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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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

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?

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!

Day Trips from Florence: Lucca + Bologna

29-30 March: Thursday & Friday.

A great thing about living in Florence is that it is located in the very center of beautiful Tuscany. It is so easy to travel to the near by hill towns or to travel north to some of Italy’s great motor-sport factories.



Located near the sea just north of Pisa, Lucca is a delicate little town that is perfect for a day trip from the warm, low-land Florence. Around the ancient center there is the original walled fortification that is shaped like a pentagon, with lookout points at each corner. This barricade has been turned into a walking path and park.


Jacy and I took the noon train from Florence and spent a lazy afternoon exploring and shopping. We walk along the wall, peering into gardens and enjoying the towers of the many churches. We peeked into a circular piazza that was a Roman coliseum. We enjoyed afternoon tea at a nice hotel and people-watched. It was a beautiful day and we soaked in the Tuscan sun. Inside the walls, the town was picturesque and we had so much fun wandering the streets and peeking into shops. I even bought a very cute pair of red, leather flats, and I love them!

We left Lucca around 7pm and were home in time for dinner!


Bologna’s Ducati Factory.

Ducati motorcycles are some of the most revered bikes in motorcycle racing. I joined Fran, Gabe, and JC on a tour of their factory and history museum. For a small donation to charity, we got to go inside the actual factory and see every step of construction that one of their bikes goes through. From engine assembly to body to testing, everything is hand done. The only step we did not see was their top secret product development lab. The factory in Bologna is very unique and assembles 6 types of production bikes that are street safe and can be sold to the public. Each worker is trained to complete and entire bike and follows each bike through all of its stages of assembly – this keeps the Ducati workers more alert because they are not doing the same, repetitive movements.

The historical museum was also very interesting, taking us through each bike created by the Ducati brand and through its racing success.

The Butcher of Panzano

31 March 2012: Saturday

“This is Antica Macelleria Cecchini. It’s a butcher shop, but not really. In the words of Bill Buford, writing about it in his best selling book Heat: “It’s a museum of Tuscan cooking.” And this man, Dario Cecchini, is the most famous and respected butchers in Italy, and maybe the world. But just as a Macelleria is not simply a butcher shop, Dario is not just a butcher, he is something else entirely. He is a repository of knowledge for all things Tuscan. Be it food ways, historical arcania, literature, or poetry. He is a huge defender of traditional methods of preparation and original Medici era recipes. ” -Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations: Tuscany

Located in the small town of Panzano in Chianti, this butcher shop, the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, has been passed down from father to son over the past 250 years. Every ingredient he uses is local and fresh, from the meat to the glass of Chianti wine served to me as I walked in the door.

Panzano in Chianti is an easy hour bus ride from Florence, and we arrived just in time for lunch. I was joined by my friends JC, Fran, Gabe, Kat, and Kat’s friend Ling who was visiting from home. We pushed ourselves into the small shop, there were lots of people there buying meats, the walls were covered with antiques and memorabilia, the fridge was hung full of waiting carcasses, and there was Dario himself, pouring me a glass of wine and handing out samples of wonderful Salami Toscana.

Just across the narrow, cobblestone street, is Dario’s restaurant. There are only two items on the simple Menu. We all shared orders of the Dario Doc, a half pound, crumb crusted burger, and Accoglienza, which included samples of steak tartar (yes, I tried it, and yes, I knew it was raw), Chianti tuna (pork with herbs and garlic), and meatloaf with a sweet bell pepper sauce (my favorite). Everything was so tender and fantastically flavored that we were all in a carnivorous heaven. We had to be rolled out the door and down the hill to the bus.


Before leaving, Fran (who was just as excited to meet Dario as I was) and I got to stand behind the counter with Dario for a photo! Dario was so excited to hear that we were from California. In a combination of English and Italian, he told us that his wife is from California and that they were heading there in a few weeks to do some cooking for the LA restaurant Valentino. This is a great butcher, in the tiny town, and he was so great.

Fava Beans

I guess I have been on a bit of a food kick lately, but some of the food is so different than what we have in the United States.  Food is always so fresh that I can’t help but try it.

Fava beans were something I had always heard of,

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”   -Dr. Hannibal Lecter

but never seen at the markets before.  With the onset of spring, the beans were ripe and Italian Grandmas were buying them by the bag load.  So, I bought a few.

The beans themselves had to be removed from two shells.  First, the thick outer pod, with its fuzzy inner lining.  Then, I quickly boiled them in some salt water and the bean slipped out of their individual shell.  For the size of the pod, the actual beans are really tiny.

I mashed them together with some lentils, olive oil, and salt and spread them on a piece of baguette and then added a slice of fresh mozzarella.  It was so fantastic and fresh.  Perfect for a warm spring day in Toscana!


Cucina Italiana: Pumpkin Ravioli

Pumpkin Ravioli. After living in Firenze for 7 months, I finally feel confident enough to try my hand at homemade pasta.

3.5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for hands and rolling
5 eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small can pumpkin
4 teaspoons chopped red onion
1/3 cup butter, cubed
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Put 3 cups flour in a large bowl; make a well in the center. Beat eggs and oil; pour into well. Stir together, forming a ball. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes, add more flour if necessary to keep dough from sticking. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, sauté pumpkin and onion in butter. Add thyme, salt, pepper, and cream. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until thickened.

3. Divide pasta dough into fourths; roll one portion to 1/16-in. thickness. (Keep remaining dough covered until ready to use.) Use cookie cutter or glass to cut out round circles from dough. Place rounded teaspoonfuls of filling in center of each circle. Brush egg lightly on edge. Fold in half, pinch edge together. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

4. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add ravioli. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer; cook for 3-5 minutes or until ravioli float to the top and are tender. Drain and keep warm.

Sauce Options.

Thyme and Cream Sauce:
In a saucepan, bring cream to a boil; cook, uncovered, until reduced by half. Stir in 1 T. butter and thyme.

My favorite sauce is a simple browned butter. I think it goes best with the sweetness of the pumpkin while the cream sauce is a bit richer. Both are delicious!

Recipe adopted from: Taste of Home