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Buh-Buh-Buh-Buh-Barcelona!

For some reason I had the song “My Sharona” stuck in my head during the entire trip. Except the lyrics were “Buh-buh-buh-buh Barcelona” instead. I feel like I’ve heard this somewhere before, so please enlighten me if you know what I’m talking about. Perhaps it was just the genius of my subconscious. At any rate, it was such a good theme song that it also got stuck in Ryan’s head. We even made jokes that I would come up with a new song for every vacation. My next number one single? Marrakesh sung to the tune of the 80s hit “Maniac”.

On to the actual vacation….

I arrived late on a Thursday night and unfortunately didn’t have time to do anything. The next morning I was up early with a plan in mind; I made a beeline for the Chocolate Museum. As soon as I saw that the ticket was edible (a chocolate bar), I knew I had made the right decision. I learned about the history of Chocolate and saw some pretty amazing chocolate sculptures. The only other patrons in the museum were 4-year-olds on a preschool class field trip. I guess that’s what you get when you go to a chocolate museum at 9:00 am on a Friday.

A scene from Bambi made entirely of chocolate.

The rest of the day I spent wandering around the gothic quarter. I happened upon an antiques fair that only happens once a year. I wish I could have brought some things home, but these vendors really knew what their stuff was worth and that means it was out of my price range. To escape the rain, I ate lunch at a little tavern. I couldn’t understand the waitress at all, so I had no idea what I ordered. It turned out to be some kind of gazpacho soup and mystery meat with fries; I’m thinking lamb.

Tavern Mystery Soup

Tavern Mystery Meat

When the sun came out I headed to the docks and sprawled out on a bench drying my coat and flats. The water was so clear I could see big fish swimming amongst the sailboats. At this point, I was starting to wonder where Ryan was. I was pretty sure his flight arrived in the early afternoon. Back at the hostel, I still had no idea where he could be. Just as I was about to head out for the evening, he showed his face! Turns out he missed his flight out of Amsterdam. Figures. 🙂

So, Ryan and I in the company of two of our hostel-mates took some advice from a couchsurfer and made our way to JazzSi Club. The place was PACKED. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place more packed than this. It was probably double or triple the fire code allowances (if there were any). People sitting on top of people, people standing in between chairs and tables, people sitting on the stairs and the loft. There is no way we could have made it to the bathrooms if we wanted to. But it was well worth it. We saw a live flamenco performance with a guitarist, singer and dancer. The singer embodied the ultimate stereotype. He wore a white linen suit with a red scarf in the pocket and his curly chest hair peaking out. The dancer was supreme. I wish my body would move like that. After seeing this show, I wanted nothing more than to take flamenco lessons.

Flamenco Dancer

Flamenco Singer

The next morning Ryan and I went on a hike to the top of a hill overlooking Barcelona. Although we were sweaty and getting sun burnt, we had some of the best views of the city. We rested there for a bit crawling on the graffiti and messing with our cameras.

The Destination of Hike #1

Then we climbed down the hill and back up the next one to enter Parc Güell, one of Gaudi’s magnificent creations. His art is so whimsical. Wandering around the park makes you feel as though you’re in a fantasy storybook. We listened to some acoustic reggae and watched the St. George festival parade from above. We paid our respects to the famous iguana before heading for the beach.

St. George Festival as seen from Parc Guell

Gaudiguana

Being exhausted from our hill-filled hike earlier in the day, our first stop in Barceloneta was at a restaurant. We ordered two large beers, some paella (a rice dish) and mixed seafood tapas. God, I love Spain. The beers came out first and since Ryan and I are both small people who hadn’t eaten much all day, we felt them. We laughed over how hard it is to eat paella and why “My Sharona” fits with Barcelona so well.

Then we stumbled out to the beach. Having forgotten our bathing suits, we could only admire from a far. In the heat we wandered back to the gothic quarter where the tall buildings provided a bit of shade. After a nap at the hostel, we took a passagiata (or whatever the Catalan equivalent for a leisurely stroll is) over to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished church. The lights around the building make it shine like a mirage and the architecture is so unusual that you begin to think you’re imagining it. To confirm its reality, we returned the next morning in the daylight. This time La Sagrada Familia reminded me of a huge sandcastle. Inside there is an explanation of Gaudi’s plans for the architecture and everything is based on principles found in nature. Amazing.

La Sagrada Familia

Our next stop was the Picasso Museum, something which Ryan and I had been looking forward to. It did not disappoint. I know Picasso was quite prolific, but I had never seen this much of his work in one place. I guess it would make sense, he did live there and all. One of the coolest things about this museum was its comparison between Velázquez’s Las Meninas and Picasso’s 58 of interpretations of it. Although I’m not a fan of Picasso’s 1950s work, the display was effective and engaging.

Velasquez

Picasso

After Picasso it was time for tapas again. Chorizo! Gazpacho! Manchego! Mussels! Mushrooms! Potatoes! YUM.

Post-Picasso Tapas!

As soon as we were well-fed, we decided it was time to take on La Rambla, but that doesn’t mean we were done eating. We found the pastisserie recommended to me by my co-worker, Laura. Apparently it is the oldest one in Barcelona! Everything was beautiful. Everything was edible. Everything was delicious. I ordered a mix of cookies and Orxata and Ryan had a fruit tart.  Aside from these goodies, La Rambla is famous for its “pet shop” stand and the sales person got me hooked on the bunnies. If only i could have taken one home! Ryan rolled his eyes and reluctantly took photos of the event. Thanks, Ry!

Rambla Rabbit

The last unexplored district of Barcelona was the Parc de Montjuic, another recommendation of Laura’s. We were hoping to get the the Mirò museum, but it closes early on Sundays. So, we settled for exploring the gardens and ordering drinks on the patio of the National Museum of Art. I can’t recall the name, but I drank a kind of lemonade slushy with beer in it. I think of it as the Spanish version of a Radler, but not nearly as good. As the night cooled off, we took the gondola up the hill to the castle overlooking the ocean. We sat next to a canon and enjoyed the view. We were back down the hill in time to see the disappointing fountain show. It was just a few lights and some water. People told us that it gets better, but we didn’t stick around to find out. I had to wake up at 4:00 am to catch my flight the following day.

The Gondola at Parc Montjuic

All in all it was jam-packed, but without a specific itinerary. It felt good to stroll the streets and soak up the city with an orxata in hand. I definitely, definitely want to come back to Spain. It was simply captivating (and delicious).

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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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Re(Wien)sited

Momma and I decided to spend a weekend in Vienna after considering many other European destinations. I would get a chance to revisit one of my favorite spots in the world and show my mom around, trying to get her to understand why I love Vienna so much. My mom and I arrived a little later than expected (only 40 minutes) due to a flight delay and yet our hotel had already given our room away. So at midnight they carted us over to the “nearest” hotel, which was actually a 20-minute cab ride away. We ended up in a part of town that I wasn’t familiar with, but Momma, always looking on the bright side, said what a wonderful opportunity it would be to get to know Vienna better. I am just bummed that I wasn’t able to see Diana, my ex-roommate, on the only day we would both be in town. 😦

Walking the Ring: Momma at Parliament

Needless to say, we didn’t get up to much on our first night in Vienna, but the next day we had big plans. We started out by walking the Ringstrasse, one of the first things I did when I arrived in Vienna over a year ago. Our first stop was the University to see the blank walls where Klimt’s famous paintings would have been. Nothing to report there. Then we continued along the ring to the Opera house stopping at all the famous buildings along the way. We even dropped by IKI for a quick hello. From there, we cut north to Stephansdom and may have done a little shopping along the way… By lunchtime we were hungry for some Wienerschnitzel and ate at the restaraurant near Ruprechtskirche. Best Wienerschnitzel I have ever had! It was so tender and delicious! After lunch I took Momma down to my old neighborhood. We revisited my dorm, grocery store, hang-out spots and my favorite ice cream parlor, Tichy. I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but Vienna has these ice cream balls that are to die for. The Eismarillenknödel, a mouthful in more ways than one, is a ball of vanilla ice cream with an apricot mousse center rolled in shortbread cookie crumbs… Yeah, i know. Other varieties include the Himbeereisknödel (replace the apricot with raspberry and the shortbread with chocolate cookie crumbs), the Schneeball (replace cookies with crumbed, hard white marshmallow) and one for which I cannot remember the name, but that’s because it was coffee-flavored. Ick. Here’s a picture of three ice cream balls at Tichy. I wish I could replace the coffee ball with a Schneeball. Oh well!

Ice Cream Balls at Tichy

The next day we made sure to be up early so we could get our museum on. We took my beloved U-bahn to the Museums Quartier. First stop: The Leopold Museum. The Leopold is one of those places that makes you realize why you’re an art history major, or at least that’s what it did for me. I had been looking at countless fragmentary, dusty white corpses in Roman museums for months, which is all well and good. I love me some ancient Roman art, really I do. But the artworks I have been studying are creations of the state with a predetermined message independent of the artist’s agenda. It’s ancient propaganda. It’s fascinating. But I hadn’t seen anything so infused with emotion or so personal for a while. Schiele makes you feel what he felt. And I cried. So maybe this is why I am an art history major, not why you are.

At the Leopold with a Poster of Schiele

Next stop on the museum schedule was the modern art museum across the platz, which looks like a big, black, blocky scar in the MQ. One of the best parts of this museum is its video collection. There were some Nan June Paik, Richard Serra and William Wegman pieces. All lovely, but the pride and joy of the MUMOK is Andy Warhol, who appears as a glittery ghost in a double life-size poster inside the museum. Ick. I have never loved Warhol, but I gave him a fair chance and watched quite a few of his videos. Sad, I still don’t like him.

Mom & Me chilling on a MQ bench with MUMOK in the background

After the museums, we wandered over to the Burggarten and paid Mozart our respects while mowing down on some Käsekrainer. Boy, do I love Austrian food! Lucky us, the Genussfest in Stadtpark happened the same weekend we visited! Recalling old memories of eating topfen on olive bread with Andrea, we strolled the paths through the park tasting, tasting, tasting. What else would you do at a taste fest? The weather was lovely, the food was delicious. 🙂 Since I was feeling a little nostalgic, I drug Momma to Hohermarkt for gelato. Even though I’ve had authentic gelato continuously for almost a year now, the gelateria am Hohermarkt still holds up.

Still running high on nostalgia, we ate dinner at  Centimeter. Momma ate Schnitzel and I ordered Holzfällerknockerl. (No, I’m not just making up words.) Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my Tupperware and I had to leave the left-over goods on my plate destined for the trash can. Never again! That used to last me five meals for goodness sakes!

Radlers at Centimeter

The next morning I finally gave Sissi her due and visited her museum. She has some gorgeous dishes and dresses, but a sad life. If you don’t know who she is, look her up. She is famous in Austria, but very few Americans have ever heard of her. Shame. As a goodbye, Mom and I ate lunch on the Graben. Mmmmmm Würstel.

Mouth watering...

I will miss you Vienna, but rest assured; I’ll be back. Vienna is one of the best cities on the planet.

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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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If I never go to Naples again, I will die happy.

At Play in Pompeii

So sorry that this post is so late! I have been a busy girl.

A few weeks ago I was invited to the Communications day trip down to Pompeii. Damon and I decided to make a weekend of it and stay in Naples until Sunday. We all jumped on a train early Friday morning and arrived at Pompeii while it was still sunny. Unfortunately, Josh got his camera stolen on the Circumvesuviana, which connects Naples to Pompeii. 😦 So, I took plenty of pictures all day! We walked through the forum, the basilica, a few domus and of course, the Villa of the Mysteries. We even stopped at my favorite place in Pompeii, the Temple of Isis. I think this trip to Pompeii was much more pleasant than when I went three years ago. March is the perfect time of year to visit Pompeii. It’s not too hot and not too crowded. We bought tickets that would also get us into Herculaneum, another archeological site nearby, but by the time the whole group got there, they were no longer admitting visitors. Luckily for Damon and I, the tickets were good for three days. That’s exactly how long we would be in the area! So, instead of going inside Herculaneum, we read Pliny the Younger’s account of the eruption of Vesuvius while overlooking the ruins. How nerdy. I loved it. This is where Damon and I said goodbye to everyone else. We stayed at Herculaneum for a bit, sitting on a bench under a tree while it poured rain all around us.

Damon and I at the Temple of Isis in Pompeii

That night we checked into our lovely little hotel room in Naples and went out to dinner at the nearest restaurant, where we would become regulars for the next three nights. The next day I found out that I was allergic to our lovely little hotel room. I was covered in hives and itchy, itchy, itchy. After showering and eating a little breakfast, I started feeling better, so we went out into the city. Damon and I got our leather boots shined on the streets of Naples and were feeling pretty good about it.

Our next stop was Pizzeria da Michele, a restaurant recommended by, well, everyone. We were so confused at first because there was a huge crowd of people just standing around outside the front door. I went in and tried to ask for a table, but the guy at the cash register just ignored me. As it turns out, you have to go inside, get a number from the waiter and then wait outside until your number is called. And wait is exactly what we did. We waited so long that I was beginning to think we should just eat elsewhere. Damon and I suspected, however, that it would be worth the wait as we assessed the huge crowd outside, which consisted mainly of Italians. “It must be good,” we thought. In fact, it was the best pizza I’ve ever had. Yes, it probably had something to do with me feeling starved, but I think it has more to do with the perfect combination of chaos and simplicity. You only have two options for pizza: with cheese or without. I could wax poetic about this pizza forever, but I’ll just let these photos do the talking:Yum. After our bellies were full, we took a little walk down sketchy lane to the National Archeological Museum of Naples. I had a little research to do there and it’s probably the only thing worth seeing in Naples. Second only to Pizzeria da Michele, that is. Damon and I were bummed that the “secret room” was closed, but it was nice to see the sculptures and frescoes taken from Pompeii. People that visit the ruins and not this museum only get half the story. On the walk home from the museum we saw an attempted purse snatching in a street full of trash. Yay Naples. After that scary episode, we decided to go to our favorite restaurant 30 seconds walk from our room. Where I ate dinner covered in hives.

Damon and the Farnese Hercules in the National Archeological Museum

The next morning, surprise, surprise, the hives were back. But I powered through it and we hopped on the Circumvesuviana. This time we made it early enough to be admitted to Herculanuem. I have been dying to go to this site since Professor Laird told us about it three years ago. It is preserved differently than Pompeii because of its vicinity to Vesuvius. Pompeii was first hit with pyroclastic materials falling from the sky. So, roofs and second stories were all destroyed. In contrast, Herculaneum met its fate from lava flow, so the lava filled buildings from the bottom up. In many cases, the roofs, second and even third stories are still intact in Herculaneum. It was so amazing to see!

Frescoes at Herculaneum

Back in the day, Herculaneum was a port town right on the beach. They even had a boat and fishing supplies on display. I took some pictures for dad. Damon and I spent most of the day goofing around at the ruins. Here we are at a thermopolium, which is like an ancient fast food restaurant. Damon, my customer, is ordering some gravel with a side of gravel.

Customer and Employee at a Thermopolium

Here we are being amazed at how short Ancient Romans were:

After our long day at Herculauem, we got lunch/dinner, realized we missed the Villa dei Papiri, ran back, saw it was closed, I got a migraine and Damon had to lead a blind leper back to the train station. 😦 So, now you know why I don’t need to go back to Naples. It hates me. Evidence: Stolen Camera, Closed Archeological Site, Pouring Rain, Rash, Closed Secret Room, Trash, Purse-Snatching, Rash, Rash, Closed Villa, Migraine. I get it, Naples. I get it.

Despite all those negative things, I still had a wonderful weekend with the man I love.

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The Land of Balisto

I arrived late Thursday night in Paris and so I didn’t do much. My first full day consisted of sleeping in (something that would characterize the majority of my recent trip to Paris) and then headed out into the city. First I went to Saint Denis to buy some slacks for my upcoming appointment at the Louvre, but after that was taken care of, I took a long walk along the Seine. There are a bunch of vendors set up along the river selling old books and it was fun to leaf through their moth-eaten pages. I ended up at Notre Dame as the sun came out and I sat in the gardens around the back on a bench in the sunshine. I walked to the other end of the island to have an early dinner at a restaurant recommended by my guidebook. I sat next to the window sipping French onion soup and watching the sunset behind the cathedral. It was so beautiful. As I left I heard a clarinet/guitar duo playing on the bridge that really hit the spot. I wish you had been there.

When I got home, Elyse and Hugo took me out to a bar that the local preteens frequent. I made a friend on the bus ride home and interviewed him using a twix candy bar as a microphone. (Don’t worry. He was not a preteen.) The next day, I was feeling a little under the weather and slept in again. However, I was determined to see the Musée d’Orsay. So, I turned on my iPod, tuned out the other visitors, and gazed at paintings I have only seen on flash cards. A dream come true!

Me with Manet's Luncheon on the Grass at Musee d'Orsay

Five hours later it was back to Asnieres where I met up with Hugo and Elyse. We then headed back into the city for some much-needed greasy food. Cuisine of choice? Chinese, of course. Hugo led us to the best Chinese restaurant in Paris, Chez Shen. It’s located at 39 Rue au Maire near the Arts et Metiers metro station and it’s absolutely imperative that you dine at this fine establishment when in Paris. I ate there nearly everyday and have no regrets. After dinner we walked to Hotel de Ville, which is where the mayor lives. There is currently an ice skating rink set up in front of his modest home. Elyse, Hugo and I watched wide-eyed as the most talented ice-skaters I have ever seen in person (this includes many years of attending Disney on Ice at Arco Arena) engage in a game of sharks and minnows. It was insane. We found ourselves rooting for strangers and pointing out close calls. We left as soon as there was blood on the ice. Ick.

The next day, we failed to wake up early enough to go to Versailles, so I headed out to the Pompidou instead, which is a modern art museum. Sadly, the 1905-1960 section was closed, which was really what I came for. That means no Matisse, no Picasso, no Rauschenburg. The disappointment goes on and on. I was pleasantly surprised to find an entire floor full of works by women artists. This featured Eva Hesse, the Guerilla Girls, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Krueger, Louise Nevelson, etc., etc. Needless to say, I spent hours at this museum as well. One memory ingrained in my mind: a video of a nude woman hula hooping with a hoop made of barbed wire. She was a damned good hula hooper, that poor girl.

Elyse and I at Chartres Cathedral

The next day consisted of another failed attempt to go to Versailles, but this is because it is closed on Mondays. Soooo not our fault. Still feeling the itch to get out of the city, we took the train one hour to Chartres, home of Chartres cathedral. I read in my guidebook that as you get closer and closer to Chartres, all the eye can see for miles and miles is wheat fields and the cathedral poking out over the top of them. Apparently, you’re not even supposed to notice the rest of the town until you’re practically in it. Lies, lies, lies. I saw no wheat fields. I saw town and lots of it! Stupid guidebook. Aside from the disappointing lack of wheat fields, however, Chartres was amazing. I’m a much bigger fan of small-town France than I am of Paris. The cathedral, which is the town’s main attraction, was our first stop. It was actually really creepy. Most churches have added a lot of artificial light, which really modernizes the viewer’s experience with a church. Chartres cathedral had just a few very dim lights added, which made it seem very close to what you would have experienced at the time it was built. It was dark and dusty inside. It smelt like old, if you know what I mean. Even the chandeliers and pulpit were covered in plastic gathering dust. It was eerie to say the least. It felt like an authentic gothic encounter to me.

After exploring the church, Hugo grabbed a map from the tourist office and took us on a walk throughout the town. Chartres looks a lot like the town that Beauty and the Beast takes place in. I had “Look, there she goes. That girl is strange-no question.” stuck in my head the whole time. We crossed the cute little river a few hundred times before it started to rain. We found a pub for shelter and played cards before hopping on the train back to Paris.

Ready to research!

The next day I had to wake up before noon because I had an appointment at the Louvre for special research. I met my escort, a cute, short old woman with glasses, frizzy hair and clogs, at Pavillion Mollien where the Department of Greek, Roman and Etruscan Antiquities is housed. I started out by apologizing that I don’t speak French and she said that she didn’t speak English……. As it turned out, she did speak a little English. We weren’t having serious, deep conversations or anything, but we were able to communicate when necessary. She first took me to the storage facilities where MA 412 has been sitting in a crate awaiting the reorganization of the Greek, Roman and Etruscan wing. I saw so many famous sculptures boxed up and plastic-wrapped. It was like an artwork graveyard.

MA 412 all boxed up

The next stop was the Wounded Gaul, but wait! I’m sorry, Rick Steves is filming in that room. You’ll have to come back later. So, it was on to visit the Venus Pallas of Velletri which now stands across from the Venus de Milo in a long corridor. Since they are remodeling the antiquities, these were the only two sculptures in the room save for a headless togate figure. I think few people have ever found themselves alone in a room with the Venus de Milo. Okay, so I wasn’t really alone. Agnes, my escort, was there and so were some men fixing light bulbs, but it still made my heart skip a beat.

Way back there is the Venus de Milo

I next visited the Captive Barbarian duo taken from the Forum of Trajan before heading back to the Wounded Gaul. Ahhh, Rick Steves has vacated the building. Another empty room at the Louvre. Incredible. It’s an experience I will never forget.

The Wounded Gaul and company

After finishing up the research, I popped by the opera house before heading back to Elyse’s place. That evening Elyse and I took the metro to Moulin Rouge and then went on a walk to the Arc de Triomphe, which is pretty damn far. Then we forced our tired legs to take us up many flights of stairs to the top of the Arc for a 360 degree view of Paris. It was beautiful, but windy and it was soon time to head back to Asnieres for our homemade fiesta–fajitas, guacamole, salsa made from Uncle Sil’s recipe and mojitos a la Hugo.

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe

The next morning I was able to drag Elyse and Hugo to my fourth and final museum of the trip, the Pinacotheque de Paris, for the Edvard Munch exhibition. I’m getting very tired of writing and you’re probably tired of reading, so suffice it to say that it was great. They had the Madonnas Julia and I so loved freshman year.

Pinacotheque de Paris

After the exhibition, we did a little tourist shopping and I came out with a beret. Then we sat together in front of Notre Dame watching children scare the pigeons. My trip had come to an end.

Beret + Notre Dame

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Filed under Asnieres, Chartres, France, Paris

A Tuscan Weekend

Okay, I have waited way too long to post this, but here I am, sitting in Paris, blogging when I should be researching. Prepare yourself for lots of photos.

Damon and I got up before the sun on a Saturday to catch a train to Florence. This was my fourth trip to the beautiful city, which is a welcome change of pace from Rome. We started out the trip with the inevitable climb up Brunelleschi’s dome. How can you visit Florence without it? So, four-hundred and sixty-three steps later and we were on top of the world.

Damon and I on top of Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence

After our visit to the Duomo, we hadn’t quite had enough of churches, so I took Damon to Orsanmichele. This is hands down my favorite church in Florence. It looks nothing like any other church. It’s a big brick square with fourteen niches around the outside. The different guilds in Florence commissioned artists to decorate each of the niches. Damon and I had fun trying to guess which niche went with which guild. Some of them were pretty hard to figure out. Click on the link above to look at all the individual niches. Afterwards we wandered down to Piazza della Signoria and ate some lunch. On our way to check in to our teeny, tiny hostel we happened upon a miniature Florentine foods festival. There were vendors selling wine, cheese, olive oil, biscotti and dried meats. In one corner an old couple was making these weird, nut-flour pancake/tortillas filled with ricotta cheese and Damon and I decided to try them. Not the best thing I’ve ever had, but it was certainly worth the experience.

Eating that nut-flour ricotta wrap.

After checking in to the hostel, we did a little obligatory shopping at the leather market outside of San Lorenzo church. Damon bought a hat, scarf and a tie and I bought nothing. Unbelievable. We did a little bit of wandering, crossed the Ponte Vecchio and ended up at Santa Croce where there just happened to be a chocolate festival. Oh darn. I ran around all the booths like a crazy person getting a sugar high just from looking at all of it. After scoping out all the goods, Damon and I settled on a certain vendor who sold some sugar-free delicacies he could enjoy. (He’s hypoglycemic.)

On a suggestion from my friend Candidate Steve Bunn, we had a before-dinner drink at Lochness Lounge before heading on to dinner. The end of our night was filled with multiple unsuccessful attempts to find a jazz cafe. Oh well.

The next morning we swung by Ponte Vecchio before we caught a train to a little coastal town in Tuscany called Viareggio. Viareggio is second only to Venice for its Carnevale festivities. As soon as we arrived we heard a guy singing this random song that went a little something like this: “La da da da da Carnevale! La da da da da Carnevale!”  Or that’s how Damon remembers it, anyway.

After lunch we paid our 15 euro to get into the parade area and I was completely blown away. In all honesty, I was a little tipsy and I think that helped, but this was the most impressive parade I have ever seen. The floats were beautiful. Everyone, absolutely everyone was dressed up. Damon and I had bought masks just before leaving Venice. Here’s a photo of our Carnevale costumes:

Damon and I in our Carnevale Masks

The floats were absolutely breath-taking. They were gigantic and had all these moving parts. Damon and I were surprised to find that many of the floats had political or social messages. For example, this one is about budget cuts to education:

Edward Scissorhands Float

This one was about violence towards women:

Scary Warewolf Float

And last but not least, this one was about Michael Jackson dying. Notice the people dressed in skeleton costumes… There were also people dancing on the float who were dressed like Michael Jackson. In fact, the one wearing a fedora pointed out Damon in the crowd, who was also wearing a fedora. It was very exciting for Damon and it seemed to be pretty exciting for the dude on the float, too.

MJ Float

And then there was this one, which I liked for no particular reason:

Another Float

As the parade was coming to a close and dusk was settling in, Damon and I decided to ride the ferris wheel. It was then that we realized just how close to the sea we were. So, naturally we made our way out to the beach. We ran around in the sand a little and Damon took his shoes off, stood in the freezing water and yelled thank you to his family and friends. It was the perfect way to end the perfect day.

Damon and I on the Beach

We took the last train back to Rome and I slept in Damon’s lap the whole way.

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Filed under Florence, Italy, Viareggio