Monday, May 17, 2010

France: Paris

            On Tuesday, I met took the train from Montlogon to meet Katie in Paris.  We were both without cell phones so we planned to meet in front of Notre Dame de Paris at 9 am.  We had a baguette breakfast before meeting the Paris Free Tour group at 10 am at the Place Saint-Michel.  Our guide was very enthusiastic and the experience was quite enjoyable.  Afterwards, we took a walk down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées with our friend Ben who we met on the tour.  Our last stop that day was in the Musée d’Orsay on the left bank of the Siene. The Musée holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1915, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography, and is probably best known for its extensive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces (the largest in the world) by such painters such as Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin and Van Gogh.  Katie and I caught the train back to Montlogon, ate dinner, and watched a movie with Henri before bed.
            Wednesday, my last day in France, Mr. Jacqueau dropped Katie and I at the train station where we were off again to Paris.  I had to catch a bus to the airport early that afternoon, but we were able to squeeze in a Louvre trip and good-bye lunch beforehand. 
            The next 30 or so hours were a blur.  My plane from Paris landed in Pisa at 20:30 where I picked up my suitcase and boarded the train to the Pisa station, arriving around 21:00.  I had to wait at the train station for the trenonotte which departed at 2:19 and arrived at 5:51 in Roma.  From there, another train to the Roma Airport and finally my flight back to JFK – departing 10:00am arriving 1:40pm.  Tayler and Nicole picked me up from the airport, complete with “Welcome Home” signs and plenty of family stories to catch me up on all I had missed.  On the way back to the Cianciotta’s house we stopped for a sushi lunch – in my state of delirium and jet lag, it was perhaps the best sushi I’d ever tasted.  Europe was amazing – but it felt so good to be home.

Friday, May 14, 2010

France: Montlogon

            We finished up final week at Lorenzo de’Medici on Thursday, May 13th, giving me only a small window of time to pack everything before my plane to France the following afternoon.  I ended up throwing out or donating a lot of my things (saddest among them my yoga block and favorite slippers) in hopes that I could keep my bag weight under 20 kg (44 lbs) and not have to pay any overweight charges.  I had a final caffé with Lena and she helped me get my bags on the train to the Pisa airport.  We said a classic movie waving-from-departing-train goodbye, after which I did the same to my beloved Florence.  I left my suitcase in the Pisa airport luggage storage and reassembled my carry on bag (throwing away a few more items) to keep it under 10 kg.  This is not an easy feat with a weeks worth of clothes and a computer, so I ended up doing a popular cheap-traveler move and waddling through RyanAir security wearing three pairs of pants, two belts, and four or five t-shirts. 
            I landed in the Paris-Beaveaux airport around 6:30 pm and was greeted by Mrs. Jacqueau, our family friend from Virginia who I have not seen since I was a baby, and her 3-year-old son, Henri.  We drove from the airport to the Jacqueau’s home in Montlogon, about 50 minutes north of Paris, in time for dinner (crepes!) with the rest of the family. The Jacqueau’s home is beautiful – very cozy inside with an enormous backyard enclosed completely by a centuries old stonewall.  They had chickens on the side of the house, a couple gardens in the back, and about twenty bikes in the shed next to the driveway (with seven children, they tend to pile up).  In the evenings following dinner I was offered tea brewed using herbs from the garden.  Surrounded by the Jacqueau family’s love and generosity, the homesickness I had felt living on my own in Florence lessened immensely.
            Mrs. Jacqueau made sure I saw everything there was to see in Montlogon and nearby Senlis.  She was a wonderful tour guide – very knowledgeable about the history of the towns.  On Monday, we visited the Château de Pierrefonds, a destroyed 12th century castle rebuilt by Viollet-le-Duc under the patronage of Napoleon III in 1857, afterwards taking Henri to the nearby lake to feed the fish. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Arrivederci, Firenze.

Friday morning, May 7th, the hotel called for a car to take Dad and Annie back to the Rome airport and me to Roma Termini for the train back to Florence.  I had missed almost a full week of classes to be in Rome which set me back on my work for “Art in the Streets”, Lorenzo de’Medici’s annual student art show that takes place… in the street.  I had once piece to set up for photography, another for drawing, and promised Lena I would model her “New Romantic” outfit in the fashion show.  My Friday was spent setting up my pieces and rehearsing for the show.  I didn’t even go back to my apartment after the train from Rome on Friday and had my luggage with me until about 4 pm that day. 
Saturday, opening day of the exhibit, Lena and I walked around early to look at the student exhibitions set up inside and outside the shops and cafés on Via Faenza.  Around one o’clock we both went in for “hair and makeup” (she was modeling, too) and were completely blown away by the fashion show’s level of seriousness.  They had professional hairstylists and make up artists for the 60 or so girls participating.  Most of the models were also designers so I was one of the few who did not make what I was wearing.
The catwalk was on the cobblestone street outside the guidance building, not ideal for heels but, thankfully, (despite several bottles of vino being passed around in the dressing room to ease nerves) no one tripped.  From the street we entered into the church attached to the Lorenzo de’Medici main office, did a little spin, and headed back.  From where we were waiting inside it was impossible to tell how many people came to watch the show.  For most of the girls, including myself, this was the first time doing any sort of modeling and the energy backstage was a mix of nerves and excitement.  Luckily, we all had years of America’s Next Top Model footage to mentally review and “Tyra says…” tips were being passed around rapidly in the final moments.  The first thing I saw when I got outside to begin the walk was four or five of my photography class friends yelling and snapping pictures.  It was hard to tell how many people were there but it was enough to fill the entire street the length of the catwalk and the inside of the church.  Halfway down the runway I heard Becca scream my name so loud and I had to laugh – even though Guido, the head of the fashion department, strictly forbade expressions that conveyed non-seriousness.
After the show, we went back to Libby and Lena’s apartment to get ready for our last weekend out in Florence.  We stopped by Via San Gallo to meet with Becca and Katie before heading to Shot Café.  I didn’t stay out late since I still had work to catch up on.  Most everyone had planned to make Saturday the big “last-Florence-hoorah” and I wanted to save my energy for then. 
Saturday, our last weekend night in Firenze, the street from Bigallow’s bar on Via Proconsolo to Lion’s Fountain on Corso was absolutely packed with LdM students.  I ended up losing Lena and Libby early on as we were all tied up saying our last goodbyes to classmates we were meeting on the way.  I’ve never had to say goodbye to so many close friends, knowing there was a good chance I would not see them for a very long time if ever again.  Katie and Becca are back in Colorado, Lena in Sweden, Haley in Florida, so on etc.  There were many friends I made who lived closer – mostly New York and New Jersey – for whom saying goodbye was more of a “see ya down the shore!”  The night was bittersweet but considering the circumstances could not have been more perfect. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dad + Annie Visit: Roma

            Our hotel in Rome was off a tiny street close to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps.  We checked in around eight PM – still exhausted from the bike tour earlier that day, we retired to the room early following a gelato by the Trevi Fountain.  Wednesday, May 5th, Dad and I woke up early and took the metro to see St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Wall – two of the “big four” I had missed in my previous visit.  We picked up Annie from the hotel around 11, stopping in at the Pantheon and St. Ignatius church before lunch at “La Piccola Cuccagna” next to Piazza Navona.  After lunch we headed to the Villa Borghese (unfortunately, there was no time to row boat – next visit), perhaps the one spot in Rome with a fantastic view of St. Peters Dome that Dad had not yet seen.  To continue our day of endless metro riding and hill climbing, Dad took us to see my favorite of Bernini’s sculptures, St. Teresa in Ecstasy.  On the way down from St. Teresa, we stopped at the copy store to buy the artsy-fartsy Stabilo pens Dad was eyeing to compliment his trendy Moleskin notebook.  Only Comm Arts majors would write about buying pens in a blog (I got a new Faber-Castell 0.1 which I am very happy with).  Anyway, for dinner we ended up at a little hole-in-the-wall down the street from the hotel and had one of those magical experiences where everything we ate was “THE BEST _____ I’VE EVER TASTED!”  For the main courses, Annie went with spaghetti, Dad had the calamari, and I had swordfish.  Molto Buono!
            Thursday, Dad woke up early to get in line for the Vatican Museums – Annie and I met up with him just as it opened and got in quickly.  We had a few hours before our tour of St. Peters with Michael, our seminary school friend, so we could take our time in the Raphael Rooms and “Pinacoteca” wing.  We met for the tour in St. Peter’s Basilica, which was, again, fantastic.  This time I took notes (new pen!) so I could absorb more of the information.  A couple we had met while eating Gusta Pizza in Florence recommended a pizzeria in the Trestavere section called Dar Poeta.  It took us a while to find and so lunch hour turned into a “linner” type meal by the time we sat down to eat. Dar Poeta had by far my favorite pizza in Italy – thin but not too thin and exactly the right amount of crisp.  After linner, we walked Annie back to the hotel and went quickly up the street to see the Caravaggio exhibit at the Scuderie del Quirindale.  Dad was not so impressed by the “cartoony blood”, but the exhibit confirmed Caravaggio as my favorite Baroque Era painter (whose name begins with the letter “C”).  You can’t spend four months in Italy and come out with a favorite anything, food, art or otherwise, it’s all incredible.  

Friday, April 30, 2010

Dad + Annie Visit: Firenze

I met up with Annie and Dad Saturday morning at the Hotel Roma in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, across from Hotel L’Orologio where Aunt Jill, Lindsey and Mom stayed in March.  I immediately took the starving souls to Wine Bar in San Lorenzo for an early lunch where young Anne enjoyed her first taste of alcohol, ever, with a glass of Chianti.  We took a quick tour of Santa Maria Novella and made our way up to Piazza Michelangelo for a photo-op while the weather was still nice.  Afterwards, we attended an Italian mass at San Ambrogio, the small church down the street from my apartment.  We had time to relax at Mom’s favorite wine spot in Piazza San Ambrogio before dinner at Acqua al 2 (Blueberry steak!). Annie and I parted ways with Father (we imagine he went directly back to the room), she stayed in my apartment while Haley was traveling.  We met with Kayna and Dee at Bigalow’s and said a brief “Ciao” to Libby at Lochness before heading in. 
             The three of us were in line at the Accademia early Sunday morning to see David – waiting about thirty minutes in the rain before the guy behind us started to get irritated and talked the guard into letting us in.  David looked beautiful as ever (I won’t dwell anymore on his grandeur, read the previous posts).  Annie went back to my apartment for a nap while Dad and I looked around San Lorenzo and Santa Croce, which holds the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Dante.  We picked up Annie and headed to Fiesole to see the tomb of St. Romulous and another gorgeous view of Firenze.  After the bus ride back from Fiesole, we walked to the Ponte Vecchio and did some exploring on the other side of the Arno before pizza at the famous “Gusto” in Santo Spirito.
            Monday we met Dad in Piazza Republicca for cappuccino and pastries at Gilli. Annie and Dad climbed the Duomo while I went to Italian class and we met afterwards on the steps of Santa Maria del Fiore.  Dad went to Piazza Signoria to visit the Uffizi (unfortunately, it is closed on Mondays) - Annie and I went gift shopping in San Lorenzo market.  I took them to Kitsch for aperitivo and the three of us met Lena for a quick drink at Old Stove before calling it a night. 
            Dad and I had decided to reserve spots on an 18-mile bike tour/wine tasting of Tuscany that Tuesday – which we did without the knowledge of Annie.  Dad and I biked the whole tour, while a combination of exhaustion and on/off down pouring was enough incentive for Annie to remain in the van with Jacopo, our driver who rocked pink Supergra sneaks better than anyone I’ve seen in Italy.  The ride up the mountain was beautiful for the most part, despite the fact we were soaked for the entire event.  The tour included lunch at a vineyard and we were given a step-by-step tour of how the wine and olive oil was produced.  On the ride back we stopped for a well-deserved gelato and finished at the bottom of the mountain where the bus took us back to the center.  Annie and I went back to the apartment to dry off and grab our luggage while Dad bought the train tickets to Rome.  We met at the Art Nouveau-style café next to the station and picked up sandwiches which (in edition to Gusto train pizza) we ate for dinner en route to Roma Termini.   

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hike in Fiesole

Lorenzo de'Medici (my university, not the man) held a number of free events throughout the semester to assist in deepening our appreciation for Tuscan culture.  I attended the "Italian Dance Workshop" by myself back in February - it was fun, but would have been better had a friend been there to exchange bewildered glances with when the professor burst out with instructions such as "YOU ALL HAVE TITS NOW SHAKE EM'!"  For the next event in April, a ten mile hike through the hills in Fiesole, I asked Lena if she would join me to avoid any feelings of inner awkwardness should the same dance professor be our tour guide.  The hike was leisurely, it took about four hours.  The nicest part was realizing how nature feels the same everywhere you go -  Fiesole could have been where my 4th grade Girl Scout troop hiked in Connecticut or Rocks State Park in Harford County.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Deutschland: Neuschwastein, Dachau + Munchen

We made it to the hostel later than expected Friday night - thank you again, GPS (it wasn't so bad actually, we would have been much worse off without it) - and turned in early.  Two guys in our room, Grant and Randall from Texas, accompanied us at 5.30 the next morning on the two hour drive to Neuschawstein Castle.  For a quick Wikipedia description - Neuschwanstein Castle is a 19th-century Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangaunear Füssen in southwest BavariaGermany. The palace was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as an homage to Richard Wagner (who Ludwig was completely gay for - that's from me, not Wiki). The palace was intended as a personal refuge for the reclusive king, but it was opened to the paying public immediately after his death in 1886.  Fun fact - is also the castle they based Cinderella's castle in Disney off of.  After the castle, the five of us drove north to visit the concentration camp in Dachau. It was an incredibly eye opening experience everyone should have at least once - but I never need to see another one. 

We were drained by the time we returned to Munich Saturday afternoon.  We walked around a little and had a typical German meal downtown - sausage, beer, and pretzels with mustard - perfect!  That night we went out to a bar and met two local Munich girls who got us into an underground electronic club.  It reminded me of the SNL German parody - with light up squares on the floor and robot-esque dance moves.  Sunday morning we walked around the English Gardens while eating some more big pretzels with mustard.  We took the free walking tour of Munich in the afternoon, afterwards Katie and Haley went on the Munich beer tour/pub crawl and I found a mass for Easter. We all met up later and had some wine with our new tour friends at the hostel.  To save a few euro we spent Sunday night in the car (which was more comfortable than we thought it would be) and woke up early for the drive back to Frankfurt-Hahn, arriving back home in Firenze by late Monday afternoon.