Leaving Italy behind

Italy has always been my dream destination to travel to. I had been anticipating this trip since Anna Bland first told me about it two years ago. I could not believe that I was finally going to experience the wonderful culture of Italy for thirteen days! However, thirteen days was not long enough. Over the course of two weeks, I had seen and experienced so many new and beautiful things. From the gelato, the wine, the pasta, the people, the scenery, the coffee, the historical monuments, the amazing friendships that grew, everything about Italy and this trip was unbelievable.

My favorite city we visited is a tie between four beautiful cities. Turin, Florence, Lucca, and Rome. They are all tied for my favorite city, because I experienced things in each city that made a huge impact on me. In Turin, I had the best pizza of my life. I am talking about mouth watering pizza. Sad thing is, it was not even mine. Fortunately, Becky let me steal a piece from hers. Florence was just stunning. I could sit and stare at the doors of the baptistry for hours. Along with the chapel that sits directly across from it. In Lucca, a group of my friends biked around the walls of the city. It was so fun exploring the city from a locals point of view. Finally I end with Rome. Rome is not one of my top cities because of the typical Colosseum or the Roman Forum. Rome is one of my top cities because of the Mamertine Prison. Mamertine Prison is speculated to be the hole in the ground where the apostle Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. As soon as I stepped in the cell, I became overwhelmed with emotions. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit was in that tiny hole in the ground. Visiting Paul’s Prison cell, reading scripture and praying with some incredible people was the highlight of my trip.

When it came time to board our first flight from Rome to Atlanta I experienced a mixture of emotions. I was sad to leave Italy behind but I was also anxious and excited to see my friends and family back in the United States. The flight was long and by the end of the flight I was struggling to keep my eyes open. The flight from Atlanta to Memphis was a short 50 minutes. We finally landed in the Memphis around 9:30pm. I was so happy to be reunited with my family, as well as sleeping in my own bed.

I am so thankful I had the opportunity to be apart of this trip. Without Arkansas State Honors College I would have never been able to make these unforgettable memories.



When I was in fourth grade, the “Lizzie McGuire Movie” came out, and after watching the story of Lizzie’s junior high graduation trip to Rome more times than I dare to estimate, I wrote a letter to Santa that year asking him for a trip to Italy. Unfortunately, I did not unwrap a shiny gold package with a plane ticket to Italy that Christmas (nor the four-wheeler or shotgun I also asked Santa to get me), but I soon forgot as I dove in to play with all the toys I did receive. However, eleven years later, I heard about this opportunity to eat my way through Italy, and, as Lizzie McGuire would say, this is what dreams are made of! 

Actually, the idea of this trip started long before August. In May of 2015, I was fortunate to get to be a part of the Honors World War II EF College Study Tours trip, and seeds were planted then with the possibility of this experience happening. At the time, I was in such a euphoria from the first trip that the thought of getting to be a part of a second one seemed too incredible to become a reality. But I could not be more grateful that I was able to! 

This semester, our Honors Italy class read Michael Pollan’s “Cooked.” He began this book with the statement that cooking gives us so much more than a meal, or sustenance to consume. “It gives us an occasion: the practice of eating together at an appointed time and place,” Pollan wrote. Indeed, our meals throughout our study abroad experience were nothing short of occasions. During most of our Italian dining experiences, we sat for several hours at a time, savoring each course as we, too, relished one another’s company. It certainly helped that most of us did not have data to access social media like we so often do around the table at home. Instead, we were fully engaged in the moment with the people surrounding us. 

These thirteen days in Italy have been highly anticipated. And now here we are on the final day of our study abroad experience. Thirteen days, you passed so quickly! But the memories of the experiences you held will be forever engrained in my mind. Every day has been one for the books, but rather than the days as a whole, it is the moments that stand out most vividly, and some of my very favorite moments were those spent sitting around the table sharing a meal together. Now that we have touched back down on US soil, I think we can all say that this journey left a mark on us – in more ways than tighter jeans, blistered feet, and an ambivalent relationship with cheese.

Taste of Italy Tour-Travel Day

Today was the last day for Rome, and for many of the students the last day in Italy. However, I decided to extend my stay and visit Venice. I began my morning by saying my goodbyes and wishing everyone safe travels on their flight back to the United States. I then took a cab to the train station and began my travels to Venice. During the train ride, I reflected on everything that had happened the past twelve days. I made some incredible friends, tried wonderful food, ate lots of gelato, and went to some of the most spectacular places. Some of my favorite places I visited were the Statue of David, Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colosseum, and the Sistine Chapel. I experienced many firsts during this trip and I am not finished yet. The next thing I checked off the list was my first ride on a vaporetto, or water bus. I loved traveling this way. There was a nice breeze and I had an amazing view of Venice riding down the Grand Canal. 

When we got to the hotel, we immediately dropped off our luggage and began exploring. We first went to St. Marks Basilica. This church was very beautiful with lots of gold and mosaics. It was different from the rest of the churches we had seen in Italy. The colors used in the Basilica were darker shades. However, it still had incredible beauty. 

Next,  we went to Doge’s Palace where we spent hours looking at all the artwork, ancient artifacts, and the prison cells. There were so many pieces of history in one place and it was an awesome experience to get to see everything. After Doge’s Palace we walked across the street and rode the elevator to the top of the Campanile. From the top, we could see the city of Venice and all the waterways in and around the city. Until that moment, I didn’t realize how much water was really around Venice. 

For the rest of the evening we roamed around the city looking at all the shops and admiring the city. My favorite thing about Venice is all the waterways and bridges, and how every walkway and it seemed like every window was decorated with flowers. We ended the night in a cute little restaurant that was hidden in a square of its own. We just so happened to see it from the street and I am glad we did. It was quiet, relaxing, and was the perfect way to end a perfect day. Venice is truly a beautiful city!

A Michelangelo Lesson

The dome of St. Peter’s, which Michelangelo was working on when he died.

The random pine cone

View of the city

A famous work of Raphael’s was included on the ticket, and I matched it up with the real thing.

The most famous part of the ceiling

The church

On the final day of our travels, it’s bittersweet to remember that our trip has to come to an end. As much as we don’t want to leave, we’ve seen everything we came to see, and it’s time to go home and recover from such an exhausting journey.

In my opinion, we saved the best for last on this trip. I thought I had seen enough Michelangelo, and that I knew what I was in for on the way to the Sistine Chapel, but there are no words to describe the works in the Vatican.

Some people may be unaware that while Vatican City is inside Rome, it isn’t in Rome. It’s actually it’s own country; it’s the smallest country in the world, in fact. Surrounded by a huge wall, its size doesn’t make it any less magnificent.

While getting a tour of the city-country, we also got a Michelangelo lesson. He originally said no when the pope asked him to paint the ceiling, because he was a sculptor, not a painter. The pope had been given Michelangelo’s name from the Medici family, though, so he refused to have anyone else do it. The pope forced Michelangelo to do the ceiling.

Since he had no other choice, Michelangelo agreed to do it, but he wanted to do it his way, as he was a bit of a perfectionist. He ended up firing everyone working with him so that he could do the painting all by himself. The first three panels that he painted were of Noah and the arc, but he was unhappy with the way they looked. He wanted to destroy it and start over, but the pope insisted that he was too slow and that what he’d done was fine.

Apart from Noah, the entire middle strip consists of scenes showing God creating the world. Walking in, I thought I would just be seeing old, faded pictures lying across the ceiling. What I really saw was breathtaking. Michelangelo was able to capture extremely realistic figures that appeared 3D from the floor, as if he’d actually sculpted the ceiling rather than painting it.

When the ceiling was completed, Michelangelo wanted nothing to do with the chapel ever again, but he changed his mind later on to paint the a large fresco on the wall. The Last Judgment shows various characters around Jesus, going to heaven, purgatory, or hell. He included himself as the skin of Saint Bartholomew.

The painting received criticism from Biagio da Cesena for the bodies being naked. Michelangelo refused to change it, and even included Cesena in the painting. He is depicted naked in the bottom right corner, in hell with donkey ears and a snake. Cesena was extremely upset about this. He complained to the pope, asking to have Michelangelo arrested. However, the pope seemed to find the situation funny, and he famously replied that he has no jurisdiction over who went to hell, and there was nothing he could do if that’s where he was put.

We learned a lot more while in Vatican City about Raphael and the random pine cone and the pope’s guards before we headed to dinner to enjoy our last night. If I tried to describe it all, I’d end up writing an essay, which I’d prefer not to do since I have to get started on the essay for this course. So I’ll just say there are no words for everything else we saw, and leave you with these photos from the day. Ciao!

*I tried to attach the photos here, but I guess they want to be at the top! Oh well!

May 31st- Rome 

  1. Rome is a city that for most of my life I have only dreamed of actually being in. The past few days have made that dream a reality. Today I had the privilege of seeing Paul’s jail cell, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. My whole life I have been a Christian so being able to see Paul’s jail cell was a very surreal experience for me. The whole time all of the stories from the Bible of him in jail were running through my mind, along with the fact that he actually wrote some of the Bible while in there.  The Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica took me by surprise. With the Sistine Chapel, I was actually surprised because I thought the room would be bigger. I had always imagined this huge room, but compared to some of the other places we have been it was fairly small. It may have been because so many people were packed into this one room, I’m not sure how that impacted the size perception. Regardless, the paintings were breath taking. The famous Judgement Day painting that was on the main wall was my personal favorite. I wish so much that we would have been allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel so that I could share how amazing it really was. St. Peter’s Basilica also surprised me by it’s size. It was much bigger than I had anticipated, and every single inch was beautiful. I could have stayed in there the entire day without looking at the same thing twice. Our tour director mentioned the from start to finish, it took two hundred years to build! It amazes me that so many people had enough dedication to complete this masterpiece, even if it took two hundred years. The attention to detail in many of the churches we have been to is astounding. After these amazing sights we had yet another amazing dinner. We sat down at a very nice restaurants for a four course meal. As with most meals on this trip, I left the table feeling as though I may should have stopped eating after course two. I cannot speak for everyone else, but after this trip all of my clothes may fit a little tighter. Overall this was a great day and an amazing trip. I can only hope that I will be fortunate enough to return one day. 

A Taste of Italy – Rome Day 3

Today was the last day of the Honors A Taste of Italy, and it was a wonderful (and exhausting) last day. We began the day with free time around Rome, and a group of us ventured to the Mamertine Prison, where it is believed that the Apostle Paul was imprisoned and wrote the book of Ephesians. It is amazing to me that I can walk the same streets that so many walked 2,000 years ago. After eating lunch, which for me consisted of yet another Margherita pizza and gelato for desert, we had the opportunity to visit the Vatican State. The Vatican State is the smallest country in the world, but is rich with history. I am so blessed to say that I could scratch the surface of this history and view some of the world’s most famous and precious artwork. The highlight of the day was the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted by the amazing Michael Angelo. It is an overwhelming feeling to stand underneath such an iconic piece of artwork, and the 10 minutes we were within the chapel were not sufficient to absorb every detail. However, in that small window of time, I realized what an impact a single man (or woman) can make. Even though this painting is hundreds of years old, people are still gathering to view this masterpiece. Throughout this trip, I have been able to see the artwork I learned about during my years in school, and it has been the most amazing experience of my life. The rest of the group is returning home tomorrow, but my friend and I are continuing our journey across the world to Venice, Paris, and London (13 days just wasn’t enough!). I have learned so much about the Italian culture and it’s history. I am so excited to share a small portion of my adventure, and I can’t wait to return to this beautiful country! 

Sightseeing in Rome

Departing our hotel at 8:30 this morning, our first stop was at the structure that springs to mind whenever Rome is mentioned: the Colosseum. Built between 72 and 80 AD, the arena was constructed in order to give the space back to the people of Rome after the reign of the infamous Nero, whom the leaders of Rome wanted forgotten. With a maximum capacity of about 75,000 spectators, the Colosseum was the highlight of its day, because every person, no matter their social status, could come and be entertained for free. This was one of the most surprising things that I learned, since I had always assumed that there was an entry fee of some sort during all but a select few events, similar to the way that most forms of entertainment are today.

After the Colosseum, our next stop was at the ruins of the Roman Forum, the main square and meeting point for the entire city during the time of Ancient Rome. If you were to go back in time and visit the forum (this one happens to have been the biggest in the world), you would have heard conversations spanning a vast array of subjects. The forum was the center of life for the Roman people, and was the place where the citizens met to discuss business, politics, and religion, along with many other social issues of the day. The forum was even the place where Julius Caesar was cremated (although not where his remains are, a location that has yet to be discovered). 

Finishing the tour of the forum, we were given free time to eat and to explore, then loaded back on the bus for the hour drive that would take us to our cooking class. Once there, we divided into teams of seven and began preparing our meals. Given the ingredients and the recipe, we were to prepare rice balls, two types of pasta, and their accompanying sauces to the best of our abilities and then present them to the panel of judges. Be prepared, we’ll all be coming back with varying degrees of newfound cooking skills, certificates, and the “Chef in Italy” aprons that we wore while making our three dishes. 

Although our time in Italy is quickly coming to a close, I know that the things that we have seen and learned today will stay with us for the rest of our lives. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!