Florence, Orvieto, and our last day in Spoleto

Ciao! Sorry that the blog is late.

On Friday, we visited Florence, the city of flowers, “Firenze” in Italian. It was a long bus ride up, during which we crossed from the region of Umbria to the region of Tuscany. Our first stop was at the Piazzale Michaelangelo, where we were able to view the entire city from above. The Duomo was the most prominent feature, but the ponte vecchio and the many brown buildings made the view positively gorgeous.

From there, we entered the city; our first stop was at the Galleria dell’Academia, where we saw the sculpture of David. It was magnificent; David looked as though he would step down and begin walking among us. Every feature and proportion was human, down to the veins on his hands. We all marveled at it for about 10 minutes, and then moved on.

Our next stop was at the Duomo, where we ate lunch. Unfortunately, we could not go in because the wait in line was over 2 hours. From the outside, it looked much like the Siena Duomo, except far more massive. As we could not go on, we quickly moved on to a plaza with many statues, the Piazza della Signoria. They were mainly inspired by Roman mythology. My favorite was a statue depicting a centaur fighting a Roman god; the centaur was remarkably realistic for a mythical creature.

We were released to go explore the city after that. My group looked around in shops for a little bit, and then we went to go explore the leather market. The market was chaotic, with vendors shouting at you everywhere you went, and people bargaining everywhere. My friends were able to haggle with all of the vendors, and got leather goods for cheap prices.

Our final stop in Florence was the Ponte Vecchio. It gave us all a moment of peace, even with Mr. Eaton cracking jokes about Julius Caesar’s knife allergy. When we got back to Spoleto, we had dinner at a fantastic pizza place.

The day after that, we visited Orvieto. It was a much shorter drive than the drive to Florence, and we were all surprised when we got there so quickly. To get to the city, we took a tram up a mountain, which was crammed full of Italian high schoolers, presumably doing the same thing as us.

Our first stop was at the Orvieto Duomo. On the outside, it was quite similar to the Siena Duomo, but on the inside it was radically different from any other church that we had visited. It depicted gruesome and realistic scenes of demons and people brought back to life, and utilized depth (unlike most other churches). After looking at the duomo, we ate lunch, and were then released to look around Orvieto. Orvieto was relatively small, but it was an adorable city. The gelato there was the best of the trip.

When we met back up with the group, we went on a small tour of some of the tunnels (there are over 1200), and then wandered around the fort at the top of the hill. We were given the choice to either walk down or take the tram down. I walked down, and it was wonderful; I highly recommend walking, as it is quite scenic.

Our final day was today, in Spoleto. We had a late breakfast (although it didn’t feel like it because the Italian time change was today), and were released to pack and relax until 10:00, at which point we could go into Spoleto to do last minute shopping or grab food.

We did some sketching in front of the Spoleto Duomo after lunch, and then had more free time. My group walked down to the edge of the city, to see what was there. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I was sad to see the sun go down at 7:00. Our last dinner at the Hotel Clitunno was wistful, apart from the content of the meal (which was incredibly strange). We went to buy pizza, and the whole Italy Team played a round of ninja on the boulevard in front of the pizza place. It was the end of our trip, and nobody wanted it to be over.

Our journey back to the U.S. was uneventful; everyone made it through customs and back to their parents or to Culver.

I hope you enjoyed the Culver 2019 Italy GPS Blog. Thank you for reading.


Sincerely, Kristen (On behalf of the 2019 Italy GPS Team)

Spoleto Cooking/Medieval Day

This morning, we woke up bright and early for a quick breakfast before walking over to the alberghero (cooking school) in Spoleto for a cooking class. It was a beautiful day, with very little wind, and the walk over was calm (as very few people had fully woken up).

When we got to the alberghero, we were immediately taken on a tour of the school: first, we were shown their computer lab, which was fairly typical for a high school. However, that was where the similarities with American high schools ended. The other classrooms were kitchens, bars, or spaces simulating restaurant seating areas, to train the teenagers the skills they would need to become professionals in the food industry.

After our tour of the school, we were led down to a rather large kitchen/restaurant seating area, where we encountered the students that would be teaching us to cook typical Umbrian food. They were 17 or 18, and although they seemed intimidating at first, it quickly became clear that they were much like us. 

Following a brief overview of what we would be cooking, we were instructed to wash our hands; from there, we were split up into groups to begin making different dishes. My group was charged with making pasta dough, under the guidance of two girls: Franceska and Manuela. It was a somewhat messy process (the pasta was made of eggs and flour), and Franceska had to intervene occasionally, but in the end we created a ball of lovely pasta dough.

To shape the dough, we moved to another station, where we rolled it out, fed it into a machine that would even it out, and then cut it into whatever shape we needed. Almost everyone on the Italy team was tasked with rolling out small portions of dough; unfortunately, that meant that there was not much space, so there were many hilarious incidents involving the crashing of rolling pins.

After I had served my time at the pasta rolling station, I was sent to the lasagna boiling station, and then the lasagna drying station. When we finished with that, I was sent to the cresconda (chocolate-almond-Orange pudding cake) excavating station. 

While we waited for the food to cook, we were served small pastries and juice to curb our appetites. The students learning to be professional hosts/servers seemed fascinated by us, which we later learned was because of the amount of friendly interaction between boys and girls (Italy’s conservatism makes that a rare occurrence). 

Our final meal was incredibly delicious: lasagna, two types of ravioli, meat-filled pasta, a log of porchetta, and cresconda for dessert. In my opinion, food always tastes better if you cook it yourself, and that held true for that meal. 

We had a quick turnover at the Palazzo Leti after our feast, and then ventured out to visit the Spoleto graveyard. It was far away from everything that we had visited up to that point, and far more solemn. The graveyard was filled with Houses of the Dead, and flowers were everywhere. The strangest part (at least to me) was the pictures of the deceased that were posted on the gravestones. It was beautiful, but somber, and very well maintained.

The final location that we visited as a full group was the Rocca
Albornoziana, the fort on top of the highest hill in Spoleto. To get there, you could either take the stairs or an escalator. I ran up about half the stairs, and walked up in between. Most people made the more practical decision and took the escalator. The fort itself was incredible; it was built by the order of the papacy, and thus the papal seal was everywhere. There was a well that created a lovely echo when spoken into, and frescoes covered the walls. The windows were covered only by a grate, and the wind whipped through them; from them, you could see far off into the distance, almost to Assisi.

After we finished exploring the fort, we were released into small groups, to do as we pleased. It was a lovely day, and I felt more relaxed than I had in ages afterwards (a sentiment that I believe was shared by many others).

Thank you for reading! Arrivederci!

Sincerely, Kristen (On behalf of the Italy GPS Team)

Kevin pouring the batter for Cresconda
Alexa, ecstatic over sauteing onions.
David, Robert, Deven, Kristen, Ralea, and Wenyi preparing to roll out pasta dough
View from the Rocca Albornoziana

Italy: Siena Day

Ciao! Welcome back to the Italy GPS team blog!

Today everyone woke up bright and early for breakfast. As we were going to Siena, which is about 2 hours from Spoleto by car, we had to leave early in order to do anything meaningful. On the bus, most people took advantage of the lull in activity, and slept the whole way. During the trip, we passed from the Umbria region to the Tuscany region; the difference was subtle, but definitely noticeable if looked for, as the grass was greener and the magpies more abundant in Tuscany.

Once we arrived in Siena, we were greeted by a splendid view of the city from across a ravine: the lack of colors other than burnt sienna and the defined skyline made Siena visually distinct from surrounding cities. On the inside, it is one of the most unique Roman cities. It is made up of contradas (neighborhoods), each with its own distinct history and symbol, and they are very competitive. The city’s biggest annual event is a massive horserace between the contradas.

The first site that we visited was the Duomo of Siena. Unlike the other churches and basilicas that we had visited, the Duomo of Siena was made to look magnificent both on the inside and the outside. It was made of marble and black stucco, and was unfinished (although not noticeably so) because of the plague. The marble was elegantly carved into exquisite shapes, and the inside had fewer frescoes than other churches simply because the stone itself was so beautiful. Although the ceiling was lovely and the frescoes were stunning, the thing that sets the Siena Duomo apart from others is its intricately carved stone floors.

After visiting the Duomo, we walked down to the Piazzo Del Campo for a picnic lunch. It was a bright day, but the brisk wind made it feel chilly. The pigeons attempted to steal our food, but were unsuccessful. The Piazzo gave us an excellent view of the Palazzo Publico, which is a squarish building with a very tall clocktower. Back in the days when Siena was an independent republic, the Palazzo Publico housed nine senators, who were never allowed to contact the outside world for the duration of their 2 month term.

Inside the Palazzo Publico are the some of the earliest examples of secular frescoes. There are many depicting decapitation and death, more that depict religious figures, and a few that depict cities (and even generals!). One of the most impressive frescoes is the allegory of good vs. bad government. I spent a decent amount of time attempting to decipher the words above the personifications of virtues and vices, which included “vainglory”, “peace”, and “fortitude”. The depiction of good government was Siena, made obvious by the Duomo in the top corner of the city. The depiction of bad government was heavily damaged by time, so the identity of the city is unknown, but most suspect that it is Florence, Siena’s main rival.

After we had seen all of the Palazzo Publico that was open to the public (I understand how senators could spend 2 months in there), we were released to explore the city of Siena. Some groups shopped, while others took a speed tour of the city to try and find as many contradas as they could. My group walked around, enjoying the sights and occasionally walking into stores to browse. It was, overall, quite relaxing.

After riding back to Spoleto on the bus, we ended our day with a delicious meal at the Hotel Clitunno.

Thank you for reading our blog! Sorry that the posts have been slightly sporadic, there have been issues with the wifi. Arrivederci!

Sincerely, Kristen (on behalf of the 2019 Italy GPS team)

Spoleto Service Day

This morning, we helped the nuns at the convent/youth hostel clean their
plaza. After a delicious breakfast, we journeyed down to the convent on foot,
shouting “machina!” whenever a car appeared. As we walked down the
path leading up to the door of the convent, a cat ran underfoot, causing many
people to shriek “Jerry!” (it was later revealed that it was not
Jerry). The nuns appeared reluctant to let such a large group of people in at
first, but when it was revealed that we were simply there to help and not to
make trouble, they let us in.

Inside the walls, we were instructed by a sister to go to the plaza, and
then to clean it with a hose and some brooms. The Italy team became a machine,
cleaning the most difficult of stains swiftly and efficiently, leaving very
little indication that the plaza had been covered in dirt just an hour before.
The nuns seemed very grateful (it would have taken them a long time to clean it
up themselves, what with their other tasks and small number), and gave us juice
and biscuits. We were even able to shower Jerry with affection, as he had found
the catnip plant and was very focused on covering his fur with as much of it as

After cleaning up the plaza, we went our separate ways; I went to a coffee
shop with the chaperones and a few other people to enjoy a hot drink. Aliyah,
David, and I all ordered Italian hot chocolate, which is extremely rich and
viscous, and then returned to the Palazzo Leti to meet up with the group for
lunch at the Hotel Clitunno.

During our luncheon, Mr. Eaton announced that the afternoon would be
dedicated to a scavenger hunt in Spoleto; to inspire us to participate, the
winning team would receive gelato. The point values for pictures were as
follows: 1 point for a small fountain, fascis motif, or papal seal; two points
for a large fountain or an informative sign in English and Italian; three
points for a video of the group in a piazza (plaza) jumping and shouting its
name. With our competitive spirits enflamed, every group set out to find all of
the city’s piazzas.

My group found all of the piazzas within a half-mile radius of the main
piazza (the Piazza del Mercato), and then we decided to look further. We
journeyed unfamiliar roads (within the Spoleto city limits, of course) in
search of more and more piazzas. Finally, we felt sure that we had found enough
to win, and traveled back to the Palazzo Leti to drop off some of our things.

My group spent our two hours from 4 to 6 browsing through stores and buying
coffee and gelato. It was overall a relaxing time after a few hours of invoking
our intensely competitive spirits. However, when we went back to the Palazzo
Leti to tally points with other groups, we found that we had not even come
close to winning! The winning team had a stunning 102 points!

Even without gelato, though, today was a wonderful day to learn more about
the city of Spoleto and to gather geographical information for later spring
break trips to Italy. Now, we are going to go to the Hotel Clitunno for what
will undoubtedly be another delicious dinner. Arrivederci!

Check in with the Italy team blog tomorrow for our adventures in Siena!

Sincerely, Kristen Gram (on behalf of the 2019 Italy GPS Team)

Italy: Assisi Day

Ciao! Today everyone woke up slightly earlier (apart from the group that went on a run, which woke up even before that) so that we could eat a quick breakfast and then head to Assisi. On the way there, everyone took pictures of the countryside, especially of the many small fortress hill towns that we passed.

The first place that we visited in Assisi was the church of Santa Chiara (St. Claire). In contrast with the city itself, the church was filled with vibrant paintings of St. Claire and the patron saint of the city, San Francesco (St. Francis). In the bottom level of the church lay the tomb of St. Claire, which was initially secret due to Claire’s controversial status within the church. In the 19th century, it was excavated and St. Claire’s tomb has been a destination for pilgrims and an overall beautiful site ever since.

After walking through the church of St. Claire, we strolled along the picturesque streets of Assisi to the Temple of Minerva (which may or may not actually be a temple to Hercules). We were informed by Mr. Eaton that it had once been a prison, a fact that was revealed to historians only through a small image in the Church of St. Francis. We took a brief respite on the steps, and then continued on our way.

It was a moderate hike up to the Rocca Magiore, but it was well worth the view. We had a leisurely picnic of prosciutto and cheese sandwiches and blood orange on the hill beneath the fort, with olive-covered mountains rolling spectacularly into the distance. The fort itself was a feat of engineering for its time, with ingeniously designed loopholes and a (still sturdy!) tower. After we explored the fort and marveled over the view, we walked down to the small cafe on the hill for refreshment.

The largest destination in Assisi is undoubtedly the Basilica of St. Francis, which draws thousands of pilgrims every year as the final resting place for the patron of the Franciscan order. The basilica itself was a masterpiece, with friezes and patterns covering every surface; high, arched ceilings in the Romanesque style; and relics preserved in pristine condition. Much of the friezes featured other saints or Jesus’ disciples; the first depiction of passion in inhuman beings; or grotesque depictions of Judas and the suffering of devils. It was a magnificent experience, even for the members of our trip who are not of the Christian or Catholic faith.

We were then given an hour and a half to split up into groups and stroll around the streets of Assisi, to shop and to simply take in the sights. My group and I spent our time buying gelato, browsing through memorabilia stores, and visiting a hole-in-the-wall lavender-only shop. It was a beautiful, cloudless day, and the gusts of wind made the temperature perfect.



On our way to a restaurant, we stopped in the small town of Spello. It was
built on a hill, and the main street ran directly up it. At the top was a small
plaza, where we stopped to enjoy the view, which included Assisi. We then
discussed two of the churches in town, one of which was the oldest that we had
seen that day. They were both built over long periods of time, the churches
expanding with the population. Finally, we got back on the bus to drive to
dinner at a pizzeria.

The food at the pizzeria was absolutely fantastic (in my opinion, the best
that we had had so far). It started with a variety of antipasti, including
pâté, prosciutto, and salami. The main course was, of course, pizza! The
vegetarians in our group enjoyed individual pizza with pesto, mushrooms, and
all variety of vegetables. Everyone else shared large quantities of pepperoni,
cheese, bianchi, and sausage and potato pizza. We all stuffed ourselves; then,
we were served the dessert pizza, which was nutella and whipped cream (panna).
On the bus ride back, almost everyone fell asleep.

Watch for future blog posts to learn about our adventures working in
Spoleto! Ciao!

Sincerely, Kristen and Mr. Bardo (on behalf of the Italy GPS team of 2019)



MC, Connor, Deven, and Dana in the Rocca Magiore


Mr. Eaton, surprised at the variety of dessert


Alexa and Ralea enjoying dessert pizza after a hearty meal


The group viewing the countryside outside of the Church of St. Claire

Spoleto Classical and Exploration Day

Ciao! This morning, we woke up to a clear sky and the bright sun, a welcome change from winter in Culver. Our group enjoyed a delicious Italian spin on a continental breakfast at the Palazzo Leti, complete with Nutella, prosciutto, and espresso.

Immediately after breakfast, we walked downtown to see an ancient Roman mansion (which Mrs. Eaton says is really only a house) from the first century A.D. , as well as a restored Roman theater from the end of the first century B.C. The Roman theater was converted to a monastery in the 14th century, and later a women’s prison. The museum accompanying the theater had relics, as well as incredibly detailed geographical information about all eras of Spoletini settlement, including the Etruscan era.

We then explored the area near the aqueduct, where we found gorgeous vistas overlooking the city, olive groves, and vineyards. No photo opportunities were lost, especially by the Spoleto Duomo and with the rolling Appenine mountains.

We returned to the Palazzo Leti before lunch for a quick language and culture lesson (“Io posso avere il gelato?”), and then went to the Hotel Clitunno for a delectable lunch of a pasta-cheese pastry, beef filet, potatoes, and a coffee-cream parfait.

After lunch, we split up to explore the city. Unfortunately, we just so happened to split up during the Italian lunch/nap break, so most stores were closed. Still, my group and I enjoyed wandering around the city, buying gelato, and figuring out how to get back to our hotel at least 7 different ways. We met up with the whole group at 5:00 to walk down to the convent, which has kindly housed the Italy GPS trip in the past. The nuns were quiet, but friendly; the cat, Jerry, was immediately showered with affection, and was overwhelmed. We will return on the 26th to help them clean, garden, etc. Our second day in Italy was packed with adventure, and it was only in Spoleto!

Check in tomorrow for our adventures in Assisi! Arrivederci!

Sincerely, Kristen and Mr. Bardo (on behalf of the Italy GPS Team)

We Have Arrived in Rome!

We have had a long 2 days of travel, but we finally reached Rome at 9:06 AM CET
When we reached Rome, we began our journey by touring 3 levels of the Basilica di San Clemente, which gave us a sense of what to expect in Italian architecture: buildings built on other buildings built on other buildings. After that, our tour guide, Ariana, took us to see the Colosseum. Spring tourist season was in full swing, so we viewed the Roman forum from above, and continued on an impromptu walking tour of Rome that included the Piazza Navona, a replica of the statue of Marcus Aurelius, and the Altare della Patria. On our way to Spoleto, we picked up much-needed food at Auto Grille, and then everyone passed out during the two hour ride to Spoleto. We are all settled in, and are preparing for a 4 course meal at a Michelin Star restaurant! Check in with us tomorrow for more news of our adventures. Buona Notte!