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by Rebekah Townsend
The first full day in Italy was in Ferrara on July 1. After breakfast we had an orientation to the program with the CIEE staff. We learned about what was expected out of us and what to expect in Italy during the program. We then went for a walking tour of the city and learned that Ferrara is extremely historically important. It is one of the only cities left that has a wall around it, about 8 km long! There is also a castle, which is the only castle in Europe that still has moat surrounding it. We had lunch together and were surprised by what a traditional Italian meal is. The lunch consisted of three courses, pasta, then meat and potatoes, and them dessert. For dinner we went to a restaurant and experienced what is called an aperitivo. This is a signature Italian experience in which you can order a drink, and then help yourself to as much of the food sitting out as you like!
Getting adjusting to things was difficult at first, being jet lagged and feeling out of place was hard but after a few days it became better. It’s nice to get closer with people in the group and with Michela (our professor). There are a lot of activities and travelling planned for the trip and we are always busy, making the most of our time here which is great. On July 3rd we made our first expedition out of Ferrara. We traveled to a regional nature park in the Po River Delta. We have done some reading of articles and writing of summaries about the Po River Delta, it is a very important part of the geography of Italy. It is a point in which the Po River breaks off into many smaller channels as it leads into the Adriatic Sea and is made of brackish water (salt levels being between freshwater and saltwater). At the regional park, we had a boat tour of the delta area we were in. We learned and saw the plants change from being only freshwater plants to only saltwater plants as we moved closer to the sea. We also learned about the many species of birds in the delta region, probably more than needed, but that’s a story for a different time. It was interesting to see the nature side to Italy and see how it was similar and different to what it’s like at home.
We left for Chioggia on Wednesday July 5th and stayed there until Friday July 7th. Chioggia is an amazing city, it is right on the sea and is famous for the fishing industry. It is made up of four islands and connected by bridges, the city is called “Little Venice” but the locals call Venice “Big Chioggia.” The city is much more lively and populated than Ferrara. While in Chioggia we went on a walking tour of the city getting to see a cathedral, the city hall, and the oldest working clock tower in the world! We also experienced a delicious Italian seafood dinner, with mussels, risotto (an amazing rice dish), and fried calamari. That night we went to a museum, where we learned about Chioggia even more. The guide showed us what the land was made of under the city, which was basically mud and sticks, which explains the sinking of the city that is occuring. He also told us a lot about the history of the fishing industry and ship building in Chioggia. Leaving Chioggia was difficult, especially leaving the beach!
July 9th: After a free weekend spent in the seaside city of Rimini, I returned back to a mellow Monday in Ferrara. It was nice coming back to Ferrara after so much traveling, it has started to feel like a home away from home which is extremely comforting. Today we had a few hours of class time in the morning and learned about the Mediterranean Sea and tectonic plates. During class we also compared sea shells that we had found within the past week from the beaches, we all voted on whose collection of shells was the best! As a celebration of the sea shell contest Michela took us all out to gelato later that night, it was delicious. We also went to the local farm in Ferrara and saw so many fresh fruits and vegetables growing, including figs, eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, herbs, and grapes. There were also a few farm animals; they had chickens, goats, and sheep. It was very cool to see the local farm and see how the people in the community support each other!
July 10th: Today we had a day trip to Venice! We will be returning on Thursday for an overnight excursion, so today was just a taste. But, we sure did pack in a lot! We took the train to the Venice train station (which is huge!!) and met our tour guide for the day. The tour guide led us through the tiny crowded streets and brought us to many important plazas and the biggest being Piazza San Marco. This was known as the political square in which many court hearings and trials took place. The Church of St. Mark is located there and it was amazing. I thought it was so cool to learn that many of the pillars and materials used to build it were stolen from older monuments and buildings. Venice is extremely beautiful and historical, I enjoyed spending the day there and learning so much about the city. It is very different from Ferrara, however, it is much more busy and filled with tourists. Even the restaurants are much different, because most of them can be considered what the guide called tourist traps. I never had to worry in Ferrara about that and it was a good feeling. When we got back to Ferrara we had our last dinner at Pizzeria della Luna (the restaurant we had most of our dinners during our time in Ferrara). The waitress Rosa was there every night and she served us pizza and a special surprise at the end for our last dinner with her. It was such a special moment saying goodbye to her and it’s something I will never forget.
July 12th: Today we woke up early, had our last breakfast in Hotel Carlton of Ferrara and headed to Venice! Also today Michela wanted all of us to wear Michigan shirts, which was a good time walking through the streets and randomly hearing “Go Blue!” We dropped all of our luggage off to the hotel and walked through the city before lunch, exploring the streets and canals. After lunch we went to the Museo di Storia Naturale di Venice. We listened to a lecture about sea turtles in the Mediterranean Sea and learned so much about them and how we need to protect them, especially from the fishing industry. They can often get caught by hooks or nets. Finding somewhere to eat for dinner was a bit challenging on our own, and I definitely regret not going with Michela and the guide to dinner. We found a restaurants that could definitely be categorized as a tourist trap leaving us feeling a bit dissatisfied with ourselves. But hey you live and you learn! Today I came to the realization that a lot of the people in the group can be quite negative about the things we do as part of the program. I’ve noticed it before but it was starting to get to me, I want people to understand how lucky we are to be here and how appreciative we should be. It’s something that is difficult to be around and I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with it.
July 16th: Today we spent exploring Rome for the first time as a group! We went to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and had a walking tour of the water supply in Rome. It was really cool to be in an international building when we visited FAO. The main goal of FAO is to end poverty and world hunger. They have 17 sustainable goals that are meant to help achieve this. All of the goals relate to one another, some of the goals involved limiting waste, using renewable energy, gender equality, and sustainable fishing practices. I like the goals they have to take care of our environment better and create a better planet for people everywhere. The walking tour with Alfredo was very interesting as well! It was so cool to see the imperial ruins underneath a modern building. This was because Rome grew over time by building on top of older buildings. We also learned a lot about the important sites including, the Spanish steps and the Trevi fountain. Alfredo told us about the water system of Rome. We learned a lot about the fountains and aqueducts in the city. I learned so much today and had a great time!
July 17th: Today we had a day trip in Santa Severa! We visited the Castle and the Museum of Sea and Ancient Navigation. Although we arrived a little late they were still willing to give us a tour so that was really nice. It was so cool to see the view of the Tyrrhenian Sea from the villa, it was beautiful! It was also really cool doing the virtual reality because it showed what it would look like to be on a ship and be in the castle during that time period. The museum was interesting as well, we learned how the ships were built and how tools for the ships evolved over time, like the anchor and the water pumping system. Learning about the very beginning of ship making made me think about how much ships and navigation have had an impact on our world. The ships were the beginning of exploration of new places and the main source of transporting goods; they created new civilizations and industrialization which led to human impact on the environment. After lunch, we spent the rest of the day at the beach (right next to the castle)! This beach was much different than the beaches on the Adriatic coast. The water was saltier and colder, the sand was coarser, the coast had a larger variety of shells, and the waves were much bigger and powerful. Also, the shore was not as long here, and the slope of shore was different. It was also much windier at this beach. Overall, it was a great day at the beach!
July 19th: Today we went on a day trip to Ostia! First we had a guided tour with Alfredo of the Ostia Antica, the ancient city of Ostia. It was amazing to see a whole city from ancient time and be able to walk around in it! The mosaic floors were amazing and the different courtyards and rooms were fascinating. Alfredo mentioned that the sea used to be right at the edge of this ancient city, whereas today it is about 30 km away. This is because the mouth of the Tiber river is very close by and the sediments have deposited and created more land in between the city and the sea. After the tour we had a seafood lunch on the beach, it was delicious! We then had a couple hours of beach time which I appreciated and enjoyed so much! I noticed that this beach had a lot less shells than Santa Severa, and that the waves were calmer and the slope of the shore was steeper here. The water also seemed to be saltier and the sand was finer and darker in color. After the beach we visited the center Mediterranean habitat. It was a conservatory for birds, he explained to us that they had fought off a seaworld and placed this organization there instead. This saved the population of dolphins in the this area of coastline. This organization also hosts outdoor classrooms for children which is great because like he said it creates a connection between the children and nature. I think this is an important part of education. When you learn about it and have a connection with the environment at a young age it is more likely that you will take care of it better and be conscious of your lifestyle and behavior and the it’s impact on the environment.