Did the semester really start almost a month ago? Inconceivable!

I’m ashamed to admit I have been so overwhelmed by how much catching up I need to do that I have continued in my procrastination and only put myself more behind. For a while, I might make it a habit to touch on one current thing that’s going on and another that passed by un-blogged in the past twenty-nine days.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s try this again.

Hello there, Tuscany.

Well hello there, Tuscany!

Ciao a tutti!

My name is Shelby Stillwell; I’m a sophomore currently studying in Italy with the OU in Arezzo program. I am a history nerd and bookworm, a writer and a former theatre kid (though it never really leaves your system). I love stories and adventure, and am on a mission to make my own story one big adventure.

I am currently double-majoring in International Studies and Broadcasting and Electronic Media. After college, I am hoping to go into either International Education (Study Abroad councilor? Educational tour guide? World history teacher?) or Travel Media (Travel Channel? National Geographic? Lonely Planet’s digital media branch?) or some kind of creative combination of the both, which I have yet to imagine. Clearly I don’t have it all exactly figured out yet, but I’m only a sophomore, and I’m working on it. If I have any revelations about it throughout the semester, I’m sure you’ll get to read all about it.

I’m going to leave you at this for now, and if you have managed to get all the way through this introduction I applaud you! I promise it will all pick up from here. I still have to retrospectively tell you about Joust Week, a weekend trip to Cinque Terre, and generally what it’s like to be living in Tuscany (Oh my goodness, am I seriously living in Tuscany??) plus all the adventures to come.

But for now, I have to get back to my homework–yes, studying actually is a part of Studying Abroad, oddly enough.

“Live long and prosper!”
Shelby Stillwell

Buongiorno tutti! As my time in Italy comes to a close, I find myself vaguely nostalgic. I’ve seen so many interesting things and met so many awesome people, it almost seems a shame that I have to leave.

Friday we had our final exam for my Italian course, I finished up both my 10-page internship research paper AND my 10-page art history paper, and I gave a quick presentation on what my internship experience in Italy has been like. Otherwise, I was only been packing my bags and getting ready to hop on a train tomorrow to Rome.

I successfully bought gifts for all my family members and taken more pictures than I probably needed to, but as many of the students here are fond of saying, you never know if you’ll come back. (I, of course, will be coming back. No doubts.)

We ended the night with a party at the Eden, where I saw that movie earlier in the summer with my host family. Actually, host families were able to come to the going away party, so everyone was there.

The infamous Eden.

Yes, that’s a bar over a pool.

Kirsten with my host mom, Tiziana.

Everybody is having a good time!

We had a buffet style dinner and lots of drinks and it was absolutely beautiful. 

Be jealous.

After ‘partying hard’ at the Eden, some of us left to go hang out at MyWay Bar and then Caffé dei Costanti, which is known as ‘that place with the lights.’

Cale with his host brother, Ricardo.

Luca and I with McClane creepin’ in the background.

See, look at the pretty lights!

Last night out!

So yeah, there were lots of tears and mournful goodbyes. It was emotionally devastating for some, especially those who had to leave at midnight (Like Cinderella!). But it was an awesome experience and we all had an amazing time in Italy. For anyone who’s thinking of going to Italy, this is challenge to do so. I promise you won’t regret it.

Ciao Italia, 2012


Hey team,


Jason and I have been in Arezzo six weeks today, and I am just getting the blog sorted out. (Perhaps already becoming a little more Italian …)

We are here with Victor (our one-year-old) for a year of teaching and supporting the OUA program. The summer Ciao!Italia program led by Jason concludes on Friday, and with that, we bid arriverderci to 18 of the hippest young travelers I know.

Those of you who followed me at peregrinatio in 2005 will know how happy I am to have an outlet like this for writing about our experiences abroad. There is something more literary about blogging than simply updating one’s Facebook profile like a maniac.

So, I’ll be working on this blog, and plan to share lots of stories, recounting successes and frustrations as we move through this year in Arezzo. I also have a new digital Canon Elph, and will be sharing plenty of pictures.

a dopo!


Buongiorno tutti! Today was a lovely day with cloud cover and a slight wind, which was nice since the last time I went to Siena, I was basically cooked alive.

We headed off at 8:00 am on the bus (not a train! I’m shocked!) and it took us about an hour and 15 minutes to get to Siena. We started off the day with a trip to the Duomo, which was constructed around the end of the 13th century and beginning of the 14th century. They were going to add on to it, but then there was the flooding, the famine, the bankruptcy, all cumulating in the Plague. So yeah, that never got completed. It’s still pretty epic though.


Altar Space at the Duomo!

Dome and Bell Tower!

After the Duomo, we walked across the way to the museum of the Duomo, which has Duccio’s Maesta and other cool pieces of art that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of.

However, we were able to climb to the top of the façade tower and get some great pictures of Siena from high vantage point.

Il Campo!

Siena from on high.

Oh, hello. It's me!

After this, we walked over Il Campo and broke for lunch. Of course, my host mother made lunch for me, so I got to have tuna and tomato on real Tuscan bread (my host mother emphasizes this fact). After lunch, we went to the Crypt of the Duomo (Disappointing. There weren’t any dead people.) and the Baptistry. Which had some pretty cool stuff inside.

Some fountain thing!

Some amazing art thing!

Following the amazing Baptistry adventure, we all met up at the Siena Municipal Building and headed upstairs (everything is stairs in Siena. It’s kind of annoying. For example:


We went through the fresco series, which tell the history of Siena and show the secular and religious influences on the political world during its time as an independent city-state. Look up the frescos called the Allegory of Good and Bad Government. It’s extremely cool.

Then we just wandered around Siena for an hour, looking for gelato and randomly chatting. It was nice, mainly because of the very helpful cloud cover. Seriously, it was a Godsend.

Then we left at 4:30 pm, returned to Arezzo around 5:45 pm, and I headed home to get some work done on the papers that I have due on Friday. Yeah, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Interesting Stories of the Day:

  • After lunch we had some time to shop around and we ended up going inside this awesome candle shop. They actually hold the patents for some of the candles that they make, and they were working on creating a new candle while we were there.

So talented!

  • At the museum they had some gargoyles that used to be on the Duomo. Some of the were particularly creepy. Like this one.

Why does it have to have a human face?!

  • At the Duomo, they have the popes carved into the upper parts of the walls. There’s probably a name for it but I don’t know what it is. Anyway, I found Jesus and Peter, the first Pope!

There they are!

  • They also had a music library filled with the old music books, all of which were hand made from sheep skin with gold leafing. They used to prop them up in front of the choir so that everyone could read them, which is why they are so big.
So. Cool.
A dopo!

Ciao tutti! Today is the 14th of July and though in Italy that is not a big deal, it is in Arezzo and the surrounding towns. Let me give you some background.

During World War II, Italy was very messed up. We had the Germans occupying Italy, fascism getting its time in the spotlight, and concentration camps popping up like daises. It was not a good time.

It especially was not a good time for Arezzo. They were occupied by the Germans and under heavy fire from the bombs of the Allied troops, who were trying to liberate the city.

It was July of 1944, and the German troops were being slowly forced to withdraw towards the north. Many Aretini had gone into the surrounding villages to wait out the bombs and the troops and thought themselves safe. They were very wrong.

The German troops had been ordered to show no mercy and disregard the Geneva Convention and normal rules of war to brutalize the civilian population. In the darkness of the morning, on July 14th, the Germans went through the surrounding towns and forced civilians to march towards San Polo, killing any who resisted.

On the hill outside of San Polo, the soldiers separated the men from the women and children, taking the men down into the Villa Mancini, a house that was occupied by the Germans. They then proceeded to accuse the men of being partisans (Italian resistance fighters) and tortured them in an attempt to gain confessions from them.

Villa Mancini.

They were brutally beaten with rubber hoses and subjected to other forms of torture. In the end, the men were taken to a nearby field and forced to dig pit graves. They were put in three groups. One of the groups was lucky; they were shot in the head and then tossed in one of the three mass graves. The others were buried alive with explosives in their pockets, eventually dying from asphyxiation. They were then blown apart.

48 men were killed at the Villa Mancini and 17 people, some women and children, were killed on the march to San Polo. No one was allowed to bury the dead.

You can see why this is such an important event in the community. It is a tragedy that touched so many families, but it is not well known, even within the immediate community. It is just too painful for those affected by it to talk about.

But a man whose grandfather experienced this horror decided that he was going to tell the story again, getting it out to a larger audience. He directed a documentary movie about the event and we were lucky enough to see it. One of the OU students had actually been creating English subtitles for it during his internship, so we were able to comprehend the story and understand its meaning.

Waiting for the film to start.

A few words from the director.

After we watched the film, a group of us went up to the Villa Mancini, where they have a memorial service every year. There was an amazing trumpet player that performed a lovely piece and there were also soldiers and police there to honor the fallen. We then laid flowers on the monument that has been erected next to the field where the men were murdered and buried by the German soldiers.

Walking to the memorial.

The tomb that was erected in honor of the victims.

The field where the victims dug their own graves.

It was a very moving ceremony, even if it was pretty short. Afterwards, we shuttled back to Arezzo and I went home. At the very least, it was an exhausting day.

Interesting Stories of the Day:
  • The only people who came into my internship today were Americans. My supervisor was very happy because it meant that she didn’t have to try and speak English to them. She says it makes her nervous. Honey, I know exactly how you feel.
  • When I was going home, I stopped for gelato with Alex and Sean. Alex said something very true: “Gelato is the gateway drug to all Italian desserts.” Yes, Alex. Yes, it is.
A dopo!

Ciao tutti! I hope you all are having wonderful air-conditioned days, wherever you are. Today was a lovely day with a heat that burned immensely. It was good times.

But really it was very fun. I liked Florence a lot when I was there with JTI and it was just as cool this time, especially since I actually knew where we were going almost all the time.

The day started off at 7:30 am at the train station in Arezzo. My host mother made me some breakfast and sent me off with a nice sack lunch (tuna sandwich. Yum!) and we left on the 7:45 am train to Florence.

Train stations are always busy.

It's like the lottery!

Arriving at the train station, we immediately made our way towards the Palazzo Rucellai, where we met up with a professor there who went to grad school with Professor Houston. He was pretty awesome and specialized in Renaissance history, so he had a lot to say about the political situation during the time.

It's a school now!

I don't know what's happening, but they're definitely Greek.

After looking around the Palazzo, we all headed to Santa Croce, though we stopped by some familiar sights on the way there. It didn’t even matter, because it was just as awesome the second time as it was the first. So we saw all this coolness.

The Duomo!

Municipal Building!


Church of Santa Croce!

And inside the church were…

The Tomb of Galileo!

And the Tomb of Michelangelo!

Following Santa Croce, we walked to San Lorenzo so that we could eat lunch and walk around the leather market. So we went inside the indoor market and ate, then walked into the chaos of the leather market outside. Some people spent all their money and literally had nothing left. Those who know me know that that did not happen to me.

After spending an hour and a half at the leather market, we met to go over to the Academia, where Michelangelo’s David is located. Once more, I was not able to take pictures, but it is just as impressive the second time as it is the first.

Then we all walked out and down the street, getting gelato at the place run by Sicilians. It was really good and their fruit and nut gelato were the best.

So those of us who were not staying the night walked over to the train station, hopped on the train, and headed home. I’ve had some chicken, green beans, and bread for dinner, and I’m probably just going to chill tonight. Florence was exhausting.

Interesting Stories of the Day:

  • So one of the girls realized when we got to Santa Croce that her purse was missing from her bag. Which has all of her money and credit card. So there was this mess with trying to cancel the card and stuff. Then we found out that the purse was found by the police on the train, so that was good. It’s still up in the air if all her stuff is in it, but at least it didn’t get far.
  • At the Palazzo Rucellai, there was a summer performing arts program going on with students from Santa Barbara in California. So we were treated to the lovely sounds of classical music as we toured the building.

They were very talented.

  • Also, there was the guy at the leather market that I bought something from and we got to talking. He asked what I was doing in Italy, and I told him I was studying Italian. He said that I should get Rosetta Stone because it’s a very good program. I told him that if I was going to get Rosetta Stone, I’d probably get it for Arabic and then he said, “Oh, you’re also studying Arabic? Ahlan.”And I just freaked out! He then pulls his computer out of nowhere and pulls up all the languages he has on Rosetta Stone. He had 27! It was ridiculous. His name was Matteo and he is now my new best friend.
A dopo!


Buongiorno tutti! It is hot and I am tired, but more importantly, Assisi!! That’s right! The home of St. Francis himself (or San Francesco if you’re Italian).

The day started out with a train at 9:00 am, so I said goodbye to Melinda and Elizabeth (who were still able to sleep, lucky jerks), and headed off to the station to meet up with the rest of the Ciao Italia group.

After taking a nice train ride (1½ hours), we arrived at the Assisi train station (which in reality is part of a suburb of Assisi called Maria degli Angeli).



We then visited the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the inside, but it reminded me a lot of my old parish at home, St. Ann’s. It had the same feel. And smell. All churches smell the same. It’s kind of weird.


Saint Francis!

See that monster church? That's Santa Maria.

But anyway. After that, we hopped on a bus to get as close to the Rocco d’Assisi as possible. Of course, this was still a difficult climb, especially since it was ridiculously hot. But the view at the top was so worth it.

Oh, Assisi...

Valley behind Assisi.

Rocco (Fortress) of Assisi.

Oh, and this is Professor Houston.


Hi, Professor!

After walking around the super cool castle (that was once a fortress, but it was really more against the people of Assisi because they didn’t like the people who ‘ruled’ them) we headed downwards to grab some lunch.

After lunch, we walked over to the Basilica di San Francesco. It is really beautiful and there are in fact two churches. One is above the other. Basically, there was so much stuff that they wanted to put in that they couldn’t fit it in the church that was already there. So they built another one. Go figure.


It was really interesting.

And had a monastery!

Following the Basilica, we wandered down to the bus station, grabbed one back to the train station and then waited around for an hour for the 5:17 pm train. We happened to end up in an air-conditioned carriage (Grazie a Dio!) and most of us promptly fell asleep. Walking around Assisi was absolutely exhausting.

I then waited around in Piazza Guido Monaco for my host family. Since I didn’t actually know what my host mother looked like, and she didn’t know what I looked like, I hoped that my luggage and lost expression would be a clue. And it was!

I was picked up and taken to their apartment (which, by the way, is very nice). I had this amazing chicken salad sandwich (I think?) for dinner and then collapsed into bed. After a very nice chat in Italian. ^_^

Interesting Stories of the Day:

  • When we wandered inside Santa Maria degli Angeli, they were having mass. I kind of felt like a horrible person for not participating. Catholic guilt for the win.
  • We kept running into these University of Minnesota (?) students. At the Rocco, at lunch, it was ridiculous. They were very nice though.
  • Also, the oldest picture of Saint Francis is located inside the Basilica di San Francesco. All the drawings inside were originally done by Cimabue, but later his student, Giotto, was commissioned to go over his work with a more ‘modern’ style. Giotto did this, but left Cimabue’s Saint Francis alone, even though it kind of looks out of place with what was put next to it. It was commissioned sooner after Saint Francis’ death than any other representation of him, making it, most likely, the closest to the reality of how he looked during life.
A dopo!

Buongiorno tutti! Saturday was the day of the Giostra del Saracino, a jousting tournament that has been held in Arezzo for centuries. And it was super cool!!

So yes, the joust. The joust has been a thing in Arezzo possibly as early as the 13th century, and was definitely around by the 14th century. In fact, Dante mentioned it in his Divine Comedy.

La Giostra del Saracino!

Unfortunately, as time went on it became less popular, and by the 18th century it was no longer in practice in its original form. But in 1931, the town of Arezzo decided to restart the tradition in a mock form, using dummies instead of actual opponents.

It's a dummy!

Now the town of Arezzo is divided up into four quartiere, or neighborhoods; Santo Spirito, San Andrea, del Foro, and Crucifera. Each quartiere has two jousters who each get one run at the dummy. They measure points by how well the jouster hits the target, which has points from 1 to 5. It looks like this.

Upper right side.

If the jousters drops his lance, he gets 0 points. If he gets hit by the mace the dummy is holding, they lose 1 point off their original hit. If they break their lance, they get double points. Once the jouster hits the target, it is immediately taken down so that no one can see it and the judges can look at it and decided what the score should be. The winner gains the coveted prize, the golden lance.

So the first thing that happened was a cannon going off at 7 this morning. We didn’t wake up, but it was on the schedule, so I assume it happened. But we were awake for the 11 o’clock parade. Our room at the hotel is on the first floor with a balcony terrace facing the road, so we had a perfect view.

Working the feather hat.

Banners of the different quartiere.

Totally legit drummers.

After that, we basically lazed around all day in preparation for the actual joust at night. So we ate some dinner (Cheeseburger!) and headed over to the Center to meet up with the rest of the OU students. And then there happened to be another parade!

The handcrafted golden lance.

San Andrea archers.

Flag bearer. No shame.

Super awesome page girl from Santo Spirito.

Following that, we grabbed our tickets and headed over to the Piazza Grande, where they had set up this huge stadium-thing for the joust.

It was big...

...very big.

They started off with the entrance of the drums and trumpets…

Very talented.

…followed by the ‘court’…

They're all teenagers!

…followed by the judges.

Who wore creepy robes.

To shake things up, they then brought in the acrobatic flag bearers. They were super awesome with their doing backflips over flags and stuff. Just look.

Under the legs!

Off the flagstaffs!

And TADA!!!

Then came the colorful flag bearers, and let me tell you, band color guards have nothing on these guys. They were a’tossin’. And a’twirlin’. Good times.



It's like a rainbow!

After the flag bearers did their thing, the ‘announcer’ read off the poem that speaks of the great battle between the Saracens and the Aretini. I didn’t understand it, but the people in the audience all yelled out the same things at the same times during his speech, so I assume they knew it really well. And then it was finally time for the joust to begin!

Go, Horsie, Go!!

The first jouster was from San Andrea and though I couldn’t see what he hit in time, I assumed it was very good from the team, who broke into hysterics and threw themselves at each in joy. And then immediately got into a fistfight with a different team.

Yes, the police got involved.

Each subsequent team went, reacting with joy or despair appropriately. In the first round there were two dropped lances by del Foro and Crucifera, leading to large amounts of angst. San Andrea got a 5 and Santo Spirito got a 4.

After half time, the next jousters from each quartiere went, and though there were no dropped lances, there were some not-so-hot scores. San Andrea went first, gaining 3 more points, which, though respectable, was not enough the guarantee them the victory. del Foro got a disappointing 2 and then Santo Spirito blew away the crowd with a 5! Unless Crucifera broke a lance on the 5 mark, Santo Spirito was assured victory.

And indeed, victory was theirs! Crucifera ended the joust with a 4, leading to Santo Spirito being declared the winner of this joust!

After the screaming and crying at the stadium, the winning quartiere walked over to the Duomo of Arezzo to be blessed by the Archbishop. I imagine this is what churches were like back in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. A huge party!


Drum core on the high altar...umm...

Church is at full capacity!

We then walked back to the hotel, tired yet wired, and ended up asleep by about 2 in the morning. It was definitely one of the coolest experiences that I’ve ever had, and something that everyone should see at some point in their life.

Interesting Stories of the Day:

  • Instead of going to Ristoburger, we were originally going to try to go to DLF, this cafeteria buffet type of place. The map said it was by the train station and so we walked over there. And found a parking lot. With abandoned warehouses. We decided to leave.
  • The little page boy for del Foro kept playing air drums when the drum core would play, which was absolutely adorable. I’m sure he’ll grow up to do that in the later jousts.

Drummer in training!

  • There was also a soccer game going on at the same time, so people had to choose what they wanted to watch. Unless you were these guys. Then you just watched both.


...so not fair.

A dopo!!


This weekend was awesome! Myself and 6 other girls from OUA went to Venice this weekend for Carnevale. It was so much fun. I’ll give you a short run down of all of the things we got to do and see while we were there!

We left on Thursday February 16th after everyone was finished with their classes, and we got to Venice at about 9. We checked into our hotel and went to sleep so we could be rested for exploring Venice on Friday.

On Friday we left the hotel at about 9 and got the main part of Venice shortly after that. It was everything I imagined it would be. The sky was blue, the houses were gorgeous, and the canals were stunning.


Our first destination was the Rialto Bridge, which is the main bridge in Venice. On our way to the bridge we stopped and took a gondola ride!

Me, Katie, Elisandra, and Amanda on the Gondola

Me, Katie, Elisandra, and Amanda on the Gondola

After our gondola ride we crossed the bridge and headed over to San Marcos. San Marcos is the major piazza in Venice. In San Marcos there were tourists, people in costume, live music, vendors, and amazing buildings to look at.

Elaborate costumes for Carnevale

Elaborate costumes for Carnevale

Katie and I representing OU in San Marcos!

Katie and I representing OU in San Marcos!

We wondered around (using the buddy system of course) and took lots of pictures. After that we went to the Doge’s palace, which was elaborate and spectacular. Then we did some shopping and walked around some more, had dinner and went back to the hotel.

Saturday, we got up early again and headed back to Venice. We started off with a tour of the Ca’Rezzinico which is a famous Venetian house.


Then we bought a ticket for the water bus, and headed over to the island of Murano. Murano is famous for it’s glass production. On Murano we had lunch, took a tour of the glass museum and did a lot of shopping.

Amazing glass sculpture on Murano

Amazing glass sculpture on Murano

After Murano, we went to Burano. Burano is an even smaller island where fishermen live. What is unique about Burano is that all of the houses are different colors, and the island is also famous for it’s lace production. By the time we left Burano it was getting dark so we went back to the hotel to change and get ready for the evenings festivities. We all got dressed up and put on our Venetian masks. Once were back in Venice we wondered around and admired everyone’s costumes. It was a lot of fun.

On Sunday we came back to Arezzo. It’s funny how much Arezzo feels like home now, and how we were all a little home sick. It was an amazing weekend, and I’m so glad I got to experience it.


My name is Tyler and I am studying in Arezzo, Italy for the spring 2012 semester. I am going to try and post once a week about all of the fun and exciting things going on here at the OUA campus.

Yesterday, February 15th, Kirk Duclaux’s Art History class and Dr. Stephenson’s music class took a trip to Florence. It was cold, but really wonderful. We went to Santa Croce and saw the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo. We also saw some beautiful art.

Art History Class

Art History Class

We did a lot of walking around Florence, and we got to admire all of the stunning architecture. After class was over we had some free time, so of course some of the girls and I went and did a little shopping. We bought masks for Carnevale and some beautiful scarves. After our trip to Florence we came back to OUA and had a Getting to Know Arezzo class. We discussed religion in Italian culture, and we heard the story of the Madonna Del Conforto. The Madonna Del Conforto is what the Aretini (people from Arezzo) believe saved them from an earthquake back in the 1700′s and ever since then they line up at the Duomo and pay respects on February 15th.

The crowd of people viewing the Madonna Del Conforto inside the Duomo di Arezzo

The crowd of people viewing the Madonna Del Conforto inside the Duomo di Arezzo

So after we heard the story we went to the Duomo to see the Madonna. It was a very unique and special experience.

This weekend almost all of the students here are going to Venice for Carnevale! For more information about the history and customs of Carnevale check out this website  – http://www.venetianmasksshop.com/history.htm

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