AIST Italy Volleyball Tour – 2012
Hello from Italy! Me (Katie), Lauren, and Coach Dragan from Franklin Pierce College are here with a program called AIST and touring all around the country while also having an opportunity to play volleyball internationally. In the fall of 2011, me and Lauren got an email inviting us to play on a team with other college athletes from all over the country. Coach Dragan told us it was an opportunity of a lifetime, one we couldn’t pass up. So here we are, in Rome, Italy and San Marino, Italy the first two days of the tour.
Me, Lauren, and her friend Tayler, who also got on the team, decided to come out to Europe early and spend 7 days on the Greek islands and 3 days in rome before meeting up with the team. I can tell you already this is a trip of a lifetime and I am so blessed to have this opportunity.
Because we came out early, we had to meet up with the team at the airport Saturday morning. So we got on a shuttle taking us to the airport at 10:30 AM only to find out that the group got stuck in Lisbon, Portugal, and wouldn’t be arriving at the hotel until about 12am that night. So we decided to go to our hotel and figure out a plan for the day. We were supposed to spend the day at the Vatican museum with the group, but they wouldn’t get here in time to see it. Luckily, our Italian tour guides and one of the AIST managers, Gary, had flown in early and met us at our hotel at around 12:00. They told us we could go see the Vatican since we were here. So we quickly got ready and took the shuttle into town. Our tour guide, Matea, helped us get into the museum. But before that, he took us around to see St. Peter’s Basilica, only the most famous church in the world where the Pope lives and preaches from. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Mateo also pointed out the window in which the Pope preaches from, which is also his bedroom.
After stopping at the Basilica, Mateo finally led us into the Vatican museum. Once we got in, Mateo left us to wander on our own. Everything about it was amazing. There were so many sculptures and paintings. All the paintings were so intricate and elegant. We didn’t know a lot of what we were seeing since we weren’t with our local tour guide, but we did try to eavesdrop on some of the other English speaking tour guides. We were in there for about 2.5 hours just looking at all the paintings and sculptures. The pictures do not do it justice after seeing it in real life. The Sistine Chapel was the last part of the museum, and the most amazing. The whole thing was painted by Michelangelo. We werent allowed to talk or even take pictures of it once we got in. The security officers were really strict about that. There was so much going on in the painting, and all of it had a different story behind it (something we learned from our “tour guide”). Once we were done with the museum, we got a gelato, walked around, and caught the bus back to our hotel.
Before meeting up with the team at 12 am that night, we went back into town to have dinner in Campo de Fiori. We had a nice traditional Italian meal, then went to a little local bakery to have dessert. We caught the bus back to the hotel and just hung around Untill the team got there. They finally arrived at about 12:15 am. We met the rest of the girls on volleyball team, had a quick midnight dinner, and then went to bed to rest up for the long day ahead of us.
Today, we woke up early and had to be at breakfast at 8, leaving for our tour at 8:30. We took the bus into town, and there we met up with our local tour guide. We got headsets so we could hear what she was saying without having to be close. We walked round the town, first seeing the hotel Eden, where all the big movie stars like Tom cruise stay when they come. Our next stop was the spanish steps. The top of the steps overlooked Rome where you could see multiple basilicas, including St. Peters basilica. After that, we made our way about five minutes down the road to the Trevi Fountain. Me, Lauren and Tayler had seen this at night a couple days earlier but it still looked so different and just as beautiful. All the sculptures in it were so complex. It’s amazing to think that something that big and elegant was sculpted by hand, from marble, in the first couple centuries. We had some free time around the fountain, so we did some shopping and got a gelato. After meeting back up with the group, we made our way to the Pantheon. Before we reached it, we walked through some political buildings, and even passed by the building where the Prime Minister of Italy lived. Our tour guide explained it as “the white house of Italy”. There were a bunch of police man outside of it so some of the girls stopped and took a couple pictures with them. We then stopped at the pantheon right around the corner. It was this big building that was erected in 80 AD.
The columns were 36 feet high. Also, right next to the building, she showed us where the street originally was back in 80 AD. It was about 15-20 feet below us. This is because every year, one of the rivers would flood, leaving behind a layer of sediment, water, and debri. Through all the centuries, it had kept building up, raising the street level to where it is today.
After that, we walked to Adrianos Palace, also a short walk away. There were also large columns in front of it. It is open to go inside and see it, but because it was a Sunday, there was a mass in progress so we couldn’t go in and see the church. Nonetheless, it was very beautiful from what we could see from the outside. We also stopped at the first university in Rome which was built in the 1600s. There was a little court yard area and then there was a little church behind it. We finished our tour in the Piazza (square) Navona. There were three fountains; one in the beginning of the square, the biggest on in the middle, and then one at the end. In between the big fountain and the one at the end there were a bunch of artists who were selling their paintings and drawings of all the major moments. Every artist had a different unique style and they were all so pretty in their own way. What was cool about the Piazza Navona was that it used to be a stadium during the Ancient Roman times which was turned into a restaurant, shopping, and living area.
After saying goodbye to our tour guide, we stopped really quick at the Colosseum to see and to take a couple pictures in front of it. We were already running late, but couldn’t leave Rome without seeing it!
After that quick stop we drove about 5 hours to our next destination: San Marino. We played our first opponent which was an Italian club. We got there, warmed up for about 35 minutes, and started our game. We lost all three games, but the last two were close. Considering the days of travel and touring we have had, and a brand new group of girls, we thought we did alright. We lost the last two games by two points, 25-27 and 26-24, so we are optimistic about our upcoming matches.
We made it back to our hotel, had dinner, and just relaxed in San Marino for the rest of night.
Thursday, May 31
It was hard for me to get up this morning. we have been going hard since we arrived. Today is our first day off from volleyball and there was no way I was oversleeping on this trip, so I got up, packed up, and was ready to take on a new adventure. Today we had a decent, almost American breakfast, took a group picture with the staff of the hotel (they loved our girls) and headed to Cinque Terre. I was sad leaving Monticatini. I am very comfortable there and like it a lot. Little did I know what the day would bring. Our most recent destination, Cinque Terre is officially my favorite European City. It is located on the Gulf of La Spezia and is known as the Italian Rivera. The name comes from the five hamlets that are located on the west coast of the Riviera. The cities are linked by footpaths but we didn’t get to explore that far. The gulf is a clear turquoise color and the houses are bright Terre cotta and yellows. The drive up was kind of scary. Our bus driver William, did a great job We started our visit in Portovenere. It is one of the five cities on this coast. We took a boat cruise that fortunately had a guide that spoke English and Italian so we were able to understand what he was telling us. The township goes back to Roman times and most of the area is now a National park. The view from the water was breath taking. The cruise lasted 45 minutes and then we had free time for lunch. This area is known for its pesto so that’s what I was determined to eat. I found a restaurant that did not disappoint and ate way too much. After lunch Lauren and Katie went shopping and I strolled the coast line trying to soak up as much sun and scenery that I could. Cinque Terre has won me over! We were to meet the group at our assigned point at 3:00. The three of us are always on “coach time” and are always early for everything. I was happy about this because Katie showed up eating gelato that she said was the best she has had on the trip. She was right, the combination of mint chocolate chip and pistachio was amazing. I may explode from all the food I am eating here and it is all so good! We left Cinque Terre and headed to La Spezia. This is where will will spend the night. The basketball team has a game here. This area is urban and seems very busy compared to Cinque Terre and Monticantini. Most of the trip I have been sleeping in a twin bed. It is very common in Europe, and here I have a full size bed. I was shocked. As I type, the teams are eating dinner. I am so packed with food that I decided to skip it. A lot of the volleyball girls, including Katie and Lauren, are going to support the AIST basketball team. I am not. My plan for the night is to relax, catch up on some emails, and then beat our host, Mattia, at bowling tonight. He has no idea what he’s getting himself into taking on a girl from the Midwest! We can bowl. The funny thing is if you asked me of all the things I would dream about doing in Italy, bowling would probably not make my top 100 list. That’s the great thing about this trip, anything can happen.
FINAL BLOG – By Coach Dragan:
It’s going to be a while before I eat pizza, or pasta, or bread or gelato. Spending time in another country always reminds me of the little things i take for granted on a daily basis. I am bringing back incredible memories, new friendships, and the experience of being in 4 countries in 9 days (Portugal, Italy, San Marino, and Switzerland) I’ve never been in the same city as the Pope and i fell in love with Cinque Terre. I can say that me, Katie, and Lauren had a great experience on this trip and I am glad I could share it with them. Who wants to go with me next year?