Posted in Uncategorized

My Hometown Hits

[Disclaimer to my regular readers: This is part of an application and not an actual post]


If you take a trip to Charleston, West Virginia, there are a few things you won’t find: crowds, traffic, and big cities.  My hometown may be the largest city in the state, but with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants, it feels more like an expanded small town.  On the banks of the Kanawha River and tucked into the Appalachian Mountains, Charleston is home to good food, better baseball, and the best scenic views you’ll find within a city.

The State Capitol overlooks the Kanawha River

The city center is the Capitol complex, which is a nice tour for anyone who likes history or architecture, but my favorite part is the Cultural Center Museum.  Since West Virginia’s history isn’t well-known, it’s a great place for tourists as well as locals because, as a museum, it’s really well-made and never crowded.  Each room takes you through a 4D version of history from the adjusted temperature in the earliest room to the sounds of canons firing in the Civil War room to the recordings of folk songs that play in the photography gallery.

Strolling along the river is great even after it rains

In the afternoons, if there’s no festival happening, you’ll find a lot of locals on Magic Island.  Originally, the river would flood every year, and the island would appear like magic when it receded, but now the ground has been raised enough to keep this park open year-round.  With bike paths, volleyball courts, and benches by the river, it’s easy to spend a lot of time there.  Of a summer evening, you can also catch some music at Live on the Levee, but, for me, the baseball games are the highlight of the summer evenings.  Charleston plays host to a minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, The West Virginia Power.  Sponsored by the Appalachian Power Company, the team plays multiple times a week from April through September so long as they aren’t on a road trip.  For fun, fair food, and Friday night fireworks, Power Park is the place to be on a summer night.

Power Baseball is a sure sign that it’s summer

This little city with a tight-knit small town feel is one of my favorite places on Earth.  The locals are some of the friendliest people you’ll meet, and even if you don’t like country music, you’ve got to give bluegrass on the river a shot.  It’s worth it.

Posted in Italy, Travel

Looking back at Italy

Well, I’m  home now.  I’m mostly over the jet  lag, but still not quite there yet, so this  will just be a short little post with some picture from my last week and my top five places in Italy.  So, without further ado – here’s a quick look back at the week!

My Top 5 Places in Italy

  1. Pompeii: There’s nothing like it.  You can walk through the streets and imagine that nothing has changed.  Easily my favorite place
  2. Florence:  I didn’t get to spend as much time here as I wanted, but it was incredible.  I love that it doesn’t feel like a big city and that there’s so much art just out there.  For me, there’s nothing like walking down the road and realizing, “Oh, hey, that statue was made by Giambologna, and it’s just hanging out there.”
  3. Vernazza: My favorite of the towns in 5terre.  It’s touristy, but it doesn’t really feel that way – it’s very peaceful.  You can just get a gelato and sit by the water for hours without a care in the world – especially because the wifi is terrible.
  4. The Roman Forum: It’s so cool to be in the center of Rome and look over this huge area that is just ruins, but gives you an idea of how big this place was even in ancient times.  I’m a history lover, so like with Pompeii, it’s great for me to walk through a place and be able to imagine I’m in a different time.
  5. Orvieto Duomo: Every city in Italy has its cathedral, and they’re all impressive, but I have a bias towards this one.  I love the architecture and the frescoes inside, but I also love the stray cats in the park outside.  It’s a beautiful, peaceful place that I’m so thankful I got to experience.

Until next time ~


Posted in Italy, Travel

Have I mentioned the food?

Italy has awesome food, so this week’s mid-week post is going to be mostly a collection of pictures of the things I’ve tried here.  First, Pizza.  From Naples to Rome, it’s an Italian classic, and it’s always great!

Spaghetti: Simple, but with endless variations from thick Umbrian noodles to more American thin noodles but with clams and mussels (that I didn’t get a picture of).

Ravioli has always been one of my favorites, but in Italy, it’s basically the best thing in the world.

Assorted other pastas – I didn’t know there were this many

Other foods – sandwiches and french fries and smoothies, they’re all better on vacation.



So yeah, the food’s pretty good.  Until next time ~

Posted in Italy, Travel

La Vita Bella

I was only in Florence for a day but it’s easily one of my favorite places in Italy if not the world – that I’ve been to at least.

Looking up at the dome

After spending Wednesday in Tarquinia, a little town on the coast, it was fun to go back to a bigger city. Tarquinia is known for its Etruscan tombs all of which have frescoes on the interior walls that are incredibly well-preserved, and it was cool to go to the beach for a few hours after seeing those.

Florence though was spectacular. It feels kind of like an expanded small town. When you’re walking down the streets, there’s still a small town feel that you don’t get in Rome or Naples even though Florence is still one of Italy’s biggest cities. This is largely because it has held onto its Medeival/Renaissance past and lacks the wide boulevards that Mussolini installed in Rome. Looking across Florence, you can still see the old tower houses and the loggia built for the cloth markets of the Medici and today functioning as leather markets for all the tourists who come to see Florentine leather. We started our tour walking along the River Arno before turning onto a side street where we walked by Santa Croce (Holy Cross) and then on to a Proto-Renaissance palace that is now a museum of what everyday life was like back then. Some of the rooms retain original wall paintings, and all have either original or replica furniture and artwork to give you an idea of the sort of luxury enjoyed by the rich families of Florence. The artwork is especially interesting as you can see the transition into the Renaissance. On the top floor is the kitchen – in case a fire started, this way only the top floor would burn. It’s filled with the sorts of tools that would have been used and even features a huge bellows for the fireplace.

For lunch, I went with some of my friends to a food market to look around but not finding anything we wanted, we ended up instead a trendy bar down the street. We didn’t actually know this before going in; they just seemed to have good prices and we were hungry. Outside was a little bookshop, so we stopped there before heading back for gelato and a stop by the tourist stands to buy souvenirs. I didn’t get any leather here, but just walking through the market smelled really good. Completely by accident, we came across Orsanmichele, a building once dedicated to the guilds of Florence that is home to one of Donatello’s most famous statues. Naturally I dragged my group around the back of the building to see it, though I had to explain what we were looking at.

We met back with the group in Piazza della Signoria, which is home to some really famous statues. Although they’re all priceless enough to be in museums, only three are copies and the rest are originals. Michelangelo’s real David is of course one that’s a copy, since city officials feared it would be damaged by pollution, but the copy is still striking enough to give you an idea of what it would have been like to enter this square – the center of political life- and see the man who symbolizes Florence. Other statues include Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women and his bronze of Cosimo de Medici. Figures like Perseus, Hercules, and Neptune make up the rest. Just like when the statues where commissioned, it’s like being in an outdoor museum.

The group then walked through the interior plaza of the Uffizi Museum to the river and the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) which is full of tourists and expensive jewelry stores. The bridge used to be where butchers sold their wares but with the rise of the Medici, some of the noble women complained about the smell. That’s why even today, only jewelry stores can operate on the bridge.

Finally, we walked to Florence’s most famous building, the cathedral – Mary of the Flowers. Florence is symbolized by lilies, so in the Italo-Byzantine façade, you can see both the red lilies of Florence and the white lilies of Mary. The baptistery in front of the cathedral is a few hundred years older than the rest of it, and is actually dedicated to John the Baptist.  It was built along with an older cathedral that was torn down for this one to be built in its place, though the famous dome built by Brunelleschi was constructed 43 years after the rest of the Church was finished.   We didn’t go in the church unfortunately because of the long line, but walking through Florence is absolutely amazing since many of it’s famous sites are all outside. On the way back to the bus, we saw Dante’s house, which was pretty cool too.  Florence really just feels like a bigger Siena with lots of little streets, nice people, and good food.  It’s a place I would love to visit again.

Until next time ~

Posted in College, Italy

Daily Life in Orvieto

Now that I’ve been in Orvieto for about three and a half weeks, I have a fairly solid routine.  Since I actually covered the whole weekend in my Sunday post, I thought I’d use this one to give a little information on my day-to-day schedule.

View from apartment


I’m a pretty structured person.  I like my days to have some order, with certain routines that don’t really change.  Having my classes later in the day is a nice perk of the summer since it means I have some time in the mornings to really get ready for the day.  My breakfast here always includes a cup of tea, and to eat, I like making some bruschetta since we always have fresh bread.   It’s simple and  light to start the day –  a bit of olive oil, spread around it then a minute or so in the toaster and depending on what we have, I’ll add tomatoes, proscuitto (ham) and/or pecorino (sheep cheese).  Other days, I just heat up some leftovers – though that’s a different experience without a microwave.

The morning is always pretty nice for getting myself ready for the day.  While I have breakfast, I usually do  whatever readings I need to for class that day or I may work on a paper or study for a quiz.  But I have a few hours to do all that, and I rarely need to do all of it in one morning, so it’s very relaxed.  I leave for class at 10:30  to get there early.   If I need to do something  on my computer, I’ll sit in one of the high-backed chairs  at the big oval table that looks like a pool table surrounded by boardroom chairs.  Or, if I just want to chill for a few minutes before class, I’ll sit in one of the line of chairs outside Classroom 1 as I read on my kindle and maybe chat with whoever else is there.  The class before mine always lets out a  little late so that by the time eleven o’clock rolls around, the professor and my four fellow students are all congregated by the door.

Centro Studi – where we have classes

Art History 202 is the second of the base art history classes at the UofA.  201 and 202 cover the entire history of art from Pre-history to Postmodernism.  In five weeks, even one of  them is a lot of content.  202 starts with the Renaissance though, and when you can talk about the Sistine Chapel and then see the actual thing two weeks later, it’s totally worth the high-speed learning of the class.

Ceiling in my classroom

Each class is two hours, so when I finish my first one at one pm, I’m ready for lunch.   Whether or not I go back to the apartment really depends on my current mood and whether or not I remembered to bring money.  I prefer though to stop by a little Paninoteca (Sandwich shop) and drop 3-5 euros on a filling sandwich that I can then take to the little green space by the Duomo that overlooks Umbria.  It’s not quite the same view as from the main wall of the city, but this one is both a shorter distance and a less-crowded space.  Here, I can eat my food while looking out at the rolling hills and stray cats, and for about two hours, I can read or work on any papers (or blog posts).  It’s a pretty nice place to relax for a couple hours of the day, especially since the Italian siesta  occurs right in the middle of my second class.

Park by the Duomo featuring stray cats

My second class is focused on Classicism and how that has been reinterpreted through the Renaissance, the Grand Tour, American architecture, and Fascist art and architecture.  It’s really fascinating, and I love the discussions in the class.  This class goes from 3:30-5:30, but since dinner isn’t until about 8 here, there’s still plenty of time after class to stop by the store, work on homework, or hang out with my roommates.  We alternate cooking dinner and tend not to eat out except on weekends since that gets expensive.  After dinner, sometimes we stay at the table to talk, but other times, we all drift off to work on individual stuff as we settle into the evening.

Duomo, early evening

That’s pretty much it; traveling days are a lot more stressful, but here in Orvieto, it’s nice and simple.  Until next time ~

Posted in Italy, Travel

Siena and the Sea

After two intense weeks of traveling around Italy, it’s nice to work on this post on a train taking me back to  Orvieto after a weekend at the beach.  Cinque Terre is home to five tiny cities of about 1000 inhabitants each.  The tourists crowd it in the summer, but it’s still a lovely little collection of colorful houses and blue waves.

Overlooking Vernazza

But I’m not there yet.  On Wednesday, the group took a day trip to Siena, a town that’s kind of a modern remnant of the Middle Ages.  In the main part of the city, the buildings were all built in the 13th or 14th century and have stayed in the same places since then – with renovations of course.  The town was originally divided into seventeen sections, which means seventeen churches, seventeen bureaucracies, and seventeen horses. Yes, horses.  Besides its cathedral, Siena is most famous for the 90 second race that takes place every July.  Each district participates, and a horse can win even if the rider is thrown.  While we didn’t get to see that, we did see Piazza del Campo where the race takes place just as it has for centuries.

The cathedral in Siena is  absolutely spectacular.   It was built  at  the  same time Florence was  building its cathedral, and the two cities were actually in competition for who could build the best one.  At one point, construction on Siena’s cathedral stopped because they realized the Florence one would be bigger and started making a different one.  All that was built of this was one arch of the façade.  Had the cathedral been built, it would have been a skyscraper, but in my  opinion, it’s almost better that they only built the one arch.  Now, Siena’s original cathedral has the spotlight, and one hundred tiny spiral stairs up the arch take you to the best view in the city.  Siena’s clocktower may be higher, but it’s also four hundred stairs to the top (they built the clocktower from the lowest point in the city).

The cathedral in Siena is a Gothic masterpiece, and, like much of the rest of the town, is kind  of like Medieval Europe with  modern tourists.  Although the outside is beautiful, the real wealth and fame of the cathedral come from its interior.  Siena has the luck of being close to a lot of marble.  While white marble is the most common, it’s actually yellow that is rarest and most expensive.  The floors of Siena’s cathedral feature marble tiles in white, green, red, and yellow that depict Biblical scenes.  These would have been used similarly to stained glass windows in illustrating the priest’s sermon, since almost all of the congregation would have been illiterate.  My favorite part of the cathedral though was inside a chapel.  Originally, a noble family who donated a lot of money to building the cathedral had this chapel for their private use, but now it’s used to house vellum choir books, under glass  of course.  I took some  pictures, but they really can’t  capture how cool these books were.  All of them were illuminated, and they were much  bigger than modern choir books since they would have been really expensive, and there was no way the church could afford one for each choir member.  So, all in all, Siena is pretty neat.

However, as much fun as I’ve been having, the long free weekend with minimal pre-planning was pretty nice.  Some people had pretty intense travel plans – 3 countries in 3 days, trips to Ireland or to Hungary.  While  those all sound pretty cool to me, I really didn’t want to deal with flights or big cities, so one of my roommates and I headed north to Cinque Terre.

We left early-ish on Friday morning (around 9) and took the first train to Florence along with a couple of guys who were going to Milan.  Early in the trip, I discovered that I hadn’t charged my kindle, so rather than digging the charger out o f my backpack, I listened to podcasts and watched the countryside go by.   Once in Florence, we split with the guys and  took our train to La Spezia, the biggest town before Cinque Terre.  Once we were settled into the airbnb (a cute little flat on the first floor of an apartment building), we chose one of the five towns at random and hopped on the next train.

Vernazza may have been a random choice, but it’s easily my favorite.  We arrived there around 5:30 and left at 10:30.  Naturally, our first stop was the water.  Vernazza isn’t known for its beach, but we weren’t dressed for the water anyway.  Instead, we walked out along the sidewalk to smell the salt and take some pictures – and I also got splashed by some very cold spray from the waves.  We wandered through some of the stores then hiked up a lot of stairs to this tower that overlooks the area.  It was great weather and a great view, and by the time  we came down, it was an acceptable time for dinner.   As this was considered out vacation, we treated ourselves to some seafood pasta: Shrimp ravioli for me, and for my roommate, spaghetti with mussels and clams.  Both were fantastic.  Finally, we went back to the bay to eat gelato and watch the sunset before returning to La  Spezia for the night.

Saturday was our main day in the region, and we made the most of our day pass that allowed us unlimited train rides between the towns.  We started with Riomaggiore for breakfast and hiking out over the rocks that this first city is known for.  Next was my second favorite – Manarola where I did some light shopping before we walked on a trail out to the cliff where we had lunch.  Next was Corniglia.  This one is probably the smallest and least visited.  We weren’t there very long because after climbing about two hundred steps up to  the city, it was mostly just restaurants. We skipped Vernazza since we’d already been there and went instead to Monterosso, which is the town known for its beach.  Since we’d already walked about five miles at this point, I changed into my swimsuit and fell asleep on the beach.  It had been overcast all morning, so the water was a little too cold for swimming.  When we eventually left,  we went back to Vernazza to kill some time before dinner in Riomaggiore.  For dessert, I didn’t have gelato  for once since they were advertising fish and chips.  I figured I probably wouldn’t get fresh fish and chips for a while so, topped with lemon, mayonnaise, and ketchup, I had a pretty nice dessert.  Back in La Spezia, my phone read a total of nine miles of walking,  so I slept pretty good.

Today is pretty much devoted to getting back to Orvieto and reading for class since we had no WiFi for the last two days, and I didn’t download the articles.  It was a little stressful getting onto the train since the first one was running it late.  We had to change trains in Pisa and arrived there at 12:30 with our next train scheduled to depart at 12:32.  By some miracle, we actually made it on just before the doors closed and got seats.  So, now that I no longer have short layover to stress over, I intend to spend the rest of the train ride watching Tuscany go by outside the window.

Until next time ~

Posted in Italy, Travel

My Roman Holiday

The only disappointing thing about Vatican City is that, despite being its own country, they do not stamp your passport upon entry. And I really wanted a stamp from Vatican City. Besides that though, it’s basically the most amazing thing you can imagine.

We arrived around 10:30 and waited in line to enter for about two hours. Although this seems pretty long, it’s just as long as some rides at Disney World, and those only last for about 5 minutes once you are in. So it was worth it, and being college students, we were not about paying 60 euros to get in immediately with a tour group. Basically, Saturday was all about the Vatican because we were planning on those wait times and did not mind at all if it meant seeing the Sistine Chapel.

When you first pass through the stone walls, you don’t enter the Renaissance. Actually, it’s a lot more like entering an airport. You put your bags on the conveyor belt, and they go through an X-ray machine as you wait to step through the human one and pick up your bags on the other side. From there, we hit up the bathrooms and food court. (Side note: I bought water at the Vatican cafeteria, so was that holy water?)

The Vatican Museums are huge and extensive and the map is not entirely helpful. But it was still fine. I’m not actually sure what route we took to see everything because we were basically just pushed along through a crowd of tour groups. It was pretty amazing though to pass through these rooms that are all filled floor to ceiling with artifacts that are probably priceless. There are Egyptian sculptures, pieces of art brought back by missionaries around the world, and room after room of frescoes and tapestries. One long hallway has tapestries twice my height that show in detail each province of Italy and at the end a map of Italy itself. They’re a far cry from the tourist map our Airbnb host gave us.

At some point, we entered the Stanza della Segnatura, AKA the Raphael Rooms. Back in the days of Julius II, this was the papal library. He’d hired several well-known painters of the day to decorate the rooms, but when Raphael came to Rome, a few painters lost their jobs. Although the multitude of art that surrounds you in the Vatican is all splendid, there’s something really special about stepping into a room and seeing, in perfect Renaissance style, Raphael’s depiction Disputation of the Holy Sacrament and then turning around to see, larger than life, the actual School of Athens.  It’s a picture I’ve seen I don’t know how many times in various history classes, but seeing it not five feet away was indescribable. We spent several minutes there, studying the painting and trying to pick out all the figures we could. I, of course, posed in front of the depiction of Michelangelo.

Not much later, we entered that pinnacle of the Renaissance, the Sistine Chapel. The actual Sistine Chapel!  Above us, in vibrant colors, spread Michelangelo’s paintings, all so far away and yet so big as to be seen in clear detail. On the walls, Perugino’s Delivery of the Keys to St. Peter stood big as day. You aren’t allowed to take photos in the chapel, but for magnificent art like that, sometimes it’s almost better to just experience it and try not to cry.

Past the chapel is St. Peter’s Basilica, and since we had to read an entire book about its construction for one of my classes, passing that up wasn’t really an option. From Michelangelo’s Pietà to Bernini’s Baldacchino and his work on St. Peter’s chair, the whole room is just incredible. It’s not surprising that it took 120 years to build. We were definitely in there a long time to gape at the art and wander between the altars. Seeing so much marble and gold, it’s really fascinating to have the dual realization that 1) this entire building is a masterpiece and 2) this building is a big part of the Protestant Reformation. Because all this beauty came from a lot of corruption and a lot of ordinary people starving. Both for art and for history, St. Peter’s is a really fascinating building to study. For art history, it basically sums up the Renaissance from beginning to end – big ideas, fantastic art and wealth, and the eventual realization that such a period can only ever be temporary.

And so, jumping forward in time:  Roman Holiday is my favorite movie, so naturally I had to visit all the places Audrey Hepburn did.  It was a lot of walking, but I guess they did have a Vespa in the movie to take care of that.  This was basically the entire plan for Sunday – a 6.5 mile walk around Rome to hit up all the Roman Holiday sites plus the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon.  So basically, here’s my Roman Holiday, all in black-and-white for the sake of authenticity, and the bonus sites in color.

Until next time ~