Aug 23 – JFK Bound

Today marked the last taste of my European endeavour. Originally, I thought I would be depressed about leaving such a fine continent, but I was content with my stay and felt it was perfect timing to head back across the sea. From Rome we needed to take a bus ride back to Fiumicino airport about 45 minutes away, did some final shopping at the duty free, checked in and boarded for Paris. We got to Paris a little later than expected but made our flight with 20 minutes to spare. It jus so happened we were boarding a double decker Air France air-bus, seating a couple hundred passengers – and very luxurious. All together the trip took 7.5 hours of flight, covering about 3650 miles. It was pleasant knowing we were finally home because I was in need of catching up on rest.

All in all, the Siena program from start to finish was amazing. I had the intentions of  exploring, interacting, and learning a thing or two. Just being present within a foreign environment was a learning experience in itself. Seeing how cultures thrive given the history and urban settings they’ve grown accustom to. Throughout my four years attending NJIT, no semester has taught me more than this summer study abroad. Yes, I’ve learned a vast amount about concepts, precedents, structures, socio-political impacts, sustainability, and the list goes on, but thus far that’s been experienced solely within a classroom through text and visual aid. Until one physically experiences a space with rich history embedded within each building block, it’s all bland information. Until one walks around medieval urban settings, nobody gets a slight idea about the physical reality of such a place.

Despite learning mostly about history, urbanism and the like, the amount of general knowledge from architecture to culture has surpassed any information anybody could possibly attain from a classroom setting. I think the Siena program is not only a fun-filled adventurous program, but an essential endeavour of true architectural understanding. From my professors to my family – Mom, Dad, Grandpa & Grandy, Grandma (up), Grandma (down), Aunt Kim & Uncle Joe, Carol Lerer – I grately appreciate the contributions (instructorial and financial) allowing this experience to happen. . making this a summer experience unprecedented.

Aug 22 – Back home . . in Rome

Our last taste of Barcelona before leaving for the airport to Rome. We hopped on line for Sagrada Familia and did the tour. The building itself is incredible, having an intimidating and cavernous aesthetic, piercing the sky with its 8 slender spires. Remarkably, the building has been in the construction phase for over 125 years. Since 1882 the building has been in the physical realization of its design, making it one of the longest constructed buildings in history. The material of choice was masonry and each individual stone unit was custom in shape and size to accomodate the extravagant building puzzle. The attention to detail varies with this religious dwelling because of it’s monolithic form making it amazing to see.

It was nearing our time to leave if we were to make our flight on time, so we immediately headed towards the elevator which travels up a spire for the upper structure viewing and city viewing. It’s convenient getting an elevator ride to the top but the trip down is through a tight circular stairwell; for those who easily get claustrophobic, should certainly not visit.

After rouding up our group, we set off for the airport, delivered the car back, checked in, and boarded. We didn’t get back to Rome until later in the evening, so we had one final meal, walked around the city, bought essential souvenirs with the little money we had left, checked into our hostel, and called it a night. Tomorrow back to the US of A.

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Aug 21 – Last day of Vaca

Today was the second full day of Barcelona and unfortunately our last. There was still a lot left to see and do, so we mapped out three attractions that were a must-see: Casa Mila by Antoni Gaudi, Torre Calatrava by Santiago Calatrava, and The Forum by Herzog de Meuron. Coincidentally, all three were located far from one another, thus forcing us to venture through the different neighborhoods within the city.

Casa Mila was the first desired destination. Edwin, Moe, Joann, and myself left in pursuit of Gaudi’s hot attraction. After some frustration and a couple U-turns we finally arrived. The building facade is phenomenal, featuring a series of waves protruding at each floorplate, decorated with scrap metal looking balcony railings. The entire building takes form by means of masonry building blocks, each single unit varies in shape and size – making this building an absolute modern marvel. The building exterior is unconventional due to its form and monolithic nature, having one to question the environment within the building. Surprisingly, the interior spaces are comfortable, not cavernous which was my preconceived notion.

After waiting a decent 30 minutes in the scorching heat for admittance inside, we entered and were immediately impressed by interior courtyard and subtle interior environment. After hiking up to the top level, all rooms were open to view, each furnished as originally envisioned. The tour continued into the attic space featuring the exposed catenary roof structure, decked with multiple stations depicting his work, precedents, and structural studies. Lastly, we climbed to the rooftop that steps up and down circling around the courtyard openings. Most notably, located on the rooftop are abstract sculptural figures that certainly bring question to its rooftop occupiers. The figures to me represent abstract human forms stationed at random around the rooftop. Despite if my opinion relates to his initial intention, the figures are very interesting and intimidating at the same time.

After a lengthy visit, taking a ton of pictures, and buying a souvenir we left in search of the Torre Calatrava. To much surprise, the tower is not much of an attraction, as it’s located in a large open complex in the outskirts of Barcelona. After snapping some pictures we left in search of The Forum. It was pleasant driving around gazing at the different sights, buildings, and neighborhood developments. After some time driving around, slowing making our way to The Forum, we were all tired and in no position to walk around, so we snapped some photos in the car and headed towards the apartment. All together we captured well over 100 photos, mostly of Casa Mila, in addition to random photos in between destinations.

After getting to the apartment we rested, went to an outdoor Spanish restaurant literally outside our apartment vestibule and indulged on some excellent food. After filling up and refueling from an adventurous day, we made plans to experience the nightlife of Barcelona located on La Rambla. Good times . .

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Aug 20 – Attractions and beach day

After FINALLY getting a decent sleep, I awoke feeling energized and motivated for the day. It was early morning, Matt and I moved our cars to a street with designated free parking spots. On the walk back we picked up some breakfast essentials and prepared a meal for all of us. We all cleaned up and planned our day out to maximize our daily visit.
 
Our first visit was near the governmental section of Barcelona, featuring buildings for the important city officials. Nearby was the Barcelona Pavilion and naturally we ventured inward. This was not the original setting for Mies van der Rohe’s project but after some collaboration and effort, the installation was reassembled and placed nonchalantly next to a regular looking public parking lot in Barcelona. Seeing this building within architectural history so much in school almost makes it pointless to visit in person because of how small it is, but I was interested in the fine craftsmanship put into all the components and its connections. There were other minor attractions around that we glanced at and then made our way to the beach.
 
After finding parking in a small and tight community, we walked along the beach edge checking out Frank Ghery’s fish sculture – a quick glance and we found a spot on the beach. The setting was nice, filled to the max with locals and tourists, but surprisingly the water was a bit dirty. A couple of us manned up and went inward and swam towards an island of massive concrete cubes where several others were jumping from one to the next. We hopped up on one and jumped from one to the other, in all the little island spread across an area of 200 feet long by 40 feet wide – certainly a very cool attraction. Alongside the island there was a kid in a tube dragged by a guy in a small boat both showing off, impressing the crowd. After hitting one too many waves, the two of them flew off, but the boat was still in motion. Fortunately, the boats steering wheel was turned to the right forcing the boat to continually circle round and around. After 10 minutes of circling, the lifeguards got a hold of it by matching the boats speed and one guard hopping onto it. Everybody on the island became a spectator and loudly applauded the lifeguards daring stunt to cease the boat. We them swam back to shore and spent some time relaxing and catching up on some well needed tanning.

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Aug 19 – Hola Bar’th’elona

I ended up sleeping about two hours until someone woke me at 4:50 am. Being mostly packed, there was no need to rush, so after getting dressed and consolidating my belongings, I checked out of the dorm and followed the group of 12 others to the bus station. The bus arrived on time, so we boarded and we were on our way to Rome. Within Rome we had to take the subway train to the main station Termini where we caught another train to the Fiumicino airport.
 
Joann, Shannon, and I picked a flight after everyone else, so we stayed within the airport premise for several hours before boarding and departing. After the noisy 1.5 hour flight, we retrieved our luggage and picked up our rental Peugeot 207 5-door 5-speed hatchback. It was nice having our own set of wheels to travel at our own leisure. The car itself was relatively new, good condition, but had very little power. The powertrain features a whopping 1.4 liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine delivering probably fractions of a single horsepower to the wheels. Despite the performance equating to that of a snail, it was interesting to drive within the European styled infrastructure.
 
A short half-hour drive and we arrived to the vicinity of our apartment literally across the street from La Sagrada Familia – a church designed by famous architect Antoni Gaudi, still under construction since 1882. It took some time before getting in contact with the others to get in the apartment and unwind. The rest of the evening involved checking out the church from our balcony, a quick kebab dinner, and getting some early shut eye.

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Aug 17 / 18 – Last taste of Siena

The last two days here in Siena was mostly dedicated towards the final project. Our group stayed on course and progressed in a constructive manner, realizing all of the hours flying by. We worked all through the day, into the night and until 10am the next morning – morning of final review. After getting some shut eye for an hour or so, it was time to reconvene and set up the last couple installation props prior to starting presentations. 2pm came around and so did the professors. We were the first to walk through our installation trying to deliver a thorough explanation at each station despite having only a few brain cells operating properly as result of the sleep deprivation.
 
In all I thought our analysis, documentation, and overall presentation was good. Of course there are always areas of improvement, which we understood. As our group stepped down for the next groups presentation, it hit me, that the program was pretty much done – it was a bitter-sweet feeling. After the next couple hours of groups presenting followed by criticism, we did a collaborative studio clean up of the installations.
 
We all had some time to freshen up and relax before heading out as a class to an Italian restaurant – this was our celebration, our last hoorah being in Siena. After dinner most of us automatically planted ourselves within the Campo shell and spent the next couple hours taking in the piazza environment for one last night. Tomorrow, off to Barcelona – bright and early.

Aug 16 – Tartuca Takes the Title!

Originally I planned on waking up early to get a taste of the Palio events, but those dam dormitory beds are way too comfortable – not really. At the crack of dawn the horses and jockies were blessed individually next to the Palazzo Publicco. Not sure if there was much of a turnout but it would have been interesting to watch.
 
It was a scary thought having the final presentation two days from now, so my group met for a couple of hours to continue working on the final installation. Knowing that the crowds were growing each minute made us all eager to get up from the group project and B-line directly to the Campo. We eventually made enough progress where we felt comfortable to call it a day and make our way to the hustle and bustle.
 
When stepping foot outside onto the street, there were little implications of any crowd type nearby. In my head I imagined the Campo to be nearly empty except for the inner fence perimeter – now that it was only 4pm (the horse race being around 7:30 pm). As we neared the main gate into the Campo we got a sense of the crowd and to my surprise it was very dense within the piazza. Immediately, I was accepting the fact that a fence spot was impossible, but I would do my best to lead through the sitting crowd. Even the gates were packed with people standing at the edge to ensure an upclose spot upon final gate closure.
 
We all found a gate somewhat permitting of passerbys, so we walked towards it and squeezed through the cluster of people closing it off. Everywhere you step within the shell you need to tiptoe because all those who have been waiting are sitting spread out to secure their territory. Well, I wasn’t going to resort walking towards the center like any passive spectator would have, instead I found a small spot towards the upper section and stood in front of some people sitting. The rest of the group followed and we scrunched together, standing, hoping for some floor area to open up. Eventually people sitting next to us realized we weren’t going to move so they scootched over and provided some space to sit, so we sat and waited . . and waited . . and waited, until of course a canon shot disrupted the silence. Automatically, everyone gasped for air and chuckled with their neighbors about the explosion happening two seconds prior . . idiots – yes I heard it, no need to ask.
 
It was nearing 6pm and the bleachers were filling up with local contrada members. Groups of about 50 would sit in close proximity with each other and loudly support their contrada – nothing like vocal competition. Hearing the chants from all over truly made the time fly by. The people within my general vicinity all turned around looking up against the nearby building. Surprisingly, the world renown Sting was poking his head out the window – I guess Hollywood has some appreciation for such tradition.
 
The gates were starting to close and at this time, personal space was lacking very much. Had you been standing next to someone with poor hygiene, you wouldn’t just get a smack of odor in the face, you would simply be wearing it. At this point I was maybe 5 feet away from the fence so with some tip-toe action I was able to get decent pictures of the parade that was commencing. The parade starts at one end and finishes at the other, providing a curved train of people dressed in medieval outfits some on foot with tossing flags, and some on horse.
 
The parade features all the current contradas in existence including previous contradas that once thrived within the Sienese walls. Needless to say it took a long time for the parade to finally end, but overall it was a great means of energizing the crowd. After the tail end of the parade left the Campo, the carabinieri circled around the track in similar fashion to yesterdays presence. On the last lap they charged full speed around the track, hovering above their horses, thrusting their swords forward.
 
It was now time for the horses and jockies to made their debut on the track. As they exited the Palazzo Publicco, in a counter-clockwise direction, they passed by their designated contrada bleacher receiving one final good luck chant and pat on the back. Rounding the corner they approached the ropes and the Campo was gradully getting quiet, with people hushing all around. Within a matter of seconds, it was dead silent. Incredibly, in an outdoor space with 35,000+ spectators who were chanting and cheering about a minute ago, were in complete and absolute silence. I was stunned. About fifteen seconds worth of silence ended with the official microphone naming the different contradas for line up. One contrada after another, followed by cheering of each, until all horses with their jockies were lined up for the start. Our professor Jim mentioned to us that its typical for multiple false starts and realigning which, he said can take nearly a half hour until the race actually starts.
 
After all ten horses were in place, there were cries from the crowds nearby because of the taunting among horses and jockies, meaning there were to be another lining up. This instance reoccured again, and again . . and again, until finally some of the jockies were throwing fists at one another – what meant to be a horserace was manifesting into a contrada battle royale. Eventually the jockies cooled down and again they reset along the ropes. I was only able to retrieve glimpses of all the action, capturing some of it on my camera.
 
The crowd finally simmered down and all of a sudden, the horses took off. The entire Campo livened with picture taking, waving of flags, loud chants, and of course a little shoving. After the first lap there were two clear leaders among the pack, Tartuca and Civetta (my contrada). Tartuca remained in first with Civetta nearing prior to each turn after lap two. The last lap these two were one behind the other but Tartuca was able to keep the lead and crossed the ropes as the victor.
 
The canon shot indicating the end of the race and immediately the gates were released and everybody rushed out onto the track. Those within the Tartuca contrada congratulated one another – lots of hugging and jumping for joy. The winning jockey was hoisted onto the shoulders of Tartuca members and several approached and praised him.
 
So what now? It’s tradition among the winning contrada to march to the Duomo, enter inside, bring the jockey to the alter, have him blessed, and march on outward to feast. At this point our group was split up but Joann and myself stuck together and made our way to the Duomo. We waited alongside for the herd of Tartuca members and then marched into the church with them. Hundreds made their way inward and cheered as loud as possible – ironic how the Duomo was transformed from a quiet place of worship to a house of menacing Italians.
 
The atmosphere was simply incredible. Never have I experienced such a celebration for, well, anything. In total the horses lap around the Campo three times, the whole race taking less than two minutes. It’s remarkable how short of a sporting event can have such a large celebration. Nonetheless, the celebration continued for some time. I took my share of photos and videos and made my way back towards the Campo.
 
There was a team of people cleaning up the aftermath of the race, simultaneously restaurants were assembling tables and chairs on the track yet again, bringing in a swarm of festive individuals. Joann and I met up with our long lost group from early in addition to others and we ventured behind the Palazzo Publicco for some Italian cuisine. Great food to cap off a great, eventful day.

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