Carpe Diem I: Semester Travels

27 May

For those of you who are familiar with Chris Berman and NFL Primtime, or at least ESPN’s telecast of Monday Night Football, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I reference “The Fastest 3 Minutes in Football“. For those of you who don’t have a clue as to what I’m referencing, this is about to be the Fastest 3 Minutes in Blog Posts. Let’s go (enter epic background NFL Films music which they play during the highlights):

– TOUR DE FJORDS: Traveled to Norway with a group of students from DIS including my dependable travel buddy Ms. Taylor Rose. I am in debt to her for picking out this trip – otherwise I would not have signed up, and I would have missed the most marvelous natural beauty I’ve ever seen (even more than the Alps in summer). We hiked down, trained up, kayaked through, sailed on and biked around the Auslandfjord, part of the Sognefjord, the world’s second longest. Although it was still pretty cold while we were there, there were hardily any tourists in the tiny town of Flam which we stayed in (pop. 400) so we had the breathtaking natural beauty of the towering peaks and pristine water all to ourselves. Highlights included hiking 100s of feet to not one but two majestic waterfalls, riding the most beautiful rail line in Europe, drinking the best tasting natural water in the world as it flowed down the slides of cliffs and was irrigated by moss, making hand-made goat cheese on an old-style Norway farm, and enjoying a lovely meal and excellent conversation with our two trip leaders Sam and Christina. We concluded in Bergen on the coast, which was underwhelming in comparison to the fjords but had some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever had at the local sea market.

– WHEN IN ROME: Next stop was Rome for Holy Week. My good friend from back home – Mr. Pierce Kugler – was gracious enough to host me for 4 nights while I attended mass/service each day and mixed in the sights in between. I also had the honor of meeting up with friends from Nova for nearly every mass. Pierce took our group to a little-known church with a famous Caravaggio painting (The Calling of St. Matthew, now one of my favorite paintings) and through the entire Vatican Museums. Since he’s taking an Art of Rome class, he made an outstanding tour guide and we were very thankful for his insight. For Holy Thursday we went to impressive San Giovanni Basilica where Pope Benedict gave the homily, Good Friday in St. Peter’s Basilica where the Pope presided over the Mass, followed by Stations of the Cross as the sun set outside the Colosseum. As the Pope read in Italian, a local seminary student from Pittsburgh who went to Villanova translated everything into English for me  – he came over to introduce himself after I held my Terrible Towel above the crowd for a picture. Saturday was marked by an excellent tour of the Forum by an archaeological student and the Easter Vigil Mass at 9 p.m. Although I wasn’t originally planning on attending, I decided to last minute, and it was the best part of the whole trip. They turned the lights out in St. Peter’s Basilica while the Pope processed in, and the only lights were behind these massive statues of saints on either side running the length of the Basilica – they illuminated the statues in such a striking way in which I’ll never forget. Sunday’s Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square was special with over 100,000 people from all the world in attendance, and I finished the day by visiting the world-famous Steelers bar in Rome. What an incredible experience.

– OO, TUNISIA: Turns out I was going further south than Rome – to another continent in fact. 5 days in Tunisia with my newest travel buddy Mr. David Sanchez was quite the experience – really off the beaten path. We went to a better preserved Roman colosseum in El-Jem, saw an underground village in Matmata, rode camels in the Sahara in Douz (here’s the video: http://youtu.be/pnzz0At–hI), visited a date-palm farm in Tozeur, video-taped a mock light saber at the Star Wars movie set in the middle of the desert, hiked to a mountain oasis in the Atlas Mountain Range along the Algerian border, visited the oldest mosque in North Africa in Kairouan, got led around like dogs on leashes by carpet-salesman through the winding and narrow streets of the Tunis Medina, ate our best meal of the trip in a restaurant with no name, visited the world’s largest collection of Roman and Byzantine mosaics in the Bardo Museum (Roman = smaller stones, Byzantine = larger stones), peered out onto the Mediterranean from the sea-side village of Sidi Bou Said and walked among the ancient Punic, Roman and Byzantine ruins of Hannibal’s Carthage. Not much more to say – we saw and did some things in North Africa that I would have never dreamed I’d do. Camels were a real highlight.

– MILANO: David and I finished our trip in Milano, where fellow Villanovans Kristen Wendt, Molly Malone and Tim Demetriou were our welcoming and generous hostesses and host. We took it easy mostly, but made time to see the magnificent Duomo and it’s remarkable, one of a kind roof (courtesy of Kristen’s family who was visiting and who bought us lunch and paid for our admission tickets – what great people). We also made it out clubbing, to “Le Banque” for a truly bass-ass party-all-night experience. I caught my plan without any sleep and plenty of great memories.

– STUNNING PRAGUE: That’s the word for Prague. It’s infested with tourists from both East and West but it handles them well. 3 days over a long weekend with Ms. Taylor Rose was a real treat and the ideal way to see the city. Our free walking tour was outstanding, the food was top-notch (especially the Moravian Sparrow) and the highlight was definitely waking up at 5am to watch the sunrise from the empty Charles Bridge which is normally brimming with tourists during the day. The old Jewish Quarter of the city was particular moving as we saw a collection of drawing and painting done by Jewish children from a nearby concentration camp during World War II. The Jewish Cemetary and the Old-New Synagogue were also striking, and the famous Castle was remarkable and I really enjoyed 8am Sunday morning mass in massive St. Vitus Cathedral in Czech. Other highlights were a concert in the Philaharmonic with its incredible acoustics and a performance Mozart’s Requim in St. Nicholas’ Church. Also, Prague might have been the cheapest city I went to and had good beer (Kozul dark was my favorite) – making it a must-see for anyone traveling to Europe.

– ISTANBUL AND ASIA: Combine the Magnificent Imperial City of Rome and the intimate feel of Sarajevo’s Old Muslim Town and you get Istanbul. This is another absolute must-see – and the time I spent there weren’t even enough to scratch the surface. But my finals schedule only permitted me two full free days, so of course, rather than study for finals, I traveled to Istanbul, and made the trip once again with my trusty and reliable travel buddy, Mr. David Sanchez. The unbelieveable exterior of the Blue mosque was only reviled by the marvelous interior of the Hafia Sophia. Seeing them both lit up at night was especially memorable. The Basilica Cisterns were also surprisingly neat, and we had quite the time heckling for souveniors in the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. We also met some very hospitable and friendly people and tried some great food, especially Turkish tea. Our ferry trip to the Asian side of the Bosphorus was a refreshing withdraw from tourists and also meant that David and I had traveled to three continents together this semester (no big deal). But the highlights of the trip had to be the Turkish baths followed by smoking hookah and drinking apple tea with nearly all locals in a neat spot down a back-alley. Sitting and sipping on apple tea while surrounded by sweet smoke as the sun-down Call to Prayer echoed from the minarets was truly an MOA (moment of appreciation).

Well, so much for the Fastest 3 Minutes in Blogposts – I’m pretty sure that one took you a while to read, but please stay tuned for my next post updating you on my summer travels which are currently underway!

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