1 Month in Italy, Poland, and Czech Republic
I figure it is most relevant to speak about my school performance, or the nature of classes; since that is where I stopped. This past week, I received grades for the following assignments: Italian Conversation midterm including an oral presentation, a midterm test for both Italian Culture & Italian Renaissance, and the first of three exams in Modern History. My initial belief that I would have an easier semester abroad has now been confirmed. After inquiring about the importance of grades, I have received an answer; only the credit will be transferred, not the grade. Second, regarding grading and the difficulty of class here; I received: a 96 in Conversation, an 87 in Culture, and an A & A+ on the history exams.
Upon receiving all my grades, I had one response, due to the 87, Io Sono Spazzatura (I am trash!) It is a good feeling to receive sufficient grades, putting me in line to see all As. I also received my grade for the individual project in Italian Culture, the presentation on Maria Montessori. No surprise after conducting hours of research and putting together a 20 slide PowerPoint, I ran on past the time limit with excitement! I found myself passionately speaking on behalf of the woman and her brilliant teaching method, the Montessori Method! The 96 can’t possibly equal to the new perspective I have on education. The most important part of this education; well above a grade, is the knowledge I have gained. Whether I am learning about Italian history and culture, or acquiring more of the Italian vocab and language, I am stimulated and engaged.
This added knowledge of Italian culture, language, and history has furthered my Italian studies, ovviamente! I can now say, I have added another specific interest in each field of my studies. European history; aside from certain fascinating time periods, like the world wars, I have developed an attachment to Italian history. This has further led me to gear towards this period of history, for both Europe and the U.S. From the modern period starting in 1870, both countries begin to blossom as imperialist or colonializing powers, while facing their own inevitable problems. It has helped in my high school lessons to draw some similarities between the two countries.
For instance, the year in 1861 is crucial; the United States split over the Civil War which lasted until 1865. While the U.S. divided, in 1861 the process of the Unification began to take shape of the Italian Peninsula. At the turn of the century, both countries extend their hand abroad; the U.S. following the victory in the Spanish America War gain control of islands across the Caribbean and the Pacific. Italy does not have success in their endeavors in Africa, engaging in a continuous fight for control of modern day, Ethiopia and Eritrea, although they would try their hand before WWI, more successfully in Liberia!
So why is this important? Perhaps drawing an attachment between two different peoples and countries is for not! I think however, it is this attachment that is crucial to understanding that we are all interconnected. Considering my previous study of Jewish history and how it relates to the enslaves peoples of African descent throughout much of the history of the United States; I believe this can be used accordingly! I look forward to my further enlightenment of the last six weeks of my education part of the study abroad; one week, Spring Break I will be off and in Sicily! Considering April is around the corner, it is time to register for fall classes back at VCU!
This is always one of my favorite times of the year, lumped together with the March Madness; which I am a stranger to, I’ll get into that later! This upcoming Fall semester, I am excited to at least now be planned to take an interesting course load of 17 credits. Italian Conversation, History of the Colonization of Africa, the Islam Religion, Russian Politics and Government, Psychology 410; which I am again minoring in, and two Globe classes; 301 & 401. I’m sure I will initially have a rude awakening, not only to just being back in Richmond, but also due to the higher intensity and difficulty in classes!
I have mixed feelings, regarding my remaining seven weeks that I remain in Viterbo. I have learned I desire to reside in a larger, more exciting and modern European city; in this way I look forward to returning to Richmond. More exciting, once I complete my semester here; I will travel for the next three weeks, seeing family both in southern Italy and reuniting with my Family! Starting with mom in Rome, and then in the following days I will see the rest; which I envision will eventually turn into the madness of the five; Mom, Julia, Dad, Tracy, and I!
With the summer and my return to the states looming, my future has begun to occupy more of my thoughts. What is to be of my summer, where will I live in Richmond, and then just general adjustment concerns once I must face that I am no longer in Europe! Despite these thoughts and concerns, I must be in the present; since I have roughly ten weeks left here. Considering if this upcoming month, April, is as exciting as March; I do hope for less cold and wind, it will be one to write about. Over this journey I have increasingly become more comfortable with the idea that I can live in Italy or Europe as a whole. Facing daily challenges in differences of both culture and language, has given me the confidence that I can succeed here. It is good I have learned, I can’t live in a small city like Viterbo; there is just too much I miss. This becomes most prevalent after returning from a larger city with attractions, diversity, and excitement; thinking about Rome, Florence, and most recently; Krakow and Prague!
Despite longing for a larger city, I chose Viterbo for a reason; I wanted an authentic Italian town experience; and that I have received. I question if I would have had the opportunity to integrate into a local high school as an English volunteer and become a paid English teacher, in a Rome, Florence or Turin. Considering the distractions of a larger city, I can acknowledge I chose right for me to study abroad. It is then up to my trips over a weekend or week to find the excitement and search for potential homes in Europe. This was my thinking during the field study, the week of March 9-18, in which I traveled to Krakow and Prague; through Ryanair!
The trip started on Friday, traveling to Rome, the first annoyance with living in a small city, no airport! Apparently, as Kiarra has stated many times, the elite ruling families of Viterbo decided, many years ago; not to allow an airport to be built in the city. Going to Rome is not an inconvenience, it is one of my favorite cities; yet, it does require me to use the Italian train system. In total by the end of this semester, I will have spent twelve days in the ancient Roman capital, on four different trips
With a desire to have a different experience in Rome, I used the Tinder app to find local company. That morning before leaving Viterbo, I signed up for a monthly phone plan at Vodaphone! This became useful later in the day, after it seemed that Alessandra and I wouldn’t cross paths. I spent the day sightseeing, Villa Borghese, St. Peter’s Basilica, Castel Sant’Angelo, along with just walking along the Tiber river.
The familiar sights brought up fond memories of just two months past; before I began this journey in Viterbo! We later met around 730 near the Colosseum; very pretty to see in the evening! As we walked about the city at night, I informed her I was more interested in her than taking in the sights. She did not disappoint, providing me with a new reason to learn the language. The evening filled with good conversation, a lot of walking and some tiramisu; had to end. Unfortunately, the downside, as many Italians do; she lives with her parents. I thoroughly enjoyed my brief time with her, and as I frantically searched around Rome for a hostel, I couldn’t help but ponder how wholesomely different she was from many American girls I know.
Among all the subjects we spoke of, travel; of course, most stuck out! She had traveled parts of the states; many countries in Europe, and generally found traveling to be very fun. I believe she found it surprising that I do not travel for fun. I prefaced it by stating clearly, I enjoy traveling, otherwise I wouldn’t continue. I went on trying to further explain that enjoyment, isn’t the priority; but growth! Traveling, as I cannot stress enough, forces a person, especially alone, to adapt, grow and improve!
While walking about sore and tired I racked my mind for a positive of my interesting position of looking for a hostel at midnight on a Friday night. The answer I again discovered another area of Rome. Like the San Lorenzo quarter, this tourist free area, showed a more authentic side of the city, although not really an ascetically pleasing or affluent. After striking out at the Mosaic hostel and the MJ hostel, place seemed strange; I found a much-needed bed at the Melting Pot. That night’s sleep, due to various factors proved to be terrible; mostly thanks to my bunkmate underneath!
The next morning however, seemed too simple; I quickly found a bus to the Ciampino Airport for six euro, right outside the Termini station. Settling into my seat I soon saw some familiar faces; three American USAC students Kyra, Kayla, and Hannah. Kyra asked me, “how long will this bus take to arrive at the airport.” After questioning why, she responded with their flight leaves in thirty minutes. I can recall myself at 19, having difficulty with traveling home from Morgantown, I can’t help but wonder; how would I be at that age traveling around Europe like these girls?
Unlike them, as I found out later, I made my flight and within hours had arrived to the Glowny train station. Krakow was an obvious destination for several reasons, first the history. I envisioned my days being consumed solely with history lessons. To properly conquer the city, I decided to divide the city over the span of the four days, including a day trip to Auschwitz! After making a short walk from the station, I found myself in Stare Misto; one of the largest old towns I have seen in all of Europe! Walking about the town, it is clear the city remained in tact despite the widespread destruction of Europe during World War II. This trip, marked a new chapter in my travels, an open housing policy. Like Rome, I only booked a room upon arriving in the city. I checked in at the Pillows Party Hostel, right outside the old town, then continued my tourist activity!
In the middle of the old town, a large medieval town square, Rynek Główny (I’d learn later down dating back to the thirteenth century) sits. It is a good representation of Stare Misto, with palaces, churches, and historic statues. In the middle sits the Old Square Underground museum, detailing the city’s history; which, I didn’t know at the time. A good example of the wealth of Krakow’s old town; instead, I further explore the surrounding area. There are countless museums, churches, and historic remnants of their proud past. With only a couple hours of daylight remaining, I accomplished my recon, and set out to the visit the castle; located at the edge of the town, overlooking the Vistula River. I’d find out, upon arriving to the door/gate, that visiting had concluded and I couldn’t get in; it would turn out to be the only downside of my time in the old town.
As the evening came, I turned my attention to the Couch Surfing Dinner Event, hosted by Ali. I found the apartment, equipped with a kitchen and dining room, was mostly tight considering the twenty of us flooded into two rooms. This caused a natural divide, the one room consisted of a group of guys from various parts of the world; the kitchen however, which included myself had mostly Poles. To integrate I volunteered to help shape some potato burgers/pancakes, which eventually cemented my place at the table next to two girls; Iwona, a native to Krakow, and Irina from Ukraine. To my enjoyment the table remained speaking English for much of the night, it wasn’t until later when people became more intoxicated and opinionated, that the Polish language came out! While talking with the Poles, I discovered that Krakow, every second Sunday of the month is beginning a shutdown.
This was evident the next day, as many of the stores were closed, in an effort to get people to attend church again; essentially, no work equals no excuse to miss church. This government led inconvenience made it difficult for me to find a place to eat but did not stop me in my quest to explore the city. I had already planned the day to be spent as outdoor adventure time; wow how Krakow provided! In my research, I found there to be an Abbey away from town, a park that I aimed to visit, a mound to hike, a lake to see, and to top it all off; a part of town devoted to the university.
The weather was reminiscent of summer, prompting me to get outdoorsy high! People of all ages were out, biking, running, walking their dogs, playing with their kids, skateboarding, rollerblading, and playing basketball! Starting early in the morning I made the trek to the Benedictine Monastery at Tyniec, providing a beautiful view along the Wisla river. Returning to the city, I walked along the river in route to Park Jordana and food! After feeling the good vibes of the central park, I gazed upon the mountain in the background; and just like that, thirty minutes later I was scaling through the muddy terrain! There was a path, but as I have learned from Marco and Petrarch, it’s about the journey; at least that is what I recite in my head while I ponder why I always go the more difficult route!
Making it up to Kosciusko Mound was well worth it, in this case it was about both the journey and destination. It provided a beautiful panorama of Krakow, from Jordana Park to Wawel Castle. I scaled down the man-made hill, and after visiting the fortress museum I headed back down to Jordana Park; just in time! Soon I would be invited to join a game, and after an hour and a half, I had satisfied my three-month long basketball break. It was glorious, we won three straight, I played well, but most importantly, I was reaffirmed that basketball is its own language. It didn’t matter that my teammates most likely didn’t understand my calls, screen left, right, etc, we just gelled!
After the game I got to talking with one of my teammates; and like the girls the night before, he gave me some local advice; visit Park Skaly Twardowskiego. That proved to be a wonderful use of the remaining sunlight I had. Located just outside the city and within easy reach by way of a twenty-minute bus ride, the lake provided me with another enjoyable outdoor activity! After walking through a park, I came upon a beautiful panorama view of the Lake; just as the sun was setting!
I left, strolled through the now dark forested park, and found the bus stop; I’d sit for about twenty minutes, wondering if I had the schedule right. I found it difficult to read and understand Polish, but soon enough the bus came. The public transportation system is astounding; how it all moves, intertwined to connect all of the city and the surrounding areas, for such a cheap price. Again, I returned to the city, being dropped off near one of the many university campuses and began my search for dinner! I finally found some Mexican food, surprised when I came upon it; Italy doesn’t know, so I had to take advantage while I had it available. Now, after a long exhausting day, I was able to sit and reflect upon such a rare day; only Barcelona with Elio could challenge this adventure filled day.
The next day proved to be sort of Jewish history lesson, highlighted with Schindler’s Factory and the two Jewish quarters, Kazimierz and Podgorze. The emotion filled day, starting with the Jewish ghetto; home to the original tombstone inspired walls and a few other museums, most notably the Galicia Jewish Museum; incredibly powerful and somber but did not prepare me for the day to follow. I must say, despite the depressing history, Krakow is filled with beauty; between all the religious buildings, cozy squares, and stunning bridges. My advice, as I could imagine that these sights may be overlooked, take the route from the Stara Synagogue to the Heroes Square. During this walk, I came across the Plac Wolnica, Kladka Bridge, and Rynek Podgorski; although for many the efficient public transportation can shorten this twenty-minute walk.
It was difficult having to narrow my time in Krakow to just four days. So rich with history, nature, and a tourist filled old town; I felt uneasy I was missing out on something, but the FOMO kept me on my toes, literally! By the end of Tuesday; a thirteen-hour day trip to Auschwitz, I was both physically and emotionally exhausted! I have visited Dachau, and somewhat understood the emotional roller coaster I was getting myself into but nothing can brace a person for Auschwitz. I awoke at 5 am and by 620 I was on my way with roughly fifty other travelers to Oswiecim; a blue-collar town home to the most famous gruesome site of the Holocaust. For starters, the camp is comprised of two separate camps Auschwitz and Auschwitz Birkenau, a newer camp built about 2 miles away for the overflow of victims.
Arriving in time for my 820 am reservation, I was one of the first individuals to pass underneath the words, “Arbeit Macht Frei.” Walking under the words, “work will set you free” has long been something I have felt drawn to both as a history major and as a person. Despite my thorough research I was instantly blown away at the site of such despair and atrocity! This occasion is another example of how photos work better than any words I write. Two quotes I saw sum my feelings to this day, one by Ruth Wallage-Binheim, “The past sits so deep in your soul, you can never be free of it” and the other attributed to a person unknown, “Try not to think about it too much, because it only makes you miserable. At the moment, a human life does not count for much, especially if it is a Jewish life.” The gravity of the experience was emotionally, mentally, and physically draining; and despite wandering around the first camp for six hours, mostly in disbelief; I don’t believe it is possible to absorb everything!
There are so many buildings and exhibits, to many for me to count; but I did my best to see everything. Many stood out: Block 27, dedicated to the children, which included voices of some children during and after their imprisonment, their drawings etched into the walls, and an entire paper listing of all the victims that were forced to spend time in Auschwitz; the book length was roughly the size of my queen bed. The basement of Block 11, known for its usage as the torture chambers was particularly somber! On the north side of the camp sat Crematorium I, a bunker style building, which doubled as the first gas chamber in the camp. These images are ingrained into my memory and paired with descriptions I read; only heighten my disturbed feelings towards the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Referencing both Elie Wiesel, “Forgetting them means letting them die again” and Privo Levy, “It happened, therefore it can happen again…” I feel it necessary for the inhumane atrocities to be written down and thus for me; to be never forgotten. In one building, visitors viewed the uncountable number of Jewish items taken by the Nazis upon their arrival. Encompassing everything from a room of shoes, suitcases, and hair products. One exhibit shows a blanket underneath a pile of long hair, the description explains the blanket was made of human hair, and to be sold into Germany! Another reading detailed how the Nazis were perfecting making soap from human remains! Again, these words can’t begin to explain the out of body feeling being at a site of such tragedy!
The second camp, Birkenau; which I chose to walk to, was built as an extension to the overcrowded Auschwitz. This large death camp; roughly the size of the walled Viterbo, drastically differs from the more famous Auschwitz camp. Spread out, I spent a few hours walking the hallowed grounds then came across the site of an inspirational, rebellious event. On October 7, 1944; the Sonderkommando, Jewish prisoners responsible for emptying the gas chambers, decided to destroy the building, killing a few SS members in the process of resistance. The plaque dedicated is to the 450 heroic prisoners who were soon murdered after for their act. Following an sombering series of events after Birkenau, which included a slow limp back to the Oswiecim train station, finding an ATM for lunch; no restaurants accepted card, and a confusing but delicious lunch; I boarded the train in a state of disbelief.
Two and half hours later, I arrived back to the hostel. I found the two French girls, which had gone to Auschwitz the day before. They were surprised that I returned so late and inquired about my experience. This conversation, as they noted, is relevant because they, unlike me; used a guide! Not surprised, I then had to suppress my strong ill feelings toward the guided tours; after all I never saw one enter Block 27! Lesson already known, do not be a sheep; especially when it can be better without a guide and free! The rest of the evening involved preparing for the journey to Prague. After packing and moving dorm rooms to an empty room, I went out to get dinner. With my frugal nature, and alone, I found a to-go spot not too far and ordered. I made my way back, then called mom. We tried to catch up, but its tough on the road; even more difficult than in Viterbo.
The next day started early, to pack and catch the morning bus. On my way to the station, I came upon the Wawel Castle, on my way out, and took advantage. Unlike before, I now could experience the extravagance of past Polish royalty, and see the surrounding area from atop the hill. I left satisfied and then came across a breakfast spot that boasted of their American breakfast buffet. Yes, I was hesitant; never wanting to be that American, only seeking out familiar cuisine, but this was breakfast. Besides, in the days prior I tried Pakistani food and classic Polish cuisine; Beetroot soup, and some chicken liver. Not sure about the second, perhaps, because of being drawn-in by the allure of the old Jewish town. It wouldn’t agree with me; this time around, the breakfast buffet, as I gorged myself proved beneficial for a day of travel ahead. I found
In classic Eastern European fashion, the expected journey was unclear and therefore, unsettling. The bus ride was divided in parts, Krakow to Bohumin, then a train to Prague. Since I did not reserve a ticket earlier, I was first informed I could only buy a bus ticket to Bohumin, then I would need to buy a ticket for the second route at the station. Later during the bus journey, the Leo Express attendant told me it was possible to buy a ticket now; the catch instead of ten euros, it would be 30! I politely declined, opting to instead buy the ticket online! Arriving just in time to the station; ten minutes before the departing Prague train, didn’t matter, as it would be delayed more than an hour! The station was rough, and they required restroom users to pay; I held it, but the memory remained. Through my travels, thus far, there are places that I really didn’t feel welcome nor happy to be at; this is one of those rare grimy places. Yet, after waiting for the train and then finally boarding, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very clean and comfortable train; the female attendant was polite and helped to explain me my options for food(!); not what I was expecting after sitting in the train station.
This trip would mark the second time in Prague, first visiting in June 2016. Staying only for two days, I had left with a feeling of in-completion; prompting me to revisit. I did not want to encounter déjà vu, so I challenged myself to better explore the city. This trip would be two fold, first evaluate it as a potential home while also experiencing the city in a season other than summer; hoping to avoid the tourists! Turns out Prague stays littered with tourists, but after three days, consisting of sun, rain, and snow; I did encounter Prague in another season, or two? For starters I first stayed in a different part of the city, in Prague 7, or the Dox area; at the Plus Prague Hostel.
Being about four Kilometers from the greater side of Prague, I made my first two days, all-day adventures. The first day marked with full sun, started early with an enjoyable walk through the Letna Gardens in route to the Prague castle and St. Vitnus Cathedral! By the afternoon I had made it to Stare Mesto, and already had enough of the tourists. This first day, like in Barcelona, prompted me to reflect on the timid inexperienced first-time traveler two years ago! This was nice, and I believe invaluable to do; but I had enough and now was ready to trail-blaze.
Later in the day, I visited the surprisingly free and not touristy memorial to the Heroes to the Heydrich Terror! This enlightening experience is a perfect example of a cultural/history lessons in Eastern Europe, which I did not learn of in either in high school or college. The museum, located below the Methodius cathedral; is a disturbing, yet inspiring national commemoration to seven Czech heroes, secretly working for the British air force to assassinate the Nazi leader Heydrich and liberate their occupied country during WW2. These historical moments, like the Jewish rebellion at Auschwitz, are only learned through travel! The crypt, underneath the museum is particularly impressive, being the site where the seven soldiers stowed away while in hiding. Unfortunately, they were ratted out, and after failing to fight off the larger force of incoming Nazis, decided to each commit suicide!
I followed up the memorial by going to the top of the Fred & Ginger museum; providing a wonderful view of Prague along the river. After walking across the Jiraskuv Most(bridge) to find the monument to the victims of Communism, I found a cute little coffee lounge. Tired from the day, I spent an hour sitting and researching possible day trip destinations. I found interesting options but forgot that I didn’t come to Prague for a day trip. Unlike Krakow with Auschwitz, I had no burning desire to visit any place, but instead felt obligated. This feeling was wrong, and even though I would still consider options, I would correct myself; giving me proper time in the Bohemian capital! My first day was almost wrapped up, and while I still had an hour before the evenings event, I finished my day of Déjà vu with a trip to the Lennon wall. Unlike last time, I brought a pen, etching myself into the wall near a butterfly.
After a few hours of waiting I had made it to Lazne na Lodi. Earlier that morning I had made an 830 pm appointment. Researching weeks ago, I read of the nudist sauna boat that sits along the Vltava river. The experience surpassed my expectations, which I reaffirm a smart traveler and person should not have! The 90-degree Celsius sauna tested my will, and as an American the environment is out of my normal comfort zone; even got a dip in the frigid river! For a mere 200 Korunas, eight euros, or 10 dollars; I had an unforgettable experience, like my memories at the Nordbad sauna in Dresden, these challenging moments are unforgettable.
Before each visit to a new city, I create a sort of To-Do list from all the research I do. This helps me prepare and brings up my excitement of a place, despite this; flexibility is a critical trait of a traveler! In effort to add to my list, I visited a Prague tourism office and came across a newfound excitement in my discovery, ten adventure walks exploring lessen known areas of Prague! Ultimately, I chose two walks, which would be the centerpieces for the next two days.
Friday morning, started with a sudden move; I had learned that all rooms were booked, and I was needed to check out by 10. Being 940, I quickly packed up, made my way downstairs and avoided a charge for an additional day. Since I was to spend the next few hours traveling across the city to find a hostel, I figured to take advantage of the on-site restaurant serving breakfast. This ended up being a good decision, as I enjoyed a complimentary buffet, full of multiple types of yogurt and many cups of coffee before heading out. The move eventually to the Mosaic hostel; very close to the Fred & Ginger museum, proved to be a good one! I now was more centrally located and at least for one night escaped the loud snoring; note it is rare to not find this in a hostel!
Looking back on my first travels in 2016, a setback like changing hostels, would have proved to be an irritant; however, I have grown and knowing this was a possibility, took no issue. Even with the rain falling down on me as I lugged all my clothing in my pack; and difficulty in finding the hostel, I was overjoyed to now be inside the city. Located in the basement of the famed Mosaic hostel, home to over 1000 rooms, a large restaurant and bar; my room would become active and noisy the second night, St. Patrick’s Day!
Friday, now referred to as the rainy day, was filled with the discovery of the historic fort Vysehrad. Located along the river, the Vysehrad walk started with a short, steep walk up a hill. Once at the top I came across the St. Peter & St. Paul church, possibility the most beautiful building Prague has to offer. Situated to either of the church is a public cemetery and park! After being allowed to enter the church without paying the full amount; I didn’t have all the change, I left and started on the 5 km walk. In total sixteen sights made this walk very enjoyable, and despite having wonderful panoramic views, walking through a park, and entering a beautiful monastery; my favorite stop was the Maternity hospital. Odd yes, but the Apollinaire Provincial Maternity Hospital was built before 1875; this building is famous for being the longest running maternity hospital in Prague. It is famous to me for the cheap and delicious food served in the first-floor café!
Again, despite being rained on throughout the multiple hour walk, I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment and discovery! Following the walk, I aimed to visit another museum; the Mead museum, located a short walk from my hostel! This visit proved to be unique, first encountering a group of four travelers, all from various parts of the world; they looked like they should be on commercial advertising diversity! Following their departure, I finished my sampling of the five different types of mead and engaged in good conversation with the store clerk and the owner! He explained to me, in his broken English that Mead is commonly and incorrectly made with sugar, and despite this being wrong, the Czech government allows for it be labeled and sold as mead! It was nice to see him be so passionate about his job, and I learned a lot about mead from both him and the younger woman.
The last day, Saturday; is hereby referred to as the snow day! Yes, I was able to in three days to experience three very different types of weather; wow is Prague beautiful in the snow! It was cold and windy, but the snow did not affect anything. I still ventured out on my walk, this time to Vinohrady, Vrsovice, and Zizkov; a longer walk that lasted about four hours. Starting in Namesti Miru, this day brought back some serious Déjà vu, inadvertently! I first walked through the main square where I stayed around last visit en route to the Peace square. There were several highlights on this walk through the snow; the first being a visit back to the Havlickovy Gardens! I fondly remember my evening spent in the vineyard gardens a few years back, and gladly walked about the snowy park, glancing around at all the schoolkids sledding!
About an hour later I decided to heed the advice I read regarding the Zizkov TV Transmitter. Instead of paying the entrance free, I rode the elevator up to the bar; which provides a wonderful view of Prague and ordered and Italian Chocolate drink. Adjacent to the TV Tower is the old Jewish cemetery, which I found odd to be in such proximity. None the less, I re-wrapped my two scarves, put on my hat & gloves, and zipped up my two jackets; I didn’t expect nor prepare for the cold, and continued the walk. I headed towards the National memorial on Vitkov hill; a true gem of Prague. Heralded for being the world’s largest statue of horseback, used as a monument to Czech independence and unity; the rooftop of the building provided the stand alone view of Prague!
Scaling down the Vitkov hill, I found myself again waiting for the evening’s event; an appointment for a Thai Massage! I ate at Bahn Mi Makers, a Vietnamese quick eatery; again, food I can’t get in Viterbo, and headed to the first of two museums. Now in a time crunch, since both were closing in the next hour; I made my way to the Municipal Library to see the famous book tower. Following the short visit to look inside the tower, now of course as I think about it, I’m sure the national library would have been nice to see; I raced to the Futurists museum across town. Why since I am not generally interested in art? To see a large sculpture of two bodies, named brownnosers, bent over with there heads in the wall, the artists motivation; the Czech politicians!
Finally, the evening came; and like most of my past visits, I saved the best for last! First, the 30-minute massage, costing 15 euro; proved to be well worth it, although it was initially strange. Secondly, a visit to Nase Maso for dinner. The butcher shop doubles as a popping deli shop and brewery! After spending eight euro for wonderful meatloaf and a spicy Italian sausage, I can confidently say this is the best Czech food I ate in two trips; and cannot more highly suggest!
Despite being nervous about how I would arrive to the airport and being kept awake due to the St. Patrick’s celebration above me; the next morning proved to be simple! I awoke at 530, packed up, met the receptionist to inquire about my travels, and after riding the metro & bus I was at the airport in under an hour! Three hours later after experiencing a fair amount of turbulence; which in looking about to the people around me, seemed to have them concerned; even, we would still be in air. The pilot explained that he was concerned with the cloud coverage, so, he’d choose to delay the landing at Ciampino! Instead, after another failed attempt, he decided to land at the main hub, Fiumicino; which seemed to be the relief needed for many people, after an hour of unrest due to an uneasy feeling aboard! I just turned up Boyz 2 Men and noticed the baby in a woman’s lap next to me; completely unaware of any happenings, it was beautiful and comforting! The landing was received with lots of clapping and a big sigh of relief! I was happy to be back in a city and country that I can somewhat understand; it has seemingly become much more like home!
My final comments about the trip are regarding my adjustment back into normal life in Viterbo! Like Firenze in January, following my return to school on Monday and being surrounded by Americans, I noticed myself down! After some reflection, I could only acknowledge again, that Viterbo is too small and quiet for me! Yes, I had to trade my exciting day to day travel now for the school-work balance, but in my free time what are my options here? Well I know my options, and although they may not compete with the many activities of Krakow, Prague, or Rome; I had somewhat successfully made something here.
For starters, I continue to hang around Marco; recently spending two of the last three days with him, either at a fine dining restaurant or at SettantaSette. Second, I may not have many good friends here, but I do have a few! Following recovery for most of the day, yesterday Brock and I made a trip to the Terme. We sat in the hot natural spring waters for hours, enjoying the light rain from above; a few dogs running around provided entertainment and as we did enjoyed the peaceful environment! We also conversed with a Californian from Rome, who along with being very open minded and good to talk with, spoke of his fascinating meeting with his now Italian wife while in Vietnam!
I pitched to Brock, and really anyone who wanted to join, about the occasional runs but never received any interest. Instead, these times would be used for a much needed change of pace; literally and for exploration of the surrounding area. With runs to nearby thermal baths, horse farms, and fields of produce, I really felt the reassurance of the important of activity. They acted as the break I needed to clear my head, act foolish, get my energy out and brainstorm. With hopes to further my exploration of American culture, and questions about American music from the Tuesday music class, I found my running music; familiar lyrics from Tupac, Nas, Common, and Lupe, could aid in bridging a gap.
In not having the Monday’s class to lesson plan for; since they had a test, I turned to think directly of portraying American culture, through the lens of Music. I aimed to provide further insight into history, social issues, and pop-culture using “Lyrical Power,” using my first page to take from Nas, “No Politcal Power…” I used the image I found in Rome, on my way up to Palatine Hill;
With using this artwork, and explaining the importance of the role of the artist in society; we looked at those who challenge. First, strange I know; but I love the song and passion, the Dixie Chicks (the only song I know by them), Not Ready to Make Nice. With the pointer and projector, we played a couple minutes of the song, and then turned to some lyrics;
“I made my bed and I sleep like a baby, With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’, It’s a sad, sad story when a mother will teach her, Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger, And how in the world can the words that I said, Send somebody so over the edge, That they’d write me a letter sayin’ that I better, Shut up and sing or my life will be over”
I get chills every time; so, turned to the students and first; explained that for these ladies challenging the then President-Bush, they became under fire. Then tried to relate it to their understanding of the Italian politicians; and finally, proposed to them to address the lyrics. I asked, do we have a right to say what we believe, or should someone try to intimidate and silence us? That was what I aimed to get across here, with technology and social media progressing; along with society in this push and pull, we (they) have a platform, so we must ask ourselves what do we want to stand up for, talk about. Since I had a classroom of students studying musicians, I wanted to see there thoughts about; do musicians have a platform, should they be allowed to have speech, do they have an obligation then, and can their words spark a change? I wanted to provide a variety, so to another that I enjoy: The Black Eyed Peas, Where is the Love;
“Overseas, yeah, we tryin’ to stop terrorism, But we still got terrorists here livin’, In the USA, the big CIA, The Bloods and the Crips, and the KKK But if you only have love for your own race, Then you only leave space to discriminate, And to discriminate only generates hate, And when you hate, then you’re bound to get irate, Madness is what you demonstrate, And that’s exactly how anger works and operates Man, you gotta have love, this’ll set us straight, Take control of your mind and meditate Let your soul gravitate to the love, y’all. People killin’, people dyin’ Children hurt and you hear ’em cryin’, Will you practice what you preach? And would you turn the other cheek? Father, father, father, help us Send some guidance from above”
Yea, its a catchy song, but since music is an artform, similar to poetry; let us look at it with that same power. We had already discussed the KKK and the CSA back in January; yet; here were talking about racism, hatred, and killing in the 2000s; talk about social problems. If we listen to these lyrics and take what the artists are saying, perhaps, we should ask why? Where is the love? We believe it, yet so often don’t practice what we preach, why? Then advice; Take Control! Next, a favorite and a representation of the artist that challenges the system. I didn’t want to just provide modern day examples, let us go back to Marvin Gaye and Inner City Blues, again I turned on a lyrics video;
“Rockets, moon shots, Spend it on the have-not’s, Money, we make it, Before we see it, you take it, Oh, make you want to holler The way they do my life, The way they do my life This ain’t living, this ain’t living No, no baby, this ain’t living, Inflation no chance, To increase finance, Bills pile up sky high, Send that boy off to die, Make me want to holler, The way they do my life.”
Now, here we are able to discuss social problems of the past; through the lens of troubled artist, activist, and icon; Marvin Gaye; unfortunately, for him, the opposite existed if we do agree that ignorance is bliss. So, now we have American capitalism, economic inequality, black repression during the 60s and 70s; throughout a period of intense turmoil of the Vietnam War. I didn’t expect them to be too familiar with this era in American history, but as we had already discussed, history does build upon itself. So, if a country once had a huge problem with economic inequality, drug usage, homelessness, and racial inequality (to say a few) what do we think exists in the present? I could see the topics we not necessarily easy to digest, but as I felt it important to reflect upon; perhaps, only helping them in their addressing of Italy’s problems (certainly evident) but I wanted to wipe away the image, so often portrayed overseas, as perfect America. The next artist is a more modern address of some of the same problem that Mr. Gaye referenced in his music, I told them. I found that since we started with the controversial history and problems of past, these songs; albeit a different way to soak up the message, it was the same truth. I then turned to Common, and the Letter to the Free;
“The caged birds sings for freedom to bring, Black bodies being lost in the american dream, Blood of black being, a pastoral scene, Slavery’s still alive, check amendment 13, Not whips and chains, all subliminal, Instead of ‘nigga’ they use the word ‘criminal’; Sweet land of liberty, incarcerated country, Shot me with your ray-gun, And now you want to Trump me, Prison is a business, America’s the company, Investing in injustice, fear and long suffering, We staring in the face of hate again, The same hate they say will make america great again, No consolation prize for the dehumanized, For america to rise it’s a matter of black lives, And we gonna free them, so we can free us, America’s moment to come to Jesus.”
I asked them, after listening to the music video and then turning to the lyrics on the powerpoint; what we do notice? First, black, ovviamente; yet, slavery’s still alive! The artist here asks us to look into Amendment 13. We quickly turned to that; which shocked them; another problem I said, the prison system! Further on, he mentions Trump, America as a company; again, capitalism—no different than what we saw in the music of Marvin Gaye. Now, Common refers to a return of hatred (MAGA) that all artist prior, that we looked at have mentioned! In reading the lyrics, I asked them what does it mean..dehumanized? One confident student raised her hand; she always being the one to comment, de-meaning in this case not; so, to take away a person’s humanity. The artist then, I explained is suggesting we need to become free; a nation that lauds itself as the Land of the Free, how ironic. Lastly, another artist, actually a group, that in the same period as Mr. Gaye, truly had a platform! The Beatles, I figured with a bunch of students who are most likely raised in Catholic households this could be interesting, Imagine;
“Imagine there’s no heaven, It’s easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us, only sky, Imagine all the people living for today, Imagine there’s no countries, It isn’t hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion, too, Imagine all the people living life in peace. You…You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one, I hope some day you’ll join us, And the world will be as one, Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man, Imagine all the people sharing all the world.”
With the last week before Easter break; another week off, the combined classes of Renaissance history and art history took a field trip. Our first destination, about a forty minute bus ride south, was to Caprarola, to visit Villa Farnese; an immaculate palace and grounds, perched atop the town, dating back to the fifteenth century. This period, and family (the Farnese) were intertwined with the Borgias, which only led to further the excitement of Kiarra and I; certo, dopo il tv show. The trip of about thirty five students, got to see Pr. Marco in all his glory as il guido, guiding us through a detailed tour; first the palace, with its many rooms; perhaps most impressive la sala del mappamondo (the room of maps of the world). We traced the palazzo, inside and out, upstairs, and finally came to the back, then came the courtyard.
The courtyard is exquisite; boasting endless gardens, fountains, and statues. After guiding us through toward the back of the grounds, which then became forested walking trails; Marco gave us free reign to explore. We’d come upon the grotto, then the outdoor palace, large enough to house all USAC students and their families; we’d choose to spend the rest of our time here, just engaged in conversation or me, in relaxation. Strange for exploring this time of grandness to become the norm, yet, for Italians, it would be. While we all soaked in the allure of Italy’s past, Kiarra decided to further pick Marco’s brain about this controversial period in Italian and European period; ripe with familiar and religious conflict. We’d turn back, making our walk back up the narrow, windy, steep road to the bus; we’d stop momentarily to enjoy the view overlooking the town.
To further our study of the Italian Renaissance period, we headed to Bagnaia, not far from Viterbo; a place I knew well due to Marco. Bagnaia is famous; aside from the Mei family, for la Villa Lante, another remnant of Italy’s grand past. With a connection to the Farnese family, and furthering our study of the connection between man and nature; the illustrious gardens and park, made for a good study. Built in the same time period, as that what we just visited; Villa Lante acts to show how man can control nature; a foolish thought conceived by the men of the Renaissance. Boasting, a seemingly endless amount of fountains, caves, and statues; this national site (secondo me) outdid the sites we had just encountered in Caprarola!
The detail and symmetrical work is breathtaking; understandably, I have since seen the gardens appear in the Netfix series, De’Medici (filmed in Viterbo.) Originally purchased and used as a hunting grounds, the area was built up over the span of a century; acting as a haven to the exiled family. Centuries later, it would be bought by the Italian government; now available to be openly visited by all, just requiring an entrance fee to see its glory. Aside from the detail, extreme measures of wealth, variety of statues and waterfalls; what jumped out to me, upon learning it, is the trough that we found good to lean upon for a photo, (despite the several warnings we were given from an attendant-Americans!) was used as the area to discard waste after eating too much; in Marco’s words the wealthy families would vomit here! I could tell, following our trip from Caprarola, some people (amazingly) were not having it, not wanting to walk any more; which only seemed to irritate Pr. Marco. Upon letting us in the massive open park, he would guide a select few that desired to stay with him; of course the ones interested, stayed with him to learn; yet, others just found a place to park, in the open green or nearby one of the many fountains.