Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Making it Home - Barely

Our 3AM wake up call came and everyone was on the bus for the 4AM departure to the airport in Milan. We did not hit any traffic and arrived with plenty of time to arrive at the airline check-in counter and wait for it to open.

As they open and the first of our group start checking in; we get the news that they cannot supply boarding passes for our second flight (we flew from Milan to Dublin and then from Dublin to Boston) and that we would need to get these boarding passes from the check-in counter in Dublin.

Now, we had realized that we had just 1 hour from the time our first flight was scheduled to land and the time our second flight was supposed to depart. We had already prepared ourselves to be organized and efficient (with no restroom breaks) at the Dublin airport. Now we needed to schedule a stop at the counter to get boarding passes.

So the strategizing began. Everyone who needed to visit the tax free office left the gate and went back ot the Milan airport entrance to prepare their paperwork (and then go through security again). We tried speaking to all the agents about arrival gates and departure gates and where the ticket counter would be in Dublin - to no effect as no one in Milan was familiar with the Dublin airport and barely spoke English. A few of us tried getting information from the flight attendants on board the first flight (while they did call ahead to let the ground crew know 41 of us were coming in on the flight; they did not offer much knowledge and didn't seem as concerned as we were).

We landed in Dublin about 10 minutes ahead of schedule - giving us 70 minutes before next take off...

The group of us must have been a sight to see. Literally racing from one terminal toward the baggage area where the counter was to pick up boarding passes. Following the signs, we forged ahead - only to be stopped in a line. This was Irish Customs and we needed to wait our turn.

Down long hallways, stairs and escalators, we made our way to the baggage area and found the ticket counter. They had pre-printed our passes so it didn't take as long as it might have for 41 of us to get set. But they did hand us a US Customs card and indicated that needed to be completed before we reached the gate.

Off we went - where is Terminal B? More stairs and hallways. Already exhausted from a week of touring Italy and a 3AM wake-up call; we were determined and kept a quick pace.

Rounding a corner, we find ourselves in yet another line - say it ain't so! Yes, we have to go through security and we were not prepared for this. In our efficianecy, we had packed all of belongings. Many had bottles of water or soda in bags (dig them out and throw them away). No one had their ziplock toiletry bags ready for inspection (dig through the carry-ons and throw them in the plastic bins).

Many of us had issues at the security line; but to not embarrass anyone else, I will share my own story at this point: I had waited for everyone else back in Terminal A and had remained in the back of our line throughout the "airport run" so I was one the last to make it to security. Like everyone else, I had thrown away my water, taken off my shoes, belt and watch and had managed to get the laptop out of the bag for inspection. Walking through the metal detector, I set it off. They asked me to go through again - and again. I was asked to step t the side and was patted down while the security team used their metal-detecting wands. Finally, the guards gave up and said to just go on through..... Now I am even more behind the group and can't even see the others running down the corridors toward potential freedom. I put my shoes halfway on, throw my belt, watch and phone in my bag without zipping it up and carried the laptop in my other hand. I'm now part of the line of Stonehill travelers racing down the hall - literally racing. Without a belt my pants begin to slide and I realize that choosing to carry the computer was a bad idea!

I caught up to my friends at what? Another line! We now have to go through US Customs - oh yeah, have remembered to find a pen and fill out your cards? More important things first, as we tie our shoes, put on our belts and secure our carry-on belongings. Through the check we go. Almost there. Just through that door and we find our plane.

Nope. More stairs and another hallway. And finally to the gate attendant. We hand over our boarding passes, show our passports, and prove that we have completed our paperwork and onto the plane we go. The last of our group boarded the plane at 1:55pm - exactly 1 hour and 5 minutes after landing in Terminal A and exactly 5 minutes before the schedule departure.

How all 41 of us made it through that airport, I will never know. But we did it. And we did it without them holding the plane for us!

We arrived at Logan 30 minutes early. Said goodbye to some at the baggage claim and got on the courtesy shuttle back to campus (which had heard of the early landing and was waiting for us when we arrived). Safely back to Stonehill, the remainder of us said goodbye and wished other well (and some rest and relaxation!).

Farewell Dinner

After a very enjoyable day in Siena and San Gimignano we freshened up and headed to the local restaurant for our Farewell Dinner.

We said our goodbyes and thank you's to Karin, who offered some very lovely words about our group, our trip and about Italy.

About midway through our meal a group at one table began tapping their glasses to get everyone's attention and Frank stood up to offer a toast. Others followed suit with several of our travelers offering words of thanks, comraderie, enjoyment and enthusiasm.

It was such a nice tribute to our group and to Stonehill.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

San Gimignano

A great bus ride (thanks Sergio!) through Tuscany - seeing an American cemetery for veterans and lots of vineyards. Beautiful!

Up the mountain to the lovely San Gimignano. Another quaint town with lots of character - and plenty of shops. Everything from fine leather, wine, jewelry and delis.

Everyone enjoyed having a very relaxing and enjoyable day today. We will head down the street for our final group dinner and then up extra early (3am wake up call) to make it to the airport in Milan in time for our flight.

We'll see everyone soon!


Today we headed to wine country (or part of it anyway).

We stopped first in Siena. Many of us attended Sunday Mass at St. Catherine's. Although it wasn't in the main church it was very nice to participate. We later got to tour the main church with Karrin and saw more beautiful altars, frescos, staues, etc.

We walked through the town with Karrin, seeing many great vistas and sites and we saw the first Bank building ever!

The Plaza in Siena was amazing. It had a lovely fountain but was just huge and carried with it the image of Italy most of us had in our minds back in the states. It was very quaint. So many of us would love to return here!


This morning we woke up (early again) and headed to Venezia. We learned from Karrin how the city was formed and that it is actually 380 different islands with the city taking up just over 100 of them. Karrin asked who wanted to buy an island!

We met up with our local guide Rita and hit St. Mark's Plaza. Another beautiful spot! And then into Doge's Palace. The Doge had been "President" elected by councilors for a lifetime position - although simply a figurehead for the city. This is the most famous museum in Venice. We passed through the room with 4 doors, the Senate Room, the Department of Justice and the Prison. The winged lion is the symbol of St. Mark, and consequently, the symbol for Venice and was featured in several pieces throughout the museum. We saw another 24 hour clock here and visited the Great Council Hall. This is the biggest room in Europe without support columns. It also features the largest "Paradise" painting in the world.

We then went to St. Markàs Basilica - very ornate with lots of gold mosaics. The gold color comes from a mixture of gold leaf and glass. The Basilica had served as the private chapel for the Doge. This church is also called The Golden Basilica.

We had a group luncheon with great pasta, mystery meat, a nice dessert and som of the best wine yet.

Later many of us took a gondola ride through the Grand Canal. Others went shopping for more gifts (for ourselves and those at home). We then took the water taxi back to the bus and headed home for a late group dinner at 9:30 at the local restaurant.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Florence - Part 2

After the Duomo, we saw the Baptistry, which was the original church until the Duomo was completed and was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. We then headed to a square filled with statues and broke for a 2 hour block of free time. Many enjoyed lunch and even more enjoyed the shopping in the fine stores and the marketplaces.

Upon regrouping we went to the Uffitzi Gallery. A highlight for anyone coming to Florence. We began in the ancient rooms with Alessandra "whispering" to us all the important facts and Allyson answering all of our questions.

We proceeded to the Botticelli room which houses "The Birth of Venus" and "Springtime", among others. We saw the only completed painting by da Vinci in Florence today as well as the only one of Michealangelo's in Florence as well.

The Raphael room was also a highlight, with the "Portrait of Pope Leo X" and how he was able to blend colors to create 3 shades of red to highlight fabrics and how this piece highlights his skill. We saw painting after painting and statue after statue - almost like artwork overload! It is hard to take it all in when you leave one of the most widely known pieces of art; only to turn the corner and see another one or two in the next room! Astounding and once in a lifetime!

We then had more free time and some returned to the Duomo to climb to the top of the dome and see some spectacular views of the city. It was less of a climb than it was for the group in Rome who climbed to the top of St. Peter's but it was still pretty high!

Most of us returned to the hotel via the bus with Karin but others stayed downtown to enjoyed the city more. Just before returning home after a nice dinner (restaurants don't even open for dinner until 7pm) a small group heard an opera singer on a street corner and enjoyed some time at JJ Cathedral - what turned out to be a hotspot for local students

Tomorrow we are off to Venice (wake up call at 5:45 and leave the hotel at 6:45AM) but it is sure to be great!

Everyone here says hello to family and friends!

Florence, Part One

This morning we woke early, enjoyed breakfast and headed into the heart of Firenze. We started the day by wishing Angela Buon Cumpleannos!

We started with the Gallery Academia and saw Michaelangelo's "David". Most of us had seen photos of this stature or images on screen, etc but none have done it justice. The thing is HUGE. It now weighs in at 5 tons! It was carved of just one piece of marble. So how big was the original block of marble before he began chipping away? We learned about his technique and how he personally selected the blocks of marble from the quarry.

This gallery also had other pieces of art for us to view and learn about - but the highlight was the David.

Upon entering the city this AM, we encountered a lot of students. We found ourselves in the middle of a student protest!

We next made our way to the Duomo. The seat of the bishop in Florence, this cathedral is breathtaking! Marble floors that go on forever. The domed ceiling with frescos was magnifient. It even has a clock - a 24 hour clock!

We heard from our guide Alessandra, lit candles in prayer and were awed by the art (some done by Donatello himself).

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dinner with the Students

Our first night in Florence and were were joined by six Stonehill students currently studying here!
All are great kids with some amazing stories of their study'abroad experience so far. We got to talk about Stonehill of today and share our stories from our student days. We also were able to tap into their knowledge and experience to take some tips for where to spend some of our down time here - including some local restaurants.

We certainly wish all 6 of them well!


Today we spent much of the day on the bus from Rome to Florence. But we had a great 3 hour stop in Assisi.

A quaint little town with lots of shops, some nice restaurants, terrific views of the countryside and, of course, the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. So beautiful!! Everyone enjoyed the time we had here and some say they could have spent days in this little town and never get bored!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Vatican Museum

We enjoyed lunch on our own and some shopping before meeting our local guide, Antonio, for the beginning of our guided tour.

We began with the Vatican Museum - well, parts of it. The place is HUGE. Everywhere you turned, there was another beautifulstatue, painting, etc. From floor to ceiling the place was impressive.

We began in the Courtyard (one of them), then stopped at the staue of Apollo, which Michaelangelo used the face of as inspiration for Christ's face in his "Last Judgement". Antonio told us about how they made the staues and differences between Greek and Roman sculpture.

We walked down a hallway of tapestries. Raphael painted what he wanted these to look like (on cardboard) and sent them to the factory for production. Using the finest silks and materials, the replicated his visions and produced stunning floor to ceiling tapestries. The ceilings in this hall were painted with lots of shadowing - giving the illusion of sculpture on the ceiling - but were simply paintings. They reminded some of us of cameos - but on a much larger scale.

Off to the Sistine Chapel - No words we write can accurately describe this room. Speechless....

We then left the Museum and entered St. Peter's Basilica. The largest Catholic church in the world was truly enormous! Again, nearly every inch was covered by some work of art. The altar and marble canopy alone were a marvel to see (and we got the surprise of seeing what must have been an "altar boy" standing on the altar to check the feet-high candlesticks).

The group walked and walked, we saw some of the most impressive works of art in history, we enjoyed learning from Antonio as well as Allyson and we were nothing if not impressed. BUT, we battled crowds throughout the tour. Keeping up with Antonio was sometimes tough as our iterest was drawn to so many works through the tour. We did not even cover half the ground available and still saw so much. Even after all that walking about 6 of the group stayed behind with Allyson hoping to climb the 500+ steps to the dome in the Basilica and check out even more!

We'll enjoy dinner in our hotel and an early wake-up tomorrow as we head to Florence. everyone sends their love to family and friends back home (you were in our thoughts and prayers today as we shared time with the Pope and in the most famous church in the entire world.

Papal Audience

The Pope is a Rock Star!

We rose early, ate a quick breakfast and headed into St. Peter's Square. Our tour manager Karin brought us right up front (maybe just 50 rows in front of us) and we waited for about 2 hours in the beautiful sun.

Then from behind the Basilica came the Pope Mobile and the crowd erupted. And, when we say crowd - we mean CROWD! There had to be more than 30,000 "pilgrims" in the Square. The Pope made a drive around the perimeter of the first rows of seats and then up onto the stage.

Cardinals and Bishops offered introductions in various languages with full crowd participation. Some groups had bands, some sang songs, many cheered as their group or country was mentioned. The Pope then offered greetings in each of the languages and followed with the "Our Father" en mass in Latin. The Pope then offered blessings on each of those present as well as our families and loved ones at home. He then blessed all of our momentos (many purchased from the Vatican Gift Shop).

It was surreal, peaceful and spiritual all at the same time. A GREAT way to begin our day!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Day 2 - Rome with Allyson

After Marianna left us we were on our own for the rest of the day.

Thanks to Allyson (that's Professor Sheckler to you!) we were certainly not done with our sightseeing.

Most of us headed to the famous Piazza Espana to see and walk the Spanish Steps. The church at the top was beautiful and the views all around were great. We then broke for a few hours and enjoyed lunch (we were hungry from all our walking!) and some shopping.

Later in the day about 25 of us met back at the Steps for an education, as Allyson led us through the city to view some of the most famous and beautiful images...

We began with the "bones museum" and have varying reactions to it. We visited the old Roman Baths converted to the Basilica with frescos designed by Michaelangelo himself. We also stopped at Basilica Maria Majore and made our way to St. Ignascious' Basilica. We found ourselves at the foot of the Monument to the Unkown Soldier along the way.

Some made it the entire walk and others stopped along the way to do other things (like take a nap at the hotel). Those who stuck through the entire walk (now being lovely termed, "Allyson's death march" as we walked from 9:00am until 7:30pm with just a stop for lunch), experienced not only the wonder of seeing everything but learning along the way.

Allyson tolerated our questions and offered so much information at each and every stop. All of us are grateful for her assistance and help throughout the afternoon.

Can't wait to hear everyone else's stories!

Day 2 - Rome Tour 1

This morning we had wake-up calls at 6:30 and enjoyed breakfast at the hotel. We then boarded the motorcoach and met with our second local guide, Marianna.

Marianna took us on a walking tour of "ancient Rome". We visited the some great sites including the Pantheon (and witnessed the start of a wedding - at 11:00am on a Tuesday!) and the Trevi Fountain.

Both were beautiful to see. The weather was above 70 degrees and sunny (some of us needed sunscreen and all of us needed water to re-fuel).

Sorry for the delay, a few technical gliches with the computer - but we are back up and ready to report.........

Last night after dinner (which was very nice!) we met up with our local guide Antonio for a bus tour of Rome by Night. The only stop was at the front of St. Peter's - nothing less than spectacular (pictured).

We then rode across the city seeing some of its most famous monuments, fountains and statues lit up at night. A terrific way to see the city!!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Buon Giorno!

We all made it safely to Rome.

Special thanks to Fr. Jim Chichetto,CSC '64 who met about 30 of us on campus to offer a blessing before we left for the airport. All of us appreciated your kind words and prayers.

We left Boston on time and landed in Dublin ahead of schedule. The plane left Dublin on time and we hit Rome right on time. We were greeted by our tour manager Karin who ushered us to our bus and off we went.

30 minutes later we were in ancient Rome, turned a corner and and out of nowhere was the magnifient Colosseum. A local guide "whispered" in our ears as we explored the stadium after all others have been modeled. Absolutely spectacular!

We drove back to the outskirts of the city and checked in at our hotel. We'll meet for dinner in a few hours and then we'll be treated to a bus tour of Rome at night - the lights are supposed to be beautiful.

While excited to hear the Patriots won - disappointed to hear about the Red Sox missing the sweep.....

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"Masterpieces of Italy"
Following the success of the inaugural Alumni Travel Program to Ireland in 2007, the Stonehill COllege Office of Alumni Affairs is pleased to present our second educational destination: Italy.

“Masterpieces of Italy” is a 9-day, 7-night excursion through Italy. The trip will feature Florence, Venice, Assisi, San Gimignano, Siena, Rome and more!

With Assistant Professor Allyson Sheckler serving as our faculty guide, many of the trip’s highlights will include museum and cathedral visits to view famous works of art.

The forty-five participants will depart for Italy on October 5th and will use this blog to chronicle our journey. Below is a brief description of our itinerary.

Day 1
We will depart from Boston's Logan Airport, fly overnight, change planes in Dublin and arrive in Rome.
Day 2
We will be greeted by our local guide and motor coach driver upon arrival in Rome. From the airport we will begin our sightseeing with a half-day Anient Rome excursion. We will then check into our hotel, the Grand Hotel Tiberio, take some time to rest and then enjoy a Welcome Dinner.
Day 3
We will rise early, eat breakfast and enjoy the Modern Rome tour with our guide. Travelers will take the afternoon to explore the city on our own. We will gather back at the hotel for a group dinner followed by an Evening Tour of Rome on the motor coach.
Day 4
After breakfast we will head straight to Vatican City. The local guide will show us some of the highlights and we hope Pope Benedict XVI is not traveling so that we can participate in the weekly Papal Audience. We will enjoy lunch and dinner on our own to allow for final exploration of Rome before we depart in the morning.
Day 5
After an early breafast we will head north for Florence. Along the way there will be stops including Assisi. Upon arriving in Florence we will check into The Hotel Grifone and enjoy a group dinner with some of the Stonehill students studying there for the semester.
Day 6
We will spend the entire day sightseeing in Florence with time for individual activities and shopping.
Day 7
After an early breakfast we will head northeast to enjoy a full day of sightseeing in Venice with a group luncheon in the heart of the city. After time for individual sightseeing we will baord the moto coach for a late drive back to Florence. A boxed dinner will be provided on the drive back.
Day 8
A full day of the Tuscan landscape and italian wine country with stops in Chianti, Siena and San Gimignano. There will be opportunity to attend Sunday Mass at the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena. Upon return to Florence we will enojy our Farewell Dinner.
Day 9
After breakfast we will check out and make our way to Milan, where we will board our plane and begin our trip home.