Day 32: The Amalfi Coast : 2/17/2012


Even though Sorrento is just around the bay from Naples, it is much less dense, and much cleaner.  There was a group of 9 of us getting on the CircumVesuviano (“Around Vesuvius”) bus to Amalfi.  Everyone fills up the right side of the bus first; They know what beauty lays ahead.  The bus ride there was epic, aside from me getting carsick.   It was well worth it though to see the views!   The road winds around the side of the mountainous coast. Another thing.  I am in awe at the ability of Italian drivers to maneuver those buses.  The get within centimeters of walls, mopeds, cars, other buses, and somehow get around the wild Italians streets.   Traffic laws are a little less rigid over there, yet at the same time, people understand their cars and know how to drive.


We found our place — a hotel for 25 euro each, right on the water.  Marvelous view. We wake up to the sounds of the sea against the beach, right outside the French doors.  There is a kitchen, common room with a futon, a double bedroom, and a private bathroom.  The town of Amalfi is quiet and friendly too.  The super/owner recommended a great little place for lunch, so we took his advice and enjoyed pizzas all around.  They were extremely accommodating and friendly, greeting us with open arms and putting three tables together right in the middle of the room.  A man with his guitar entered to play for us, but asked for no money–just applause.  The waiters and cooks sang along with his songs.

After finishing some wonderful pizzas, our group made for the beach.  We took off our shoes and socks and ran through the chilly waters of the Mediterranean Sea.  I did not expect such clear, blue water.  We drew hearts and greetings in the sand, taking pictures before the waves came to wash them away.  I collected sea glass and small pieces of tiles  smoothed over by the sand and sea.

Down at the end of the docks we climbed on large concrete ‘jacks’ covered in barnacles and posed for fun pictures with the Mediterranean as out backdrop.  We eventually brushed the sand from our feet and went towards Amalfi’s main piazza and corso.  On our way, we stopped for gelato.

Up quite a staircase is the church of St. Andrea.  We waited outside for a bit, but made it inside a few minutes before closing.  Alex happened to mention that we were architecture students, and Luigi (the man inside the church) lit up. He took us behind the altar, back into the private cloister, and into the crypt.  It was a surprise, and just one of the many examples of how fortunate we have been on this trip.

Moorish influence


We stood on our balcony watching the sun tuck behind the cliff.  Anne and I got the urge to go down to watch from the dock below.  I maxed out my 8 gig card and finished the battery.  They both lasted 3 whole days (Paestum, Pompeii, Napoli, Amalfi), luckily I have another card and battery for Capri tomorrow.

Right now I am sitting on our balcony, my feet up on the railing, looking at the Amalfi street lamps reflecting in the Mediterranean waters, and Orion’s belt twinkling in the black sky above.  The others are inside playing cards – we are still full from our delicious pizzas.   The island of Sicily is in the distance; faint shimmers like lit candles dance in the sea.  The sea is calm, differing from the crashing Pacific in Santa Barbara, CA. It feels real; I am in Italy.  I am looking out over a mystery.  The ocean is not planned like a city, organized or controlled.  It is chaotic and humbling in its power and volume.  I see the little dipper.  I comforted by seeing the same stars; They are familiar within a new world.  Whenever I see Orion’s belt I think of the Greek letter “pi”… maybe you have seen it too…  I don’t see a moon tonight.



I am so fortunate to travel with a flexible and adventuresome group of my friends– all trying to see and learn all we can – as economically as possible — yet still some how ending up with some of the finest accommodations I could imagine.  I’m thankful for my family and friend’s prayers, because I know the Lord is looking out for us.

(I go inside for a bit to join one game of Mafia… fitting since we are near Sicily.  In the game, I am a townsperson… in case you know the – game. Cammie is a good–scratch that– the narrator)

It was around 20:00, so we left to find food.  Most of us weren’t very hungry, so went by a supermercado to buy ingredients to make carbonara.  25 Euro to feed 10 people! That was a great deal cheaper than going out again– and fun to cook together.

Berta was the master of the stove.  Our power went off many times, but we had the breaker located after the first time.  We sleep well, and make ourway to the bus stop early so we can get to Capri by a good time.  I will end with a picture of the sunrise as we ride back to Sorrento.


Day 31: 02/16 : Pompeii, Napoli, Sorrento

Stray dogs joined us on our short walk from our hotel to the famous ruins of Pompeii. The sun was finally shining on us that morning, which felt great after the weeks of snow in Orvieto.  The dogs run loose on the streets, befriending tourists, eating scraps from the locals, and laying in the sun like cats.   The city of Pompeii is also much larger than the ruins they are notorious for.   Nevertheless, most of the city is geared towards hosting tourists–including the dogs.

The ruins are quite extensive.   Walking through them, you can envision how life would have operated in this ancient city.  Shops, amphitheaters, homes, arenas, roads, etc. have been excavated after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
My favorite place among the ruins was the domus (Roman house) of Emperor Nero‘s wife’s family.  Upon entering the home, I am standing in the atria where guests would be greeted.   The space is typically open and grand and filled with frescos on the walls.  In the roof is a square opening called compluvium and a recessed square pool called the impluvium in the middle of the floor.  The light pours in from the roof during the day, also catching rainwater as funnels into the pool in the floor, draining into a collection basin below (cistern).   Passing through this space is the tablinum, which served as a sort of office space for the father– meeting clients and keeping an eye on the rest of the house. Further into the next space is, in my opinion, the most beautiful part, the peristyle.  It is a garden in the center of the home surrounded by colonnades that hold up the surrounding roof.  Other spaces like the triclinium (dining room) exist around this garden.

The rest of the ruins were also interesting, especially their roads.  Imagine a sunken street with raised stepping stones at the crosswalk, but with spaces where wagon wheels would pass through.  Brilliant.
We finished the tour around 2pm and decided to continue on to the Archeological Museum in Naples.   Mt. Vesuvius formed a beautiful snow-capped backdrop as we drove around the Bay of Naples.

My impression of Naples is not especially flattering.  Tall apartment buildings everywhere. Trash, decay, slums, and streets lined with billboards covered in graffiti reinforced what I had heard about the economic disparity in the South. Despite this initial impression, I noticed that people on the streets still dress very well– better than the average American.  People are everywhere too. Shops overflow to the sidewalks. Mopeds zip in and out of traffic.

Inside the museum we saw many of the original mosaics, sculptures, currencies, and paintings that have moved inside to be restored and protected from the elements.  There were some truly beautiful pieces there.

In the book shop at the end, Cammie and I met a self-described “mad British woman” who turned out to be a paper restorer. We found out about a great paper store in Amalfi for sketchbooks and the like.  We chatted a little longer about her moving from London to a place like Naples.  She thought Napoli as a city was much more exciting than the increasing cost of life in London; It sounded stifling. The whole encounter was very memorable to say the least…

We had one more night’s stay in Pompeii paid for, so the bus driver took us back around the bay.  Finding food that evening would be an adventure too, since most places are closed during the tourist off-season.  Many of us walked in search of an open restaurant for 20 minutes before stopping at a wonderful little seafood place.  I ordered spaghetti with clams, mussels, and artichokes.  Cammie ordered grilled shrimp, only she couldn’t bring herself to eat it with the head, legs, and eyes looking at her.  Naiho (a guy in our group) assured us that it was okay to eat it all, so I took her plate. Usually I don’t like the texture of shrimp in the United States, but  I ended up eating the whole plate before my spaghetti arrived–pretty tasty.  The legs felt a little strange going down, but otherwise, it was delicious.   We were all very full by the time we left for our long walk back to the hotel.

During the walk back the stray dogs met up with us again.  I played with them and jogged up the hill– two dogs alongside me.    Later on, some Italian boys drove alongside our group and tried to talk to us… and show off.  We weren’t a small group of girls either.  We probably had fifteen people, guys and girls, along with Gary and Suzanne, so seeing them try for attention was pretty comical.  Once they did a doughnut in their car, Gary told them off; very funny.   .: Boys in Pompeii must be bored.

Back at the hotel.  The our room (Cammie, Anne, and I) decided to go to bed early so we could see the sunrise over the mountains.  The next day we would take the bus to Sorrento (as far South as private tour buses are allowed) and then a city bus around the winding coast to Amalfi.   Everyone would meet back up in Sorrento in two days to go back to Orvieto.

Fun fact about Sorrento:  Instead of useless ornamental trees along their streets, Sorrento has planted orange trees.  Why wouldn’t a city plant food bearing trees for the public to enjoy (especially if the weather allows for it!) It makes so much sense!  Free food.

Day 30: 2/15: Paestum

I’m starting this day with about 1.5 hours of sleep on my living room carpet, yet this trip is enough to get me up and moving (I had luckily already packed).  Our group of 30+ is heading down to the Southern part of Italy, specifically the state of Campania. Over the next few days, we will take a 4 hour tour bus ride down Paestum, Pompeii, Naples, Sorrento, and then a smaller group of my friends and I will continue to the Coast of Amalfi and the Island of Capri.   Quite the itinerary for four days if I do say so!

In order to start things off right, I take a two hour nap on the bus.  I wake to find the serene Apennine Mountains to the left of the bus.  The Apennine Mountains run up and down the East side of Italy, with the Alps in the North.   I drift back to sleep with orange tree orchards passing by my window and a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.

Paestum has three main ancient temples: The Temple of Hera, Temple of Athena, and Temple of Neptune.

As we arrived in Paestum, the afternoon light bounces between the Doric columns.  There are only vendors on the right side of the street. To the left is a black iron fence, and through a gate you are given free reign to explore the Roman ruins.  The sky was a solid blue with picturesque clouds, complimenting the green grass and white travertine ruins.   Paestum is a great place to reflect and imagine life as it was back before even Jesus walked. The area feels very peaceful.  It was refreshing.  I can still hardly fathom how they constructed the temples with such precision, and that they are still standing.


As we arrived in Paestum, the afternoon light bounces in between the Doric columns.  There are only vendors on the right side of the street. To the left is a black iron fence, and through a gate you are given free reign to explore the Roman ruins.  The sky was a solid blue with picturesque clouds, complimenting the green grass and white travertine ruins.   Paestum is a great place to reflect and imagine life as it was back before even Jesus walked. The area feels very peaceful.  It was refreshing.  I can still hardly fathom how they constructed the temples with such precision, and that they are still standing.

As the sun sets, the temples take on an orange glow–perfect for taking pictures.

Our hotel reservations were in Pompeii, so after the sun went down we hopped on the bus and continued the journey through Campania.  (I will post about Pompeii next)

Day 25: Florence (Firenze)

Today was our first visit to Florence (Firenze).  The forecast predicted snow and cold, so we bundled up in preparation for a cold day, meeting at the train station for the 7:31 train to Firenze.   Emerging  from our apartment felt like an excursion into a snow globe… complete with an Italian village, cute light posts, and huge swirling flakes.

The Firenze (Florence) train station is much more tame than Rome’s, but it is still an active node of people quickly making their way about the country.  Visiting groups gather in clumps while couples and backpackers crisscross around the granite floors.  Signs up high on the walls show arrival, departure, and what platform you need to find for the Regionale, Intercity, and bullet trains.    So far, our group has made a dash for the McDonald’s every time  we get to the big cities.  It makes me laugh, but its hard to pass up a quick cheeseburger for 1 euro.

Marco time.  Our group meandered around the Duomo, properly known as Santa Maria del Fiore, and we went inside to escape the wind.  The red, white, and grey marble floors make in abstract geometric shapes.   The walls are much more are than I expected (especially after just seeing the Vatican– which is from another later architectural period…), except for the frescoes that fill the interior of Brunelleschi‘s dome, depicting the Last Judgment.  If you don’t know about the history behind the dome, or how it constructed, you should take a few minutes on Wikipedia and read  up on it…  it is an engineering feat… constructed with no scaffolding and entirely self-supporting as they built it.  Did I mention it was the largest dome since the Pantheon?!   It is impressive.  The craftsmanship of the doors and building façade is also quite amazing.  Florence is one of the few cities where craftsmen still master the roots of their trade, and continue  with restoration work.  (Many churches here are in that process).

During what seemed like the coldest part of the day, we visited Santa Croce. Our toes and fingers were numb as the wind stole our heat.  Restoration scaffolding blocked what was behind the altar, but there was more to see in the church.  Many famous Italians are buried inside this church: Galileo Galilee, Michelangelo (even though he wanted to be buried in Rome), Alberti, Machiavelli, Rossini, and then an empty tomb for Dante, the famous writer.

We concluded our macro-tour of the city in Pazzi Chapel right nearby, and listening to Marco on the cold stone seats.   I will admit, it is hard to enjoy  some of these works when the air is bone chilling.

Anne and I found a Pizzeria and enjoyed a great lunch while our fingers thawed.

We decided not to stay longer this weekend, so we planned to return on the 17:12 train back to Orvieto.   We were a little lost for a bit on our way back to the station, but getting lost is (generally) fun in a city like this.   In two weeks we will be back for a complete tour of the Uffizzi Museum, and we plan on staying for more of the weekend.  At home I will be able to rest and be sure not to get sick (I’ve been feeling under the weather the past couple days, and I didn’t want to stay in the cold).

Made it home around 10pm (20:00). Warm and cozy.  It was a long day.

Days 19-22

With all of this snow, I have been inside more than out this week. It is comparable to the winter Kansas generally has this time of year (but apparently it has been irregularly mild there lately).   I didn’t realize that I signed up to experience Moscow this semester!

Sunday, I went to Bar Duomo to watch some of the Super Bowl at midnight (time difference) .    None of the guys stayed stayed for some reason, so there we were… four American girls watching football in the weeee hours of the morning.  It might have been better if more people were there, but I missed watching it with Dad, or at least some other enthusiastic sports fans…  Oh well; next year.


Studio is starting to get a little more serious.  We are diving into A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, and applying it to the city of Orvieto.
Last night we all went to Zeppelin to celebrate Ashley’s real birthday, and had a wonderful time again.  Full course meal and great wine… it was delicious.

Tuesday’s lecture with Marco was a fascinating journey through the rise of the Byzantine Empire and the growth of Constantinople, modern day Istanbul, Turkey.    I never imagined wanted to see Turkey, but I am seriously considering traveling there after studying here in Italy come May.   I had been planning on visiting Egypt and Israel with a group of my friends, but I am still uneasy about Egypt.   The events happening there do not lessen my desire to go, but I may tour it another time in my life.  There is so much to soak in and learn about in this part of the world.


As long as I am talking about travels,  there is a great group of us going to Barcelona, Spain and Greece over Spring Break.   Ever since I started learning Spanish, I wanted to walk and talk in Spain, and after looking through several forums, I have an overwhelming impression that travel in Greece for westerners is still quite safe and relatively easy (there are transportation strikes here in Italy too, but that is only an occasional inconvenience.)  We will spend half of the break in Spain and half in Greece.

Day ??

Yesterday Orvieto had more snow than they’ve had in 3 years.   I don’t know how Kansas City is getting 65 degrees and it is so cold here… it seems reversed.  Nevertheless, we’re having a blast.


Last night we had people over, which turned into a great night of vino and guitar playing. Gary and Susanna came over with us for a while early in the night, which is also very fun.   I am really glad Josh and Aaron brought their guitars along.  Dillon, Gabe, Aaron, Josh, and I all played some through the night, with Blake playing the table.  This went on until…3am when most people went home.


This morning/afternoon, Anne and I did some pilates in the living room and then went down the Funiculare  to the Coap in Orvieto scola for some cheaper groceries.  Our fridge was empty before, but now it is quite packed with goodies (and Nutella).

Due to the aforementioned weather complications, we are postponing our trip to Assisi and Perugia for another time.  We were hoping to celebrate Ashely’s birthday in Perugia, but we will come up with something fun here in Orvieto…

Ciau for now~

Vatican City

Day Two in Rome, we headed for the Vatican!

The Vatican Museum is free on the fourth Sunday every month, so our group of seven woke up at the hostel at 7am to get to the Vatican before the lines.  Good thing too- We arrived well before 8:30 (opens at 9:00), and the line for the museum still wrapped around the wall of the city.  Worth it.


I will jump to it:

The art work and ceilings in the museum were  nothing short of brilliant!  Elongated corridors glowing with paintings and reliefs tipped with gold.  There are countless statues, sculptures, tapestries, and items of the church housed in these hallways that speak to the history and global nature of the Catholic church.

I made my way into the Sistine Chapel where I spent quite a good bit of time. No pictures were allowed,  so I spent a long time looking at each one of Michael Angelo’s incredibly detailed and expressive paintings up on that ceiling.  I highly recommend you take your time in there if you get the chance to go.

Next, we spent a few euro to gain access to the cupola (inside the dome of St. Peter’s).

Inside the Dome

All around the catwalk were these intricate mosaics of cherubs and angels, and a view down to the space below.

We then took a journey up to the very top through some tight hallways, curving walls and ceilings, and many many tight stairs. Finally arriving at the top opened to a 360 degree view over all of St. Peter’s square, and most of Rome in the distance.  This view was worth the trek.

The bells for mass began to ring  at 12:30, so we headed back down.  They were still ringing by the time we reached the bottom.

We made our way into St. Peter’s Basilica and it was breath-taking.  It is the most beautiful space I have ever seen.  The domes and art work are gold tipped, expanding upwards in a magnificent volume of space.  Humbling, yet not oppressive. There was a mass going on at the main altar while we explored the basilica.

When I read the Bible, I understand the body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, not a building of stone.  I used to be of the mind that the Catholic church was misplacing priorities when they spent so much money on their churches, rather than redirecting it all to the poor and needy, as if to make an idle of their status and wealth.  I still find it hard to justify, but after being in a space like St. Peter’s, walking under the ceilings that illustrate the Bible stories, walking around the expressive sculptures that capture the  personalities of key players in the Bible, after watching countless people from unknown backgrounds and languages gather in one building to profess their love and respect to one God… it makes more sense.  I am also getting a stronger grasp of the Grecian and Roman influences on early Christian art and architecture.   It’s hard for me to find the words, but the church building, though a material thing, seems like more an investment in the permanence and value they attribute to God.  An altar built for Him.     Anyway, I will visit this more another time.

We went down to the catacombs below, and reemerged ready for a break.  Part of the group wanted to go into the Coliseum back in Rome, so we headed that way. Three of us sketched while the others went in.  This was an enjoyable break from the hectic weekend where we could soak up the city around us.             I will be going back to Rome.