Spring Break: Scotland and London

Ahhh… Spring Break
So much happened in the 10 days we were gone. We flew into Edinburgh, Scotland on Friday. It was actually the only sunny day that we saw in the UK. The rest of the time it snowed. We stayed at a little bed and breakfast in Scotland that served a fantastic Scottish breakfast. In the 7 days we were in Scotland, we visited several castles, cathedrals and palaces. We even rented a car, and I drove 500 miles on the opposite side of the road (scary). We saw a good part of the highlands, which was absolutely gorgeous. Then on Thursday we took the train down to London. We visited all the big attractions: Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, London Eye, V& A museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, and saw a lot of Richard Rogers designs; all with in 3 days. The whole trip was an incredible experience and I cannot wait to go back.
Enjoy a few of the pictures from our lovely trip!
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
Craigmillar Castle
Craigmillar Castle
Rosslyn Chapel
Rosslyn Chapel
Somewhere in the Highlands
Somewhere in the Highlands
Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle
Big Ben
Big Ben, picture taken from the London Eye
King's Cross Station
King’s Cross Train Station
London Eye
London Eye
Harrods
Place I will never be able to shop at: Harrods
Tower of London
Tower of London
Richard Rogers
Richard Rogers Design

-Amber Conwell

Campo Imperatore

Lift up to Campo Imperatore
Chris and I decided to take a little 2 day, 1 night vacation in the mountains of L’Aquila (little adventure before buckling down and forcing myself to studio slave for midterms). The trip out there is quite the sightseeing adventure. We took the metro to the bus station, then hopped on an hour and a half bus ride that took us through the lovely little mountain cities to L’Aquila. Once we arrived in L’Aquila we took a city bus about 50 minutes through the snow-capped mountains to Base Funivia, where the views were absolutely breath-taking.
Little Mountain Towns
After stepping off the bus we walked over to the counter to buy our tickets for the only way up to the hotel, a lift. This was my first time ever riding a lift, so I was pretty excited. It was a little scary at first, since the fog only allowed us to see so far, and the cables seemed to disappear in the mist. When we made it to the top we had to take a tunnel that lead to the Hotel Imperatore, because the snow had blocked the doors leading to the outdoor entry.
Campo Imperatore
Checking into Hotel Campo Imperatore, was easy enough, Chris had stayed here before and the man behind the counter recognized him immediately. He set us up with a nice room on the third floor (this is what we would call the fourth floor, but they count the first as zero in Italy). Unfortunately the fog was pretty thick so the only view we got was of the ski lift just off to the left of the building. But regardless, they were very nice accommodations.

Dinner was at 7:30, and from our long journey out to the secluded hotel we were starving. They started with hors d’ouvres and cocktails in a small sitting room furnished by IKEA (I swear everything new in Italy is furnished by IKEA). At about 7:45 the dining room doors opened and the buffet style dinner was open for business. Of course we were the first ones in, loading our plates with a delicious smorgasbord of food. Vino was included with the meal, which was a plus. While scarfing down our food, the gentleman that checked us in that day came over to see how we were enjoying the meal.

“How is the food?”

“molto bene!” (me attempting to use my Italian speaking skills)

“Dove sei?”

“Oklahoma (blank stare)…Texas”

“ah! Si, si”

“Vacation?”

“No, I’m studying architecture in Roma.”

“ah! Architetto!”

“Si!”

Excited, he began to tell us the interesting history of Hotel Campo Imperatore. The hotel was developed by the Fascist party, in an attempt to bring more tourism into L’Aquila. It was constructed between 1931 and 1934, and easily identifiable as Fascist Architecture. One of the interesting things he pointed out in the dining hall was the “semi-circle” shape of the room. He explained that Mussolini intentionally design the shape to represent the letter “D” for “Duce”. So the columns and the beams do not exactly line up because the shape is not a complete semi-circle. The beautiful hardwood flooring mimicked this design in the dining hall, which is all original from the opening of the hotel.
flooring
What really made the hotel famous was when from August 28 to September 12, 1943, it served as a prison for Benito Mussolini. He was taken here after already being held captive on the island of Ponza e Maddalena. The Italian soldiers thought that Gran Sasso seemed like a better place to hold the prisoner since it is pretty inaccessible. But, unfortunately they were wrong, and on September 12, 1943 about a hundred German paratroopers landed on the plain in front of the hotel and freed Mussolini. This later became known as Operation Oak.
Mussolini getting rescued
After the little history lesson, we managed to lift our very full bellies out of the seat and walked into the hotel lobby and began looking at the various photos of the hotel throughout the years. Another gentleman that worked at the hotel came over and started chatting with us. Turns out he used to practice architecture years ago and had heard that I was studying to become an architect. He told us about his various work in L’Aquila and his 18 years of practice. After our conversation Chris and I started toward the stairwell to head up to the room, when the barista stopped us.

“No, no you stay here! It is the Feste delle Donne (Festival of Women). Tonight, we dance.”

Well when you put it that way, of course, why not. Everyone slowly gathered into a small hall to partake in the night’s festivities. Chris and I sat down on a small leather couch, enjoying the music, when out of nowhere the chef comes bouncing into the room dressed up as a woman (see photo below for details) and began dancing. Everyone laughed hysterically and then joined in on the fun. Chris was able to get some pretty hilarious video footage of our dear friend, the chef (not appropriate for posting).
chef dancing
The next day the weather was still a little too foggy for skiing so we decided to head back home to Roma. But even without being able to ski, the trip was worth every penny. I think we might have to take another trip out there before we leave Italy. It was certainly quite a memorable experience.

Fotografia di Roma: Jewish Ghetto

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Photo courtesy of Amber Conwell

In the Jewish Ghetto, the narrow quirky streets are lined with restaurants, art galleries, and pastry shops. Around lunchtime the area becomes a lively place to stop and have a bite to eat at the kosher fast food joints or enjoy a traditional Jewish pastry. It is hard to believe that this lovely little area was once an unpleasant and unsanitary place to live.
In 1555, Pope Paul IV created a wall around the Ghetto and forced thousands of Jews to live in awful, cramped, impoverished conditions. During the daylight hours the Jews were allowed to leave the Ghetto, but only if they wore a mark signifying their religion. Over the three-hundred plus years within the wall, the Jewish population grew from a couple thousand to around seven thousand. With nowhere to spread out, the Jews were forced to make due with the little space they had. If you look close enough today you can see the remains of the haphazardly formed buildings that were altered continuously throughout the years. To make things worse, the already confined, poor environment was located near the flood-prone Tiber River. At various times throughout the year, the flooding turned the community into a sooted marsh. Finally, in 1870, the papal dominion ended, the Jews were granted full citizenship, and the terrible wall finally came down. The Ghetto continued to change over the years following, especially during the Fascist regime, but finally developed into the delightful community it is today.
If you want to have an authentic experience of everyday Roman life, that is rich with history, and away from the typical tourist hotspots, then the Ghetto is certainly a good spot to slow down and “ Do as the Romans do:” relax and enjoy life!

– Amber Conwell

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Photo Courtesy of Minh Tran

Here is a slideshow of some of our favorite areas of the Ghetto:

Fotografia di Roma: Madonnelle

Photo courtesy of Amber Conwell

Imagine the time of Rome when the thought of street lamps lining every street was a mere aspiration. Walking the small alleyways in complete darkness of the night, hearing the little bustles of movement, but unable to see. Maybe a rat or maybe something else creeping about. From a distance is a dim glow seeping around the corner. Drawn to the little flickering light, it gets brighter and brighter. On the corner there is a lantern that reveals a small shrine behind it. In an intricately detailed bronze frame is a painting of the Virgin Mary. For a moment, something seems to shift in the painting, as if her eyes had changed their gaze. Maybe just the flickering light playing tricks, or maybe the fabled stories of the Madonnelle’s moving eyes are true.
The now fading and unkept paintings which decorate various corners of the city were once believed to have supernatural powers. They could heal the sick, give good fortune to the poor, and apparently intervene in disputes. It has been proclaimed that during several fights (and even a few murders) that took place in front of various shrines, Mary appeared to be weeping real tears. By some accounts, she had even stopped a few violent interactions.Typically when such acts of prodigy were witnessed, the Madonnelle was taken down and placed in a sanctuary somewhere else.
Some of the most baffling and renowned occurrences recorded took place in July, 1796. Legend has it, throughout the city of Rome some of the Virgin Mary’s images in the small Madonnelles began to move simultaneously. In some cases, the eyes moved sideways, and in others, vertically. Whether it had been the heat of the summer or maybe just a little too much vino, crowds of people claimed that they had seen the peculiar events occur. Convinced that this prodigy had happened, a man climbed a ladder to measure the angle movement of the eye with a compass, determined to prove that what they saw was true. The mysterious events of the moving eyes was considered to be a bad omen. When Rome fell to Napoleon’s troops two years later, the people took it as a confirmation of their belief in the mystical occurrences.
Of the five hundred Madonnelles’ left, out of the thousand that existed before, you can find quite a few in the Jewish Ghetto, Trastevere, and areas around the Vatican. The pictures posted are just a few that we have stumbled upon. Although we have not experienced these supernatural events ourselves, you might keep your eyes peeled when walking the streets of Rome in the night. You never know if you will come across a madonnelle and witness her moving eyes.

-Amber Conwell

Fotografia di Roma: Nasoni

Photo courtesy of Amber Conwell

On the long walks, roaming the winding streets of the city, the ice-cold spring water flowing abundantly from the nasone is quite a refreshing treat. Stumbling upon them on a hot sunny day, the fountain becomes a little oasis. You may come across children playing acrobatically with the water, locals splashing the cool water on their faces, or simply someone filling their water bottle.

Photo courtesy of Minh Tran

By plugging the main part of the spout, a small hole at the top sends the water cascading out in a little arch, perfect for drinking.  The long, bent cast iron spout sticking out of the fountain is what gave the fountains their unique name, nasoni, meaning “big nose”. Most of the fountains do not have basins, but just a hole to capture the water (which is recycled and reused for various purposes). The reason for this was because the purpose of the fountains were to provide the public with a means of washing, cooking, and drinking, so there was no need for the basins.

Photo courtesy of Minh Tran

What started as 20 simple public drinking fountains, mainly in the Trastevere neighborhood, turned into 2,500 scattered about the city. Each one is marked with the S.P.Q.R (Sentus Populusque Romanus), referring to the government of the ancient Roman Republic, still used today as an official signature. The original fountains were designed with three nozzles topped with a dragon head, but were developed into a simpler form when mass produced in 1874, to accommodate the many immigrants settling in Rome. You can typically find them in outdoor markets, and in main piazza and squares. Although they play a small role in Roman history, the charming little nasoni are still very much a part of the daily life in Rome.

Photo courtesy of Amber Conwell

– Amber Conwell 

Fotografia di Roma

Minh and I (Amber) will be in charge of capturing the city’s captivating features. Each blog post will focus on the little details that make Rome unique and fascinating. Please feel free to contact Minh or I with any ideas for photos that you would like to see on the site.

Kickerstarter:

I would like to also take this time to thank all the amazing people that donated to my kickstarter. If it wasn’t for all you I would not have be able to make this fantastic trip.

THANK YOU:

Brad Prichard, Catherine Barrett, Chris Boyer, Ryan Goodman, Rob Hodges, Toni Rice, Lori DeKalb, Emily Ferguson, Kimberly Zeltsar, Stephanie Pilat, Jim and Cheryl Reynolds, Leah, Daniel Butko, Meghann Conwell, Fred, Star Dust Wunch, Cody Conwell, Faye Welsh, Jim Zeier, Brian Steines, Teresa Andrillon, Ruth Johnson, Rebecca Hargrove, Davide Foschi, Lewis and Melanie Conwell, and Jessica Lehr. (this is in no order, just the way it is listed on my kickstarter)

Thank you all so much!!!

Amber Conwell