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.