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<i>Buon Giorno!</i> - Loyola Women's Basketball Italian Countryside Tour - Day Four

Aug. 24, 2008

Welcome to "Buon Giorno!" a daily diary of the Loyola women's basketball team's trip to Italy. Check back to loyolagreyhounds.com for daily photo galleries and updates on the trip.

Day Four - Photo Gallery
Day Three Update
Day Three - Photo Gallery
Day Two - Photo Gallery
Day Two Update
Day One Update

Day One - Photo Gallery

SAN MARINO, San Marino -

When you're on a roll, you're on a roll.

At the end of everyday, the Loyola women's basketball travel party gets back to the hotel, looks at each other and says, "wow this was an amazing day, and I don't know how much better it could get."

Well, it did.

The team left the hotel in Padova (also known as Padua) on Sunday morning, day four of the trip, and headed back to Venice, the scene of the Greyhounds' 88-57 victory on Saturday evening over Pool Venzia.

Basketball was not on the agenda, however, on Sunday, but seeing the sights of the floating city was.

Elena, the tour guide, led the group to the Murano glass factory in the historic city center of Venice. There, another guide took the group through the steps of making the intricate glass designs that are famous to the region.

Franco, the master glass worker took the blazing hot piece of unconstructed glass out of the oven that was fired to over 1100 degrees CELCIUS! He twirled the piece, pinched and pulled, and in less than two minutes he created a swan that was near perfect. Any member of the trip would have never been able to make something even close to that in art class, but he made it look very simple.

Shopping was next on the list of things to do, as many members of the team bough glass necklaces or bracelets for themselves or as gifts.

After leaving the glass factory, it was back to St. Michael's Square, the center of the tourist district. There, the group was led by a Venetian tour guide through many of the streets and scenic locations. Since cars are not allowed on the floating city, the only modes of transportation are walking, or via canals.

The team took in the Old Government Building, the library, St. Michael's Cathedral, and other captivating things. Many of those buildings were build in the late 12th Century, and though they have stood the test of time, Venice is undergoing renovation of several locations to preserve the amazing history for another 800-plus years.

After leaving the tour, the group stopped for a quick lunch, then many of the members split up into groups of six or more to take gondola rides through the famous canals, under bridges and through waterways lined on both sides by villas.

Can you imagine pulling up to your house in a boat and climbing in through a window everyday when you come home from work? That's what Venetians do.

Venice came to an end with a ferry ride back to the bus, and the group embarked on a four-hour ride through the Italian countryside to the tiny Republic of San Marino.

Winding through the hills and valleys of Northern Italy, the team passed near towns like Modena and others, all while seeing beautiful farms and vineyards.

On the first part of the ride, the countryside was reminiscent of any Middle-America state with rolling pastures of corn, wheat and other crops. While the architecture of the farmhouses was different - decidedly more European than American Country - the views looked similar to even parts of Loyola's home state of Maryland.

As the group worked its way further south, corn and wheat turned into miles of grape vineyards and lemon tree orchards. The vineyards are impressively neat in order and rise along the grades of the hills and create patterns that any seamstress would admire as a work of art. This part of the drive looked more like a California picture, reminiscent of the hills rolling east of the San Francisco Bay into towns like Walnut Creek, Moraga and Berkeley.

A brief stop at an `Auto Grill,' the Italian version of a truck stop - although much nicer and refined than the American version - the bus continued south toward Rimini and San Marino. Leaving the valley, the tour started to rise gradually into the hills, and a view of the Adriatic Sea and Rimini came into view. This vista looked like the hills outside of San Diego, winding into the La Jolla region and around toward the Pacific Ocean.

Of course, it was not the Pacific, but a body of water that most never thought they would view.

As amazing as that part of the trip was, the scenery would only get better as the bus rose into the Republic of San Marino. The smallest, yet oldest, independent country in all of Europe, San Marino has only about 25,000 inhabitants, and it is about seven miles in width at its widest point. However, the country, which a gate at the border proclaims in Italian, "Welcome to the first democratic republic in the world," is also very wealthy with money coming in through the banking industry.

The country is perched on a hill, Mount Teton, which overlooks the Adriatic on one side and rolling countryside on the other. Winding up the road, Jaquamo, the bus driver, took great care in guiding the team up the mountain. With switchbacks that rivaled those descending into places like Sedona, Arizona, even drivers in sports cars would be `white-knuckled' while gripping the steering wheel.

Not Jaquamo, who handled the drive with grace and ease.

The lower part of San Marino is very modern with commercial buildings and homes that look right out of Suburban America. After rising several hundred feet in elevation, it was quite evident why San Marinians picked the location during Medieval times.

Two castles are built at the top of Mount Teton, and conquering armies would have almost no chance to get up the cliffs, into the fortresses.

The Grand Hotel San Marino is directly next to one of the castles, and it would be the home of the Greyhounds for the next two nights. How grand it is, too.

While still small in size with traditional European rooms that are filled with amenities, just not the space of a traditional American hotel, the hotel has a rich and elegant feeling to it. The balconies provide a majestic view of the countryside and republic.

That image was upheld at dinner that was served in the hotel's restaurant by tuxedo-clad waiters. The first course of dinner was lasagna bolognese (with meat sauce) that honestly melted in the mouth. Anyone who was late in coming down to dinner (Coach Gizzi) because they stopped to take a shower, almost lost part of their meal.

Pork with a light tomato sauce was the main entrée with sautéed potatoes and perfectly cooked green beans as side dishes. Another melt-in-the mouth treat of tiramisu was the perfect cap for dessert.

After dinner, many of those on the trip took to the streets of San Marino to have a look at the beautiful city. Many of the coaches and support staff found La Taverna, a small restaurant located right outside the government palace.

A conversation was struck up with Giovanni, the proprietor of the property and probably a very influential San Marinian. La Taverna has been in Giovanni's family since the early 1930s, and he hosts members of the government for lunch and dinner on a frequent basis.

Giovanni provided a wonderful insider's view of the Republic and its history. He also invited everyone back for more conversation on Monday night.

As Monday dawns, it will be a day of more sightseeing and even relaxing. Members of the group have the option of traveling to Rimini and seeing the beach, and others are staying in San Marino to see the castle and other sights.

Be sure to check back for more details of the tour. Ciao!