Food, Photos, Travel

That’s So Gaudi: BARCELONA

instagramMight as well kick it off with the crowning moment of my trip to Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia. The only possible way I can describe it is to try to convey how profoundly I can’t. The single most impressive thing‚Äďnatural or manmade‚ÄĒI have ever seen, La Sagrada Familia makes you sit back and ponder how incapable you are of comprehending it, let alone describing it.¬†It was truly one of those moments that puts you face to face with the limitations of language. Pure and simple, it can’t be done.

Gaudi’s masterwork, La Sagrada Familia was begun in 1882…and it is not close to completion. Gaudi devoted the last 43 years of his life to the¬†gargantuan¬†undertaking. And by gargantuan I mean: after those 43 years less than a quarter of it was finished.

The pictures don’t come close, but they’re all I’ve got. If you find yourself thinking they’re cool, just remember how pitifully insufficient they are. I will absolutely return when it’s closer to completion, or (hope against all hopes) completed.

On to the second most important element of our weekend in Barcelona: the food. I still don’t know if I’m emotionally prepared to put it at the top, but it was absolutely in the top three food weekends of these four months (which are, frightening, coming to an end in just four days). The food was so good that I would be genuinely upset if I forgot any of it. So I wrote it all down, naturally. Highlights:

La Boqueria Market: Just being there was a highlight of the trip in itself. La Boqueria, the history of which dates back to SONY DSC1217, was a chaotic conglomeration of juice, so-fresh-they’re-still-moving fish, olives, chocolate, cheese, and some rather grotesque seemingly barely dead animals. And in the midst of it all, I was gifted with two personal food bests. First, the best oyster of my life. Chris and I had the brilliant notion to buy an oyster and eat it on the spot. They were enormous, took the girl a solid five minutes just to break open, and with a little bit of lemon and vinegar….MAN¬†were they worth it. As Chris said, the only way you can describe the taste of oysters is that they taste like the sea, but not in a gross way. And these were unbelievable. I thought it was gonna be good, and then it was so much better. Second, the single best olive of my life. Green olives (possibly Seville but I’m not positive) in a mix with spicy red peppers, but they had this incredible smoky flavor that immediately made all other olives pale in comparison. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t craved them several times since…

20130419_145640In¬†El¬†Born,¬†probably my favorite neighborhood in the city, Lily and¬†Let’s Go took us for a hipsterific lunch with wine bottle menus. Sea bass ceviche with avocado‚ÄĒyum! For dinner, we broke a four-in-a-row Mexican food losing streak (i.e. From Rome to Barcelona, we went to four Mexican restaurants‚ÄĒwhose websites said they were open‚ÄĒonly to find them closed). But never doubt four college kids with a craving for Mexican food.¬†Los Chiles¬†saved us, with mountains of guacamole and gringas (chicken pineapple tacos).¬†

In between all the eating, we saw some stuff. And by some, I mean¬†a lot. With the luxury of two full weeks to plan out the weekend, I took full advantage, making an itinerary (with the help of Rick) that as been lauded as the best damn four-day trip itinerary Europe has ever seen.¬†Cosi, we did Barcelona right. Touring through¬†Eixample¬†gave us the Block of Discord, and most importantly,¬†Casa Batll√≥.¬†A house designed entirely by the man himself (that’s Gaudi, catch on) in 1904, it too deserves its own mini gallery.

Day 2 was Barri Gotic, La Boqueria, the rest of the Ramblas, and the cherry: Parc Guell. More Gaudi. Sorry not sorry. Honestly, by this point in the semester I had been so overloaded with Renaissance and Baroque, I didn’t think I could look at another fresco of the Annunciation or classicizing facade. Then Barcelona stepped in with its Modernism, Art Noveau, and other modern art terms that I don’t quite understand, and it was such a breath of fresh air. The city was like nothing I had ever seen, and that did not go unappreciated. Such is why we couldn’t possibly have gotten sick of Gaudi that weekend. As you can see.

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Parc Guell, inexplicably pronounced “parkway,” was intended to be a complex of outrageous mansions. I don’t know who wouldn’t want to live there, but somehow it didn’t quite catch on. So now it’s just a sweet park you can run around and take pictures in. This is the mosaic-ed “el drac,” who greets you at the park’s entrance. And this is what drac gets to look out at every day.

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Our last day in Barcelona began with churros and chocolate and ended with one of the best meals of my young life. In the middle was the beach, which was great, but…food. Lunch was insane, with¬†bombas from La Bombetta, along with¬†patatas bravas and octopus that was so mindblowingly tender I don’t know how it could’ve been octopus. And then dinner. Rick Steves won again by pointing us toward the den of flavor that was¬†Tapas 24. Here comes the list:

  • That Spanish tomato toast
  • Cava sangria
  • Iberico ham, cheese, and truffle sandwich
  • Foie gras burger
  • More bombas
  • Paella with mushrooms and ham and other delicious things
  • Lamb skewers
  • Rabbit ribs

My mouth actually just started watering. Barcelona, you were unique, delicious, and at times, truly remarkable, and I am so glad we got to meet this semester.

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Food, Rome, Travel

Best Week Ever: Eric, Franny, And A German Excursion

‚ÄúOnce you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄstPat Conroy

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Of course my current literary hero Pat Conroy would step in at a time like this to beautifully articulate how I’m feeling. Yes, Eric left yesterday morning, and yes, I was extremely sad to see him go, but this week is something that I could never forget if I tried, because it was less something I did or something that happened to me than something that will always be a part of me, a¬†microcosm¬†of these entire four months. So I refuse to stay sad, because I’m just so grateful that it happened.

I also just realized that I took 585 pictures…so just from a practical standpoint, forgetting seems rather implausible.

The first few days of the week consisted of La Boccaccia, magic balls, fancy beer at Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa,¬†dinner at¬†Romolo and¬†Taverna Trilussa ¬†‚Äď which obviously means artichoke pasta and balsamic steak ‚Äď and…in non-gastronomic news, some cathedral hopping and Rick Steves walks, because Eric gets separation anxiety without Rick in hand. Let’s talk churches real quick: On Sunday we went to mass at the Pantheon, Wednesday morning we had¬†Renaissance Rome which took us to¬†Santa Maria del Popolo with Tegsy, and we also hit the main basilicas of Rome: the¬†Vatican, Santa Maria Maggiore (where Bernini’s tomb is), and St. John Latteran. I have yet to make it to Paul Outside the Wall, but I will soon.

Wandering through the¬†Jewish Ghetto and¬†Trastevere with Rick as our guide also brought us to¬†Santa Cecilia and¬†Santa Maria in Trastevere, but more importantly, to the greatest Italian artisan cookie place in all the land,¬†Biscottificio Artigiano Innocenti¬†(which I also frequented today). Sweet fancy Moses are these cookies amazing. My favorites are the almond squishy-inside dark chocolate dipped ones (sounds better in Italian), and the beignets. I’m so sorry we didn’t get one of those Eric…but¬†damn.

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On Wednesday, we made the trek to Villa Borghese which, even despite the somewhat dreary weather, was well worth it. It is the place where one man almost singlehandedly spurred an entirely new artistic movement: the movement Baroque, the man Bernini. My God, his statues make David look like it was made with PlayDoh during kindergarten recess. Possible exaggeration, but honestly the movement and emotion he is able to coax out of a solid block of marble is mesmerizing.

apollo and daphne back apollo and daphne front

I’m even a little bit upset by these pictures because they don’t even nearly do this masterpiece justice. The work is Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, depicting Apollo post-Cupid arrow to the buttocks attempting to rape the beautiful Daphne, who prays to her father to save her and thus is transformed into a tree. Bernini manages to capture that entire sequence of events, in one single statue. Starting from the back of the statue, you see love-stricken Apollo chasing a woman, who as you continue around to the right begins to take shape. As you continue to circle it, you begin to the see the roots growing from Daphne’s feet, the leaves from her fingertips, her strained but flawless facial expression ‚Äď it’s not a still image, but a transformation that you are watching unfold. How a human being could stare into a block of marble, see this and bring it to fruition is so beyond me I can’t even pretend to comment, but experiencing it was one of the greatest pleasures I’ve had among all the art I’ve seen here.

SONY DSCBut of course, even that magnificent experience was nothing compared to¬†CLAVE 2013. Because obviously, the election of a new pope becomes infinitely cooler when you abbreviate it. Exhausted post-Villa Borghese, Eric and I decided that the effort required to make it from our Testaccio B&B to the Vatican was quite necessary, and my God was it. For most a once in a lifetime event just to witness the election of a new pope, we actually¬†witnessed the election of a new pope. The atmosphere was indescribable ‚Äď the multitude of sisters tearing up in the midst of one of the greatest moments of their lives, the Italian woman with her young son in front of us joking that the pope must be Italian, because if he was German or American he would’ve shown up by now, all of us Notre Dame kids huddling together for warmth and shelter from the rain, the South American priests behind us crying tears of joy and telling us what¬†Papa Francesco¬†was saying…it all amounted to one of the most moving experiences of my life. No matter what you believe or how you feel about the Church, it was impossible not to be affected by the historic magnitude and emotional involvement of the event. If there is any experience in my life I can accurately describe as humbling, that was it.

Munich

20130314_104509Thursday morning meant an impossibly early wake up and taxi to the airport but a worthwhile early arrival in Munchen, which is apparently what Muncheners call their own city, as the Deutschland is their country. Who knew?

Our first hour in Munich was an experience in itself. We arrived at the train station at the exact moment the train was supposed to arrive. We followed signs that pointed us toward the bus we had to catch in the most clear and efficient way possible. We boarded said bus, buying tickets in about thirty seconds from the driver, and it departed at the precise minute advertised. The bus was almost silent. We whispered so as not to disturb the somewhat eerie peace, a word I have never in my life used to describe public transportation. We walked the absolutely pristine and for the most part silent streets, and no one tried to sell us anything, asked for money, sketched on me, or accosted us in any way. We were walking around in a sort of mystified silence until one of us finally commented on the startling¬†cleanliness¬†of the place ‚Äď Just then, we passed a shopkeeper sweeping invisible dirt from his sidewalks. There may have been five pebbles. At the most. Compared to Italy, it was just so strikingly civilized, so…comically German.

20130314_113034We hit up the Viktualienmarkt¬†(complete with Maypole) for some morning wursts and beer ‚Äď When in Germany right? The¬†consensus came out:¬†bratwurst delicious as expected,¬†weisswurst a little bit…creepy. Sure I’m glad I tried stark white squishy boiled veal sausage that you have to peel the casing off, but I think once will last me a lifetime.

In Italy, climbing their tallest buildings involves medieval stairs on stairs on stairs, complete with sometimes impossibly slanted angles, odd curves, and uncomfortably low ceilings to emerge onto a balcony thousands of feet in the air with nothing but a waist-high wall between you and imminent death. In Germany, you take a modern elevator to a fully enclosed landing. Oh how the contrasts abound.

Aside from the mandatory Rick Steves walk, encompassing the center of Munich, its Old and New Town Halls, the famed glockenspiel, and St. Peter’s basilica, the day’s main attraction was the¬†Munich Residenz, where those pesky Wittenbachs’ lived for some inordinate amount of time. My favorite was most definitely the massive wall sculpture composed entirely of shells, complete with shell women, from whose bosoms’ wine used to flow. I assure you do not jest. Observe.

20130314_153531The treasury also featured some interesting pieces including a prayer book that belonged to Charlemagne’s nephew, crowns on crowns, a gold reconstruction of Trajan’s Column, and several pieces of jewelry I requested as belated birthday presents. Who doesn’t need a massive pearl-encrusted stomach piece?

As the German food odyssey continued, Augustiner-Brau was the absolute perfect choice for dinner. We tried their dark beer and a Radler, which is light beer and lemon soda (surprisingly, not my favorite). However, the food was out of control: pork cooked in beer gravy with a potato dumpling, and the glory that is spaetzle. I have to tell you, while nothing about cheesy potato pasta with fried onions on top sounds bad, it also sort of sounds like a special at TGIFridays rather than a national delicacy. I could not have been more wrong.

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Following our incredible meal, we braved the¬†hordes¬†of Japanese tourists in mickey mouse ears at where else:¬†Hofbrauhaus. Apparently, I only like dark beer in Germany ‚Äď my palate is really authentic like that. There were also pretzels. Always pretzels.

Fussen

On Friday morning we boarded a train to the picturesque town of Fussen, which would be our home base for visiting the castles of Mad King Ludwig ‚Äď first his boyhood home Hohenschwangau (High Swan Land) and then his dream palace, the made-famous-by-Disney¬†SONY DSCNeuschwanstein¬†(New Swan Stone), which is just as fantastical on the inside as its exterior. And considering the plan for the building was drafted (as an homage to Richard Wagner no less) by a stage designer rather than an architect, that is a fairly impressive feat. This quote from a letter from Ludwig to his buddy Wagner adds substance and meaning to the incredible sight that is Neuschwanstein.

“It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the P√∂llat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights’ castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day […]; you know the revered guest I would like to accommodate there; the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world.” -Ludwig II

It also makes it all the more tragic that poor Ludwig spent almost 20 years working on the castle without coming close to finishing it, and only lived in it for 172 days until his mysterious demise. On June 13, 1886, just a couple of days after being declared insane, Ludwig went on a walk with the very doctor who made the assessment, and neither was ever seen alive again. Bruises on the doctor’s neck seemed to indicate that Ludwig murdered him and then killed himself. However, Ludwig was 6’4″ and a strong swimmer, the water he supposedly drowned himself in was something like three feet, and there was no traces of water in his lungs. Many ‚Äď including, I think, the people who run the castle tours today ‚Äď believe their crazy king was murdered and framed.

“I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others.” ‚ÄďLuddie II *Cue creepy music*

SONY DSCFollowing my very first and quite monumental love affair with snow amounting to over 100 photos, it was time for a
freezing cold Rick walk around Fussen. I learned some things…saw some pretty sights…some body parts froze off…and then, out of the midst rose my salvation: Greek food, a preview of my week to come and but a distant memory for Eric. Thank God for¬†Kelari, run by a couple who had their own restaurant in Athens before moving to the Munterland. Nothing better than stumbling across people who will feed you paprika-ed french fries with tzatziki when your fourth toe on the right side is about to break off am I right? Classic situation.

Salzburg

SONY DSCAnother day, another train with individual garbage cans for each pair of seats. Oh sweet German civilization. I couldn’t possibly summarize Salzburg better than Rick Steves did when he said, “While Salzburg’s sights are rather mediocre, the town itself is a Baroque museum of cobblestone streets and elegant buildings‚ÄĒsimply a touristy stroller’s delight.” That I am, and that it was. And the phrase “touristy stroller’s delight” ran through my head on a loop as we strolled into platz after platz after connected platz. Neither of us being Mozart- nor Sound of Music- crazy, we saw a few sights, but mostly just wandered through Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich’s attempt at a “Rome of the North” and soaked it all in.

A personal highlight was my four-Euro grilled fish sandwich straight off the bus at a Rick-recommended place on the river. I may never know what that white sauce was or how to make it. Hell I might never taste it again. As Eric said, it was just a magical fleeting moment in time I’ll have to cherish the memory of forever. Yes, it was that good.

SONY DSCOther prime moments include taking an elevator up the side of a cliff ‚Äď because again, that’s how Germans roll ‚Äď to witness this view, ducking into a packed Rick-recommended bar and taking housemade and surprisingly smooth fruit flavored shots, speeding through the woefully unexciting birthplace of Mozart, and witnessing a huge gash taken out of a wall by an American general who tried to drive his tank to a (still open) brothel. The red light was on and everything. We didn’t make it to the fortress up on that hilltop there, nor did we ever find the mysterious chocolate place, but it didn’t matter. I could not have had a better time doing any of those things with anyone else.

SONY DSCAs our final day in Germany arrived, unwelcome and startling, we¬†traipsed through Munchen’s English Gardens to the Chinese Tower where we found ‚Äď what else ‚Äď a German biergarten which served the brats we craved and Hofbrahaus brews. Also, this sugar-coated doughnut-like concoction, the taste of which floods back to me just by looking at this picture. Fighting sadness, I had the feeling that our last German beers, last wursts, and last pretzels of the weekend, wouldn’t actually be our last.

And that was kind of the beauty of this week for me. Because even as I was living it, I felt its place within the broader context of my life, and it didn’t feel like just something that I did one time. It felt like a significant memory of a first. Although I’ve reacapped everything here for my own recollection in (I’m sure) painstaking detail, none of it was ever about what we did or saw or ate. (Except maybe the fish sandwich; it really was about that.) But truly, the week was romanticized and the uncomfortable travel bits removed immediately in my mind because though they certainly happened, they never really interfered with the active contentment of being together and exploring places together and reveling in that. And that’s why the importance of all of it, no matter if we were gaping at a Bernini or getting poured on or being blessed by the new pope or complaining about blisters or eating delicious food or strolling through a palace, was never lost on me for a second. So at risk of publicly displaying affection because I feel confident no one but you made it through this entire novel of a post… I love you Eric, and I can’t wait for more adventures with you.

And if anyone else made it, I’m sure I love you too.

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Food, Rome, Travel

Sicilia: A Vacation Within A Vacation

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Yes, I did just call my semester of study abroad a vacation. And I realize that it isn’t, and I do have classes (which I do attend and enjoy), and I am learning ‚Äď probably more than I ever have in a semester, mostly outside of the classroom. But it feels like a vacation in the sense of my mindset: I don’t think I could describe my head space as nervous or stressed since the day I got off the plane. I almost never know what time it is or where my phone is, and I rarely care. I’ve never been one to stress about school, but this isn’t just that ‚Äď it’s a complete lifestyle change. I’m often exhausted, but always feel at peace. I guess it’s that elusive contentment. Here, I never feel like there’s something I’m forgetting, something else I should be doing, an email I need to send, a text a need to reply to, a meeting I’m missing. I just am wherever I am whenever I’m there, and feel okay with that. Hence, my mental vacation.

But Sicily… now that was a real life beach-filled Champagne-drinking Turkish bath-going arancine-eating verified girls trip¬†vacation. See that view up at the top there? Yeah, that’s the view from our apartment terrace, featuring Mount Etna just four days before it exploded. Of course before we made it there, we experienced a happy mishap which brought us Ostia¬†Antica¬†on the Friday we intended to depart.¬†

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As Pompeii was quite possibly my favorite experience of my first trip to Rome with la mia famiglia, Ostia Antica was high on my Rome priority list. It is a massive archaeological site that was the port city of ancient Rome ‚Äď in fact it may have been Rome’s very first colony. So far they’ve found ruins that date back to the 4th century BC (and they’ve probably only found about two-thirds so far), and was inhabited until it was finally ¬†abandoned in the 9th century because they kept getting sacked, which sucked. Luckily for us, an incredible amount of the ancient city was preserved thanks to silt. There were some beautifully preserved frescoes, though unfortunately Ostia’s crowning fresco at the Temple of Neptune was temporarily covered when we were there. It made us extremely uneasy.

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But after that brief excursion, some Jewish Ghetto fried artichokes, and apertivo-hopping/backpacking in our own neighborhood, we arrived in Palermo to one of the most beautiful views we had ever been lucky enough to eat pastries within view of.

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We saw the necessary Palermitano sights ‚Äď the Palermo Cathedral, the Palazzo di Normanni with its (gaudy) Cappella Palatina, the¬†botanical gardens, and the Teatro Massimo. But if we’re really going to be honest here, we chilled and we ate. And boy did we eat. Just a few of our standout meals:

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  • Arancine: A Sicilian specialty, these fried balls of rice with meat sauce or prosciutto in the center may be the world’s crowning street food.
  • Seafood risotto at a restaurant on the beach in Mondello. It was as amazing as it looks.
  • Squid ink pasta
  • Swordfish cooked with tomatoes, capers, and olives (just like my mommy does it! One of the best meals I’ve ever had) at¬†Trattoria ai¬†Cascinari, the best restaurant in Palermo according to several sources
  • Brioche filled with gelato…exactly what it sounds like

I know what you’re thinking (or not):¬†You went to Sicily and didn’t have any cannoli?!? I am extraordinarily saddened to report that we went to the alleged best place for cannoli in all of Palermo…and I didn’t love it. I don’t blame the cannolo: I blame a lifetime of exposure to the very thick, very sweet, very chocolate-chip filled, Americanization of the cannolo. But regardless, it just didn’t do it for me. I am so sorry foodies.

If you’re wondering what Mondello is from that name drop there, it’s Palermo’s main beach town, about twenty minutes away from the city. It’s also drop dead gorgeous. And made me feel like this:

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We frolicked along the beach in skirts and sundresses as the Palermitans huddled together in hoods and blankets, seemingly unaware that 65 degrees is reason to celebrate. And to finish up the ultimate girls trip, there was the Turkish bath,¬†Hammam. We doused ourselves in buckets of hot water while sitting on a giant marble slab, stifled uncomfortable laughter as a woman entered in nothing but a paper thong, were doused in another bucket of hot by the Hammam lady, sweated in a sauna so full of steam you couldn’t see a foot in front of you, got exfoliating massages, chilled out in the jacuzzi, and lost five pounds. Simultaneously exciting and relaxing, it was a perfect ending to the perfect mini-vacation.

 

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Last Time I Was In A Cave…

Screen shot 2013-02-05 at 2.01.24 PMQuite delayed indeed, as time seems to simultaneously amble along and fly by here. But our girls’ trip to Orvieto last Saturday cannot be disregarded. Here she is for point of reference, just an easy one-hour train ride from Roma Termini. On this particular map, the only places I have yet to visit are Perugia, Assisi (definitely going to take a day trip), Capri, and Naples. Just tearing through this country, man.

When you arrive in Orvieto, you are immediately ushered into a lift that takes you up the mountain to the city center, followed by a bus that drops you off right at the Duomo (Duomo No. 84710 in this dang country). Its real name is just as original: The Cathedral of Orvieto. Its appearance however…

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And that’s nothing compared to the inside. The history of this Duomo began in 1290 when Pope Nicholas IV blessed the first stone, and its creation was in conjunction with the 1293 miracle of Bolsena when the eucharist (allegedly) starting spontaneously bleeding during a blessing. I’m thinking that priest needed some emergency medical attention and just sucked it up when everyone started gasping and fainting and shouting, “It’s a miracle!” So props to that guy.

But seriously, the inside of this cathedral is unbelievable, definitely my favorite chapel interior I’ve seen so far. It’s a massive rectangular area with two flanking aisles of side chapels, but with a square tribune instead of a semi-circular apse thanks to the “generational crisis” and changing tastes around 1310. The best part are the two large chapel at the end of the transept arms. On the left, the Chapel of the Corporal, over the entrance of which hangs a gargantuan 16th-century organ designed by Ippolita Scalza. More importantly, the right “Capella Nova” chapel has some of the most ridiculous frescos I have ever seen in a fresco. And I do mean ridiculous. With paintings like the¬†End of the World, Preaching of the Antichrist, Resurrection of the Flesh, and¬†Antinferno,¬†the thing looks like a sci-fi movie. There’s dead people rising out of the ground, the devil shooting out lasers at people…it’s nuts. Also, there are portraits of ma boys Dante, Virgil and Lucretius, so that always goes in the “pro” column.

Apologies for the lengthy recap, I just want to be able to remember these things. Moving on to where all the most important parts of our day took place: underground. Orvieto is an ancient city people. In Latin, “urbs vetus,” which is where the name comes from. That said, there are a tremendous amount of Etruscan caves that are still being discovered. Caves like this:

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Last time I was in a cave, I learned the true meaning of being pigeon holed. Basically the Etruscans inhabited Orvieto from like the 9th – 3rd centuries BC, and each family would have one of these caves under their houses. They didn’t all keep pigeons (we saw some that were used to make olive oil), but there were¬†a lot of pigeons. They would just leave the window of the cave open, the pigeons would go out and feed themselves, come back to the cave, have babies, and then get eaten. I knew pigeons were stupid animals. This is the view from out the cave window. Not bad.

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And here’s an Etruscan well. Those holes on the side? Yeah, those are for their hands and feet as they climbed down to dig it out. Not scary at all.

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We loved being underground so much that we had to eat in one. And my God was that a good decision. Evidence: wild boar ragu. And the general caveness of this restaurant.

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Riding a wave of wild boar and black truffle-induced enthusiasm, we made the trek up the however-many stairs of Orvieto’s bell tower. And we were glad we did. Hello zebra church!

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Despite GALE FORCE WINDS. Seriously, we had to hold only the meatballs so they wouldn’t blow away.

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And finally, St. Patrick’s Well, which my Achilles wouldn’t let me go all the way down (maybe I should get that checked out).

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Orvieto man. 24 hours without being on ground level.

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Andiamo A Firenze!

SONY DSCFive days later… Let’s talk about Florence kids. The problem is, every time I actually have time to lie down on the couch and put fingers to keyboard, I have this problem where I pass out immediately. Honestly, I think I underestimated how exhausting the mere fact of living in a city is. I constantly feel grimy (sexy right?) and tired, so once I hit this couch it’s lights out. But currently I’m pushing through the pain of my straining eyelids to get this out before I forget everything that happened this past weekend.

To the left here we have “that important Florentine building,” known to most as the Palazzo Vecchio, or the town hall building of Florence. But let’s get to the important stuff, like appertivo and leather. ALL THE LEATHER.

Tips for buying leather in the Florence leather markets:

1. If you’re someone who would rather pay a little bit more money and put some faith in the good of humanity than be mistrusting, don’t go it alone. Everyone is so nice and friendly ‚Äď except that one guy who yelled at us to never come back ‚Äď that you will want to first of all, trust they are selling you real leather, and second, trust that when they say it’s the lowest possible price, it actually is. If this is you, find a heartless friend that’s willing to be a hardass to the poor friendly leather men who are just trying to make a decent living. I’m kidding; you really do need a less emotional ally.

2. When you find a random vendor named Moyne and hit it off and he shows you all of the differences between a real leather bag and a fake one, have your friend go back to the other guy who was trying to sell you the fake one and make sure he’s telling the truth, and then trust him and consult him on all future leather purchases. Also smile and ask for another discount for “being nice and trusting you all along,” because it be effective.

3. How to distinguish between fake and real leather bags:

  • Smell it.
  • Have them do the lighter test. But according to the almighty Moyne, a lot of the guys will just run the lighter over quickly, which doesn’t do anything even if it is fake. They have to hold it there for awhile
  • Check the inside zippers: metal good, plastic bad.
  • The thing inside that says genuine leather? Yeah, it should be leather.
  • Check the¬†stitching. For what? I don’t really know.

4. Always, always, always, leave and come back. Either you’ll know it’s the final price, or they’ll drop it down more as you walk away. Still walk away, compare prices at other places, and come back.

Follow these tips (and maybe make one last-minute probably too expensive but beautiful handmade boot purchase), and you’ll end up with these:

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Plus something for your mom that I can’t well post here lest I ruin the surprise. (Hi Emmy) Also be sure to check out the Mercato Centrale, because there are things like this there:

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Other highlights of Florence: the Galleria degli Uffizi and the Galleria dell’Accademia. Here’s what my notes on those two endeavors reveal to me: I learned that a polyptych is a painting divided into panels. Fillippo Brunelleschi¬†discovered¬†perspective. Yes, this is what my audioguide told me. He discovered it. Speaking of which, we studied perspective in drawing this week at the Basilica della Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill. Thank you Mr. Brunelleschi I guess:

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Santa Sabina, by Me

Other interesting notes from the Uffizi: One of my favorites was the Seven Virtues, first on the left by Botticelli¬†and the rest by Piero del Pollaiolo. Fun fact: Botticelli’s¬†La Primavera (Spring), apparently contains over 200 different species of flowers and plants. Don’t ask me how, but that’s what some botanist said in my headphones. Also, Francesco Melzi never saw boobs. We know this because he painted them so horrifyingly lopsided it is highly improbable that he ever had sex with a woman. Okay that one was mine. Real fact: the hyper elongation of the figures in¬†Parmigianino‘s work represents intellectual idealization ‚Äď go Renaissance right? But our (mine and Lily’s) favorite painting in the entire gallery was the one and only,¬†Ritratto di Donna, by Jacopo Negretti Vecchio. Though we cannot find an image online, even if we did we are certain no one could ever achieve the same depth of analysis as we did.

But you don’t need my trip to tell you about famous art. So let’s talk about cheese. A cheese so magical, so undeniably perfect, that I cannot remember how I managed through days without knowledge of its existence. My life was an aimless wandering through a forest of darkness, and this cheese brought me light. Pecorino con tartufi. It’s all I want, all I need. I wish I was exaggerating, I really do. Behold.

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Somehow I pried myself away from the cheese long enough to climb the incredibly creepy dark narrow steep spiraling staircases of the Duomo, aka Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Long enough to enjoy this view:

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And long enough, praise the Lord, that I could come down and witness this.

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Food

Noms (Gettin’ Domestic)

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I think this semester may actually do wonders for my ability to feed myself. Thursday night we made Pasta Primavera, and granted, I didn’t do any of the technical “cooking” because ovens still frighten me, but I totally cut up all these vegetables, and that wasn’t easy, because our knives are only a slight step above dining hall knives. (Don’t worry Mom they are sharp enough and I was very careful.) Last night we (aka Hannah and Lily) made fake chicken marsala ‚Äď fake because there were onions instead of mushrooms, thankfully ‚Äď which was also incredibly delicious. As Hannah says, I am in a class of my own when it comes to chopping onions and looking pretty.

As far as going out to eat, my favorite pizza so far has been in Trastevere. Couldn’t tell you what the name is because I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have one, or tell you exactly what kind it was, but I can show you a picture and tell you that it was freaking phenomenal.

20130114_182153How delicious does this look? I also finally made it to the famed Tony’s (formally known as Hostaria del Moro) on Friday night with a big group, and had the most insane penne alla vodka I have ever experienced (I just had the leftovers for dinner because the plate was enormous, and it was just as good the second time.)

Also, a favorite gelato flavor has officially been discovered: Cioccolato fondente. It’s like eating a brownie that’s 85% cocoa. One of the few gelato flavors that I have not found sickeningly sweet.

For evidence of my love of cioccolato fondente, I bring you a picture courtesy of one Miss Lily Marino, that encapsulates the joy, the beauty, the wonder, of being in Rome.

me cone

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