Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fall Semester 2009

We had a great semester in Sicily during the ICCS-CET Sicily study abroad program for Fall 2009. I want to thank program participant Dana Lindauer for faithfully chronicling our semester in this blog. The group arrived on September 2nd and hit the ground running with our two visiting faculty Professors Ian Sutherland and Marco Zangari. After a few days of orientation and an excursion on Mt. Etna classes started up at a frenetic pace and did not let up until our trip to Africa in week 7.

Group at Mt. Etna with geologist Sandro Privitera
during Orientation.

Group during orientation

The trip to Tunisia is often cited as a highlight by students and this year was no different. Being able to see and touch Roman mosaics in-situ and stroll Roman streets in well-preserved towns in the hinterland of northern Tunisia make for a wonderful experience. Our mini-tour in Tunisia is all work and no play but we would not have it any other way. The Roman sites of Bulla Regia and Dougga are gems of Roman archaeology but without the hordes of Pompei. We also visit the remains of Carthage and then spend a few hours marveling at the Roman mosaics collection at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Before returning to Catania we spend a few days in Western Sicily visiting some Greek, Phoenician and Norman sites.

Roman theater at Dougga in Tunisia.

Statue at Mozia in Sicily.

Norman Cathedrale at Monreale near Palermo.

After our long trip we had a few more days of classes and then the students were rewarded with a much needed semester break. During the month of November a few of us took part in the extraordinary activity of hiking around Europe's tallest active volcano for two days and one cold night. When we arrived at our cabin at the end of day one we were tired, cold and hungry. We ate by the cozy fire place and told funny stories. At about 9PM we heard a quick knocking at the door and our hearts sank. Our already cramped quarters were invaded by 6 more hikers who in perfect local custom began preparing a four course meal that would make a chef blush. The students and myself found flat, protected ground outside the cabin and slowly fell into a chilly, restless slumber. The sun could not have come soon enough and we were off to complete our circumnavigation of Mt. Etna. It was a magical experience all in all and we were so lucky to have local geologist, Sandro Privitera as our guide.

View of Mt. Etna on day two of our hike.

I had a great time getting to know the group this semester and I have so many wonderful memories of our time together.

Final group dinner on December 16th.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Week 5

November 21 and 22

A fellowship of nine set off into the wilderness of Mt. Etna for a 30km trek. Sandro, our guide from our first visit to Mt. Etna, led us across lava flows and through forests as we went from the north east slope to the southern. We never gained much elevation so we just set a moderate pace and got to have a break from city views and see the natural world of Sicily at its best. The landscape of the volcano is stunning and surreal. We switched suddenly from forest to desolate lava filled landscapes in a second and could literally see the line where the lava hit the forest. For much of the walk the snow capped crater was visible above the trees.

The first day we were driven up to Linguaglossa. We hiked around the 2002 lava flow and Sandro showed us some lava bombs (rock spewed from craters and fissures) and a lava tube (a long narrow cave). So much of the rock showed the ripples of the lava. A few dead trees with white trunks were dramatically scattered across the vista and the only sign of life was low-lying shrubs and a few ladybugs. In contrast, the forests were beautiful and looked like New England in fall. Most of the leaves had already fallen leaving a red carpet though there were a few trees that still had spectacular yellow foliage.

On Saturday night we stayed at one of the many refuges around the volcano. We reached ours at sunset and started a fire in the dark. We ate foil dinners of lasagna (quickly prepared by Kayla, Hilah, Hannah and I the night before) with a side dish of beans, veggies and lots of cheese. Later in the evening another group of hikers showed up at the door. It was already pretty late and cold out so they joined us for the night making a group of fourteen in our very small shelter. We thought that our dinner had been quite a feast, but it was nothing compared to what the Italians cooked. They had brought raw chicken and sprigs of rosemary along with other seasonings and even a full cake to celebrate one of their friend’s birthdays.

Because the room was getting crowded and this was Kayla’s first overnight hike, Hilah, Hannah, Kayla and I decided to sleep under the stars. Though it was freezing (not literally) and we didn’t get any sleep, we did see a few shooting stars, the Milky Way and we heard two owls eerily calling to each other in the middle of the night. We had all had such a great hike the day before that we were eager and willing to get up from our night of little sleep and start up again. Everyone was brutally sore by the end of 30km and ready to shower and take a nap, but it was a fantastic weekend.

Hilah, Alan, Kayla and Sandro hiking at dusk with Mt. Etna is the distance

Monday, November 30, 2009

Week 4

During September I was able to settle into a pattern of life in Catania. Every week promised a class schedule similar to that of college at home, a fun filled Friday field trip and some sort of adventure on the weekend. October completely veered from that pattern. First there was our weekend trip to Agrigento and Selinunte, then our week trip to Tunisia and western Sicily and lastly our five day fall break. For our free time I went to Malta with Hilah and Hannah and other people traveled all across Europe to Florence, Croatia, Copenhagen, London, Dublin and Paris. Everyone had a great time. I am pretty sure I spent a large portion of my travels saying “Malta is awesome.” The sentiment remains. In addition to all of these travels October brought midterms. To say the least, October was busy.

Now we have resettled into our pre-October patterns. The past two weekends have been relaxing. The first weekend back from break we went to Syracuse. In Syracuse we visited the Museo Archeologico Regionale di Paolo Orsi. Though it was our third visit I went into two areas of the museum where I hadn’t made it the past two times. After the museum we went to the Archeological Park and saw the Greek theater, amphitheater, quarry and the giant altar of Hieron. Then we went to the fortifications at Euryalus. The fort was built on the plateau encircling Syracuse that would have been the easiest access point for enemies. One of the ditches still remains in addition to some tunnels and part of the keep. We got to climb up walls and wander around the tunnels. The architecture of the fortification was complex and it was interesting to explore the tunnels and find trap doors overhead. Also, there were terrific views of Syracuse, Ortygia and the oil refineries around Megara Hyblaea from on top of the walls. It was a pretty relaxed day and it was nice to be done by around 4pm. Saturday and Sunday were free of plans and we all took the time to relax and cook a homemade meal in our dormitory for an early Sunday dinner.

Amphitheater, Syracuse

Looking down on tunnel system at Euryalus Castle.

This past weekend we went to Morgantina and Enna for our Mediterranean Cultures trip and then on Saturday we went to Acicastello for a delicious lunch. At Morgantina we discussed some domestic architecture and then the structuring of a Greek agora (central area of a town). There were a few well preserved mosaics, but they didn’t begin to compare with those at Bulla Regia or at the Bardo Museum. The one mosaic with a figure, it depicted Ganymede, was in an enclosed building and could only barely be viewed through the glass. An extra highlight for our time at Morgantina was the discovery of a liter of five 15 day old puppies. After visiting Morgantina we went to a small museum for around an hour and then headed off to Enna. Enna was the site of the largest sanctuary to Demeter and Persephone in the Greek Mediterranean. Though nothing remains of the sanctuary, the outcropping of rock provides amazing views of the area. Enna is located in the heart of Sicily so this sanctuary would have looked over the agricultural core of the region. We enjoyed about thirty minutes of picture taking and the first really chilly fall winds of the semester.

Agora at Morgantina with theater in background.

View from Enna.