August 13, 2012

Florence, Italy - After adjusting to the Italian culture in a peaceful getaway like Lake Como, the Rams quickly moved their tour into the busy streets of Florence.

Florence is the most populated city in the Tuscany region with nearly 1.5 million people in the metro area. Nestled into the crowded streets are historic art galleries, including Accademia dell'Arte del Disegno, which houses the world-renown sculpture, Michelangelo's David.

In addition to the art and sculptures, the group was captivated by the Florence Cathedral, the Santa Maria del Fiore, which is the fourth largest church in Europe.

At one point during the stay in Florence, Associate Head Coach Mike Rhoades commented, "It's almost like it's a painting. Every time I see it, I have to remind myself it's actually real. It's unbelievable."

During our time in Florence, we used one morning to make the short drive (about an hour) to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There's a big duomo (cathedral) right next to the Leaning Tower to make what is known as "Miracle Square."

The entire group marched up the stairs of the Leaning Tower and started snapping pictures left and right.

"I was a little nervous going up at first because you can really feel it leaning when you're walking up the stairs, but when we got up to the top, the view was worth it," rising senior Troy Daniels said. "We're really blessed to be able to have an opportunity to see sights like this, it's a once-in-a-life time chance."

In addition to all the sight-seeing and shopping in Florence, the Rams played two games, picking up victories both times out.

For more on the games in Florence, check out these write-ups:

Italy Game 2 Recap from Florence
Italy Game 3 Recap from Florence

Now it's on to Rome to wrap up this amazing 10-day journey.

August 11, 2012

FLORENCE, Italy - We'll have a full blog update about the Rams time in Florence for you when you check back on Monday morning, but we had to share a quick story with all of Ram Nation.

I was out for a run along the river here in Florence and as I passed through a park, there was an older couple sitting by a little food stand that are common sights over here in Italy. I had on one of my VCU Basketball shirts and as I was running by the couple seemed to stare a little more than usual, which I thought was odd, but shrugged it off thinking it was no big deal.

On my way back, the same couple was still there and when I ran by this time, they broke out the "You don't want to go to war with the Rams" chorus, which made me stop dead in my tracks. I walked over, introduced myself and turns out they were from Dayton, Ohio and come to visit Italy every four or five years because the wife's (Lynne) grandfather was from Italy. They had seen the Rams play in the 2011 NCAA Tournament in Dayton and fell in love with our players and program. They've been following us every since and asked about Brad, Joey, Jamie, Brandon, Ed and a few guys on this year's team.

They said they were going to try and come to a game at the Siegel Center this year, which I said was a must have experience for any Ram fan. So Steve and Lynne, great meeting you, we look forward to seeing you in Richmond.

Just another example of the power of Ram Nation.

August 8, 2012

COMO, Italy – Being seven-feet tall doesn't make flying the easiest, especially when the flight is over nine hours. But even a little bit of discomfort wasn't going to lessen the excitement of the first day of a 10-day tour of Italy for rising junior D.J. Haley and the VCU men's basketball team.

"It's not easy, but it's just a matter of rearranging and finding what is most comfortable," Haley said. "We were lucky to have some empty seats on our flight over so I was able to move around and find the best seat for me."

Haley and his teammates piled on the bus in the Siegel Center parking lot on Sunday morning, hopped on a short flight to Atlanta and 10 hours later they were on the streets of Milan, Italy.

After meeting up with the tour guides from the Basketball Travelers organization, Mark and Jennifer, along with our Italian tour guide, Virginia. The group of nearly 30 took over the city center of Milan for a walking tour of the second most popular city in Italy.

With a game set for Tuesday, it was critical to keep everyone awake and adjust as best as possible to the six-hour time difference from back in Richmond.

The tour began with a walk through the Castello Stforzesco (a castle in Milan), which was going through a bit of a restoration process, but the moats, towers and huge castle walls from the 1400s were quite a sight for the group.

As one of the most popular fashion destinations in the world, the streets of Milan were filled with high-end stores nestled into historic buildings.

The most astounding sight for many was in the City Square where we visited the third largest church in all of Europe, Catedral de Milan. Over 11,000 square meters in size, the Cathderal is constructed entirely of marble with construction beginning in 1308.

"It was amazing to see the detail and time that they spent building it," Haley said. "To think about them building it without the modern technology that we have today makes it even more astounding."

Lake Como

Our first full day in Italy began with an unbelievable private boat tour around the very scenic Lake Como, which is located right across the street from our hotel.

With our Italian guide, Virginia, pointing out sights along the way, the group traveled a little over an hour across the 1,700 square mile body of water to the little town of Bellagio.

Some of the sights along the way included the private homes of Richard Branson (owner of Virgin Records) and George Clooney, along with a villa that was included in the scenes of movies such as Star Wars and Casino Royale.

Rising junior Rob Brandenberg couldn't believe some of sights that the boat tour provided.

"It's crazy to see all these unbelievable sights as a group," Brandenberg said. "We're really blessed and appreciative of the opportunities to do the things that we've been able to."

A quick walk through the town of Bellagio provided plenty of opportunities to buy some authentic Italian garments, pizza and gelato.

"The food has been outstanding," Brandenberg added. "The pizza over here is ridiculous, so much different and better than home."

After the boat tour, the Rams headed back to the hotel for some relaxation time before their first of four games in Italy.

Read more about the first game here: Rams take home Italian tour opener Amici Del Campero, 118-71

November 7, 2012 JOIN THE RAMS ON THE ROAD