Monday, March 29, 2010

March 24


We woke up on our final day in Rome, sad that our pilgrimage was soon to be over but happy to pack up stinky pilgrim clothes. We set off on our final adventures, breaking into little groups to have breakfast and do some final exploring before leaving for the airport. Most of us took in our final cappuccini, while others invested their last euros on chocolate for the trip. We gathered in the lobby at 11:45 and lugged our suitcases out of storage for the last time (PHEW!). Thanks to our MVP (Most Valuable Pilgrim), Sasha, two minibuses were waiting for us outside and ready to take us to the airport, rather than the alternate mode of transportation, four cabs and two trains.

Snug in our minibuses, we waved goodbye to the Eternal City, sad to go but very excited to rest. We wandered around the airport, window shopping, and eventually boarded our plane for Heathrow. The flight was short and sweet, and we arrived in London where we had to go through two more lines of security (including a full body frisk) before we could embark on the final leg of the journey.

Luckily, the British Airways strike did not affect our flight, but unfortunately it did affect our meal. Instead of the usual hot meal, we were served “substantial” salads. (They were surprisingly delicious!) We then settled into our movies, which elicited all kinds of sentiments from the pilgrims: Sasha and Hannah endured an emotional roller coaster in Gran Torino; Allegra sobbed while watching Up In the Air; Will shamelessly enjoyed He’s Just Not That Into You. Seven hours and three movies later, we thought we were finally finished.
We arrived in lovely New York only to find that we had one more pilgrim obstacle: a heinously long line at Immigration. We waited forty-five minutes, but were happy to come out on the other end and see that at least our luggage had arrived this time. Well...almost all of them. Passenger A. Hannum’s luggage was suspiciously missing from the flight.
We said our goodbyes and were finally home! With a successful pilgrimage complete, we felt cleansed and ready to approach our next assignment: class on Tuesday.

Ciao e grazie per averci accompagnati!

March 23

On our final full day in Roma, we woke up with a packed itinerary to work through. After a quick breakfast, we began our tour of city churches of medieval origin, many of which were stops on traditional pilgrimage trek. Starting at the S. Maria Maggiore, one of the four key patriarchal basilicas of Rome, we admired the cosmatesque floors, ornate gold leaf, and burial chapels of several Renaissance popes. Next, we made a short visit to the S. Prassede to observe the glittering medieval mosaics of the St. Zeno Chapel. The next stop on our itinerary required a ride on the metro, always eventful with a group of fifteen. We emerged on the the outskirts of the city center to visit the church dedicated to St. Paul. As we learned from Sasha’s site presentation, only a single wall of the original structure remains after the devastating fire of 1823, but the reconstructed nineteenth-century space retains the footprint of the original fourth-century century church. Into the metro once again, we journeyed to the Aventine Hill, a favorite spot of several our of our pilgrims who had studied in Rome the previous year.

Our lunch cravings were fulfilled by Volpetti, a well-stocked and very authentic alimentari, where we picked up pizza bianca, mozzarella, speck and salame for our last picnic lunch. We took our meal to the Giardino degli Aranci, which offered sweeping views of the Roman skyline. Btw, that's the dome of St. Peter's between Carolyn's and Lindsay's heads!

While at lunch, we were unexpectedly serenaded by a troupe of Asian monks playing a traditional string instrument and flute. During lunch, we were also met by the head of Trinity College’s study-abroad program in Rome, where both Allegra and Flora had studied. He led us to the nearby, newly refurbished offices, where we were treated to a much-needed bathroom break and Stanley, the program’s resident golden retriever.
Relieved and refreshed, we made our way to the Scala Santa, the "Holy Steps," where Hannah gave her presentation on the reliquaries of the Sancta Sanctorum at the top of the steps. This private papal chapel contained what were considered the most valuable relics in the city, and we felt extremely privileged to be allowed inside to get a closer look at the medieval frescoes of this holy shrine. Pushy street vendors harangued us as we crossed the street to Rome's cathedral, St. John in Lateran, the last official stop on our pilgrimage. Exhausted though we were, we appreciated the antique bronze doors and overwhelming scale of the omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput, "the mother and head of all the churches of the city and of the world!"

After a final group photo as we exited St. John in Lateran, we made our way back to the Spanish Steps and the Hotel King. We viewed the Colosseum, as well as the Capitoline Hill, both beautiful in the afternoon light. After a rest for some and shopping for others, we regrouped for a classic Italian dinner followed by a last stop at our favorite gelateria, Giolitti.

March 22

We awoke on Tuesday in sunny Roma. Happy to be in a more balmy climate, we ate a hearty breakfast at the hotel and began the long walk to the Vatican. Like many pilgrims before us, this location was of the utmost importance to our spiritual journey.

We crossed the Ponte S. Angelo and then entered the beautiful Bernini piazza in the Vatican complex. Here, we took note of the extremely long lines of fellow pilgrims that we were able to deftly pass as we went to the exclusive VIP entrance to the Scavi. There we met Caterina, our big-haired, smooth-talking guide, for our journey down to the tomb of St. Peter. We went down through the level of the Constantinian church (today that of the so-called grotte) to the ancient necropolis which is more than 40 feet below the floor of the present church. Here, we observed many well-preserved mausolea with both pagan and Early Christian imagery. As we went along we couldn’t help but think about the burial space of the great martyr himself. Caterina had built up the suspense surrounding the tomb (a word she pronounced with a very heavy ‘b’) of St Peter himself. Finally, we arrived at the spot. Caterina directed our attention to a light faintly illuminating the red wall of the tomb—not quite what we were expecting, but interesting nonetheless.


As we left the necropolis and made our way up to toward the ground level, we stopped in the grotte to hear the rest of Blake’s presentation on the shrine, or confessio. Here, we were once again reunited with the suffocating crowds of the Vatican which provided for some extreme people-watching opportunities. In the basilica, we were in awe of the both the immensity of the space and attention to detail. This sparked many a discussion of “how the heck did they do that???” As we left the Vatican, Sarah put the papal complex in context with her discussion of the history of the area that surrounds the Vatican — the Borgo.


All this spiritual awakening had whetted our appetites as fifteen famished pilgrims began the trek to lunch. Along the way, Will and Sophia gave us more history on both the welfare provisions of pilgrims and their experience in Rome. At last, we arrived in Campo dei Fiori and had a pizza lunch. We shared a fountain in Piazza Farnesse with an equally hungry seagull munching on a pigeon carcass before we were chased away by the polizia. Our itinerary then led us to the Ghetto where we scoped out dinner spots — food was often a prime concern. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped in the Pantheon to see the building that has been a main feature on many of our Art History and Architectural Studies exams.


Many pilgrims next went to the ultimate Roman shrine—the Superga store. Here we browsed a rainbow of colors that would both soothe our aching feet and make us all look stylish.
We completed the day with yet another delicious meal with fried artichokes, fried zucchini, carbonara with zucchini, spaghetti cacio e pepe and a lovely pastry with nuts.

March 21

March 21, 2010

The legacy of our medieval forefathers grows stronger with every step. Today we traveled the via Francigena through Viterbo to the Palazzo dei Papi, the papal palace. As we trekked through Viterbo we were greeted by the friendly face of Alfio, Viterbo’s mascot homeless man, whose glorious beard and kind eyes stared out at us from posters across the city. Before entering the palace we visited the museum, with an impressive collection of reliquaries as well as many examples of furnishings once found in the palace. The highlight of the collection was without a doubt the rapping nun – check her out!

Max’s presentation on the papal palace taught us much about this truly unique medieval city. In the loggia we saw the first example of Gothic tracery in all of Italy.


We admired the feat of engineering that the medieval builders accomplished in the loggia’s fountain, which once spouted water provided by a pressurized aqueduct. We headed inside to check out the Aula Magna and asked to go into other areas of the palace but were informed that without the bishop’s invitation, we were not welcome, since today the medieval palace is his residence! Instead we checked out the medieval cathedral of S. Lorenzo and learned about its Baroque additions. The palace tour guide described to us the extensive renovations undertaken in the wake of damage done during World War II. Although when we arrived we were skeptical about the significance of the papal palace, we left persuaded that this was in fact an important yet controversial place for the medieval papacy.

After a pleasant picnic, we browsed through the antiques (junk) market and tried our hands at bartering. A bunch of us snagged some cheap swag as fun souvenirs. We headed back up to the hotel to pick up our bags and take the “downhill” stroll to the train station where we happened upon the REAL Alfio. On board the train we BLOGGED and saw an adorable group of boy/girl scouts (they start the coed socializing early here in Italy) with bigger bags than ours. We creeped them out by snapping pics, but this scout/pilgrim graciously smiled for us.

Dinner in Rome was tasty but the unexpected surprise of Amy trumped the dinner by a long shot. After the scrumptious meal of pasta, veal, and insalata, Alchermes led us on a walking tour of Rome, which took us by the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, ending with gelato at Giolitti’s!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March 20

Upon waking in beautiful Siena, our group prepared itself for a day of site presentations. After a quick breakfast in our cozy hotel, we started out towards the Duomo. Lindsay was our first guide, explaining how the topography of the hilly area challenged medieval city planners. From there, Carolyn took over, detailing the history of the Cathedral, a great example of Italian Gothic architecture. Carolyn focused on the never-finished reconstruction of the church in the early 14th century, which produced several architectural remnants now housing the Duomo Museum. Here, Allegra spoke on Duccio’s Maesta, the large altarpiece that once stood on the main altar of the cathedral.
After stopping for a quick caffe, we continued down the Via del Pellegrino (Pilgrim Street!) to the Campo, the huge piazza in front of the Palazzo Pubblico or town hall.


Here Natalie discussed how the civic function of the structure is expressed in its design. Once inside, we viewed both the Lorenzetti Allegory of Good and Bad Government, a topic covered by Emily, and the Guidoriccio fresco, presented by Flora.
Perhaps the most harrowing part of the day was the climb to the top of the Torre del Mangia at the Palazzo Pubblico. Siena was once graced with many private towers, truncated in the later Middle Ages; this public tower alone still stands to its full height. Squeezing through cramped stairwells and enduring terrifying vertigo were rewarded when we reached the top, which offered unparalleled views of the city.


We boarded a chartered bus and headed for Viterbo, traveling through the beautiful countryside of southern Tuscany and northern Latium. The sun began to set as we reached the shore of the beautiful Lago di Bolsena and it was near dark when we got to Viterbo. There we enjoyed a stroll through the city’s medieval quarter, lively with Saturday night revelers. A delicious dinner at a nearby pizzeria, popular with locals, rounded out our busy day!

March 19

We began our day at a caffe where we had cappuccini and buccellato, a local local sweet flavored with baked grapes and anise before we set out to explore Lucca. After our adventures in the Tuscan countryside we were ready for some city trekking. With only a couple of hours available Professor Alchermes led us on a walking tour of the city. Although the cathedral of San Martino was under restoration, we were able to visit a side chapel where we saw the Early Renaissance tomb of the noblewoman Ilaria del Carretto, demonstrating the beauty and fashion of her time as well as the high artistic skills of the sculptor Jacopo della Quercia - everyone wanted to take a nap on the marble pillows! We continued our afternoon with some window shopping on the main strada stopping at the mercato to pick up our usual pane, prosciutto, e formaggio for lunch.


The streets rumbled with our mass exodus as we made our way to the first of many train stations on our way to Siena - three trains, a bus, and a long uphill trek later we arrived in that bustling city! A few pellegrini were taken on an introductory tour of the city by Professor Alchermes while others took advantage of the shopping Siena had to offer - scarves galore! Ditching our dowdy pilgrim uniform of black leggings and white t-shirts we were decked in Sienese cashmere for a night of medieval dining.
Upon arrival at the Gallo Nero, our restaurant of choice for the night, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the medieval atmosphere and food was matched by the authentic tunics of the waiters.

The cozy, cavelike atmosphere at the Gallo Nero

We began our meal with a primo servizio of vino speziato, fagottino ripieno di ricotta (a delectable puff pastry filled with melted cheese), torta di Re Manfredi, torta di cipolle e porri, and an interesting combination of soppressata and orange. Next was a soup, zanzarelli in brodo, followed by guinea hen and a medieval vegetable tempura. The lengthy candlelit dinner ended with ricotta and pear cake and biscotti. In addition to the authentic medieval meal we shared our experience with young architecture students who were celebrating the completion of a big drawing project that integrated into the historic, once tower-filled cityscape of Siena a series of internationally known skyscrapers.
In true Sienese fashion we then strolled the strade flooded with young students celebrating the start of the weekend. Along with hundreds of others, we lay on the Campo brick pavement taking in the moonlit view of the Palazzo Pubblico while enjoying gelato and people-watching.

March 18

March 18
Thursday morning we took a beautiful walk, stopping at medieval towns like Filetto along the way. In Villafranca, we caught a train to Aulla and then another to Lucca. We were very sorry to say goodbye to Daniel and the rest of the staff at Giardino della Luna but excited to leave the quiet country for a bustling city. Before we knew it we were looking at the ancient walls of Lucca. Upon arrival we scaled the walls, suitcases and all, admiring the layers of brick, strolled down streets lined with magnolia trees, and made note of all the local gelaterie. After dropping off our bags at the hotel we headed out to a fortified medieval house, the Case dei Guinigi to climb the huge tower and get a stunning view of the cityscape. This trek provided the perfect photo opp!

Lucca from the top of the Torre dei Guinigi!

From this vantage point we got to see some of the buildings that we would study the next day, including the baptismal church of St. John the Baptist and the cathedral of St. Martin. Our eager assault on the Guinigi tower earned us a stop at one of the many gelaterie where we savored the most delicious of Italian treats. After our snack we had some free time to shop, a very welcome break from study and travel. We met back up at the hotel to walk to a nearby restaurant for a very filling five course meal.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 17


After three straight days of the pilgrim uniform we were finally able to dress ourselves in clean clothes and fresh kicks. A delicious breakfast of homemade \pan brioche and gargantuan strawberries was followed by a lively tour of the old kitchen featuring hooks in the ceiling for hanging meat (or misbehaving pilgrims as Alchermes wanted us to believe). We then gathered our things and headed out for another day in Bagnone. After crossing the Ponte Vecchio yet again, we were reunited with our faithful mascot, Pippo! Rumor has it that he takes the bus into Villlafranca on his own and knows what time to go back to the stop to catch it back up the mountain!


We headed to the Museo Archivio della Memoria where Monica (aka Marian the Librarian) gave us a zesty tour of the archives while attempting to see through the dusty air, breathe the moldly stench, and dodge the falling ceiling tiles. Will found a new lady love in the statue of the Virgin Mary...

...and Amy discovered a different sort of archive.

After parcouring all over the piazza outside, Natalie attempted to break Max’s legs with her beloved third leg of faith (aka walking stick) and it broke. Tragic.

We strolled through Bagnone visiting the Cast Museum and checked out the Teatro. We swung by the local alimentari and fruttivendolo to purchase our first picnic. Hiking up the pilgrim path for the last time, we chose the Piazza della Chiesa for our feast of clementine, arance rosse, salame, pecorino, bresaola and pane. We were finally able to make good use of our blue cutting board, Opinel knives, and K-Mart pilgrim cups.

Hopes for the future: Gelato! Healed blisters AND love under the Tuscan sun.

March 16

On Tuesday morning, we woke up to glorious Tuscan sun streaming through the lucernari. Breakfast of home-made dolci and fresh espresso awaited us downstairs, where Daniel and Oana greeted us with smiles. We gorged ourselves on Italian pastries and prepared for a day in the country.

Dressed in our pilgrim uniform of Project brand white T's and black pants, we set out, blisters and all, for the walk of a lifetime. Our destination: UNKNOWN!

After strolling through the castello di Bagnone, we took a steep and treacherous "shortcut" and discovered the slippery, silent killer of the Italian countryside - wet moss! We trekked through Bagnone and beyond towards the medieval town of Malgrate, stopping to chat with many friendly locals. One gentleman, especially excited to learn of our visit, described an unbelievable phenomenon known for miles around. Cameras ready, we continued down the road and there it was, the most amazing sighting yet: Roberta Cavalla the Wonder Horse and her lover Giuseppe the goat! In a spectacular feat of interspecies acrobatics, upon seeing us approach Giuseppe scaled a stone wall, shimmied a wooden rail, and leapt onto the back of his equine companion. Shutters clicking, we cheered the two on and continued on our way.

After touring a silent Malgrate, the inhabitants of which were in mid-siesta, we returned to Bagnone (paying our respects to Roberta and Giuseppe on the way) for a quick lunch of focacce. In keeping with the day's theme of extraordinary farmyard friends, we also gained the company of a merry cane! Unaware that he commonly goes by the name Pippo and is known to ride the bus between villages, we christened our mutt Alejandro as he led the way back towards our hotel.

Our day, though, was hardly over. Not only did we return to see our luggage safely delivered -- we also had an invitation from Professore Loris Jacopo Bononi of nearby Castiglione del Terziere. An incredible character who once taught Pharmacology and worked as the head of Pfizer's European branch, he conducted research central to the discovery of synthetic endorphins. After working in Southport, Connecticut for nearly twenty years, the Professore returned to his homeland to purchase a rambling and run-down castle, constructed in stages between the 8th and 15th centuries. With his wife, he lovingly restored the structure and proceeded to fill it with cultural relics pertaining to the history of the area. To tour his home was a truly unbelievable experience, as we were shown a first edition copy of Dante's Divine Comedy, Durer's Symmetry of the Body, and works of art spanning periods from prehistory to Arts and Crafts. Both he and his wife spoke eloquently, describing their love for poetry, conservation, and Italian history. Over coffee and pastries, he expressed his heartfelt joy to see young people who shared his interest in history and culture. He saw us to the door with words of how our visit inspired hope in him for Italy and humanity.

With his kind benediction in our hearts, we returned to Gardino della Luna for a different transitory experience - dinner!

Buona notte!

March 15

After our first night of much-needed beauty rest at the converted convent, we were awakened from our slumber by the toll of an an early morning bell. We then proceeded to have our first Italian breakfast which consisted of creamy cappuccini and cornetti. After an improptu photo shoot in the cloister garden and communal devotion in the prayer niche, we continued on foot (like real pilgrims) to the Vodafone store. While Professor Alchermes was rectifying technical difficulties, we caught up on the latest Italian street fashions.
We then followed the Arno River, only to find ourselves face-to-face with the Leaning Tower, locally referred to as il campanile. The grass-covered piazza was swarming with feisty Italian students, testifying to the enduring importance of the Cathedral complex as a communal gathering spot.

Our first stop was the Duomo, where the archbishop led a musical mass. Like sauce on spaghetti, young Italian boys descended upon the Conn Coll pilgrim women as they raced through the crowds towards the Baptistery. Once inside, we climbed to the second-story gallery where we could fully appreciate the pointed dome and the impressive acoustics, as demonstrated by the singing guard. We ended our visit to the Cathedral complex with a tour of the beautiful Camposanto, or hallowed burial ground.

We then made a mad dash for the Pisa station to make the 14:09 train to Villafranca, wiping out the panini case of a local bar on the way. On the train Professor Alchermes pointed out important sites, as we discussed Carrara marble quarries.

After disembarking at Villafranca, we began the "two-mile walk" to our hotel, which MapQuest estimated would take 45 minutes. Three hours, seven miles, four mountain ranges, and ten thousand calories later, we arrived at Il Giardino della Luna, only to find that our luggage was still in NY. We sent out a couple of kind pilgrims to find temporary provisions, including extra large T-shirts, tighty whities, and toxic toothpaste.

The perfect remedy?
A spiritual five-course meal, inspired by local flavors and traditions. The first course featured local salumi and fresh-baked focaccine. The primi consisted of meat-filled ravioli in a tomato sauce, and was followed by roast pork, served with mashed potatoes and a smoked chestnut gravy. After, we enjoyed a fresh salad, and last, but definitely not least, a chocolate pudding sprinkled with amaretti cookies. We ended the meal with limoncello, and, after an intense game of steal scrabble, slept like happy pilgrims.

(Sophia Lindsay Allegra Will)

March 13-14

As accounts of medieval pilgrimage have taught us, it’s all about the process. Their journeys plagued with hardship made our voyage from New York to Pisa feel all the more authentic. As we traveled to JFK through torrential winds and flood-warning rains, distress began to overshadow our deep-rooted excitement. Upon meeting up at Gate 3 at 6 pm, our fears were confirmed. Flights were getting cancelled left and right, the loudspeaker was blaring, and the congestion in the waiting area was escalating along with tempers. Holy Sepulchre! Each announcement of a delayed or cancelled flight was met with boisterous booing and a refugee camp formed on the airport floor with people using their backpacks as chairs after all seats were filled. The flight before ours to London was cancelled, heightening our concern for our own flight. The announcer hurriedly explained that the pilots were trying to find a small “window” of calm in the howling wind in which we could take off, which began to make some even more nervous than the prospect of a cancellation. They also informed us that they would not be putting our luggage onto this flight, which was the least of our worries at the time—little did we know the inconvenience that this would cause. The staff discovered an engine problem once we boarded the plane, and we sat on the runway for an hour as technicians worked on the engine. FINALLY, we took off! The turbulence was wild, shaking us left to right, up and down, all around like Elvis the Pelvis. Salvation came in the form of yummy pesto pasta, chocolate cake and awesome in-flight movies. Our favorite new releases included Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Blind Side, New Moon, and An Education.

We landed in Heathrow around noon, missing our connection but able to get on a 4:45 flight to Pisa. We got a written apology (oh so heartfelt!) from British Airways, but the biggest perk was the £10 meal voucher!! Many of us went wild at Huxley’s Bar and Grill with greasy British fare. Several napped while waiting for our flight, while others took advantage of the greatest duty-free shopping in the world. Almost everyone slept on the flight to Pisa, and upon arriving there, we began the process of locating our luggage. Although we had hoped that our bags would join us in Pisa, we were sadly disappointed to learn that it would be meeting us in Villafranca (remember, it’s all about the process).

After filing claims, we piled into cabs to our hotel, a beautifully converted convent. We quickly dropped off our carry-on bags in the rooms and tried to take a moment to freshen up (although we had nothing to freshen up with).

As it was already 10 pm or so, we went down the street to a delicious and authentic pizzeria for our first of many good meals.

We returned to our modest little rooms surrounding the cloister garden and slept soundly that night like Fra Angelico, very happy to be horizontal after 24 hours of being in transit.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pre-pilgrimage excitement

Three super excited pilgrims!