Feasting in Florence with my Mama.

21-26 June 2012.  Thursday to Tuesday.

Thursday.
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?).

Friday.
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.

Saturday.
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.

Sunday.
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.

Monday.
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.

Tuesday.
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.

Advertisements

Lake Como.

18 to 21 June 2012. Monday to Thursday.

Lake Como is like Disneyland for adults. Picturesque villages are perched along a glittering lake. You can easily find a delicious gelato stand anywhere, and slowly wander through the narrow streets, put your toes in the water, or take the ferry across the lake to yet another quaint town. The main demographic is the just married or the recently retired couple or the rich and famous (George Clooney has a house here), lending to a quiet atmosphere in these sleepy towns.
Situated in the southern hills of the Alps, near the border with Switzerland, Lake Como looks like an upside-down “Y.” At the intersection of the three legs of the lake are the most famous towns: Varenna, Menaggio, and Bellagio (the casino in Las Vegas was designed after this one) There is a small ferry that frequently travels between these three towns, making it easy to visit them all.

Monday.
Gelato: banana + coco

After leaving Barb in Innsbruck, we changed trains in Verona and Milano, before finally arriving in the town of Varenna. We had reserved a little bed and breakfast near the train station, and it was easy to find. There was another mother-daughter pair staying in the other room. We had dinner on the train (leberwurst and pretzels we had bought in Austria), so we wandered into the town center to find gelato. Varenna is the “cutest” town on the lake. To get from our B&B, we walked a winding pedestrian pathway that clings to rocks, just above the lake. Called “the lover’s walk,” its shadowy benches and great views make it perfect for any couple.

Tuesday.
Gelato: (afternoon) banana + cafe
(dessert) cookies + cafe

A lazy morning and a nice breakfast with our B&B mates, we headed for the ferry. On the Itinerary today was visiting the Villa del Balbianello. The ferry dropped us off in the town of Lenno. We wandered through a little outdoor market before entering the grounds of the Villa. The walk up the winding drive took about 20 minutes, until the gates to the villa began to peak out from the trees. Villa del Balbianello is visually know to the public from its use in movies. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones used this beautiful villa as Queen Amidala’s family retreat on the Planet Naboo where she and Anakin Skywalker got to “know each other better.” It was also used in James Bond: Casino Royale as a recovery hospital.

ANY_ITEM_HERE

The villa itself was originally a Franciscan Monastery (the chapel is now the kitchen) and was converted to a house in 1787. Its most recent owner was Guido Monzino, son to a wealthy Milan business man, he is best know for 20 exploration and mountaineering expeditions. Dreaming of owning the Villa since he was a boy, he bought and restored the house to eventually be a museum for all of the artifacts he collected during his travels. The two major displays showcase his trips to the North Pole and Mount Everest. Never married, he had a fascinating life. Upon his death, he left the Villa to Italy’s historical society, allowing it to be open to the public. Situated on a little peninsula, the villa offers a near 360 degree view of the lake.

ANY_ITEM_HERE

A funny story about the owner: in his will, he left money for the upkeep of the gardens, especially a large tree that is to always be pruned in the shape of an umbrella. The gardeners must climb up through the tree to reach the branches at the very top.

After the Villa, we enjoyed Gelato at La Fabbria del Gelato. We just stumbled upon it on the way back to the ferry and it ended up having the best Banana Gelato!

The ferry brought us to Bellagio next. We walked up and down the narrow streets, looking for famous people. I even bought a silk scarf that was made in Bellagio. Apparently, there was some famous Indian-spiritual leader-guru shopping in Bellagio that day and herds of people were following him from shop to shop. It was quite entertaining because we had not idea who it was. We will just say it was George Clooney. According to Google news, he and his girlfriend were staying at their Lake Como Villa this weekend, so mom and I were always on the look-out for him. But we missed him in Bellagio by a day, he had dinner there on Wednesday.

Mom and I enjoyed dinner back in Varenna at a lake side restaurant. The sunset was bright orange, the same color of mom’s favorite new drink: an Aperol Spritz. After dinner, we found a great gelato place on the way back to the B&B. I highly recommend Gelateria Riva, located on the pedestrian pathway at, Contrada dell’oste 14. A happy and friendly owner, serving us some tasty gelato.

Wednesday.
Gelato: Mint

In the morning we walked through Varenna some more, mailed some postcards, and packed up to cross the lake to Menaggio. We decided to stay one night in another town. Menaggio is not as cute and Italian. It is more Swiss in style. We took a walking tour all through the town, enjoyed a panino, gelato, an excellent pasta dinner, and the most beautiful dessert served on a slate slab. Chocolate mousse, yum!

Mr. Clooney’s House

Thursday.
In the morning, we took the ferry to the town of Como, located at the southern-most point of the Lake. The ferry took us past so many beautiful villas and we spotted George’s. Once we reached Como, we began our trek to the train station. It was a very, very warm day, and we had to pull our suitcases up-hill the entire way. The train station was at the top of a set of stairs too–with no other access. Who in their right mind puts a train station at the top of a staircase?!? But I was wonder woman and carried them the entire way up! Now, back to Florence!

It was such a relaxing few days of being a lazy tourist. Lake Como is so beautiful and romantic. I will have to return again some day. Perhaps on my honeymoon?

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.

ANY_ITEM_HERE

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.


ANY_ITEM_HERE

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.

ANY_ITEM_HERE

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

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

30 December 2011: Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31 December 2011: Silvester

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

01 January 2012: Sunday

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


ANY_ITEM_HERE

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

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

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

02 January 2012: Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04 January 2012: Wednesday

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


ANY_ITEM_HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

09 January 2012: Monday

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

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

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

Enjoying Italy and la dolce vita!

Buon Natale! Frohe Weihnachten! Happy Christmas!

15 December 2011: Thursday

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

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

19-22 December 2011: Mid-Terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 December 2011: Saturday and Christmas Eve

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

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

25 December 2011: Christmas Day

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

26 December 2011: Monday

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

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

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

27 December 2011: Tuesday
Munich

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

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

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


ANY_ITEM_HERE

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

28 December 2011: Wednesday

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

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

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

29 December 2011: Thursday

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


ANY_ITEM_HERE

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

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

East Italy: Arezzo, Urbino, and Ravenna

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

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

02-03 December 2011

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

Friday.
Arezzo

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

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

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

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

Urbino

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

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

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

Saturday.
Ravenna

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

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


ANY_ITEM_HERE

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

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

Why I’m in Florence: Studying.

2-3 November 2011: Wednesday + Thursday

Real school started Wednesday. We had a full day of architecture studio and presentations. Before leaving for the PLP break, we were assigned a small case study project to explore the beautiful architecture in Firenze. I was assigned the bridge of Ponte Santa Trinita, one bridge to the right of the Ponte Vecchio. Originally I thought this bridge would have no information, but I discovered it to have a very long and interesting history. The first bridge was built in the early 1200s, it was destroyed a total of 4 times and rebuilt 5 times. After the 3rd wooden bridge collapsed after the Arno River flooded, Florentine architect, Bartolomeo Ammannati, constructed a stone and geometrically stronger renaissance bridge in the 1500s. It stood for 500 years before being destroyed by the Nazi army during WWII, and has since been reconstructed from the original stones that were dredged from the Arno. I had so much fun researching this bridge. I discovered that the local library of Florence (which I now have a library card for) has a huge archive of ancient reference books. I was able to skim through an engineering book that gave the statics analysis for the bridge that was published in the late 1700s! It was so cool!

My studio project for the fall (due 21 Dec) is a new exit to the Uffizi Gallery. It will be cool to see what we design and how we interact with the interesting site and the context of this old city.

My Italian conversation class will be different then the last class because it is more of a cultural class in Italian. We are to discuss major figures in today’s culture, architecture, food, holidays, etc.

History of the Italian Renaissance will also be fun. My professor is a real kick. He is very funny and knows some of the strangest facts about people in Florence’s history.

04 November 2011: Friday
Gelato: Cinnamon + Café (really good combination!)

05 November 2011: Saturday
Gelato: Amaretto + Persimmon

We found out today that a TEDtalk was taking place in Florence, so on a whim JC, Sar, and I tried to attend. Our attempt was successful! We got some cool tote bags and official badges and got to listen to some very interesting lectures – however they were all in Italian… and I could only understand about 30% of what they were talking about, but it was still really cool!

One was partially in English. An Italian born professor at UC San Diego has developed some very cool software that can scan artwork and show the layers hidden behind the paintings. They have applied this technique to Botticelli’s Primavera and da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi. Through this software they can see the touchups made on paintings and see what is hidden beneath, including da Vinci’s beautiful sketches that lie below the sepia paint. So cool!

11 November 2011: Friday

It is nice going to school here in Florence. There are two things that really stick out in my mind: 1. No school on Friday; I know this may be insignificant to some college students, but Cal Poly Architecture requires school 5 days a week! 2. When we learn about someone or something in history, we can take the train a few hours and visit where they lived.

This week in History of the Renaissance, we learned of St. Francis of Assisi. Did you know that he was a poet? And was one of the first people to use modern Italian in its written form? So, JC and I took the train three hours south to the town of Assisi.

This small hill town is picturesque. The view over Umbria was breath-taking. JC and I enjoyed wandering the perfect streets and visiting the many churches that perch on the hillside. The most important one is the basilica of San Francesco (St. Francis) which includes two churches stacked on top of each other. The upper was the oldest, dating back to early Christian style architecture, while the lower church was more gothic in style and covered in frescoes depicting the life of San Francesco. Below the lower chapel is the tomb of San Francesco. It was really cool to be down in the tomb and to see how admired this saint is and how his life has influenced so many people. This tomb is a pilgrimage spot for so many people, including monks and nuns of the Franciscan order and I can now see why my Tante Elk wanted me to visit.

10 November 2011: Thursday
Gelato: Lemon Pudding + Almond cookie

13 November 2011: Sunday
Gelato: After Eight + Opera Italiana

15 November 2011: Tuesday

My friend from Cal Poly, Mic, is visiting us from his study in Copenhagen this weekend. On his last night here, we decided to climb Brunelleschi’s dome! The venture up the dome was quite the experience. We hiked up the spiral towers to the terrace of the dome where we could look into the eyes of the giant frescoes that grace the ceiling. Then we hike through the double layer dome to the lantern. On the journey up, we could see the pattern of brick used to construct the dome. The size of this dome forced Brunelleschi to develop a new type of construction. Instead of using wooden framework, they built the dome in rows with a herringbone pattern.

From the top, we had a beautiful view of the city. Each monument was lit up. We could even see our apartment!

18 November 2011: Friday

Yesterday, 17 November, was my 22nd birthday. After a long day of classes, I came home to an amazing meal prepared by my great roommates. Sar and JC slaved over the stove and made lasagna and tiramisu! We had a bunch of friends over and enjoyed each others company and lots of laughter!

Life in Tuscany. Florence + Cinque Terre + Chianti + Bologna

10 September 2011: Saturday
Gelato: Tiramisu

My friend Meg is visiting Florence this week. She is traveling for the semester through Europe with her art class from university. She has already spent a week in London, another in Venice, and is now in Florence before going off to Rome, Vienna, and Paris!

For the weekend, Meg, JC, Sar and I decided to take a day trip to the five coastal towns of the Cinque Terre. Any visit to Italy must include the Cinque Terre! It is so beautiful and the water is calm and warm. We took an early train to Riomaggiore (the southern most town of the 5) and explored the small town that was built into the hillside. We walked past the colorful houses and to a great view looking over the Mediterranean Sea and the other four towns: Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso.

After lunch, we walked the Via dell’Amore (Walk of Love) to Manarola. Along the Via dell’Amore couples have attached locks to commemorate their love and then toss their keys into the sea. We discovered a path down the cliffs with a small ramp into the water. We swam for a few hours and soaked in the Mediterranean sun.

11 September 2011: Sunday

architecture students enjoying their wine

This afternoon we took the bus to the small town of Grieve in Chianti. Grieve in Chianti hosts a wine festival to showcase the local red wine: Chianti. Traveling with a bunch of fellow architecture students, we had a blast sampling all of the different, local, wines including the red Chianti, Vin Santo (a sweet dessert wine; translates to “holy wine”), and Grappa (the moonshine of the Italian wine world).

12-16 September 2011: Monday-Friday
Gelato: Tiramisu + Crem de Grom (vanilla cream with gram cracker bits)
This is officially the best gelato I have had to date! The gelato is so creamy and they even mix chunks of lady-finger into the tiramisu! So so so so so good!

This week was very easy going with lots of studying and cooking. I did some laundry and hung it out the window to dry, I bought some fresh pasta from the Sant’Ambrogio Market and Sar made home-made Tiramisu in honor of JC’s 21st Birthday!

17-18 September 2011: Saturday + Sunday

It’s the weekend! A group of us took a morning train to the city of Bologna. It was an interesting weekend that taught me to anticipate the

Sar, JC, Jes, Fran, Gabe, & Al

unexpected. I had planned a trip to the Ferrari car factory, but our plans were interrupted by an unplanned train strike. Strikes have become frequent across the TrainItalia system in order to reject the cuts in wages. With that said, I will now plan my trips much more carefully and be open to a change in schedule. We will have to return to Bologna again!

Other then the previously stated disappointment, I had a very nice time in Bologna. Bologna is the food capital of Italy and is the birthplace of Pasta Bolognese and the modern university. I enjoyed walking along the arcades that line the streets and visiting the Basilica, leaning tower of Bologona, and an ancient university of science and medicine. Inside of the university are the many crests of the professors and students that worked at and attended the university. We also were able to peak inside an ancient operating theater. The archaic style of teaching was made known by the wood-carvings of the skinned human body and an giant marble slab (for operating). Class was only taught here during the winter months, to keep the operating room cool.

I enjoyed the good food, good company, and the rain!

19 September 2011: Monday
Gelato: Tiramisu + Crem de Grom… again.

School. Eating. Loving Life!

21 September 2011: Wednesday

This evening, after our Wednesday art class, JC, Sar, and I attended a short lecture on student travels in Europe. I was super excited because the lecture was given by the son of one of my favorite travel writers… any guesses?

Andy Steves, son of Rick Steves, gave us tips on how to best take advantage of our time abroad in Europe. It kind of turned into an advertisement for this new student travel business, but I got free food and a drink, and now I’m one degree closer to a famous travel writer!

22 September 2011: Thursday

I visited the Palazzo Vecchio today, not to take a tour, but to attend student welcome day. American students become a large part of central Florence’s population during the fall. The meeting was held in the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the 500) which used to hold the meetings of the 500 person council under the rule of Duke Cosimo Medici I. At the end, we were greeted with an appearance by Matteo Renzi, the Mayor of Florence. He gave a very nice and inviting speech. Matteo Renzi is very popular among the Florentines because he is young and has ideas for modernizing Florence.

24 September 2011: Saturday
Gelato: Chocolate with Sicilian Orange

Happy European Heritage Day! I was able to visit the Laurentian Library for free today! The Laurentian Library is located within Basilica San Lorenzo. Commissioned by the Medici Family, the library was designed by Michelangelo to house the Medici’s large literary collection and to show off their interest in the arts. The library is a long reading hall with high windows that give off a very soft light quality. The benches use to have chains that locked the rare books to their shelf.

In the afternoon, a wine parade, called Bacco Artigiano, took place. The Tuscan town of Rufina travels the 20km to Florence with their “Carro Matto” (crazy cart). The parade walkers all wear medieval Florentine outfits and are followed by the cart, stacked high with 1500 bottles of Chianti Classico and pulled by two oxen. This symbolic parade blesses the new wine at the Duomo (Santa Maria de Fiore) and then presents it to the government at the Palazzo Vecchio.

25 September 2011: Sunday

Corri La Vita – The Life Race

Today was Corri La Vita, a city wide race/walk-a-thon to raise money for breast cancer. All of CSU Firenze was encouraged to join the entire city of Florence to walk for the cause! We started early, sporting our bright green shirts, Sta and Han chose to run the race while the rest of us walked. JC, Sar, and I wanted to take advantage off all of the free museums we could visit with our participation in the walk.

The race began at the Piazza della Signoria (where the Palazzo Vecchio is) and headed to the Duomo. We visited the Bargello, the old prison turned sculpture gallery, to see Donatello’s bronze sculpture of David (he is not as buff as Michaelangelo’s). We then headed across the garden to Palazzo Pitti and the Giardini di Boboli (Gardens of Boboli). After a water break, we explored the gardens and enjoyed the many paths and hidden sculptures. The gardens use a Renaissance style of forced perspective, making them look longer then they really are.

We ended the afternoon at the Museo Ferragamo. Salvatore Ferragamo was a famous shoe designer who’s company sponsors the race. The Florence based designer crafted shoes for celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. His shoes are quite extravagant and use many different materials including fish scales! For each of his clients he created a wooden foot model to design the shoes around. The celebrities had such tiny feet!

Tonight we visited Palazzo Strozzi for a very cool exhibit on Money and Beauty. It reviewed the evolution of Florentine trade, and the rise of industry, guilds, the Medici family, and the arts. Did you know that most countries used silver for their coins while Florence used 24kt gold for their Florins?

26 September 2011: Monday

We hiked up to Piazzale Michelangelo this afternoon to work on our landscape drawings for figure drawing.
But this evening was exciting because it was the grand opening of the new Gucci Museum in Piazza della Signoria. This was a very high profile event and Jennifer Lopez and Madonna were invited! Many people (including me) waited around to see if they would show up, There were many famous Italians there, including the grandson of the founder of FIAT and Franca Sozzani ,the editor and chief of Vogue Italia (who I recognized from “America’s Next Top Model”).

27 September 2011: Tuesday

It’s the last Tuesday of the month so it is free state museum evening! We went to visit the Uffizi Gallery and the Medici Chapel.
The Uffizi is best known for holding the art collection of the Medici family and for Botticelli’s masterpiece “The Birth of Venus.” I really enjoyed a temporary exhibition on the architect of the Uffizi, Georgio Vassari. The exhibit contained many of his original sketches and plans of the Uffizi (offices to the Dukes of Florence). It is so cool that these scribbles were created 500 years ago!
The Medici Chapel is located in Basilica San Lorenzo and was designed by Michelangelo to house remains of the grand dukes of Tuscany – mainly the Medici. The chapel was covered with dark stone and contained many sculptures by Michelangelo.

Florence is so old! I am actually seeing the buildings I learned about in my Arch history class and that my professors worship! I just can’t get over it!

Exploring Firenze and Toscana

02 Sep 2011: Friday
Gelato: Wine (and it is amazing!)

It is finally Friday! My first Italian test is finished and we get to meet up with my CP Architecture friend Miche. Miche just finished a summer study class in Switzerland and is now traveling through Europe. Miche will be crashing with us for the next few days. Our first houseguest! We did some sight seeing: Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio and the south side of the Arno River. We hiked outside of the city center and up to Piazzale Michelangelo for the most amazing views of central Firenze! A must see!

On the way home, we stumbled upon a great pizzaria! Gusta Pizza (via Maggio 46R) had great pizza, a great atmosphere, and a good price. We got to share one of the large tables with two police officers.

04 Sep 2011: Sunday
Gelato: Matcha (green tea) + Cuor di Pardula (orange, lemon, + saffron) in one cone!


Today was the day of double mass! and it was so great! We went to high mass at Duomo! This was so cool! The average tourist must stand behind a fence half way down the nave. But since we were going for mass (Sar calls it the “Catholic Special”) we got to sit directly under Brunelleschi’s amazing dome, listen to mass in Italian, and smell the incense.

This evening we hiked back up to Piazzale Michelangelo to visit the church of San Miniato al Monte (St. Minias on the Mountain). This church has an adjoining monastery and every evening at 5:30 the monks hold mass. The best part though, is that the monks sing their mass. Their singing radiates through the crypt, below the alter, as the monks sing their prayers. But before entering into the church for mass, we got to witness the end of an Italian wedding. It was very cool to see all of the stylish Italians dressed in their Giorgio Armani suits.

05 Sep 2011: Monday

After class today, Sar, JC, Miche and I visited the Ospedale degli Innocenti, another great building designed by the great Brunelleschi. The Ospedale degli Innocenti, or the Hospital of the Innocent, was an orphanage and a nunnery. Mothers could place their babies on a rotating door and give their child to the nuns to care for. The nuns would teach the child a trade so that when they grow up, they could have an occupation. I first learned about this building in my architecture history class and it was great to see it first hand!

07 Sep 2011: Wednesday

We started our figure drawing class today. All of the architecture students are required to take this class. Now, when I heard figure drawing, I knew we would be drawing people. But guess what they were wearing… nothing! I was slightly shocked when we first started, but I have taken it upon myself to be mature in this situation. I am very happy with how my first pencil sketch turned out and my drawing teacher is very enthusiastic and supportive!

Today was the Festa della Rificolona (festival of the paper lanterns). Tomorrow is the birthday of the Virgin Mary and this festival is thrown to celebrate the eve of her birth and to remember the farmers who would travel out of the hills by lantern light to sell their goods. There was live Tuscan dancing and folk music and each of the young children were holding colorful lanterns (store bought and home made). I noticed one of the first differences between the US and Italy. Let me set the picture: the small children are carrying paper lanterns that had candles on the inside. The kids that are 8-12 years old walk around with pea-shooters and have one intention this night, to shoot down the lanterns and make them catch fire! This would not happen in America! But the combination of the glittering lights and the fun music made for a great atmosphere.

08 Sep 2011: Thursday

Happy Birthday to the Virgin Mary! The terrace of the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) was open to the public once a year to honor this day. JC, Sar, Alex and I got to climb up to the base of the dome, have panoramic view of Florence, and even walk inside the church along the balcony next to the rose window. It was very cool! From this position on the dome, you can really see how the Duomo is the center of Florence. All of the major streets radiate off of the plaza.

09 Sep 2011: Friday

Our first class field trip was today. We visited the small hill town of Monteriggioni, Siena, and ended the day with dinner at Machiavelli’s house.


Monteriggioni is a walled hill town one hour outside of Florence. This medieval town was build by the city of Siena to be a fort against the attacking Florentines. Monteriggioni is preserved very well. Except for the modern shops and cars, you would think you had just traveled back into the dark ages.

Still within Toscana, Siena was the opposing super power to Firenze. It has a beautiful town hall, duomo, and is home to Il Palio (a horse
race around the sea shell shaped plaza). Even though Il Palio is during the summer, you can still see the rivalries of each district (17 in total) because each area of Siena is decorated differently and sport their colors and flags. My friend Arl and I tasted a traditional Sienanise desert. Ricciarelli are soft almond cookies are they are so good!

To end the day, we went to the house of Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli was born in Florence and became a rival of the ruling Medici family. Machiavelli eventually took over the political scene of Florence for many years before being exiled by the Medici family. Machiavelli was exiled to this house just outside of Florence where he wrote his political masterpiece The Prince. His house has now been turned into an upscale restaurant and produces wine from the same grapes as when Machiavelli lived here 500 years ago. We got to eat some great traditional Tuscan foods including Crostini (toasted bread with yummy toppings), Ribollita alla Toscana (a thick bread and vegetable stew – so good), Tiramisu and the house wine!

JC sampeling the Machiavelli wine!


Bella Toscana!