Italy: Day 6

The wake up call was at 7:15 this morning. The girls may have missed their alarm and woke up just in time to have a quick breakfast and get on the bus. It turned out that we could have slept another half hour or so, because Lino, our bus driver, was late picking us up, due to an accident that blocked the road. After we finally got onto the bus, David took advantage of the time to inform us about olives and olive oil. What does “extra virgin” mean? When making olive oil, the acidity must be less than 1 percent in order to be classified as extra-virgin olive oil. In Tuscany, achieving an acidity level this low happens by hand picking the olives off olive trees. Trees between 12 and 25 years old produce the best oil, and old trees are used to fuel the ovens for baking pizza because olive wood burns hotter and longer than most woods. The olive oil made from hand-picked Tuscan olives costs significantly more than olive oil made from this Italian specialty picked by the machines.The machine picking happens by first laying nets under the olive trees. Some olives fall naturally; others must be shaken off using a machine. The best mechanically-made olive oil can only reach acidity as low as 1 percent. Another interesting fact is that black olives are actually green olives that change color from green to purple, due to maturation, and then from purple to black, due to brine-water processing. Once David had given us all the information, Lino dropped us off at the ceramic workshop. Upon arrival there, we met Alex, who spoke amazing English, and he taught us how ceramics are made. First, they must drain a lake, in an “environmentally friendly” fashion. After draining the lake, they fill the clay into trucks and haul it back to the workshop. They refill the lakes. When they receive the clay at the workshop, they mold it into shape, either by hand or using molds and machines. After the shape is formed, the clay must be heated in the oven, which reaches 3,400 degrees Fahrenheit. The clay will return to the oven two more times—once, to have the white, marble glaze applied to it, and, lastly, to harden the hand-painted art design. One major decoration for Italians is two birds in the center of a plate. These birds symbolize new beginnings and are given to newlyweds and new parents. After making some purchases in the ceramic shop, we got back on the bus and went to lunch. We walked up the stairs at the train station to get to the restaurant, where we found Alex! He hurried there in his BMW, so that he could be our waiter as well. We finished lunch and got back on the bus to go to Assisi, the spiritual capital of Italy. There we met our local tour guide, who took us on a walking tour of the town. We visited different basilicas that were beautifully decorated, but you’ll have to go on the next trip to see them, because we were unable to take pictures. Saint Chiara’s Basilica was the lower of the two in the town, while the Basicila di Francesco was located higher on the hillside. We learned a great deal about Saint Francis, including that his real name was Giovanni and “Francesco” was merely a nickname. After the touring the upper and lower basilicas, we took the bus to our hotel. We had a little bit of time to recharge before having a delicious dinner. Now, we end the blog to head out for our nightly gelato.

Buon Notte!

(Note: We got a little out of order here! Apologies!)

Italy Trip: Day 5


The halfway point of our trip began this morning with the boys once again having alarm issues, so we had a “late” start when we headed out to see Michelangelo’s David.  When we arrived 15 minutes before the museum even opened, there was already a line wrapped around the building! We waited in line for more than an hour when the boys began to whine that they were hungry and insisted that we needed to leave, but the girls refused to budge because they were determined to make it through those doors before we missed our tour. The boys learned a big lesson: women are almost always right (a girl wrote this). After gaining a newfound appreciation for David, we explored the city with Alessandro as our exciting tour guide. The tour began with the Duomo and followed along as we explored the open gallery, where the David originally stood.  We then learned much about the Medici family and were able to see the political center that the family converted into their palace home. We then ventured down to the Arno River, where we were able to see and learn about the Ponte Vecchio, which translates to “The Old Bridge” and is the only bridge that survived WWII.  The tour ended with a leather demonstration, where the group learned some tips that proved useful for Colin later in the day.  After the tour ended, Dr. Thompson jokingly told one of his ridiculous “mistruths,” and, to our surprise, his nose grew a bit—ironically, considering that Pinnocheo was based in Florence.  After this photo-opportunity, we ate an incredible 3-course meal at the Trattoria Alfredo.  At this point, a few of the weary travelers headed to the hotel for a quick nap while Dr. Thompson, Kate, Liz and Sean set out for the Bargello Museum, where we had a chance to see another version of David, Donatello’s, which was the first nude sculpture of the Renaissance. After this excursion, the group met and walked 463 steps—one way—to the top of the Duomo to get a panoramic view of Florence. At this point, the girls set out for a bit of shopping, where Tori found a prize for her father and Kate purchased her first piece of art.  The boys, on the other hand, were on an adventure: Colin tracked down Scuola del Cuoio, an Italian leather shop, where he made his proudest purchase: a leather jacket that has since transformed his ego, due to the fawning of the girls. During all of this time, Dr. Thompson spent time in Uffizi Gallery, with paintings from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, among many others. The group then met on the steps of the Duomo, where, after a discussion of the days events and sights, we set out for another look at the open gallery, the Piatza de la Segneria; afterwards, we grabbed pizza for dinner and headed back to the hotel over twelve hours since we had left it first, feeling the burn in the legs from all of the steps in the Duomo.  Now, at the halfway point of trip, we can stop and reflect that, indeed, this experience has been “moto bene.”

Italy: Day 7

Today, we began our journey in the early morning towards the southern region of Italy. Our bus ride was an estimated six hours with David’s voice over the speaker during most of the trip. He spoke of World War II, from the Italian viewpoint, which was interesting even if there was a little more detail than needed. As we passed by Rome on our way to Pompeii and the Sorrento region, David provided some facts and stories about Rome—much to the pleasure of Sean, our history connoisseur. Upon arriving at the ruins of Pompeii, the group had lunch together. For an affordable price, we each got an individual pizza, choice of salad or French Fries, a drink and dessert. The general consensus on the meal was positive, as it prepared us for the walk through Pompeii. Before our guided tour, we viewed a Cameo demonstration. Tori bought a souvenir for her husband, a replica of a Pistola, and Emily bought a ring from the Cameo store. Though we encountered a slight amount of precipitation, our spirits were not dampened. Our tour guide, Gino, directed us through the ruins that are left of Pompeii, the ancient city that was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. During the tour, we visited the business district, where a bakery’s oven was still standing. We also saw the theatre, a gladiator’s arena and training area, a brothel, the Roman forum, and Apollo’s Temple. Lizzie bought a book of Pompeii, which showed the modern day Pompeii, with an artist’s depiction of ancient life overlaying the picture. After an hour’s trip to our hotel, we were given a few hours to relax. Some of our group took advantage of this time to explore the neighboring shops, while others took much-needed naps. Dinner was served at the hotel, where Gnocchi, eggplant lasagna and moist lemon cake gave us delight. We should also mention that Lino has been doing an exceptional job under sometimes trying conditions. We’re turning in early for the night because we have a 6 am wake up call. Buononotte!

Italy: Day 4


Today is day four of our lovely trip to Italy! The day began with a teary goodbye to the city of Venice as we left for our next destination—Florence, recognized as the foremost city in the world for art. We took a long bus ride to Florence, about four hours, causing some our travel mates to fall asleep (Emily, Tori, Colin, and, intermittently, Kate and Liz ). During the bus ride our tour guide with the tweed jacket lectured on the history of Venice and Florence. Once we arrived at Hotel de la Pace, we were free to explore the city on our own for a few hours! As a group we headed out to explore the city and find a bite to eat. We found a small restaurant named Gusta Leon, where everyone ate amazing food, including the local dish of soup, which included scraps of everything from meat to bread. Once our stomachs were full, we set out to find Chapel de Medici! We may have almost gotten lost on the way, but we learned how to barter with the local venders. Tori got a great deal on the scarves she bought, but Kate and Emily had no luck. Colin, meanwhile, was dragged into a leather shop where he was fitted with multiple leather skinny-jackets, where the persuasive salesman ran a lighter back and forth across the leather jacket to show it was fire proof! He ended up leaving the store without a jacket, despite how stylish he looked in it. After the leather shop, we found Chapel de Medici. The courtyard of the chapel was breathtaking! At 6:45, we met for dinner at the Dumou, a huge cathedral, where Sean channeled his inner Casanova and took some cues from “The Story of My Life” to woo the fashion students from New York. We ate at pro Palace! It was a three-course dinner, which consisted of pasta with ham, pork and potatoes and some type of coffee cake. It was delicious!  We decided to stay in at Hotel de la Pace tonight for some relaxation.


Italy: Day 3


Rough start for the ragazzi (boys) this morning, who “missed” their wake up call, no worries though, we all made it in time for the bus. This was most fortunate; after a brief, brisk boat ride to one of the islands, we had a chance to watch Murano Glass made first hand. The glass masters were able to craft horses, swans and vases within moments; they took globs of molten glass from the oven and twisted them into shapes in seconds. We later toured the products created by this process, ranging from decorative statuettes to beautifully white-gold inlaid glasses. We next traveled by boat back to the main islands of Venice, where we received a guided tour from Marta, who gave us the history of the buildings (and different architectural styles, ranging from Romanesque to Byzantine to Gothic and beyond) and the history of Venice itself. For lunch, we found a tiny resteraunt with money from all across the world nailed to its ceiling beams. The pizza and pasta inside were amazing, while the bread was heavenly; unfortunately, only half of our group could partake of this experience. The other half took advantage of a gandola ride through the small canals to the Grand Canal. They appreciated the view from water, giving a whole new perspective of the city, as well as Dr. Thompson’s gondola singing. They can now cross that experience off their bucket lists. Afterwards, we toured the Doge’s Palace, a magnificent building used for centuries as the hub of the Republic of Venice’s government; the building is currently a major tourist attraction and museum, complete with a dungeon. The ceilings were decorated with impressive artwork—as were the walls and every other visible location. Tori and Liz, unfortunately, headed off to buy Murano glass flowers and ended up lost in the alleys of Venice, though they were guided back by a friendly resturaunti worker and returned in time to catch the boat back to our hotel  Sean, meanwhile, managed to end up randomly discussing Roman history and the building of the Colliseum with a group of touring Canadians  We returned to our hotel early, giving a chance to tour the local town and enjoy the Adriatic Sea. 

Ciao ciao!

The Significant Sette

More pictures from our intrepid DHI scholars in Italy!

The Dietrich Honors Scholars are on a trip to Italy this month. They’re sharing photos and updates from their trip here on Thiel Happenings!

Italy: Day 1

Today, we met at the Pittsburgh Airport at 2 p.m. We made it to New York for our layover at 5:30 p.m. After the two and a half hour layover we boarded our flight to Venice. Check back for updates from Italy!

Italy: Day 2

We arrived safely at Venice after a time-warping, sleep-destroying overnight flight. Spirits soldiered on despite the onset of loopiness. After lunch on the town, we joined the other schools on a ferry ride to Venice. Once our tour guide acquainted us with major landmarks including the gondola ports and the Plaza de San Marco, we were allowed the afternoon to explore Venice’s endless roads, alleys and canals and the shops each had to offer. A flower-themed scam artist and a fancy collectible spoon later, we sat down to a four-course meal at a local eatery featuring their own saxophone serenade on staff. After some of us enjoyed a second helping of dessert—a cake made of nature’s headiest ingredients—our resolves crumbled. Sleep is desperately required if we’re going to make it through another day in Venice tomorrow. Arriverderci, amici!