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

A New Adventure

Ciao regazzi!

The Orange Penguin is back in the blogosphere and this time on a new adventure with a great companion, my mom.

It’s time for a change in life. We packed up our little home in California and are on the move to job opportunities and new adventures in a “little” big city: Portland, OR. But, on the way we are taking a two month side trip across the USA to places we have never seen before. We will be hitting all four corners of the US: the south west to Florida to New England to Oregon with many stops in-between!

photo 1Day 1.

Miles Driven: 444

The day started out early as we frantically packed the final necessities of our home and placed them in storage. After shoving everything for our trip into our car, we were on the road by 11am.

This road trip is a bit unique for us. We have never been on such a long trip and traveled so far. We tried to break up the itinerary into driving days that do not last more than six hours and then have full days in between to explore and rest. We will be doing a combination of staying with friends and family, staying in B&Bs, and car camping! We fit the mattress from our old pull-out couch into the back of our Honda CR-V and created something that will be quite comfortable I hope. (photos to come later)

photo 1   Our first day’s drive took us through California’s San Joaquin Valley. It was interesting to see the variety of items being reaped from the soils of this valley.  From oil to almonds, it all grows here!

Lunch was in Bakersfield, per the suggestion of mom’s co-worker Ant, at Moo Creamery where we had delicious burgers and locally made salted caramel ice cream.

The drive continued through the Mojave Desert. It’s fun traveling with a smart phone these photo 2days because we can answer some of life’s questions, like what is the difference between a yucca plant and a joshua tree? can I eat it? or what is the difference between a waxing and waning moon? The answers: the joshua tree is actually of the genius yucca and no, you can’t eat them, but you can eat the roots of its sister yucca plants. The moon was waxing which means that it is becoming a full moon. You can tell the difference by the direction in which the moon is full and because it was visible in the evening sky.

We made it to our first stop, Las Vegas, and wandered the strip a bit before hitting the sack. It was fun to see the Bellagio and the Venitian casinos because they brought back memories of my time living in Italy. I was quite impressed how the designers were able to capture the feel of the the real towns of Bellagio and Venice. Architecture, like these casinos, are something that we are trained not to do in Architecture school, but it would be fun none-the-less to design.

photo 3photo 4






A dopo. (till later)

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!

Feasting in Florence with my Mama.

21-26 June 2012.  Thursday to Tuesday.

Gelato: Coffee Crunch + Cream

It was strange to arrive in Florence but not go directly to my little apartment on Via Giraldi.  Instead, my mama and I went to the B&B we had reserved, directly across from Mercato Centrale.  This was going to be more a tourist experience than a student/resident experience–having to live out of a suitcase and explore all of the most famous sights like I had never been here before.

We had dinner across the Arno at Gusta Pizza and gelato at a little Gelateria called “Perché No?” (meaning Why Not?).

The B&B provided us with breakfast at a cute bar down on the street corner.  A bar in Italy is not like a bar in the states.  Yes, it does serve alcohol, but also cafe and pastries in the morning.  Mom, especially, enjoyed sitting at the outdoor tables, before the leather market opened.  The weather still cool, before the day’s heat would set in, we enjoyed our cappuccinos and people watched before starting out for the day.  After breakfast, we crossed the street to the Mercato Centrale to explore the various food vendors.  The fresh fish was particularly interesting, with a pot full of octopus tentacles boiling next to the case of iced shrimp.

Around 11:00, we met up with my friend Krist, who had stayed in Florence for a month to kill time before joining the next group of students to participate in CalPoly’s summer Switzerland program.  We met at the SITA bus station to visit my dear Antica Marcelleria Cecchini in Chianti, one last time.  After raving about it the first two times, I was so excited to show Dario off to my mama.  He was there, working behind the counter.  We enjoyed our little glasses of chianti classico and crustini con lardo (toast topped with lard and Dario’s secret season salt–simply divine). We headed upstairs and enjoyed the outdoor tables, summer Tuscan sun, and vineyard views.  There is something picturesque about the Tuscan countryside; the landscape seems almost too accidentally perfect to be real.  Mom, Krist, and I dined on the usual meats and fresh vegetables.  This time of year, the Tuscan fennel was in season and was so tasty to dip into olive oil mixed with the season salt–so refreshing.

On the way out, mama and I got to stand behind the counter with Dario for a photo and he treated us to digestive shots of Grapa.  While behind the counter, with his huge arms squeezing us together as we posed for the picture, he announced in his deep voice: “To Beef, or not to Beef?!”

That evening, to counter all of the meat we had eaten earlier, we enjoyed a very local restaurant, Il Vegetariano (The Vegetarian).  Located near the train station at Via delle Ruote 30r, the crowd of visitors is young and Italian.  We enjoyed Lasagna and a delicious salad.  This was one of my favorite restaurants in Florence, excellent and healthy food for a good price.

Gelato: Pineapple

We met up with my roommate Alex, who had just returned from visiting her family in Greece for a month, to take the train to the Cinque Terre.  By 10:00, we had arrived in Riomaggiore, the southern most of the five towns.  We slowly walked up the hill to the great view overlooking the sea, wandered through a few shops and down to the harbor.  Next we walked along La Via del’Amore (The Walk of Love) to the next town of Manarola.  We enjoyed lunch at a little seaside restaurant before hopping on the train to Vernazza.  The previous fall, a massive rain storm had caused a huge mud slide, covering much of this town.  Over the year, the town was slowly excavated from the mud and many repairs had to be done.  I was very impressed by how much work had been accomplished since the devastating flood, and it was still possible to see the height of damage caused by the mud and water.  We really enjoyed the little beach and soaked in the sun.

The entire train ride home was quite entertaining.  The peddlers who usually pester visitors, selling silly items to tourists at places like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, must have just gotten off work.  As our train stopped in Pisa, tons of these men got on the train, with their bags of souvenirs and counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags.  They all seemed very nervous, as though they were trying to be sneaky by constantly changing seats and avoiding the conductor.

Hot and tired from a long day in the sun, we just crashed when we got back.

Gelato: Green Tea (while doing laundry)
Fogli di Procopio + Lemon and Basil (post dinner)

Today was the feast day of San Giovanni (St. John the Baptist) the patron saint of Florence.  This is a big day for the Florentines, full of activities.  After breakfast, mama and I headed over to the Duomo to see the festivities taking place at the 10:00 mass.  A choir was singing in the Baptistry and then a huge procession made its way into the cathedral for the grand, feast day mass to be held by the once Archbishop of Florence who had recently been appointed to Cardinal.  He was all decked out in new red robes.  Mama got a little teary eyed and said “I just love it here.” awwww….

We enjoyed sandwiches at Il Due Fratellini (The Two Little Brothers) before hopping on the bus to gather my huge suitcase and a box I had left with Krist, and brought it back to the B&B.  They were both so heavy!  We did some much needed laundry before meeting up with Krist to peek in on the Calco Storico.  This Historic Soccer is a brutal combination of Soccer and Rugby, with no rules and dates back to the ancient Florentines. It now takes place once a year, on the feast of San Giovanni.

Pizza dinner at A Casa Mia (My Home), a favorite of CSU Firenze students and locals alike.  Located near Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, the students usually congregated here for birthday dinners.

The feast day fireworks started at 10pm.  Shot from Piazzale Michelangelo, the best vantage point was the banks of the Arno.  The fireworks were themed with red, white, and green and after about half an hour of them, people started clapping, expecting the end.  But no, they lasted an entire hour.  The intensity of the fireworks kept the streets alive and vibrant as we walked home.

Gelato: Neve di Riso + Baccio

We spend the morning weeding through my suitcases and boxes, trying to fit everything into two 50 pound bags and two carry-ons.  I like to save everything, so it was tough to throw away my old Italian homework.  We walked to school to take some clothes to donate and to visit Connie and Ref in the office.  They were like our parents, always holding our hands as we slowly learned how to navigate in this foreign land.  We visited my old front door on Via Giraldi.  From the corner, we watched as some blond girl entered my home for the past year.  *tear*  Mama had visited Florence with my Oma 30 years ago, when she was my age.  She brought with her some of the photos she had taken and we tried to discover the locations.  We recreated some of the old pictures with my mom posing in the same spots.  It is amazing how little both my mama and Florence have changed in 30 years.

Lunch was at my favorite Panino shop.  Ke Ci Metto?, located at Borgo La Croce 52r, is one of the best places to grab a quick yet delicious panino.  I will go in and say to the owner “Qualcosa ti piace” (something you like) and he will quickly choose one of the many homemade focaccia breads (flavors range from spinach to corn, tomato to beet) and create the best sandwich.  But this is not just a sandwich, he chooses from a special spread, Tuscan meat, and accompanying cheese, all of which go perfectly with each other, and then pops it on the little grill so it is piping hot.  Aw man, so good! yummmmmmm…….

We took the bus up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo to meet Alex.  We enjoyed the view and I did a little shopping at the Benedictine Monk’s craft shop outside of the church San Miniato al Monte.  On the way down, mom and I enjoyed a sit-down dinner before heading back across the Arno to Santo Spirito, to see my friends one last time before we all headed our separate ways.

A final Italian breakfast, last minute packing.  We slowly dragged our bags to the station to catch the bus to the airport.  It was the same hot weather and crowds of people that had greeted me when I had arrived in Florence 10 months before.  We made it to the airport, our bags met the weight requirement, and we were on the plane.  I was sad, but mama and I still had one last adventure to enjoy before heading back to reality.  Ciao Firenze.

Next, and last, stop: London.

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!

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.


09-11 March 2012

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” – Il Padrino aka. The Godfather

Cannoli and The Mafia. I knew only of these two things prior to traveling south to the beautiful island of Sicily. It was a trip full of bad weather, but this encouraged a relaxing weekend full of good food, friends, and the need to incorporate “godfather” quotes into our conversation. I ate my fill of cannoli and was lucky enough not to have a run-in with the mafia… I think…


10 of us jumped on a flight to Palermo, Sicily. We had reservations for one night in Catania and the other in Taormina (as advised by a friend of mine. He said it was his favorite city in Italy). We took a two-hour bus, through the heart of Sicily, from Palermo to Catania. The bus ride was gorgeous. I could not believe I was beyond the boot. I thought I had been swept away to Ireland. The rolling green hills and multitude of sheep made me believe I was no longer in a part if Italy. In many ways, Sicily is its own culture. Having been ruled by so many other cultures, like the Romans, the Moors, the Spanish, and finally being united into Italy 150 years ago by the King of Savoy, Sicily’s diversity can be seen in its unique blend of architecture and tasted in its food.

Upon arriving in Catania, we found our way to our hostel and immediately set out of find a seafood dinner. We dined on delicious seafood pasta, handmade and full of fish and muscles, and then I got to taste my first cannolo in Sicily! Hand-filled right before me, the shell was crispy, the ricotta cheese was sweet, and it was dipped in fresh Sicilian pistachios. Fantastic!


We woke up Saturday morning to a terrible storm. Strong winds and rain showers. Our intention was to visit Mount Etna, the most active volcano in Europe, but that plan had to change due to the snow-storm that was preventing buses from reaching the top of the volcano. We tried to explore downtown Catania, but the wind was too strong. We got a glimpse of its baroque architecture and were able to explore the food market near our hostel. The Sicilians advertise and display their food much differently then on the Italian mainland. Always shouting out the day’s special, merchants display their wares in a beautiful and tempting way.

We headed out earlier then expected to our next destination. The walk to the bus station was not far, but it was quite an adventure. The wind and rain coming from the sea forced us to huddle against the buildings and hope we would not get blown away. I think we heard hurricane sirens sounding as we neared the bus depot.

After a short ride to Taormina, we were greeted at the hostel by our host, Gianni, with a sample of the local Vino alla Mandorla (almond wine). Gianni is an older gentlemen who was so happy to entertain his guests. For everyone who was staying at the hostel, he provided a pasta supper that night and recommended some great places to get cannoli!

We ventured down to the beach where two of my roommates, Sta and Han, took a dip in the stormy sea. We got lots of strange looks from passers-by and one guy even took pictures (I am assuming to show his wife the crazy Americans). We found a café, La Dolceria, for lunch and had another cannolo and tried the Sicilian specialty: arancini. Mozzarella, tomato sauce, and peas are covered in rice and breadcrumbs and then deep-fried to create a delicious, pear-shaped, pastry!

Finally, we took the bus up the cliffs to Taormina’s ancient center. The view was breath-taking! The waves were crashing on the rocks below, but the water was still bright blue. We could just see Mount Etna peaking out from below the clouds. Since the weather was gloomy, there were no tourists, so we were free to explore. I can’t imagine how busy this small town is during the summer. JC, Gabe, and I hiked a little further up the hill to an ancient, roman amphitheater. The theater perfectly framed the view of the sea. It is so cool that the Romans were able to construct things like this on such treacherous terrain.

The last cannolo of the day was purchased at a shop across the street from our hostel. Pasticceria di Cassablanca had the best cannoli of the trip. The sweet ricotta cheese had little bits of chocolate mixed in. So tasty!


Last day in Sicily. We took the bus back to Catania, back to Palermo and spent the afternoon exploring. The weather was better, but not good enough to enjoy the beach. We spent a few hours soaking in the sun near the harbor, found some really good pistachio gelato, and visited the cathedral of Palermo. One thing that I liked about Sicily was all the animals everywhere! I met lots of cats, all taken care of, who were roaming the street. I tried to coax one into my backpack, but he would not have it. And then again, I don’t think Knightly and Boots would like to have an Italian cat living with them.

I need to return to Sicily again some day. The people were so friendly, the food exotic, and the views unbelievable!

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!

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?

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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.