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!

Gelato Anyone?

It’s the beginning of October and so comes the annual heat wave to California’s central coast.  I sit here, in my concrete architecture studio prison, trying to work on my thesis and sweating in today’s 99 degree dry heat, dreaming of gelato

23-27 May 2012.  Florence Gelato Festival.

The last week in Florence, while I was trying to study and write papers, my tastebuds were constantly tempted by the knowledge that an amazing festival was taking place just blocks away.  This was the third time that the gelato festival descended upon Florence, inviting the best gelato craftsmen from all over the world.  For 10 euro, I got a cool bag, a coupon allowing me to taste 6 different artesian gelati (plural of gelato), and a demonstration on how gelato is made.  Over the five days, I tasted so many different gelato and got many free samples.  In the end, I got to vote on which one was the best.

Gelato’s roots date back to 16th century Florence.  Did you know an architect, Bernardo Buontalenti, is said to have invented gelato?  And it was Catherine de’Medici, whose family is also from Florence, that brought gelato to France and then the rest of the world.

The flavors ranged from sweet to savory, fruit to chocolate.  I will always remember a Parmesan cheese flavored gelato that was topped with sweet balsamic vinegar and a piece of dried prosciutto.  It was — interesting.  But my favorite was the winning gelato.  Canadian Gelato craftsman created a simple gelato flavored with maple syrup.  It was awesome.

Since this festival does not happen every day, the least I can to, after living in Florence (the birthplace of gelato) for a year, is give you a brief review of the top five, must taste, gelaterias (gelato shops).

1.  Antica Gelateria Fiorentina
Via Faenza, 2  (located just around the corner from San Lorenzo)
Small cone (2 flavors): 1 euro
This small gelato shop provides some different, yet tasty flavors.  Try some of their “Gelati Gourmet” like Matcha (Green Tea) or Cuor di Pardula (orange, lemon, and saffron).

2.  Le Parlgine
Via Dei Servi, 41-red (between the Duomo and Piazza Santissima Annunziata)
Small cone (2flavors): 1.50 euro
They have lots of fresh fruit flavors like pear and banana and yummy flavors like After 8 (mint cookies).  My favorite combination was canella (cinnamon) with cafe.

3.  Gelateria La Carraia
Piazza Nazario Sauro, 25-red
Small cone (1 flavor): 1 euro
Located on the south bank of the Arno river, just across Ponte alla Carraia, is this hidden gelato shop.  My roommate Han found it and she recommends Yogurt with Nutella.  But I enjoy Torta di Limone (lemon cake).

4. Il Procopio
Via Pietrapiana 60-red
Small cone (2 flavors): 2.50 euro
A bit more expensive, but totally worth the extra cost.  They also have different flavors like Limone e Basilico (Lemon and Basil).  I sounds strange but it is so refreshing on a hot day.  Also try Fogli di Procopio (translates to Layers of Procopio) and so many delicious flavors are folded into this delicious gelato.

5. Gelateria Ermini
Via Vicenzo Gioberti, 123-red
Small cone (2 flavors): 1.50 euro
Located right between my school and COOP (my grocery store).  I often stopped at this historic Gelateria on the way home, and slowly it became my favorite gelato joint.  And I like to think that the cute Italian boy behind the counter (and I think the owner’s son) began to recognize me after a while.  The usual:  Neve di Riso and Baccio  (translates to Snow of Rice and a kiss).  Neve di Riso is a simple, milk based flavor that has bits of rice and it was the best.  Baccio is a blend of rich chocolate and hazelnut with huge chunks of hazelnut mixed inside.  The combination of these two flavors always made me happy as I slowly walked home from school.

Why is Gelato better than ice cream?  It’s creamier, it’s smoother, and, following the Italian tradition of using local products, it is just so flavorful and fresh.  Gelato anyone?

The End. But not really.

14-31 May 2012. The last three weeks.

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

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

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

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

the dream team. art, me, noah.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

– – – – –

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

Architecture Workshop in Ascoli, Italia

9-13 May: Wednesday to Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday.  Working all day and well into the night…

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

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

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



Roma: architecture field trip

4-5 May 2012: Friday & Saturday.

Gelato: Tiramisu (a classic)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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


25-30 April: Fake Break.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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



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


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


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

– – – – –

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.

Croatia. A Hidden Treasure.

6-15 April: Spring Break. Part 2.

Croatia is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Our week long drive through this very small country took us to beautiful and diverse landscapes, ancients cities, and some of the friendliest people we had met anywhere else in Europe. Everyone we interacted with was very hospitable and was happy to show us their Croatian culture.

Croatia is a very young country, but its culture dates back to the Romans. Many palaces were established by Emperor Diocletian. Control always seemed to be held elsewhere; first by the Ottoman Empire, then the Hapsburg Empire, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and then the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It was only in 1991, during the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, that Croatia declared their independence and fought a brutal war to gain their own republic government. Compared to other formerly Yugoslav countries like Romania and Albania, they seem to be doing amazingly well after such a short time of independence. They have become a very popular vacation destination for Europeans, they have recently built a beautiful highway system, they hold an active part in Mediterranean trade, and they can still encourage their unique culture; yet, their very recent and tough past can still be seen reflected in their eyes. They have had a hard 20 years since independence but what they have now is incredible.

9 April: Monday

The Croatian boarder guard was very daunting as we passed between Hungry and Croatia. They carefully looked at each of our passports and visas and had us open the trunk of the car. We were now stepping out of the EU and into “unknown” territory. The “Republika Hrvatska,” aka Croatia, had a very tight boarder control and, from what I could tell, they were not too eager to open boarders and join the EU.

Our first stop was in the capitol of Zagreb (to the north east). It was just a quick lunch stop where we discovered our staple food for our stay. Beef soup was a beef broth with little noodles and veggies and it was so delicious everywhere we ate it!

Today was long drive to the seacoast. The cross-country trek took us through grassy countryside, snow-capped mountains, miles of tunnels, and finally down winding roads to the seaside. I was amazed how quickly the landscape changed. We stayed in the town of Zadar and slept very well at a little guesthouse an older couple was renting to us.

10 April: Tuesday

We made a quick visit to the ancient town center where we visited ruins, and the water organ (see the video below) and discovered something special. In-&-Out! We had heard fantasy stories of an In-N-Out in Croatia and we were so surprised to happen upon it during our walk through the town. It looked legit at first, until we noticed some changes to the sign. Can you spot the difference? Al was so excited that he ordered us all double-doubles that turned out to be larger than my face and none of us could finish them.

We spent the afternoon at Krka National Park, the little sister of the Plitvice Lakes. Raised wooden paths glided us over the clear blue water, amazing waterfalls, and calcium carbonate deposits. The weather was perfect and I was blown away that such a beautiful place exists. Al was brave enough to take a dip in the one swimming hole, but the water was too cold for us girls.


A little interview with Al before we left the lakes:

11-12 April: Wednesday & Thursday

Tuesday evening we arrived in the town of Split. We made arrangements to rent an apartment for the four of us for less than a hostel. Our apartment was just a block away from Diocletian’s palace (the ruins had been turned into the main shopping area and tourist center) and steps from our favorite restaurant FIFE, where we ate each night. At FIFE, we feasted on seafood risotto, grilled catch of the day, beef soup, and free water. We ate the local cuisine “family style” at this restaurant every night. We met lots of nice people and we sat next to an Italian couple one night and they gave us the food they could not finish! It is perfect for poor and starving college students like us. 😀


We spent these few days soaking up the sun, eating, shopping, and goofing off. We even took a swim in the, still cold, spring, sea. Madi broke off from the group she was traveling with and met up with us in Split on Thursday night and would travel with us for the rest of the trip.

Me, JC, Al, and Jess in Split.

13 April: Friday

Croatia is also called the Dalmatian coast, named for the thousands of small islands that dot the coastline. We decided to take an hour ferry to the island Hvar. The weather was horrible, but I think it was one of the best days of the trip. I think our group and a Japanese-American tour group (led by a cute, 85-year old powerhouse Japanese granny) were the only ones visiting the island that day. The sea was angry and it rained all day, but we still ventured out and enjoyed the view. I even did a watercolor!

our dates. jk

The best part was dinner that night. We left our lodging up the hill and ventured into the town. The poked our head into the only restaurant with lights on and it was packed. We were seated quickly by the owner, who was ecstatic to discover that we were from California! He said, “I have a cousin in California! He owns a winery in Pismo Beach!” Again, our world is so small! Alviz served delicious us delicious food. I had cevapcici, ground beef fingers grilled over an open flame and served with a spicy red sauce. So tasty! The owner gave us some desserts to try including an almond semi-freddo that was to die for! Mid-way through the meal, the owner’s buddies (I think most were fishermen) can in to have a drink and they all started singing in Croatian and having a grand old time! It was such a fun atmosphere!

14-15 April: Saturday & Sunday

In the morning, we took the ferry back to Split and began the drive back to Firenze. We spent the night in Rijeka, one of the largest ports in Croatia that had a bustling student nightlife. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant where Al and Madi had the spiciest pizza ever. They were both crying.

Sunday morning, we visited the town of Rovinj. We had lunch and wandered through the stone streets of this hill/sea town. It was very beautiful and quaint.

We were back in Firenze around 8pm. All exhausted from sitting in the car and traveling. This trip was a nice break from our normally rigid travel schedule.

– – – – –
I loved Croatia. I would recommend 1000 times over to anyone. The country is so diverse and offers many unique things to see. We were there in the early spring, when the weather is still cold and rainy and I can’t wait to go again some summer when I can enjoy the turquoise water.

Thanks Croatia for the best of times.


6-15 April: Spring Break. Part 1.

This Spring Break, I did what every college student should do for spring break,


but with a twist. Instead of the normal drive up the coast of Cali, or across the great plains of America, we took the fact that we are in Europe to our full advantage.

We have heard so many great things about the country of Croatia, yet to get there is not the easiest task. Situated just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, the prices for crossing by ferry or plane were becoming very expensive. It was just a joke a first, driving to Croatia from Florence, but after my friend Al offered to drive, we put the plan into full force.

So, the plan. First stop Budapest, Hungry for a few days, then down the coast of Croatia, stopping in six seaside villages along the way. With no real schedule, aside from places to stay, it was looking to be one of the most beautiful and relaxing trips yet.

6 April: Friday.

We picked up the car in Florence and hit the road directly. Al and Jack traded off driving and I gave directions while JC and Jess slept in the back. This video shows man of the roads and weather we encountered during our drive:

During the eight-hour drive to Budapest, we stopped in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, for lunch. We looked around the center of the town, walking along the river and chose one of the cafes that looked over the river. It was a very cute city, full of beautiful buildings. It was such a quiet capital and very clean!

The border into Hungry was non-existent. There were no signs welcoming us, only the language changed on the signs. We did not realize we had crossed borders until we had driven 20 minutes.

Al enjoying the culture

I think the best part of our trip was the atmosphere at our hostel. If you ever travel to Budapest, you must stay at Tiger Tim’s Place. They offered many group bonding opportunities (games and guided pub crawls) while also allowing you to escape to the quiet rooms. I met two very friendly guys from Copenhagen and we had a good time sightseeing with them. One night, Tim (the owner and an Irish man) asked the five Americans (my group) if we would help teach and hold an international beer pong tournament. We did, and of course beat the Canadian and British/Irish teams. It was great fun to have the entire hostel involved in one activity.

Budapest is known for the “Ruin Pubs.” Located in the Jewish quarter of Budapest, the ruin pubs get their name from the once abandoned, post communist buildings they now occupy. The buildings have many rooms to hold the many activities that take place, including rooms for talking, dancing, and drinking, and each is uniquely decorated with a “thrift-shop” décor. The best part was that the visitors were not just students, but people of all ages!  We got the chance to visit two such pubs during our stay. Szimpla is rated the best pub in the world and Instant had a very fun atmosphere and we all met some very interesting people from all over Europe.

7 April: Saturday

Today, we took a tour of the Pest (east) side of the city. Led by a local student, we visited all of the tourist spots, rubbed statues, and posed in front of the parliament building while hearing about the very recent communist history. Hungry is now a member of the EU and has an open border with the other EU members, but Hungry’s economy is not strong enough to support the euro and still uses the Hungarian Forint (250 HUF = $1). We walked along the Danube River to an Easter market and enjoyed local foods and crafts.  The item I am holding -> is a typical “chimney cake.”  Dough is rolled in a cone form, cooked over fire, and rolled in cinnamon-sugar.  It is so hot, steam comes out of the cone like a chimney!


8 April: Easter Sunday

I visited St. Stephen’s Basilica for Easter mass. The interior of the cathedral was packed with visitors. This cathedral is unique compared to most Catholic cathedrals because they received permission from the pope to display a statue of St. Stephen above the altar instead of the crucified Christ.

The rest of Easter Sunday was spent relaxing at the Szechenyi Thermal Bath. This historical bath was built in the early 1900s with many interior mineral pools and two outside hot pools. The temperature outside was in the low 50s so we scampered quickly from our puffy winter jackets and into the warm pools. The sun was shining and we sat soaking away the grime of sightseeing and cobblestone streets. Two hours into our bath, a young man caught my attention. My friend Mik (the friend I stayed with in Copenhagen) was entering the pool with some of his classmates! How small our world is! We were just amazed that we would end up in the same pool in the same city on the same day!

9 April: Monday

Jack left early this morning to meet up with some people in Greece and the rest of us continued visited Memento Park before we hit the road. Memento park showcases the fall of communism in Budapest by creating a museum of statues removed from the capitol. As we wandered through the park, we were amazed by how large and dominating the statues of Stalin, Lenin, and happy workers were.


I was really impressed by Budapest! The atmosphere was fun and vibrant, the food was great, stuff was cheap, and the history was interesting! I would totally go there again!

Now, with gas in the tank, next stop Croatia!