Day 5: Going to paradi-, er, riva
The next morning we grabbed some breakfast from a supermarket and boarded a train headed to Bellinzona. We crossed through more of the Alps on the three hour trip, so I resisted the urge to sleep and soaked in every scene.
Before long we pulled into Bellinzona, which is a part of the Italian-speaking half of Switzerland. We had a few hours to do as we pleased in the very Italianesque town, so we broke up into smaller groups of about five to explore the city. While getting off the train at Bellinzona, we took so long that Stefanie, Bianca, and Connor got stuck on the train, which then left for the next stop, lugano. We managed to get a hold of Connor on his phone, luckily, and they eventually found their way back. Knower they were alright, we left to explore. It was a simple yet beautiful Mediterranean style city, nestled perfectly in this huge valley with green mountains on either side. The first act of my group was to buy some goods at a fruit market. While enjoying our food we explored the most famous attractions of the city, the three ancient castles that at one time formed a wall of protection from the Italians. It was not hard to spot these stone monsters among the countless squares of brightly colored homes and shops, especially since the closest castle to the train station, the Castle Grande, was on top of a small rock cliff. It was free to wander around the castle and up the towers, so we did so for an hour or so, stopping for the many photo ops and impressive views of the valley. One cool aspect of this first castle was the large brass and bronze sculpture garden in the central courtyard.
We eventually left the first castle and found a large cathedral that was open to enter. Inside the relatively plain building exterior was a magnificently decorated interior with ribbed arches and a dome with an oculus at the top above the altar. The church was almost as impressive as the one in Engelberg, which I thought would be hard to do. My favorite part was the uniquely colored and masterfully crafted marble decoration, which filled every part of the church. Outside the church was a path up a hill we followed to find the second castle. The best part about this castle was the even better view it provided to the town. We soon had to rush back to the train station and head to Riva San Vitale.
In a matter of 45 minutes or so we arrived in the small, quiet town of Riva San Vitale. This is where the Architectural Studies Villa for Virginia Tech is, so we requested to use it for room in board for a few days of the trip. Thank goodness we did, because the villa is one of the coolest places I have ever stayed at. The location is right at the center of town, within a few blocks of the tiny downtown, the lake Lugano, and the train station. It is one of the most famous historical buildings in town, and it is within 150 ft of two beautiful churches. It has a garden and courtyard area, several classrooms, a library, a music room, some bedrooms and bathrooms, fresco-painted ceilings and walls, an amazing kitchen staff, two full-time workers, and an apartment across the garden which four of us, including me, got to stay in. Meals were professional, free, and amazing. The apartment is very modern and clean, with two full baths, two bedrooms, a balcony, a living room, a laundry room, and a kitchen. It was the good life, basically. We had access to free bikes to use around town if we so desired. After dinner, which Luigi prepared for us, we had a meeting with Daniela and Michelle, the workers and supervisors of the villa, which basically covered the rules and procedures for living in the villa. Then we had our first web design course with Pete (aka Mr. Sketch), where we began learning how to create a website from scratch, valuable information to have when we make our personal websites for the class later in the summer. After this we went down to the music room for a debriefing of the plans for tomorrow and a little song/joke/ghost story time. After this time most of us went out to town and enjoy a late night stroll.