Jake Slager's Italy trip journal
Sophomore Jake Slager (defensive back) will be keeping a journal of his trip to Italy with the Bluffton University football team. The following is a first hand account of the team's experience as they tour the country.
Tuesday, Wednesday- Bon giorno from Italy! Welcome to the Bluffton University football team's journal from our two week trip in Europe. Each day we'll post current news about our exciting and intellectual trip. I, Jake Slager, will be writing the journal each day, with the input of the other football players and the other students on the cross-cultural trip. Each journal entry will include the days events, any interesting encounters with other people or places, and our reflections on the trip from food to the Colliseum. This long awaited trip has finally arrived, and it started bright and early.
6 a.m.- Wake up and get into our travel suits to head to the airport at Columbus for the start of the trip. We all arrived around 9 a.m. (except for Coach Brooks who was a bit late!) and checked our baggage and then played cards and waited around until our flight left just after noon. Our plane departed for Atlanta and gave us a bumpy ride with plenty of turbulence, especially for the few that hadn't ever flown before. We made the huge Atlanta International Airport our home for the next 3 hours as we continued our migration with the herd of football players and students until we finally loaded the giant 777 Delta flight headed straight to Milan, Italy. I was filled with enthusiasm, still deeply wrapped in the surreal idea that we were finally headed to Italy. Most felt the same emotions; some were more scared, like Schwab and Albers who had a bit of sweat forming on their foreheads at the time of takeoff. We sat as comfortable as big football players can get into little economy class seats on our 9-hour flight that traveled at over 500 mph at 39,000 feet at a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit and kept entertained with movies and Delta radio. A pillow and blanket were available for those who could catch some sleep in the four hours of darkness that we experienced, although many of us never slept. I personally felt robbed of a night of sleep since we literally warped a quarter of a day- a weird transition for never experiencing it before.
We arrived in Milan at 9:15 a.m. and picked up our luggage, fortunately none was lost, and sat on a brand spanking new bus as our tour guide Leo described for a 2-hour ride that was supposed to last 20 minutes, due to an accident in the busy city of Milan. Italians fascinate me in the way they drive almost recklessly in and out of traffics, especially those on the small vespas that weave through traffic like a pinball that never touches anything. Everyone drives the same style tiny little cars, probably because gas is around 7 dollars a gallon here! They also make full use of the little space allowed between streets with their tiny cars, parking anywhere and everywhere; on sidewalks, curbs, and medians without even abiding to any parking signs. Even our bus driver Antonio can whip our 60 foot bus around corners like it's a boat on the water.
We eventually made it to the Duomo in the heart of the city, the fourth largest church in the world that could accommodate over 100,000 people at one time according to Leo. We ate lunch on our own, and experienced a high level of culture shock due to difficult language barriers and the stares that people glued on us because of our identical travel suits and because of being such a large group of Americans. The experience of being the foreigner in someone else's country I suppose is new to almost everyone, and it's certainly a life changing experience that makes me think about how I treat those who look different in my own country. The trip will certainly produce new and revolutionary thoughts for many of us concerning the issue.
Our new bus accommodated us once again, this time for a four-hour trip that brought us to Venice, where we'll stay 3 more days until our football game in Trieste. We're in a hotel just off the Asiatic Sea, and the street is filled with shops and small stores carrying items from clothes to groceries. The scenery is beautiful here, and we're looking forward to visiting some of the 117 islands that make up Venice. Next to the sight of the astonishing Alps outside the plane window, it's the most beautiful scenery we've witnessed yet. Our eagerness to taste the abundance of delicious Italian food was first met by a full course meal in our hotel tonight, and it's nearly time to call it a night since many of us have been awake for over 24 hours now. We're looking forward to the next day, beginning with our first practice, and then sight seeing the islands of Venice and whatever else this elegant city has to offer us. It's good to be here, and the only thing sweeter than the tierra misu dessert we tasted tonight is the anticipation and excitment of all that we have yet to see on this once in a lifetime opportunity. That's the view from here, so until next time ciao!
Thursday- Bongiorno once again from the islands of Venice! Today we began the day with a fabulous breakfast in our hotel complete with croissants, parfaits, and egg sandwiches and much more. Starting with a large breakfast that will probably be one of the better ones we ever receive from a hotel was a great jumpstart to the day. We then had our first practice, in full pads and uniforms a few blocks from our hotel at a soccer field in town. It was good to strap on the pads again and review the stunts, blitzes, and plays we've worked on all spring and finally bring it together for the game in just a few days.
After cleanup, some of us threw on our trunks and took a run into the waves of the Adriatic Sea. The award of the day went out to James Fay and Steve Sinn for being the first two to brave the brutally cold water of the sea. The salty water numbed our bodies within seconds and I got chased on the shore back into the sea until I fell down by a few friends- it was a fun morning in Venice.
After cleanup and a nap for some, we loaded Antonio's bus and drove to the Sea where we met our private boat that took us into the island that holds St. Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace. We split into two groups and took a long tour through the Doge's Palace filled with magnificent artwork and stories behind the place of council and political judgment in ancient Venice. The artwork portrayed the importance of religion from the gods such as Neptune and Jupiter as well as Christ and Mother Mary. The Doge's Palace, Italian for Duke, showed how the government of the Venetian's was felt by them to be very highly approved by God. The artwork showed this in rooms of all sizes and artwork in extra fine detail. The tour concluded with a walk over the Bridge of Sighs, an ancient canal bridge named for its path into the dark prison on the other side where prisoners made their final steps from freedom into a long lasting death. The jail cells were dark and unbreakable, as surely as the minds of the prisoners must have been that sat in them.
We then took a tour through St. Mark's Basilica, the church of the gospel writer Mark. The church contains the world's most magnificent mosaics, layered with gold and glass laid on all different angles to produce certain shades and colors to the effect of the artwork. The church showed obvious scars from flooding and years. It also is said to hold the body of the gospel writer.
The rest of the afternoon was free, and many took the brilliant opportunity to ride a gondola through the canals. If they were lucky, the gondolier sang as he rowed through the tight canals in between the city buildings. The city is relatively quiet, largely because the traffic on the island is strictly pedestrian. Besides the noise of the flocks of pigeons, the sound of the water splashing against gondolas and boats, and the amplified voices of tour guides, the city is a very peaceful and magical place. The day has been fun and vibrant with more of a taste of what this European country is like. Venezia as they say in Italian is truly a magical place, filled with all the riches of Italy; artwork, magnificent galleries of remarkable historical figures, and plenty items to buy and just as much food to go around. That's the view from here, until tomorrow ciao!
Friday- Bonoserra! Our last day in Venice has been quite a treat, a great toast to our stay in this magical city. For some, the language barrier is being tackled a bit by interacting with Italians more frequently, and through the use of phrase books and dictionaries, or by asking Professor Sullivan. The last day consisted of our usual filling breakfast, followed by practice and an optional lunch on our own in the city.
After lunch, those who wanted to go back to the island of St. Mark's Square rode the public waterbus. Others chose to relax back at the hotel and played touch football on the beach and relaxed by the pool. Those of us who went into the main square enjoyed a sunshine filled afternoon as we walked around the various shops. Some took a gondola ride for the first or second time, and others fed the hundreds of pigeons in the main square. Oggi (today) was relaxing, slow paced, leisurely and fun day. Tomorrow morning we will head to Trieste where we'll play our long awaited game at 4:30pm. Our opponents, a semi pro team, called the Trieste Mustangs consists of some American military men and other Italians from ages 18-44 who are looking forward to taking on the Bluffton Beavers in a fun and exciting game of American Football. That's the view from here, until next time, Ciao!
Saturday- We woke up in the beautiful city of Trieste, ready and eager to play some football americano overseas. We arrived at the field, a soccer field converted to a football stadium with bars on the goal to make a goal post but no hash marks or yard lines. The game was a display of our talents for the Italians to learn from our techniques and skills so that they can continue to produce interest in American football, and although it was a blowout on the scoreboard, and I cannot speak for everyone, it was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Nothing but great sportsmanship was offered from both teams, and following the game, the United States National Anthem played followed by Italys national anthem, and the feeling of pride I felt then was greater than ever before. We shook hands, exchanged t shirts and shared in conversation and laughter over a cookout after the game. The rain just held off long enough for us to take pictures and change out of our uniforms, and then we enjoyed a night out on the town.
Sunday- The team loaded up once again on Antonio's bus, our awesome Italian bus driver, and relaxed in our seats for an all day trip to Florence. We made a stop for lunch, and enjoyed the beautiful countryside on our way into the large city. Our hotel in Florence was the nicest yet, consisting of apartment style rooms complete with a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom for each trio of guys and girls. The city of Florence was filled with busy streets and the smell of leather from the countless leather shops in downtown Firenzia (Italian for Florence). We enjoyed two incredible meals while in Florence, and the dinners here just seem to keep getting better each day. The process of dinner is different from our culture here as well, it's a time of conversation and fellowship as well as the enjoyment of the delicious pastas, soups, meats, and tasty desserts. Florence is famous for its trade of sheepskin leather, and the shops downtown all have unlimited amounts of coats, purses, and pouches ranging from $50 Euros to $1000. A couple of the guys did some heavy bargaining and came out with some good deals to bring gifts back or buy coats for themselves. While in Firenzia, we also toured another beatiful Duomo (church) and the Santa Croce, each filled with artwork and a tour message through a radio for each person on the tour.
Thursday,Friday - We left the peaceful town of Assisi and the town of our hotel down from the hill, San Maria del Angela and headed farther South again. We toured around the outskirts of Naples and again enjoyed the view of the Apennine Mountain range. The sun was shining bright again, and we were headed for the beach of the Mediterranean. Our hotel was another four star hotel complete with balconies for most of us overlooking a brilliant of the Mediterranean Sea. Everyone changed and ran down hundreds of stairs in order to get to the beach; the water was warm and a few of us swam out and conquered some rocks as the waves crashed into the shore. I decided to climb up a cliff and take a jump into the water, and soon after nearly everyone had followed suite. We came back to the hotel and entertained the other guests as we joked around in the pool, and I could definitely sense the unification that we were getting from spending this time together overseas. We trusted each other when we jumped off the cliff, and when we made the man tower 3 people tall in the pool; I just remember how strong of a bond I felt between the team, and it will surely pay off in the fall. All of the hard work of practices and meetings during the spring intertwined with a rigorous academic experience to get to Italy were all part of the adventure and the paid for the fun we were enjoying. The most fun times on the trip seem to be when everyone is together.
Saturday: Pompeii - After a night out meeting other Italians and even some Canadians studying overseas, we loaded one last time before our final destination and drove to Pompeii. This ancient city was covered in ash after a volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, and the remains of the city allow archaeologists to learn a great deal about the people of this city that once was a lively and vibrant place of 15,000 people. The city was one of the most fascinating places I have ever witnessed. To see how people over 2000 years ago lived, and how intellectual and practical they were generally speaking for being such an ancient society was incredible. Their roads and sidewalks were crossed with stepping stones since the sewer system ran through the streets; they had sliding doors and the tracks remained on the front of the homes or shops; we could even learn what kind of food they ate and some of the bakeries in the town still had bread in the ovens after the city was covered in 6 meters of ash and preserved since decomposition and oxygen could not reach under the ash. One house was a beautiful 9000 square foot home with a fountain and garden, and large open rooms even larger than many houses today. It is no exaggeration to say that the walk back in time to before the time of Christ was life changing, at least for me. It's so amazing to witness the rich history of humanity that remains locked like a treasure here in this little country 4,000 miles from home.
Sunday: Rome - We've finally arrived at our final destination, and the anticipation to get here is finally over. We enjoyed another delicious Italian dinner in its usual 2 hour form since the Italians place such a high emphasis on fellowship at dinner and making plenty of food for in between. My excitement was high, and it was hard to sleep because of the anticipation of the Coliseum. We walked down to the giant structure in the morning and took photos outside by position, and met our tour guide John Carlo who would be with us the next two days through our tour of ancient Roma. The Coliseum was as massive as a modern baseball stadium, even though only 33% of it remains due to a terrible earthquake long ago and others taking much of the marble remains from the structure for use in other buildings. What remains is nothing short of incredible though either, but I cannot imagine how awesome the entire building must have been to a Roman in the time it was built. The Flavian Amphitheater, the true name of the Coliseum due to the family that built it, opened in 80 AD for 100 days straight of gladiator battles and hunts of beasts. Something like 4000 animals and 800 gladiators were killed in its opening debut. It took 9 years to complete the Coliseum, and its incredible to think that it held up to 50,000 Romans who could enter through their designated gate for free in this war driven society to watch gruesome entertainment in the same size structure that we watch baseball and football games from today. We continued through ancient Rome and saw the remains of the Roman Forum and listened to the story of the great Julius Caesar and then toured Rome on our own for the rest of the day.
Monday - We woke up extra early to get the group through the express line at the Vatican today, escorted again by our professor like guide John Carlo. Thousands upon thousands of people enter the Vatican daily, a 109 acre state separate from Italy with its own police force, stamps, currency and more. People around us pushed and shoved to hustle in, and we first toured through Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, named after Pope Sistus VI. We listened to long lectures by John Carlo, who was more full of details than a book on the city. The massive church of St. Peter's Basilica can be seen from practically anywhere in the city, and walking into the largest church in the world made us feel like ants: a sculpture 10 feet above us on a pillar looked to be about 3 feet tall, but was actually 6'3". A ledge above us that appeared to be a few feet wide was actually wide enough to drive a hummer on, and the people in the enormous dome, the fortress of the church looked as tiny as my finger. Each next largest church in the world is marked on the floor in the Nave leading up to the Apse. The nave stretches 600 feet, 2 football fields worth, and J.O. and I couldn't help but want to test out how large it really was by tossing a football around. We completed the day with a lecture on Catholicism to become more familiar with the religion since Italy is 99.9% Catholic, and the talk with questions and answers was very helpful in gaining a better understanding of its structure and motives for all of us.
Tuesday - Our last day in Rome was entirely free, and I took full advantage of touring all that I could in the city, and the group I was with walked over 6 hours, it'd be interesting to have kept track of the all the miles we've walked in Italy over the last two weeks. Some of the group went downtown and did some shopping for gifts to take home, and the group I was with first headed to every Monument left of the map in Rome- to seize the opportunity while we had the chance. We first visited the Spanish Steps, completed with one of Bernini's many fountains that sprinkle the city in nearly every other piazza in Rome. We witnessed the cemetery of 4,000 monks, a grave of their bones that they left to glorify God and make those of us who would see their bones as a reminder that we too will face death. In the last room of the bones artistically yet eerily structured together into various shapes and forms, read an inscription that said, "Just as you are now, we once were; just as we are now you will be." The sight was the most sobering thing I've ever seen, yet interesting too. We stepped into a few more of the various churches in Rome, and saw more artwork, some of which was done by Michelangelo Carnegie, a Baroque artist who redefined realism after the Renaissance. My appreciation for art is not near what many others are, but I really enjoyed his work on St. Peter and Paul and its realistic depiction of their conversion and crucifixion. The group I was with also saw the prison of Peter and Paul, the last play where they were before they were martyred in Rome. We walked through the long open area where the chariot races used to take place, and finally past the Coliseum and said goodbye to it and to Rome as we packed for the journey home.
Wednesday - The trip has been one of the greatest experiences I've ever had. It's been fun to see the various sights that are so influential and hold deep meaning to the history of humanity and the things we have to today is largely responsible to the people who once inhabited Italy. The challenge of being engulfed in another culture has been a type of battle similar to a football game; facing the adversity of the language barrier, and not always having things go the way that we wanted them to, but in the end the experience helps shape how we think and act after all is said and done. The food has been great, and although it's hard to feed 50 hungry football players, most twice the size of the average Italian, our last meal may have been one of the best with our own individual pizzas and plates of spaghetti complete with a gelato from Leo. We glanced at the Pantheon, a building dedicated to the ancient Roman gods and took a group photo, and completed our stay by paying a visit to the Trevi Fountain. This fountain is famous for those visiting Rome to come to and make two wishes after throwing a coin over your shoulder: one to come back to Rome, and the other for whatever you like- though I'm sure that several of us had the same goal and wish in mind concerning all the work that has been put in to make us a better team! The experience could not have been better for us as a team to grow closer together, and I cannot express how cool it was to get to know people that I didn't know as well before, and especially fun to get to know the Coach's wives as well. It makes the team truly feel like the family that it is, especially after a two week trip like this one. Italy is a great place with many great things to see and do, but it also makes home that much sweeter to come back to. Thanks for reading the journal and for everyone's thoughts and prayers as we have all come back safely home.