Wednesday, May 27, 2015

when in... salzburg

So the biggest development is that I think I have contracted the flu in my travels which is making things super interesting. PREP THE DAYQUIL mama. A sick child is returning home to you. But as a result, I'm also now ready to return home which is LESS THAN 48 HOURS! I'll be honeset I didn't think I would be ready but I am.

Not to say I'm not enjoying my time in Austria. But let me tell you, I finally understand why the Von Trapps fled Austria. The weather here is MISERABLE. Cold and rainy. No thank you. I'll risk the "Roman fever" with Daisy Miller and go South.

That's only a little exaggeration because Salzburg is absolutely beautiful-- nestled right between the mountains right on the river with little colored roofs and steeples peeking out into the cool mountain air. And those mountain... just stunning. There's something to say for getting out of the city and getting a little bit of nature every now and then. And here in Salzburg, we certainly got our share.

Because today we did one of the highlights of the trip- a ten mile "Sound of Music" bike tour across Salzburg and filming scenes of the movie. Maybe the Admission office should get bikes for the tour? It certainly spiced things up. And it was great-- super informative and I love a good bike ride as much as the next guy though I'm going to admit to you (and I think it was mainly my cruddy health) but I very briefly seemed to forget how to ride a bike!! But it was as easy as riding a bike again. Haha. I was the only one in the tour group to take advantage of independent opportunities to sing. Whatever- you only get to go on a Sound of Music bike tour once.

And becasue I truly don't care what people think, I went to the gardens where most of Do-Re-Mi was filmed and I just did it. I played the song and I belted it out and I marched around and twirled and danced and it was magical. Look at me all you want to losers, you'll regret not doing it someday. Because it was fun. I really felt like I was in the movie and I was confident that I was the governess of seven bratty Austrian children. If only I had the range...

Salzburg is a relatively small town. Certainly much smaller than what I've been used to. A kind of limited opportunity to window and actual shop but a true shopper can always manage and I did buy my Austrian hat and I LOVE it. I will be wearing it on the plane (mainly because it doesn't fit into my bag) but mostly because I love it. I really wanted to buy one and so, you know what, no regrets. I will now be prepared to dress for any German/Austrian theme event that I'm invited to.

My perfect day tomorrow would be pots of tea in a cafe in Vienna or another chance to take the waters of Budapest but tomorrow is my last European city. Munich. City of my airport. Cue tears.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

when in... budapest

rushes over you the beautiful blue Danube. Back on a train, back, even slavishly, to the blog. But it’s with real hesitation I keep returning to the blog because a few days more and then back to the not-so-dreaded reality of not travelling for three weeks straight. Because while the travels have been exceeding expectations in almost everywhere, as I love to say, travel is exhausting. And it is taking the toll on my body. All good things have a price I guess.

In Budapest, prices were wacko because of inflation and their own currency. It was a liberating feeling taking out 19,000 Hungarian Ft from the ATM (the equivalent of about 60 dollars). I really did feel rich even if it was only with basic monopoly money with guys with big mustaches on it.

Pat and I had quite the introduction to Budapest because we (along with a gaggle of other tourists) were dumped off at this random “station.” It was actually more of a platform in the middle of nowhere in the pouring rain. It looked like we had just crossed the Iron Curtain and good luck to us. But, a hop on the metro, a weird bus, and a little walk, and soon (without TOO much travail we came upon the airbnb which was beautiful and very centrally located. I wish I could give you the name of the park we were situated on or the major avenue we were directly off of—but Hungarian is a super hard language and basically we made up the names for everywhere we went.

So day one, we get in the apartment, glad to see that Budapest wasn’t still a soviet country and actually was quite beautiful. And then the sun came out, so in excitement, we went out and about and started wandering. We peeked in the beautiful opera house—gorgeous. We stopped in this little museum all about Budapest during Communism complete with tiny scale models of the city with explanations. It was cute but it was like the biggest train display I’ve seen in my life. But really cool. We went to St. Stephen’s—there were TWO weddings going on there so we didn’t get to see his right hand which is there--- but then again, maybe that’s something I don’t really HAVE to see. Then we get to the river and WOW just stunning. The city is situation of actually two cities- Buda and Pest- and on both sides it’s a sea of colors and trees and gorgeous architecture, just amazing.

So, we cross the famous Chain Bridge and we decided to climb this hill which at the time I thought was the Citadel but turned out to be Castle Hill which was still amazing. The ruins of an old castle, a little part of town, a Hapsburg Palace, and really the most stunning view. Just taking in the view was worth it.

From there we finally worked our way down to din. And really nothing prepared me for the heavy meatiness of all Hungarian food. It’s like just chunks of meat and maybe potatoes with paprika and more meat. Good- but just these huge portions and SO much meat. Needless to say, I’ve been craving a good salad.

On Sunday, it was gorgeous weather. Just beautiful. So, we went to St Stephen’s for church (don’t ask me what they said, zoned out big time in Hungarian) and then since the day was so beautiful decided to go the famous thermal baths of Budapest. Which in hindsight may not have been the most carpe diem thing to do in the beautiful weather but we really wanted to go the baths. So we found a beautiful art deco bath and we went and it was great. The waters were so amazing and relaxing and the building was just beautiful. It was hard to believe it was built for pools, but it was.

Yesterday, we started the day with a free walking tour of Budapest which was really great and informative (I learned a lot even if we probably should have gone on day one, but cest la vie) and that took up some time. So then we got some lunch at a little place, relaxed and then headed to the Parliament for a tour. Initially we wanted to go to the Hungarian National museum but I always forget that museums are usually closed on Mondays. Turns out, going to the Parliament wasn’t just our idea because when we got to the visitor center of this just gorgeous building  ,they were all sold out of tickets. Drat.

But, instead we decided to walk to Margaret Island where we sat (I actually took a brief nap) and watched this amazing magic fountain that had this great music with coordinated water effects. The song choice was a little random at times but hey- it worked and I enjoyed it tremendously. Margt Island also has ruins—the ruins of the Dominican Convent where St Margaret lived (apparently she was so caste she wouldn’t bathe in more water than up to her ankles for fear of showing too much skin—forget the fear of BO, right?)

But after climbing all over the ruins- my fav thing to do with ruins- we had to bop back because were ending the Budapst trip in style with a luxurious dinner buffet about a river cruise with stunning views of Budapest while a folk orchestra serenaded the people. Really it was quite deluxe.

And now, flurried packing, restless sleep, early train later, I’m back on a train, feeling the snoozes come and ready for Salzburg. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

when in... vienna

Back on a train—which  means I actually  have time to blog as long as my computer doesn’t die on me… which is no assurance, trust me. The struggle with fully charged electronics is second only to the constant struggle to find the wifi. Oh, what I would give to have service everywhere… though I’m not sure I would give up this fantastic trip and return home… JUST YET.

So, currently I’m on a train from Vienna to Budapest with PAT because I am NO LONGER TRAVELLING ALONE. So exciting. It was incredible to see him after all this time and just  pick up right where we left off. And what a city to meet in! I love Vienna—I could spend weeks in it, in the quiet coffee houses and just wandering the beautiful avenues. Walking the streets is like stepping back into time when the emperors were around and Vienna was home to waltzes and palaces galore. And so many museums—already I know I have to come back because I barely even hit the surface.

The first day, we had a nice big lunch near the hotel which was fabulous though the portions were quite large—which I was not really prepared for after months of Italian cuisine. Also, SO MUCH MEAT. Also really not prepared for all that. But, it’s a pleasant surprise. Then we just starting walking. And it turns out Vienna is quite a pleasant place to walk. The architecture is in these beautiful clean colors and very neoclassic. It just fits my romanticized elegant conception of what Vienna was going to be like. Very quickly we hit the Museum Quartier and later just kept walking ducking into this palace (the Kaiserapartments were closed) and that Church and just seeing what we could see.

True travelers we didn’t have any real stop to hit, but since we had limited time, I felt like we should see something “big” so we tried to make our way to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Turns out we followed the wrong steeple at first so we got a little “off track” but just discovered different places instead. Finally we get ot Stefansplatz and we duck in and mass is going on. For sitting reasons we stayed though in all honesty, I did fall asleep in my chair. The German language is so foreign to me. I’m just at a loss. But at least in a chair I could just zone it out and take a brief snooze.

After “church” we decided we wanted to see the beautiful blue danube, so we figured a way to get there and BOOM there it was. Absolutely fantastic. Not very blue, but certainly grand and huge. Never seen a river that big. Worth the hype. After the river, we decided to grab some eats before falling asleep completely exhausted.

I should also mention that the weather is kind of miserable. Cold and rainy which is exhausting in its own way. But I have my umbrella and coat and with a good attitude and some hearty Austrian food all is well. But that is something that we are also up against. Definitely very different than my 90 degree days in Rome. Less sweat is probably good I guess, though all my complaining about the heat in Rome makes me be more careful what I wish for.

I had two main attractions I wanted to see in Budapest—the Schonbrunn Palace and the Freud Museum and we got to see both on Thursday. We woke up, went to breakfast and then headed to the Schloss. It was an Imperial Palace for the Habsburgs and it was absolutely incredible. Huge, spacious, on an enormous property it was an experience. And we got a free audioguide which you know I’m all about. So I learned a little bit about my Austrian emperors which is as probably as useful as all my worthless information about Baroque popes. But, so it goes.

After our time in the Palace, we strolled the gardens, walked to the gloriette, and just took in the incredible view of Vienna you could get at the top of the hill. Just fantastic. Really the estate was just breathtaking to think when you think of how rich and powerful these people were. And the Habsburgs like to put their name on everything. Franz Josef is plastered all over Vienna.

After the Palace, we headed back to the center by the extremely efficient metro (the public trans in Vienna boggled my mind with how good it was) to go to the Freud museum. On our way we stopped into a bakery for a carbs reload before heading to Freud’s. It was really fascinating (another free audio guide) to just walk around his former offices and learn about his career in the place were he lived and worked for almost forty years. Because he was forced to flee from the Nazis, all his stuff isn’t there (NO COUCH, which was disappointing) but they have restored some rooms so you really get an idea of what coming to Freud’s for a consultation would have been like. It’s not complex, it’s a little museum that I really enjoyed.

Then, some more strolling throughout Vienna before dinner at Café Mozart which was super bougie but very nice. We got traditional Viennese food with a highly efficient wait staff. And the surroundings were divine. I also found out that Graham Greene was a client and wrote “The Third Man” there which made me what to go every day just because he’s one of my favorite authors.

We walked a tiny little more before going into a little more casual café for some drinks and a nice sit before heading back. It’s good to mention that the Austrians are very nice people but not necessarily the most friendly. They seemed very reserved and  quite which was certainly a big difference from Italy. Also, their café culture is so different though I really actually kind of like it. All the cafes and bars have newspapers and people go and just sit and drink their coffee or beer and just read their periodicals. Its actually kind of nice, though I’ll be honest, the couple next to us who just came in ordered, said nothing and both sat in silence reading seemed a little weird. I don’t know if the Viennese don’t get newspapers to their house or what but I think it’s actually nice that there’s this strong reading culture and absolutely no stigma to just sit and read in a café for hours. I now understand the Buzzfeed article I read that said Vienna is an excellent city to be on your own in. Though, in all honesty, I’m so much happier that I’m with Pat. These adventures will certainly have a little more spice than the Chalfont ones. Haha.

Then yesterday, Pat really wanted to find some castle ruins. So after much struggle we found that there were two ruins in the town of Baden near Vienna which was very easily accessible by train. So we hopped and train and we to Baden. We really had no idea where anything was which may not have been the best idea but after some struggle we figured it out and came to the bottom of the mountain where Burgruine Rauhenstein was. Then (and don’t laugh) Pat and I had a little hike up the mountain to get to the ruins which were AMAZING. We were the only ones there and we could explore as much as we wanted and there were steps up the keep so we climbed up the tower and took in the view. It was just amazing. And it was even cooler because it was like us and no one else in the world.

We waited in Baden for a while before returning to Vienna because we had a concert at the Goldenersaal in the Musikverin, the home of the Vienna Philharmonic. The only problem was that the world famous Philharmonic was out of town so we booked tickets to a period Mozart orchestra that dressed in costumes. Probably not the most reverent of classical performers and definitely a tourist trap, but it was definitely entertaining and the music was great. It was an experience.

Though my favorite part of the day (after the castle) was that after the concert we went across the street (near a place where I was ATTACKED BY A BIRD, HITCHCOCK STYLE… don’t want to talk about it, still gives me chills) but we went to this Café that was like stepping back through time and we ordered dessert and coffees and there was a pianist and a violinist and they were playing all these great songs (some show tunes which always makes me happy) and it was just quite the experience sitting there and just enjoying this beautiful aspect of Viennese culture in such a beautiful environment. If I ever return, (and I will) I think I’ll just spend my time going to museums and sitting in coffeehouses. That sounds pretty fantastic to me.

But now we’re gone. So goodbye Vienna. I hope to see you soon (well we will for our train transfer to Salzburg) it was great, it was elegant, it was reserved, and it was an amazing place to meet my best friend in Europe.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

when biennale

I am writing to you from the supreme comfort of my own personal compartment on the night train to Vienna. Granted, it’s second class so there are five other seats and odds are probably not in my favor but I’m holding out against hope that not many people are travelling to Vienna overnight AND as I wrote that my serenity was shattered by two Chinese tourists. Well, so much for Romance. I guess it’s back to plan b, an evening of casting serious shade at all people in this compartment as I nervously nod off to sleep. At least I have the best seat and claimed the plug.

Okay, my euphoric high was just shattered there, but it can’t stop me from enjoying my LAST DAY IN ITALY. Cannot believe it. Sure I will still be in Europe, but I don’t know—even as different as Venice as been. And it was different, I can’t stress that enough. I now understand why some people don’t care for Venice though I am certainly not part of their number. I’ve done a whole lot of wandering over the last few days which has been great and was always one of my favorite parts of Rome, but either it’s super touristy area or quiet residential street and NOTHING. But, like I wrote last night. There’s something to be said for that magical maze of canals and that magnificent  architecture that just washes over and enthralls you.

I took, of course, a very limited trip to Venice. Two and half days is certainly not long enough to visit any city but especially Venice. And there were places I wanted to see- the Cini Palazzo, the Doge’s Palace, the Ca d’Oro that I just had to give up on. Because I was not going to exhaust myself just to say I did things. I was more about the experience of travelling to Venice.

Though of course, I can’t avoid all tourism. This morning I went to St. Mark’s. Which just blew my mind. That magnificently huge piazza and that church. Certianly not as large as the churches in Rome (clearly I’m a little biased) but those mosaics were just incredible. It’s like stepping back into time. Plus, I love a mosaic and the ones in the Basilica made me feel better about skipping Ravenna. St. Mark is the patron of Venice, by the way, because his body was brought to Venice by merchants who saved it from Muslim radicals. According to the legend, they feared for the relics, so they hid them in pork (which would repel the Muslims) and snuck the body to Venice. The mosaics tell this story and knowing the history explains (and adds some humor) to some apparently random frames of some middle eastern guys looking at a basic of meat.

I did pay the extra five euros to see the museum which I think was worth it. There were some fabulous ancient mosaic fragments that are too precious for the church and some wonderful medieval tapestries. There’s the porphyry statues of the tetrarchs and the original gilded bronze horses that sat atop of the basilica (there are copies there now). But the real reason I paid was because the museum takes up a hall in the Doge’s palace which is connected to the basilica and much of the upper levels of the Basilica. So you get a real close look at the high up mosaics AND best of all you get to walk out on the roof and get this just STUNNING view of the piazza and some of Venice. I just had a nice sit and took it in.

After the Basilica, I actually went to the extraordinarily cheap and good trattoria that the Diocese runs. For 15 euros I got two course, a side, bread, service charge, and tip. Not bad, especially in Venice. While I was wondering I actually stopped into a free San Marino/China pavilion that was open in association with La Biennale. It was pretty good but the lady inside was so nice and gave me a free booklet that was SUPER nice of all of La Biennale and a nice map. Which was awesome because that was my main stop of the day.

Your next question is, of course, what is La Biennale. Well, if you got from its name, it’s a festival held biannually that celebrates the contemporary art from around the world. Nations of the world get pavilions (many which are permanent, now beautiful structures) and it’s all located in La Giardine which, as I mentioned yesterday is a beautiful location. My best description for you is that it’s like a world’s fair for contemporary art and my guess is that it’s the closest thing I’ll get to a world’s fair. La Biennale is actually kind of a big deal (Peggy Guggenheim had her own pavilion in the 50s) and apparently its quite a lucky thing I was in Venice during a Biennale year.

It’s a good thing I probably was alone because I don’t know too many people in my life who’d be willing to spend three hours perusing the modern art of the world. I, however, loved it even if I found some of it very outlandish. The theme was pretty broad this year (apparently compared to other years)—“All the World’s Futures” which encompassed everything from thoughts on the economy, colonialism, etc. I really liked Belgium’s which was a neat commentary on Africa and their influence in the area, Spain’s (which was all about Dali—well mainly I just liked this one TV that was showing clips from Merv Griffin’s interview of Dali, but whatever) and I could go on. Some was just weird but some was fun and it was kind of just interesting to see this huge international showing in an already beautiful setting.

After the Biennale closed at six, I finished my book in the gardens, went to a small café right near the lagoon in a converted greenhouse to have my last spritz, and then headed to the train station. Which is where I am right now. Well actually, right now- I’m on my way which is exciting. Ciao Venice. Ciao Ciao Italy. I will be back.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

when in...a maze of canals

Venice certainly has a certain magic to it. Though it’s certainly the most unique place I’ve been in Italy… no, the world. But what have I been doing to keep myself busy in the town of canals? Well (of course), I’ll tell you.

First, though, some general impressions about Venice. Like I said, I was not expecting just the pure sheer weight of tourism here. Everyone, even the Italians it seems, are tourists. At first, it’s a little comforting, but also it’s a little disconcerting. Where are the “local restaurants” and the “hidden places” in a town of tourism. This is coming from Rome too which is like tourist central. I obviously loved Rome but I’m struggling with that aspect of Venice. It is strange to me that in Venice, you don’t walk down every street or alley to find at least one tabbachi, one alimentari, one bakery, one bar, etc. It makes things actually a little complicated because- even in Florence and Bologna in the last few days—it was just, well if I want coffee, I can get it HERE or HERE or HERE. It’s hard to find a store besides imitation Murano glass and tacky Venice souvenirs. I usually like windowshopping clothes which I thought would be so easy here. Apparently not, as I could almost not find one clothing store. And I thought the Northern Italians were SO much more fashionable than the Southerners. But I guess I can’t complain too much. Here in Venice, what you get is what you take.

Probably a result of this is that Venice is also VERY expensive. I should have known that when my budget hotel (in the home of the Salesian fathers) was overpriced that that would be the theme of the town. Even some of the churches charge admission to walk around. (Cue lying about prayers—I don’t carry that rosary in my bag for nothing). But, I’ve decided that money is just money and that I’m working this summer (and every summer since sophomore year of highschool for a reason—so I’m treating myself to Venice).

But how?? Enough generalizations! So, I roll into Venice on Sunday evening and immediately board a vaporetto (one of the water buses (there are no cars or buses in Venice for canal reasons). Unlike Bologna, I had actually prepped some directions for myself, so I got on the right vaporetto and in no time was at the “patronato”—my hotel. I took my time unpacking, showering, refreshing before wandering. The hotel is right on the lagoon near La Giardiene A really stunning view. So I wandered a little through the streets and lost myself a little. But soon I got hungry and thus began the internal struggle between cheapness and quality. In the end I did chose quality because I saw a “Slow Food-certified” restaurant in an area that seemed surrounded by tourist traps and I took the leap. I’ve been trying to order Venetian food, so it was cuttlefish with asparagus for me. Different but not bad. If you’ve ever seen it, the cuttlefish is usually cooked in its own ink creating this unique and messy black sauce. The plate looks like a murder victim for a pen.

After dinner I was strolling along the lagoon when I saw the sign for a  Vivaldi concert (they’re a dime a dozen here in Venice). So, I thought, why not. Bought my student-reduced ticket and enjoyed a really excellent performance of a few selections but, of course, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The first violin was really an incredible performer. It was a relaxing way to end a day of travel before turning in with my strictly rationed wifi. (I’d explain, but it’s not worth the effort).

I woke up for the free breakfast before heading off to Lido, my first stop. I really wanted to go to the beach and I read good things about Lido, an island across the lagoon. However, I suffered from classic Staten Island island logic, expecting the island to be tiny when in fact it was rather large. So, I wandered a little (too long actually—got a little frustrated) looking for the beach. I did find it and spent a few relaxing hours in the sun reading and just listening to the ocean. Turns out, not only did I pass the beach I ended up going to in the first five minutes before my long wander (which was scenic but annoying), but if I didn’t get on the bus to go, and just walked five minutes, there was another free beach—that’s life, right? I was the better for it, probably. Mistakes were made but the sun was great.

I bought a quick to-go salad to eat on the vaporetto to the main island. During the ride, I struck up conversation with an old Italian lady whose husband was talking with a friend. She helped me with my Italian and we had a very (difficult for me) but nice little conversation until I got to my first real stop of the day: the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

Because of course, I had to go to a museum. But after the Uffizi, I needed some modernism (even though I did really flirt with the Venetian Accademia and Cini Palazzo) and I was fascinated to see the former home of Peggy Guggenheim. The museum was amazing. It’s her old palazzo with all her own personal paintings from artists like Jackson Pollock, Chagall, Ernst, Picasso, Klee, and Miro who also just happened to be her good friends (and sometimes spouses). They had all these pictures of her in her home when the furniture was there and it was just fun to think of Peggy wandering around with her little dogs (both Peggy and the dogs are buried in the yard). Plus, the palazzo as right on the Grand Canal so when I needed a sit break, which I did, I could just sit outside, look at the canal, gather my thoughts, and go back to the Picasso. Such a struggle.

Like I said, when I was done the Guggenheim, I thought about another museum but instead I wanted to wander. I remembered my Goethe. “I tried to find my way in and out of the labyrinth by myself, asking nobody the way…I find my method of personal experience the best.” Even if I don’t think travelling alone is always the best, there is something to be send for just letting you travel without any thought of site or place. The palazzos and apartments and little canals are all so scenic enough on their own.

I was, knowing me, headed in some direction. Towards the church of San Barnaba. Why? Because I’m a true nerd and was thinking of all I knew about Venice and immediately thought of the Last Crusade. Remember when Indie goes to the library to find the grave of the crusader knight—well I found out the filming location of the church and was determined to go there. It exceeded expectations. I was in love. I had a gelato there—it may be my last gelato in Italy (because I leave the country tomorrow!!) just because the experience was so perfect for me.

Then, more wandering. In and out alleys, piazzas, etc. Finally I got the Grand Canal. Walked across the Rialto Bridge. It was amazing though like everything else grand in Italy for me, half of it was under restoration (first the Trevi, now this!) Then I did some more wandering hoping to put myself more in my direction. Instead I found the Ca d’Oro, the famous palazzo. No regrets. Finally I did get myself in the right direction and treated myself to a most delicious meal. The waiter was fantastic and it turned out, I was not the only one eating alone. There was a lovely French lady, we exchanged multilingual pleasantries as she left.

But now I’m back, after a night vaporetto ride back through the lagoon, I’m back in the room, showered and dreading the inevitable pack. I unpacked completely just to get my stuff some air. But it’s all got to go back in. Wish me luck.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

when...full of bologna

So, guess what I’m doing? Waiting for yet another train. Heading to my fourth city since Friday (Rome, Florence, Bologna and now…VENICE). I’m so incredibly excited I can’t even tell you especially since I took this time in Bologna basically to refresh for Venice.
Not that Bologna isn’t nice. It’s actually beautiful in a really unique way. I really love how the cleanliness and the covered streets. The weather actually cleared up since my last post but it cooled down and was really absolutely lovely weather. Which was great because I’m not going to lie, I needed some incentive to get out and move along.

So, I’m sitting in the gorgeous hostel (that had free breakfast by the way!) and I’m reading up on Bologna and I read that there’s this new restaurant by  “one of Italy’s top rising young chefs” with two course meals for only 15 euro. I will not exaggerate, I almost ran out of the hostel at the point and got the restaurant E Cucina Leopardi . It was cool. There was a really great vibe and awesome décor and waiters just running around. It was really interesting though- I ordered my pasta (there was no menu, only three options) and with my pasta the second course was chosen for me. Since I’ve been cacio e pepe’d out since Rome, I chose the homemade fish pasta which was absolutely delish and came with this fresh, breaded fish served in an orange sauce. The wine was also chosen to go with your meal so it was quite the experience.

I have, of course, been eating alone which is not my favorite thing in the world but I’m getting better at it. Idiot that I am, I actually read an online article by a woman who traveled to Ravenna alone and took her advice. Like everything in life, confidence is the key, so I don’t look unhappy, I don’t look uncertain and heck I’m enjoying a great meal and my great book (and it really doesn’t get better than that, does it). Well, it does—so you can be sure I’ll appreciate company at dinner soon. But Im also not about not treating myself just cause I’m on my own. If anything- that’s more reason to treat myself. Haha.

After that I started wandering. I really didn’t know what to see in Bologna (and really don’t for that matter) but I just decided to let me feet take me where they would. Early on, I found the Piazza de Nettune which was so cool. Full of people and events and music, it was completely different that the Roman piazzas. It seemed a little less commercial and architecturally it was more medieval. Bologna is what I assume the North is like--- the influence of Northern Europe and the Medieval Gothic is definitely there. I checked out the church in the piazza- pretty nice.

Then, more wandering. I just loved walking through all those arcades. There were lots of artists on the streets so just looking at their word was pretty fun. Eventually I ended up at the Basilica di San Dominico where St. Dominic is buried. That turned out to be quite the experience. Unexpectedly I ran into some Michelangelo at the tomb. But, better than Michelangelo (I know, better) was that I paid 50 cents and I was able to walk around the choir which is behind the altar. I know I’m a nerd but these inlaid wood seats where just so absolutely stunning. There were probably forty or fifty of them and each had an intricate beautifully carved scene. Once I realized each one had a scene, I started going around and trying to identify them. Most were bible stories and I think I did actually okay. But, the idea that some unknown artist made these beautiful seats that almost no one gets to see and certainly no one remembers who carves just made me full of melancholy. But I loved these chairs. I cannot emphasize it enough. Probably the majority of my pictures from Bologna are going to be crappy, overexposed pictures of these chairs.

I also waltzed around the cloister a little. Ever since St. Paul Outside the Walls I’ve been a huge fan of a good cloister. Then I headed to these two towers in Bologna. They’re apparently the only remaining towers of the city wall from the Middle Ages and they are quite distinctive because distinctive because while one is upright, the other is tilted and looks like it’s about to fall. It’s quite a site actually.

From the towers, I just wandered through some of the Medieval side streets until I got to this park where I had a nice sit. And wouldn’t you know, it must have happened for a reason, because through some slips in my very imperfect Italian, I struck up a conversation with this girl next to me who was also just sitting and it turned out that she’s an American living in Bologna. She was meeting someone in like an hour, but I guess, she was looking for some conversation so we chatted a while, took a little stroll, said a nice ciao and then I went on my way. But it was a very nice diversion and it was great to have a real conversation. Besides, since she still spends summer in the US, I got a chance to pick an Italian’s brain about which experience is better. (She misses the opportunity to have a prom—I mourned for her).

After my little chat, I started heading back and stopped at a little trattoria for some homemade pasta and ragu (since Bologna is home of the traditional pasta meat sauce—the ragu al Bolognese). It was delicious to say the least and put me in a perfectly mellow mood for my walk back, my shower (it was about time) and bed.

I got a nice rest. A really nice rest. I slept in a little before heading next door for mass at the Cathedral (I got to find some ways to kill my time and in a Catholic country where many stores are closed on Sunday, church sounded just right). Turns out I picked the longest mass in the world. Some icon of Mary was brought from the hills and I think the bishop was new and the mass just kept going on and on. And then this icon was paraded around the altar a little bit (it was covered with the most beautiful flowers) but eventually I just quit. Partially because it was so long and partially because I had given up my seat pretty early on to an old lady (this icon  must have been a huge deal because the church was PACKED) and was left standing for most of the mass. So I needed another nice sit. But then, bought some cookies from a market, picked up my bags, and here I am—waiting for yet another train. But VENICE. I cannot wait. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

when in... florence for a museum

So, currently I'm sitting in my hostel in Bologna realizing two things-- sitting in a non-cramped train car is really nice and two, as long as none of my stuff is charged its probably best I just wait it out just a little before venturing out in Bologna on my lonesome.

Because here I am, never thought it would happen, but solo world traveler. Four cities in three days- watch out world- Danny Maloney is coming for you. I forget where my last post left off and as I'm enjoying the wifi and my phone's still only at 30%, we'll start at the very beginning. It is a very good place to start.

I guess before I start in Florence, I should mention that since I'm alone I haven't exactly looked my finest. Perhaps not having judgment has left me a little bit of a mess. I got a whiff of myself yesterday and granted I sweated like a pig yesterday because I had to wear long sleeves in Rome- but man- gotta remember to do this little things when I'm here. But that's just a side note.

So yesterday, I was able to catch two hours of sleep on the train which was much needed. VERY much needed. I managed incredibly well but I'm not going to say that I wasn't in pain a little bit throughout the day. So, I get off the train and wouldn't you know after weeks of sun in Rome, it decides to rain in Venice. So, I had to walk about fifteen minutes in the rain to my hostel. Thank God for the wheely suitcase but whoever invented those wheels clearly did not do a test run on cobblestone. We struggled.

So, I get to Firenze, check my bags in the hostel and venture out. And let me say, I'm so glad that I took the morning train because- even if I wasted some money- being in Florence for the day was worth it if only to keep myself moving all day long. I had come to Florence mainly for the Uffizi. Which in my mind seemed like a completely valid reason for going a little out of my way to see. But I had to see it. I just had to. (I mean, I almost went to Ravenna just to see some mosaics- at least I didn't do that trip). So, I stroll next door to a very famous church to see some Massaccio frescoes that I'd read about in class before. Then, I headed to this famous sandwich place for a quick bite which I took with me to the museum.

Because I knew there were going to be lines. It's tourist season. It's the Uffizi Gallery, one of the most famous museums in the world. But I thought, it's just me, I'm in no rush. So, I had lunch in line which was good because I was in line for about an hour. Which was long. And about a half hour was right at the front of the line waiting with this very nice Dutch mother and daughter and this very antsy Italian family (this poor little boy, I do not think he really wanted to go). But finally we get in and it's a good thing I didn't make other plans because I was in the museum for probably three and a half hours. I had to take a few sitting breaks. I also needed a shot of espresso in the middle of the museum but I did it. And oh- I splurged on the audioguide so I wouldn't just be aimlessly seeing things so I felt like I did a good job.

But in all honesty- the collection was enormous. Just stunning. The Uffizi was built originally as a Renaissance office building so just imagine if a modern office complex was turned into a museum with each and every single office and hallway turned into a gallery stuffed full of the best Renaissance and Roman art that money can buy. That's what the Medici did to the Uffizi. And it was crazy-- the paintings everyone sees in the history books-- all those famous artists-- they were all there-- Botticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Titian, Caravaggio, Bronzino-- ALL there. There was even an incredible Baroque lighting exhibit too though I probably didn't give it the time it deserved because by that time I was pretty exhausted.

So, after the museum I take a little stroll and eventually end up at Santa Croce. I'm trying to read books that take place in the places I'm going so I started Forster's A Room with a View for this very purpose and in the book the main character goes to the Church of Santa Croce. So I head to Santa Croce and it's just closing except for prayer. And as Elise and Maggie can now attest, I'm excellent at looking reverent while secretly looking at the art. Well, apparently I was so good I kind of got stuck saying Vespers in this pew with some old ladies. Which was an experience.

But see, the thing is, I haven't been super planning because I want to make myself open to what happens and I feel like everything I'm doing has a reason. Because by the time I left, it was just time to have another espresso in front of the Duomo and people watch before heading to Eataly Florence for a delicious steak dinner. Eating alone was a little stressful but once I actually had my meal, with my book in hand, it wasn't bad, not gonna lie. Granted, I'd rather have people but no need for me to punish myself , right?

Of course, leaving dinner I headed completely in the wrong way which is no surprise knowing me. But again, I stressed for like a second, but no. Would not let it get me down and wouldn't you know that it led me to Bramante's Foundlings Hospital that I really wanted to see (I gotta check off all my art survey things I remember from Mrs. Broden's class).

Next door to the hostel was a church that offered opera selections but I'm not going to lie, I was late getting to the hostel and my steam was running out so I just kind of called it quits by that point. Talked to the people I was sharing the dorm with- v nice- but before long, I just passed out.

But, up in the morning for another train ride. I gave myself plenty of time because wouldn't you know by the time I stroll up to the train station after moseying into Santa Maria Novella and grabbing a bite, I get in, look at the departures, look at my ticket and realize that I'm in the wrong station. Huh. So I panicked for a hot second but I had plenty of time though not plenty of time to walk. So instead I just sucked it up and called a cab. Which in all honesty probably defeated the purpose of me buying a bargain train ticket but hey- positives- I got to see parts of Florence I never saw in my cab ride and they looked really nice. Always look on the bright side.

The train ride here was very easy-- only a little over an hour. But, wouldn't you know my google map wasn't loading and I realized I forgot to screenshot a map to have just in case. But, before panicking, I just found a cafe, stole their wifi and figured it all out (I feel like all my Dramas are like Cake Boss dramas- not really that dramatic to anyone but the people involved and easily amended). But wouldn't you know it starts to rain. BUT WAIT. Bologna is great because it has all these covered porticos so I had my umbrella but I didn't need it because I was under cover almost the whole way. I must have been beaming the whole time because in Rome we don't have porticos like that for the most part because the Popes banned them in an attempt to stop homeless people from having places to sit. Thank God Bologna wasn't in the Papal States-- when did I think I was ever even going to be thanking God for anything in or OUT of the Papal states ever. So, it's lunchtime, but I'll probably take my time, maybe shower, figure myself out before exploring another city. Can't wait.

Friday, May 15, 2015

when in...rome no more (you want to cry)

I’m currently writing this post on my train out of the airport on my way to the train station to my train out of Rome. Can you believe it? I can hardly take it in. For months, Rome has literally been my home and my routine and now just like that- back to reality. (Well, not really, because I’ll be on a train to Florence, then Venice, then Vienna—but, certainly in the homestretch).

I just spent the most lovely week with Maggie and Elise. Well actually it turned out to be one day short due to horrific airline delays (which consequently left me worried sick at the arrivals gate for a few hours… oh God, I was so terrified I lost them in Rome before they got there). But their visit was just perfect for so many reasons—first of all because they were HERE in a place I love and that I love to share even more. I think- HOPE- they had a great time. And selfishly, it gave me one last visit to all the big places in Rome so I could say goodbye. At least for now.

Of course, when you’re only in Rome for a few days and your tour guide is moi you can be sure it will be an exhausting time. Especially since their first day (okay, first full day because on Sunday we were really only able to have the most lovely dinner in Trastevere) I had exams all day on Monday. So they went. And then I was done with AUR. Donezo. I mean, I should probs check my grades but that was kind of just like wow. And that was for me who still has two weeks left in Europe. Because on Tuesday morning most people (and all my friends flew out). Which was heartbreakingly sad for me to say goodbye. I just hope those friendships aren’t as transient as all study abroad things because I really met some fantastic people. So- we had one last dinner (with Mags and Elise in tow—even the guide has some say every now and then), one last gelato, threw our coins in the trevi, had one last walk home and then hugs goodbye. I was in a sober mood.

On Tuesday, I had organized a little visit to the Brother’s House so Maggie and Elise could meet Br. Pat. Br. Pat really pulled out all the stops for them and showed them rooms in the house that I didn’t get to see before. And we got to have lunch with the head honcho brother, the Superior-General Br. Bob (of Southwest Philly, no less). Mags and Elise were both impressed by how friendly all the brothers were and how nice the lunch was and how cool Br. Bob was. I was impressed by all these things two but Br. Pat and Br. Bob were trying to put on the hard sell for the Brothers Life. Haha. Thanks but no Thanks.

After lunch we did a nice stroll through the city. I mean, it was hot but you have to see the Trevi, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, all that. In the heat of the day. But I brought them up to the Pincio to see the Borghese Gardens (there wasn’t enough time for the museum so they should at least see those stunning gardens). Besides, there was some nice shade. Also, I just (finally) read Daisy Miller) and once I put two and two together about where they were walking I was dying to go back to the Pincio.  Elise and I were struggling a little bit so it was nice to have a nice big dinner at Dar Poeta where we had the works- mixed Bruschetta, pizzas, and their Nutella calzone. V good. V filing.

Wednesday was the most exhausting day—we headed to the Vatican. We got to see Papa do his audience. The square was HOT. Very very HOT. Then we walked to the Castel, grabbed a bite, and headed to the Museum because, as I always forget, you have to see the Sistine Chapel. As my Mom and Nicole (and now Maggie and Elise) can attest. The Museums are huge. They are exhausting. They are a lot of walking. They’re 110% worth it but it is just exhausting. That was a long long day. But we rewarded each other by heading to Eataly where we camped out for hours. Maggie was in foodie heaven and Elise and I were just happy to sit, drink out fresh juice, and chat. They got some good gifts and then we had an amazing meal. Just delish followed by my favorite gelato at La Romana. Another very full, very exhausting day.

And then yesterday. The last day in Rome for me. Cue tears. Another really great day. In the morning, I brought them to see St. Theresa in Ecstasy because she is beautiful. And then we met Br. Pat for a traditional Roman lunch. Two and half hours later and many course, we were all in a good mood. And then we did a little church-hopping to some of the Biggest and Best churches. The Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore, the Diocletian Baths. So impressive. So sad to say goodbye. One wrong bus later we did a little walking, a little windowshopping, a little ACTUAL shopping, and then a nice aperitivo in Piazza Navonna before dinner at Enoteca Corsi and gelato at the Pantheon. Not a bad last supper in my mind. It was as much a treat to myself as a treat to them to experience all my favorite (culinary at least) aspects of Roman cuisine.

Not much sleep later, we were at the airports, saying goodbyes, and I was once again in an airport in the wee small hours. I am currently exhausted but I’ll just have to nap in Florence or on the train or something. It’s crazy that I’m down to so few stuff. It seems like a lot, I’m not going to lie, but this suitcase is pretty small when you think it’s for only two weeks. I’m going to have to figure out some washing machine times or else I’m going to smell as ripe as I am now which would not be pleasant for anybody.

But now it’s time for my me time. My treating myself time before I meet Pat in Vienna. Can’t wait to see a little more of bella Italia before meeting my best friend. I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop!