see the school of Athens by Raphael and the other half did not. So when the half that did tried to turn around, the guard in charge started to yell at our tour guide in rapid fire italian. There was a lot of arm waving and yelling and I'm pretty sure she was arrested or at least reported. Once we saw the Sistinr Chapel we all exited the chapel but, half of the group was gone. They had left us to go into St. Peter's Basilica. We had to wait in an hour and a half line to get into St. Peter's but in the end it was worth it. The view was beautiful. After that, the groups split again and I ended up taking the Roman metro for the first time with a group of students. Don't worry we made it safely. We spent the rest of the day shopping and basically relaxing. It was very nice. :)

Classical Italy returning home

What great days we have had in Rome.  Hopefully you will see some posts soon.  We return to Dulles airport at 7:00pm Tuesday evening.  Please note that this is 20 minutes earlier than previously anticipated.  Parents please make arrangements to pick you child up.  We will see you there.  
Mr. Hochberg

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Classical Italy Day 4: a lifelong student (part 4)


I must admit I was a little nervous that we would not make it to Terracina on time.  The last admission is an hour before sunset.  We made it with plenty of time to spare despite the bus being unable to go up the main road to the sight because the switch backs were too narrow.  Instead the bus took us along a road that featured an SPQT sign.  That's right "T" not "R."   A few towns copied Rome with the motto Senatus Populusque followed by their Terracinus -- the Senate and the People of Terracina. I have seen the same thing at Beneventum (SPQB).  My attempt at snapping a picture from the bus priced only partially successful.  

               SPQ? (It is a "T" I swear)

Students walked on the podium of the temple to Hupiter Anxur and then along the cryptoporticus.  After enjoying the view and taking panoramas they played Ninja and Velociraptor.  A few took silhouette pictures using the sun as the background.  Exploration of the site gave way to selfies, singing, and senior photos at the gift shop.  Students were really enjoying being together.  Terracina seems to bring out the best, or close to it, of group comraderie.  Some students enjoyed the local cats.  I spent a little time reading the signs about the local trees.  

We hopped on the bus and headed for Rome.  If only we had a speaker, I could have educated all the students about good 80's music, which a few are sure didn't exist.  I hundred then with my introduction of songs, justifications for their greatness, and singing.  There is some debate over whether I hit the high notes in Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie.  For the record those closest to me and listening to the song with the iPod earbuds confirm I did.  It may be true that the anyone sleeping at that point during the ride woke up to a surprise!

French Friends!

Taking a break after seeing the Bayeux Tapestry!
Students enjoy a cafe in the sunshine!
"I especially love becoming good friends with the French kids.  It's such a special experience to become close with teenagers from other countries!"
-- Iso
"Yesterday, we got back early from the Normandy Beaches and decided to play a game of basketball.  There were just 5 of us Americans to start, but slowly, the French got out of classes and came to play.  First, 3 v 2, then half court, and finally, a full-court French versus Americans game of basketball...The laughing allowed for us to bond -- having fun is truly universal!"
-- Adele

"I've made so many friends during this trip -- not only new French friends, but also students from school whom I had never met!"
-- Taylor G.
Bowling with new friends

More bowling fun

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Classical Italy Day 4: A lifelong student (part 3)

Truth be told, I was most excited to visit the next two stops -- Sperlonga and Terracina -- en route to Rome.  The former was the location of Tiberius' coastal palace.  The latter has a temple to Jupiter Anxur overlooking from a high promontory the modern day city.   

I ran from the bus to get the tickets for Sperlonga and to save the group some time.  However, when I turned around the group was nowhere to be seen.  I searched the museum, the archaeological site, and the bus all to no avail.  In their anxious desire to see the site and the Tyrrhenian Sea, they must have snuck past me like Greeks in the night raid of Troy.  I didn't hear a sound.  They went straight down to the sea.  Admittedly, the sign was confusing and did not clearly point to the site but rather between it and the path they took to the water.  A brief panic ensued when I lost the group, but it then occurred to me that they could only be down by the water -- there was nowhere else to go.  

The students slowly snaked their way around to the Tuberius' villa. Sperlonga relates to the Latin word "spelunca," which means cave.  A huge grotto with a pool of water was part of the palace complex.  Tiberius used to entertain guests and let then swim with the fish in the grotto.  Katie Lewis described this and other stories related to the cave when she stood above us in the grotto.  

Students enjoyed climbing around the cave and walking to the beach afterwords.  Nathan found a road less travelled and I followed him through a grove of olive trees to the beach.  I also found time to look at the museum carefully.  There were four statue groups at the grotto: Odysseus blinding Polyphemus, Jupiter in the form if an eagle snatching Ganymede into heaven to be his cupbearer, Odysseus and Diomedes stealing the Palladium from Troy, and the Sea monster Scylla snatching men from the sea with her many dog midsection.  I realized that all statuary groups, in addition to being large and impressive aesthetically, involved rape or physical assault and that a few scenes related to the sea.  I could see for the first time the similarities between the Laocoon statue in the Vatican and the Odysseus statue in the museum.  

A few students had elected to stay on the bus but when their peers came back and told then they were missing out, those students sprinted to the site to see it.  While this site took longer than anticipated, it was well worth it.  

Next stop Terracina and some breathtaking views...

Adios España