A Travellerspoint blog

Ravenna

More Mosaics!

Ravenna, like Classe, saw many different rulers. Some, like Theodoric, were Barbarian. Others, like Justinian, were Roman. All, however, got to eat the amazing food that comes out of the region of Emila-Romagna: prosciutto di Parma, Parmeggiano and Reggiano as well as many other famous food stuffs originate from right around Ravenna. We didn't miss out on this delicious area of the country: I ordered gnocchi slathered in a parmesan cream sauce with bits of speck (the fatty parts of bacon), and split a bottle of white wine with friends:

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Ravenna, of course, has much to offer other than food (although, for the most part, I really couldn't care less what else it had to offer...). It boasts many cool cloth shops and beautiful architecture:

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It also has its fair share of other fun things, like Pringles machines:
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Silly graffiti (the one on the right made me think of R.N.B. sooooo much for some reason):
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And some kick-ass haircuts:
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Oh yeah, and I guess there were also some cool artsy things. We visited a Neonian Baptistry that was octagonal and super cool:

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which was interesting because it was tiled when Christianity was still relatively new. That explains both the naked Jesus in the ceiling mosaic, and the pagan river spirit who is creeping out behind him while John the Baptist baptizes Christ...

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In the middle, there was a giant tub which tourists, myself included, through money into in the vain hope that it somehow betters their lives (I don't think my life can get any better, I am grateful everyday... I mostly did it because everyone else is doing it and I am a follower who succumbs to peer pressure).

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The crafty Romans even built in plumbing, so they wouldn't have to have the slaves manually empty the tub (only fill it, and do whatever other grunt jobs they needed done)

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There were also these stone sculptures, which had eyes that were a little too big, so they looked like Leela from Futurama, but I don't know if the photos show it well enough:

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We visited an entirely mosaic-ed sarcophagus:

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We then visited Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, which is in Ravenna.

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It was originally built by Theodoric (haha its like Thea), but when Justinian (who's wife was named Theodora... haha its like Thea too... except not as funny because she was a prostitute before she was Queen of the Holy Roman Empire) conquered, he had a portrait of himself hung in the church and commissioned the re-do of certain elements of the mosaic. While the processions were Barbarian heads of state originally, he had names of Saints hung above them to re-designate them as Roman figure. Where there now appear to be curtains of sorts, hanging in the arch-doorways, if you look closely you can see hands on the columns in between these arches. Under Theodoric, there were more people inside, but Justinian had them retiled. Its unclear whether he left the hands because its easier to simply do a straight line up then retile the hand section, or more likely whether he left them to remind everyone that he had conquered, and therefore was not to be screwed around with.

Last, we went to Santa Croce (and while it is pronounced "Sah-n-ta Cro-che", it means Saint Cross, not Saint Crotch), and boy was it stunning. From the outside it looks fairly simple:

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The interior gardens are slightly more complex and beautiful:

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But the true beauty was the interior - it even had mosaic floors, mosaic alters, and a frescoed ceiling:

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The patterns and colors reminded me of wallpaper that ZEK took from Grumpy Carrie, the Arts and Crafts councilor, the summer we worked at Camp Norwich, and I thought she would totally be all over this place.

In any case, Ravenna was great, and while my trip to Sicily for next weekend was cancelled, I think I will be going to the Amalfi Coast, touring around the Isle of Capri and boating through the Blue Grotto, so come back for a post soon!

Posted by Traveling Spoon 09:06 Comments (1)

Classe

Giant Cathedrals and Great Cappucini

Saturday I traveled to the city of Ravenna, and made a quick stop in Classe on the way. Classe used to be a famous port town in Ancient Rome, but as the water abated, so did the commerce, and now its just a tiny town with a giant Cathedral. I guess the good news is that what with global warming and all, Casse is a great real estate investment opportunity, because it will soon be a port once again...

ANYWHO! The Church we visited in Classe was called Sant'Apollinare. It sports a beautiful Byzantine mosaic. What is a Byzantine mosaic, you ask? This area - Ravenna and Classe included - experience several power shifts from about 400 AD until 600 AD, between the Romans (both the Eastern and Western empires) and the Barbarians (Visigoths, Ostragoths etc). When the land finally became Roman for good, it was because of Emperor Justinian of Constantinople (current day Istanbul). With his assumption of power, he brought many artistic trends from the Middle East, including a way of making beautiful narrative mosaics. They used glass as opposed to stones, which lent beautiful colors to their pictures, and tend to use Biblical symbolism. One of the tricks is that they don't lay the small pieces flat, as when illuminated that would have a sun-glaring-off-a-windshield-in-a-Walmart-parking-lot effect. Rather, they lay each tiny piece at a different angle to the ones surrounding it. When lit with a moving light such as candle light, this produces a glittering effect which is out of this world. Best part? Mosaics are made of material which is not damaged by flashes or photographs, so I can actually show this one off:
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Thats Saint Michael... my boyfriend :p

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Posted by Traveling Spoon 08:49 Comments (0)

Assisi

Ancient Frescoes and One of My Favorite Alcohols

HELLO! Sorry I haven't written in days - school work and trips have kept me really busy. SO! On Friday, I went to Assisi - the home of Saint Francis. Saint Francis was the creator of the Franciscan order, and preached that the Church should not own anything because Jesus didn't own anything. Alas, this prompted him to roam around Europe naked. Eventually, in order to incorporate the Franciscan order into the Catholic fold, the Church declared that as Jesus owned his sandals and cloak, they could legitimately own huge tracts of land and riches that rivaled royalty. On a side note, the Franciscan order is the inspiration for Frangelico, an absolutely delicious hazelnut liquor which makes a great Christmas present for me (if you were wondering...) - mixed with hot chocolate, it is like a more fun and easier to drink Nutella. The bottle of this alcohol is reproduced after the garb of these monks, and looks like this (in case you find yourself inexplicably drawn into a liquor store sometime in December, and can't remember what its called):

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We left at 7:30 in the morning on Friday, and drove 2 hours (I fell asleep). As we came around a mountain, a huge white Cathedral loomed over the side of the mountain facing us - this was the Church of Saint Francis. Unfortunately, it is prohibited to take photos, and while a friend snapped some, out of respect I am not posting any of the inside of the Church. I will say that the interior of the upper church is covered floor to ceiling in frescoes - on the upper half of the wall, there are pictures displaying the life of Christ, and underneath there are mirroring stories about Saint Francis. There are two layers of controversies associated with these frescoes. Firstly, there were ideological differences between the Franciscans and the Catholic Church which needed to be remedied. The Church could not sanction paintings of a nude Saint wandering around Europe (which Saint Francis was known to do), so they clothed him. Saint Francis believed that every creature, including animals, had a soul - and neatly tucked away in a corner, there is a fresco depicting him preaching to the birds. Saint Francis was also the first Saint to experience the stigmata, so there is also a huge painting of that. As you enter the lower church, it feels like you are entering the Da Vinci code - a huge, vaulted underground Cathedral sits directly below the upper Cathedral (PS, I might be excessively capitalizing, but I don't want to offend anyone, so I am erring on the side of caution). More frescoes display humanized versions of classic Biblical tales cover the walls. A rendition of the last supper displays the "back room" of this famous feast - servants and dogs cleaning the plates from the last course - and the image of Christ washing the Disciples feet depicts one Disciple anxiously awaiting his turn. These touches served Saint Francis' larger goal, namely to bring religion to the people. He did this in many ways, but one of the largest and most long-lasting was his positioning of the priest during Mass. Before Francis, the priest faced away from the congregation, but in order to connect and explain the allegories he was preaching, Saint Francis faced the assembly. The Cathedral in his honor in Assisi uses art to further this goal.

Below the lower Cathedral (it just keeps going, and going...) is the tomb of Saint Francis himself. I was truly humbled by the experience of entering this area. As one descends down the stone steps, and turns the corner into the low-ceilinged but large room, one cannot help but be moved by the displays of devotion that appear. Catholics from all over the world line an aisle, some kissing the ground and genuflecting before the shrine. As I walked in further, I reached the center of the tomb. The sarcophagus of Saint Francis sits atop a large stone pedestal, and a metal grate wraps around the entirety. Still more people kneeled and clung to the iron bars, some weeping and most whispering to the Holy bones and their shrine. Photographs litter the space between the beams and the grave itself: some of the elderly, and a few desperately devastating images of babies. I was not prepared for the faces of these little ones, and was moved by the sentiments I knew lay behind these offerings. It was a moment I will never forget.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the town of Assisi, which is perched atop the same mountain as the Church of Saint Francis. Switchbacks up the mountain were lined with little shops, most of which offered some sort of religious paraphernalia. If you wanted religious gear or anything with a cross on it, you could also just ask the monks who roamed the streets, and give them a donation. As touched as I was by the devotion I had seen earlier, I couldn't help but spend more than I should have on a shot glass in the shape of a Fransiscan Monk (cannot wait to bust it out at parties)... 8 Euro is not too much for the irony. Some friends and I ate at a creepy doll restaurant, because we couldn't find anywhere else... it looked like Marie Antoinette threw up all over the interior, and then someone forgot to take down the fake cobwebs last halloween, and then Chuckie got Patti Stanger to put together a singles mixer for him... but the pizza was pretty good.

Posted by Traveling Spoon 08:25 Comments (0)

Il Lago, La Montagne e Il Crepacuore (Continuare)

So! Last I left off, we were discussing food and drink, the adventures surrounding which mostly took place on Saturday. Other fun things of cultural relevance to y'all Americans include:

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To get two cars through the old streets of the towns outside Florence, this is how tight a driver must get to the old walls... Crazy!

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ALOE MONSTER!! Its not culturally specific, but it was giant! Like, the same size as our (tiny) European car.

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The stone marking the outside border of Florence

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Mostly for 5-Alone and Metrotones! PASTA AND TUNING FORKS!!

Statutes full of religious and cultural relevance dot the city's streets, but sometimes seem to offer contradictory messages:

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A saint who ran inquisitions against homosexuals, and...
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... is that just me???

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Some great Italian versions of our well-loved books

And my personal favorite:

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ONWARDS TO SUNDAY! This past weekend was "full immersion weekend", which meant our host families picked an activity for us to do together on Sunday. Given the current heat wave here, my host mom picked "Il Lago" (the lake). Oh my gorgeous!! Warm, clear and relaxing, the lake was the perfect place to be on Sunday - and the trip there gave us an overview of the area around Florence, which is stunning!

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And then we hiked part of a mountain, for some amazing views!
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Italy is beautiful, it's got great food, weather and shoes... what more could I ask for?

On a somber note, I would like to dedicate today's entries to Emily Weston:

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Posted by Traveling Spoon 05:05 Comments (0)

Il Lago, La Montagne e Il Crepacuore

The Last Few Days

Hello! Sorry I've been out of commission, its been a crazy last 3 days. Let me start where I ended last time: Pictures of our old friend Il Duomo, both during the day and at night:

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Its magnificent! For all their faults, the Medici's bankrolled an awful lot of amazing structures in Italy, this one included. Its not that the contributions exempt them from simony, bribery and other forms of corruption. but thank is at least partially owed to them for Il Duomo.

Next, I'll fill you in on some of the other beautiful buildings I have seen:

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So I guess the Medicis didn't really create most of the beautiful structures of Florence, but I still give them a lot of credit...

Apologies if this is rushed, I promise as soon as things calm down here, I will be able to savor writing each entry, but I feel like I have some catch-up work to do. On to FOOD! I had to buy a few things, so Catherine and I headed over to a supermarket!
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Are you surprised that we found lots of pasta, tomato sauce, vinegar, oil, wine, sausages, BACON (in to-go cups, no less) and wine?? And unfortunately for il caro mio (Mike), Franzia juice boxes already exist, they simply haven't crossed the pond yet. On Saturday, Catherine, Kelsey, Sara and I went to an open air market - it was the most amazing experience ever, even though we got there later than was ideal! There were jewelry stalls, cloth stalls, and as you turned a corner down another cobblestone street, you entered upon il cibo (the food)! Mountains of slightly-larger-than-cherry tomatoes were stacked in messy pyramids, the deep purple of le melanzane (eggplants) sat in rows, pale green and warm orange melons lay split open to expose the juicy flesh, peaches with pale insides and thin red skins were cracked open around the pit, braids of onions and garlic hung from the back wall of many stalls, bins of mushrooms lay below small pedestals for the truffles (the most prized of them all), breads of every shape and color were collected in baskets and bins lined with cloth napkins picante peppers still attached to their plant lay in brightly colored bunches, sausages of every meat and flavor one can think of and more cheeses than America even has to offer were piled on table after table on both sides:

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After that, we went out (the night from my last post)... and here are a few photos, just so you can see that we were being completely safe/sober (Yes, I know there are drinks in the photos, but its legal here, and I still think its debatable whether they even included alcohol):

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As a heads up (is there an apostrophe in that term?? I'm losing my English already!), Sara is the ultra blonde, Kelsey is the brunette and Catherine has the black hair.

Also, wine with lunch? Yes please! Best invention ever.
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Gotta go to class, will post about my Sunday trips with my host family later today!

Posted by Traveling Spoon 01:02 Comments (0)

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