Mille Miglia: A Historic & Exciting Open-road Endurance Race!

Mille Miglia from Academic Travel Abroad on Vimeo.

photo (2)We spent the morning at the Mille Miglia museum in Brescia, learning about the history of the race and seeing the various historic models that have competed. Then we drove across town and our Italo-Aussie bus driver dropped us on the edge of the historic city and I led the group (praying I would not get lost as it has been a long time since I was in Brescia and I had no map) to the center. All the roads were beginning to close in preparation for the Mille Miglia. We came to the main street where all the cars were lining up and driving past the crowds of fans. There was a sea of people. It was chaos. I left the group together in one area taking photos and identifying the cars while I scouted out the quickest route to our restaurant. It turned out to be across the street but in the chaos  not all my ducklings followed. It was some 10 minutes before I realised that one was missing as I was just about to take my first sip of wine. A manic half hour ensued but thankfully the missing duckling was still where we had left him and enjoying the spectacle of the 400 some historic cars going through the streets of Brescia. Thank goodness.

photo (1)We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the center of Brescia with one of the teams competing in the event. There were several drivers at the lunch too (the give away being that they were all kitted out in serious rainwear). We returned to Sirmione in the afternoon to shop. pack and above all to dry out. At 7:15 I led our group across to the aperitivo tent in the main square and we waited for the cars to start coming through Sirmione. Young and old were waving mille miglia flags with much excitement while we sipped prosecco and enjoyed some delicious nibbles. Italians know how to lay on a good reception, even in the pouring rain there was someone slicing prosciutto and lardo. Yummy. Even better, the rain had abated and there was a sunset. Too good to be true. The cars had set off from Brescia at 7 pm and around 7:40 pm the roar of the old engines filled the air. There was a constant stream of old cars (anything that competed in the historic event up to 1957 is allowed to enter). There were over 400 entrants. As the light faded we slipped into our covered tent and enjoyed a sumptous meal, with front row sets to watch all the cars go by. There was a very jolly atmosphere among all our group as they tried to identify all the cars go by (I had the list of entrants and kept checking their knowledge!). The few females in the group were longing for number 271 and then around the corner, Brian shouts “that’s a Jag” and we all screamed “Daniel!” as Daniel Day Lewis cruised by. Several men in the group laughed at us 5 ladies in the group and asked questions such as ‘oh was he driving a Lincoln? Or was he driving with his left foot?!’. Memorable evening and a fantastic way to end a truly amazing trip.



Above the Tuscan Rooftops: Top Panoramic Siena Views


Warmer weather IS actually going to stick around one of these days, and when it does, we’ll be prepared! While wandering the alleyways of Siena, bounded by the medieval buildings and Gothic architecture that define its character, we want to be able to gain perspective on exactly where we were and will be (allowing ourselves to be) lost within the city. Instead of using a map to decipher where exactly you are within Siena’s 17 contrade (districts), it’s best to understand it from the top – above (and on) Siena’s Tuscan rooftops. Put down the map. Now wander yourself to one of these three outdoor rooftop spots where panoramic views await you (and your cameras, of course).

Siena Cathedral: Roof tour now open!

Open to the public for the first time in the spring of 2013, passages to the rooftop of the 13th-century Siena Cathedral offer views of the red-tiled Tuscan roofs and Siena’s city and countryside charm. While going up for maintenance purposes, the Cathedral staff discovered the magnificence of the view and decided to make it more accessible. The journey (or workout) to the top is not for everyone, though! You have to be willing and able to climb the series of spiral staircases and internal walkways to reach the breathtaking rooftop views, otherwise the ascent alone may be too breathtaking! Visitors must reserve tickets in advance.


View from the rooftop tour of the Siena Cathedral

HotelHotel Villa Elda

This three-star hotel sits atop a hill just outside of Siena’s city center, which is about a ten minute walk to Piazza del Campo. The serenity of the Villa and its ideal location make the stay at the Hotel delightful. Even if you’re not staying here, it is worthwhile to wander up to the rooftop terrace where it is possible to experience a 360-degree scenic view of Siena and the Tuscan setting.

Palazzo delle Papesse
Address: Via di Città 126 Town Centre near Piazza del Duomo
Phone: 0577 2 20 71
Price: adult/child €5/free
Hours: 12:00-19:00 Tue-Sun

Built between 1460 and 1495, Palazzo delle  Papesse is a contemporary art gallery within medieval walls that offers both permanent and changing contemporary exhibitions. The rooftop of Palazzo delle Papesse presents a 360 degree panoramic view, overlooking Siena and the nearby surroundings. The second floor also contains a terrace, which opens to a view of the Duomo and Siena rooftops.

A Gem of A Jog in Siena

jogging1With some free time to exercise and such a gorgeous day, I asked our language teacher, Elena, what are the best outdoor activities in Siena.

An avid jogger herself, she recommended  the Foretzza Medicea where the air is clean, the trail uncrowded, and most of all…the views are spectacular!  During the jog around the perimeter of this massive fortress, you see the Duomo, the hills of Tuscany, and the rooftops below…

There is still time to book on our September trip to Siena where we explore art, history, neighborhoods, cuisine, wine, and the hills of Tuscany together!


Biking in Beautiful Chianti Country

Bike 20 kilometers through rolling Tuscan hills alongside Chianti wine country. Stop and meander through quaint small towns, then soft pedal to a vineyard for a quick tasting and zoom the last 6 km downhill to end a picture perfect day!

Join us in Siena in September at:


From Venice: Festa del Redentore

Emma Impavido, ATA’s Senior Program Manager for Italy programs, shares a bit of the magic of Venice in her latest post from Italy, where she is spending time this summer.

Fireworks in Venice

The highlight of our weekend in Venice was by far the Festa del Redentore and I might add it is what shaped our itinerary this summer. The church of the Redentore on the Giudecca was built by Palladio to give thanks that the Venetians had been saved from the Plague. Every year – on the third Saturday of July–a bridge of boats is traditionally built across the canal of the Guidecca. Today the bridge is a more solid construction that is set up temporarily for the feast and connects the Zattere to the Giudecca.

Venice lays on the most spectacular firework display in the Bacino di San Marco as part of the festivities. All terraces, restaurants and vantage points are booked up. We decided to do it the Venetian way and hired a water taxi with our friends. Having feasted

Venice Basilicaon a seafood extravaganza we boarded our boat. Our driver, a Redentore veteran, told us it was early at 9:30 pm to head to the bacino and so gave us a beautiful tour of Venice by night. There is something special about cruising down the Grand Canal in your own boat with hardly any other boats around. We were overwhelmed upon arrival in the bacino – it was filled with boats of all shapes and sizes. I had expected a lot but not the party atmosphere. We moved from the small family boat gatherings to the pirate ship. Then there were the disco ships to the fishing boats partying away and finally the seriously rich yachts moored up near the Giardini. I am not sure if it was the heat or tradition but there were also people taking a dip in the water.

Venice Firewoks

It was still too early to hang around so we paid a visit to a gelateria. At 11:20 pm we were racing down the Grand Canal with all the last arrivals to the party, including a few gondolas. A few moments later a couple of warning shots were fired and total silence and darkness descended on the city. Venice was ready for the show to begin. And what a show we were treated to. Forty minutes of pure magic.

There is something amazing about being in such an open space with fireworks raining down on you. The scene was Turneresque: the foreground was filled with the silhouettes of people and boats and then bursts of light and color beyond. There were loud cheers and applause as the effervescent sky faded to night, and the boats started to file home – priority given to the gondolas, followed by the smaller boats. The party boats and fishing vessels disappeared out into the lagoon, perhaps to party on, take a dip in the cleaner waters of the Lido or head off for tomorrow’s catch. What a night. Truly memorable!

Academic Travel Abroad

Experiencing Arcetri Observatory

arcetri observatory

Arcetri observatory

Entering the round observatory room, we immediately gazed up at the enormous dome above. As the main door closed, one section of the dome slowly slid over another creating a large open window to the outside. We gazed up at the clear shot to the sky – a black blanket smattered with bright white stars. This was our introduction to the Arcetri Observatory in Florence Italy where AMNH Expeditions will be traveling this Fall – – an unparalleled opportunity to see the stars and planets like you have not seen them before.

Inside Arcetri's dome.

Inside Arcetri's dome.

The process begins by climbing a 10 foot ladder and placing one eye on the lense of the telescope which extends the length of the dome and trumpets out of the room and up towards into the sky. I remember the moment that I saw Jupiter so distinctly with 2 elegant rings circling it. It was magical. To think Galileo gazed up from this very same location with about 30-40% less visibility than this and still formulated such major brilliant theories sent shivers up our spines. Away from the hustle and bustle of the cities, for this one moment we had a vision of clarity and stillness and savored the wonderment of our universe.

Academic Travel Abroad

Bookmark and Share

Our Ride Through Countryside of Siena

The Siena countryside on bicycle

Today’s objective: ascertain whether a cycle ride through the Chianti would be fun, what would be the reality? Would a week of shoveling snow in DC followed by a week of skiing in Utah prepare me for this exercise?

I met Marco, our bike leader, a friendly Sienese man and my CET colleague, Anna at Porta Collia at 8:30 am. Local shop keepers were just opening up and going about their business, old ladies carrying fresh bread home from the bakery. The sun was shining, the sky was clear blue, the mist was rising slowly in the valleys and the air was fresh. We were fitted out with our bikes and hopped into Marco’s car for the short but delightful drive to Queriagrossa. The bikes arrived in a separate van and a few minutes later we hit the road.Near the end of our ride

Near the end of our ride

There was a total tranquility about the countryside. Very few cars and people, the birds were singing and before us the rolling hills of Tuscany, the contours of which are defined by the lines of cypress trees swaying in the breeze, and the rows of vineyards, dotted with farms and tiny hamlets. Several of which we rode through and paused at the fountain to refuel. Picture perfect.

The first part of the ride took us on a steady climb uphill. A farmer tending to his field looked me with his weather beaten face and with a toothless grin said ‘è dura!’ Indeed it was hard. When I thought we’d never reach the top I shouted from the back ‘I have to take a picture, it’s so beautiful!’ Marco knew my real reason for a stop but I did try to catch the essence of the beautiful landscape around.

We made it to the top and were rewarded with a tour through Castellina in Chianti. The Tuscan stone against the blue sky was gorgeous. It was market day and young families were out for a walk, at the park or kicking a football around the square.

From Castellina it was an exhilirating free wheel downhill. We could catch our breath, feel the wind in our hair and truly enjoy the scenery.

Italian country tastes along the way

Next stop: a winery. A wood fire was burning inside the tasting room. A most enjoyable stop this would be. Guests would sample here but we were moving on today. The rest of the route took us through country lanes past lovely villas, over tiny streams and along the endless vineyards. When we arrived back at Querciagrossa it felt like my Arc de Triomphe. Marco had said it would take about 3 hours, we did it in 2 hours 35 despite all my ‘photo stops’. Brave ragazze!

28 hilly kilometers later I can honestly say it was a wonderful way to see the countryside. The Italians laugh when the English say ‘molto pittoresco‘ but it really was.