This past week saw the Romers undertake the famous expedition to Northern Italy, a trip that is considered a hallmark of the Rome semester. For five days, our class got the opportunity to explore the famous cities of Venice and Florence for a day and a half each, followed by Siena for a few hours. The Romers got to experience as much of each city as we could with our limited time. Gondola rides, bargaining for Florentine leather and a Vivaldi concert were just a few of some of the amazing highlights from this memorable trip.
But don’t just take my word for it. I had the opportunity to interview five of my peers who also undertook this journey to northern Italy. They each all had their own unique experience, filled with different activities, lessons and challenges that help paint a holistic picture of what this trip is like for the prospective Romer.
The reaction to the trip as a whole was incredibly varied. Andrew Brelcaw, a sophomore English major, thought that the trip was probably his favorite thus far, especially the Venice portion.
“I said multiple times that when I retire, I would retire in Venice,” said Brelcaw. He mentioned loving the various shops and overall atmosphere that was lively yet peaceful. “You have to get a gondola ride while you’re there,” and it’s worth twenty euro in the long run.
Sara Freund, a sophomore economics major, rated the trip as somewhere in the middle compared to the others she had undertaken so far such as Assisi. Part of her reasoning was that, while Siena was a great city to visit, there could have been more time spent in the city had the schedule been altered.
“We had so much free time in Venice and Florence that we could have moved some of that to spend more in Siena,’” said Freund, arguing that not only could the Romers have then spent a whole day in Siena, but they probably could have gotten there earlier as well.
Emily Paulette Dietrich, a sophomore business major, thought that Florence was too similar to Rome, but she loved Venice.
Additionally, the trip was on the longer side, and by the end, she, along with others, were so exhausted due to the traveling that Siena was of no interest. “We were so tired by the end that a lot of people just wanted to go home,” Dietrich said.
Part of the beauty of these trips is that, though they are school planned with certain restrictions not seen on the independent long weekend trips, everyone has the opportunity to choose their own activities with teachers guiding the tour. This limited sense of independence makes for a variety of different stories that can emerge from just one trip such as Northern Italy.
Junior Isabela Prezotto di Lima, a biology major, got to tour an opera house in Venice where in one of the rooms, she started singing to the praise and encouragement of some of the local onlookers who started walking into the room.
“It was genuinely surreal,” Lima said, especially being in a room where famous opera singers such as Maria Calla had performed before.
Karla Espinoza, a sophomore business major, managed to find a specific restaurant in Italy where the menus are hand written every day. Students of Dr. Anthony Nussmeier will recall this from freshman year Italian class back in Irving. And Freund managed to climb to the top of the famous Duomo in Florence, despite all of the stairs.
“It’s definitely a workout, but the view definitely makes the climb worth it,” Freund said.
Though students have different experiences in the various cities, one aspect of the Florence portion of the trip that many consider a rite of passage at UD is visiting the famous leather markets, which is a collection of street vendors and shops that sell — supposedly — genuine leather products such as jackets, belts and satchels. If you see someone walking around the Irving campus with a snazzy looking leather jacket or handbag, there’s a good chance they got it in Florence.
Yet the spring Rome students cautioned future Romers not to run headlong into buying a jacket. Part of the process involves bargaining with the vendors, some of whom aren’t always that nice.
“It’s quite intimidating when you first go in,” Lima said, noting that prospective buyers need to be sure they’re purchasing something they actually want rather than just because they got a good deal on it.
Espinoza noted that if you know Italian, you have a much better chance of getting a good deal. “The shopkeeper knew I didn’t speak Italian as my first language, but he complimented my Italian and gave me a discount for my speaking skills,” said Espinoza, and she managed to snag two leather purses for only 55 euros. But at the end of the day, they are not for everyone.
As Dietrich pointed out, “Just because everyone in Rome is doing something doesn’t mean you have to as well.” One can either get something different such as a belt or wallet, or avoid the markets altogether and still enjoy Florence.
The overall lesson from the interviewees is that the trip is only as good as you make it. They suggested that with the limited time in each location, you should make the most of it and explore the unique features each city has to offer. Brelcaw said that when in Venice for example, ditch Google maps and simply go out and explore the city.
“The water taxis are very helpful,” though Brelcaw also said that walking through the city will also give you just as great of views and places to visit. Dietrich also pointed out Venice’s famous glasswork, which features beautiful plates, statues and wine glasses.
Yet another important piece of advice is to help immerse yourself as best as you can in every spot. For example, churches are popular visit sites because of their religious, historical and artistic significance. Some students are beginning to feel “churched out” and want to visit other locations.
Freund, however, pointed out that this doesn’t have to be the case. “There is something about being in a beautiful church and going to Mass not understanding the language, but still knowing what’s going on.” She emphasized that one should approach a church as a sacred space rather than a tourist attraction can help to lessen this feeling.
Not every trip is going to be life changing, and sometimes you won’t have the blast of a stay you were hoping for. But as all of these interviewees made clear, you have a partial responsibility to make the most of each place you visit. The memories and awesome times are there, but it’s up to you to make them happen.