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This exhibition was probably one of the most entertaining art exhibitions I attended this summer. The exhibition features the works of Duane Hanson who was famous back in the 80s and 90s for his weirdly realistic life-size sculptures of people.

Queenie II (1988) - one of my favourites

These life-size sculptures are scattered all over the gallery, each expressing a culmination of Hanson's social and political views.

Homeless Person (1991)
The sculptures address different themes in relation to controversy and society. For example, Hanson's early works such as Trash (1967) addresses the controversial theme of abortion whilst later work focus on the everyday people; works like Queenie II (1988), House Painter I (1984/88) and Homeless Person (1991) address themes of poverty and the 'forgotten' - those individuals invisible to society.

Trash (1967)
House Painter I (1984/88)

Man with Hand Cart (1995)
Lunch Break (1995)
Flea Market Lady (1990/94)
The sculptures surprisingly express a great deal of emotion which invites the audience to empathise with their invisibility and isolation - I know I did. There was a particular piece which I found particularly interesting which was the Self Portrait with Model (1979); it depicts Duane Hanson himself sitting opposite an old lady at a table. A glance over the old lady's shoulder allows you to interpret a satirical message of contradictory motives as the old lady reads an article titled "Relax and Lose Weight" whilst having a chocolate sundae.

Self Portrait with Model (1979)

Self Portrait with Model (1979) *close-up*


Overall, I would say the exhibition is definitely worth a visit so squeeze it in your calendar before it ends on the 13th of September!

Details:

*FREE*

Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm

Serpentine Sackler Gallery
West Carriage Drive
London
W2 2AR


Continuing on my little Italian adventure, Pompeii was where we would be staying for the next 5 nights, in the Hotel Villa dei Misteri. I'm not going to get into depth about the quality of the accommodation (which was very very awful by the way) so I'll skip to the moments where we weren't actually there.



On the first day we arrived, we were to visit the excavated site of Pompeii which was a much larger town than Herculaneum but faced the same fate of being entirely covered by the lava from the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79CE. We actually made two different trips to the Pompeii site because the professors said they couldn't fit in all we needed to see into one visit.

The first visit to Pompeii was not nearly as fun as the second visit and I think all the other students can agree with me on that one. The lack of interest didn't have to do with the historic content, which was pretty fascinating, but rather with the fact that we were all very dehydrated and we might as well have been in an oven. That aside, we got to view the forum, the marketplace, the theatre and the amphitheatre.






After visiting the Stabian villas the next day, we had a free afternoon which some of us used to explore Sorrento! There was a train right next our hotel (or shall I say motel) that we used to get there which took about 20 minutes. Once I arrived in Sorrento, I was so excited! There were so many things I wanted to see and do that it was almost paralysing. We walked to the main square (Piazza Tasso) and from there we thought the first thing to do would be to eat. As the self-announced food guide on the tour, I made a reservation at a Michelin guide recommended restaurant - L'antico Trattoria.





The restaurant was about a 5 minute walk from the main square so it didn't take us long to get there. We were welcomed by a gentleman who I now know to be the best waiter I have ever met (literally). I believe he was either the manager or the head-waiter but he sure knew how to host a part of ten in an entertaining way! The menu was just the right size and the prices were quite reasonable. I went for a 4 course set menu which was about 65. 




The starter was a leg of quail. The flavours were very balanced really well. Also, I never knew cheese could complement white meat so well!




The pasta dish was gnocchi which was also scrumptious. The gnocchi was perfectly cooked with its almost chewy but fluffy texture.




Next up was the lamb dish which had a bit too many components on the plate but luckily, the main flavours still managed to pull through and weren't masked by the other elements.




I finished off with a lemon sorbet which given my location was bound to be very refreshing and it was indeed!

After a fulfilling lunch, about four of us just walked and explored, making our way through the narrowest and most picturesque streets. We also went down to the port to view the coast up close. After we went back up and did a little exploring, we discovered what is apparently the best gelataria in Sorrento - Gelateria Zini. For me, it wasn't about the gelato but about the lady who served it! She was such a fun character who claimed that she didn't know how many languages she could speak. Whilst I was there, I heard her speak French, Spanish, English and Portuguese - when does the list end? She made our experience there so memorable that we came back to Sorrento the next day and went back to her gelataria!








This was one of my best days during the month I was in Italy and I realised what made it special were the people I met, who went an extra mile to deliver an excellent service. 

The second visit to Pompeii was much more enjoyable because we went in the morning so the sun was less intense and there were fewer tour groups. We visited the House of the Faun where we studied different Roman wall painting styles, observed the ancient carved penises in the floor (which functioned as directions pointing men towards the brothels) and visited the Villa dei Misteri where we studied a famous fresco.


House of the Faun

Fresco at Villa dei Misteri

Once we were done at the Pompeii ruins, we made our way to Sorrento again. This time round, we split into smaller groups at the beginning. My group and I had lunch at a homy restaurant where I had the best pesto pasta dish with clams! My main which was a fillet steak in a mushroom sauce was a bit disappointing though. 




After our lunch, we had a lot of time on our hands to explore the town again. We walked down the streets we hadn't explored the day before and we tried to get a better view of the coastline. This quest for the 'perfect view' involved hours and hours of walking. We went to one side of the coast which was really pretty then walked all the way around it to the other side to get a much grander view. I can proudly say that the climb to the top was worth it.








The town is just so beautiful. It embodies a modest and traditional Italian town with a bit of glamour; the majestic coastline, the narrow alleyways and the small local restaurants. Sorrento is a must-do if you're within the area and I fell in love with it so I must go back at some point. The weather on the second day was much better which just enhanced our perceptions of the town.

The fun didn't there. The next day was Capri day. This day was another highlight of the trip but not all of it was glitz and glamour. The first few hours in Capri involved trekking to the top of the island to visit Tiberius' villa. I can say that that was not fun given that I was wearing penny loafers and navy chinos and the weather was a tad bit too English for Capri.

My mood brightened when the skies cleared and the sun came through. All of a sudden, all the trees were much greener and the all of the houses were much whiter! The transformation was almost magical. We only had about 4 hours to explore Capri so my group and I sacrificed good food at a classy restaurant for mediocre pizza at an average cafe in order to have enough time to go on a sail. At the time, I wasn't sure of my decision but in retrospect, I can say it's one of the best decisions I've ever made.


Beautiful Capri
The sail around Capri was probably the best moment so far in the trip. Although we couldn't access the blue grotto because of choppy waters, we got to see the Faraglioni rocks, and the coastline up until that point. The weather was fabulous, the waters were blue as ever, we were boating around Capri, could life have gotten any better at that point? I think not. The cliffs we observed were so dramatic and exemplified natural beauty. We got to sail through one of the Faraglioni rocks at the perfect time when the sun is positioned correctly as to make the water sparkle like I have never seen before. 





Faraglioni rocks
On the sail back to the island, everything was just so perfect that I had to close my eyes for a few seconds to take in as much as I could of the present. I really didn't want to leave that moment! So readers, if you find yourself in Capri, I would advise you go sailing; it is truly one of those unforgettable life experiences.  




When we got back on land, a few friends and I decided to go back up to the main centre of Capri. I tried to walk through most of the streets. Next thing I knew, I found myself in the luxurious streets walking by Italy's finest selection of high end designers such as Loro Piana and Gucci. There is just something about Capri that makes you long for it once you've left it. 





In Capri, I admired the simplicity of its white buildings, the exclusivity brought about by its glamour and the natural beauty that steals your eyes every time you look out into the sea or the shoreline. Basically, I left Capri thinking "I could retire here." It's really just an aesthetic overload; there's a different type of beauty everywhere one looks. Anyway, let me not continue to give way to my nostalgic feelings. 

On the last day of this part of the trip, we visited the town of Benevento which is further from the coast than where we had been. I liked Benevento for its peace and quiet and the lack of tourist activity. In this town, we visited a small museum and the Arch of Trajan, the latter attraction being much more historically significant and interesting. For lunch, we stumbled upon a really nice restaurant which was tucked away from the main streets. I had a truffle gnocchi which was okay but tasted odd at times. I finished off my meal with an excellently cooked fillet of salmon. 


Arch of Trajan



This phase of the trip definitely had the highest concentration of fun and memorable moments but I was really looking forward to Rome the entire time. In the next post, I'll be recounting my experiences of the last two weeks of my Italian trip in Rome!




For about a month I was on a study-abroad program in Italy. I spent the first two weeks in Campania, the Southwest region of Italy comprising of the Bay of Naples, the Amalfi Coast and many other historically rich towns. For the other two weeks, I was situated in Rome. This post will be particularly focusing on the time I spent in Cumae and the surrounding areas (before I moved unto Pompeii, Sorrento and Capri)


For the first part of the trip I was staying in Cumae at the Villa Vergiliani with 19 other students and two professors. It sounds pretty luxurious, and it was at some point, as it used to belong to an Italian aristocrat. Currently, it's owned by a few universities and schools that use it as a study-abroad centre for classics students.


Anyway, it wasn't long before we were visiting an infinite number of museums and excavated sites,  complemented by a few breaks which involved absorbing the natural beauty oozing from the stunning landscapes. 

On the first day we visited two lakes, the first of which was Lake Avernus (supposedly the entrance to the underworld as described by Virgil in the Aeneid). It was absolutely stunning due to the skilled landscaping of the green vines, the gleaming waters and the welcoming beam of sunlight. After observing the lake, we walked a distance to the other lake, Lake Lucrino. This lake seemed much bigger but was less stunning. We were able to stroll around the lake thanks to the nicely paved walkway. At the end of the walk, we sought refuge under the shade of a tree with a reading of Virgil's Aeneid by the professor.

Lake Avernus

Lake Lucrino
The next day included a visit to Piscina Mirabilis (an ancient water reserve dating back to the Augustan period), an ancient bath in Baiae (where I saw an upside-down tree) and the Cumae acropolis where Virgil's setting of Aeneas meeting the Sibyl took place. We finished off the day with classic summer fun at the beach in Miseno. 


Piscina Mirabilis

Baths at Baiae

Baths at Baiae

Upside-down tree


Entrance to the Sibyl's lair 

Over the next few days, we visited different towns in the region. We started off with Naples which surprisingly wasn't what I expected; it was dirty, run-down and in desperate need of a city-wide refurbishment. Yes... it's the birthplace of pizza but there didn't seem to be much else to it in the few hours I spent there. 

The Naples Archaeological Museum was amazing though! We spent a few hours studying the Greek inspired sculptures from the Farnese collection (the Hercules being my personal favourite) which was followed a quick look at the ancient mosaics upstairs, with the Alexander mosaic being the stand-out piece. There was actually a rather entertaining exhibition going on at the time which was showcasing sex-themed sculptures and artworks from the Ancient Roman period.


Farnese Hercules!

Farnese bull

One of the Tyrannicides

Goddess of Fertility

Alexander Mosaic

After we were done at the museum, we had an hour to explore the nearby area of Naples so I went on an explorative walk with other students leaving enough time to grab a quick pizza. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to be super-picky about the chosen pizza place so I ended up getting a mediocre pizza from a tourist trap (oh how much I regret that).

The day wasn't over though, we went a bit uphill to visit the Capodimonte museum which exhibited the finest works from the Renaissance period including paintings by Carravagio and the like. The museum is set up in an old palace so you also get to walk through massive and beautifully designed rooms where you can easily picture an aristocratic ball taking place. 

Capodimonte Museum



A beautiful room in the Capodimonte Museum

Another town we got to explore was Puzzuoli where we saw a number of sites, the main attraction being the Flavian ampitheatre (the 3rd largest in Italy). It was cool going underground and seeing the ruins there.

Below ground level at the Flavian Amphitheatre

Next town up was Capua where we visited the second largest amphitheatre in Italy which was followed by a tour of a Mithraeum. The amphitheatre in Capua was much cooler than the one in Puzzuoli because there it was much more of it intact. The Mithraeum was also really fun and spooky: mithraeums were actually underground locations for Mithras-worshipping cult members to gather and perform rituals and sacrifices. We finished off the day with an excursion to the Royal Palace of Caserta which was just grand and majestic; I never knew there could be so much gold in one roof.

Amphitheatre at Capua 


All crammed up in the Mithraeum

Royal Palace of Caserta

Quite the backyard...


That roof though...




The penultimate trip within this phase of the trip was to the ancient excavated city known as Herculaneum. It's actually like a historian's theme park with a map guiding you into buildings that constituted different parts of the Ancient Roman lifestyle; the villas, the baths, the kitchens and the temples. 

Herculaneum 

We rounded off our time in Cumae with a long trip to Paestum which exhibited three well-intact Greek temples. I can proudly say that I've become a connoisseur on Greek style architecture (with great caution) because I provided a brief presentation on the topic at this site. I was just amazed by the grandeur of the temples as well as the intelligent minds that built them. We also got to see what is known to be one of the oldest surviving Hellenic paintings (the painting of the diver).

Hellenic painting from the Tomb of the diver

Temple of Hera II

Natural beauty in Paestum

As much as I loved Paestum's historic significance and natural beauty, I loathed how a few friends and I were treated at what was known to be the best restaurant in the area - Nettuno. We failed to make a reservation so we risked walking up to the restaurant hoping to get a table. We got there and saw a dining room full of empty tables and a small alfresco dining area. We asked if we could be seated outside and the waiter said the remaining tables outside were reserved. I thought "no problem" so we asked if we could be seated in the empty dining room inside and he replied by saying "all reserved". The reader should note that it was 2pm and the restaurant would stop serving lunch at 3pm. Is it just me or something was up. I mean, were 40 people supposed to rush to the restaurant within an hour? I couldn't help but think that they refused to serve us because we were tourists or because we didn't fit the Italian (or European) look. Either way, I was disgusted by the service. There may be something I'm missing here so I'l leave the reader to be judge. 

To end on a positive note, I can say that the first phase of the trip was very memorable. That being said, it was much more academic-heavy compared to what was to come. We moved to Pompeii the next day where we got to visit Sorrento and Capri so I'll be writing about that in the next post!