By popular demand (two of my siblings asked for it - I'm so popular), here is the non-exhaustive list of my favorite things about my trip to Italy this month. Just to be clear, it was a work trip: I helped organize and lead 36 first-year honors students on a two-week trip as part of a course on The Italian Cultural Legacy. But honestly, most of the work happened in advance of the trip. The trip itself was all pleasure - and that's due to how awesome (I do not use that word lightly) the students and our guides were.
I don't know if these students are part of the first wave of Generation Z (which the NYT predicts will be conscientious, hard-working, somewhat anxious, and mindful of the future ) or if we've hit upon the perfect formula for admissions or if they're just a very special bunch, but they made the trip great. They were the opposite of entitled: they were selfless, caring, prudent, curious, uncomplaining, enthusiastic, considerate, and frankly, hilarious. And our guides, brothers Adam and David from Footstep Ministry, ensured that everything ran smoothly and provided just the right amount of insightful instruction at each site. Even though almost all the places we went were places I had been before, they kept things interesting.
Alright, alright, the list, in sort-of-chronological order:
- The coliseum
It had been closed for renovations when I was in Rome in 2002, so I was thrilled to be able to walk inside this time.
- Remembering Ostia/sitting in the sun
I thought I hadn't been to Ostia Antica, the archeological site on the harbor city of ancient Rome, but when we arrived, memories came rushing back. After the tour, some of us spent an hour or two eating lunch in the remains of an old bathhouse, and soaking up the sun. Also, don't you love umbrella pines?
- Late nights with the leaders
Sometimes we'd stay up late talking, and it made me feel young, it reminded me of the way we used to sit around and talk and talk in Chiang Mai or in college, when we didn't have to get a babysitter, when cafes were within walking distance.
- Assisi, and the bus ride after
Obviously, I've always had a soft spot for Francis and Clare, and Assisi is one of the most beautiful spots in Tuscany. But what made this particular visit so good happened afterwards, when Kirsten said, "Amy Peterson! Coolest person I know!," then sat next to me in the bus and asked why we shouldn't all be monks. A dozen of us spent nearly two hours discussing what it means to live right, to love God, to be crazy, to change the world.
- Telling my stories to a captive audience, playing never have i ever
It was at lunch one day - who was I sitting with? Kirsten, Katie, Kaylen, and Joshua? - and the table question was most adventurous thing you've ever done. Three stories came to mind, and they wanted to hear all of them, and I realized how much I love telling stories. I think this means I've reached Peak Professor: I love hearing myself talk. But I also just loved being with this group of students. I even stayed up one night playing round after round of Never Have I Ever with them.
- The side chapel of Santa Croce
It was built with acoustics in mind, and we had some gorgeous voices in our group. We sat along the walls, all the way around, and sang hymns. Most of us did not leave the chapel with dry eyes.
- The sculptures, especially: Canova's Paolina Borghese as Venus Victorious, Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, Michelangelo’s Pieta
I did not think I would cry again at the Pieta, but I did. It makes you ask a lot of questions of God.
- Going back to Castiglion Fiorentino
Since everything was going so smoothly, I took off for a half-day on my own, and returned to the town where I spent four months in 2002. I walked up the long hill from the train station into the old town, not totally remembering which direction to take, but I wandered my way into it, past the shop where we used to buy ice cream bars, through the archeological site and the churches, and to cafe ignoranti. The town was quiet - students hadn't arrived yet - but I talked to the barista and ate a slice of pizza at the overlook.
- Surprising everyone with a trip to Venice
Venice was not on the agenda, but we had all reached capacity of churches and galleries, and so one night at dinner, Adam announced that the next day, we'd have an earlier start - we'd meet, and board a train, and go to Venice. There's a video floating around of the reaction to the news. You should try to watch it.
- That sandwich in Florence
Italian food is amazing, right? Right. But we were on a student budget, and most of our meals fell more into the "fine" than amazing category. We ate a lot of pizza, plain panini, and pasta. Lots of carb+ cheese. This sandwich place, right next to the Duomo in Florence, was one of the best, though. All local Tuscan cured meats and cheeses - and we got to taste them all before making our choices.
- The University of Pisa
Yes, I saw the leaning tower, and I assume you've seen it too. So here instead are some pictures from our tour of the university - Galileo's Dialogues (he was both a student and a professor at the university), and the view you'd have stepping out of an administration building if you were a student in Pisa. Not bad, right?
- That gnocchi in Siena
The church in Siena is so striking, right? Probably the best meal of my trip was around the corner from here, in a little restaurant with a high ceiling and enormous pictures of horses on the walls. I had gnocchi with greens and bacon.
- The final night on the Tyrrhenian Sea
We would have to get up at 3 am to leave for the airport, so we stayed at a little hotel in Ostia, near the airfields. After dinner and time spent reflecting together, we walked across the street and dipped our toes (some people dipped more than their toes) into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The students sang a medley. We looked at stars. And after, I stayed up talking with people until 1:30, and then I just couldn't sleep. I was happy. I stayed up all night.
These are just the edges of our trip. I didn't tell you about most of the churches or galleries, about the gelato or the searching for David Bowie on vinyl or the music they were playing in that one place in Rome or really anything about the history. I didn't tell you about going to the Trevi Fountain at dusk and throwing a coin in so that I'll come back. These are just the edges of the trip, the gold ones.
Jack and the kids managed beautifully without me (he's the best), and Cassidy was just the perfect babysitter, too. So thankful they let me wander a little. I'm still working on coming back down.