My studies in Rome have been quite amazing so far, many visits to palaces, churches and museums. However, the cherry on top of all those amazing experiences took place today during a on-site class visit to the Vatican museums. The whole day was quite fun; to begin, we did a tour of the portrait gallery and ended with a behind the scenes tour to what was originally the private chapel of Pope Nicholas V. But sandwiched in between was the best part.
My Professor had emailed the Vatican director asking if we could have access to the Nicholas V chapel (which is not available to the public), simultaneously mentioning his personal desire to view the renovation project in the Raphael rooms himself on a seperate day. Either by a misreading, or by the pure graciousness of her heart, the director invited our whole group to view the Raphael restoration project. Just our luck!
So today we walked into the first room of the Raphael rooms, only one room away from the infamous “School of Athens” and were invited through the door in the makeshift plywood wall surrounding the section of room being renovated and were invited UP the scaffolding.
This room is about three or four stories tall and was executed by Raphael’s workshop. It also contains two figures that were probably executed by Raphael shortly before his death. (Perhaps even his last works!)
SO we entered and ascended the stairs all the way up to the vault. Three stories later we were inches from the ceiling. Most of these works are fresco paintings which means they are pigments painted into wet plaster. Well preserved fresco’s are usually high up on walls and ceilings (cuz humans, at heart, are all vandals). This also means to see works like these this closely can ONLY be done during renovation projects. And these works were in amazing condition, most of them were just restored, (hence the scaffolding) and the colors and the details were once again as vibrant as they were when they were first painted.
Sala di Constantino, Before restoration.
We viewed both the walls in this photo and the portions of the ceiling above.
It was amazing being so close. You could still see the grooves where they transferred the drawings onto the wall, and subtle edits the painters made that are no longer visible from the floor. There were small background figures and loosely painted buildings and landscapes that looked like they had just come out of an impressionist painting. It was amazing. (It was so amazing in fact, that by the time we got to the Sistine chapel it seemed kind of underwhelming.) Being a lover of art that I am, I was seriously misty eyed the whole time. haha
As we were considering the two figures painted by Raphael, the director explained that Raphael had used a different technique to paint these. These were not pigment on wet plaster, they were oil on dry plaster.
“They have a different texture” she said.
“Touch it” SHE SAID.
And I DID touch it, and the texture WAS different, and I have now touched a Raphael painting because the Vatican director invited me to.
SIDE NOTE: Please don’t touch art. Since this artwork was due to be cleaned shortly, any residue or oils left from touching it would have been cleaned off with the forthcoming restoration. Touching artwork is normally VERY BAD.
When I finally got home, I may or may not have explained the whole experience to Cody misty eyed. NO SHAME! I love art, what can I do. :)
Till next time - Kelly
The oil painting by Raphael is the female figure sitting in the bottom right in front of a column wearing cream and green.
Before I post anything about all the great experiences Rome has offered us I wanted to post about our time in Athens - which wrapped up with a bang with the arrival of my parents!
Athens was a much needed change from the rain in Canterbury. By the time we left it was so dark and dreary arriving in Athens seemed like a tropical paradise. It’s amazing what 65 degrees feels like when you're used to a wet and rainy 35.
Our place was north of downtown Athens by about a 45 minute walk, and the streets were lined with orange trees in full bloom.
During the first couple of weeks Cody and I were both working on different projects, but would try and explore about every third or fourth day. It was quite a relaxing way of seeing a new city. We would mosy downtown if the day was nice, stop at some ruins or explore a museum. We had a quiet Christmas in, and a day out to Delphi on New years Eve. It was strange being far from family on the holidays but it will be a memory we will always remember.
And then we had the Joy of hosting my parents! It was so fun to explore the city with people who had just arrived. (No matter how cool the place is I think you acclimate to it after about 3 weeks haha) We ended up going to the Pantheon twice, the second time with my parents seemed like a dream. There were less people, it was bright and sunny, and since we had already seen everything there wasn't any pressure to get to the next great thing! We were able to just wander about and take in all the ancient marble structures.
We also took two very cool day trips outside of Athens. First was a beautiful beach city, Nafplio, with an 18th century fortress that we got to climb all over. It was as charming as could be, with its quaint streets sitting right along the water. Our private tour driver even stopped by a local olive mill, where one of the workers literally put a baguette under the olive oil pouring out from fresh from the press and had us try it. (It was glorious by the way.)
We also found our way to Cape Sounion which has the Temple of Poseidon sitting high above the Sea. There were like two other people there. Seriously, travel in the winter.
With my parents we flew to Rome and did all the highlights, The Colosseum, The Vatican, and St Peters.
Props to Ma and Pa for making it all the way here we had a blast!!
And to wrap up...I love my classes! About half of our classes are on site which means we will actually go to the churches or palaces or museums that hold the works we are talking about and our professor will lecture as we are walking around. (It’s like nerd heaven!) There have been some unbelievable experiences which I’ll be posting shortly.
Till next time - Kelly
The last time I contributed a blog post, Kelly and I had been in England for just 4 weeks. Now we are about to start our 14th week, and will be leaving Canterbury in just 16 days. Kelly is finishing up her first term and then she will have about a month before the next term starts. During the break, we will be going to Athens for some slightly warmer weather (hopefully), on our flight there we have a 20 hour stop in Copenhagen which should be fun. Most people that are taking the time to read this probably already know, but after our time in Athens, we will be living in Rome for Kelly’s next term.
During the past ten weeks Kelly and I have tried to do a couple smaller weekend trips and make sure that we get to see some things in the surrounding areas. I know Kelly’s last post was about our first day trip being to Dover. After that our next town was Margate, which is northeast until you hit the water. Margate is a very pretty town with a lot of white cliffs on the coast and a cool little light house, but it also reminded Kelly and me of what we imagine Coney Island is like. On one stretch of the coast almost every building was an arcade of some sort ending with the town’s claim to fame, Dreamland. Dreamland is a big theme park with a ferris wheel, roller coasters, arcade, roller disco, ball room and I’m sure more that we didn’t see. I believe it had signage saying it has been around since the 1860’s.
None of that is why we went to Margate though, we went for The Shell Grotto. A mysterious underground passageway and room completely covered with mosaics made from millions of seashells. No one knows when it was built or why, it was discovered underground in 1835 with no records of it existing before that. There are theories it was a pagan temple or maybe a secret meeting place for an ancient cult, but no one knows. Sadly, when we walked up to the entrance for the Shell Grotto we found out it was closed that day. In defeat, we walked to the beachside arcades and played a round of weird miniature bowling instead.
A couple weeks later we went back and got to see the Shell Grotto which was great and it gave us a chance to explore more of Margate and find some really nice walks on top of the white cliffs.
We also attended a 5th of November celebration with some of Kelly's classmates. It had a the biggest bonfire I've ever seen by far.
Kelly got the chance to go to Rome for a few days with other students in her program. She had a lot of fun and came back very excited for our time there. It was my birthday while she was away which gave me the opportunity of a new experience of spending my birthday in complete isolation. A day later I did take a trip to go see Stonehenge which was fun.
Kelly and I both have been back to London a few more times, Kelly usually going for a class trip to a certain exhibit and I would tag along and explore the museums I still hadn’t been to (the Tate Modern, the British Museum, and the National Gallery) and other parts of the city.
During one of the trips to London we went to the Italian consulate to get our schengen visas only to learn that they do not have a visa for student dependents. Since we were planning on spending 7 months in Rome that caused a little moment of panic but worked itself out.
Overall, we are enjoying ourselves and time is moving decently fast for us here. We miss people and one of us (cough kelly) might have shed some tears on Thanksgiving. Luckily, we will get to see Kelly’s parents in January though. It has been fun to talk/facetime with friends and family so if anyone would like to catch up let us know.
If anyone has any recommendations for our time in Athens or Rome let us know!
We realized it has been quite a while since we last posted on our blog. This is completely my fault, because it has been my turn to post and I had midterms last week. We’ve done quite a few things the last couple months. We took a trip to Dover where we saw the Dover Castle and the White cliffs, took a few trips into London, and I went to Rome for a few days with my cohort. Although I know you would love to be inundated with every detail of all these trips at once, I will just be posting about Dover today and hopefully the rest of these experiences will be posted shortly.
From Canterbury, Dover is only about a 20 minute bus ride, and a beautiful one at that. Sprawling emerald green fields spotted with leafy trees are a great view to pass the time, it seemed like we arrived before I even got settled in. We met up with two friends from my program, and made our way up to the castle. While the Dover Castle is not far from downtown Dover, it sits atop the hill looking down over the city, making it visible from the little streets below.
The Castle is unique in that it has layers of wartime history. Although it was built during the middle ages as a fortress, it was again used during WWII. The interior of the Castle was everything my elementary year-old self would have wanted. Cold, winding, stone passages that lead into fireplace lit rooms, and my favorite: a tiny hidden corridor, only two to three feet wide that wound this way and that until it finally opened up into stained glass chapel.
From an ocean viewpoint we could spot the white cliffs that line the southern coast of of England. The bright sunny day, and the bright cliffs made the castle seem like it came straight out of a fairy tale.
Definitely a recommend if you ever find yourself near Canterbury.
Keep an eye out for more posts coming soon! - Kelly
Today is number 28 in Europe for Kelly and me, and things are going well. Kelly’s classes are now in full swing and we have a solid understanding (at least of our area) of Canterbury. Kelly has rented a bike for the term and found a nice route to the campus. We found a couple grocery stores to go to and a nice book store/coffee shop to work and read at.
While Kelly will be taking classes this year, I am freelancing which has given me a lot of time to explore, read, do crossword puzzles and do some fun personal design projects during my days.
Canterbury has been a fun town to live in. There seems to always be something going on, we went to a food and drink festival and there are some more coming up: an international arts festival, the big draw festival, and a mile-long trick or treat event on the main street we live off of. There are a lot of pretty places to walk and see as well. Last weekend we walked to a neighboring town, Chartham, to have lunch at an old pub called The Artichoke. The foot path in between the towns was 3 miles not crossing any roads but out in grassy fields.
Canterbury has also been great because most places have a lot of dairy free options since Kelly is allergic. One of our favorite spots is a punk rock pub down the road with its whole dessert menu being vegan. Kelly and I shared a brownie sundae a couple days ago (and by share I mean that I got one bite).
Speaking of food, one thing I noticed is people here love corn. I thought I loved corn, I have told people many times before that corn is a flavor I love added to any dish. Over here, I have been given the chance to test that love. Any place that has add-on options to food, includes corn as one of those options. Deli sandwich, throw some corn on it. Pizza, throw some corn on it. It’s everywhere and I have found that I in fact do not love corn on every dish.
So as you can see, this living abroad experience has been teaching me a lot about myself.
Enjoy some pictures from our weekend walk and a couple of little illustrations I’ve done.
As many of you know, our new flat in Canterbury is essentially a tiny house. The main room is about ten foot by ten foot, and there’s a hall/closet about 2 by 3 feet that leads into the bathroom or to the exit. Sometimes we call it our closet because we have all our bags hanging on the walls here, but we enter through it… so we are basically in Narnia. We also joked that if one of us ever needs space we could go sit in here for some quiet time. Haha
This flat was masterfully designed, props to our landlord. Everything is simplified everywhere possible and other areas have multiple purposes. We actually do have a dining table that is tucked away next to the wall, and when we need it we can pull it out! All our silverware and dishes are hanging up. (I actually like this a lot, Cody could do without all the silverware on the wall though.) And we have an open closet where we can hang up jackets and sweaters.
It’s small but it has everything we need! A stove-top, a microwave, sink, fridge and even our own washing machine! The flat is directly off a busy walking street which means there’s no traffic except for the occasional tourist exploring down our alley.
Here's a video tour!
Getting to London was fairly painless, except when we arrived we realized that our checked bag had been temporarily delayed. This wasn’t too much of a problem, the rest of our belongings were packed nicely in two backpacks each, which we wore one on front one on back. We attracted some pretty strange looks for this fashion choice. The only things we missed were a pair of comfy shoes for me (I wore my new boots to save room) and a coat. Other than wearing my large orange sweater every day in London everything seemed to go as planned.
Our cheap hostel was north of downtown London about 30 minutes by train. We paid 22 pounds a night, and that was about the right price point. It was a tiny room with literally nothing in it accept one bunk bed and a trash can. HA We joked that this really helped us adjust to our flat in Canterbury because by the time we arrived to our 10 by 10 flat for the semester it seemed glorious. “A sink? A Microwave? All to ourselves?!”
London was breathtaking, everything was walk-able and what wasn’t was in reach by the subway. It was taller than I expected. Many buildings were 4 to 5 floors tall and more reminiscent of Greek and Roman architecture than I expected. Once we arrived in Canterbury with its cobblestone streets and cottage-like buildings I realized that THAT was what I had been expecting. I guess that's what I get for basing my entire concept of London on 101 Dalmatians.
A quick summary of our tour:
This day was a whirlwind, we started out at Big Ben and the Parliament building which was as beautiful as expected. Then we saw Westminster Cathedral; with its eerily unfinished walls and ceilings, Westminster Abbey; with its many tombs and Henry VII Chapel and its lacy ceiling, and Buckingham Palace; with its hatted guards. (Somewhere in there we stopped by Trafalgar square?) We finished off the day by seeing “IT” in cinemas. (Our jet lag got the best of us)
This day probably had the coolest weather and my orange sweater was not quite cutting it. This day we saw Tower of London which houses the Royal Jewels as well as hundreds of original Suits of Armor. The Royal Jewels were my favorite part of this day, and it seemed like it was probably everyone else’s, because to view these one would stand on a conveyor belt and scroll past all the sparkles, and much too quickly in my opinion. There were multiple diamonds larger than my thumb. London Tower Bridge was right next door and we took a quick walk to have a closer look. My new dream is to live in one of the london tower bridge rooms.
Natural History Museum!! Our favorite! This beautiful building had many dinosaur (and other) skeletons as well as many other exhibits. Interestingly, we really enjoyed the “rocks” room, which had on display natural occurring rock formations of every kind. We were both surprised by the colors and unique shapes that could occur naturally. Afterword we walked by Royal Albert Hall, and in (late) celebration of our one year anniversary had a fancy dinner and went to see Les Miserables at Queen Anne’s Theater.
On our last day we took as stroll through Hyde Park along the lake/pond, shared a hot chocolate with the company of some nice swanns, walked past The Albert Memorial on our way to Kensington Palace. We enjoyed the gardens and strolled about the property. Subwayed over to the Leadenhall Market for a quick lunch and then went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. At St. Paul’s one of the staircases were closed so they had us take a tiny and slightly creepy passage that was only a little wider and taller than your average person, this passage lead to a viewing area of the Dome.
There is so much more to do in London that we didn’t get to do. However, Canterbury is only 50 minutes away by train, so I can’t imagine this will be our last time.
Until next time! -Kelly