Tag: Study Abroad (page 1 of 2)

Green Parking Lot

Green parking lot

This past Saturday I went to the outskirts of Rome to check out IKEA. Just as interesting to see the inner city of Rome, are the contemporary suburban areas. The store is located just outside the A90 ring road near Anagnina, the last stop on the Metro A line, so it took a while to get there. A number of bus lines run from the metro station to the shopping center where IKEA is. The store was about what I expected it to be (after all, they in America) but I did enjoy seeing a European big box store.

I especially liked the parking lot, which had natural “green” parking spaces instead of pavement. While the driving areas were still asphalt, the actual spaces were left as turf. A plastic honeycomb shaped structure is laid down and filled with gravel and topsoil, permitting short turf to grow. This reduces storm water runoff, partially filters water as it permeates into the ground, and is much more attractive. It also allows trees to be planted between spaces without needing large landscape islands.

I haven’t looked into cost comparisons between this system and all-pavement. While I imagine these systems require some degree of regular maintenance, it seems like they’d be much more sustainable (lifetime and environmentally) than all asphalt, which gets cracked and uneven quickly, needing to be entirely repaved after 10 years. Alternatively I’ve also seen parking lots here with the spaces paved in brick or pavers, to control settling from the weight of vehicles in addition to some permeability.

A City for the Dead


On Friday I went to the Cimitero del Verona (Verona Cemetery), when I was close by on a visit to my studio site at Porta Maggiore. It is the primary municipal cemetery in Rome and opened in 1812. It covers an immense area (see map) and is organized in a grid layout. Toward the front of the cemetery the blocks were filled with various smaller monuments and family tombs. Further in, entire blocks are occupied by large mausoleum buildings, two or three stories high. Built at different times, there are a variety of different styles. The newer ones are pretty plane, resembling a typical contemporary building in Rome. Inside are levels of individual tombs accessed by staircases. I was intrigued by how many of these, essentially buildings, have been built solely for burials. It is literally a city for the dead. The cemetery was very peaceful to walk through on a sunny day. I occasionally saw a grounds keeper or another visitor, but otherwise there were not very many people there. See photos here.

Museo di Roma in Trastevere

Yesterday I went to the Museum of Rome in Trastevere, one of several museums in the Museum System of the Municipality of Rome. Located in a former monastery hidden in the dense streets of Trastevere, this museum’s permanent collection focuses on daily life in Rome in the 18th and 19th century. A lot of scenes in paintings were right around the neighborhood so we recognized many.

Currently on exhibit were the works of contemporary American painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and photographer Stephen Shore. Shore’s exhibit Biographical Landscape was a collection of photos of ordinary and familiar scenes of the American landscape in the 70s, that one normally doesn’t stop to notice. It was a neat exhibit and very interesting to see, especially in Rome. I wondered what the Italians think of these scenes that are so typical in America.

The museum was relatively small and easy to get through in a little over an hour. Each exhibit only had a few signs with background information and let the art speak for itself. (Image from brochure)

Italy Weekend

It was a pretty good weekend in and around Rome. Friday night 18 of us took part in a special one-time cooking class with a guy Rob, who teaches some semesters for the COD Rome Program, and his companion Sabrina. A food connoisseur and self-described prostitute [not really] and pseudo intellectual, Rob showed us how to make a full course Italian dinner and talked about the importance of food in Italian culture. It was held at Palazzo Cenci, the floor above our studio space in an apartment of one of our professors. With an extremely small kitchen it was a pretty impressive undertaking. I think usually they try to be more hands on but there simply was not enough room. On the bright site we got a fantastic full course dinner for 35 euro and got to see it all being prepared.

The dinner started out with antipasta with an onion omelet, followed by a small salad topped with a small slice of a complex loaf-like combination of potato and goat cheese (don’t recall the actual name). The pasta was spinach ricotta ravioli made from scratch, followed by fried potatoes and chicken with a pear sauce. For a dessert was a creamy pudding dish with cocoa powder and a lemon liquor. All in all it took a little over five hours. Interesting to see, and some great food.


Saturday two others and I went to Tivoli, a small city not far from Rome. To get there we took the Metro line B from Termini and caught a suburban bus line from a further out station. In Tivoli we visited Villa d’Este, a 16th century Renaissance villa built on the steep terrain. It was a gorgeous day to walk around the gardens and see some countryside. After the villa we walked around the city center a little bit before catching the bus back to Rome. (Photos here.)

Sunday I went with two other friends to Ostia Antica, an enormous archeological site of the harbor city for ancient Rome. Originally at the mouth of the Tiber River, it is now a few kilometers from the sea due because of sediment build up over the centuries and change in sea level. It was fun to walk through the well preserved remains and see various mosaics and frescoes. The weather was not quite as nice this day and was quite windy. Overall a pretty active weekend.

Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese

Today (Wednesday) was a beautiful day outside (in the 60s) and I had the afternoon free so I spent sometime exploring Villa Borghese, a large public park in Rome, formerly a private villa for the Borghese family. It is the second largest public park in the city, following Villa Doria Pamphili, which I wandered upon this past Sunday. I had a great time just walking around and enjoying the weather. It was a nice retreat from the dense and busy city and made me think of a lot of other retreat parks in urban areas in the US, as well as large city parks that include many different civic and cultural attractions such as zoos and museums.

While Villa Borghese was originally a private suburban party villa for Scipione Borghese, it is now public and includes the Bioparco (zoo), National Gallery of Modern Art, and other smaller villas from the 1911 world exposition here. Relatable examples in the US would be Forest Park in St. Louis, City Park in Denver, and of course the great lakefront parks in Chicago. Closer to home I was reminded of Bever Park and Ellis Park in Cedar Rapids that were originally suburban parks to provide a public retreat from the city. Bever Park also includes a zoo that at one time had a pretty impressive collection of animals.

I spent about two hours strolling around Villa Borghese and then walked back along Via Vittorio Veneto, a street I went down on the bus ride there. It is a very attractive, well-kept (and expensive) area that feels more Parisian than Roman. Wide clean sidewalks, separated from the street by grass medians and flowerbeds, accommodate several permanent pavilions for restaurant dining areas.

It was a very nice afternoon. I look forward to spending more time outside in Rome as the weather continues to get nicer as we head into spring. See photos from today here.

Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice


It was a delightful sunny Saturday afternoon in Rome, following a bit of a dreary, but relatively warm morning. After lunch my friend Jenna and I decided to enjoy the nice weather with gelato in a park. We went to one of my favorite parks I’ve seen so far, Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice in the Testaccio neighborhood just across the river to the south of Trastevere. The neighborhood is relatively small, sandwiched between the Tiber to the west, the Aventine Hill to the east and Monte Testaccio (Rome’s ancient Mount Trashmore) and old industry to the south. The area was sparsely populated with poor rural settlements before the mid to late 19th century when it was developed for worker housing for the industries nearby. It is one of the few cases of planned urbanization in Rome.

Laid out in a grid system, the neighborhood has a sense of continuation within and with the rest of the city, despite actually being somewhat tucked away. The regular streets disguise the neighborhood’s small size, giving a sense it could continue endlessly. It is characterized mostly by 6-8 story apartment buildings with sidewalk level shops, a market building, one large early 20th century church Santa Maria Liberatrice, and of course its associated piazza.

Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice is really more of a park compared to a typical Rome piazza. It is two blocks long and triangular shaped with a large playground at the wide end and a large open plaza in the center that flows into a brick pathway lined with benches leading to the narrow end near the church. The entire piazza is filled with trees and areas of green. The few actual grassy areas are separated by small grade changes with brick retaining walls and benches, discouraging walking there, so they have actually been maintained pretty well compared to most places with grass in the city. The abundance of trees and breaking up the piazza with different elements create several smaller spaces instead of one single open space which is more typical of Roman piazzas. This makes the piazza much more versatile and useful for more and different people. The scale and aesthetic of the buildings surrounding the piazza provide a well defined edge around the urban space.

After we got our gelato from a place at the corner, we took a bench in a nook between the playground and the larger central plaza. The playground was very active today with several children and their parents out enjoying the nice weather. Across from us three old men were sitting and shooting the breeze over a smoke. Soon several of the local pigeons congregated around us as we were finishing our cones. I laid a few crumbs down near me to see how close they would come. One little guy in particular was trying to get closer but kept beating around the bush. A small lonely sparrow came out from his hiding spot under a bush so I threw him (or her) a piece.

Later on a few boys started of a game of soccer in the central plaza space – the biggest kid as the goalie. Meanwhile the old men went on their way and a new crew took their place. The mini world cup was a fierce match but all in good fun. When the ball went astray there was plenty of help getting it back. A middle aged man sitting on the bench next to us tossed it back first. Then a young father passing through with his daughter in an all-terrain stroller kicked it back to them. The next foul ball went high into the air right towards the new group of old guys. I can only imagine the brief terror those kids experienced as the ball went hurling through the air towards them. But the men shrugged it off and all was well. It was a captivating game that got everyone involved.

The interaction of different people, different generations, and different creatures makes visiting this park a wonderful experience. It is a park that encourage and facilities an endless number of activities through its design and amenities like the playground and ample sittable space. The different spaces within it are at a human scale, making them inviting and comfortable to be in. The buildings and church that frame the park give it context and a sense of place, making it special and unique to that community. Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice is everything a great urban neighborhood park should be – and a great place to enjoy the day with some gelato.

Save Sinclair Smokestack

Following the flood in 2008, and two fires this past year at the old Farmstead / Sinclair meatpacking plant, Cedar Rapids is moving forward with demolition plans. After the most recent fire in December, it was announced that the smokestack would have to be demolished due to structural instability. But last week the City Council decided to hold off for the moment in response to a plea from the Historic Preservation Commission to study stabilizing and restoring it first.

Details aside (not really the point of this point), I got to thinking after browsing through the Gazette online reader comments. Some people feel it is an important part of Cedar Rapids history and needs to be preserved while others simply see it as a waste of time and money.

I’ve been in Rome for nearly a month now, living and going to school in buildings that are 400-500 years old, surrounded by other buildings and structures well over a thousand years old. Over the centuries, most buildings in Rome – many that were once very significant – have not survived. They’ve either been abandoned and looted for building materials, or modified for different uses. Only more recently (last century) has there been such a strong preservation push for buildings and sites of antiquity. So being here really puts into perspective what old actually is, not to mention historical.

Personally I would like to see the smokestack saved – I agree it is an important part of our city history, as well as a neat landmark. The difference in “scale” and “significance” from Cedar Rapids’ history and that of Rome is interesting to consider once experiencing both.

Photo credit: Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette

General Update + Weekend

It’s been a week since my last post about Rome – nothing too significant has happened. Last Wednesday for Arch 528 (Italian design) we visited Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis Museum which currently has an exhibit on Italian industrial design. In lecture beforehand we discussed how many everyday consumer products came about through integrating designers into production. Quite interesting.

Friday in the morning was the weekly urban history walk – we stayed fairly close to studio in the Field of Mars area and visited the Crypta Balbi Museum. Our professor / guide Linda emphasized how this area in Rome has essentially been continuously inhabited since the beginning, contrary to common belief that Rome was near deserted during the middle ages. Rome did lose political significance in the Roman Empire with Constantine making a new capital Constantinople (Istanbul), but the city itself still remained largely intact.

Saturday I did a little bit of shopping on Via del Corso before the national saldi (sale) ends. On Sunday Jamin and I went to church and met more interesting folks during coffee following the service. We talked to Peter and Carmella from Australia, a friendly older couple that work on organizing Bible fellowships. Peter asked me how big my church was at home, having heard of the large new churches we have in America. Afterwards Jamin and I went out for lunch with Sooba at his favorite Chinese restaurant. It was quite good and inexpensive too.

This week now is a bit of a transition point in the semester. The Italian language course concluded today with a final exam, and Monday was our last former drawing session. Today we had an introduction to studio and a tour of the Jewish Ghetto area (our neighborhood by studio) with a guide from the Jewish Museum of Rome, located at the synagog. This area has an incredible and dynamic history from ancient Rome up through the 20th century. We have already learned much about this area from urban history (Jan’s lectures) as well as the Italian design course. For studio we are doing four short week-long projects, focusing on this area through the four elements (earth, wind, fire, water), to be followed by a larger final project.

On Thursday and Friday we have a class trip to Perugia, followed by a three day weekend. I am going with three others up to Norway. We are flying to Oslo early Saturday morning, taking “the best train ride in Europe” to Bergen on Sunday, flying back to Oslo Monday morning, and back to Rome Monday night. It should be a fun week of traveling – I’m looking forward to seeing more of Italy outside of Rome and especially excited for Norway.

Rain in Rome

Trajan's Market story board sketch

The past couple of days have been pretty rainy in Rome, making plans to sketch outside for class difficult. Monday we walked in the rain to the Pantheon, about a 5-10 minute walk from studio to sketch for about half hour before the profs decided to return. Today my studio went to Trajan’s Market to draw (inside) quick “story board sketches” with a series of vignettes showing movement through the space. I rather enjoyed this exercise, but would be more valuable outside to illustrate movement through a particular urban space. Tomorrow we meet at Termini Station in the afternoon to draw people in motion.

This afternoon we had the last of three lectures from historian Jan Gadeyne about the development and redevelopment of Rome. It is interesting to realize that Rome today is not what it has always been – most places have been built over older structures or modified from them. Only recently (past century or so) has preservation become so strict, arguably turning the city in to a museum. My friend Jamin is working on a guest post that will go into more detail. In the meantime, check out Jan’s appearance on the History Channel documentary ROME Engineering an Empire.



I sketched this out during drawing class yesterday while sitting on the Ponte Sant Angelo bridge. Facing south, the end corner building at the very left is actually where the church I have been attending is located. I generally do not consider myself a good drawer, but am quite pleased with this one and look forward to sketching more and improving. I drew it in my pocket sketchbook so it is actually quite small, about 3.5 x 5.5 inches. I prefer small scale sketching because accuracy is easier and can be done fairly quickly.

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