Benvenuti a Italia!

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” – Giuseppe Verdi

Friendly people, delicious food, great wine, beautiful scenery, perfect coffee… What’s not to love about Italy? This blog post catalogues our trip to visit Liza, our 17-year-old (now 19), who chose to spend her junior year of high school studying in Italy with School Year Abroad (SYA).


We landed in Rome on December 20, climbed into two vans (there were 12 of us) and drove an hour-and-a-half north to Viterbo, the town where Liza lived for the year, and the home of SYA.


The historic city center is surrounded by medieval walls built by Etruscans during the 11th and 12th centuries. The entrance to the walled city center is through ancient gates. Viterbo was the “getaway town” for Popes when they needed a break from Rome.


Cathedral San Lorenzo and Palazzo dei Papi – On the northern side of Piazza San Lorenzo, the 13th-century Palazzo dei Papi was built to entice the papacy away from Rome. Up the stairs the Gothic loggia (colonnade) leads to the Sala del Conclave, the hall where five popes were elected.


San Lorenzo Cathedral in Viterbo – Built originally in a simple Romanesque style, it owes its current Gothic look to a 14th-century makeover. Damage by Allied bombs in World War II meant the roof and nave had to be rebuilt.


The Basilica of Santa Rosa contains the body of Saint Rose who died in 1252. Since then, Viterbo has honored the Saint with a magnificent festival each year on the night of September 3rd. On this night, the Macchina di Santa Rosa (a huge lighted tower that stands more than one hundred feet tall and weighs in at 11,000 pounds) is taken through the medieval streets of the city. The event initiates a series of cultural and other popular events that continue throughout the month of September.

On to Civita IMG_5573

Civita is a charming medieval city with only about 14 year-round residents, so few that it’s nicknamed “the Dying City.” The facade of the town church was remodeled during the Renaissance, but the city is otherwise entirely medieval.


Entering the town through a cut in the rock made by Etruscans 2,500 years ago, and heading under a 12th-century Romanesque arch, you feel history in the huge, smooth cobblestones. This was once the main Etruscan road leading to the Tiber Valley and Rome. Inside the gate, the charms of Civita are subtle. There are no lists of attractions, orientation tours, or museum hours.



Civita is an artist’s dream. Each lane and footpath holds a surprise – and a few stray cats.

Next stop … Assisi

Approximately 90 miles north of Rome, in the rolling hills of Umbria, stands the well-preserved medieval town of Assisi. A religious and tourist center, it’s located on a hill with an expansive view of the plains below. Well known in Roman times and throughout the Middle Ages, it owes its modern fame chiefly to St. Francis of Assisi, who was born there in 1182 and died there in 1226. St. Francis founded the Franciscan religious order in 1208, and St. Clare (Chiara d’Offreducci), the founder of the Poor Sisters.




Mitchell and Phoebe in Assisi


The “living nativity” across from the Papal Basilica of St. Francis


Miranda, Liza, and Hallie in Assisi


The view looking up to Assisi at night.

On our way to Siena we stopped in Montepulciano, a medieval and Renaissance hill town well known for its wine.



Sampling the Vino Nobile was required.



On to Siena…

The Siena Cathedral, begun in the 12th century, is one of the great examples of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture. Its main façade was completed in 1380.


Liza in the Siena Cathedral


Inside the cathedral is the famous Gothic octagonal pulpit by Nicola Pisano (1266–1268) supported on lions, and the labyrinth inlaid in the flooring, traversed by penitents on their knees.




The Duomo of the Siena Cathedral

The Palio di Siena is a traditional medieval horse race run around the Piazza del Campo twice each year. Horses and riders represent the seventeen contrade, or city neighborhoods, originally formed as battalions for the city’s defense. The jockeys ride bareback, circling the Piazza del Campo three times, and the race usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. It is common for jockeys to be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza and, consequently, to see  unmounted horses crossing  the finish line.


Since we weren’t there during the Palio season, I took a break in the Piazza del Campo.

After that… Cooking class in Siena!

IMG_5696 IMG_5699

On the way to Orvieto…



And the annual Umbria Jazz Festival!

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 Tivoli Gardens!



And then south to Sorrento!



Our villa in Sorrento


Then to Pompeii…







Phoebe in Naples



And finally… Rome!


Fontana del Pantheon


Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in the Piazza Navona


Heatherly, Phoebe, Miranda, Liza, Hallie


Phoebe and Liza


Miranda, Phoebe, Liza, Tosca (our guide), Hallie, Abby, Mitchell


Hamming it up in the Pantheon

Here’s a fun international activity… Let’s throw our sisters out the hotel window!




Miranda, Liza, Phoebe, Hallie


Liza had a great year in Italy, and we had an unforgettable trip visiting her.

She’s now a freshman at Vassar College in New York.


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