ETS Italy trip - 2012


Friday, March 2nd


"Standing with his back to the window and to her was a man. His hands were round the throat of a woman who faced him, and he was slowly, remorselessly, strangling her..."

 "Boo!" I dropped my Agatha Christie novel to see the newly arrived Mr. H as he pounced on a startled Rachelle King at the Newark airport. So began our 18 hour day that would take us from New Jersey to Rome, Italy. Eight hours later, as the plane made its descent, I caught a quick glimpse of the very green Italian countryside. Landing in Rome, we braved our way through the smoky airport, grinning ear-to-ear despite our severe jet-lag as our passports were stamped. "Benvenuti e Roma!"

 We were all oohs and ahhs on the 50 minute bus ride from the airport to the "Eternal City." Confirming the stereotype, our bus driver drove with one hand on the wheel, the other gesturing wildly in the air as he muttered Italian oaths at the unfortunates in his path as he ruthlessly barreled along the city streets.

Note: The common courtesy, "pedestrians have the right of way," is non-existent in Italy. We learned this vital fact first-hand as we exited the bus and attempted to cross the bustling cobble-stoned street to the Hotel Madison. After check-in, we made our laborious way up the hotel stairs with our luggage to wait in the lounge until our rooms were ready.

The Kuznitzes and McDonalds played cardgames as Rachelle and I practiced Italian phrases, of which "Scusi" (pardon me) was most prominent. Who knew we would have such use for it as the week progressed?

That afternoon, we marched to our first sight of the trip: the Roman ruins and Forum. The dauntless Mr. H led his troop across the Via Dei Fori Imperiali, where Mussolini bulldozed his way through history and the Roman ruins, making a blank slate upon which to build his own prestige, instead of striving to compete with the greatness of the ancients. Onward we weary jet-lagged travelers staggered on through the towering Triumphal Arches and to the Roman Senate where we stood, almost hearing the voices of ancient senators echoing from the high vaulted ceiling, and envisioning the scene of Julius Caesar's demise.   

After catching a glimpse of the Colesseum from the Palatine Hill, Rachelle, Mrs. King, Mrs. McDonald and I split from the group to brave our first ride on the Metro back to the hotel. Rather wide-eyed, we descended into the crowded murky depths where "Do you speak English?" brought many negative shakings of the head. Somehow, we managed to get our tickets and just barely squeezed onto the metro, desperately hoping that we were headed in the right direction. At Termini station, we poured out with the jabbering crowd and came out into the cool Roma night. Back to the hotel we went, to collapse, entirely jet-lagged onto our beds.

The sounds of Italian voices passing on the street floated in through our open window, and we woke during the night to what sounded like a rowdy soccer game being played in the hotel room above us. So ended our first day in Italy.    

--- Teal M. Speece    



March 3rd - Rachelle King


"First time outside the States?" I asked, my voice cloaked in long years.

"Yes, actually," the young girl replied, eyes smiling.  The train passed through another tunnel, and we both reflexively cupped our aching ears.  "You are not a local are you?" she queried.

"No, no.  This is only my second visit to Rome. The first time I was no older than you and I too was  new to International travel.  On this very train, I agonized over a little summary of the second day of my class' trip.    I can almost remember it word for word..."

"Oh, I would love to hear it!  You will notice I have nothing to read - please, do tell."

"For such a generously lended ear, how could I refuse?  Let's see here..."

Jet-lagged as I was I slept not and I eagerly awaited 5am, which seemed a reasonable enough hour to sneak out of the hotel.  The fresher air outside greeted my mother and I almost as warmly as the shop owners only just opening.  On the corner, we sipped our cafes standing.  Grabbing Teal Speece, we explored Termini metro/train station across the way, window shopping, post card obtaining, and gaining courage with our few Italian phrases.  Breakfast was most excitedly feasted upon and we were glad to see our fellow travelers had indeed returned the night before.

This day's march would bring us to the Vatican, encapsulated by its towering sloped walls.    Once we began our tour within the walls, exclamations sprung from our lips with each room.  The frescoes with the shadowing effects upon the ceiling, brought our gaze ever upwards, and still the walls and floor called out to us with such ornate magnificence that one could never really get used to.  Our eyes feasted upon statues, tapestries, cabinets, mosaics, pottery.  One of my favorites was the statue of Laocoon and his two sons being killed by the sea monster for warning the Trojans against taking the famed Horse within their gates.  Then, we came to the Sistine Chapel.  Words cannot describe the scale of these works.  Silently, we all stared up imagining Michelangelo: painting these upon his back; paint dripping into his eyes, eventually blinding him; and his arguments with the Pope and the Pope's successive placement among those being cast down into Hell.  And Mr. H's reminder resurfaced in our heads - the cost of such grandeur?  The Reformation.

After lunch, St. Peter's square meet us with two sweeping arms of pillars reaching out to us.  Five hundred and twenty steps brought us to the top of the Basillica and the breath-taking view which greeted us there.  A procession complete with much incense enlivened our tour from within the Basillica.  Before trekking home, we took group "jump" pictures, where we were joined by exuberant strangers.  Gelato entertained our hungry bellies on the walk back to Termini. 

For the Davenports and us, the night did not end there.  We shopped our way through the street vendors and their hilarious sales pitches. Then, Corrine and I joined Teal in the lobby for some midnight writing.

Bedtime neared 1am, and jetlag did not interfere with sleeping.


March 5th

Free day at Venice

By Daniel Malan

Our free day began with began with an early breakfast at our hotel in renaissance Florence. After breakfast, having decided to catch the 8:30 train to Venice, everybody started rushing to the train station. To our disappointment all the 8:30 tickets were sold out, so we simply had to settle for the 9:30 train ride. However, In order to make up for the lost time, we went to a couple churches near the train station. After Mr. Hinrichs had pointed out the geometrical features, as well as the inconsistent decorative aspects to the façade of the church of Santa Maria Novella, we were once again on our way to Venice, the city that defies the sea.

When we arrived in Venice, we all crowded into a Venetian vaporetti (water bus), and prepared for a breath taking sight that could never be forgotten. The cold, fresh Venetian wind was blowing in our faces as we gazed blissfully out at the ancient waterway. Looking out, we a constant row of tall, stately buildings piled against the canal that almost seemed to float, but were actually standing on wooden support beams. When we arrived at St. Mark's square, the first thing we saw was two grand and imposing columns; and on top of one of the columns was a majestic bronze lion, which signifies St. Mark. Turning our gaze, Mr. Hinrichs then explained the fascinating history behind the gorgeous Doge’s Palace.  We continued on towards St. Marks Basilica, which we could tell to be a very Byzantine Church through its architecture and decorations. Having taken a group picture outside, we then continued to the inside of the cathedral. The church had many unique eastern mosaics inside as well as outside. The reason for all the paintings instead of statues, Mr. Hinrichs explained to be that in the doctrine of that time statues were forbidden inside the church, but paintings were widely accepted. When everyone had finished wandering through the Cathedral, we had lunch at a little pizza place near St. Mark’s square, and then headed our own directions for the rest of the day.

Our group walked swiftly towards the Bridge of Sighs. The ornate bridge was said to have gotten its name from condemned prisoners, who sighed when they walked over the bridge as they saw their last view of their home city, Venice. After snapping a couple photos of the picturesque bridge and canal, we continued to wander around the city, heading in the general direction of the Rialto Bridge. We walked through the little crowded streets of Venice, every now and then crossing a bridge, and gazed dreamily out at the quiet, peaceful canals.  Eventually, we stopped at an authentic Venetian coffee shop, and after a coffee and a slice of cheesecake or maybe a freshly baked pastry, continued on.

When we reached Rialto shopping area and bridge, we picked up some souvenirs, and then continued hastily up the Grand Canal. Arriving at the general location of the train station, we lingered around the Grand Canal a little while longer, and then said our goodbyes to Venice as we crossed the bridge to our transportation away from the beautiful city on the lagoon.


Italy trip

Isaac Loring

Sunday, March 4th started slowly. I got up, had breakfast and left for the Pantheon with the rest of Mr. Hinrichs' merry band. It wasn't too long a walk and there were many things to see along the way. The first was a small Piazza with four fountains on the corners, I assume they were Jupiter, Neptune, Diane, and Demeter but I can't be sure. The next was the Trevi fountain, it was a large, aquaduct fed, fountain with many statues in and behind it. The Pantheon was closed for mass when we first arrived so we went to the nearby Gothic church. Mr. Hinrichs explained to us the difference between Gothic and Roman arches and we went into the heavily decorated church. After soaking in the pictures and the history of the building we left for the Pantheon.

The courtyard outside the Pantheon was a popular hangout place for tourists and Italians alike, there was beutiful background music and small outside cafe's. The inside of the Pantheon was crowded but the noisiest thing in there was the load recording demanding silence in five languages. Inside the Pantheon several famous Italians were buried, including Queen Margherita, which the famed Margherita Pizza was named after.

After the Pantheon the group slowly wandered back to the Hotel, stopping at various churches and sites of interest along the way. We reached the Hotel and gathered our luggage, only to drag it over to the train station next door. After piling all the luggage into one big suitcase heap one representative from each family followed Mr. Hinrichs to the ticket booth to purchase our train tickets to Florence/Firenze. After a half-hour wait at the luggage heap my Mom came running to tell us that the train was leaving in seven minutes, from the other side of the train station!

It is hard to depict the chaos that followed, everyone was tearing at the luggage heap, desperately trying to reach their luggage. After snatching up our luggage everyone ran as fast as they could to the train on the other side of the station, what followed was one of those scenes which are usually shown in slow motion in movies, everyone running and yelling and looking back to see if everyone was following, looking back it reminds me of a horse race I had once gone to with my grandfather. Luckily we all got onto the train in time, though many were bowled over by the sudden lurching movement two secounds later. I found my self a seat and placed my luggage in an overhead railing, proud of my achievement... I was the second person in our group to get on the train.

After three and a half long and grueling hours on a train with no visible toilet we arrived in Florence under the cover of darkness. Mr. Hinrichs led us on one of his "long cuts" to the Hotel and we checked in. We checked in and pretty much just threw our luggage into our rooms and met again outside for a hurried walking tour.

We saw a beutiful church/baptistry/bell tower trio, foolishly dedicated to Saint Mary. We also saw a beutiful, statue surrounded, building known as the Uffize, quite simply the office. It belonged to the once revered house of Medici, they were the ancient equivelent to millionairs. After listening to our personal Socrates give us a little lecture on the Downfall of the Medici we made our way down to a beutiful bridge that crossed Florence's river. I find it interesting that every great city in Italy was built around a river, or in Venice's case, a swamp. We quickly crossed the bridge and then backtracked to the hotel for a much needed nights sleep.




By Daniel Malan

Awakening to a bright sunny day, we felt well rested after an exciting day in Venice. Going down to breakfast, everyone was cheerfully eating their choice of delicious food. Noting that, some fresh fruit and yogurt, or maybe a freshly baked bread roll with some salami and cream cheese on it, were the best choices to be considered.

Leaving the hotel, we walked and chatted cheerily, following our leader towards il Duomo complex. Having arrived at the baptistery, we gazed upon the ornate, golden Gates of Paradise. There were twelve carved panels on the gates, each of which depicted a different Biblical story. The figures on the Gates of Paradise were not as three dimensional as the figures on the other two gates, however, the above were just as striking as and even more vivid than the other gates. My favorite panel on the Gates of Paradise was one that very successfully depicted the story of Joseph.

For a while we looked at the sumptuously elaborate facade of il Duomo, admiring the three colors which were pink, green, and white. Moving on, we saw the inside of the cathedral, which was much more austere and bare than many of the other cathedrals we had seen. Nevertheless the church was still very beautiful, especially considering some details such as the painted dome, which was a source of inspiration to Dante.

When Mr. Hinrichs had led the group out of the cathedral, we split into two groups of people. One group decided to climb Brunelleschi’s famous dome, while the other group decided to see a few churches.

After our ascent through the narrow stairwells and cramped chambers, we finally broke through to the top of the dome. We were warmly welcomed by the mild Tuscan sun, as well as the fresh spring wind blowing in our faces. The view from the top of the dome was simply stunning. Red roof tops changed into picturesque, Tuscan countryside, as we gazed out at Florence. After taking a few photos of each other, we started our downwards ascent, noting how peaceful and quiet this dome was compared to the dome of St. Peters.

When we came to the exit of the dome stairs, we started a short walk to an authentic Tuscan restaurant. We met up with the rest of the group, and had a scrumptious meal of pizza, pasta, or calzone. When everyone had finished their generous helpings of food, the group once again walked back to il Duomo complex.

The last activity of the day was the inside of the baptistery. The baptistery was built long before the Duomo, and had a much more elaborate interior. Especially noteworthy was the splendid ceiling, and as the sun streamed through the small windows, it looked even more remarkable.

For the rest of the afternoon many of us went on a very enjoyable excursion to the San Lorenzo leather market.



Corrinne Malan March 7th , Wednesday

 On Wednesday morning Heidi, Natalie, and I came down just in time for breakfast. After helping ourselves to granola, yogurt, coffee, and pastries, we gathered with the group in the hotel lobby before heading out to the first scheduled stop of the day. Mr. Hinrichs led us down the stairs and through the streets of Florence into the courtyard of the basilica of San Lorenzo. Filing through the doors, we entered the peristyle. There, sitting on the low wall enclosing a garden, Mr. Hinrichs presented to us the history of the de Medicis and of Savenarola--the country boy who, through a combination of political events and his own ambitious character, rose up to become the wildly popular ruler of Florence. This same man pushed his own ideals of theocratic government to the point of criticising the decadent lifestyle of the powerful de Medici family and of the pope, and was sentenced to being burned on the stake in the Piazza della Signoria.

The basilica of San Lorenzo, Mr. Hinrichs explained, was complimented as being on the most "human scale" of all the churches in Florence. Indeed, moving through the doors where the guard warned, "no photos, no videos, no kissing", the interior was almost as human as had been promised. Eyes traveled upward over Corinthian columns supporting Romanesque arches under a geometric gold-and-white ceiling. The crypt was equally fascinating: relics and treasures and a sarcophagus of the de Medici family were on display, and in the next room, Narnian-themed art by a Florentine school.    

With the de Medicis on our minds, Mr. Hinrichs brought us to their personal chapel--the Cappella dei Principi. Pristine red, blue,  green, and white marble covered the walls and floor of the octagonal room, where four sarcophagi, sized to match the enormous egos of the ruling family, rested on ledges in the walls. The "eternal scaffolding" covered much of the temporal altar of the chapel, but could not hide its vibrant marble design. As in San Lorenzo, the Medici coat of arms was prevalent in the chapel: six (sometimes eight) red spheres on a golden background proudly rested over the exit, a reminder of the temporal nature of power.  

Emerging once more into the sunlight, Mr. Hinrichs recommended the Trattoria Anita for lunch. All the menu items were in Italian, so after he had a conference (in English) with the waiter, he translated all of the names for us so we could order the likes of fried fish and tongue and caprese salad. As he came to take our empty dishes, the waiter, pretending to be disappointed, joked, "aww, you did not eat your plates!" I think he forgave Natalie for not finishing the cold tongue she ordered. . .  

Energized from lunch, our group walked across the Arno to the Pitti Palace, the newer residence of the de Medici family. Though not a defensive structure, it was designed to look imposing with its high walls and rough stone facing. Inside, however, it was different: displays of delicate china, intricate hand-spun ivory structures, golden plates, portraits, jewelry, silver, and costumes filled the rooms. Steps in the terraced gardens led up to the top of the hill behind the palace, where a spectaclar view of Florence and the surrounding countryside lay beneath us.

Running downhill and then up hundreds of steps in the side of another mountain--which is not, however, a mountain by Californian standards according to Mr. Hinrichs--we reached the church of San Miniato al Monte just in time to take in the geometric facade and columned interior before Mass. After Mass, the priest allowed us time to sing Amazing Grace, Dona Nobis Pacem, Angels We Have Heard on High, the Doxology.

By the time we came out, it was dark. The illuminated Duomo towe/red over Florence as the city sparkled with golden lights. Descending the stairs and crossing the Arno, everyone talked and laughed and tried to remembers the words to songs to sing on the way home. Finally, Mr. Hinrichs stopped us, and under an arch, again led us in Amazing Grace--the one song everyone seemed to know well. As a reward for all that singing, we stopped at "the best little gelato shop in town" and then promenaded back to the hotel.    




March  9th

Micah Davenport

We rose to the chiming of the bells bells bells. After a delightful breakfast  with the staff we came to know as Pie(Phlegm)rre, Coughing Carla,       and Peppy Paolo. Cappucinos and hot chocolate with gracious dexteriy and enthusiasm. After fueling up we emerged into the florentine sun seeking beauty in the form of art and found this at the Uffizi. We viewed works by Botticelli such as The Birth Of Venus,  La Primevera, and Pallus and the Centaur. Viewing these beautiful paintings revealed the nature of beauty in the proper context. After soaking in the beautiful artistic atmosphere we entered the Bargello, a beautiful building despite its background. In the past the Bargello served as a gruesome prison where hangings were performed. Today this beautifully architected building serves as a museum holding ancient armor, sculptures, art, and otherBbc precious treasures. After breaking out of the Bargello we went to a a lovely historical Florenian home. On a seperate smaller excursion some of the group went to Siena. The Duomo in Siena was absolutely breathtaking. Florence  has proved to be an amazing and unforgettable destination.


Ancient Ostia

By Daniel Malan

It did not feel like we were saying goodbye to Florence, it rather felt like we were continuing on our exciting Italian journey. But as we boarded the train to rural Florence, and then the connection train on to Rome, we did feel rather downhearted. Although, having had to pose for a photo of all us sad little children staring forlornly down the train track, waiting for the homeward bound train to come, might have helped a little…

When the unhurried, easygoing local train finally reached Rome, everyone walked over to the hotel and checked in. After a few minutes, most of the group met up with Mr. Hinrichs again, and then we were on our way to Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient seaport.

Having reached the well preserved ruins of Ostia, we paid the entrance fee, acquired a map, and headed to the ancient theater. We entered the theater through the back, and climbed to the top. Sitting at the upper end, we looked down at Mr. Hinrichs, listening as he told us some interesting history of the theater, and ancient theaters in general. For a while after that everybody walked leisurely around the front of the theater, enjoying the lovely roman weather as well as the peace and calm.

We continued on towards the more domestic area of the ruined Roman city, and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around. Braking up into little groups and we scattered ourselves all around the ruins, climbing little staircases for beautiful views, stumbling into mysterious underground wine cellars, and the coming out into cramped dark rooms, as well as grand, widespread halls. Whatever the rest of the group did, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves, having gotten a new perspective to ancient Roman life.

After a train ride and a short walk, we found ourselves at the seaside. Standing on a pier, with the fresh salty wind blowing in our faces, and lively Italian music floated through the air, we observed a breathtaking, brilliant sunset. Gazing out at the dark, lone figures on the beach, set against the contrastingly rich sun, it seemed fitting, as if the sunset was symbolic of the end of our ETS Italy trip.

However, a summary of this day would not be complete without mentioning the beautiful restaurant on the beach. When it was almost dark, the group walked over to a restaurant, and decided to sit on the patio overlooking the picturesque moon-lit seaside. While we waited for dinner, some of us went down to the beach, and skipped some stones, hopped from rock to rock, or collected some shells, all the time trying our best not to get wet. Eventually we wandered back to the restaurant, and had a lovely Roman dinner. Walking back to the train station, we all chatted tirelessly, somehow not realizing that this was really goodbye.