Things here at HUF seem to have become busier and busier as the semester comes closer to the end. Since our last message, we have been on our group trip to Sicily and the students have completed their second independent travel to other parts of Europe.
Sicily is like no other place in the world. It has been a crossroad of different cultures for thousands of years, linking different peoples together to form a place so unique that the only thing it could simply be is Sicilian. This Italian island in the Mediterranean is quite literally a place of legends, as it is the mythological home to the cyclopses and land of adventures for the Greek hero Odysseus. As a strategically located trading post, Sicily has been a land of the passerby since the beginning. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Elymians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Turks and Spanish have all called Sicily home at one point in time and their memories still live on as the same island continues to captivate people today.
The Italians call it a "land of contradictions" because right when you think you have Sicily figured out, a curve ball gets thrown at you. The Italians also call it "L'imbarazzante delle scelte," or an embarassment of choices, because Sicily has so much to offer, one simply cannot do it all in one trip. During our trip to Sicily we try to highlight the absolute must see places on one's first trip to the island.
The Straits of Messina were our first stop then the ancient, medieval and modern city of Syracuse. Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples were next where we also enjoyed some time by the water at the Scala dei Turchi, or Turkish Steps. Next we traveled by bus across the island to Monreale and Palermo. We returned to mainland Italy via overnight ferry to Naples. After disembarking the next morning, the entire group elected to use our trip back to Florence as an opportunity to visit the island of Capri in the Bay of Naples.
The following story is a real-life account of Friday, March 17th, 2017 – a day that some HUF students have referred to as “the best day ever.”
After spending the morning in Agrigento for an on-site class exploring some of the largest and best preserved Greek temples in the world, the group hopped back onto our bus and headed to a place known as “La Scala Dei Turchi,” or the Turkish Steps, a beautiful set of white cliffs made of a sedimentary rock called marl which has the appearance of plaster.
Once getting off the bus, we had a group lunch at a restaurant right on the beach where most of us had swordfish (which was very good) before going about fifteen minutes further down the beach to the Steps. We had incredible weather and could not have asked for a sunnier day to spend out by the sea. When approaching the steps, you only can see the one side of them, a large white slope of rock with people walking up. Moving up to the top of the cliffs, there are indentations all along it that make for the perfect spots to lounge in and soak up some rays. Walking along the steps and climbing up to the top made for some great picture opportunities as well as an overall relaxing time after several consecutive busy days of on-site classes.
Being the ever adventurous young boys at heart, some of us decided that we wanted to run along the steps and go all the way down them to a secluded beach on the other side. Shortly after, many of the girls of the group followed. Once one of us got the idea that we should go swimming in the water in 60 degree weather we all had to do it (more than likely it was to impress the ladies). After the initial shock of being submerged in cold water subsided we were able to swim around and have a good time, and we convinced most of the girls to get in the water, too (“convinced”/ “splashed” what’s the difference?). Later we dried off and climbed back up and just spent the rest of our time hanging out and enjoying the beautiful area around us.
If there is one thing I have learned from this experience at HUF, it’s that sometimes the places you know nothing about can become some of your favorite places on earth. This is definitely the case with the Turkish steps and our day there and the fun times together will be something I will never forget.
Hi Mom and Dad. Hi everyone else’s Mom and Dad. We are having the time of our lives and we still don’t want to come home (yet). Ciao for now and see you in less than one month!
–Blake, HUF Student
Student's traveled all over Europe for their second independent travel. France, The Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic were all popular destinations.
I would like to address a few cities that have changed my life within the course of a week.
Munich. You were very good to me. My preconceptions of Germany were a little rough around the edges before I met you, but you showed me that this is the most incredible country I could have ever chosen to spend time with. The Neuschwanstein castle is truly like walking through my favorite childhood fairytale. The evening presented us with delicious food and a walk around the city center. The next morning in Dachau was much more somber and reflective of mankind. Thank you for allowing me to explore worlds I can hardly imagine.
Prague. You were my favorite. You are like the whimsical old-fashioned city I’ve always imagined in another world. You’ve got quite a history, and I was thankful for the cute tour guide who told us some quirky stories and hidden gems about you. I walked about twelve miles to explore how cool you were, from the Charles Bridge to the castle to the Lennon Wall and back again. I hate physical activity, but I would do it again if it meant I got to go back.
Berlin. You were not what I expected. I knew that you had been destroyed and rebuilt over the past several decades, but never had I dreamed you would still be so breathtaking. Our hostel was lively with interesting roommates, and those are memories that will remain with me. Your people are so creative and modern. The East Side Gallery held me captive from one end to the other. P.S. Thank you for the cheap Birkenstocks and an English movie theater so we could see Beauty and the Beast.
Amsterdam. You were a real treat. With less than a day to get to know you, I struggled with how to make the most of my time. We walked around exploring the canals and little shops nearby and found your cool new “I *heart* Amsterdam” sign. I woke up early the last morning to explore the Van Gogh museum. I could have spent hours there with one of my favorite artists, but choosing the museum instead of renting a bike created a long yet beautiful walk back to the station.
Europe. You are continually teaching me. I have learned not to treat my study abroad experience as the only time I will ever be able to check things off my bucket list. This only causes stress and disappointment over the things I didn't do. Instead, I have found that the most rewarding moments are those in which I take a deep breath and embrace the unforgettable experiences I have.
– Maleah, HUF Student
On Tuesday we leave for our last group trip of the semester. We are going to an area of Tuscany called the Casentino, a river valley rich with history and dotted with castles on the hilltops.
Paola and Leda, or "The Ladies," cut up strawberries the afternoon students arrived back at the Villa from independent travels. Paola and Leda help keep the students fed by preparing meals and snacks, using the fresh foods of the season.