spring studio in florence + a week-long architecture workshop

Noah + Art

For spring semester of 4th year architecture studio we are dividing up into groups and I will do my first group project. It is strange that I have not done a group project considering the fact that we will forever be working with our colleagues in architecture firms. I am paired up with two other guys. Noah goes to Cal Poly SLO, with me, and I have enjoyed and/or suffered through many of the same studios as him. Our other partner, Art, goes to Cal Poly Pomona. From the past semester, I have noticed that the SLO kids have been trained to approach architecture in a much more theoretical way; we design around the experience of the building and the spaces created inside. SLO’s sister school, Pomona, takes a more practical approach; the structural design is perfect and design is taken from geometry, over experience.

After a few weeks of working with them, I feel like the three of us balance each other out. I am always thinking of my experience inside the building and I am working towards a practical function. Noah is braver with his forms and will force our group to do some more abstract designs. Art questions all of our designs and is the middle-man, the guiding force, between Noah and me.

This semester, we will spend the total 12 weeks on a gastronomy center in Florence. This complex is to house food markets, promote the understanding of food process, and encourage people to learn about other food cultures. I think this will be a very fun project. Possible food tasting?

– – – – – – –

27 February to 02 March 2012

Chao, Me, and Art.

For the above dates, CSU Firenze had a workshop with a school in Milan. The Domus Academy students are working towards a Masters in “Urban Vision and Architectural Design.” It was an interesting experience to work with these older students. Each Florence group was given one Domus student. Chao is from North China and he was such a nice guy. He studied Landscape Architecture in China and is really enjoying studying in Milan. Chao was so talented when it came to site analysis and keeping us architecture students on the right track!

For the weeklong workshop, we were challenged with a transportation hub near Florence’s airport. We carefully studied the traffic patterns and surrounding site to develop a concept for a new train station, shopping area, and transit options into Florence’s ancient center.

In the end, our professors were very happy with our design. They had almost no critiques and were very impressed how we were able to reflect the current city fabric within the plan and flow of our site! An excellent review!

(^) Circulation on the site and an exploded axo.

(^) The Money Shot: this an aerial view of the site to show its context and relationship between the traffic paths.

Hej fra København

14-18 February 2012


Arrived in Copenhagen at 8pm to falling snow. It was as if Denmark was welcoming us! We took the metro into the city center and were greeted by our Cal Poly friends. We had yummy sandwiches and elderflower cordial at the restaurant Dalle Valle.

The view from my room!

We are all staying with a different one of our classmates. In Copenhagen, the housing situation is much different then ours in Italy. All of the university students stay in apartment buildings called Kollegiums. These dormitories are completely student run. The students have their own room in a long row of doors, share a bathroom, and a communal kitchen. We all got to meet lots of different people, Danish and International students alike. I am very happy to live in Italy and have my own apartment, but I think that my Copenhagen classmates have so many opportunities to meet the “locals.”


Our friend Jean took us all over Copenhagen today! We began the morning eating fresh Danish pastries; known as Wienerbrod in Danish. I had a yummy raisin roll and an almond pastry!

We walked to the waterfront to see the iconic Nyhavn Historical Harbor. This canal is surrounded by beautiful, colorful townhouses and storefronts and filled with old, wooden boats. The week before, the weather had been so cold, causing the salt water in the harbor to freeze. It was so interesting to see the boats stuck in their positions by the 12” thick ice.

Just around the corner is the Royal Danish Playhouse (Skuespilhuset). This beautiful theater was designed by Danish architects Lundgaard & Tranberg. Situated on the waterfront, I think it showcases the cleanliness of Danish design. The interior structure is covered in horizontal dark stone, while a glass curtain wall incases the lobby and café. The staff and cast rooms occupy the cantilevered roof structure.

We took the water taxi through the icy harbor to the Copenhagen Opera House. This building is very interesting, but I was not as impressed by it. Jean was saying that Copenhagen is not happy with the placement of this building. It is situated directly across the harbor from the Queen’s Amalienborg Palace and in line with the Marble Church. It seems that the new Opera House disrupts an axis created by the historical buildings of Copenhagen.

Just behind the Opera House is the Copenhagen University of Design and houses the Architecture School: KArch. Jean took us to the Senior Thesis Show and we got to see the work of the architecture students in Denmark.

We got a quick lunch and then took the train to northern Copenhagen to the Modern Art Museum: Louisiana. The train ride was very exciting as we tried to figure out their very confusing transportation system – we almost got in trouble with a very grumpy conductor, but she gave us a chance to get our tickets straightened out. (**learned: make sure you understand the Danish transportation system. They like to follow the rules.)

Sweden on the horizon!

Louisiana is a very cool museum that used to fill just one historical building. Over the years, the museum has expanded to other out-buildings and is connected by a series of brightly lit corridors with great view of the sea. The sky was so clear, we could see all the way to Sweden!


With snow falling today, Mic took us around the city center. Copenhagen is filled with many, pedestrian only, walking streets. All of the shopping and cafes line these streets. We got to visit their school, the Danish Institute of Study Abroad (DIS), peak inside Danish furniture shops, and even visit the LEGO store of Copenhagen!

We got to walk past the Queen’s Palace and got very close to her front door and guards. We finally made it out to the harbor again to see the very small statue of the little mermaid. Hans Christian Andersen, author of the story The Little Mermaid, was born in Copenhagen and is honored with this statue.

Next we visited Christiania. This neighborhood has been taken over by the “free-spirited” population of Copenhagen. They have declared this area a free state and the law enforcers tend to turn a blind eye to what happens inside. The “green-light district” very interesting and eye-opening part of the day!

We spent the afternoon in a great coffee shop: Paludan. This bookshop and café had the coziest atmosphere and served some of the best chai tea I have had in a long time. I think that the café is something that I miss in Italy. In Florence, the only place of get coffee is in a “bar.” Italians take a shot of espresso in the afternoon while standing at a counter. This does not give you the same satisfaction as sitting in a comfy chair with a large cup of tea and talking with your friends for an hour. When I drink coffee or tea, I like to enjoy it, not down it quickly just to get through the rest of the day. I had such a nice time enjoying the cafes so to relax and escape the cold outside.

We had a little group dinner tonight and then took a walk on one of the frozen lakes!


Today, the Copenhagen kids had class, so we were on our own. We took the metro south to some of the new apartment buildings that are beginning to sprawl into the countryside.

BIG, Bjarke Ingels Group is a Danish architecture firm that many of my professors like. The apartment building called “8” is in the shape of a figure eight with large courtyards in the middle. The individual apartments are raised slightly above the one next door, allowing each apartment to be connected by ramps. The surrounding countryside was just beautiful!

We spent another afternoon enjoying chai in a café ☺


Last day in Copenhagen. We took the morning slowly and I made French toast for our group breakfast. Finished packing. One more relaxing chai before heading to the airport.

– – – – – – –

I really enjoyed the clean and industrial Copenhagen. It was nice to see our friends, laugh, and compare our new homes.

London. My favorite city.


10-14 February 2012

With our first semester over and finals done, we are now off on our February break. I am heading to my favorite city: London! and then we will visit our Cal Poly friends who are studying in Copenhagen, Denmark.


JC, Fran, Jess, John, and I arrived mid-day into London Gatwick and took a short tram into the city center. Our first order of business was heading to north London, to the town of Kilburn, where we will be renting a room from an older couple for the next few days. We were greeted with tea and biscuits that we quickly gobbled up.

We rested for a while in the room before heading into the city center for dinner. We were on a mission to find an American restaurant that we all greatly miss in Italy: Chipotle. You might roll your eyes to this, but Californian college students survive on burritos, and not having one for six months is a terrible thing that donner kababs could not attempt to fulfill.

We ate at the Chipotle on Baker Street, just steps from the apartment of Sherlock Holmes. JC and I have become fans of the BBC show Sherlock that showcases a modern day Sherlock in today’s London. It is very exciting and witty, so we were very happy to visit 221B Baker Street! We then discovered a very cute street, Marylebone High Street. This street is an ideal London street, filled with pubs and cute shops. We took a rest in one pub and enjoyed our first cider. Cider is so good and tastes just like apple juice!


We had a simple breakfast at the B&B and then made our way into the city. Our fist stop, the changing of the guards at Buckingham palace. During the winter, the guards wear their grey winter coats instead of their bright red summer uniform. It was interesting to be there during the off-season. It was still very busy, but no way near as crowded as in the summer.

For lunch, we went to Borough Market. Just steps from the London Bridge metro stop, this is my favorite market! It is built under the tracks of the metro and provides yummy artesian foods. We had fun tasting chai tea and locally made granola. I settled for a delicious grilled cheese sandwich and Bienenstich (from a German bakery).

We walked past Shakespeare’s Globe Theater to the Tate Modern. We explored the contemporary art within this remodeled power plant. Next, we crossed the Millennium Bridge (by London’s favorite Architect Sir Norman Fosters) and enjoyed a coffee at the Starbucks (they are on every corner in London!) in front of St. Peter’s Church.

By now, it was dark, but we were still on the hunt to find a few more bits of cool architecture. We found two skyscrapers. One called Swiss Re, aka the Gherkin (it looks like a giant pickle and is also by Sir Norman Fosters) and the other Lloyds of London. Lloyds, by Richard Rogers, is a very interesting building because all of the systems (water, HVAC, circulation) are on the exposed outside of the building, leaving the interior to be free for the occupants use.

For dinner, we enjoyed Chicken Tikka Masala, the national food of Britain, at a great Indian restaurant.


A rainy and lazy morning, then, off to find lunch at Camden Market. Camden Town is the hipster and artist borough of London. With many stalls selling used clothes and locally made arts, we had fun looking at all of the stuff we would never buy. Through the center is a set of Locks that canal boats often frequent through. Up above the canal, we enjoyed tea and scones in a very cute tea shop. So relaxing!

We ventured through Regents Park (my favorite park so far) checked out Harrods department store and then sat in another café until it was time to meet up with some school friends for dinner.


We took the Metro to Parliament this morning. Big Ben looked stunning this morning! We said hello to the Prime Minister at #10 Downing Street and then made our way into Westminster Abbey. Inside Westminster, I got to see many memorials to Britain’s Greats: Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, and Queen Elizabeth I.

We went to Convent Garden to eat Meat Pies and then explored the Monday antique’s market. I bought a very cute and cheap 1940s cameo ring! We had a lovely afternoon tea and scones.

As the sun was setting, we made our way back to London Bridge to see the lit up city hall (it is to look like a river rock and is also by Sr. Norman Foster). This area is filled with some very cool architecture, including a new construction (it is not quite finished) The Shard by Italian Architect Renzo Piano. It will now be the tallest building in Europe.

We walked across Tower Bridge, past the tower of London, and to the Metro where we made our way back to Marylebone High Street for amazing fish n’ chips. The Golden Hind has some of the best fish ever. The batter is so light and crispy. Yum! I remember coming here with my mom when we were in London four years ago. I was so excited to find it again.


We only had a half-day London before continuing on to Copenhagen. Our flight was at 4pm, so we tried to squeeze in a few more things before heading to the airport. We took the metro to Kings Cross train station to pay our respects to Harry Potter and Platform 9¾. We walked through Russel Square Park, to the British Museum. I discovered that the Rosetta stone is kept here, I had no idea! We saw many cool, ancient things, including one of the large, stone heads from Easter Island.

We had Cornish Pasties for lunch, and then our time in London was over…
I want to go back so bad!!! I need to live here! London is the perfect blend between America and Europe. It is still very exotic and European, yet is has the comforts of home.

a little snow in Florence + the end of fall semester.

01 February 2011: Wednesday

It is finally cold enough! On the walk home last night, we were greeted with a light snow fall. Snow! In Tuscany! I can’t believe it was 90F just a few months ago. How quickly the weather changes here.

The small flakes wafted through the air and dusted my black coat with sparkling, white flecks. This morning, the rooftops had a light dusting. We have had some snow falling all day, but all of the architecture students were stuck inside with the final project looming in front of us. Nothing stayed for long, but it was a nice surprise!

One more week till finals…

06-09 February 2011: Finals Week

Finals is over! This was one of the busiest weeks ever; I am surprised that I got everything finished and was able to get sleep every night! The thought of being in London on Friday kept me going.

Over three days, I had three tests to take, a paper to write, and an architecture project to finished, and I am very happy with how they all went.

For my History of the Italian Renaissance class, I got to write a interesting paper on Savonarola, the crazy Dominican priest that took the Florentine rule form the Medici family and became one of the first protestants against the Roman Catholic church (Martin Luther studied his speeches). It was very interesting to research and analyze how his persuasive speeches of condemnation persuaded all of Florence to follow him.

For studio, we were given 4.5 weeks to design a Museum of Industrial Italian Design. The design for this project was inspired by the river and the idea that the Florentines are afraid of it. Florence has experienced many floods throughout its history, most recently in 1966. In the center, many of the buildings turn their backs on the river and don’t really interact with it. I wanted this museum to become the bridge between the people and the river. By keeping the museum on columns the river is allowed to flow below the museum while also keeping the art protected.

North Italy: a field trip.

27-29 January 2012

This weekend the architecture and studio art students went on a field trip to northern Italy. We visited so many places and saw some of the buildings that I have been dying to see!

The cities: Padova, Vicenza, Mantova, Verona, and Parma


Capella degli Scrovegni.
We began early this morning, driving with the bus to the city of Padova. We had an early appointment at the Capella degli Scrovegni. This small chapel has some of the most intricate and well-preserved frescoes in Italy. Created by Florentine artist Giotto in 1307, the city of Padova has gone through every mean to preserve the delicate plaster. Before entering the chapel, we sat in a dehumidifying chamber for 15 minutes so to remove any moisture and dust from our bodies, after which we could only be in the chapel itself for 15 minutes. In places, we could see the beautiful base sketches where the plaster had fallen off.

After the chapel, were had a bit of time to wander through the streets of the old center. It is nice to visit towns that are not major tourist destinations. We get to use our Italian more and see how the Italian people really live.

Villa Emo.
Palladio wrote four books on architecture that laid out laws for architects to follow. These laws were based on his observations of the “ancients” or the architecture of the Greeks and Romans he had seen while traveling through Rome and Greece.

Our next stop was Villa Emo. This villa was designed by architecture god Andrea Palladio.Villa Emo follows the classical rules set in his books. Palladio created a monumental center building for the family to live, with two wings that encompass the surrounding countryside. The interior living spaces has beautiful light quality and frescoes. I would love to live here!

Tomba Brion.
Our next stop is one of my most favorite architectural projects. Designed by my favorite Carlo Scarpa, the Brion-Vega Cemetary is absolutely amazing. This tranquil garden-tomb does something to you. With an amazing view of the alps, this spot brings you peace; I can see why Scarpa requested to be buried here.


The Brion family founded the Italian electronics company Brion-Vega and hired Scarpa to design a tomb within the San Vito cemetery. Scarpa has an amazing eye for detail and understands light. Each space glows, creating a heaven on earth. With Japanese inspired designes, each detail has a function. The chapel is so beautiful and showcases Scarpa’s ability to use circles, as doorways, in his designs (he is one of the few architects who can use circles successfully). My favorite moment in this project is the door between the garden and the pavilion on the water. The door is raised and lowered by counter weights. As the glass division is raised and lowered into the floor; from the outside, you can watch the counterweight and gears move. It is so cool!

Theatro Olimpico.
Palladio was born in the city of Padova, but his projects can be seen all over the Republic of Venice. The city of Vicenza is crawling with Palladio’s works. Our first stop in Vicenza was the Theatro Olimpico.

Built in 1580, this theater also takes inspiration from Greek and Roman amphitheaters. With curved seating facing the stage, every position has a good view. Behind the stage, doorways give view to a built city street that is in perfect perspective. This section shows how the back part of the stage is short, but the shape of the buildings allows the sections to look real from the audience.

We wandered through Vicenza back to the bus. Our hotel is in the city of Parma (yes, Parmesan cheese is from here). We enjoyed a group dinner at the hotel and got to taste Parmesan Risotto. Yum!


This morning we took the bus to Mantova. We explored many beautiful churches and also the Duke’s Palace.

Villa Te.
This villa is just outside of Mantova and was designed in the Mannerist style. The more exaggerated sibling of the renaissance, mannerism’s paintings are much more flamboyant and brightly colored. This party house for the duke is filled with many fantastical frescoes, most notably The Fall of the Giants.

Last stop of the day was Castelvecchio in the town of Verona. This is the Verona of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette and we were able to visit her house. There is a large, bronze statue of Juliette, and legend says that if you rub her, you will receive luck in love.

Renovated by Carlo Scarpa, Castelvecchio was the old fort on the river of Verona. It has now become an art gallery, with the museum itself as a work of art. Again, every detail was thought of. Visitors are led around the art and up onto the ramparts with a view of the city.



Our last day in Parma was very cold and windy. We even got a bit of snow in the morning! Our professor led us through many churches, down small streets, and to a renovation project by Italian Architect Renzo Piano. For Lunch I had some more yummy Parmesan Risotto.

All in all, a great trip! I think it was the best field trip with my school. Best trip? because we were traveling with a much smaller group then usual, and also it was geared towards our interests. So, great architecture and great food!

Art Project by Google

Just a quick post today!

A friend of mine shared this cool website with me. “Art Project” is a new website created by Google. It allows you to virtually tour many of the great museums in the world. It works just like Google Earth and I have it set to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. You can walk around inside the museum and view paintings like the Birth of Venus and the Adoration of the Maji. Being there is, of course, the best way to view the museums, but this is great for those who can’t travel or to just get a taste of the museum. Other museums include Versailles, the Alte National Gallery in Berlin, and the Tate Britain.


Silvester: Our New Years in Austria + a trip to Rome

30 December 2011: Friday

Today we spent the day in Salzburg, Austria. We took a bullet train from Ulm to Salzburg; once again, enjoying the green grass and snow covered Alps. Snow flurries followed us the entire ride!

Arriving in Salzburg around noon, we enjoyed a short walk through gently falling snow to the old city center. We laughed so hard when JC stepped out into the snow for the first time. With a big smile, she shouted, “It’s touching me!” and immediately put up her umbrella!

Our first stop in Salzburg was Schloss Mirabell. The palace gardens were on my must-see list because part of the film Sound of Music was filmed here! You know the part where they jump up and down the stairs while singing “Doe, a deer?” That was here!!!

By then, it was time to meet up with more of my mom’s cousins! Andre (son of my mom’s Uncle Rup), his wife Barb, and their middle son Bene met us. They live in a small town outside of Salzburg and were so excited to come and see us. My mom was saying, they last time they met, she was 7 years old!

They gave us a fantastic tour of old Salzburg. They took us to a shop filled with hand decorated eggs that could be used for any holiday. This shop, maybe 1000 square feet was covered in these eggs! We continued to the beautiful Salzburger Dom and then to a really cool cemetery. The St. Peters cemetery is situated at the base of the Salzburg cliffs, with the huge Schloss Hohensalzburg perched above. Filled with old iron crosses, there could not be a cooler (both “wow” and “freezing”) place to be buried.

We walked past Mozart’s Birth house on our way to a great dinner. I had Christmas beer with a tender pork chop and bread dumpling. Yum!

At 19:00, we took the train on to Wien (Vienna). It is so nice to have family all over Europe. Hopefully I can come back in the summer to visit one more time before returning to the States!

31 December 2011: Silvester

What is Silvester? New Year’s Eve in Europe gets its name from Pope Sylvester I, who died on the 31st of December. We began Silvester with a trip to Schloss Schonbrunn for their Winter Market. We enjoyed looking at all of the crafts and foods we could buy there. One booth was selling pretzels in all flavors! Including a doughnut pretzel?!

Next, we took the metro to an old-amusement park (it was kinda weird) to see the world’s oldest ferris wheel. By this time, the Silvester festivities in central Wein were starting, so we headed to Stephansplatz. In front of the cathedral of St. Stephan a large stage was set up where a man was teaching the audience to waltz! Everyone grabbed a partner and was waltzing around the square as the instructor called out the steps! For Silvester, Wien has many booths along their pedestrian streets that were all playing different styles of music or selling hot gluhwein. We made our way to the Wiener Opera House where we visited a Würstelstand and bought yummy Bratwurst Hot Dogs (a large white sausage stuffed inside a roll with mustard and ketchup. So good!

As it became dark and cold, we went back to our bed and breakfast to bundle up and grabbed the mini bottle of champagne our host had given us before heading back to Stephansplatz. Now, a traditional Austrian umpapa band had begun to play. The conductor was so enthusiastic and entertaining to watch!

Just before midnight, we fought our way through the crowds of people towards Schloss Hofburg to watch the fireworks. Before midnight, people began to set their own fireworks off, and by midnight, fireworks were firing from every direction! A rogue one even flew sideways and hit the building next to us! Even though I was really scared, the atmosphere was so exciting! It felt like time square in NYC.

Happy New Year!

01 January 2012: Sunday

This morning, we took the ring trolley around the outside of the city center, looking at all of the state buildings. We stopped outside of the Rathaus to watch the Vienna Philharmonic play through a live broadcast. We enjoyed more Wurst Hot Dogs and Hot Chocolate while listening to the beautiful music.


For afternoon tea, my mom took us to the Hotel Sacher for Sachertorte and tea. Sachertorte is a delectable combination of a chocolate-gingerbread cake with apricot jam, coated in a thick, chocolate coating. Fabulous!

After, we visited the Imperial Library in Schloss Hofburg. It looked like the library form Beauty and the Beast. This Baroque library is filled floor to ceiling with ancient books while the ceiling is painted with beautiful frescoes. Just down the street is a famous café and chocolate store called Demel. While I was deciding if I should buy this 3 euro chocolate bar, I noticed this woman running around the store grabbing everything in sight, not even looking at the price tags. I happened to get in line behind her and watched as her purchase grew, to 470 euro! My mom and I had to pick our jaws off the floor! And to make it even sillier, she paid with a 500 euro bill! I did not know they even made those! Next, she asked if they had a delivery service to her hotel, but declined to have it brought by taxi! I just began to laugh when I had to pay only 3 euro for my little chocolate bar (which was amazing by the way). Aah to be rich.

In the evening, we went to the opera. Just before the curtain opens, you can buy standing room tickets. For only 4 euro, we got to watch Die Fledermaus from behind the ground-floor audience. It was the perfect place for watching the opera. Only catch, you have to stand for 3 hours. It was a great experience to watch the people with seats come into the opera house, dressed in their best cloths, drinking champagne. Played every New Year’s Day, Die Fledermaus by Johan Strauss II, was very witty and funny and all in German. The great thing about this opera house is that they have subtitle screens to help you read along in English.

02 January 2012: Monday

Our last day in Wien. We went straight to Schloss Schonbrunn to tour the summer home of the Habsburg family. I learned that Maria Theresa was empress of Austria. She gave birth to 16 children, one of which was Marie Antoinette, future queen of France. This palace was beautiful and elegantly decorated with the distinct simplicity of Asian influence.

We then made one last trip into the center to Stephansplatz to visit the Manner cookie shop. They make tastey chocolate wafer cookies. I also got Schoko-Bananen, a banana flavored mousse coated in chocolate.

Our last stop was inside of St. Stephen’s Cathedral where we took a tour of the crypt. We ventured deep below the cathedral to see the jars containing the organs of the Habsburg royalty, many pits of bones (even ones that died from the plague), and an ossuary (bones stacked on top of each other to save space).

At 16:00 we had to catch the train back to Munich. This train was so crowded that JC and I had to sit on the floor most of the ride. Once in Munich, we changed to a night train back to Florence. This was an “interesting” experience.

03 January 2012: Tuesday
Gelato: Café + San Crispino (Honey)

We arrived in Florence at 6:30 this morning and went right to sleep, wakening up around noon to pack again for an overnight trip to Rome. My mom had been to Italy once before, but never to Rome, so I was really excited to go with her.

We arrived in Rome around 15:00 and went directly to the colosseum. We wandered around the outside (they closed early that day) laughing at the men dressed up as gladiators interacting with women tourists. The sunset was very beautiful to watch as it set behind the Forum.

We visited the Pantheon (built as a temple to all gods, it is now a catholic church). This ancient temple has an oculus in the circular roof that is open to the elements. It had rained earlier that day and we could see the remnants of the rain on the floor just below the opening.

For dinner we ate at La Baffetto. We had to arrive early to get a table inside because this is one of the most famous pizzerias in Rome. In a very orderly fashion, we were led to our seats, ordered right away, and watched the chefs make our pizza in front of the ovens. I had a calzone and it was so good! Buy the time we left, there was a long line waiting to go inside to eat pizza. We were seated with a very nice girl. She is form Slovenia and is studying Italian in Rome for one week. She had such a passion for the language and was so happy to be here experiencing Rome! She took us on a little tour of the ancient center, past the Trevi fountain to a Il Gelatoria di San Crispino. We ate our gelato in front of the beautiful Trevi Fountain and then tossed in our coins for good luck and a hope of returning to Rome.

We walked to the Spanish steps before heading to our hotel.

04 January 2012: Wednesday

This morning we visited the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. We waited in a long line to enter the beautiful church! We saw many preserved popes and the alter designed by Brunelleschi. Built over St. Peter’s (the first pope) burial sight, St. Peters Basilica is the largest cathedral in the world, has the longest nave, and the tallest dome. We sent a postcard from the Vatican City post office to Tante Elk saying, “we went to see the pope, but he was taking a nap!”


Finally, we returned to the colosseum to go inside. This place is so cool! Even though all of the seats are gone, you can still imagine the 40,000 people that sat in this stadium watching the battles take place below.

Our last stop was the Palatine Hill and Forum. I think this was my favorite part in Rome. Very few people were there and it began to rain, giving the ruins a clean, shiny appearance. It still is amazing to think that people lived here thousands of years ago!

05 January 2012: Thursday
Gelato: Caffe + Crema de Grom

Today is Mom’s last day. It was a difficult day for both of us, to enjoy Florence together for one last day. Lots of organization of stuff to bring back to the states. A dinner trip to Fiesole. Grocery shopping. And the day was over already.

06-08 January 2012: Friday – Sunday
Gelato (08 Jan): Ambrosia + Biscottini

The weekend was devoted to being lazy and getting ready for the start of Fall Semester – Part 2.
Friday was the Ephany, the arrival of the three kings to visit Jesus. We went to Piazza Duomo to see the live nativity scene. We saw live animals, a kids choir singing Christmas songs (I recognized some of them! Same tune, but sung in Italian), and we watch the long parade of people dressed in historical costumes. Finally the three kings arrived. Led by the arch-bishop of Florence, they offered their gifts to baby Jesus.

09 January 2012: Monday

School again full throttle.
New Studio Project: Italian Design Museum + green space

10-23 January 2012
Gelato (10 Jan): Biscottini + Pistacio

The past two weeks have been busy with school, studio, shopping at the January sales, and catching up on this blog! I have been working with my mom and uncle, via email, to organize the information about our family tree that we discovered in the cemeteries while in Germany. I went with JC and Sar to the town of Prato for a small exhibition of Italian futurist architecture firm Superstudio.

Enjoying Italy and la dolce vita!

Buon Natale! Frohe Weihnachten! Happy Christmas!

15 December 2011: Thursday

This evening we had a school Christmas dinner at a nice trattoria near the Medici Chapel in Florence. We dined on antipasti, eggplant parmesan, turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and panettone. Everything was tastey and the company was great. I sat with Madel and a friend of hers that was visiting Italy from a study trip to Sweden. I knew that she also went to Cal Poly but it was not until I met her that I realized that she is roommates back at Cal Poly with one of my best friends from high school! It is so funny how small our world is!

17 December 2011: Saturday
Gelato: Crem de Grom + Tiramisu

19-22 December 2011: Mid-Terms

A week full of studying and little sleep. Not much different then finals week at Cal Poly. I had my Florentine Architecture midterm on Monday, Grammar and History of the Renaissance midterms on Thursday.

Wednesday was “d-day;” the day my final design for the Uffizi Gallery exit was due. The exit had to include a café and also fit into the historical context of ancient Florence. For this project, I was thinking a lot about what the renaissance was. The Renaissance is a re-birth of classical ideals. I studied the evolution of proportions and styles, and then added a third phase to the evolutionary tree. Following the styles of Mies van der Rohe, I developed this project: –>

23 December 2011: Friday
Gelato: panettone and mandarin (Italian Christmas combination)

She is here! My mom arrived last night to visit me in Florence! This had been the longest time I have ever been away from my mama! 4 months is too long. With the end of my last final on Thursday, I practically ran to the train station of pick up my mom.

Today, we walked around to see all of the sights and I gave my mom a thorough lecture of Florentine architecture. We visited the Palazzo Vecchio and David, the Ponte Vecchio, we bought her a pair of leather gloves.

In the evening, we hiked up the hill to the Piazalle Michelangelo. The city of Florence had set up a beautiful frosted Christmas tree in the Piazalle. For dinner, JC, Sar, and I took her to Gusta Pizza for some real Florentine Pizza!

24 December 2011: Saturday and Christmas Eve

We slept in and in the afternoon, we went to the central market to buy some food for our Christmas Eve dinner. She had so much fun looking at all of the strange cuts of meat, cheeses, and vegetables. For dinner, I made meatloaf patties and green beans. Sar joined us and made us one of her wonderful Tiramisu! I was even able to find “A Christmas Story” online to continue our tradition of watching it every Christmas.

After dinner and presents, we took an evening stroll through the streets and made our way to the Duomo for Christmas Eve mass. It lasted 2 ½ hours! More then a Sunday mass, there was an hour of singing and verse reading before mass began. Led by our favorite archbishop of Florence, we enjoyed the smell of incense and the revealing of baby Jesus (in my opinion the best part)! I had never seen the Duomo so full! It was such a fun experience!

25 December 2011: Christmas Day

Buon Natale! (meaning “good birth” or Happy Christmas in Italian).
Mom, JC, and I got on the train this morning to visit my family in Germany again! This time, we are staying with my mom’s cousin Mari and her husband Wolf (daughter of my Tante Git, sister of Barb). The train ride was so beautiful, just like the one to Vals. This time, we went through Austria, past Insbrook. We arrived in Ulm in the evening, just in time for Kasespatzle!

26 December 2011: Monday

Today is the feast of St. Stevens and a state holiday in Bavaria. We took the morning easy. JC and I explored the yard around Mari and Wolf’s house. They have five pet peacocks! We had fun looking for and collecting the tail feathers of the beautiful male peacock. They also have two geese and tons of chickens running around their yard.

For lunch, we went to my Tante Git’s house for a post-Christmas supper and then ventured through the town where my grandma was born. We enjoyed good conversation and more Christmas cookies then any one person should consume.

I tried a new type of cookie who’s recipe comes from my great grandma. Made from the Quince fruit. This fruit-roll-up type cookie has a sweet, yet bitter, taste and is so tasty!

27 December 2011: Tuesday

Up early today to tour Munich. We began the day at Schloss Nymphenburg. Home to King Ludwig I and birthplace of King Ludwig II (he later built Schloss Neuschwanstein). This palace is a simple version of Versailles in Paris, but the frescoes and paintings will give Versailles a run for its money. King Ludwig I began a collection of portraits called “The Gallery of Beauties.” This collection included 36 portraits of the most beautiful women the king had ever met; from a cobbler’s daughter, to some of the noblest women in Bavaria.

We continued into the center to find a very old cemetery. Everyone from my mom’s side of the family is buried here. It was such a creepy cemetery, with vines growing over the tombstones and the overgrown trees blocking the sunlight and casting strange shadows on the dirt path. We explored all of the sights in the center (rathaus, St. Peters, Frauenkirche) and had bratwurst and beer at the Victualienmarkt.

Our last stop of the day was at the Olympic park and BMW Welt! The Olympic park had three pavilions made of fabric lofted over a large open space. BMW Welt (World) is the museum and factory for the BMW cars. The museum and showroom was designed by architecture firm Coop Himmelb(l)au. This space was fantastic with different platforms and spaces for soaking in the beautiful automobiles. We even saw some original vintage cars, including the BMW Isetta.


Dinner was in a traditional Munchener restaurant. We ate schnitzel and spatzle!
The drive home after was full of excitement. Wolf is not afraid of the road! On the autobahn, he pushed the car to 190 km/h. That is about 120 m/h. The fastest I have ever been in a car!

28 December 2011: Wednesday

This morning was lazy and so was the afternoon. All we did was eat today! My Uncle Mich came from Stuttgart to visit my mom and we had a wonderful brunch of meat, cheese, eggs, and pfannkuchen (German pancakes).

We kept eating at Uncle Mar’s house. Gert made some wonderful desserts and we enjoyed coffee with whipped cream! Tante Git, Barb, Tante Wilt, and another Wolf joined us! In our family, we like to count names. The same names tend to show up over and over again throughout a family tree. Names like Rupert, Martin, and Hugo are uncountable in our family!

This evening, we drove into Ulm to visit a German Medieval festival. We drank gluhwein (like mulled wine) and ate some hot snacks. It was so cold that night! To fight the cold, the festival supplied hot wooden baths that people could pay to sit in. Weird if you ask me. But people were enjoying it.

29 December 2011: Thursday

Our last day in Germany. We took the drove down to the Allgau again to play in the snow today! Wolf and Maria have several traditional wooden sleighs and we had so much fun flying down the snow-covered hills. We had a picnic lunch of liverwurst and pretzels with hot apple juice! The Alps were covered with clouds most of the day, but around 13:00 the clouds began to lift. We could see deep into the Alps as the snow began to fall. It was so beautiful and JC’s first time seeing falling snow.


Dinner at Barb’s with Schupfnudeln (long potato noodles) and sauerkraut.

Tomorrow we head to Salzburg. I am sad that we must leave Germany so quickly! I feel so welcome here. I’m falling in love with Bavaria.

Vals, Switzerland

Switzerland in December. Time does not exist here. It is a place where the sun rises at 8:30 but does not begin to peak over the rising mountains until after 10. You cannot be outside without squinting as the sun glairs at you until it sinks below the peaks four hours later. By 2:00 the sun disappears, by 4:00 it is dark.

08-10 December 2011: Thursday –Saturday

Thursday is a holy day of obligation: The Immaculate Conception. Meaning: state holiday and no school. JC and I have been waiting for this day; to begin our train journey from Florence, through the Alps, to Vals, Switzerland.

Vals is home to one of the most well hidden and beloved pieces of contemporary architecture. My teachers at Cal Poly rave about Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals. Built over a natural hot spring at the end of a small valley, it is quite a journey just to reach this beautiful architecture.

Our first train left Florence at 7:00 in the morning, we changed trains in Milano, and continued on to Zurich, Switzerland. The second train took us winding through the Alps, past snow covered towns, frozen lakes, and some amazing, up-close and personal views, of the Alps. It was so fabulous to watch the landscape wiz by as we munched on Italian cheese puffs. We arrived in Zurich at 1:30pm and changed to a third train heading to Chur. Leaving Chur, we passed the Lindt chocolate factory, yum! We changed to our fourth and last train that took us deep into the Alps to the town of Ilanz. From there we took a bus, winding around hair-pin turns to the town of Vals.


Four trains and a bus later, we arrived at the Hotel Therme Vals!

The hotel itself was designed by a ship designer in the 1960s, therefore it was cleanly organized with lots of places to keep things. The beds neatly folded away into the walls, creating couches. The patio overlooked the trees, the small town, and the Alps beyond.

Almost immediately we were in our bathing suits and hiking up the hill “take part” in the vals. When I say “take part,” it is the only way I can express the unique ritual that bathing in the vals is. Once you pass the reception desk, the floor begins to slope downwards, taking you deep below ground level. The wall texture changes to smooth horizontal stone strips, drawing you past springs flowing from the walls and into the baths themselves. Steam is escaping from the baths and you begin to move more gracefully, floating from one bath to the next. It is wonderful.

There are many different pools, all heated to different temperatures. There is a large central pool at 32 C with many small pools around it. There is the “Sound Bath” that requires you swimming through a tunnel to a tall chamber. As you hum, the sound reverberates off the walls. The “Flower Bath” has small pedals of flowers in the water and a fragrance spritsed into the room every 10 minutes. I fell asleep in this bath for about 30 minutes, it was so relaxing and the perfect temperature. There is also the “Fire Bath” and the “Ice Bath” both of which are tinted to a corresponding color.

My favorite bath was the outdoor bath. You begin indoors and swim through a portal to the outdoor pool. Large columns frame amazing view of the Alps. At night, the snow glistens in the moonlight, creating mammoth silhouettes in the darkness. The entire time in the baths, you do not know what time it is until a gong sounds and you know that it is 8:00; the baths are closing for the night.

We stayed at the Vals for two nights, relaxing in the warm water, soaking in the views, and contemplating our studio projects that are due in just a few weeks. On Friday, we took a break, mid-day, to walk around the town of Vals. The town is picturesque. Nestled at the base of the mountains, the houses are the ideal, Swiss mountain house, with steeply pitched roofs and smoke stacks. There were cute, decrepit barns with Swiss cows munching the frozen grass that was still on the ground.


Every day I looked forward to the morning and the chance to enjoy the most amazing breakfast buffet! Everything made locally, we ate swiss cheeses and meats, fresh pretzels, alpen butter, rosewater jam, yogurt with granola. We could drink as much, locally bottled, Valser water as we wanted. It was all so good. We could make our own tea in cast iron pots and enjoy the view. I glare at my breakfast now, hoping it will turn into the breakfast from the Therme Vals.


And then, it was over. Saturday somehow arrived and we had to return to Italy. We took the same beautiful train ride back to Florence, back to school, back to life.

East Italy: Arezzo, Urbino, and Ravenna

29 November 2011: Tuesday
Gelato: Opera Italiana + Yogurt and Nutella

30 November 2011: Wednesday
Gelato: Biscotti Natale (Christmas cookie)

02-03 December 2011

This weekend we had another field trip. This time, just for students taking social science and history classes. Since I am taking History of the Italian Renaissance, I got to go!


We had to catch the bus super early, but by 8am we were in the small town of Arezzo. Fun fact: the movie “La Vita è Bella” aka “Life is Beautiful” was filmed in this cute town and Arezzo was the birth place poet, Patriarch, and of architect, Georgio Vasari (later to be the main architect of Florence and Cosimo I). We only had time to explore the walled city center. We were led through the town on a very extensive tour by one of the Art History professors. She knew absolutely everything about early Christian art and architecture.

We began our tour of Arezzo in Basilica San Francesco (there is one in almost every town in Italy) to see the marvelous frescoes that had recently been restored. These frescoes depicted the history of the true cross.

We walked to the church Santa Maria della Pieve complete with huge bell tower. The coolest part though was the interesting façade made of many different re-used columns. Behind this church was the Piazza Grande where many scenes from “La Vita è Bella” were filmed. Here is a clip from the movie, if you forward to minute 5, you can see how they used the piazza!

In the Piazza grand is also a long loggia designed by Vasari. If you compare it the Uffizi Gallery in Firenze, they look very similar. We also visited the cathedral of Arezzo and the Basilica of San Dominico. Our last stop before heading to the next town was the birth house of Vasari. The building itself and the frescoes inside were done by him. Very impressive!


Urbino has a much different feel compared to Arezzo. This town was built on a hillside and has a large fortress like palace perched at the top. The Duke of Urbino was a military superhero and good friend of the Pope during the 1500s. His palace has been turned into a museum that houses one of the most important collections of Renaissance art. The Duke’s study was beautiful, covered in perspective designed wood panels.

Renaissance painter Raphael was born in Arezzo and we were able to visit house and see some of his early paintings completed before he was brought to Florence by the Medici. Last stop in Urbino was the Oratory of San Giuseppe. Dedicated to Joseph, father of Jesus, the Oratory is made of two small chapels; one in a baroque style and the other with simple frescoes. The painter of the frescoes had a real sense of humor. He was a very good painter, but some people had strange expressions, children were causing havoc, and a dog was licking himself. Funny stuff.

Urbino was my favorite town on this trip because of its hillside location and beautiful view.
For dinner, we had a class dinner at a local restaurant. Decorated only with pictures of chickens, we were served 5 courses of different pasta and rabbit. Which I ate. And it was good, better then any chicken I have ever had. Yum.


After yet another quick bus ride to Ravenna, we began yet another day of non-stop information about this town. Ravenna was a major seaport and capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. All of the churches had beautiful early Christian eastern mosaics.

We visited so many great locations including the Mausoleum of Theodoric, Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, the Neonian Baptistery, Basilica of San Vitale, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Basilica of St. Francis, and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe. We went to every single building on the UNESCO world heritage site! It was interesting to compare the different mosaic styles, find the stories of Jesus, and discover mosaics of the different rulers like Emperors Justinian and Theodosius.


I also found out that Dante was buried in Ravenna. Born in Florence, Dante was exiled to Ravenna for his political writing. He wrote all of his divine comedy here and always longed to return to his Firenze.

We learned so many things and saw so many different things that the day is almost a blur!