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!

Austrian Adventures.

12-19 June 2012. Tuesday- Monday.

Grüß dich! Greetings from Austria!

The train to Austria was beautiful.  The grass was green and after I changed trains in Salzburg and headed west, the alps jumped up around me.  The little local train wound its way along the narrow valley floor alongside the river Salzach to the small lake-side holiday town of Zell am See.

I had met my cousin Andi, his wife Barb, and their middle son Beni, at Christmas when we stopped for the day in Salzburg.  Andi is a doctor, like his father (my great uncle Rup), and he settled his family in Austria to take a job as an emergency medical rescue doctor.  He is always busy at work saving the holiday goers and skiers who venture into the surrounding mountains.  The entire family is very adventurous and loves being out in the mountains, biking, hiking, skiing, everything.

Andi met me at the Zell am See station and took me down the road to the next town where they live.  Their house was once a typical Austrian farmers house with barn down stairs and living above.  The previous owner had updated the barn converting the stable into the master bedroom.  It was such a cool place. Very rustic.  My room was on the third floor, just below the eaves and had an amazing view of the alps.  I met Kili, the youngest son.  He still lives at home and would be taking his final exams of secondary school (graduating from high school) later in the week, so, he had lots of studying to do.  Beni goes to university in Graz and Piu goes to university in Innsbruck.  We had afternoon tea and then took a little walk around the town.  The town was so small that it took about 5 minutes to walk from one side to the other.  But they did have a tourist point in the town center where we got our picture taken with the web camera.  And of course, it rained and I got wet.

Andi and I drove back to Salzburg to find some of the sights from The Sound of Music, buy chocolate, and visit Festung Hohensalzburg (Fortress “High Salzburg”) which is located on a little plateau above the city.  The Fortress had been slowly built over hundreds of years.  From the top, we could see all over the city, from Schloss Mirabell to the modern University of Salzburg building.


We stopped by Furst Chocolate to get some more Motzartkugeln and to try a newer creation.  The Bach Würfel was created to honor Johann Sebastian Bach’s 300th anniversary and is made of coffee truffle and marzipan.  So good.  After lunch, the sun was out and we crossed the river to Schloss Mirabell and enjoyed the garden that was now blooming with many colorful flowers.  The little park with the famous dwarf statues from The Sound of Music was open, and I got to take my picture with the one that was featured in the movie.

We visit so many places, the cemetery where Motzart’s family is buried, the little chapel carved into hillside, and the palace that was used as the back of the Von Trapp family’s home.  Andi was so good at nonchalantly walking into places.  The palace had been turned into a hotel and a menacing gate with a sign saying “guests only” blocked our path.  Andi opened the gate and just walked in – I, being the rule follower, was super nervous, but followed him.    I took my picture in front of the scene where Maria and the kids all fall out of the boat into the water.  Such a great memory!

Andi had to work today, but Barb had the day off.  We got up early and drove three hours to Graz to visit Beni.  He met us for lunch and then gave me an excellent architectural tour of the city.  He studies Physics and had never thought of Graz as a place to see architecture, but I had a long list of things to see.  The Grazer Murinsel was an island built in the middle of the river that runs through Graz and is a play area for kids and cafe.  We also saw the Kunsthaus (Art and Culture Museum) which is a large, blue, “alien” and the University’s music building.


The student population of Graz was so large, making the town center very lively.  Before heading back home, we sat and watched some of the Football European championship.  Also a fun environment!

In the late morning, Andi and I went for a little hike up one of the hills.  I still can’t get over how amazing the views are!  We reached a little’s hiker’s rest point after two hours up, had an excellent lunch, and then took the slide down.  Two hours up, 10 minutes down.

We ran errands and then Andi had a bit of doctoring to do at a Blob competition at Zell am See.  They were trying to make a world record for highest launch off of a Blob into the lake.  Lots of interesting people were competing and it was quite entertaining.

Mom’s here!!!!!  It is so nice to be back together again!  Andi and I drove back to Salzburg to visit Schloss Hellbrunn, the duke’s summer palace.  He never lived there, just stored his large collection of exotic animals.  The thing to see now are the many trick fountains.  It was a very warm day so it was nice to get a little wet from the surprising fountains.  In the garden was another Kneipp pool and the gazebo from The Sound of Music.  By 1:00, we had to race over to the airport to pick up mom!

I talked the entire way back to Zell am See and had so many stories to tell her; from the location of the Reber motzartkugeln factory to the 10 minutes we had to drive through Germany to get back home.  We had a BBQ for dinner and enjoyed the nice weather outside. Their little, old, white, blind, cat Kimmi even got to enjoy sniffing the grass with us.  Kimmi was my little buddy in Austria.  Somehow, he always found his way to my lap in the evenings and we would usually fall asleep on the couch together.

Today was a big adventure.  We drove up the highest mountain in Austria: Großglockner.  The road was long and winding and I was a little car sick.  I felt so lazy and I watched some guys riding their bikes up the same road.  I was very impressed.  At the top, we saw lots of interesting animals looked at the glacier in the valley below.


I was sad to leave today.  Barb drove us to Innsbruck and we looked around the city center for a little bit.  At 2:00, we had to head to the train station.  Mom and I had reservations at a bed and breakfast in Lake Como.  Time to head back to Italia!

Mozartkugeln: the chocolate of Salzburg

This is a celebratory post! Today I’m testing chocolate; to celebrate my 20th post and that I am finally up to date on my adventure, but also to morn the fact that my year in Italy is half over.

Mozartkugeln is the chocolate of Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart.
Growing up in America, I only ever saw one brand sold during Christmas.

When we arrived in Salzburg, stores selling only the brand “Reber” (the kind I know from home) began to show up along the streets. As we walked further into old Salzburg the brand “Mirabell” began to show in the windows. When we met up with my family, we learned of yet another brand that is hand crafted in Salzburg by the chocolate confectionery “Furst.”

Which one is the original? Which one is better? Of course, I had to buy some of each to find out the truth!

Let me begin with explaining what this delectable chocolate is.
Mozartkugel usually has a pistachio marzipan center, is surrounded with a chocolate nougat, and dipped in dark chocolate. These are my favorite chocolates! My oma would always bring them home from trips to Germany and would never share them because, they too, were her favorite.

The Original Salzburger Mozartkugeln.
Paul Furst began to hand craft his Mozartkugeln in 1890. These chocolates are still hand made and sold only in Salzburg.
Ingredients: Pistachio-Marzipan center, surrounded by chocolate Nougat, and dipped in dark chocolate.


Real Salzburger Mozartkugeln.
Claiming to use the same recipe as Furst, their Mozartkugeln are industrially made in Salzburg. They are the only ones to be perfectly round. All other brands must have a flat bottom.
Ingredients: Pistachio-Marzipan, coated in chocolate nougat, praline cream, and dark chocolate.

Genuine Reber Mozart-Kugeln.
Crafted in Germany, these chocolates use a unique recipe. Since they are not and Austrian, they are required to have a hyphen and be flat on the bottom.
Ingredients: Hazelnut-praline center, surrounded with pistachio marzipan, dipped in milk chocolate, then bitter sweet chocolate.

I decided to conduct a taste test to compare the three. I cut the
chocolates into quarters and shared them with my room mates JC, Sar,
and Kat. Here are our findings:

This chocolate had lots of chocolate. It almost seemed that it was more about the chocolate nougat then the Pistacio-Marzipan. We enjoyed the marzipan flavor the best compared to the other, but it could use more.

We thought that this one had a better ratio of flavors (marzipan, nougat, praline) but it did not meet up to the same hand-crafted quality as the Furst Mozartkugeln.

Reber gives its chocolates a strong almond flavor. We thought that the almond flavor was almost too strong, giving it a slightly bitter flavor and overpowering the delicious hazelnut center. The Marzipan was not as smooth and creamy as the other two.

After a vote, we all agreed that Reber was good but not the best.
Mirabell and Furst are at a draw. Though both are very good and made in Salzburg, it really comes down to the fact that one is hand made and one machine made. Both were so tasty. I’ll just have to compromise. When I’m at home, I’ll eat Mirabell, when I am in Salzburg, I’ll eat Furst.

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.


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!”


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!