A Tale of Two Houses

IMG_0933Day 38.

Miles Driven: 463

IMG_0897Westward-ho! Now we start our journey back to the West coast. I had no idea Pennsylvania was so wide! Now, our must-see attraction in Cleveland was the house used for the cult-classic holiday film A Christmas Story. This is a great film that hits home with many of the strange holiday traditions and events that can happen in any American family. Known for lines like “you’ll shoot your eye out kid,” “show me how the piggies eat,” and “fra-gi-le, that must be Italian.” After 24-hours of A Christmas Story on TBS, this film has become a yearly tradition at my house.

The 1983 film was based on Jean Sheperd’s collection of short stories, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and was set in Hammond, Indiana. Director Bob Clark found that Hammond no longer displayed the 1950s America where Sheperd’s stories were set, but Cleveland, still a busy steel town, did. The exterior of the house and neighborhood were used for all outside shots while interior shots were recreated on a sound stage.

IMG_0898IMG_0900In 2004, the house was put on sale on ebay and purchased by Brian Jones who then restored the home to its stardom. He even gutted the interior and recreated the Parker Family’s home inside, exactly like the sound stage. The house and museum now hold much movie memorabilia and is very fun to visit at any level of fandom for this movie.

IMG_0914After spending a few hours at the house, we drove over to Cleveland’s Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. The museum was designed by I.M. Pei, the same architect who designed the pyramid addition at the Louvre in IMG_0916Paris. We did not have time to tour the museum, but they have an awesome gift shop. I did buy a neat 45-record of Elvis, one of the first artists to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

A bit more driving and then camping tonight.

Day 39.


Miles Driven: 276

_MG_1246I am so excited today. We backtracked south east a bit into the south-west corner of Pennsylvania. Here, just south of Pittsburg is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous homes: Fallingwater. Commissioned by the Kaufmann Family, founders of the Kaufmann department store in Pittsburg, in 1936, it was a mountain escape from the smoky steel town.

Wright’s design was like no other. It’s 30’ cantilevers stretched out over the waterfall below and appeared to be floating in the trees. The architect and the Kaufmanns shared a common love of nature and innovative designs. Wright based his design off the many natural elements he saw while exploring the site, in particular two rock ledges that hung over the waterfall. Though a unique design, a visitor can see its relationship to previous works by Wright, for example, the horizontal lines of the prairie house and its Japanese influence. All of the stones were quarried locally and many boulders were not removed from the site but built on top of and integrated inside the house.

_MG_1255The home was stunning and the tour very interesting. It was fun to compare this home to the other Wright houses I have seen. Mom kept saying that I can design her a little suite like this some day for her.

We drove back into Ohio and camped at Buckeye Lake just outside of Columbus.

IMG_0943IMG_0938Day 40.

Miles Driven: 472

Another surge westward. We drove through Ohio, through Indiana (we made a pitstop in Indianapolis at our favorite grocery store, Trader Joe’s, to get supplies), and into Illinois. The whole drive, all we saw was corn. Corn fields on corn fields with a few soy beans thrown in. We took a small detour through a little Amish town where we bought some desserts at an Amish restaurant and enjoyed seeing the horse drawn carriages. The museum containing the world’s largest broom collection closed right before we got there. Oh darn. But we did get to see the Hippie Monument next door, complete with an actual hippie standing in front. We found another nice campsite to stay at outside of Springfield. We met two Canadian men who were both traveling by motorcycle. It is always fun to trade road trip stories with fellow campers.

IMG_0947IMG_0950Total Miles: 7,636

The Big Easy, La Nouvelle-Orléans, aka. New Orelans

Laissez les bon temps rouler! (“Lay-say le bon tom roo-lay”)

“Let the good times roll!”

LouisianaDay 11

Miles Driven: 544

Packed and ready to go by 9:30, we took off from San Antonio and started the long drive to New Orleans! The time between San Antonio and Houston was passed with episodes from a great podcast: Stuff You Missed in History Class. I have been trying to find episodes related to our destinations, so in anticipation of our future stop in Alabama, we learned about Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders. Lunch stop at Cracker Barrel.

Houston, TX looked a lot like Los Angeles, but once through, the scenery changed dramatically. We were closer to the water now. As we neared the Mississippi River, bayou and swamps began to settle along the I-10. On this drive, we saw beautiful birds, an armadillo, and even a small alligator along the side of the road, lurking in the water’s edge.

We drove through a strong thunder storm and discovered a small leak into the car causing a puddle of water to form at the passenger’s feet, so now, I ride with a plastic container at my feet, just in case. 🙂

Day 12

Miles Driven: 117

_MG_1134New Orleans and Louisiana were established as a French Colony and named for King Louis XIV. The United States bought the territory in 1802 through the Louisiana Purchase. Now, many different people live in New Orleans including the ancestrally French Creole, English, and slaves brought from Senegal, Africa. This morning, we drove about 45 minutes photo 1to Laura: A Creole Plantation. This plantation was restored just after Hurricane Katrina hit and was a fantastic tour. We learned about the French General who received a land grant from Thomas Jefferson after the Revolution. The plantations along the Mississippi River grow sugar cane because of the moist sandy earth. The plantation did very well, even through the civil war and was run by generations of female presidents (plantation owners).

The plantation homes are usually lifted above the earth to avoid flood damage. Brick below and local cedar construction above because cedar is bug resistant. The Creole, French speaking, homes are painted in bright colors, yellow walls with green trim, while the English speaking homes are painted white.

On the way back to New Orleans, we walked around the outside of the beautiful Oak Alley Plantation. This elegant plantation is framed by rows of Live Oak trees that are covered with dripping Spanish Moss.

_MG_1149Once in the city, we took the St. Charles Street Car into the French Quarter and made our way to Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. They were covered in powdered sugar. Yum!

photo 2photo 3

We walked and walked through the photo 4French Quarter, dined at The Gumbo Shop and enjoyed jambalaya. Our final stop of the day was at a jazz club recommend to us by the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class. The Spotted Cat hosted people of all ages and always had a local band playing. It was very fun!

Day 13

Miles Driven: 99

After breakfast, we headed to the Garden District and enjoyed driving past some of the beautiful, gigantic homes in that area. Finally we stopped at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 to explore the interesting above ground tombs. These tombs are a tradition brought over from France but are also ideal to prevent the cemetery from sinking deeper into the soft soil and for keeping families together. Very creepy and very cool.

_MG_1154_MG_1160_MG_1183Our excursion for this morning was a trip with Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tour. This tour was excellent. Our group was small, the guide knowledgeable, and the weather perfect for active alligators and wild pigs. We saw so many animals in a very interesting landscape.

_MG_1175_MG_1185photo 5On the drive back to New Orleans we stopped at a recommended local seafood joint, Peck’s, and enjoyed boiled cajun crawfish and shrimp and sweet tea. Yum!

As we pulled into our hotel, I noticed a stream of liquid coming out of the engine. Not good when on a road trip. Off we went to find a mechanic only to discover a puncture in one of the radiator hoses. Luckily it was an easy fix.

We took a little tour through some of the neighborhoods in New Orleans that had been most affected by the levee breech during Hurricane Katrina. In some areas, so much work has been done to restore the damages, while other neighborhoods are left abandoned.

Day 14

We packed the car and hurried into the French Quarter for a final few sights. We visited the Louisiana State Museum where they had and excellent exhibit on the Hurricane and it’s after effects. Final jambalaya lunch at The Gumbo Shop and grabbed some pecan pralines for the road.

Next stop, Alabama!

Total Miles: 3,413

Rocky Mountain “Hi” – Colorado

photo 4Day 5

Miles Driven: 435

While driving the I-70 from Moab into Colorado, we paid tribute with mom’s old John Denver tapes. “Country Road, photo 3Take Me Home” played as we wound our way across rolling hills and into the jagged peaks of the Rockies. The scenery was reminiscent of the drive through the Austrian Alps; flat valley floor jutting into the snowy peaks of the Alps. The mountain sides varied in shades of green as aspen trees mixed with pine and spruce.

We stopped at Vail ski resort for a German lunch. Again, I felt like I was in Germany once more with the architecture of the timber buildings and cobblestone streets.

_MG_1089We visited one of my old classmates from Cal Poly. Mic was snatched up by one of the largest architecture firms in the US and relocated to Denver, CO. He is just loving the lifestyle in Denver. We also drove by the Denver Art Museum. This new art museum was designed by Architect Daniel Libeskind (he also designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin). The museum features a huge cantilever that reaches over the street below. I remember learning in my engineering class that they had to have extra structural testing done to prove the cantilever would hold even if some sort of accident occurred.

Day 6

IMG_3459We are spending the day with my cousin Emi and her husband Eric. They have been remodeling/updating their new home in Colorado Springs over the past year and they are _MG_1111creating a very cute and cozy home for themselves.

We spent the day exploring Colorado Springs. The Cadet Chapel at the Air Force Academy was a very cool building to visit. It was designed by firm SOM as wings taking flight. Once inside, the beautiful stained glass changes color as it rises towards the sky. Below the Christian chapel are chapels/temples for Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist worshipers.


Next, we went to downtown Colorado City and wandered the farmers market before photo 1eating lunch at 2 South Food and Wine Bar where I enjoyed a pork chop with a rosemary-apple glaze and a potato casserole as a side. It was wonderful.

After wandering through the shops, visiting the original Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and driving through The Garden of the Gods, we were exhausted.

Early night tonight before the start of a long drive into Texas.

Total miles: 1,615

A Tour of Europe though its Instructional Signs.

So, I’m studying to be an Architect, right?  I am constantly drawn towards any aspect of design.  And for me, I thoroughly enjoy the art of “instructional signage.”  These purely pictorial elements give a direct command with just a glance and I am always amazed how the designs themselves can vary so greatly, yet still convey the same message.

I was first introduced to this “art form” after watching an episode of BBC’s Top Gear, where they interviewed Margaret Calvert who co-designed all of Britain’s road signs.  Since then, I have been noticing humorous signs enforcing funny rules everywhere.  Now, in the States at least, the signs are standardized across all 50 states, but in Europe, they change quickly, while passing from town to town or country to country.

Here is what I found:

Barcelona had quite a variety of signs.  The warnings are serious, but the pictures are humorous!

watch out! Architecture!

electrocution, no swimming

no music?


Barcelona and Istanbul had construction signs I had never thought of before.



Salzburg‘s signs were very considerate.

Nice hat.

Sprinklers. Save your camera.


London and Croatia‘s text signs were lost in translation or tampered with.

I’m not sitting there!

No pooing?

Copenhagen and Paris have some funny signs!

Copenhagen.  Don’t drive in       the harbor!  Can you see the guy walking on the ice?

Paris.  The cane is a nice detail.  This crossing sign was for blind citizens, but it had no texture.


Italy‘s signs enforced funny rules and the symbols were very different.

No eating on the monuments, camping, or bare-chests?!

Watch your head!  Pericolo=Danger!

Torino’s subway warning.

Don’t touch.


The one sign I saw everywhere was to clean up after your pets. There was so much diversity between the signs, but they all conveyed the same message.




Parma, Italy


May your next trip be well informed and full of humor.

Happy Travels!

Austrian Adventures.

12-19 June 2012. Tuesday- Monday.

Grüß dich! Greetings from Austria!

The train to Austria was beautiful.  The grass was green and after I changed trains in Salzburg and headed west, the alps jumped up around me.  The little local train wound its way along the narrow valley floor alongside the river Salzach to the small lake-side holiday town of Zell am See.

I had met my cousin Andi, his wife Barb, and their middle son Beni, at Christmas when we stopped for the day in Salzburg.  Andi is a doctor, like his father (my great uncle Rup), and he settled his family in Austria to take a job as an emergency medical rescue doctor.  He is always busy at work saving the holiday goers and skiers who venture into the surrounding mountains.  The entire family is very adventurous and loves being out in the mountains, biking, hiking, skiing, everything.

Andi met me at the Zell am See station and took me down the road to the next town where they live.  Their house was once a typical Austrian farmers house with barn down stairs and living above.  The previous owner had updated the barn converting the stable into the master bedroom.  It was such a cool place. Very rustic.  My room was on the third floor, just below the eaves and had an amazing view of the alps.  I met Kili, the youngest son.  He still lives at home and would be taking his final exams of secondary school (graduating from high school) later in the week, so, he had lots of studying to do.  Beni goes to university in Graz and Piu goes to university in Innsbruck.  We had afternoon tea and then took a little walk around the town.  The town was so small that it took about 5 minutes to walk from one side to the other.  But they did have a tourist point in the town center where we got our picture taken with the web camera.  And of course, it rained and I got wet.

Andi and I drove back to Salzburg to find some of the sights from The Sound of Music, buy chocolate, and visit Festung Hohensalzburg (Fortress “High Salzburg”) which is located on a little plateau above the city.  The Fortress had been slowly built over hundreds of years.  From the top, we could see all over the city, from Schloss Mirabell to the modern University of Salzburg building.


We stopped by Furst Chocolate to get some more Motzartkugeln and to try a newer creation.  The Bach Würfel was created to honor Johann Sebastian Bach’s 300th anniversary and is made of coffee truffle and marzipan.  So good.  After lunch, the sun was out and we crossed the river to Schloss Mirabell and enjoyed the garden that was now blooming with many colorful flowers.  The little park with the famous dwarf statues from The Sound of Music was open, and I got to take my picture with the one that was featured in the movie.

We visit so many places, the cemetery where Motzart’s family is buried, the little chapel carved into hillside, and the palace that was used as the back of the Von Trapp family’s home.  Andi was so good at nonchalantly walking into places.  The palace had been turned into a hotel and a menacing gate with a sign saying “guests only” blocked our path.  Andi opened the gate and just walked in – I, being the rule follower, was super nervous, but followed him.    I took my picture in front of the scene where Maria and the kids all fall out of the boat into the water.  Such a great memory!

Andi had to work today, but Barb had the day off.  We got up early and drove three hours to Graz to visit Beni.  He met us for lunch and then gave me an excellent architectural tour of the city.  He studies Physics and had never thought of Graz as a place to see architecture, but I had a long list of things to see.  The Grazer Murinsel was an island built in the middle of the river that runs through Graz and is a play area for kids and cafe.  We also saw the Kunsthaus (Art and Culture Museum) which is a large, blue, “alien” and the University’s music building.


The student population of Graz was so large, making the town center very lively.  Before heading back home, we sat and watched some of the Football European championship.  Also a fun environment!

In the late morning, Andi and I went for a little hike up one of the hills.  I still can’t get over how amazing the views are!  We reached a little’s hiker’s rest point after two hours up, had an excellent lunch, and then took the slide down.  Two hours up, 10 minutes down.

We ran errands and then Andi had a bit of doctoring to do at a Blob competition at Zell am See.  They were trying to make a world record for highest launch off of a Blob into the lake.  Lots of interesting people were competing and it was quite entertaining.

Mom’s here!!!!!  It is so nice to be back together again!  Andi and I drove back to Salzburg to visit Schloss Hellbrunn, the duke’s summer palace.  He never lived there, just stored his large collection of exotic animals.  The thing to see now are the many trick fountains.  It was a very warm day so it was nice to get a little wet from the surprising fountains.  In the garden was another Kneipp pool and the gazebo from The Sound of Music.  By 1:00, we had to race over to the airport to pick up mom!

I talked the entire way back to Zell am See and had so many stories to tell her; from the location of the Reber motzartkugeln factory to the 10 minutes we had to drive through Germany to get back home.  We had a BBQ for dinner and enjoyed the nice weather outside. Their little, old, white, blind, cat Kimmi even got to enjoy sniffing the grass with us.  Kimmi was my little buddy in Austria.  Somehow, he always found his way to my lap in the evenings and we would usually fall asleep on the couch together.

Today was a big adventure.  We drove up the highest mountain in Austria: Großglockner.  The road was long and winding and I was a little car sick.  I felt so lazy and I watched some guys riding their bikes up the same road.  I was very impressed.  At the top, we saw lots of interesting animals looked at the glacier in the valley below.


I was sad to leave today.  Barb drove us to Innsbruck and we looked around the city center for a little bit.  At 2:00, we had to head to the train station.  Mom and I had reservations at a bed and breakfast in Lake Como.  Time to head back to Italia!

The End. But not really.

14-31 May 2012. The last three weeks.

The last three weeks in Italy flew by in a second.  It felt as though I closed my eyes after getting back from Ascoli and, when I opened them, I was on the train to Germany.

The first two days back from Ascoli, Art, Noah, and I spent most of our time in studio making last minute adjustment to our gastronomy center.

Wed.  16 May.
I was so happy with how our project turned out.  It was definitely not what I would have designed, but through a combination of ideas, our project was awesome! I think one of the best. And the professors were sure happy!  Achille was smiling through our entire presentation.

Noah and I were on opposite ends of the design spectrum. Noah created the forms of the building and designed the skin while I organized the program and made sure that everything worked out.  Art was the glue that held us all together; fixing the disagreements between Noah and I and just keeping the moral at an enthusiastic high while also designing a great interior courtyard and entrance.

the dream team. art, me, noah.

The gastronomy center evolved into a stadium for experiencing international foods.  It was a very introverted building (meaning that the exterior was low in profile and blended in with the surrounding city and all of the action happened once a visitor descended into the building’s center) that encouraged people to step down into the excitement within and taste the great things that the earth provides for us.

Thurs. 17 May.
Thursday I had my last Italian class and evening was filled with the last school dinner.  Some how the school arranged an amazing venue that was practically under the Ponte Vecchio.  The Società Canottieri Firenze is Florence’s rowing club.  Their clubhouse is located under the Uffizi Gallery and has a great lawn overlooking the Arno River.  We all dressed up in our finest and enjoyed a buffet while watching the sunset.


People in above photos (from top left to bottom right):  1. the venue. 2. the roommates: Alex, me, Kat, JC, Han, Sar, Sta.  3. JC & me.  4. EMM & me. 5. Sar, Kat, Gabe, me, JC.  6. with two of my Italian architecture professors: Marco Brizzi and Achille Michelizzi.

We had a little awards ceremony and a student compiled a cute video using footage shot by different students.  It’s kinda long… and my face does not make an appearance, but at least you can see lots of my classmates, teachers, places, and silly-ness.

Finals Week.  21-25 May.
A paper on Italian Cinema, a few exams and school was over.  The last event to look forward to was the arrival of the Florentine Gelato Festival.  Be patient, special post on just gelato comes next.  Let me just say. AMAZING.

The end of this week also brought the arrival of our yearbooks.  I am very proud to say that I worked and designed most of it, with the help of many other people.  It looked great!

Friday.  25 May.
One last day trip to San Gimignano.  I can’t believe I had not visited this beautiful hill town yet!  JC, Kat, Han, and I enjoyed the stone streets and the amazing view!  Everything about this town is picturesque and I think I got a little artsy with my photos.  I could see a fashion show taking place here.  We wandered through some cute boutiques and I found some locally crafted necklaces.


Friday night we had a final gathering at our apartment, with almost everyone from the school, to sign yearbooks and say goodbye to everyone.

Alex and Han enjoyed the cleaning supplies a little too much.

Over the next few days, I made many hikes up to Piazzale Michelangelo and had to say goodbye again and again to my favorite people as I helped them to the train station.

Kat and Sar left on Sunday, JC on Monday, Alex on Tuesday, Han on Wednesday.

Monday.  28 May.
I went with JC to Rome to help with her bags and to spend one last day together–even though we would see each other again in California, it would not be the same.  We took an early train, dropped her things at her hostel, and wandered past our favorite places in Rome.  We had gelato, sat on the Spanish steps, had un cafe, visited the Coliseum, and enjoyed a final dinner together before I got on the last train back to Florence.  I cried my eyes out.

Tuesday. 29 May.
To take a break from cleaning the apartment, I took some architecture friends to see my Butcher in Chianti.  It was a beautiful day in Tuscany and we all laughed so much as the guys made lots of meat themed puns.  We had a “flesh fest.”  Sitting next to us was an American woman who had worked for Dario the Butcher several years ago and she told us the best way to order and introduced us to the butcher.  Our waiter also took a liking to us and gave us samples of other cuts of meat, shots of grappa, and also some of the tasty olive oil cake.  He let us try on his meat goggles and also had us hold him!?!  Another food coma.


Wednesday. 30 May.
Final cleaning, packing, errands, goodbye to Madi.

Thursday.  31 May.
My train to Germany was to leave at 11 and Fabio, our landlord, met me at the door at 10.  I was the last one to leave and handed over the keys.  It was a long walk to the train station.

I was sad that the program was over, but in a way I felt like I was just going on another trip.

– – – – –

“The best part about this whole thing is that you always carry a little of it with you.  Italy, your travels, your friends; this is all a part of you now.  Look at what you did in a year.  This is a beautiful thing.  Florence.” -Marco Cianchi, History of Florentine Architecture Professor

Architecture Workshop in Ascoli, Italia

9-13 May: Wednesday to Sunday.

Paolo and Lucca (sitting) with Christiano (grey sweater)

CSU Firenze Architecture got an amazing opportunity to go on one last trip (without all of the other majors) to participate in a workshop with the Università degli Studi di Camerino, an Italian Architecture school in Ascoli-Piceno, a small, hill-town located on Italy’s east coast.  A partnership has been created between this school and CSU Firenze for many years now.  The founder of CSU Firenze’s architecture program, Christiano Toraldo di Francia (he is a very famous modern architect and co-creator of Florence’s most famous firm Superstudio), now works at the Università degli Studi di Camerino.

Our trip began on Wednesday afternoon with a long train ride heading east and then south along Italy’s coast.  The east coast is not rocky like the west and is full of white-sand beaches.  We were met at the train station by some of the students we would do the workshop with and they took us to the hostel.

The town of Ascoli-Piceno is a cute, old city with lots of churches and stone streets, but unlike other small towns in Italy, Ascoli is always busy with the college students that attend the university.

Thursday.  Two of the Italian students picked us up in the morning and helped us find food in a cafe and then led us up the hill to the school.  The Architecture school has occupied an old monastery;  two courtyards are surrounded by many large classrooms and decorated with frescoes.  My group included one other CSU student, Juan, and three Italian students: Lucca, Paolo, and Letizia.  The Italian students had already done lots of research and studied the site.

That afternoon, we visited the site.  Massignano, is a very small town, with a population of 1,500 people.  Our site was originally an apartment building that had fallen into disrepair and has since been torn down.  Our job was to create a new public structure that would occupy the site and fit within the historical context.  The site was located just off the city wall and had a beautiful view overlooking a valley below.  That night, the mayor of Massignano gave us a tour of the town and fed us a huge Italian feast.  He even took us into the town’s ceramic museum.  The town specializes in ceramic and the museum had some very interesting sculptures.  My favorite was this water whistle:

Friday.  Working all day and well into the night…

Saturday.  We met with all of the professors, both from Ascoli and CSU Firenze and they reviewed what we had created in just two days.  I was pleased with what we had come up with and that we were able to communicate with Italian student who spoke as much English as we spoke Italian.  It was a challenge, but one of the best experiences in Italy.

We were given the afternoon off to explore the town.  Krist, Emi, and I decided to walk the path along the river that circled Ascoli.  We put our feet into the water and I had fun photographing the “puffballs” of pollen that clung to the trees.

Sunday.  We were up early to catch the train back to Florence.  This time, we took a direct, slow train, through the mountains back to Florence.  Long but beautiful.



Roma: architecture field trip

4-5 May 2012: Friday & Saturday.

Gelato: Tiramisu (a classic)

The beginning of May is dreadfully here and so comes the projects, finals, and good byes.  But first! CSU Firenze took its final class trip to Roma.

The bus ride was an easy three hours south of Firenze and passed through the beautiful countryside.  Mid spring in Italy brings the busloads of tour groups from all over the world, but also warm weather, sunshine, and blooming flowers.  It is a strange feeling to sit on the bus, entranced by the beautiful scenery, but also sad that a month from now it will not be an every day thing.

Beautiful wildflowers. The Poppies are Red rather than the Golden ones in Cali.

Friday in Rome was packed full of busyness; cars, people, peddlers, everyone.  We were led again by the same great professor who had led us around Napoli and he carefully explained everything you may or may not need to know about ancient Rome.  We begin in

Can you see the dome of St. Peters in the Vatican?
(second from the right)

the Forum, crossed over the Palatine Hill and over to the Coliseum.  Professor E. has such a wealth of information and makes learning about the growth and expansion of Rome and all of the hills fun and easy to understand.  We passed Trajan’s Column, the “wedding cake” (a monument to the unification of Italy), and visited the Pantheon.  By mid afternoon, we had to meet the buses and headed to the hotel only to be brought back to the city center for dinner.  We were on our own for dinner and a group of us went to Pizzeria Baffetto (baffetto = mustache) and enjoyed some great pizza.


JC, Sar, Arli and I broke off from the group to find gelato and wander our way past Piazza Nuvona, the Trevi Fountain, and met up with everyone at the Spanish steps.


Saturday we were allowed to partake in different excursions planned by the school.  I joined Professor E. again to tour the E.U.R. aka the Esposizione Universale Romana (The Exposition of a Universal Rome).  This complex of rationalist and neoclassical buildings were built for the 1942 worlds fair and were to celebrate Mussolini and 20 years of Fascism.  Though severely damaged during WWII, the complex was completed in 1960 for the Olympics in Rome and now houses many government offices and museums.

One museum we visited was the Museo della Civilta Romana (The Museum of the Roman Civilization) and told the story of the rise and expansion of Rome through very detailed dioramas.  I found the model of the Coliseum particularly interesting.  The model below shows how it would have looked with all of the exterior marble still attached.  I also learned that wooden rods (placed along the top) were used to hold up canvas sails to provide shade during the games.  The best model was in a huge room, easily 1000 sft, filled with a detailed model of ancient Rome.


After, we took the metro to the other end of Rome to visit Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI, the Museum of 21st Century Art.  This museum was filled with some very interesting art and displayed a (for me) confusing type of architecture.  The interior has so many layers and crossing pathways that it made me very confused and lost inside. I always felt like I was missing something while exploring the different exhibits.


We got to go inside Nervi’s beautiful, vaulted auditorium and watch some dance performances by local children and then poked around Renzo Piano’s Parco della Musica, a three theater complex for music performances (the roof is made of lead!).

On our way back to the bus, we visited Santa Maria della Concezione.  This church is very unique, at least the crypt is.  The crypt is decorated with the bones of the deceased Capuchin friars.  Within the series of rooms, all of the bones were organized according to their kind, and whole monk skeletons were set there in their robes to guard them.   My friend Emi really enjoyed it, I was weirded out.

The two-day trip to Rome was a fast one, but I got to see lots of great architectural spaces!


25-30 April: Fake Break.

“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night”
-The Four Lads, 1953

The last weekend of April consisted of many Italian holidays clustered around our usual three-day weekend, so we made a fake break, a five-day trip to Istanbul!

The journey to the eastern most part of Europe was not an easy one and involved JC, Madi, and I getting up very early to catch the train to Bologna.  From there we made it to the airport, flew to Vienna, and then to Istanbul.  We arrived around 2pm to a busy metropolis unlike any place I had ever been before.  Since Turkey is a religiously Muslim based country, most women wore coverings over their head and a call to prayer is projected from the Minaret (tower) of every mosque six times a day.  As we drove from the airport to our hostel, I was amazed by how strange, yet beautiful this place was.  I did not know where to look first.

We spent Wednesday afternoon settling into our room and getting a lay of the land.  That day we did not venture too far from the main tourist area and found a restaurant where we could have our first lamb kebab.


Our hostel provided us with a typical Turkish breakfast that included tea, sausage, a hard-boiled egg, a type of cheese that looked like feta, cucumber, tomato, and lots of bread.  We sat on the terrace and enjoyed the view while we ate.

Touristing began with visiting the Blue Mosque, one of the most famous in Istanbul.  The mosque gets its name from the grey stone of the exterior and blue tiles on the interior.  We had to remove our shoes and wear a scarf over our heads to enter.  The interior was covered with Arabic scripture, floral, and geometric patterns rather than religious figures (Islam does not permit the use of figures or symbols within their religious spaces).  Most mosques share many similar elements, including an outdoor courtyard, open prayer hall, minaret (tower for the call to prayer), and mihrab (a notch in the wall that indicates the direction of prayer towards Mecca).  The ceiling under the dome was extremely high, but I felt confined by the low hanging lights.

Next, we crossed the large plaza to Hagia Sophia.  This massive structure was originally a Christian church while the city was the capital of the eastern Roman Empire and under rule of Emperor Constantine (hence the name Constantinople).  In 1453, when Sultan Mehmed II conquered the city and made it the capital of the Ottoman Empire (starting the slow change to the name Istanbul—though western countries still referred to it as Constantinople until the 1930s), Hagia Sophia was also changed into a mosque to reflect the religious change of the empire.  Towers were built and a mihrab was built into the altar.  If you look carefully, you will notice that it is not in the center of the altar.  As a Christian church, the structure was built to face Jerusalem, while the Islamic additions were built to face Mecca.  Much of the original early Christian mosaics still exist on the walls.  The golden glow from the lights and yellow walls made a beautiful space.  In the 1950s, for restoration, preservation, and historical value, the worship space was converted into a museum and became open to the public.

We then visited the Basilica Cistern which is a large underground chamber that stored and provided water for much of Istanbul’s historic district for hundreds of years.  This place is a tourist trap, but also beautiful.  Dramatic lighting is reflected off the water and 336 columns, all decorated with different designs.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the maze of shops in the grand bazaar where we bought exotic scarves, clothing, and bags and tried to avoid the catcalls of the many merchants.


This morning, we decided to be brave and step our of our comfort zone.  We decided to have a Turkish bath.  It was one of the most amazing things I have done yet!  The baths are located below street level and are divided; men and women.  We had to strip down to a cloth wrap and provided panties.  We ventured into the warm, steam filled, stone bath which included a large stone table (where an attendant would scrub, wash, and massage you) and many alcoves where you could douse yourself with hot water.  We were really awkward at first, Madi was brave and was the first to “take the plunge.”  Once the steam had softened my skin, the attendant began scrubbing away, removing every layer of skin from my body (she showed it to me and it was DISGUSTING!), she carefully massaged my body and washed my hair.  I then spent the next hour swimming and snoozing in the pool in one of the alcoves.  Such a great morning.  No photos allowed, but the bath’s website has some under “gallery.”  Click here.

We headed down to the harbor and had fish sandwiches that were made on boats.  I was amazed how the cooks could stand working on these boats that were being tossed around every which way.  Then we took a boat tour up the Bosphorus Strait which is the dividing line between east and west Istanbul and Europe and Asia.  I saw Asia!


Today we visited Topkapi Palace, residence of the Ottoman Sultans.  This huge complex included many courtyards, beautifully decorated rooms, relics, and one of the best views.  I was fascinated by the calligraphy on the walls and the ornate details of the architecture.  The colors were so vibrant!

We took an afternoon break at a newly discovered tea house.  A wooden tearoom had been constructed in an Islamic cemetery and we enjoyed our fill of Turkish black and apple tea.  The small glasses were a little larger than a shot glass and filled with delicious, piping hot tea.  After, we visited the Spice Bazaar where I got some loose tea and mixed cooking spices.



We took a long, long walk up the coast, out of the tourist area, to the Jewish sector of Istanbul.  We passed lots of people picnicking along the harbor and found a great restaurant for lunch.  Findik Kabugunda offered Kofte, or Turkish meatballs.  We enjoyed three different types and then tried the rice pudding for dessert.  Yum!


The restaurant owner was very nice and gave us directions to the next stop.  We ventured through the neighborhood to Chora Church.  Tucked between apartment buildings, it was hard to find.  But the beautiful mosaics and fresco made it well worth the adventure of finding it.  Our walk back to the hostel took us out of the tourist area and through the neighborhoods where the locals live.  The below video shows part of our walk.  Listen for the call to prayer and look for the small differences from our western life style.


Our flight home left very early and we had an eight-hour layover in Munich.  We had checked our bags through to Italy so we could leave the airport and explore.  I gave Madi a quick tour of downtown Munich, we had pretzels and coffee at the Viktualienarket for breakfast, sausage and beer in the English Garden for lunch, and took a nap in the park all before heading back to the airport.  It was so strange to be in three completely different cultures in the same day.  Early morning in Turkey, afternoon in Germany, and we were home in time for dinner in Italy.

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Visiting Istanbul was one of the most unique places I have ever been, though my scope of travel is strictly America and Western Europe.  It was such an eye opener to visit a place where my religion was a minority and to see how the many other people live.

Istanbul.  I’ll be back.

italian food at 2am

07 March 2012: Wednesday Morning

For our newest architecture design project, a gastronomy center, we got the chance to tour our site, a still functioning, wholesale, foods market in Florence. A local architect in Florence is also a prominent figure at this foods market and was very excited to show us around the site when it comes “alive” at night. At 2am, every morning, the market begins to open, as fresh fruits, veggies, meat, fish, and flowers are delivered to the market to be auctioned off to the grocery stores, outdoor markets, and restaurants.

My class arrived at midnight and were given a tour of the complex. We visited the fruit and veggie pavilion. There were crates full of colorful and beautiful, fresh food! We also got to see the meat market (complete with hanging carcasses), and a milk refinery (where milk bottled or turned into yoghurt or other products).

Italy is very proud of their food history and their food products. Since the onset of international companies and restaurants into Italy, like McDonalds, a movement for locally grown and produced ingredients began; aka. The Slow Food Movement. Food is eaten with the seasons and almost everything in the market is a “product of Italy.” I feel as though I am eating healthier because I know that most things are gown locally, therefore, they are more natural and without as many preservatives. Everything I cook is full of flavor and tastes great!