By Delphi A. ’18
Photos by Kendall K. ’19
Those of us who hadn’t slept on the plane had been awake for 24 hours and when Mr. Bostock said “taxi” as we stood on the cobblestone streets of Venice, I don’t think any of us imagined a small motor boat with just enough room for us all to fit. As six students raced across the choppy waves, watching our luggage bounce around with a nerve-wracking closeness to the edge, Mr. Bostock confessed discursively that he had once considered being a monk.
Our hotel was on an island called the Lido di Venezia. We found our rooms, dumped our things, and got ready to leave for our first dinner in Italy.
For those of you who have never eaten in a restaurant in Italy, dinner means multiple rich courses of meat, pasta, and or salad, followed by a dense, filling desert. Needless to say, when the meal was done we were all exhausted and stuffed to the brim. We happily retired to our hotel rooms, endlessly excited for the week ahead of us.
The next morning we rose early and took public transportation — another boat — to our first destination. The palace of the doge took ornate to a whole new level. Its tall painted ceilings and inconceivably large rooms were like nothing we had seen before.
We made our way through the palace to the dungeons. Stepping from the splendor of the palace into the dank, cold, musty, cramped stone cells brought us some perspective. While the doge may have been living it up, the common people of Venice were not afforded the same pomp.
After a quick lunch of pizza, we headed to our gondola ride. Our gondolier’s choice to comically rock the boat made an experience that had been equal parts scary and amazing, more scary. But as the six of us glided between tall stone building, completely unable to the see the bottom of the water, something occurred to me.
These homes, and businesses, while not particularly clean, or symmetrical, or matching, or perfect, were beautiful. I have found that in the United States beauty is often defined by “perfection.” And yet here we were surrounded by flaws and I had never seen something so beautiful.
After the gondola ride, we visited an art museum, the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, the museum which holds Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Much to our disappointment, this famous work does not stay on display for very long each year, and we had missed it.
We still had many hours before dinner when we left the Gallerie, so the eight of us began our mission to find and consume gelato.
At some point, prior to our departure Mr. Bostock had mentioned getting gelato in every city we visited, and we intended on holding him to that.
After tasting gelato for the first time, we slowly made our way through the city to our meeting location. Along the way, we stopped in many small shops. When Kendall K. ’19 and McKayla F. ’19 saw a spa-like shop where customers placed their feet into tubs of water filled with small, live fish, they were very excited, although the rest of the group failed to see the appeal, we were all entertained watching them get the dead skin eaten off their feet by little fish.
The next day we woke up, packed our last few items, and got in a van to head to Florence. On the way to Florence, we stopped for a few hours in Ravenna. While there we saw the Basilica of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia which were filled with intricate mosaics. Before leaving we saw the tomb of Dante. Inside the tomb is a stone plaque of sorts, covered in Latin. Mr. Bostock informed us that we could earn bonus points in our Latin classes if we could translate it.
Florence (or Firenze, as it is called in Italy) is filled with art. Particularly, the artwork housed in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Florence (home to the giant, magnificent statue of David), the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral whose dome is the largest dome brick and mortar dome in the world, and has been around for nearly 600 years, and the huge number of paintings and sculptures kept in the Uffizi gallery which holds pieces made by many of Italy’s most famous artists such as da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian and Rembrandt.
That night’s dinner was slightly different than those preceding it; this one we prepared! We rolled out our own spaghetti, made tomato sauce, meatloaf, salad and dessert. Everyone was pleasantly surprised to discover that we had succeeded and everything tasted amazing!
The next morning we left Florence en route to Rome. Once more we made a pit stop for hours, this time in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, and home to two important basilicas. The first we visited was the Basilica of Santa Chiara (or Saint Clare in English).
In silence we walked through the stone church, ending in the crypt where the body of Saint Clare was on display. Many of us lit candles, mine in memory of my grandmother. In that dimly lit stone basement, we bonded silently through mutual respect.
From the outside the Basilica of St. Francis looked as big as a small neighborhood, a perspective only encouraged by the vaulting ceilings and magnificent frescos covering them that can be seen throughout the inside of the basilica. The Franciscan monk who was our tour guide was also from the United States, which we discovered was not all that odd, because most Franciscan monks spend time in Assisi at some point in their careers.
While inside, our guide explained the meaning and artist behind many of the frescos, including one which depicted a skeleton in what appeared to be overalls. He explained that this was sister death, and from then on, everywhere we went we saw the symbol of sister death.
After leaving Assisi, we finally came to Rome. Our first experience of the city was that it was not unlike big cities in the United States. People rushed everywhere and the traffic was terrible. Overall the time we spent in the city on our first day was not what we expected, the entirety of the next day would be, though.
We began our morning in the Vatican Museums. In the Sistine Chapel, we all craned our necks to better see the famed ceiling. It is one thing to hear stories, or look at pictures of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, but it is entirely another thing to stand underneath so much history and art. Similarly, Saint Peter’s Basilica, its towering ceilings, and even taller dome all covered in frescos and statues cannot fully be captured in words or photographs.
The next location on our tour excited Mr. Bostock greatly. As we grew closer to it, the Colosseum appeared amid the city skyline. Once inside we climbed many overly steep stairs before finally coming out onto one of the highest levels of the huge ancient building. Even missing all of its beautiful marble facades and floor, the Flavian Amphitheatre is still breathtaking.
As we stood on the lowest level staring down at the labyrinth of stone walls that used to be cells to hold gladiators and large animals alike, Ms. D’Stair commented to me on the horror of the spectacle the ancient Romans had enjoyed watching so much.
We watched the other tourists that surrounded us take smiling selfies next to the stage on which so many innocent animals, prisoners of war, slaves, and debtors had died for sport. When we finally looked up from our deep conversation about the tragic nature of the site on which we stood, we discovered that Mr. Bostock and the others had left us behind.
We caught up with the rest of our group and headed to the forum. We each took a sip of the water from a fountain that is said to give you longer life, before heading into the ramshackle collection of ruins that used to be the city center. Many decades of architecture spread out before us. Mr. Bostock was giddy to tell us what each fragment used to be and what its significance was.
We were given some free time, during which we got gelato of course. Then dinner and a moonlight stroll to the Pantheon. We arrived just in time to see through the great doors to the inside of the temple, but we were too late to cross the threshold.
As we headed away from the temple, a huge number of birds took flight just over the temple, their white feathers illuminated by the moon behind them. In ancient Rome, the augurs would have called it an omen. If it was one, it must have been good because just like every part of the trip leading up to this moment, the rest would be amazing and jaw-dropping.
Our final location in Rome was the Trevi Fountain. The lights that shone all around the fountain seemed to bring the statues of Neptune and the horses to life before our eyes. We each threw a coin into the water over our shoulder, hoping that we could indeed return to Rome very soon.
The three-hour bus ride to Pompeii was worth every moment. The ancient city is amazingly intact. We walked on streets that have existed, mostly unchanged, for thousands of years. We moved through a house in which a family lived and choked to death on ash before the first century of the common era. We saw fireplaces, bedrooms, bathhouses, drinking fountains, gardens and restaurants. All the while, the menacing peak of Mount Vesuvius loomed in the distance. It was easy to put ourselves into the shoes of the many civilians who had been buried there for so many years, easy and life-changing.
We were back in Rome in the morning when we woke up at 3 a.m. local time to drive to the airport. We saw the sun rise in Rome, and many hours later when we touched down in London, the sun still shone above our heads. We arrived in Philadelphia around 4 p.m. local time, still the same day.
We had chased the sun home.
LCDS Global Programs include a robust, curricular, experiential learning travel program and a diverse international student community. For more information on our travel opportunities or learning about the rewards of hosting an international student, please contact Heather Woodbridge, Director of Global Programs.