Thursday, March 27, 2014

Canals, Masks, and Gondolas: Venice

Florence to Venice. The final Italian city that I visited with mia mamma. The adventure began when we exited the train station in Venice and we had no clue as to how we going to get our luggage up and over the Grand Canal for free. There were many steps that led up to a landing and many steps that led to the sidewalk on the other side of the water. This was the view when we exited the train station, and to the left unpictured is the very large bridge.

The view right outside of the train station
As I started up the steps, a man immediately came to my side and offered to carry my bag for me. I was very skeptical, thinking he may either take my luggage and run away or ask me for money. He spoke english very well and I allowed him to carry my suitcase. When we reached the landing, I looked behind me and saw my mom struggling to lift her bag. I went back to the bottom of the steps and carried her suitcase to the landing. Then, the man and I double-teamed the two suitcases and carried them successfully to the other side. It turned out the man was from New York and worked for Emirates Airlines. He gave us great recommendations of what to do in Venice and was a very pleasant person. Leave it to the New Yorker to be the friendliest person in Venice thus far!

After getting settled into our hotel room, we walked to the Jewish Ghetto and had "kosher" cappuccinos at a kosher bakery.

A canal in the Jewish Ghetto
Posters outside of a gallery in the Jewish Ghetto
Cappuccinos were followed by a lengthy walk around Venice. In a moment of being utterly lost, a couple approached us to help. It turned out they were from Victoria, Canada. Each year, they rent an apartment in a different city and live there for a month. Last year it was Paris, and Venice this year. If I ever retire, I want to do that! It's such a good way to experience a different culture. The woman also worked in theatre in Victoria, so that was a plus. We picked up a Venetian mask for my brother, Josh, during our long walk as well and enjoyed the setting sun. That night we had dinner, walked around some more, and went to sleep.

The sun setting on a canal
Day two in Venice began with an early morning water bus ride to St. Mark's Square.

Morning traffic in Venice
We went on a short walking tour of Venice, bought a few cups of coffee throughout the day at a particular cafe in St. Mark's Square in order to use to bathroom, crossed the Rialto Bridge and visited the marketplace.

The view of a canal over the Rialto Bridge
Vegetables at the market
Fruit at the market
St. Mark's Square
Later that day, we took a  free boat out to Murano Island and went to a glass factory.

Boat ride to Murano Island
The demonstration at the glass factory
The rest of the day and night were spent walking around, sitting and admiring the passing gondolas, and eating and drinking great food and wine. It was our last night in Italy, and the late evening was spent packing and preparing to leave. I was headed to Zurich, Switzerland while my mom was flying back to Chicago.

Walking along the Grand Canal
Spending spring break with my mom in Italy was a wonderful vacation. I am glad we were able to spend the quality time together enjoying and exploring the beautiful country of Italy. I was impressed on all fronts. From its history, to language, to architecture, to its food and drink, I cannot wait to return soon!


Second Stop in Italy: Florence

Early on Monday, March 10th, my mom and I packed our bags and dragged them to Roma Termini. We were en route to Florence. We arrived in the ever so charming Firenze after a pleasant ride through the countryside. I immediately felt the differences between Rome and Florence as soon as I stepped outside of the train station. Florence was more relaxed and quaint compared to the busy, hectic, and huge Rome. After finally finding our hotel, Hotel Pendini, inbetween Dolce & Gabbana and the Ferrari Store, we relaxed a bit and enjoyed our view of Piazza della Repubblica from our window.

Our hotel room at Hotel Pendini 
Our view of Piazza della Repubblica
The hotel was in the arch. Our room was on the right somewhere.
We became ravenous after a while and decided to go for a walk around the city and find food. We winded through the small streets and admired the shops and window displays, until my mom decided to stop in front of a tattoo parlor. I had been looking for a new nose stud because my jewel had fallen off of my current one. We found my new stud inside of the shop, and she felt so cool because she was the one that found it. My mom also got excited because that was her first time in a tattoo parlor. I'm still laughing about it as I write this. Eventually, we found a tiny cafe and each had a panini, cappuccino, and cannoli. You're supposed to eat and drink your way through Italy, and that is exactly what we did. 

After lunch, we worked our way towards Piazza Santa Croce to redeem our free gelato coupon from Vivoli, a famous gelato shop. I saw this structure as we approached the square,  and I was a slightly perplexed.

Piazza Santa Croce
It definitely looked like a church because of the crosses on the top, but there was a large Magen David smack dab in the middle ... We walked into a leather shop right off of the square and asked a store owner. It was Basilica di Santa Croce. He said that the architect of the church was jewish and that was his stamp. He wanted to be buried inside of the church when he passed, but technically he was not allowed because of his religion. He is buried right in the doorway of the church. Half of his body is inside and the other half is out. Apparently, Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, and Machiavelli are also buried in Santa Croce. I wanted to go inside, but we didn't end up doing so. Instead, my mom bought a leather purse from the store owner and we ate gelato. Vivoli was closed, so we went to another gelato shop.

From Santa Croce, we walked over to the Great Synagogue of Florence. It was closed for the day, but the exterior was stunning. We also took a stroll past the Duomo right before sunset.

The Great Synagogue of Florence
The Duomo before sunset
Such a colorful and beautiful building!
The sun shining on the Duomo
Dinner was next. We went to a restaurant called La Spada and drank wine and ate a caprese salad and ravioli with mushrooms in a truffle sauce. It was delightful. We sat next to a sweet couple from New Jersey, and the wife gave me her phone number if I ever need anything when I get to New York. We had tiramisu for dessert. It was very different than the tiramisu I had in Rome, although I think I liked both the same. The one in Rome had a high pudding consistency, while this one was more of what tiramisu is like in the States. After dinner, we went back to the hotel. My mom went to bed, and I met up with Jenn, Chris, and Wyatt at a bar.

Tuesday in Florence started off with a light breakfast and a tour. The tour took us up to Piazzale Michelangelo, where you can get a great panoramic view of Florence and see a bronze David replica.

The view of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo
Bronze replica of the David
Mom and the view of Florence
The next stop on the tour was the outside of the Duomo, and then we made our way to the Accademia to see the David. And let me tell you - the David was EPIC. You turn a corner and at the end of this long hallway is this giant, white, perfect sculpture glistening in the sunlight. The details such as the veins in his hands are incredible. As I said, perfect. Seeing the David was a big highlight for me.

After the tour, my mom and I met up with a high school friend of mine, Julia, who is studying abroad in Florence. We had a wonderful lunch and did lots of catching up. Then, we parted ways and we went to the Uffizi Gallery. It was a nice visit, but I was very tired and I truthfully don't remember much. It was a very large museum with lots of art. From there, we took a long walk around the city, crossed the Ponte Vecchio, and walked for a while on that side of Florence.

The Ponte Vecchio
The view of the river from the Ponte Vecchio
We had dinner at a restaurant recommended by Julia called Trattoria 4 Leoni and had the most incredible pear dish and house wine. The evening ended with gelato from Vivoli.

The final day in Florence consisted of me climbing to the top of the Duomo and buying a pair of black Italian leather boots in a shop nearby. Then, we boarded a train to Venice.

The view of Florence from the top of the Duomo
Me at the top of the Duomo
Gorgeous view
Florence was beautiful, and I want to go back someday!


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Roman Holiday

The moment I finished my final exams and projects for the first term of classes, I was ecstatic. Turning in work to my professors meant that in a matter of hours I would be in Italy with my mom enjoying coffee, wine, and gelato.

After a thirteen hour train ride from Vienna to Rome and the most fabulous hug between mother and daughter, I was dragging my suitcase up and down the hilly cobblestone sidewalks of Rome. We made a stop at the hotel to drop off my luggage, and then it was off to our first tour of Italy! It was a Hop On, Hop Off bus tour so that we were able to get our bearings around the city. We finished the tour and hopped off of the bus at the Trevi Fountain. We admired its utter beauty, threw a couple of coins into the fountain, and made our way to lunch.

The Trevi Fountain
My mom and I at the Trevi Fountain
For every meal in Italy (usually lunch and dinner) we would order two glasses of the house red wine, a salad to split, an entree to split, and two cappuccinos. The first meal in Italy was delicious and it was that way the entire trip! Following our lunch, we walked and got gelato at the best place in Rome. Seriously. This gelato was a gift from God.

Gelateria Valentino, the best gelato in Rome!
We spent the rest of the day walking around the city enjoying the busy Roman streets, had pizza, wine, and tiramisu for dinner, walked up and down the Spanish Steps, and went to sleep.
The Spanish Steps
Vatican City was the theme of day two in Italy! We did a three-hour walking tour of the Vatican Museum, St. Peter's Basilica, and St. Peter's Square. During the tour, we met a lovely Australian woman who later joined us for lunch and the walk back to our hotel. My two favorite things that I saw while in Vatican City were the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's Pieta. The chapel ceiling was beautiful and epic and it felt surreal to see the Creation of Adam in person. The Pieta reminded me of Eurydice, the production I stage managed last spring. There was an emotional moment near the end of the play when Eurydice held her father in that position, and it always tugged at my heartstrings.

Michelangelo's Pieta
My mom, the Australian woman, and I proceeded to get pizza and wine after the tour, walk across the river back into Rome, and relax in Barberini Plaza with a cappuccino. We did more walking, ate gelato, rested, had dinner near the Pantheon, saw the Pantheon, and went to sleep.
The Pantheon
Day three was spent exploring the Jewish Quarter and Ancient Rome. We went on a tour of the Great Synagogue of Rome, visited Piazza Venezia and the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, had lunch in the Jewish Quarter, and then did a walking tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. The day concluded with gelato and dinner. Yes, dessert before dinner because gelato is that good!

The Pope approves!
He's everywhere
Piazza Venezia / The Tomb of the Unknown Solider
The Colosseum
The Roman Forum
And with that, we packed our bags and headed to Florence!


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Prague, Czech Republic in Early March

Studying abroad and traveling to all of these cities reminds me of choosing a college to attend. Each time I visit a new city, I try to rate it in comparison to the others. I make judgments about the city based upon the locals I meet, the experiences I have, and the weather. Prague was my favorite city thus far.

The Prague experience began at 6:50am on Saturday morning, March 1st when the train pulled out of Wien Praterstern and I was sitting in a train car by myself. Wyatt and I agreed to travel to Prague together, but he overslept and missed the early morning train. I could not get a hold of him, and I was utterly terrified. Could I navigate this city on my own? I had only traveled in groups so far, and I was a bundle of worries.

Eventually, I got over it. I knew if I stood tall and entrusted in a map I would be okay. As one of my mentors, Conway says, “It’s all about stature.”

And so, I survived the train ride and made it to Prague. I exited the train station and headed towards the hostel near the center of town. Within moments a beggar approached me. After a few words of rejection, I confidently passed him and continued on my way. My sense of direction took me on a one and a half hour detour through the city before I was able to locate the hostel. Honestly, I did not mind because I was in awe, as I am with most of these European cities. This is some of what I saw during my unintentional tour:

Beautiful statue of musicians
I loved the vintage sign!
Sculpture made entirely out of recycled tires
How did they do it?
Finally, I made it to the hostel, which was wonderful. It was called Old Prague Hostel. The location was perfect, the staff was friendly, a towel and linen were provided, and the rooms were clean and pleasant.  Here is a view of the street from my hostel window:

It was a clear, sunny day
After settling in, I decided to go out, explore, and enjoy the spring weather. My first encounter was a large statue glistening in the sun. It was David Cerny's 'In Utero'. This was a perfect introduction to Cerny's work, as he is a popular sculpture artist in Prague (You'll see another one of his works at the end of this post).

David Cerny's 'In Utero', 2013
Near 'In Utero' was the Franz Kafka Monument. To the right of the statue was a couple I chose to crop out. When I snapped this photo, it looked as if the couple was trying to take a "selfie" with the statue. I asked them in English if they wanted me to take a photo of the two of them. The woman responded, "Was?" and I knew they were German speakers. We went on to have a short conversation in German, I took their photo, and I was on my way. I love being able to practice my languages!

The Franz Kafka Monument
 I continued on to the Old Town Square (using the handy map the hostel gave me. I think I've become a decent navigator since coming abroad). The sunlight was perfect as I approached the square, and this bustling area looked like paradise. Busy with locals, tourists, musicians, and vendors I felt very at home.

Old Town Square
 I weaved through the crowds and down the cobblestone streets towards the Charles Bridge. Having been to Prague three years ago, I recalled the bridge being a magical place - and sure enough, it was. Although it was incredibly crowded, the energy from the people, the views from the bridge, the artists selling their crafts, and the long history gave off enchanted vibes. I purchased a pair of wooden earrings (I had bought two pairs of wooden earrings while on the bridge three years earlier) and relished in the wonderful environment.

On The Charles Bridge
 I explored the other side of the bridge for a while until the sun started to set, and then I met Wyatt for dinner. As happy as I was to see a familiar face, walking through the city on my own was my favorite part of this trip. We went to an Argentinian restaurant and saw a blacklight theatre piece called Aspect of Alice. I saw an ad for the production when I was walking earlier, and it looked interesting. I felt that I had gone back in time when I walked into the theatre. The technology, music, set pieces, and animation seemed as if it was decades old. It made me appreciate the technology and resources I have today. After Alice, we went to the Prague Beer Museum and enjoyed some samplers. I tasted five beers and my favorite was called Demon.

The next day, we started by walking to The Charles Bridge from the hostel. It was a Sunday morning, and the streets and the bridge were very peaceful.

The Astronomical Clock
The Charles Bridge on a Sunday morning
 Once crossing the bridge, we stopped at The John Lennon Wall, had breakfast at the lovely Bohemian Bagel, and then Wyatt and I split up for the day.

The John Lennon Wall
 I walked towards and around the Prague Castle and visited the Kafka Museum while Wyatt did a segway tour of the city. The St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George's Basilica, the Maria Theresa Pavilion were all a part of my visit to the castle. The St. Vitus Cathedral was truly stunning.

The St. Vitus Cathedral
 The Kafka Museum was insightful and there I stumbled upon a second Cerny work called 'Piss' outside of the museum.

'Piss' by David Cerny
As artsy photo of 'Piss'
After the Kafka Museum, Wyatt and I met up and we went to the Mucha Museum on our way to the train. I fell in love with Mucha's work! The art nouveau style and detail of the graphic art was so captivating.

Mucha's 'Princess Hyacinth', 1911
Following the museum, we boarded the train and went home to Vienna to power through midterms and make it to spring break!