Rome Photo Diary; Part II 1

While we saw so much during our first day in Rome, we still had lots of landmarks on the itinerary for day two – the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City & St. Peter’s Basilica, and gelato breaks to squeeze in between all of the sightseeing. ?  Get ready for one busy summer day in Rome!

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We began our day at Rome’s single greatest monument and one of the “new wonders of the world”, the Colosseum. As I mentioned in the first part of my Rome Photo Diary, I took a couple of art history courses prior to this study abroad trip and it made me truly appreciative of the art, architecture, and history of Italian culture so getting to see all these famous works in person was life-changing. The Colosseum, the largest amphitheatre ever built, has a storied past. I will admit, aesthetically it’s much more pleasing to look at from the outside but being inside where gladiators once violently fought to the death, where animal hunts and public executions took place to provide a spectacle for the public, was chilling. Luckily it’s not what it used to be, but the fact that a place in which humanity witnessed some of the most barbaric forms of entertainment is still standing today, so many centuries later, is absolutely incredible.

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An interior view of the Colosseum.

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In the mid-morning we continued our tour with a walk through the Roman Forum, stopping along the way to snap photos of adorable Vespa’s. The Forum was the center of Roman life in the imperial times, an ancient market and meeting place which also housed many important government structures. There are lots of reminders throughout the city that emphasize just how old Ancient Rome actually is but compared to structures such as the Pantheon and Colosseum, it’s hard to visualize how long this civilization and their creations have actually been around. The forum is a great place to reminisce on the “golden age” of Rome and imagine what it once was – a shining example of power and community.

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We continued our walk through the center of Rome until we made our way to Altare della Patria, the monument built in honor of first Italian King Victor Emmanuel and the spot where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier resides. An impressive large white marble building, the bottom section contains a museum dedicated to the unification of Italy, but go to the terrace for what most consider to be the best panoramic view of Rome. As seen in the very first photo in this post, you’re able to get a great look at both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum from this spot.

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A group of stilt-walking street performers pose for a photo in one of the piazzas we passed through on our way to Vatican City.

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First on our Vatican City itinerary were the Vatican Museums, a group of buildings with 54 total galleries which house the vast papal art collection. Perhaps the most notable part of the museum is the Sistine Chapel, in which Michelangelo painted the elaborately frescoed ceiling and where his famous “Creation of Adam” can be seen. They don’t allow photography in this area, but I would definitely recommend you visit the Sistine Chapel even if you don’t have time for any of the rest of the surrounding museums. I’m much more of a fan of Michelangelo’s paintings than his sculptures (Nothing compares to Bernini) and this ceiling illustration is incredible and something you just can’t miss when in Rome.

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This spiral staircase is one of the architectural highlights of the museums.

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One of the most famous ancient sculptures ever, “Laocoön and His Sons”, on display in the Vatican Museums.

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If you do have longer to explore the Vatican Museums, there are many great paintings by world-renowned Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, and Caravaggio on display throughout the numerous galleries. I would, as always, advise you to do research about these pieces and artists prior to your visit so that you’re able to truly appreciate seeing them in person. Wikipedia is a good place to start. I made flash cards for my art history classes with a printout of the work glued to one side and all the important information about it on the other and I actually found it helpful to take these cards with me to the museums and cathedrals so that I could quickly refer back to them while browsing the museum.

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The Gallery of Maps, a long corridor with an illuminated ceiling and huge, entrancing Italian maps is another highlight of the Vatican Museums.

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Famished from an eventful day, we stopped for lunch at the first restaurant with outdoor seating that we could find and grabbed some gelato afterward for our walk to St. Peter’s Square.

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A view of Vatican City, the smallest “country” in the world, from an open museum window.

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There are so many adjectives that can be used to describe St. Peter’s Basilica. Grand. Opulent. Monumental. But no combination of words I could string together would do it any justice at all. It is the holy grail of Catholic Churches and the site of which so many historic events have taken place, including the coronation and inauguration of Catholic Popes past and present. Both Michelangelo and Bernini were on the design team of the new St.Peter’s Basilica, a shining example of Renaissance architecture. There was so much beauty to take in that I thought it would be better appreciated from the floor but unfortunately, security disagreed. ?  It makes for a good story though, right?!

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Bernini’s bronze “Baldacchino” guards the tomb of St. Peter.

We returned to Rome in a daze, still absorbing all that we’d seen throughout the day. We stopped into Ristorante Strega for a late dinner and enjoyed wonderful wine & wood-fired pizza on the beautifully ambient tented patio. We ended our meal on a sweet note with a photogenic and delicious tiramisù.

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Since it was our last evening in Rome, we made one last pit stop to the Trevi Fountain before calling it a day. It’s always beautiful but like most of Rome, it has a certain romanticism at night. We decided it was the perfect ending to the first chapter of our Italian adventure.

Summary of Rome Travel Tips

  • Visit the Colosseum and imagine a time when gladiators once inhabited the arena.
  • Roam through the Roman Forum to get a glimpse of the oldest neighborhood of the Roman Empire.
  • Stop by Altare della Patria for an unmatched panoramic view of the city center, where both the Forum and the Colosseum can be seen.
  • Take a minute to watch and even interact with the street performers. Italy is one of the few places where these talented artists seem to captivate locals and tourists alike.
  • In the Vatican Museums, head to the Sistine Chapel first and spend as much time in the rest of the museum’s galleries as your schedule allows.
  • Make flash-cards to act as your museum guide, loading them up with all the information you could ever want about a particular piece.
  • Stop for gelato frequently. ?
  • Appreciate St. Peter’s Basilica from your feet, not from your back.
  • Don’t be discouraged to re-visit your favorite spots.

“Rome Photo Diary; Part II” Photographed by Emily Davis

© Emily Davis

2017-04-03T00:29:59+00:00 January 25th, 2017|Travel|16 Comments


Rome Photo Diary; Part I 1

Oh Italia… As I began to put together this post, I realized that I went to Italy in 2012 which means it was almost 5 years ago… and that makes me feel REALLY old. But five years later, and this trip still holds a special place in my heart and I dream of the day I’ll return all too often. This study abroad trip was special for many reasons. One of my best friends and I got to go together, it was my first time taking a photography course abroad (and one of my first photo classes), and it was a learning experience unlike any I’d had before in which I discovered so much about myself and saw the world from many differing perspectives, including those of my classmates and professors. Our first destination on our Italian tour was the capital city of Rome, where we imitated Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday”, ate our weight in pasta, pizza, and gelato (well really that happened during the entire trip, but luckily we didn’t waste any time), and fostered a deep appreciation for art and architecture. Here is the first part (of two) of my Rome Photo Diary, including travel tips for your own visit to the Eternal City. Enjoy and, as always, please voice questions/suggestions/opinions in the comment section!


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We arrived at our convent (yes, we stayed with nuns, which was super cool minus the 10 PM curfew) late in the day, so I jumped in the shower to freshen up and our whole group went out for a pizza party. We wandered back to our Roman residence slowly, entranced by Rome’s lively evening activities. Entertainment is provided in every piazza by night from flame-throwing performers, spray-painting artists, to even a few silent mimes. We had just landed in Italy less than 10 hours prior and we were already so in love with the vibrance of Rome that we discovered during our indirect route “home”. This was the first trip that really showed me the importance of exploring your neighborhood upon arrival. It’s helped so much in my own travels to be able to know the distance and relation between monuments, my residence, and other points of interest. I also encourage that this time to be dedicated to discovery – no pulling out a map (grab your hotel’s business card to hand to a cab driver in case you walk too far), no zig-zagging to see all the things you’re most excited to see (you’ll have time for those later), just be in the moment and see where your feet wander because that’s when your fondest travel experiences will be created. (Right) Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in the center of Piazza Navona, a popular meeting place during the day and at night. You’ll hear more about my love for Bernini later. ?

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One of our photo assignments in our class was to choose a subject to make a “series” of photos about, and after just 24 hours in Rome, I knew that I would be seeing plenty of vespas and cute cars. However, to make it feel a bit more “me”, I chose to document the ones I saw in my favorite color (it’s truly Tiffany Blue – hence the logo and color scheme on the blog) but I brake for anything remotely sea-foam hued and teal, too. This little Volkswagen was parked right outside the convent and I just had to stop and snap it. Rome, Italy in general honestly, is a wonderful destination for photographers and artists. There are so many beautiful details to be seen if you take your time wandering through the cobblestone streets. It’s easy to get side-tracked on the way to your destination, but I think the little minutiae of a place often times tell a better story than the most famous landmarks.

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Italian selfie before our first day of Roman adventures! We got ready early and headed to San Pietro in Vincoli, a Roman Catholic church close to our convent that houses Michelangelo‘s “Moses” sculpture. I’m not sure if it was because we were there so early, but this was one of the emptiest cathedrals we visited on our entire trip, and a visit is definitely worthwhile. It’s a beautifully simplistic (compared to the many more elaborate Roman Catholic cathedrals) church and it’s probably your best opportunity to see a Michelangelo piece that everyone isn’t crowded around.

First up on our class itinerary for the day was the Pantheon. Being able to go to Italy was especially exciting for me during this time as I had just taken art history courses the previous year, so I had extensively learned about all the things that we’d be seeing. Reading up on these amazing buildings, artists, & pieces is the only way to have a truly enriching and inspiring encounter when seeing them all in real life. At first glance, the Pantheon may seem rather plain in comparison to the many frescoed (painted) and gold leafed domes you will see in most of the cathedrals. If you didn’t know that it was built in the 2nd century and has been in continuous use since the 7th century, it may seem rather boring. If you weren’t aware of how the oculus (dome) was constructed by layering differing formulas of ancient concrete on top of each other so that each layer was lighter in weight than its predecessor in order to create a sound structure long before the invention of modern concrete, then you may think the Pantheon is rather uninteresting. You can probably gather that I’m quite fond of this particular structure – it was one of my favorite places in Rome, but my point in all of this is that these sights are only as interesting as you make them. You can look at pretty paintings and intricate buildings all day long but your visit is much more meaningful if you know the story behind why this art was created and the incredible power and relevance that it still wields so many centuries later.

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We were dying to see the Trevi Fountain so we made our way there during our free-time between the class-scheduled activities and fell in love with this Roman landmark. To make our time with the Trevi even more exciting, an editorial shoot was wrapping up upon our arrival and we witnessed a team of people primping a tall, fur-cloaked model between the photographer’s shots (Look closely in the bottom right corner and you’ll see the model!). Even though it was during broad daylight, I was immediately overwhelmed by a wave of whimsy that I’d soon associate only with this magical fountain. We returned a handful of times during our week in Rome, and each time we left more enchanted than the time before.

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After our morning of sightseeing, we stopped at a street-side trattoria and had more than enough bread, olive oil, and pasta to power us through the rest of our jam-packed itinerary for the day. I’m *sadly* not exaggerating when I tell you that I actually gained 10 pounds in Italy (over my month-long visit), but all the incredible food I ate was more than worth it. True Italian cuisine is hard to find anywhere outside of Italy – take advantage during your visit. I brought Rick Steves’ Italy Guidebook with me and while I didn’t use it much for scoping out sights (as most of that was already planned out for us), I did use it almost exclusively to find incredible restaurants. There wasn’t a single eatery he recommended that was bad. If you’re going anywhere in Europe, I highly recommend using the resources provided by Rick Steves.

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Next up was San Luigi dei Francesi, a Roman Catholic Church which, most notably, contains three paintings by Baroque “master of light”, Caravaggio. This cathedral is pretty spectacular itself but seeing Caravaggio’s work in person was breathtaking. I discovered  “The Calling of St. Matthew” and its significance in my art history course and being able to study it with my own eyes was beyond magical. His work is relevant even as a photographer. I recall one of of my professors showing his images in class a year after my trip as an example of how light can be dramatic, yet controlled and manipulated.

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Incredible ceiling of San Luigi dei Francesi.

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Our final stop of the day was at the Galleria Borghese, which was hands down my favorite museum/cathedral in Rome, and definitely among my top 3 of the entire trip. I mentioned Bernini earlier and his works are what make this museum so memorable. Bernini’s legacy can be seen throughout Rome, including in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican city, in several piazza fountains, and in Santa Maria della Vittoria (yet another cathedral worth a visit). The pieces on display at the Borghese gallery, which were commissioned by Cardinal Borghese when Bernini was in his early 20’s, are truly revolutionary. No artist had ever captured movement frozen in time through a slab of marble like this young sculptor and his work is so incredibly rendered with every single detail that it actually brought tears to my eyes. I was enthralled by all of the Bernini sculptures in the Gallery, but “The Rape of Proserpina” always comes to mind when I ponder on the talent that he possessed. To create the grasp of Pluto’s hand on Proserpina’s thigh – to make something that realistic out of marble… Observing that sculpture first-hand had me in a puddle of tears. So if you only have time for one museum when in Rome, make it the Galleria Borghese. P.S. The gallery doesn’t allow photography (the above photo is from a mystery church in Rome… PLEASE comment below if you know which one!), but even without documentation, I will always remember the incredible art I had the pleasure of seeing at this small jewel of a museum.

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We ended our first day in Rome watching the sunset from atop the Spanish Steps and witnessed the Italian sun drown the western-facing building facades in a warm summer glow. Almost every square, piazza, open public area is great for people-watching but the steps create the perfect atmosphere to do as the Romans – slow down and appreciate life.

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The Trinità dei Monti hovering high above the Spanish Steps.

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Summary of Rome Travel Tips

  • Take a neighborhood walk upon arrival to grasp your bearings.
  • Don’t get too obsessed with all the famous landmarks and sights that you fail to notice the little things.
  • Visit San Pietro in Vincoli to see the lesser-known (but nonetheless incredible) Michelangelo sculpture, “Moses”.
  • Do your research. Know the history and significance of the art and architecture you want to see to make your visit 100 times more meaningful and inspiring.
  • The Pantheon is a non-negotiable, so be sure to include it in your list and thank me later.
  • Visit the Trevi Fountain. Fall in love. Go back every day, tossing a coin held in your right hand over your left shoulder each time.
  • Eat lots of pasta using Rick Steves as your guide to the best restaurants at any and every price point.
  • Visit San Luigi dei Francesi for a beautiful example of an elaborate Roman Catholic church, and to see three of Baroque superstar, Caravaggio‘s famous paintings, including The Calling of St Matthew.
  • Reserve Galleria Borghese tickets here and visit this museum over any others in Rome. If you will have time to do several, then others are definitely worthwhile, including the Vatican Museums, which I’ll cover in Part II. But make Galleria Borghese a priority over the many more popular gallery and museum options.
  • See more of Bernini’s sculptures in Roman Catholic cathedral Santa Maria della Vittoria.
  • Observe the hustle and bustle around you while taking some time to reflect on your day seated on the Spanish Steps.

“Rome Photo Diary; Part 1” Photographed by Emily Davis

© Emily Davis

2017-04-03T00:30:00+00:00 January 18th, 2017|Travel|18 Comments


Winter Blues 1

There is something very unique about the first week of a new year. For most of us, it’s the first week back to work and school after the crazy busy yet relaxing Holiday season but with the newfound motivation that our resolutions bring, it seems that nothing can get us down – even the frosty air and grey winter skies. So as I venture back into the real world, this is the year that I am challenging myself to focus. To focus on the positives, even when the negatives seem all-consuming. To focus on the task at hand and be present enough to get back on track when I catch myself wasting time or energy on things that are of little importance. To focus every single day on the “goals” (I’m not keen on resolutions) that I’ve set out to accomplish this year in all aspects of my life (health, relationships, career, etc.). To focus on my own unique voice, personal style, and awkward quirks that make me who I am instead of trying to fit my persona into a pre-molded cookie cutter. Of course, these habits and mind-sets don’t develop overnight, but the way I see it is that I have a whole year to put them into practice in my every day life until razor-sharp focus becomes second nature to me. ?  What goals have you set for the new year? Do you like the idea of doing a “word of the year”? I’ll let you know my thoughts on this resolution method next year! ?  Happy New Year, Epicureans!

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January 2017

“Winter Blues” Photographed by Luke Bowes

2017-04-03T00:30:00+00:00 January 4th, 2017|Fashion|38 Comments