Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A few days into the Florence experience

Rome is long behind us. We miss breakfast with our new friend Enzo and the fruit from Campo de Fiori, but another whole set of experiences has been awaiting us here. Florence has welcomed us and kept us running with tours, lectures and a trip into the Tuscan hillside to the home of Elaine Poggi, the founder of the Foundation of Photo/Art in Hospitals. We still have another lecture, a trip to Siena and San Gimignano, a cooking class AND a Tuscan bike tour...before we leave on Monday for Venice.

But let's go back to Monday's trip to Banfi! Talk about an amazing place with an amazing story. Banfi is a privately owned winery. It is owned by two Americans and has a great family history. They own 7000 continuous acres. Banfi has 27 different wines they produce. The top wines that they sell can cost upwards of $80 a bottle. The grapes for these top wines are hand picked by Banfi workers. They are then hand sorted and then computer selected to ensure top quality wine is made.  Our tour of the winery was fantastic. We got to see from where the grapes are dropped off to the cellar where all the wine stored in barrel after barrel after barrel. 

Once we were done with the tour, we headed up to the castle to have lunch. We enjoyed a three course meal. First we enjoyed a selection of Tuscan cured meats with a glass of Pinot Grigio. The second course was lasagnetta au gratin on tomato sauce with a glass of Belnero (not my favorite of the wines....too dry for me). Lastly, we enjoy a delicious dish of roast pork with rosemary flavored potatoes. The wine selection for the third course was Brunello di Montalcino. A lovely red wine...but I must say the Pinot Grigio was my fave! 

After eating all the food, we had the opportunity to wander on the grounds of the castle. The rolling hillside made for some great pics. I am not afraid to lay on the ground to get the picture I want (and I have been laughed at several times for it). I love the pictures I was able to get. Such a beautiful place. Another must see spot for those thinking of touring Italy. 

The rest of the trip into Florence was spectacular. There is something magically about the hillside. It calls out, "Come explore my beauty. Bring your camera. Get lost in this slice of heaven." Huge trees entwined with vines...with colors so vibrant and rich. As I posted before, a camera cannot capture it's true beauty (especially in a bus traveling quickly down the road). 

By the time we finally got to Hotel California in Florence, we were all exhausted. We quickly met with the director of the Accent Center here, Michelangelo, or the "Steven of Florence". He helped get us all set up in our hotel, gave us maps and the itinerary for the rest of the trip. Then we all fell into our rooms and promptly passed out. 

Tuesday morning was a short walking tour with Fraya, our tour guide. Great woman. She's an Australian living in Italy, who has extensive knowledge of art history. We had a little mix up about how long the tour was suppose to be and as a result, we were late to our luncheon with Elaine. We had the pleasure of taking two buses to get to Elaine's. At the last bus stop, we were greeted by Elaine's son, daughter, and friend's of theirs who took us up to Elaine's beautiful house. She prepared quite the feast for us. I ate the first course and then her flowers were calling to my camera....I couldn't help myself. I totally missed out on the pastas because there was do much beauty in all of her flowers. She also has numerous lemon trees surrounding her patio. Wait until you see the size of them. 

Our time at her house was much too short. We were disappointed that we needed to say goodbye. I am hoping to interact with her more before the trip is over and/or when we return to the States. By three, we were heading back into the city to listen to a lecture on how art changed after the black plague. As health educators, we would have loved to learn more specifically about the plague and how the community was changed because of it. The lecture was rather dull. 

By the end of the day, we again were exhausted. Kristen, Dana and I decided to stay in for the night. We shopped at the grocery store, where we bought day old bread, olive oil, some cheese, cherries, strawberries and some salami. We sat out on the patio to enjoy our cheap dinner. 

Florence has not been my favorite place. I have not seen many Italian in this place. I think I have seen more people of Asian decent here than any other ethnicity. It really is a town of tourists. The roads here are more confusing than those we experienced in Rome. It feels more compact than Rome.  Florence does have a healthy population of bicyclists, more so than moped drivers. However, they will run you be prepared to run if you are in a crosswalk. 

I guess that brings me to today's tour. The first stop of the day was Accademia, where we got to see the David. Absolutely magnificent! Truely a masterpiece! To slowly walk around it and to just take in it's! His expression changes from when you look from the front, to getting a side view. To phantom the tools Michelangelo needed to create the David is mind blowing. Just think of the tools we can readily use today...none of those were available to a genius like Michelangelo. Fraya said that Michelangelo didn't feel as if he created the statues. He was very spiritual and felt that God guided him to carve statues that were already in the marble. 

Our second stop was Spedale delgi innocinti, an orphanage that was built by the silk makers guild. The architecture of this place was awesome. The arches were perfect half circles. The columns were spaced out with the same dimensions all the way around. Perfect squares. Wonderful artwork and interesting history about how babies were dropped off and the wet nurses that cared for the babies were all included in the story that went with the tour. 

Our time with Fraya ended at the oldest pharmacy in existence in Florence. We then had a couple hours to ourselves before we had to be back to the Accent center for another lecture. Five of us went to the travel agency to get our train tickets for our return trip from Venice to Rome on June 1 and 2. It will be a LONG travel day, but we get to take the train overnight from Venice. We have compartments to sleep in and keep our stuff safe. It will be yet another adventure. 

Thursday, we are headed to the Careggi Hospital to tour the geriatric ward. We are meeting Elaine there for the tour. I'm sure we will hear more about the importance of art and photos in hospitals from her. It's going to be a great day. 

Ciao until then! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Traveling into the countryside

As I start this post, we are traveling from Rome to Banfi. The buildings of Rome have given way to rolling hillsides. Who knew there were so many shades of green. The trees and shrubs that cover these hillsides are such a dark green,  dotted with the occasional shade of yellowish-green. The horizon is filled with one tree covered mountain after another.  Workers can be seen working in the fields, be it planting or making hay. A view of the Mediterranean and all of  it's ships made this girl long for home and Lake Superior I'm experiencing sensory oveload. Words cannot express the view and pictures will not capture the true beauty of this ride...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Discovered Heaven in Rome! 

On  Saturday, we had the day to ourselves. Kristen, Cayla and I had every intention of making it to the Spanish Steps AND the Trevi Fountain. Steven from the Accent office suggested that we check out the wonderful garden at the top of the Spanish steps. We thought we'd go check that out. Little did we know that this little garden was NOT so little! 

We climbed the 135 steps to the top of the Spanish Steps and went in search of Villa Boughese.  Just outside of the garden, we had a view of the entire city.  We then spent the next four hours wandering around the garden! Simply...unbelievable. Nature at it's finest. Huge trees, plenty of grassy areas to sit on for hours reading a book, fountains, places for kids to play soccer or cricket, a pond to take a rowboat ride in, flowers to photograph, a cinema, wildlife, and so much more.  

There was even a ZOO. We spent the afternoon at the zoo in Rome. What an opportunity! We saw many of the same things we see in American zoos, such as monkeys, elephants, giraffes, lions and tigers and bears...oh my! In one of the buildings at the zoo, there was a exhibit on water and how we need to conserve it. A few of the posters in the exhibit were done by kids, who not only had creative ways to conserve water, but also stressed the importance of water in our world. 

It was a REALLY long day! We never made it to the Trevi Fountain. By the time we left the zoo, we were in total diva status. We were in need of some good food....well, any food! Pizza was quick, easy and amazingly good as usual. Back in our room, we decided that we would get up at 5:30 AM and head to the Trevi Fountain to get some early morning pictures. 

Well...............those plans didn't work! Either the alarm didn't go off or we totally missed it. We didn't get up until 10. I guess we needed the sleep. Felt great to sleep in...although I do miss my bed, pillows and snoring moose! =) We did make it to the fountain and of course, we threw in our coins. Like so many other fountains we have seen in Rome, the sculptures are astounding. Perhaps, we'll make it back before nightfall. However, this afternoon, we had a thunderstorm roll through. 

On Monday, we journey to Florence. We will first spend the day at Castello Banfi winery,  which was the first winery in the world to be internationally recognized for exceptional environment, ethical and social responsibility. Dr. Tornabene says our tour will focus on safety and health in the workplace. 

I am leaving Rome with more questions than answers. The public safety/volunteer force within me is strong right now.
I want to know if they have volunteer fire departments or paid departments and what type of training these firefighter receive. This city has so many Smart cars. What types of training are available, especially when it comes to extricating people. 
 Also, with as much water as there is in this city, where are the sprinkler systems for buildings? My hotel has no sprinklers. 
What types of fire prevention are taught to kids? 
Is there a public safety division? What is included under the scope of public safety ( fire marshal, law enforcement, traffic safety)?
Do they have a program such as Juvenile Firesetters for kids who get caught starting fires? 
Are there laws here similar to the Ted Foss Move Over Law. Although, I'm not sure where the police would pull someone over at. The roads are so narrow, that stopping would surely cause an accident.
What about car seats for kids? I saw some 18-24 month old just riding in a car being held by an adult. I know they have car seats because when we left the zoo yesterday, I saw several car seats in vehicles. Also, do they offer car seat clinics to help people properly install their car seats? 
What is the seat belt law? Is there a fine for not wearing one?
What is the helmet law? 
What is the accident rate here? 
How many people die in house fires each year? 
And so much more....

I am excited to start week two of our trip.  Conversations about a summer internship for 2012 have been floating between Dr. Tornabene and me. We'll see what sort of information we can turn up first.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Two days combined....this could get long (just a forewarning)

Thursday was yet another beautiful day in Rome. Hotter than heck, but glorious nonetheless! I am getting some muchly needed Vitamin D. Every day has thus far been wonderful. Although I miss everyone, I do not regret my decision to take this class and experience Italy. 

Yesterday, we headed to the Accent Center, where Paolo was our guest speaker. Paolo works for Caritas, a social service organization here in Italy. He works in the volunteer section of the organization. Caritas is a fantastic organization. Think of it as a version of CHUM Center, Damino, Lake Superior Community Health Center, AIDS resource center and social services all wrapped into one package. While Caritas is a Catholic organization, it is funded by donations. Employees of Caritas are not paid by the Church. 

Every day, Caritas Soup Kitchen feed up to 600 people not only for lunch, but also for dinner. Food is not prepared on site. Donated food is cooked and sent to the soup kitchen. Dishing, cleaning, visiting with people who need a meal, and many other tasks are done by volunteers. Paolo said there are up to 30 volunteers working each meal. How amazing is it to think that there are sooooooooooooo many willing volunteers available to lend a hand!?!?

Caritas does more than just soup kitchens. They have health care centers for those in need. They have a beautiful house for people who are HIV positive to live in. They have a nursery for small children. They good out into the night and provide coffee and clothing to those homeless people who do not make it to the soup kitchens.  Doctors volunteer their services to the health care clinics. Caritas reaches out to the gypsy camps to provide health care and mentoring for those children of gypsies. They have schools to teach Italian to immigrants. It sounds like a wonderful organization that is muchly needed in Italy. 

I couldn't resist asking Paolo if they have the same shortage of volunteers as we are seeing in America. He said on average 15-20 people call a DAY asking to volunteer their time, services, make a donation of food or money. AMAZING! Caritas provides training to their volunteers for the many areas they work in. Volunteers are asked for a minimum of ONE night a week. Many do more than that, but night a week. I simply cannot get over the fact that they have so many people who are willing to volunteer. I wish more Americans had that level of commitment. 

Thursday afternoon, we trekked up to the Baths of Diocletian to meet Antonella again. She is an amazing guide, who has tied the subject of community health into each of our tours. During our tour of the Baths of Diocletian, she explained how in ancient days it was believed that an equilibrium between the elements (earth, water, fire, air) and the humors (black bile, phlegm, yellow bile, blood) produced health. They also believed that there was a link between good health and virtue. Health issues have been around much longer than one has ever thought of. 

Our next stop was the Forum. But first, Antonella walked us back down the hill and brought us to Sicilian Caffè-Pasticceria 'Dagnino'. Dr. Tornabene treated us to the BEST cannoli from there. I think it was the first cannoli for many of us. Talk about amazing! 

Sadly, when we arrived at the Forum, it was time to say ciao to Antonella. I hear she is coming to UMD at some point and will love to see her when she does. 

Here I am, in the heart of Rome. The streets are cobblestone and to see grass seems to be a rarity...then you enter the Forum. Yes, there are all those ancient ruins, but the most amazing parts were garden areas and the view of the entire city. (Pics will be posted next week. Internet accessibility for uploading is limited right now.) It was such a serene feeling walking through those gardens, mixed amongst the ruins. If it had not been close to the time that the Forum was closing, I would have hung out longer. 

Personally, I did not make it to the Coloseum (I'm told there really is not much to see within the Colosseum, so I'm not feeling like I missed anything that I couldn't see in other's pictures). The charger for my camera battery decided to stop working...making my first mission of Friday morning one of acquiring a new charger. I was able to find one in time to get the battery charged before we headed to the Vatican. I'm not sure there are enough descriptive  words to describe the things we saw in the Vatican museum or for the Sistine Chapel. Astounding, marvelous, utterly amazing...these cannot come close enough. To simply think of the time, effort, and resources (that were considerably less than we have today) to complete such masterpieces is mind boggling. Statues, tapestries, frescos,the Sistine Chapel...all fine detailed works of art. To see Michelanglo's masterpiece in a book, does it no justice! To be in the Sistine Chapel and experience it first hand....completely profound. Certainly something everyone should put on their bucket list. 

Last night we attended an opera performance at Chiesa All Saints, an amazing church in the heart of the business district. We passed shops like Tiffany's, Prada, and so many more high class shops. The arias were beautiful, and the tenor...was HHHHOOOOOOTTTTT!  

Well, my roomies and I are off to more adventures today. More later! Ciao!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wednesday in Rome!

Day two in Rome...sore feet, sunburnt, well fed, lovin' it! After breakfast this morning, we walked to the Isola Tiberina where we started our guided walking tour with Antonella De Michelis. The island was once used as a point of entry to the city from the river. Weary travelers who came to Rome were in need of food, housing, and medical assistance. It is said that the Serpent God, Asclepius, came to this island to heal the people of Rome from all the diseases they were dealing with. A temple was built in honor of Asclepius. People were not able to enter the temple, but went to it to be healed. The temple was shaped like a ship (which you will see in the pics. You will also see the shape of the serpent on the ship. This should look familiar). Still today, the hospital is located on the island. 

After leaving the island, Antonella led us through the Roman Jewish ghetto. She shared with us stories of the different market plazas visitors to the city would encounter. One of the first ones would have been a fish market. Apparently fish heads were a delicacy (gross). Because we are health educators, she went on to describe the disgusting streets. Butchers did their slaughtering and threw the blood and guts in the streets. Barbers didn't just cut your hair. They were amateur surgeons.  They could pull your teeth out and could perform bloodletting. The hair, teeth and blood also went into the streets. People living above some of these places, dumped their feces into the streets. We all quivered in disgust as we thought about living in that type of environment. 

One of the highlights of the tour was visiting the marketplace Campo de Fiori. This is much like a farmers market. Lots of fresh foods to purchase. A great place to get pictures of vivid colors and people. The fruit is Ahhhh-mazing! Lucky for us, Campo de' Fiori is just up the street from our hotel, Albergo del Sole, which is the oldest hotel in Rome. 

After Campo de Fiori, we headed to Piazza Noavona. Plenty of history here. This place is HUGE! It is shaped in a oval. Chariot races were held here. The Piazza Noavona was also once the city dump. Today, it has two fountains and is normally packed with artists during the day, selling everything from jewelry to paintings. 

We finished our guided tour at the Pantheon. I got a few awesome pictures of the sunlight coming in through the top of the Pantheon. It is quite the structure. Maybe over the weekend, we'll be able to go back to check it out again. We have been plotting our weekend already. Trevi Fountain, Spanish steps are just two of our weekend stops planned. 

Thursday will include a lecture in the morning at the Accent office and then we are off to the Forum and the Colosseum for the afternoon. On Friday, we will visit the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. That night we are attending an opera. I am looking forward to our tour of the Vatican. 

My public safety side came out today. People, vehicles, bicycles and oodles of mopeds use the same small space wherever we walk. Hardly anyone wears a seatbelt in their tiny cars. However, it is rare to see someone who drives a moped without a helmet. I am hoping to find out what sort of laws there are on these two items. I'd also like to discover if they have any laws on cell phone use in cars. Although, whereas we as Americans are so totally obsessed with our cell phones and being on them ALL the time, it is rare to actually see someone on their cell phone here. Refreshing...even though I do miss being connected to everyone. =( I'd also like to find a fire station to check out. 

I'll update again tomorrow. Hope everyone is enjoying my posts. I have pics to share, but they are currently uploaded to my Mobile Me account. I'm sure one of my zillions of friends could post the web address for my photos....right???


Wednesday, May 18, 2011


What an amazingly beautiful place Rome is. We arrived at noon on Tuesday, May 17. This was two hours later than our original flight plan. We encountered a delay in our flight from MSP to JFK. As a result, we had to catch a later flight out of JFK. 

The flight was certainly another new experience in many ways. 
1) I had never flown overnight. 
2) I've never flown over the ocean. 
2) HOLY cow was that a huge plane. 

We sat six wide and it seemed as if the whole plane knew Italian. Minnesota girls stuck out like sore thumbs! 

I knew from just the food served on the plane that we were in for an awesome trip. At 39,000 feet, we were served a delightful meal consisting of our choice of fish or beef, wine or juice. We had cooked veggies, pasta and so much more. 

After everyone was done eating and everything was cleaned up, it was lights out in the cabin. I had a hard time sleeping on the plane. I could feel every bump, every ounce of turbulence, every stewardess that walked by (they need to learn to walk on the balls of their feet....not the heels). In all, I may have gotten three hours of sleep. 

This morning, we were treated with yogurt, coffee, croissant, and cookies. What a great way to start the day.....and then we got to Rome! I wish I could have had a window seat to see the spectacular sights from up above. Although it could not prepare me for what was to come. 

Five of us left the airport headed for our hotel. Our cabbie, David, amazingly got us to the hotel in one piece. Driving here is scary! I've never driven as close to cars and other vehicles as they do here. They are not afraid to block oncoming traffic to get through. It's worse than Washington DC! 

We ran into Dr. Tornabene as soon as we got to the door of the hotel. She got us situated in our rooms and then gave us a small tour. Even though I was exhausted, I was ready to venture out into Rome and take a zillion pictures. Both Dr. Tornabene and Dr. Vogelsang took the whole group out for gelato tonight. We enjoyed some great flavors...banana, mango, chocolate chip, lemon...the list goes on....delicious!

As I type this, I'm am currently sitting on the rooftop garden deck of our hotel. (It's 10 PM here/3:00 at home. My kids are getting out of school soon and will be heading to Robyn's last high school choir concert.) It is breezy and chilly out, but nonetheless....stunning! The sun has almost completely set. The sky is clear and a few stars twinkle in the sky. The smell of Italian food is heavy in the air. The sounds of the people on the streets is wafting it's way to the rooftop. Planes are soaring overhead. Earlier, the church bells were ringing. 

Well, tomorrow will be another busy day. Walking tour of Rome, lunch at the Accent office, and Accent orientation. I need some sleep. Enjoy a few of the pics I took today. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Next stop....Rome!

Kristen, Cayla and I are currently in the JFK airport waiting to board our plane to Rome. Due to a delay in MSP, we needed to take a later flight from JFK. We'll be taking off at 9:40 PM. So far it has been a REALLY long day, but we are still in good spirits. We have received word from our instructors in Rome that we will be having a gelato excursion tomorrow with them. I'm pumped, but missing my girls and friends already too.

Next post will be from ROME!!!!!!

Ciao bella!!!!!!