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. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Deutschland: Grunsfeld + Rothenburg

Haley (my roommate) and I had booked flights to Frankfurt in early February to spend the long Easter weekend (April 1-5) in Germany.  There was not much research done before we decided to book (and with RyanAir, once you buy the ticket you can't change anything) so as planning began a in mid-March we were a quite disappointed to discover that:
1) There is nothing to do/see in Frankfurt which is mostly industrial 
2) We were flying into Frankfurt-Hahn which is about an hour away from Frankfurt anyway 
3) The trains in Germany are unbelievably expensive and the cheapest option would have been the three day Europass which still cost around €270
4) A car rental would be cheaper, but as both Haley and I are under 21 this was not an option
5) The two cities we wanted to visit - Munich and Berlin - were about 5 hours apart.

Okay, so now we're both a little panicky and our only goal is to make this trip as little of a disaster as possible.  In art history later that week, Becca, Katie and I were discussing our travel plans when Katie (who, by the way, is 21) says that she still has nothing booked for Easter and, oh, wouldn't it be nice to go somewhere different like... I don't know, Germany?  So two days later Katie is booked on our flight and with new possibilities of a road-trip the real planning could begin. 

I asked Grammy to contact her cousin Ralph - a member of the "Walz" (Gram's maiden name) family living in PA but still in communication with our German cousins - if he had any suggestions for my trip, ancestor/family wise.  He was kind enough to contact our Walz relatives still living in a town called "Grunsfeld" who said they would be happy to give Haley, Katie and I a tour.  We arrived in Grunsfeld Thursday afternoon after the GPS took us on a 3 hour detour through Nuremburg (the drive was supposed to take 45 minutes) and met Herr Weinmann, a family friend of the Walz's and our tour guide for the evening.  He spoke only a small amount of English so also accompanying us as translator was my distant cousin, Maritess, who was 18 and studying English in school.  

We were shown around the town church, museum, and cemetery before being invited to the Vollrath's (Maritess' family) house for dinner.  We had intended on spending the night in a hostel in Wurzberg, about 20 km away, before making our way to Munich Friday morning.  The Weinmann's and Vollrath's invited us back the next morning to see another chapel and also Maritess' mother's town about 5 minutes up the road.  Having the car made us very flexible and we were delighted to return to Grunsfeld on for a morning of tours and Good Friday lunch at the Vollrath Haus.  

On the way to Munich that afternoon we stopped in a medieval city along the Romantische Straße (Romantic Road) called Rothenburg.  Every building was perfectly restored to look as it had in the Middle Ages.  The shops were closed for Good Friday, but we were able to take pictures and buy our postcards before moving east to "Munchen".

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Vacanze di Primavera parte 4 - Roma

Giorno n6 (cont.) - Our train arrived in Rome early Wednesday afternoon.  We took a taxi from the station to the hotel passing thousands of years of human history during the five minute drive.  Also exciting, the amount of film sites I recognized from the Lizzie McGuire Movie. (Annie, watch it again before you visit.) Rome is unbelievable - if Florence is Italy's D.C. - Rome is New York.

We had lunch down the street from our hotel (the first of several visits to this café) afterwards visiting the Trevi Fountain, Parthenon, and Piazza Navona.  We took the first day in Rome at a leisurely pace since I was the only first-time visitor in the group and had more time after their departure to tourist-around.  The restaurant around the corner came highly recommended by the concierge who, however, neglected to inform us that our waiter would make only animal sounds and reveal a fake breast halfway through the main course.  I think I will return there on my next visit.

Giorno n7 - Thursday morning I woke up early and went for a run around the Colosseum and Forum.  Next trip I will concentrate more energy on that time period.  We spent the morning around Piazza Navona moving in the direction of the Vatican where we had a tour with our new friend Michael who has been attending seminary school there for the past two years.  Mom, Michael and I "waited" (waited as in the way Italians wait - they don't, you just fill in the gaps) in line for about 45 minutes to enter Saint Peter's Basilica.  The inside of the Vatican was incredible and thanks to Michael's insight we were able to appreciate the various intricacies and details which would have otherwise been overlooked.

After St. Peter's, we headed back to meet Aunt Jill and Lindsey at the Spanish Steps for lunch and split up again at the Villa Borghese, a massive park in the middle of Rome.  I talked Mom into renting a rowboat for 2 euro and twenty minutes of hilarity ensued.  We are not the most seaworthy of women.  I'm sure there is a youTube video out there titled "Why Didn't Anyone Stop Them?" featuring us - one ore each - frantically splashing around this tiny pond discussing whether or not the turtles thought in Italian or some universal Turtle language.  We hadn't even had our first glass of wine that day.

The Cianciotta Rome restaurant is in a neighborhood past the Villa Borghese.  I think this was the best meal of the trip - Aunt Jill went three for three in the Italy restaurant department.  No train pizza this time, in fact, no leftover anything.  We somehow managed to lift ourselves into the taxi which returned us to the Hotel Barberini - a lovely end to a wonderful visit.

Giorno n8 - Mom, Aunt Jill and Lindsey had an early flight back to New York so we said our goodbyes at 6 am, half asleep in the hotel hallway.  I enjoyed my complimentary breakfast alone (concealing some extra yogurt, bread, spoon, etc. - complimentary lunch for the train ride home) and set off for the Sistine Chapel, the final attraction before my 13.20 train back to Florence.

When I arrived at the Vatican Museum, the line to enter was an estimated three hours.  Thirteen minutes later I had entered, purchased my ticket, and, I am embarrassed to admit, was booking it past pieces which otherwise would have required hours of study and contemplation.  I had a train to catch!  After traveling for that many days, home was what I needed more than artistic inspiration.  The Sistine Chapel took an extremely long time to reach, even at a full speed-walk pace.  I have heard many so-so reviews, a lot of "I thought it would be bigger..." type statements regarding Michelangelo's Chapel - What on earth were they looking at?  It was one of the most impressive works of art I have ever had the privilege to lay eyes on.  Absolutely gorgeous.  The only problem was, if you kept your eyes skyward for more than a few seconds - someone would knock you over.  My attention was split evenly between the admiring the fresco and avoiding being trampled by bustling crowds of people.  Even so, it's a popular place for a reason and it was worth the thirteen minute wait.

After the Vatican Museum, I met with my friend Jared who is studying architecture in Rome.   He walked with me back to the hotel - explaining details of Rome's finer architectural feats along the way.  We picked up my luggage at the hotel, said goodbye at the train station, and after a very successful week of traveling it was time to go home.  The final highlight being, of course, train yogurt.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vacanze di Primavera parte 3 - Venezia

Giorno n5 - The weather finally cleared up in Venice, of all places - a city renowned for its extreme heat or intense flooding.  Our hotel was right on the water and the interior looked like it had stayed the same for the past hundred years.  Very charming.  We ate lunch on the canal before hopping a water taxi to the island of Murano where watched a glass blowing demo given by the worlds tiniest "master blower" whose technique was narrated by the worlds tallest glass expert.  The guy was huge.  The whole thing had a very circus feel to it.  We left with our authentic Murano glass souvenirs (also found at the Harford County Mall - but that's not the point) for the small fishing island of Burano about a 30 minute water taxi ride away.  (I visited Burano during my previous Venice trip in February, but needed to go back with my better camera.)  On Burano we enjoyed a glass of canal-side wine and picked out which boats went with which houses.  Buranonians tend to match their boats with their shutters.

We returned to the main island, shopped and visited a couple tourist things before setting out to find Il Refolo - a Cianciotta Venetian favorite.  The route to get there involved another water taxi ride and an adventure through Venice's complicated alleyways and bridge system.  Imploring the help of some kind locals, we arrived at our destination and enjoyed a fabulous meal with "train pizza" to spare.  (Train pizza is what we started to call the leftovers we ate on the train rides between cities.)

Giorno n6 - Mom and I woke up early Wednesday to see San Marco and the Bridge of Sighs before our train around noon.  San Marco did not open until right before we needed to catch our water taxi so we killed about an hour walking around - getting lost and finding our way and getting lost again.  We stopped for caffe along one of the smaller canals and experienced one of those "this is paradise" moments - right before speaking too much English, pissing off the barista, and being reminded of our place.  Oh, Italy.

We made it through San Marco just in time to meet Aunt Jill and Linds at the water taxi stop.  Our final water ride in Venice was straight down the Grand Canal to the train station where we were ecstatic to show off our suitcase-lug-up-stairs skills yet again.  Luckily, the best fuel after any workout involving heavy luggage - train pizza.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Vacanze di Primavera parte 2 - Peschiera del Garda

Giorno n4 - Monday morning we took a the train from Firenze di Campo to to Peschiera, located at the bottom tip of Lake Garda (See map).  To save some Euro, we opted for the train that required two changes - once in Bologna and once in Verona.  I had been to Riva del Garda a month earlier and transfered (not so smoothly) in the same stations.  The "learning from past mistakes" theory becomes void when the system (i.e. TrenItalia) is one giant mistake.  In Verona, our train was scheduled to arrive 10 minutes before our next departure.  Of course, our train was late and we, four rolling suitcases, several "carry-ons" (more suitcases), and an array of other packages found ourselves frantically scrambling down the platform stairway, across the station underground, and back up another set up stairs to arrive with mere seconds before our train (thankfully, also running late) pulled out of the Verona station.

Luckily, Peschiera del Garda is a quiet summer resort town so our stressful train ride was quickly forgotten.  We spent the day meandering in and out of stores and cafés, all the time discussing how different it would be in the summertime as opposed to 50 degrees and rainy.  The weather did not keep us down - especially after finding some wine in a rooftop bar (which would have been "so amazing in the summertime!") and a restaurant which served a delectable linguini with clam sauce.   We finished our evening hanging with the locals at the hotel bar, being sure to avoid eye contact with the employees who were almost certainly ghosts.

Lake Garda is the pink circle.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Vacanze di Primavera parte 1 - Firenze

Giorno n1 - I was expecting a phone call from Mom after she, Aunt Jill, and Lindsey landed in Rome on Friday morning before they took the train to Florence.  Apparently, there was some confusion with the phone card so my morning was spent instead on the phone with Dad wondering where the heck they were.  Finally around noon I received a call from the Hotel L'Orologio reception desk saying they (and my organic peanut butter) had arrived and checked in safely.  I must have looked like an insane person - sprinting through Piazza del Duomo in Crocs and with soaking wet hair to get to hotel in Piazza Santa Maria Novella (did I mention Mom also brought Kashi bars?). Everyone was tired/hungry/dirty/jet-lagged and Aunt Jill submitted a proposal which would become a resounding theme throughout the week - "Wine?".  I took them to the café next to my school in Piazza Strozzi called Collé Beret for appetizers and of course, wine.  I had never been to Collé Beret (judging by those I had seen eating there, it was not in my price range) but the wine was fantastic and the waitress asked us how we knew to go there "because it's not for tourists."  There my family got their first preview of my awful, broken, baby Italian when I explained my status as American student (which in their eyes is still - tourist).  Lindsey definitely spoke better Italian than I did.  With our forces combined the trip suffered minimal language barrier issues.  After our lunch we did some walking around the Duomo area and went to see my apartment.  Aunt Jill had made reservations at Uncle Joe's favorite Florentine restaurant called Buca San Mario located less than a block from the Hotel L'Orologio.  The food was amazing, we ordered way too much and finished it all anyway (another reoccurring theme).  After dinner we visited Grom, Florence's "famous gelateria", and a cheap student hotspot called "Wine Bar" before heading back to the hotel for bed.

Giorno n2 - Shopping - Eating - Shopping - Aperitivo with Lena at Kitsch, followed by a drink at the Enoteca between Kitsch and my apartment and ending with a drink at Rex before retiring to the hotel.

Giorno n3 -By Sunday we all (excluding Lindsey) were feeling the effects of non-stop food and wine consumption.  Despite this, we were able to manage an incredibly productive day of tourism.  Mom and I woke up early to see David and grab some things from my apartment before meeting Aunt Jill and Lindsey to climb the Duomo.  The rainy weather combined with our perpetual state of food coma allowed us the energy to get through the Pitti Palace, but we skipped the Boboli Gardens in order to refuel at Gusta Osteria in Santo Spirito.  After lunch, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio and did (just a little) more shopping in the department stores on Tournabuoni.  For dinner we made a reservation at Acqua al 2, the restaurant famous for its blueberry steak (but the balsamic was fantastic also) and finished up Florence with the Snickers gelato Lindsey had been seeking out since Friday.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


       Sorry it's been a while since I've updated. Mid-terms are this week (I should be studying now but this seemed like a better idea) so I haven't done anything too exciting.  Last weekend my roommate and I visited the "Taste" food and wine festival that was in Florence for a few days.  There were hundreds of stands set up from regions all over Tuscany set up in an abandoned train station a 20 minute walk from our apartment.  For 10 Euro we walked around and sampled pestos, olive oils, chocolates, wines, vodkas, coffees, balsamics, breads, meats, fish, teas - basically every type of food or drink you could ever want.  We stayed for four or five hours and definitely got our money's worth.  At the end was a huge store where you could buy the products - kind of like Ikea (which I reference way too often, but every aspect of Ikea is pure genius and needs constant recognition).  Delicious, fresh Italian food - I think I'll miss you most of all.

        No posting next week as I will be traveling with Mom, Aunt Jill and Lindsey. They get here Friday.  Can't wait!  For now, back to studying. Arrivederci!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Found a scanner!

Lena and I visited the Galleria dell' Accademia yesterday morning and we both saw David for the first time. I have free entrance so I could take my time to look at the work and know I can always go back later on. I spent about two hours there and only made it to through the Sala del Colosso (which holds works done by Botticelli, Lippi, Perugino, and the plaster model of "Rotto delle Sabine" by Giambologna [see sketches]) and the Galleria dei Prigioni, a space created specifically for Michelangelo's "David". The hall leading up to David holds a number of Michelangelo's unfinished marble sculptures intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Seeing the raw chisel marks in these huge pieces of stone allow the audience to appreciate even more the effort it took to carve David.
I am also happy to report that I discovered a scanner in the printmaking room so I can finally post some pages of my sketchbook. I have some more that need to be edited but here are a few - Enjoy!

Jan. 25 - Dad on the phone

Feb. 3 + 6 - Bus ride to Venice and some boots.

Mar. 6 - An unfinished work by Michelangelo + David

Giambologna's model for "Rotto delle Sabine"
The real one is outside the Uffizi in Piazza Signoria next to fake David

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lake Garda + Verona

On Friday afternoon, Libby, Megan, Mary Elizabeth and I took the train from Firenze C.M. to Riva del Garda on Lake Garda. The plan was to go from Florence to Verona and catch a bus from there to Riva del Garda. When we arrived in Verona we discovered the buses were no longer running so we ran back to the station and sprinted to make the next train to Roveteo and from there took a cab to the hotel. Riva del Garda is a summer resort town and we were there with only a handful of other tourists. Most places were closed for the winter but the shops and restaurants that were open were incredibly accommodating. The hotel owner waited up for us to get there and when we arrived at 11 pm (5 hours past our check out time) tired and hungry, she happily called different restaurants looking for somewhere still serving food. When we found a place that was open and started to walk there, the restaurant owner came out and met us on the street to show us where to go. They must have a lot of free time during the off season.
The next day we woke up late and strolled around the town a little before hiking about 30 min to Bastione, a 16th century fortress that overlooks Riva del Garda. The views from Bastione were gorgeous (see Flickr.) and the weather was maybe the warmest it has been since we arrived in Italy. After the hike we made lunch and walked around to the lake. I am glad we went in the off season when it was not crowded but the lake in the summer must be beautiful. We all appreciated a weekend where we could breathe fresh air and avoid fighting crowds of people to get to class. It was also nice to watch the olympics and CNN in English at the hotel.
Sunday we took the 1 pm bus to Verona and arrived around 3. We saw "Casa del Giulietta" and the Arena in Piazza Bra but decided to catch the 4:30 train back to Florence since the weather was not so great and we were tired from traveling. The next two weekends I have nothing planned but I am thinking a day trip to Sienna or Chianti at some point. Until then, it feels nice to be back in Florence for a while.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Otel, Motel..

So Gram thinks I need to post more since she's in freezing cold Florida and my Florentine escapades are her entertainment until it warms up and she can sit out in the sun :) Well, here you go! Last weekend I stayed in Florence and continued my exploration of life outside the "Centre". Megan and her roommates invited me to an aperitivo on the other side of the city which was not such a pretty area but at least we saw something different. Quick correction to a former post: I found out that aperitivo is only about 5 years old in Italy and you are supposed to treat it like dinner. So now I can feel better about pigging out when we go. Friday we went to Rex, the bar across from my apartment, which was nice because a) it was raining and b) if the line for the bathroom was too long we just came home to use ours. Saturday night Megan, Lena, Libby and I cooked dinner at my apartment and then went with a friend to "Otel", a discoteca also outside the Centre that cannot be accessed by most transportationless American students. We were the only non-Italians there and the place was huge. It might be the best kept secret in Florence.
Next week we are going to Lake Garda and Lake Como so I will hopefully have some new pictures up on Flickr soon.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Giardino di Boboli

As I had hoped for, my professors are very aware that most of came to first experience Italy and then to deal with our Lorenzo de'Medici course load. My homework for drawing each week is to visit various historical locations Florence and sketch. Today, that location was the Boboli Gardens, built by the Medici in the 16th century and located behind the Pitti Palace. This was my first trip to the Gardens and it was such a beautiful day to go! My assignment for photography was to take pictures of large landscapes and there was so much opportunity. The views were unbelievable - I'll post the pictures to Flickr soon. I was so caught up in the photos that I completely forgot to draw so I only got one sketch in. It's an excuse to go visit again.
Last night Lena, Libby, Cecilia, Megan, Jen (from VCU), and I went to a bar called Kitsch for aperitivo. It's 8 euro for one drink and a small buffet. I've been to a few aperitivos already but Kitsch's was the best by far. You're really supposed to eat a little there and then go to a real dinner but we just use it as an opportunity to stuff our faces non-stop for a few hours. How un-Italian.
After my Garden visit today I met Libby and Lena on the Ponte del Vecchio to do some across-the-river café hopping and try to have a more local experience. We also found the yoga studio I've been researching and it seemed like a nice place so we will try it later this week. I am in need a few good sessions to combat all the wine and chocolate consumption. Every storefront window is filled with chocolate, pastries, pizza, or shoes. It's almost impossible to go a day without caving in to at least one.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


This weekend we went with Lorenzo de'Medici to the opening of the Carnevale in Venice. The Carnevale goes from Feb. 7th to the day before Ash Wednesday so it's basically an extended version of Mardi Gras. It was incredible! The masks were fantastic and the weather was great. Saturday night we were bussed to a "Traditional Carnevale" dinner which included about 5 courses and free wine. The next trip I take with school will be to Pompeii in April and I hope it will be just as great an experience. I just uploaded the pictures to Flickr so take a look - Ciao!

Friday, February 5, 2010


Today we made the mandatory trip to Pisa which no one really gets excited about but it would be considered sacrilege to return home from Italy without pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower and documenting it for future generations. Everyone who has been says "Pisa - There is one thing there." And it's true. Nevertheless, we took the hour train ride and tromped through the rain to get our precious photos and I am happy to announce that you can now view them on my Flickr page at

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Secret Bakery

Last night I went out with Monique and Jackie to Salamunca, a Mexican place about 3 minutes from our apartment building, with the intention of having a glass of wine and retiring to bed before midnight. When we got to the restaurant, we met a group of guys who were traveling Europe separately but all had rooms in the same hostel. They were fun and we decided to stay out with them to await the opening of the "secret bakery" down the street. I had no idea what secret bakeries were until about two days ago, but they probably fall in that category of things American students do that the locals make fun of them for. Around 2 or 3 am, when the bakeries are making food to sell the next day, if you go around to the back door and knock, a man appears and sells you slices of pizza and various pastries for only 1 or 2 euro. This is illegal (hence must be kept "secret" even though there were about 30 people there) because the food is supposed to be sold wholesale to whichever pastry shop it is being baked for and because the guy at the door probably just pockets the money. Anyway, the pizza was amazingly fresh, cheap - and all you have to do to get it is hang around in an unsafe Florentine alley at 3 am.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Shoe Quest

My feet have bled every day since I've been here and no amount of yoga or sock layering is changing it. I know why the Italians take their shoes so seriously... quality and comfort are two definite necessities. I went for a run this morning across the Arno (during sunrise - beautiful!) and scoped out shoe places the whole way. There are so many options! Sorry, this is a really boring post but it's 11 pm and the ache in my feet has been at the forefront of my mind all day.
In other news: I visited the Mercato Centrale which is the main place to buy fresh (and cheap) produce, meat, wine, etc. There's a bunch of vendors outside the market selling clothing and shoes as well. I've been finding random American foods in different smaller markets throughout the city and by the end of my stay here I just may have a pantry that looks similar to the one at home. One great find was Crispy M&Ms (in the light blue bag) at the 99 cent store on our corner. I have been looking for those in the U.S. for years and haven't seen them so it was thrilling to say the least.

Tomorrow is Advanced Drawing and Modernist and Contemporary Art. Word on the street is the classes aren't as difficult as back home because they want us to be able to travel and do things in Italy besides homework, but I'm trying not to count on it until I've met all my professors. Thursday I start my Photography for Advertising class and hopefully an assignment will be something along the lines of "Create a postcard that captures the beauty of Tuscany" so I can have an excuse to get going on my travel pictures. They are coming soon - promise!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Almost adjusted...

They say when you travel it takes one day to adjust for every hour time difference, therefore can use the jet-lag card for two more days of tiredness and after that I'm out of excuses. Besides the time change, my body is having some trouble figuring out the Italian eating schedule (mainly because my mind doesn't know it either). I'm still unsure what to eat and when to eat it. I have about a 4 days supply of Kashi bars and mini-pop kettle corn so hopefully I'll be adjusted to the 8:30 dinners and who knows what time lunches and breakfasts.
One aspect in which I can see myself getting better is everyday navigation of the city. Where two days ago I spent about fifteen minutes walking the wrong direction with my map out the whole time, today I felt confident leaving the apartment and walking to church without consulting it once. I am also working very hard on my italian and can see improvements already. The local Florentines seem to appreciate the effort and are always more friendly if you at least attempt their language.
Yesterday I went for "caffé" with Lena, Libby, and Cecilia up Via Giuseppe Verdi near Santa Croce. We talked a lot about the fact that Florence is overrun by American tourists and students and Cecilia showed us places to go where they could be avoided. Once I get a memory card for my camera I'll start putting pictures up on Flickr. I'm also looking for a scanner to get some of my sketches posted as well.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Why are you here?

I had a very interesting evening out with my roommate Haley (she's wonderful - she cooks) and a few friends from Marist College in NY. We met them today on our way to buy our "Amici Degli Uffizi" cards (for €40 we have unlimited access to many of the museums/gardens in Florence) and decided it would be a great idea to try a club called "Twenty-One". First red flag - in Florence, any establishment proudly displaying a blatantly English title should be avoided at all costs. Why? When walking around the city, it is clear that a large portion of the population is American students. Students who, one would think, chose Florence as their study abroad destination of choice because they had a desire to engage in the experiences a different culture might offer. For some, this is absolutely the case. Not so for the 150+ nineteen and twenty year old American students in "Twenty-One". I am not interested in the actions of my peers while in Italy (except for the way their behavior reflects upon the study abroad students as a whole - welcome to the stereotyped minority), I have much more exciting things to think about.
After I finally pushed my way out of Twenty-One, I immediately text messaged my friend Cecilia from Lorenzo de'Medici (who is Swedish but speaks fluent Italian and English and has lived in Florence for a year) and told her of my experience. She is very aware of the issue and promised me a dinner with some of her local Florentine friends next week. (Also, "Caffé tomorrow?") So after all that ranting about not embracing the culture I have to get to bed -

big IKEA trip tomorrow.

Okay, so I'm a hypocrite (I also bought gloves and a scarf from H & M). But they gave us about five hangers, what do you expect me to do with that? I also see it as a way to limit the culture shock they keep saying will hit us at any moment and, I don't know, we'll start having seizures in the middle of Piazza della Repubblica or something terrible. Anyway, my next post will be only positive things. (Unless I am somehow disappointed by the Italian IKEA cafeteria. It's highly unlikely.) Buonanotte!

Ciao Amici!

Finally here! The trip to Florence was... we'll just call it a learning experience and leave it on a positive note. I just got internet about an hour ago so I wanted to post quick and let everyone know I made it. More details soon!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Almost Gone!

Winter break has been a lot of Italy preparation and not too much sketching - updates will be coming soon. I am leaving next Tuesday the 26th and returning in late May. I promise to keep up with my blog as an alternative to reactivating Facebook so keep checking back!