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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Italy and Greece

In grade 10 I went on a trip to Italy and Greece for March Break. That semester I was taking my first year of Latin. The textbook used the story of a Pompeian family to teach the language, and I was very excited to actually visit the ancient city. About 25 people from my school went, including the principal. We were grouped with a small number of students from another school.

I befriended Ben, a grade 11 or 12 student from KCI, for the trip. He was a nice enough guy (a terrible rapper, though). After a delay in Montreal, we landed in Athens. I didn't sleep during the flight -I was too afraid (I don't like flying). I watched Anchorman twice, and the same Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue videos far too many times. I had terrible jet lag when we landed, but felt better after eating. From there we flew to Rome in a small plane as the sun set. The aircraft was full of rowdy Roman teenagers.

Our tour guide for the trip was Billie, a Serbian woman who had moved to Italy. Our driver was named Marcello; all the girls loved him. My roommate while we were in Italy was Liam, a student from the other school; he was pretty cool.

In Rome, we saw the Trevi Fountain (I did throw a coin and make a wish), Trajan's Column, and the incredible Pantheon. The bus to the Colosseum was so (uncomfortably) packed that the doors wouldn't close, and people still kept trying to get on! We took the elevator to get to the upper levels of the amphitheatre (we didn't get to go on the modern floor built over part of the underground chambers). We next went to the Forum Romanum, entered through the Arch of Titus. The spot where Caesar was cremated was commemorated.

From the Forum we went to the Vatican Museums. The place is pretty much made of gold, with lovely Roman, Greek, and Egyptian statues. We didn't get to see the Pope, as he was in the hospital and only returned a couple days after we left the city (he died the next month). I loved the Gallery of Maps, hobbit that I am, which led to the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel was amazing, with walls of trompe l'oeil curtains and Michelangelo's fantastic Last Judgement. Inside the massive St. Peter's Basilica were Michelangelo's Pieta and numerous works by my favourite sculptor, Bernini, including St. Peter's baldachin. I took a picture of my feet here, and there was a face in the photo. I got a great pic of some off-duty Swiss Guards leaving the Vatican.

I signed-up for the optional excursion and spent a day in Florence, instead of having free reign in Rome. The bus ride through golden Tuscany was lovely. Our guide for the excursion was a cool guy nicknamed Mimo. We began atop a lookout on a hill where all the fashion designers lived, with a view over the city. We toured a leather worker's shop and passed by the church of Santa Croce, with an awesome statue in front of Dante and an eagle pulling at his robes. Florence Cathedral was amazing, the baptistery with Ghiberti's bronze doors, as well. I had lunch in the Piazza della Signoria (real Italian pizza) with KCI's principal. I also had gelato for the first time (banana). We didn't have time to see the Uffizi, unfortunately, but did see the lovely statues outside it by Donatello, Giambologna and Cellini.

As we were leaving Rome for Naples, our bus was hit by a car. Only a little paint scratched, but the drivers in Rome are maniacs. In Naples, we took a small ferry to Capri. Ben fell asleep on a little old Asian lady. I loved Capri, with it's narrow roads, orange trees, and gorgeous azure waters. For lunch I had the best pasta I've ever tasted at an upscale restaurant, and strangely the only good pasta of the entire trip...

Back on the mainland, we stayed the night in Sorrento. Liam and I went for a walk to get some disposable cameras, and an old woman muttered about the number of single men in the world as she walked past us. Leaving the city for Pompeii, we took terrifyingly narrow mountain roads, and even a tunnel through the mountain.

Upon reaching Pompeii, we discovered the ruins were closed! The workers chose this day to go on strike. This was very disappointing, as I had wanted to try to find the house of Caecilius, the pater familias of the family my textbook was based on. We did get to visit a cameo studio, and the stalls selling various phallic paraphernalia. There were a lot of stray cats wandering around.

From there we drove to Bari, on the other side of Italy (only 4 hours!) to catch a ferry to Greece. Before this trip, I had never seen mountains, and the ones we passed here filled me with awe. Ben fell asleep on me this time, and tried to buy my watch while half-asleep, which had suddenly become fascinating to him. I had never been on a boat across a sea, either -scary. Unfortunately, I was switched to being roommates with Josh for the overnight ferry ride (and the rest of the trip). Josh was a troublemaker, and the teachers put me with him to keep an eye on him. I hate that. I've been punished like this for being responsible too many times. The morning after was nice, though; I went out on the deck at stern and watched the water swirls trailing behind the ferry.

We arrived at Patras and headed for Delphi. The mountain roads up Mount Parnassus to Delphi were even more terrifying than the ones we took in Italy. Delphi was amazing, though -most likely my favourite part of the trip. We worked our way up through the ruins, seeing the Treasury of Athens, the seat of the Delphic Oracle in the Temple of Apollo, and the theatre. My former roommate, Liam, and I were the first to reach the stadium at the top of the ruins. Everyone else seemed to be out of breath...We raced each other; I would have won, but my shoe came off. The museum had the famous Charioteer statue. Again, there were a lot of stray cats wandering around outside. The balcony of my hotel room overlooked the streets of the little town. There was one shop which sold medieval weapons. The crazy shopkeeper even demonstrated the crossbow by firing a bolt into the back wall! I watched the sun set on a platform at the edge of town (it was a straight drop down the mountain).

From Delphi we continued on to Athens. On the way, we stopped at a rug shop, and had lunch at a lovely relaxed restaurant on the shore. While the food in Italy was unimpressive, the food in Greece was delicious, especially cheese pie.

In Athens, we ascended the Acropolis -saw the Erechtheion with it's Porch of Maidens, the Parthenon, and a nice museum. From the Acropolis you could see a disgusting ring of yellow smog around the city. We explored the market areas in town, and I had a necklace with my name (in Greek) made at a jewelry shop. We stayed in an upscale hotel, one of the many built for the Olympic games which had recently taken place. We had a party the night before we flew back home. The music was really loud, and the performers shouted 'opa' a million times. I hate that word now. Josh was becoming increasingly destructive, throwing things at pidgeons from our window, and yelling at people in adjacent buildings. I'd had enough, and refused to stay in the same room anymore. I slept on the floor of the other guys' room.

Of course, he somehow ended up next to me on the fight back. The bus ride back home from the airport was nice and toasty, though (it was freezing in Toronto).

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