Friday, October 29, 2010
After be dropped our stuff off in the room, Beth and I went exploring. We went to a little cafe and got some food before walking down one of the main streets, La Rambla. It was really touristy and filled with shops and street performers. I thought the living statures in Rome were impressive, but the ones in Barcelona are crazy and very elaborate. Anyway, we walked down La Rambla to the water, and sat a bridge, soaking in the sun for a while. It was beautiful! Across the water, we could see mountains with sky car going to the top. There were people everywhere sitting and lounging in the sun.
After a while, we decided to move on. We walked across the bridge and found a mall, in which we saw a poster for a horror film festival. One show, called "Dead Set" was playing that night in the parking garage under the mall. Beth is a huge horror fan, so we decided to go before exploring the Barcelona nightlife. After that, we decided it would be a nice time for a nap, so we went back to the hostel until it was time to go to the movie.
When we awoke from our naps, we met our roommates. They were friends from California, and they were definitely the coolest roommates we had had yet. One of them looked and acted exactly like one of our friends at TURome. But anyway, we made our way back to the mall and down to the garage for the movie. It turned out that it was a British zombie mini series dubbed in Spanish. Neither of us speak Spanish, but we figured zombies movies are easy to understand regardless of language. And we were right. It was awesome! It was kind of scary and super funny. We plan to find it in English asap. Than we were walking on La Rambla, looking for something to do when a woman conveniently came up to us, offering a pub crawl. We eagerly accepted. It began at an empty sports bar, and progressed to another empty bar. Enter, the Danes. The Danes were two boys from Denmark -- Baby Dane (because he looked like he was 16) and Obelisk Dane (because he was the size and shape of an obelisk). We talked to them for a while and thought that they were cool until that started telling us about how awesome Denmark is. "Have you ever heard the phrase 'Happy as a Dane?' Yeah, well we are all really happy. We get off the first of every month to celebrate being from Denmark..." Yeah, not so great Danes....After that, we went to a club called Catwalk and danced for a long time. Then back to the hostel around 4...
The next day, we slept in a bit and then got Tapas for lunch. The Tapas I got were a little disappointing, but no worries. After that, we went to Casa Batllo, which is a house designed by Gaudi in the beginning of the 1900s. It was inspired by the ocean and has almost no straight lines. All the walls, ceilings, and doors are curved like waves and there were windows of stained glass. It was the most amazing house I have ever seen. After that, we went to the mini Dali Museum in Barcelona (the real one is about an hour outside the city and was too far for the day). It was pretty cool, though I much preferred the Gaudi House.
That night, we went to get paella. It was really good! Then, we met up with our roommates and went to an Irish bar. After a while there, we went to another Irish bar, before moving on to a club called Boardwalk. We stayed there all night and danced with several different people, including guys from Canada, Germany, and my favorite, Finland. It was quite an international experience. Then back to the hostel at 5...
We were flying back to Rome the next day, but unlike every other travel day, our flight was not until the evening, so we had the day to spend in the city. First, we went to La Sagrada Familia. It is a church, also designed by Gaudi, that looks like a huge sandcastle. It would have been so cool to go in, but the line was so long that we didn't think we would get out in time, so we just took pictures outside. Then, we explored the city a little more, then went to the airport and flew back to Rome.
Thank you Barcelona....
Monday, October 25, 2010
It was even colder than Paris -- and rainy! In addition, when we got to the hostel, we learned that it was a Christian Youth Hostel. It was quite a surprise. We dropped our bags and went out. While at a nearby cafe, we discussed where we would like to go and decided on the Torture Museum. It was kind of hard to find, especially because Beth and I were kind of tired from the trip. We walked around a bit and passed a huge tulip market. Finally, we found the torture museum. It was super creepy but also really cool. Their collection included a rack and an iron maiden. From there, we explored a little more.
While exploring, we also learned that our Christian Youth Hostel was about half a block from the red light district, so we had to walk through it to get almost everywhere. It was so strange! The women are all in lingerie, standing behind glass doors. It was kind of surreal. After we went to the torture museum, we went to get some ribs at one of the many Argentinian barbecue restaurants followed by some Dutch apple pie. Then, we decided to go to the Erotica Museum in the Red Light District. Honestly, we were curious, and hoped it would be an actual museum. We were wrong. It was actually just four floors of pornographic pictures. Back to the hostels and to bed.
The next day, we met this women in the cafeteria during breakfast who gave us a bunch of recommendations for good museums. First, we went to the Jewish Heritage Museum, which was really interesting, then we went to the Anne Frank House. On the way, we stopped at this really old pre-WWII movie theater. All the wood was engraved and gorgeous. The Anne Frank House was obviously depressing. The most haunting thing was seeing the piece of wallpaper still marked in pencil where the kids' growth was measured. The museum was also really inspiring. At the end there was a section about Anne's father Otto Frank who started the museum and was the only one in hiding to have survived the war. This section said that the museum was not only about Anne, nor was it all about the Holocaust. He started it to remind people of the damage that hatred and prejudice can do. The museum is meant to remind us also that prejudice still exists in the world and that we need to remedy that.
From the Anne Frank House, we got some food, some more apple pie and went to a Jazz Cafe. We had tried to go to a Jazz Cafe in Rome, but it turned out just to be a pizzeria with a trumpet mounted on the wall. This one was different. It was a real Jazz Cafe with a live band and Beth were front row. It was awesome!
Next stop -- Barcelona....
When we landed, we quickly learned that Paris is freezing this time of year, especially compared to Rome. So, after taking a bus into the city and getting food, our first stop was the Gap for some more weather sensible clothes. Then, we headed to our hostel, the Oops! Hostel on Les Gobelins. It was super cute and trendy, but we couldn't get into our room because of cleaning, so we ditched our bags and went exploring. Our friend had spent a month in Paris over the summer and gave us a long list of recommendations, including the Shakespeare & Co Bookstore behind Notre Dame. Notre Dame was beautiful. The line was really long and we were still adjusting to the cold, so we didn't go in, but the facade was amazing.
After walking around for a while, we found the bookstore. It was the adorable! The downstairs was new and secondhand books of every genre. They also had quite the Shakespeare collection. The upstairs was mostly books that were not for sale but could be read at the store in one of the many comfy chairs. The main room upstairs looked like an old scholar's living room, with worn comfy chairs and the sun shining in. Upstairs, there was also a little writing nook where visitors had written comments and insights and posted them on the walls. The entire place was idyllic, right down to one customer playing piano while others read intently.
From the bookstore, we went back to the hostel and napped for a while, having gotten up at 4:00 that morning. When we got up, it was the perfect time for dinner, so we went to the area around the Bastille and finally landed on a restaurant, where I got awesome French Onion Soup. We also got some wine and learned that the sommelier who had come to school was right -- French wine is better than Italian wine. From there, we went to a bar for a couple after-dinner drinks. There, we met a couple of Parisians that talked to us about our trip. They welcomed us to France and even gave us a recommendation for a good ribs place in Amsterdam!
The next day, we did the tourist stuff. Our first stop was the Eiffel Tower! The line to ride up was ridiculously long, so Beth urged me to take the stairs with her. And I'm so glad she did because it was much more fulfilling to walk up. So, we climbed and climbed and made it two thirds of the way up. It was more money to go to the top, so we just took out photos from the second tier. It was amazing! I found myself unconsciously smiling, just because I could believe I was atop the Eiffel Tower. Another thing checked off my bucket list....
After the Louvre, we went another suggestion on our friend’s list: Angelina for macaroons and hot chocolate. It actually turned out to be a really classy expensive restaurant, but that was okay because Iwejust wanted dessert. We split coffee, strawberry/pistachio, chocolate/raspberry, and mont blanc macaroons and a pot of hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was amazing! It was like melted chocolate in a cup reminiscent what I think of the hot chocolate in Chocolat. Incredible!
That night we just wanted to relax, so we went to see The Social Network. It was in English with French subtitles. It was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Beth and I both really liked it. From there we went back to Oops, since we would have to get up at 5am to begin the next leg of our journey….
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Three hours later, we were in the heart of Naples. This is where we met our teacher. Though from the United States originally, she married a Neapolitan and lives in Sorrento, so she knows the city inside and out. Over the course of the trip, she gave us a few tip and tidbits. I think they were supposed to be interesting...
1. "Naples is at the base of Vesuvius. It's the most dangerous kind of volcano because it could erupt at anytime. There was an earthquake in 1980, so they think it will erupt really soon."
2. "While walking, we are going to avoid dark alleys. There is not as much random crime here, but there are tensions between the local mafias and you could get caught in between."
3. "Later, we're going to go to Spaca Napoli. It's the street that splits Naples in half. Real Neapolitans, like the bus driver, they don't even go there because they're too scared. But, we're going to go!" AWESOME!
So, first, we went to the Capodimonte Museum. It's a former palace on top of one of the hills of Naples. There, we saw some masterpieces from the Baroque and the Renaissance. The Museum was in park, and apparently there were school funding cuts, so all the children of Naples were striking, so there were kids everywhere. There must have been ten different soccer games going on, with little boys arguing about the score. It was pretty cool. I think I liked the atmosphere of the park more than the actual museum, although the paintings were awesome too, especially Titian's Danae.
Then, we went to a monastery on another hill of the city. From the terrace, there was an amazing view of the city with with Sorrento and Capri visible in the distance. There was some nice art there too.
Those two museums took all day, so we didn't get to the hotel until around 6. We were all exhausted and starving, so we joined our teacher for some authentic Neapolitan food at a little hole-in-the-wall. The food was awesome! I got prosciutto and mozzarella to start and
Then I went back to my room and basically passed out. The next morning, we got free breakfast at the hotel. It was American style -- cereal, big cups of coffee, juice, and rolls with butter. It was so good! From there, we walked to the Cathedral. The Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. Most of the church is Gothic and kind of cold, but the chapel is a burst of color and light. There is silver all over the place, including silver busts of saints with relics inside. There is also an illusionistic dome by Lanfranco and several oil paintings by Domenichino. Now, here is some of the story behind the chapel....
So, they wanted to decorate this chapel, which was dedicated to the patron saint of Naples (who isn't even recognized by the Catholic Church, but Neapolitan are still devoted to him because they really just do what they want), so it had to be nice. At the time, Naples was under Spanish control, so it was not Italy. At first, the Cathedral Committee asked two Neapolitan artists to do the dome, but they didn't like the work and ended up scraping it off and hiring Lanfranco. Lanfranco was from Parma, in the north of Italy, so it ruffled a few feathers that he should be able to do this dome. But he was chummy with the Spanish viceroy, so he was protected. Domenichino, who was also a foreigner, however, was not so lucky. He was commissioned to do about six oil paintings. During his time in Naples, he received tons of threats against his life. Eventually, he got fed up and left, his work unfinished. The Cathedral Committee was pissed and the Spanish viceroy abducted Domenichino's wife to get him back to Naples to finish. So, he went and finished everything except one and a half paintings. Before he could completely finish, he was poisoned and died. It is said that his assassins were fellow Baroque masters Ribera and Caracciolo (and another guy, who is less important, so I don't remember his name). Domenichino's last painting remains unfinished. As for the one he had not started yet -- the commission was given to Ribera. It is considered a masterpiece of the Baroque period. From there, we church hopped and saw, among other things, Caravaggio's Seven Acts of Mercy, another masterpiece.
Then we walked down Spaca Napoli and Via Gregorio Armena. It was so cool! They were both tiny streets with little shops on either side. Tidbit! Naples is famous for it's Nativity scenes. They are really big there. A couple that we saw in museums were almost as big as my sister's bedroom and had hundreds of figures. Just the way Venice was lousy with mask shops, Spaca Napoli has dozens of shops where artisans hand carve figures for Nativity scenes. They also sell figuring of celebrities and what not. One of the figurines depicted a butcher with a man's head on the chomping block. It was labeled "The Head of Bossi." Bossi is the head of the Northern League, which is a political party. He is currently in cahoots with Berlusconi, who is the prime minister. So Bossi is crazy powerful, but he is also crazy crazy. Obviously from the North of Italy, he hates Southern Italy because he resents that money from the industry in the North is given to the Southerns, who he considers to be uneducated layabouts. And the Southerners -- well, they clearly hate him right back. Bossi made headlines a week or two ago because he called all Romans pigs. And we thought the animosity between North and South Jersey was big...
After we got some time to shop, we headed to a famous pizzeria for some real Neapolitan pizza. Delish! Lunch was followed by some more museums and art. I really did pay attention, take notes, and find it interesting, but there was just so much that I can't recount every painting we saw. Around 5:30, we got back on the bus and headed back to Rome.
It liked Naples. In many ways, I think that when people think of typical or stereotypical Italians, they inadvertently think of Naples. That's where Italians argue all the time, have to deal with the Mafia, and little old women sit outside shops and cut vegetables. It was completely different from Rome, and I found it fascinating. The Neapolitan have a very different mindset than the rest of Italy. I would really like to go back sometime, just maybe not for class...
Monday, October 4, 2010
When we pulled into Venice's San Luisa station around 5:30 am, we were all ready to get off the train. The map we had made it seem like finding our hotel would be fairly easy. Again, wishful thinking, because it turns out that Venice is hands down the hardest city to navigate. So, instead of finding our hotel, we wondered around the sleeping city. Everything was quite and the only people awake were store owners and laborers preparing for the day. It was peaceful and completely beautiful. Slowly, the city began to awaken. The sun came up, commuter buses rolled in, and older Venetians opened their shutters to look out on the canals.
Since we had been on a train all night and walking around the empty city all morning, we had long been in search of food. We decided on a small bakery called Majer. It was adorable. We got coffee, cornetti, and apple dumplings -- perfetto! Then, we continued to search for our hotel. Eventually, with the help of a lovely Tobacchi owner, we found it. And after finagling a little, we were able to get into our room early. Only it wasn't a room -- it was two floored apartment with a TV, full kitchen and microwave! It was our own adorable little cabin. So, we all crashed and slept for the next few hours.
We woke up in the afternoon, ready to explore Venice some more. Here are some things you should know about Venice. Venice is famous because its comprised of several islands connected by canals, but you knew that already. The city is also famous for blown glass, lace, and Carnival. Carnival is the Venetian celebration of Mardi Gras and traditionally, the festivities include masquerades, so Venice is lousy with mask shops. This was my favorite part of the trip because the masks are amazing! The simply ones just cover the eyes and have some sparkles and designs on them. The more elaborate ones include feathers, lace, gems, and head pieces. The really traditional ones have long comical noses. They were everywhere -- like I <3 NY t-shirts in Times Square. Every once in while, we would go in a shop and the proprietor would be hand painting or carving a mask. It was so cool!
After having lunch and watching some cute Venetian children play tag in the square, we headed to Piazza San Marco. It was kind of far from where we were staying, but we eventually made it. Naturally, on the way, we did some shopping. Among other things, I bought a glass ring. When I came to Italy in high school with my sister, we went to Venice and I remember seeing a glass ring and really wanting it but not buying it for some reason. Well now I have one and I absolutely love it!
By the time we got to San Marco, it was dark, but the square was still alive. All the lights were on, so it was gorgeous. And, as if that weren't perfect enough, two orchestras were playing opposite each other for restaurant patrons and tourists. We got some gelato and enjoyed the evening.
After that, we strolled, got McDonalds (the only one in Venice) for dinner and made our back to the cabin. In the morning we said arrivederci to our quaint cottage and went out to look for breakfast. We'd intended to go to the same little bakery, but, thanks to confusing Venetian city planning, were unable to find it, so we went to an equally lovely bar for cornetti and cappuccinos. After breakfast, which we finished around 12, we began the search for (1) a couple museums we had picked our first day that looked interesting, and (2) a paperstore from which Jimmy was intent on buying a bookmark for his mom. By 4ish, we had given up on the museums and had just found the bookmark store. Somewhere in there, we had lunch at a tiny trattoria. It was super cute and the food was delicious. I had chicken in a sage sauce. YUM!
We also took a gondola ride. It was beautiful and relaxing, basically everything one would want a gondola ride to be. By around 4, we were back in San Marco and getting a little tired and cold. Our train wasn't until 11:30, so we had lots of time to kill. After sitting in the Piazza for a while and enjoying the views and some coffee, Beth suggested that we see if there was a movie theater in the vicinity. We would be able to sit in warmth and kill a couple hours. Of course, those are two more reasons than I ever need to go to the movies, so I agreed, and finding a Venetian movie theater became Beth and my obsession. Not even having to ask six different people, who gave us six different answers, deterred us. Eventually, hours later, we found the theater. It was only playing two movies -- Mangia, Prega, Ama (Eat Prey Love) and La Passione (an Italian movie). Neither was playing at a time that would allow us to get back the station in time for our train, so we ended up just going to a movie-themed pizzeria across the street. It was pretty cool, they had a wide range of movie posters, from obscure Italian cinema to Donnie Darko to Tarantino. From dinner, we made our way back to the train station, stopping for snacks and gelato on the way. This time, we shared a cabin with a German kid (at least we think he was German) and an older Indian man. Again, we tried to sleep.
We got back to Rome around 7am. From the train station, Jimmy, Beth, and I went straight to the Sunday flea market at Porta Portese. It was awesome! There were rows of stands as far as the eye could see. I bought a bomber jacket, batteries, and two scarves all for a sensible 17 Euros. Beth even got a chance to haggle and got a euro off her hat. I was so proud. The flea market was followed by a coma-like sleep and homework.
Awesome, awesome weekend...