Category Archives: Italy

The Best and Worst of Tuscany

I’ll start with the bad first because, well, that’s how it happened chronologically.

After work on Friday, Maggie and I took a train to Pisa. Let me tell you, Pisa is not as I remember it from three years ago. We arrived in the run-down train station, walked through a run-down neighborhood and checked in to our hostel, which some guy had converted from a house by throwing bunks in the two bedrooms. Easily the worst hostel I have ever stayed in. Maggie and I laughed it off and trekked into Pisa town for a little sight-seeing.

Obligatory Pisa Pic

The leaning tower is often very high on a tourist’s check list, but Pisa doesn’t have much else to offer. You go to the piazza with the church, baptistery and tower, take you obligatory holding-up-the-tower-with-your-bare-hands photo and leave Pisa. Unfortunately, we stayed. We grabbed a beer to drink in a public piazza, but were met by unsavory characters, one of which exposed his flaccid penis to us… Thanks, dude. We didn’t get much sleep that night due to flashing nightmares and loud hostel mates. Boo.

Maggie and I at the Leaning Tower

Early the following morning we arrived in Florence, ready for a different taste of Tuscany. That taste was shopping.

We did start the trip out responsibly though. Our first stop (in the rain) was across the river. I have been to Florence five times previously and every time I had plans to see the Brancacci Chapel and it never worked out. I haven’t had time, I forgot, I went and it was closed, I went and there was a service. So, sixth time’s the charm? Isn’t it awesome when you study something for years and then finally see it in person? Maybe that’s only an art historian thing. I can’t think of any parallels off the top of my head. Anyway. Chapel? Beautiful.

Adam & Eve shunned

After the chapel, we hopped over to the Ponte Vecchio before deciding the rain was too much and we needed a break, which came in the form of lunch. We tried to dry off during our meal and enjoy some Tuscan delights. The Italian couple next to us ordered something very interesting. It looked so odd that I suppose Maggie and I were staring. So, of course he asked us to try it… Wait, that doesn’t happen in America, does it? Have you ever sat next to a stranger in a restaurant and have the first thing they say to you be, “Would you like a taste?” Hmm. I don’t think so. It’s happened so many times to me here in Italy. It must be normal to share food with strangers. So, we did as the Florentines do and tried the mystery dish. It was tripe cooked in broth with butter and parmesan, which our good friend put on a piece of hard bread with a huge chunk of mint/parsley spread. I’m pretty sure he was trying to disguise the texture from us, which is a little rubbery I think. So, thanks for looking out for us, friendly tripe-eating man! I was proud of us for being adventurous, but tripe probably won’t become common in my diet.

Tasting Tripe. I'm so gutsy. Heh heh.

After lunch it was on to the market and down with our savings. On my final trip to Florence I was purchasing all the things I’ve wanted for myself all year as well as some goodies for friends with requests. Let me tell you, it adds up. We also went to the wonderful indoor food market next to San Lorenzo right as it was about to close. We made sure we bought some olive oil, balsamic and other treats at the vendor named Lombardi in honor of my Aunt Vicki and Uncle Sil Lombardi. I’ll be bringing the bag home for you!

Maggie and I with our goods from Lombardi's

So, yeah, it really adds up. We bought so much stuff in Florence, we could barely fit everything in our bags. We even canceled our trip to Cortona the following day due to the weight of our backpacks. But it’s okay. We were satisfied with the weekend. We were coming home with leather purses, belts, gloves, sandals, boots, scarves, pretty much everything they sell in Florence.

Unfortunately for our bank accounts, we didn’t get enough and came back the next weekend. Stay tuned for the next post!

We did some sightseeing, too. Had to fit it in around the shopping.

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Daphne in As the World Turns

Poem by Rebecca Hoogs

Before all that hot pursuit,

I lived a pastoral existence:

meadows and mead and suitors swimsuited…

But Apollo?  Blacklisted.

In the end, I died a pastoral existence,

or wish I had, anyway.

Apollo–black tempered, incensed–

turned pirate, barged up my waterways.

What wishes I had were waked away;

he had a fast boat.

I turned on the waterworks,

turned on my heel, and wrote my footnotes,

but he had a faster boast.

I got to shore, got treed.

He’s such a heel.  Footnote:

I’m turned, gone bad.

I’m got, for sure.  I’m tree

in meadow, see? We’re completely unsuited,

But I’d do it again–the turning, the going–

not for what ensued, but for the ensuing.

Bernini's Apollo and Daphne

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Skeers Family Fun

After returning from Barcelona, I had to scramble to clean my studio in time. My friend John would be there in just a few hours to photograph me in the intern apartment. He photographs people in their bedrooms (not creepy) for a series he’s working on. You can check out his work here and my photo below. Isn’t it awesome?! I will cherish it forever. The UWRC will use it to promote the internship! Thanks, John!

At Home in the Intern Apartment

Only a few days later, my apartment became a home for two. Maggie, my former roommate Chad’s sister, visited Italy for 18 days, mostly spent in Rome with a few weekends away in Pisa, Florence and Cinque Terre. More on that later. On her first evening in Rome, I took Maggie on my impress-people walk and we ended up at Castel Sant’Angelo, a frequent motif in my blog posts. The next day Maggie took a solo-trip to the Colosseum and had a run-in with a guido. She escaped by latching on to a tour guide who fed her false information about ancient Rome. Don’t worry, I cleared things up.

Maggie and Me at Castel Sant' Angelo

By the next day it was already time for our trip to Tuscany, but this is just a teaser. Look for the next post about shenanigans in Pisa and Florence. We came back from the trip loaded down with goods and ready to be home in our Roman beds. On Monday we decided to explore a different neighborhood of Rome, Trastevere. This neighborhood across the river ranks as one of the best Roman rione in my opinion. We wandered down the tiny streets stopping in boutiques and bookstores and ending up in Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Below the Pincio in Piazza del Popolo

Later that week we were yearning for some green and made plans to visit Villa Borghese. We began at the Pincio and wandered through the gardens to the gallery. I played tour guide in the museum and Maggie and I started to wonder why many of those mythological stories are so similar. There’s a whole lotta love, lust, rape, murder and suicide. Since we’re in the mood for mythology, my next post will contain a poem by Rebecca Hoogs, Creative Writing professor. It’s a modern spin on an old classic she presented during summer quarter.

Maggie in the Borghese Gardens

The next day brought us to the Spanish Steps. Finally some sun! Why was June so wintery anyway? We basked in the sun on the steps, got a little sweaty and then it was time to head home.

That night we invited our neighbors out to my favorite bar, Birreria Trilussa. You remember the giraffa, no? Me either. After we had finished TWO of those, we descended to the river where booths selling trinkets and grub are set up on the banks all summer for Estate Romana.

Giraffa!

I woke up a little fuzzy, but ready for our trip to Cinque Terre, one of the most beautiful spots in the world. So beautiful it warrants its own post. Check back later!

The day we came back from the Cinque, I spent running around arranging things for the faculty welcome dinner in the penthouse that night. Maggie cut bread and I scrounged up enough plates and glasses for all 16 attendees. Lucky us, the faculty dinner was the same day as Saints Peter and Paul holiday. That night we ran from dinner to Ponte Principe Amedeo di Savoia, which is pretty far, to catch the fireworks set off from Castel Sant’Angelo. We ran directly after eating so many courses that I thought I might puke; I managed to hold it in.

The next day Maggie and I tried to escape the heat with a trip to the beach. Not sure if it really worked. We spent the majority of our time on hot, sweaty public transportation, but we did make it to Lido di Ostia. We laid out on the black sand of the free beach and waded up to our knees in filthy water. It was then that I thought to myself, “Gee, I really need to see a nice Italian beach before I leave.” More on that later.

After we cooled off seaside, we heated back up in Ostia Antica, an ancient Roman port city. We climbed over ruins and through the grass rediscovering the empire of past days. It was a nice excursion, but it was over too soon. The site closed before we made it to the Casa di Diana. We did have fun in the amphitheater and temples though.

Fun in Ostia

The next day brought a walking tour of Rome. We made a checklist of all the things Maggie had left to see so that she wouldn’t miss anything. Our walking tour took us through the Ghetto, up to the Campidoglio, down beside the Forum and heading back towards home along Trajan’s forum. Check, check, check and check. The end of Skeers Family Fun came soon after. Maggie spent her last day buying goodies for the fam.

Us in Piazza Navona

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Second Chances

By the time I said goodbye to Momma, only a few weeks were left of Spring quarter. So, I took advantage of them by inviting Shannon, an art history student, to Assisi with me. If you recall from an earlier post, my mom and I took a day trip to Assisi, but my camera died within 15 minutes of arriving. It wasn’t going to happen to me this time. I packed the giant digital SLR I borrowed from the UWRC office as well as my hand-held digital. I meant business. Don’t worry, I warned Shannon ahead of time.

Shannon flailing in Assisi

Since Assisi is a rather small town, we followed much of the same track my mom and I did two weeks before. We took the bus to Piazza Matteotti, checked out the ancient Roman amphitheater and then snaked our way through the streets of town ending at San Francesco. For lunch, we actually made it to the restaurant suggested by my good friend Rick Steves, Locanda del Podesta. It was delicious. We partook in some of the region’s specialties, namely sausage. They also had a wonderful Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper spaghetti).

Cacio e Pepe at Locanda del Podesta

Before I move on to the wonderful Giotto chapel, I would just like to say that I did not stalk the bride and groom tying the knot in Assisi that day. I just happened upon the ceremony in San Rufino. They drove past us an hour later in a vintage car with her veil blowing in the wind. So, when I saw them later at the Roman temple, I decided it was fate and that I needed to photograph them. The setting was beyond picturesque and the couple was adorable. I couldn’t resist. So, look away if commitment freaks you out. Here’s the shot:

Awwwwwww

After the shameless couple-I-don’t-even-know photo shoot, it was time for Shannon and I to rediscover the Giotto chapel in San Francesco. It was just as glorious as I remember, except this time I came equipped with a camera. So, now I can share it all with you. While we were there (in our hardhats), one of the restorers was touching up a little corner of fresco. “You are so cool,” I wanted to say. He probably already knows it.

(By the way, he’s waving, not shunning us.)

And for no reason at all other than I love food and I love photos, here is my favorite shot of some goodies we found at a bakery.

Mmmmmm.

Returning to Rome brought a few more second chances. Stacey and Brittany, two of Leisha’s friends who had been in Rome the week previous, returned to give Rome another shot. Unfortunately, nature was against them and they caught colds in Barcelona. After sleeping it off for a few days, I met up with them for a tour of Porta Portese market. I bought the most lovely vintage postcards of Rome and Naples. I have plans to use them in the future, so keep your eyes peeled. After the market we were in need of some serious nourishment, AKA gelato. I tried to take them to Giolitti, Leisha’s favorite gelato place, but when we arrived, there was a line out the door. It was the first seriously hot day of the year and everyone was in need of a little ice cream. We walked just a few blocks away to my favorite gelato place, Gelateria del Teatro. What a wonderful way to cool down.

Dead-on delicious gelato.

A few days later Shannon and Shayna returned to Rome to stay with me before catching their flights back to Seattle. Shayna came back from Rogliano (southern Italy), with all the most wonderful stories of small-town life. She became a part of her host family and everyone shed tears when she left. Back in Rome, her final meal was spaghetti and meatballs. Goodbye Seattle friends! See you soon!

Always with a fanta.

After tying up spring quarter, it was time to pack and head to Barcelona…..

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Mama in Roma

(and also Assisi)

Shortly after I regained my composure following Rome’s birthday week, it was time to pick Momma up from the airport! She arrived early in the morning and although I was exhausted, it was time to celebrate. My mom planned the timing of her visit carefully so that we could spend Mother’s Day together for the first time in five years. Yes, I know. I’m a horrible daughter. But what am I supposed to do when I live in another state and it’s not the kind of holiday you get days off for?

Anyway, Momma and I spent some quality time together in the city, but also in bed watching the Mentalist, a TV show to which she introduced me. Our first venture into the city took us to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, you know, my usual impress-people walk around the neighborhood. The next day we stopped for a little gelato (of course) on our way to Castel Sant’Angelo, a favorite monument of mine. It’s a place that I keep returning to, so look for it to pop up in future (and past) posts.

Momma double-fisting gelato at Castel Sant'Angelo

Momma and I decided to spend that weekend in Assisi, a hill-top town in Umbria. However, we nearly missed the train because May 1st is Labor Day in Italy and the busses weren’t running. So, after our short jog to the short tracks to catch our train, my mom and I were panting and quickly realizing just how out of shape we were. Maybe something should be done about this… Jane Fonda? Jazzercise? More on that later. So, we arrived in Assisi a few hours later only and hopped the bus to Piazza Matteotti. Word to the wise: Do NOT take the bus to San Francesco, you’ll have to walk uphill to see the rest of the town. We started at the top, Piazza Matteotti, and walked downhill while sight-seeing since we are so out of shape.

At the top we met a cute, little old man walking his dog who gave us some tips on touring the city. The first stop was the Roman amphitheater where I found out that my camera battery was dead. So, here is one of the only three photos from the day. At least it’s a cute one.

Momma and me at the Roman Amphitheater in Assisi

After the sting of a dead camera battery wore off, my mom and I trotted about the city admiring hues of pink and yellow limestone and spectacular views of the valley. Actually, we did pick up some disposable cameras, which were kind of fun to use. Not immediately knowing how your photo turned out is kind of a novelty. Dad took them in to be developed, so we’ll see how they look soon. We might be pleasantly surprised!

After visiting San Francesco, the church built in St. Francis’ honor, we tried to go to the restaurant recommended by my old friend, Rick Steves, but apparently some other tourists had heard about it, too. So, we ended up at a trattoria down the street dining on a terrace overlooking the entire Umbrian valley. The region of Umbria is known as the “green heart” of Italy and I can certainly understand why.

After lunch we bought tickets to see the chapel painted by Giotto in San Francesco and we were two of only four people on this tour. All the tourists were still eating at Rick Steves’ restaurant. The chapel is in the process of being restored, so there are three flights of scaffolding set up that you can visit with an entrance ticket, a hard hat and a god-awful audio guide. It was so amazing nearly having the chapel all to ourselves and being able to walk right up next to 700-year-old frescos adorning the 1st, 2nd and 3rd “floors”. But again, no camera. I think this calls for another trip to Assisi real soon…

Back in Rome, my mom and I used Sunday to rest before hitting the cobblestone streets again. Later in the week we took a huge trek around the city that took us through the Jewish ghetto. (Ghetto is Italian is a little different than the English version of the word. See here for info.) We checked out the Portico d’Ottavia, the theater of Marcellus where Sophia Loren used to live and ended up at La Bocca della Verità. In case you don’t know what this is, look at the very end of this clip from the movie Roman Holiday.

Legend has it that this sculpture will bite off the hand of anyone who does not tell the truth. Scary! My mom and I made it out unscathed.

Our recreation of Roman Holiday

Can you believe that I have lived in Rome for a year and have never seen this? Situation remedied.

After our encounter with the mouth of truth, Momma and I wandered over to the Forum and the Capitoline Museums. We just did a quick run though because it was getting late and we were exhausted (Remember, out of shape!) from our walk already.

Momma and I at the Forum

The next night we took a walk in the opposite direction out to the Spanish Steps. If you have ever seen a photo of Piazza di Spagna, the stairs probably had pots of beautiful pink flowers on them. I have a feeling that many tourists are disappointed when they find out that those flowers aren’t always there. BUT the azaleas are there for a couple weeks every spring and it happened to coincide with my mom’s visit. So, we took a few glamour shots and then laughed at ourselves. Check the facebook album for those.

Before long, it was time for our weekend trip to Vienna (featured in the next post) and then time to say goodbye. See you in a few months, Momma!

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You don’t look a day over 2,600.

Just after Paige left, Rome celebrated its 2763rd birthday. What better excuse to have a festa?

April 21, 2010 is regarded as the anniversary of Rome’s legendary founding by Romulus, remembered as the pudgy baby suckling a she-wolf’s teat, victorious over his poor brother Remus. Here’s a teaser photo of the famous she-wolf sculpture projected in Piazza del Popolo.

Can you see baby Romulus and Remus suckling?

So, what does Rome do to celebrate its birthday, you ask? I think a better question would be what doesn’t Rome do. There were over thirty events for the birthday week including (but not limited to) tours at archeological sites, marching bands and choir performances, seminars, conferences, exhibition openings at museums all over Rome, free entrance to said museums and archeological sites and a grand finale that recalled the history of the city with lights, sound and fireworks. But more on that later.

The event that kicked it all off was a parade that Ryan and I barely made it to in time. We stood outside the Vittorio Emanuele II monument and watched groups of people dressed up in ancient costumes. There were groups recreating famous legions, groups representing different areas of Ancient Rome, different religious sects (think Vestal Virgins) and even captive barbarians! I think I saw a Dacian or two being mistreated. Yay! (For those of you who don’t already know, I am researching a sculpture that supposedly features a Dacian.)

Over the next few days I took advantage of free admission to museums during what is called Settimana della Cultura or Culture Week. One of my favorites was Palazzo Altemps. I could not believe that I had never been here before. I was able to get quite a bit of research done looking at ancient sculptures restored by Ippolito Buzzi (also written as Buzio), but the highlight was definitely seeing the sculpture known as the Suicidal Gaul. By now everyone knows I love barbarians. The sculpture is absolutely gorgeous and I’ve written about it on a few different occasions. This time I scrutinized the work in terms of its restoration. Hmm, that barbarian seems to wield a Roman sword… How odd.

Suicidal Gaul at Palazzo Altemps

Ryan and I also took advantage of free admission at the Palatine hill, a place I shamefully haven’t visited since 2007. We took a picnic lunch that we ate near the Palatine museum, from which Ryan fed a few pigeons before we headed on our merry way about the hill top. We traveled down through the forum before decided that although our ticket included admission to the Colosseum, we were just too exhausted to carry on. We did have fun walking amongst the ruins though. It’s a shame that it costs money to go to the forum. It used to be open to the public back in 2007. Drat.

Me in the forum next to the Temple of Deified Antoninus Pius and Faustina

Anyway, the next big birthday week event was ROMAGNIFICAT, which is a play on the Italian words for Rome and magnificent. Shayna and I trekked it out to Piazza del Popolo with the rest of the Romans to see the light and sound show that was to chronicle Rome’s history. It was cheesy, but also very cool. They projected images of the Sistine ceiling and last judgement on random buildings in the piazza, little snip-its of famous Italian films were shown, there was an interpretive dance and reenactment of Rome’s founding (think she-wolf and Remus getting clobbered). The finale consisted of fireworks in Italian colors and the lighting of the olympic torch; Rome has been nominated to host the 2020 olympics. So, all together something magnificent indeed. Here’s a look:

Michelangelo's Last Judgement projected in Piazza del Popolo

Other things I got up to in late April were meeting the director Francesca Archibugi, teaching the Italian studies students how to make Spaghetti alla Carbonara (see recipe below) and having drinks with Mia and friends. It was certainly a great month. 🙂

Spaghetti alla Carbonara Recipe

  • 1 pound dry spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta (You americani can also use cut up strips of bacon if you can’t find the cubed pancetta version.)
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Half a small onion, minced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • pepper
  • Optional table spoon of dry white wine
  • Optional bits of parsley for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add spaghetti noodles.

While the noodles are cooking, heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the pancetta (or bacon) and saute for about 3 minutes on medium heat. Remove the pancetta, leaving that lovely oil/fat mix in the pan.  Toss the garlic and onion into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to soften. Turn the heat down to low and add the pancetta back in as soon as the noodles are done and strained.

Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the yummy oil/fat/garlic/onion mix. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Some Italians also add a tablespoon of dry white wine to the egg mix. I recommend it! Make sure you the heat is low, low, low before you move to the next step.

Pour the egg/cheese mix on top of the pasta, whisking quickly so that the mix covers all of the noodles. You want the eggs to thicken, but not scramble. Tricky, tricky. You can take the pan off the heat entirely if you want as long as your noodles are hot enough to partially cook the eggs. You can also thin out the sauce with a bit of reserved pasta water, but it won’t fix the scramble issue. So, don’t let it scramble!

Season the carbonara with salt and pepper and parsley, if you like. Then EAT!

What your pasta will hopefully look like.

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Rae + Paige = RAGE!

Excepting my rant about hating Naples, my last post was about the end of winter quarter! Looky here, it’s already the end of spring quarter. What have I been doing with myself, you might ask. Well, hopefully this post (and the following ones) will help to answer that!

RAGE at the Trevi

Shortly after working my butt off for the CPAC convention during Spring break, my ex-classmate/ex-coworker/ex-neighbor/fellow art history-lover Paige came to Rome with her good friend/buddy/pal/fellow art history-lover Ryan. It was Ryan’s first time in Rome and he would be starting the Art History Rome program in just a few days. It was Paige’s second visit to Rome because she was on the program last year. One of the first things we did was run around the city exploring. You know, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Trajan’s Forum and the like. Just your average romp in the eternal city.

In the evening we headed to my favorite spot to watch live jazz in the Monti district of Rome, Charity Cafe. It was actually a blast because it was such a small group of people that the musicians had us all sit together, taught us the songs and had us sing along. We even made friends with some of the other people there… or so I thought. They wanted to invite us to another concert, so I gave them my email address. Turns out they are not interested in friendship and now I’m on a lame list-serve to receive spam emails in Italian. Yay. Italy, you’ve done it again.

Jazz at Charity Cafe

Paige spent the days doing research for her honors paper on the Saint Helen sculpture in the crossing at St. Peter’s. Most of the time I was working while she was researching, but I did join her to the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s (where we waited in line forever).

RAGE at St. Peter's

In the evenings we got up to no good, going dancing, finishing a whole giraffa with just the two of us… Just the two of us, we can make it if we try! Just the two of us, you and I. Sorry, I’ve run away with myself. Back to the story!

Giraffa for two!

We had some grandiose plans for Easter, which were foiled in two ways. 1. We made the mistake of buying chocolate eggs a little too early knowing full well how little will power I possess. A few days before Easter while Paige was out gallivanting about the city, I decided to tear a small hole in the packaging of my chocolate egg just so I could have a little taste to satisfy my chocolate craving. The plan was to put the egg back inside the packaging before Paige returned and she would be none the wiser. Unfortunately she returned home to find me sitting in bed with half a chocolate egg on my lap and shiny Easter packaging strewn about the bed. Whoops! So, we didn’t open our eggs on Easter, we feasted a few days early. 2. We also had plans to rent a Vespa and tour around the city while the whole town was in Piazza San Pietro. It was going to be our “Roman Holiday” re-enactment and it was going to be glorious! However, we couldn’t find a Vespa that would fit two people and it poured down rain all day, but the real reason why it didn’t work out was because Paige and I went dancing in Testaccio the night before and needed a full day to recover in bed with the aid of a few good films and the rest of our chocolate eggs.

View of St. Peter's from the Quirinal Hill

Later that week Paige and I (after one failed attempt) made it to the Caravaggio exhibition at the Quirinal hill. It is the most complete exhibition of his  paintings ever. Wow! It really was spectacular… and crowded, but we were the last people there waiting for everyone else to clear out so that we could actually see the paintings. It was a really beautiful exhibition, but the organization of the paintings could use improvement. Every floor ended on a weak point with a painting of questionable attribution. Words of wisdom: Always end with a bang when possible! Despite that, it was still a beautiful collection of works and I took home a copy of the catalog.

One of the many Caravaggio works on display!

Oh, and we had Frigidarium on the regular.

Paige's fave gelato place, Frigidarium!

After Paige left *sad face*, I had to prepare for more even more guests! Check back soon for posts about my other spring-time visitors!

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