19 March 2009

The Last Post

I realized that I never came back to update once we got home last fall. Let this post serve as a belated bookend to my chronicle of our overseas semester. I'm happy to report that all of our students from both schools made it back safely to the United States, and several wasted no time before they started planning future trips to Europe.

Unfortunately, the economic crisis that started last September has complicated the future of the program. Recently we were informed that Freed-Hardeman had canceled their plans for an Italy semester this fall because of financial constraints. Ed Hicks has been working on an alternative plan for the Faulkner students who have put down deposits for Fall 2009. It may involve London or Athens. I hope that the Faulkner/Freed partnership will be revived next year and become a permanent feature of both schools' international program offerings.

Thanks to everyone who read this blog and supported our group in other ways. If you wish to see more of our photographs from the semester in Italy, my wife Vickie has uploaded several hundred of them to her Facebook account.


15 November 2008

The Director Arrives

Our last week here in the hotel was brightened on Wednesday with the arrival of Dr. Terry Edwards, the program director. As most readers know, he was unable to come with us in September as a result of open-heart surgery he suddenly had to undergo in August. Stress tests a couple of weeks ago resulted in his being cleared to fly. He came to help shut the campus down next week and to negotiate contracts for next fall. Terry spoke in chapel Thursday and has been helping students (and faculty) with travel arrangements for next week.

Our end-of-semester banquet was Thursday evening. We had steak! After a fine meal, Terry serenaded the group with a Neapolitan song, accompanying himself on the guitar. Then we watched a slideshow Jonathan had put together. Nearly everyone appeared in it, but a few students were very overrepresented because most people didn't give Jonathan any photos to put into the show. Many pictures were taken afterwards while everyone was still dressed up.

Everyone is supposed to be in the process of cleaning out their rooms and preparing things for shipment. This morning was the last available time to ship boxes home. We began cleaning papers and such out of our apartment yesterday afternoon. There was some extra room in our suitcases on the way over, but I think the souvenirs we've acquired this semester will probably take up most of it when we pack today and tomorrow.

14 November 2008

Free Travel #3 (Part 3)

Monday was the last full day of the free travel period. We rose early and left the hotel shortly after 8:00 for Orvieto, about two hours south of Citerna. It's a hill town most famous for its cathedral and for being the birthplace of the Corpus Christi holiday. We parked in a garage and took escalators up to the town center. We spent about three hours in town seeing the cathedral and the surrounding area. We climbed to the top of a tower in the center of town and had a very nice view of the city and surrounding countryside.

From Orvieto we drove further south about 10-15 miles to a tiny hill town called Civita di Bagnoregio. It is probably the most dramatically situated town I've ever seen. In the off season the place is nearly deserted, and we had the little place almost entirely to ourselves, although we sat in a little eatery for awhile and let the proprietors coo over our children. It was a very good day all in all, a good one on which to end our free travels. We got back to Citerna about 6:00 p.m.

The students had been told to be back at the hotel by noon on Tuesday; this deadline had been extended from Monday evening to accommodate the train strike which was scheduled to end at 9:00 p.m. Monday. Almost all the students made it back on time, although a few had delayed trains and the like that kept them out until after lunch. The down side of the extended break was that we had to have classes in the afternoon Tuesday. Thus we entered the home stretch of lectures.

13 November 2008

Free Travel #3 (Part 2)

(I have added photos to earlier posts as far as back as the entry on Assisi.)

On Saturday we drove into Florence with Jenny Towns, who was souvenir shopping. I wanted to give Vickie another dose of the city because she had had little exposure to it up to that point. Arriving in town shortly before 11:00 a.m., we managed to park along the Arno in a metered space about half a mile upstream from the Ponte Vecchio. Jenny left us to do her shopping, and we went to the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace. Our tickets included admission to the costume gallery and special exhibit on the Medici and science, but not to the main part of the palace. We enjoyed what we had paid to see, and we ate a picnic lunch near the "Isoletta" at the bottom of the gardens. After leaving the gardens, we spent another couple of hours walking the streets between the palace and the Duomo, paying a visit to the "piggy market" so Vickie could get some gifts. We finally made it into the Duomo, which had had long lines on our previous visits. We didn't have to wait to go inside this time, but I still could not believe how crowded the piazza in front of the church was or how busy the pedestrianized streets were between the Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria. I guess there is no off season in Florence anymore. It's saddening.

On Sunday we returned to Florence but did not go downtown. Instead, we drove up to Fiesole, a small town sporting nice Etruscan ruins on a hill overlooking Florence. We spent about an hour there, and then drove back to the opposite side of Florence via the autostrada to the HUF villa, where we met Robbie and Mona Shackelford for lunch. We spent almost three hours with them and had a very nice visit. The HUF students were all in Rome, so we had the villa to ourselves. We actually had to cut our time short so that we could get back to Citerna for the worship service we had scheduled for 5:00 p.m. As the only male present, I ended up doing the whole service myself. Afterwards we had pizza and were rejoined by Dr. Gardner, who had ended his own travels early so as to return before a 24-hour train strike went into effect at 9:00 p.m. that evening. That night we enjoyed watching The Philadelphia Story with Jenny (we had watched It Happened One Night Saturday evening); the students were too philistine in their tastes to join us, unfortunately.

11 November 2008

Free Travel #3 (Part 1)

We've just gotten a lot of pictures loaded from the trip to Assisi and everything after that. I will try to update some of the earlier posts to include photos.

Last Thursday morning the exodus from the hotel began for the third free travel period. It seems as though many students were planning to spend nearly the entire time in Paris, with some possible side trips to Belgium. Others went to Switzerland (again), while one small group was planning to go all the way to Denmark. I believe there was another group with the Czech and Slovak Republics in their sights. I'm sure there will be some interesting stories to hear once everyone is back. Five students, Melissa (the program assistant), Jenny Towns, and my family all stayed here at the hotel.

Although we slept here every night during the travel period, we went out every day to visit places in the region we had not yet seen. On Thursday we actually left before most of the students to go to Cortona, which we saw (insufficiently) in early September. We picnicked at the Medici fortress atop the city and marveled at the huge fog bank below us. It was like being in an airplane. Descending to the main part of town, we visited the museum of the Etruscan Academy, an organization founded in the eighteenth century to study the ancient civilization that preceded the Romans in this region. We enjoyed our time in town, and on the way out stopped the car at a couple of Etruscan tombs that have been excavated. We also stopped a few minutes at a little town called Montecchio between Cortona and Castiglion Fiorentino to see a magnificent castle that dominates the town. Unfortunately, after driving on some really tiny roads to make it up to the castle, we found it closed for renovations. We did get to see a lot of people harvesting olives, though (by hand!), and that was interesting.

On Friday we drove up into the Casentino region north of Arezzo to visit several places. First was La Verna, where St. Francis of Assisi is said to have received the stigmata (the wounds of the crucifixion) as a mark of God's special favor. The place is isolated in the hills, but there is a significant pilgrimage infrastructure there. We got some good pictures and met a busload of American Catholics. Our second stop was in the small town of Poppi, which has another impressive castle; this one was actually open, and we all got to tour it and climb the tower. Finally, we visited another hermitage, this one at Camaldoli, which houses about 40 Carthusian monks and has a nice Baroque church that is open to the public. It was good day, but a tiring one, and we were glad to get back to Sobaria. Vickie became very excited when she finally learned how to make cappuccino in the machine in the kitchen, and we have had a cup nearly every day since!

07 November 2008

Attack of the Zombies

We had class every day this week through Thursday. Papers are coming due, and several students have subjected themselves to the dreaded all-nighter in order to complete their assignments. Cautions from professors that all-nighters result in terrible papers continue, as at home, to fall on deaf ears. Compounding the problem was the insistence of quite a few students to stay up all night on Tuesday to watch election returns, as if by doing so they could somehow influence the outcome. The result was dozens of zombies roaming the hotel on Wednesday and Thursday.

Realizing that our time in Italy will soon come to an end, my family made an afternoon excursion early in the week. On Monday we drove to Castiglion Fiorentino, which lies between Arezzo and Cortona. We had driven by the place the first week of the semester when we went to Cortona and thought that it looked interesting enough to visit. We easily found parking outside the old city walls and spent a couple of hours wandering its streets. It obviously contained a number of shops and such that catered to tourists, but it was equally clear that tourist season there was over. We had the streets mostly to ourselves, and the places we would have liked to see the inside of were closed. (It didn't help that we were there on a Monday, when many things in Tuscany are closed.) The kids were upset that we weren't able to get into the tall tower on top of the hill, but it required advanced booking for visits in the off-season. Still, we enjoyed the town, which commands an impressive view of the surrounding valley in addition to having some nice architecture.

On the way back to Citerna, we had to make a detour to Fighille so Vickie could run into the supermarket and buy diapers for Richard. I certainly won't be sad not to pay European prices for staples when we get home.

04 November 2008

A Visit from the HUF Group

Sunday was a class day. We omitted chapel from the schedule and ate lunch at 1:00 p.m. The last class ended at 3:00, and at about 3:45 a charter bus carrying the HUF group arrived at the hotel. We worshipped together in the classroom at 4:00; Dr. Gardner preached the sermon. At 5:15 we began shuttling people down to the soccer fields in Fighille, a village on the Sansepolcro side of the ridge. The most direct road to Fighille is quite steep in some places, and on my second trip back to the hotel, I think I left part of the station wagon's tires on the road because I couldn't get enough traction. The students played for about two hours on three fields; they formed six mixed teams (genders, schools), and from what I heard afterward everyone seemed to have a pretty good time. I was spared shuttling duty on the way back to the hotel, and apparently Giorgio executed a series of death-defying maneuvers getting a packed minibus back up the really steep slope to Citerna. Shortly after 8:00, we were all sitting down to pizza in the dining room. The HUF group left for Florence between 9:00 and 9:30. I didn't have as much time to visit with Robby as I would have liked, but we made tentative plans to meet at the villa for lunch on Sunday, when we'll be on free travel and the HUF students will be in Rome.