Stories from the High School Italy Trip
Vanguard’s Spring Break Italy Trip 2016
Waco’s Vanguard College Preparatory School Italy Trip was wonderful. Please click below to hear students stories from the amazing trip.
Florence Blog Post by Amir Hamilton
When we first arrived in Florence, it was an unfamiliar sight. Though I had been there some years before, it had been so long that I had forgotten any memories I had of the city. We were driving for the whole day, and so when we finally arrived at our hotel, the sun was setting. The only thing that we had scheduled on that first evening in Florence was a night tour of the city, lead by Paula, our tour guide who came with us to every city we went. Our hotel sat near the edge of the Arno River which runs through the center city.
The sky was black and the streets quiet when we set out to see the city. Walking through streets that had been there for hundreds of years, we made our way to the Church of Santa Croce, a grand Gothic structure whose façade was designed by a Jewish architect. As such, there was a Star of David in the most central pediment, an addition unexpected by most visitors.
We then walked to the Piazza della Signoria, which was an open square that was surrounded by the Palazzo Vecchio, the Loggia dei Lanzi, and the Uffizi Gallery. The Palazzo Vecchio had served as a reminder of the city government’s power since the 14th century, and now serves as the town hall, housing the offices of the mayor and other public officials. The Loggia dei Lanzi is an open building just on the side of the Piazza that houses many sculptures of ancient Roman and mythological events. The Uffizi Gallery is home to countless European artworks that were instrumental in the development of the Renaissance. Unfortunately, it was closed that night when I first saw it. I realized that I would have to come again, tomorrow.
The next day after breakfast we all piled into a bus to drive to the Accademia Gallery which held numerous works of art, but most famously is the current the home of Michelangelo’s David. It is a truly enormous sculpture, much larger than I had imagined it to be based on the pictures I had seen of it, and at least three times as large as an actual human. While there were many other sculptures in the Academy, such as Michelangelo’s Prisoners series, the David is the one that will stick with me. The massive scale combined with the precise detail formed an unparalleled work of art.
After we visited the Academy we were taken to the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers, the central church in Florence. However, we only had a brief tour before we were taken to see some Florentine jewelry and leather. By then, it was lunchtime, and we had several hours to do as we pleased before meeting up again to walk to the Piazzale Michelangelo.
Very hungry, I and a few friends set out to find a place for lunch. With the help of the internet, we found a Panini shop right next to the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers. A very small café, we were forced to squeeze through the space between the counter and the wall that was no larger than two feet and already had several people in it. It was worth the trouble. The kind staff gave us all samples of the cheeses and meats to help determine what to put on our paninis, and we had a wide selection of other toppings. After a quick toasting of our sandwiches, we sought out a bench to eat on while simultaneously fending off hungry pigeons.
After lunch, we went up the bell tower that was part of the Cathedral. After a few hundred steps, we were rewarded with a view of the whole city. From the top, we could see the hills that cradled Florence, the historical architecture, and the comings and goings of the people of Florence. Most importantly, we could see Brunelleschi’s Duomo, about which we had previously learned in AP European History. There was also a series of a few hundred stairs that lead up to the Duomo, and so we walked up those as well. On the walls of the cramped passageways that we went through were graffiti of many years worth of visitors who had come to see what we were seeing.
Finally, after all that climbing, we were able to go the Uffizi Gallery, what I had been waiting to see for the whole trip. Unfortunately, we barely had any time to appreciate the thousands of instrumental pieces of art that were housed in the Uffizi, but in the few minutes that we were able to, I saw multiple famous works: Michelangelo’s Holy Family, Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus, and Titian’s Venus of Urbino. It was amazing to be there for the short time that I was.
Now it was time to meet up with the group to walk to the Michelangelo Square, which had scenic views of the city along with a smaller replica of Michelangelo’s David, hence the name. After the appropriate and customary picture-taking, we made our way to the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio is a bridge that spans the Arno, and is lined with multiple shops. A similar setup had been there in some shape or form for hundreds of years. The oldest bridge in Florence, it was the only one that the Germans did not destroy during World War II.
Our time in Florence was over. This time, I don’t think I will forget it.
Venice – Rachel Avery
Venice was such an amazing place to explore. The canals running through the city, the Rialto and other bridges, the stunning architecture, and all the interesting people were a sight to see. We took a gondola ride through the city, and it was just as beautiful as the pictures. We passed by the house where Mozart stayed on the gondola, which was an unexpected surprise! Our gondolier was cheerful and enthusiastic while showing us his city, making us feel right at home. Another interesting thing we did was get fish pedicures. It was something I had always wanted to try, and it was definitely a fun experience! It was scary at first, but the fish tickled and by the end we were all laughing and having a great time. Walking through the city was great and it was easy to feel at home, rather than just feeling like a tourist. There were countless adorable, little shops selling famous Venetian glass and masks and delicious- looking restaurants. We definitely had a great time shopping and looking around. We stopped and visited St. Mark’s Basilica and the Byzantine architecture was astounding. The entire cathedral was covered with such amazing mosaics – the gold was completely breathtaking. Seeing St. Mark’s was an amazing experience and it really made me appreciate the history of Italy. Venice was an incredible place that only made my love for traveling grow!
Sorrento – Catherine Holley
After departing from Pompeii, we rode the bus to the city of Sorrento. Overlooking the bay of Naples, Sorrento is beautiful. It is a popular tourist spot, but you will find that the feel of the city is not touristy, like Rome. Sorrento is rich with incredible landscapes rather than historical attractions. It is famous for its marquetry items and production of some of the world’s finest lemons. Right as we entered the city, we stopped at a marquetry shop to learn how Sorrento’s famous wood workings are created. After the owner of the shop explained how he makes the beautiful wooden tables, chairs, and other items, we explored the shop and all its fine pieces of wood. Everything was exquisite and, of course, expensive. When we got back on the bus and drove to our hotel, I could see the beauty of Sorrento outside the window. But the best part of our trip to Sorrento was not the city–it was our visit to the Isle of Capri. A favorite destination for the likes of Princess Diana and Tom Hanks, the isle of Capri is nothing short of wonderful. On our second day in Sorrento, we woke up to board a ferry to visit the island, and as soon as we arrived, all of us were in awe of the island’s beauty. The sky and the water matched that day: the brightest blue. The clouds moved aside to let the sun illuminate the island and let the water shine. We took a forty-five minute excursion around the entire island and saw all aspects of it. Giant cliffs intimidated us, sea caves intrigued us, and the entire scene enchanted us. It was a place unlike any other I had ever seen. After the excursion, our group took a bus to visit Anacapri, the town above Capri Town. We all walked up to a garden, considered to be one of the most picturesque places on the island. On our way to the garden, smells of lemon and flowers filled our noses, as we learned that Capri is famous for producing fine perfumes. After snapping photos at the garden, we went to take a chairlift ride to the very top of the island. An activity that had minimal appeal to me at first turned out to be one of my favorite memories of the entire trip. Hopping into a small wooden chair, the chair lift peacefully gave me moments of silence to look around and soak up my surroundings. After those moments, I jumped out of my chair and got to experience another amazing perspective of the island. We could see the beauty of the island in its entirety from this viewpoint. Of course more pictures were taken, and then we sadly had to make our way back to the chairlift and be on our way back to Sorrento. In Sorrento, before dinner, we went shopping for souvenirs. Tourist shops, leather shops, and lemon shops all lined the street. We walked around, popping in and out of shops, until we had to go back to the hotel for dinner. Our night however did not end there; after dinner, we all got dressed up to go out to a karaoke club. This was definitely one of the funniest, most interesting parts of the trip. We walked into a small, dimly lit room with a dance floor and place for performers to sing any song they wished. Students got up and sang songs humorously, making everyone laugh. After we had gotten enough of karaoke and dancing, we all went out for gelato (because you always need to end a night in Italy with gelato). The day ended well, and we went to bed ready to wake up the next morning to go to Florence.
Rome – Audra Atchley
Rome is now one of my favorite cities; I am thrilled that I was given the chance to visit! From the Colosseum to Michelangelo’s Pieta to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon, there was never a dull moment. Being that this is my Senior year at Vanguard I have already taken three classes (AP Latin, AP European History, and AP Art History) that gave me significant insight into many of the places we visited. Seeing these artifacts and places that I had already studied so intently, really brought the courses and history to life. Even more so, being able to not only see, but touch the
Colosseum’s almost 2000yearold stone walls, and walk along the same pathways and staircases that so many ancient Romans did, was surreal. Imagining the massive amphitheater serving its original purpose as the setting for gladiator fights, chariot races and the entertainment of powerful leaders, like Titus, was incredible. Similarly to the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica was incredibly impressive. The ornateness found in everything from the strategically patterned marble floor, to the twisted wooden and gold altar, and the elaborate, goldinfused walls and ceilings, was stunning. One of the most memorable experiences of the visit was watching modern day pilgrims walk down the nave of the church towards the altar on their own religious journeys. This echoed what I had learned in Art History, which is that St. Peter’s was originally constructed to serve as an important site of Christian pilgrimage. Watching the pilgrimage made the experience at St. Peter’s Basilica feel as sacred as it is intended to. On top of St. Peter’s itself, we got to see another work, Michelangelo’s Pieta, that we studied in Art History. The size, decorations, pilgrimage and additional art within the basilica all evoked a special sense of holiness that was unique to St. Peter’s. Although the Colosseum and St.Peter’s Basilica were my two personal favorite places, I got to see many others awesome places too, most of which I had already studied in one class or another making them especially interesting. These works included Trajan’s Column, a fascinating commemoration depicting the Romans’ victory over the Dacians on a 131 foot stone column; the architectural feat of geometric perfection seen at the Pantheon; and, Bernini’s sculpture of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa. This trip, and particularly Rome, highlighted the difference between a textbook and reality. Rome’s saturation with remarkable, historical sights is unlike anywhere I have ever been before. I really cannot express how cool it was to see the things, in person, that I’ve studied in class. It made things that seem almost makebelieve, very real. On top of that, I got to see these things with some of the teachers that taught me about them and the friends that I studied them with. I absolutely loved every part of my time in Rome and I cannot wait to visit again!