25-30 April: Fake Break.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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



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


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


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

– – – – –

Visiting Istanbul was one of the most unique places I have ever been, though my scope of travel is strictly America and Western Europe.  It was such an eye opener to visit a place where my religion was a minority and to see how the many other people live.

Istanbul.  I’ll be back.

Buon Natale! Frohe Weihnachten! Happy Christmas!

15 December 2011: Thursday

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

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

19-22 December 2011: Mid-Terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 December 2011: Saturday and Christmas Eve

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

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

25 December 2011: Christmas Day

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

26 December 2011: Monday

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

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

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

27 December 2011: Tuesday

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

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

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


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

28 December 2011: Wednesday

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

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

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

29 December 2011: Thursday

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


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

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

München + the Allgäu

19 August 20ll. Munich.
Gelato: koko (coconut)

Thursday we spent the day in Munich (München). Taking the train through the German countryside is very relaxing! The trains are always on time, unlike the ones in California. We arrived in Munich just before noon and in time to see the giant glockenspiel (cuckoo clock) strike 12:00. It was so fun to hear all of the tourists cheer as the wooden knights lanced and Bavaria, in blue and white, was victorious!

We ventured through St. Peter’s church to the Victualienmarkt and Beer Garden. We found wonderful pretzels. We ate our lunch outside of the Frauenkirche “Woman’s Cathedral”. This cathedral was the former stomping ground of our current Pope Benedict XV. There is an interesting story that goes along with this cathedral. There is a large black footprint in the middle of the foyer. The legend says, that as the church was being built, the devil came inside. As he stood in the center of the foyer, he looked up and could see no stained glass (because they were hidden behind the pillars.)

Toby, Mar, Anni, Avi, and Mel

The devil stamped his food in excitement, leaving the footprint in the stone, because what good was a church with no windows? Yet, as he stepped forward, the windows appeared and the devil turned and fled.

Even though it was a very warm day in Munich, I had such a great time exploring and doing touristy things! My cousin Mel even told me that it was fun for her! She said that she had visited Munich many times before, but she had never looked at this great town through the eyes of a tourist or an architecture student! Once home, we had a great family BBQ on the lawn of my Tante Git’s house.

20 August 2011. The Allgäu.

Friday was my favorite day in Germany so far, despite the fact that I fell and scraped my knee! My mom’s cousin Barb and her family picked up my aunt and I to visit southern Bavaria. This area, the Allgäu, is so beautiful! The green rolling hills of Germany suddenly turn into the rough and rugged Alps. King Ludwig II of Bavaria grew up in the castle Hohenschwangau and also built his fantasy castle, Neuschwanstein, which is perfectly situated in the foothills of the Alps. Both castles rise up above the surrounding towns and forest.

Gab and her husband Pet

Before touring the castles, we visited the town of Buching, a five-minute drive from the castles, to see the quaint town where my Opa was born. His family has lived in this area for generations and worked in the farming and tree harvesting. We found the site of his home along while meeting my mom’s other cousin Gab, who still lives in Buching. There is a beautiful site of the Alps and Neuschwanstein from Gab’s yard. The green fields are filled with cows and their farmers. (It is said that the cows of the Allgäu are more beautiful then the women. haha) I had never met my cousin Gab before, yet, she told me that she recognized me right away; that I looked just like my mama.

We toured Neuschwanstein first. After a long hike (on the hottest day in Germany for 20 years) we finally reached the castle that is clad in a beautiful marble and sandstone. King Ludwig II built this castle to honor his favorite composer, Richard Wagner. Every wall is covered with gorgeous frescos and tapestries depicting Wagner’s stories of “Tristan and Isolde” and “Persival and Gawan.” King Ludwig II was only able to live in his new castle for a few weeks. After vigorously taxing his people to build his extravagant castle, the King was mysteriously found dead in a lake not far from the castle.

Hohenschwangau was my favorite castle. King Ludwig II grew up in this castle and was always a dreamer. He brought his telescope to the Hohenschwangau castle to survey the construction of his new Neuschwanstein castle. Hohenschwangau as not as fantastical of a castle as Neuschwanstein, but it still depicted many of the folk stories of Bavaira and lookes over the beautiful Allgäu. One of the most interesting treasures in this castle is a loaf of bread from the King of Russia. This bread is now over 120 years old. Yum.

Me, Pet, Ber, Barb, Jan, and Tab!

On the way home, we stopped at the Wieskirke. This beautiful UNESCO world heritage site is decorated in the most extravagant rococò style. The architect went overboard with gold leafing and cherubs, yet it is so peaceful and quiet. The only sounds are the footsteps of visitors on the tile and the soft bells of the cows in the fields around the church. This church was a must see for me because my Opa helped restore this church after it was bombed during WWII.

(have your volume up to listen to the cow bells!)

An amazing day ended with an amazing dinner! Käsespätzle!