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February 24, 2010 > More than a Roman Holiday

More than a Roman Holiday

High schoolers sing at the Vatican on New Year's Day

By Praveena Raman
Photos By Ron Fong, Rich Henderson, David Cao and Mekala Raman

Recently Mission San Jose High School (MSJHS) Band, Orchestra and Chorale had the privilege of touring Italy and participating by invitation in the American Bands in Rome and Frascati festivals. The Chorale students on their maiden tour abroad had the honor of performing together with orchestra at the Vatican on New Year's Day. Besides Rome, Vatican and Frascati they also visited Naples, Pompeii and Florence.

Rome (Colosseum, Roman Forum, Piazza Del Popolo, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon) and the Vatican:

On December 26, 102 MSJHS students, chaperones and parents embarked three different flights to Rome starting a 10 day exciting and intensive performance tour of Italy. On arriving we were met at the airport by our guide Robbie Gagliardi and taken by coach to the Villa Carpegna, our base for the next 10 days. By the time our group arrived, the first group had already settled in and had explored the pizzerias, gelaterias and grocery stores within walking distance of the hotel. After an orientation meeting we were treated to a traditional Italian dinner consisting of 3 courses - pasta, meat and vegetables or a plate of cheese for vegetarians and dessert. We had our first cultural education that evening when we found out that Italians have a slow drawn out dinner lasting about 2 hours.

The days on our trip started with an American breakfast early in the morning, followed by a day of sightseeing or performance or both, with a few hours of independent lunch, exploration and shopping and ending with a traditional Italian dinner in the evening.

The second day in Rome, a beautiful sunny day, was spent touring the Vatican where a group of us had our first adventure. We were dropped off in the Vatican square, a circular area in front of St. Peter's Basilica. We then explored the Basilica and the Tomb of the Popes. The Basilica with its chapels was gorgeous with paintings on the walls and ceiling. The Tomb of the Popes was also interesting but the Vatican museum took our breath away in more ways than one. The museum itself was very crowded and we had to make an effort to stay in our group. After an introduction into the history we started the tour, walking down hallways and rooms filled with gorgeous sculptures, paintings and frescos of biblical stories on the walls and ceilings by master artists including Michelangelo and Raphael. The mosaic patterns on the floors were beautiful and sculptures of masks adorned the columns. The tour guide took us quickly through and left us at the Sistine Chapel which also was filled with paintings. While exiting the chapel a group of us took the wrong exit and got lost. As we waited for the rest of the group a few more lost students joined us. After some time, realizing we were on our own, we started to trace our steps back to the Basilica. On the way we met the others returning to the bus we were quite relieved to be ensconced safely in the group again albeit 40 minutes late. From the Vatican we were driven to the Piazza Del Popolo where we enjoyed delicious pizzas for lunch and then visited the Spanish Steps, which extends from the Piazza di Spagna at the bottom where there is a fountain to the Piazza Trinita dei Monti and the trinita dei Monti church.

Day 3 dawned gray and rainy. We boarded the bus and went on a panoramic tour of Rome. Later in the morning with raincoats, ponchos and umbrellas we braved the weather and went on a guided walk of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. As we walked through the Colosseum, taking shelter under its arches, we took in the history and saw the partially exposed underground cells where gladiators had been held with the arena where they fought right on top. All around us were the seats where the Romans would sit daily to view these fights cheering the winners while the losers fell to their deaths. From the Colosseum we walked on pebbled pavements through the ruins of the Roman Forum which had been the religious, political, judicial and economic center of the Roman Empire. The Forum included the Regia where Julius Cesar's body was brought after his murder and cremated. Statues and frescoes were also seen in the Forum.

After the walk in the Forum we visited Trevi Fountain. Many of us had delicious gelatos before shopping for curios, the most popular being artifacts of Pinocchio. After wishing at the Trevi Fountain we walked to the Pantheon, the ancient temple of Rome that was later converted to the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres. Many prominent Italians including Raphael are buried here and it also remains an active church. The visit to the Pantheon was followed with some delicious Ciocolata Calda (hot chocolate) and cappuccino. The hot chocolate in Italy is very different from the American version. It is very thick and is given in a small quantity. The best Ciocolata Calda is one where the spoon can bounce on it. The Cafes serving this special Ciocolata Calda have a round machine that keeps it swirled and offer many different flavors. Dianne Kavanagh, a parent on the tour, maintains that rum and orange are the best flavors.

The trip continues in Part II next week...

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