Saturday, February 19, 2011

Venice

We traveled by private motorboat to Venice.
It was my second favorite city visited.

It is a city built on water with no traffic except the human variety,
unique with its 117 islands
400 bridges
150 canals
and endless, twisted narrow streets.

The city is famous for gondolas, glass, lace and Carnevale (a month-long celebration of masked balls and street parties).

We took a guided tour throughout the city.

Piazza San MarcoOne of Europe's most beautiful squares
Basilica San MarcoOne of the best known examples of Byzantine architecture.
Teatro La FeniceOpera house. One of the most famous theaters in Europe.
After our tour, we watched a Murano glass-blowing demonstration.
It was interesting, but all of the glass goods were very expensive.
If I had found a glass monkey or peacock figurine, I would have bought it, but no such luck.
We visited the Il Merletto Lace School, the only lace school left in Venice.
Lace making is a dying art and we learned about its history and the process.
The lace was so intricate, beautiful and inexpensive.
I bought 4 small monogrammed handkerchiefs for myself, my sisters and my mother.The girls and I enjoyed lunch (mmm..gnocchi!) at a little restaurant tucked away in an alley.Following our lunch, we took a gondola ride and sipped on 2 bottles of the most delicious bellinis I have ever had.
We got gelato (were kicked out of table by a rude waiter).

Then wandered the alleys shopping and bought Venetian masks.
I bought a white and silver glitter feathered mask.
The girls tried to help me find the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. George and two Italian men gave us the wrong directions.
I felt badly about dragging them all over the streets of Venice so I told them that I would meet up with them after I found the Cathedral.

Finally, after asking a few more people, I found it.

The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. George

I was followed in to the Cathedral by 3 police officers (perhaps I looked suspicious?)
It was even more beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside (I have no photos of the interior, I find it disrespectful to photograph the inside of a Greek Orthodox Church like it's a tourist attraction).

I entered
crossed myself
kissed the icons of St. George
lit two candles
and stood before the altar to pray.

Right then, I became overcome with a flood of emotions.
And I began to cry
to really weep
uncontrollably.

It was like nothing I had ever felt before;
an accumulation of so many thoughts and feelings.
The beauty of the Cathedral
of this place
of this trip
of life.
Everything that I have experienced in the past year that led me to this place
and the events that changed my life and brought me here.
The second chance that God gave me
and the opportunity to be here to experience life and all of its beauty.
At that moment, perhaps more than ever, I felt so humbled and happy and blessed.

I am so very thankful for so very much.

After wards, I wandered (got lost) and saw lots of mask stores and glass stores and streets lit with hanging blue lights.
I finally met up with the girls and we went to dinner together.
We had another fun night of laughing, story-telling, wine-drinking and trying on our pretty new Venetian masks.

Sirmione, Verona & Venice

I was surprisingly energetic and not at all tired, despite the late night/early morning at "Hollywood".

We visited Sirmione on Lake Gardasaw the Scaliger Castle from the 13th century and tried the yummiest gelato.
The light fog and cold made it look somewhat eery, but very beautiful
It was so quiet and peaceful, perfect for a weekend getaway.


then we headed to Verona

I had been sort of dreading visiting such a romantic place on Valentine's Day,
but I ended up LOVING it.
The girls and I visited Juliet's Balcony and took photos with her statue.
I rubbed her arm for good luck.
Gum and graffiti covered the walls leading to the courtyard which reminded me of "BubbleGum Alley" in San Luis Obispo which I had visited with my best friends during a Spring Break road trip in 2009.

We explored the streets and shops and Meghan and I bought some beautifully embroidered aprons from here.

There were lots of small shops, but designer stores as well.
Verona is more like how I had imagined Milan would be.

On the bus ride back to the hotel, we were given Italian chocolates.
Each had a fortune in it.
Mine read "Fortune belongs to he who seeks it" :)

Valentine's Day Dinner

The girls and I a.k.a. my Valentines had a "romantic" (HAHA) dinner at a restaurant near our hotel.
Marika and I split an antipasti of mussels-yum!
And I ordered seafood spaghetti, again.

At dinner, "Boobie" and I discovered that we are sisters,
we both pledged Alpha Chi Omega in college!
We were both very (perhaps overly?) excited; what a happy and unexpected coincidence to meet a fellow sister randomly in Italy! :)

At dinner, I also found out that Meghan had studied Anthropology in college, like me.

The girls and I had a wonderful dinner telling stories, laughing and enjoying eachother's company.

After dinner, we walked (frolicked?) back to our hotel arm in arm.

I really enjoyed this Valentine's Day.
I'm glad to have met such a fun group of girls (who remind me a lot of my friends back at home) to spend it with.

Milan

Milan did not impress me and it was my least favorite place visited.

Maybe I expected too much from the "fashion and design capital of the world".

I had always visualized it as something similar to Rodeo Drive of Beverly Hills;
a long strip of designer stores and beautiful people.
It was more like a financial district with expensive shops here and there.

It is a great city if you
have no interest in history or culture
are boring
love to shop
have access to an unlimited supply of money.

At least now I can say I've been to Milan.

Duomo/Milan CathedralA gothic, pointy cathedral.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Milan's famous shopping arcade. It includes shops like Prada, Louis Vuitton & Gucci (which also had its own cafe!)

I had hoped to see the Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper, but the line was a mile long and our tour guide told us that one has to book 2 months in advance to see the painting.

At the end of the day, we got caught up in a large demonstration at Piazza Castello.
Apparently women across Italy rallied to protest Berlusconi's sex scandal.
And I thought earlier in the day they were setting up for a concert.
Women were carrying signs, chanting and waving white rags.
It was pretty amazing to be there and I got a lot of photogaphs.
You can read more about the rallies here, here, and here.

I was more excited about the protests than the shopping!

We checked in to the hotel and it was one of the best of the trip.We enjoyed risotto for dinner at the restaurant.

Since it was Valentine's Day Eve, some of the girls and I decided to go out to celebrate.
Tiana joined us and we headed to "Hollywood" in hopes of seeing some famous people.
We were told by several locals that this was the "best club in Milan" and that football stars and models visit frequently.
The club was full of anorexic-like skinny women who strutted like they were on a catwalk.
There was a 25 Euro cover charge, 5 Euro coat check and 10 Euro drinks.
I was not impressed with the venue itself (it reminded me of a dive bar, not an upscale club for the rich and famous), but we made the most of it and had a lot (I mean A LOT) of fun dancing the night away.
Outside with the girls we were talking about Valentine's Day and an Englishman overheard and bought me 3 roses off of a gypsy in the street.

We arrived back at the hotel at around 6 AM after a hilarious taxi ride.

Pisa, Cinque Terre & La Spezia

We were all in happy moods laughing about the previous night's events.

We left Florence to head to La Spezia.

It was raining. hard.
I put my Burberry umbrella (thanks mom!) to good use.


Along the way, we stopped at the Leaning Tower of Pisa and took the stereotypical pretend-to-be-holding-up-the tower photographs.
The Leaning Tower is Pisa's only claim to fame because there is nothing else around there of particular interest.
Except McDonald's.
And a very beautiful church, but those are all over Italy.

We left Pisa and hopped on the train to Cinque Terre ("The Five Lands"), a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera composed of five villages (we visited 2 of them).

At Monterosso al Mare, Rob (1/2 of an adorable married couple from Australia and fellow photography lover that I befriended), and I spent time snapping shots.
We wandered and met up with the group to try Focaccia (locals say the best focaccia is made here).I had a soft cheese and ham stuffed focaccia and it was to die for.

Next, we visited the village of Vernazza, where multicolored buildings cover the cliff side.
I climbed the top of a building and videotaped the crashing waves on the rocks.
It was pouring so hard that the rain soaked through my boots.
I usually hate the rain, but I loved every minute of it.
It was the most perfect rainy day, ever.
I would like to come again in the summer though to enjoy the beaches.
It was, however, very nice to be there in the off season since it was not crowded.
We traveled by train in to La Spezia where we dined on pesto pasta at Monticello, a small restaurant across from our hotel.
The girls and I spent the entire time deliriously giggling over nothing and making fun of people on our trip as Meghan elbowed the window every 5 seconds.
We got a kick out of our waiter Nico, who seemed grumpy and would only respond to us in the opposite language of whatever we spoke to him. (Thank you/Prego. Grazie/You're welcome).

We were all pretty wiped out and got to sleep early that night.

Florence

Florence was my absolute favorite city visited.

It is so rich with history.
Everywhere I looked there were buildings and statues.
Nothing I could write could truly explain Florence.
No photograph I could take could do this city justice.
You will have to visit it yourself to understand.We began the day at Leonardo's leather works for a demonstration on how leather goods are made.
I bought a 4-band Florence puzzle ring
(which took me 4 days to learn how to solve). The story behind the ring is that a Turkish Nobleman was in love with his wife and wanted to make sure that she was faithful to him while he was away. He asked his jeweler to make him a puzzle ring that would fall apart when removed, and he would not tell her the solution.

We got a guided tour of the city.
Basilica of Santa Croce
Piazza Signoria
the city's largest open air art museum (it's free!). We saw a copy of Michaelangelo's David in its original position outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the fountain of Neptune, the famous balcony featured in the movie "Hannibal" and an array of other sculptures (all original works) in the Loggia.
Palazzo Pitti/Pitti Palace
the former humble home of the powerful Medici family. If you are into art, the Palace here has shorter lines than the Uffizi. In this palace, Michaelangelo lived, Leonardo Da Vinci built the flying machine, Galileo built the telescope and Machiavelli wrote "The Prince". It was inspiring to be in this one place where so much thought and innovation took place.
The Duomo/Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Fiore
Florence's beautiful cathedral and the 4th largest in the world. It is so intricate on the outside and beautiful on the inside as well. My legs were still hurting from the day in Sorrento so I did not climb the
(436!) steps up the famous Brunelleschi Dome.
The church was so beautiful it made me weak in the knees.
I.kid.you.not.
Mercato Nuovo.New Market
The market stalls we passed selling all sorts of goods
Porcellino
A pig with a very shiny nose which when rubbed is supposed to bring you good luck/means you will return to Florence.
Porte Vecchio/Bridge of GoldOne of Florence's most famous landmarks. The shops on the bridge are almost exclusively goldsmiths.
After our guided tour, the girls and I went for lunch at Le Botteghe di Donatello.
A man named Vincent suggested it to us and I am so glad.
I had a delicious seafood spaghetti.
This was
the best meal I had in Italy.
The owner, Rita is a sweet woman and the service is great.
If you ever visit Florence, you
must eat here.
Galleria dell'AccademiaThe small museum which houses Michaelangelo's original sculpture of David.
It is about a 5-minute walk from the Duomo in the center of Florence.
Michaelangelos' David
The most perfect work of art I have ever laid my eyes on.
I could not look away.
It is massive
(16 feet tall+the podium on which it stands) and every detail made it seem as if I was looking at a real-life person. It is absolute perfection-every muscle, every vein, just incredible.
It stands in a room all its own, illuminated by lights and the sun through sky lights.
Luckily, it is low season and the museum wasn't packed so the girls and I had time
to stare
to admire
and to sneak photographs.
It is difficult to believe that it was carved from one solid piece of marble
and that no subject posed for the carving.

After, the girls and I got some postcards and enjoyed a siesta.

That evening we drove back to Tuscany for dinner.
An entire pig was rolled out with flames.
Yum.

That night, we went out to Space Electronic Discoteque. It wasn't exactly what I had hoped for; there were more tourists than locals, but I made the most of it, danced a lot and had a good time.

Barry, Callum
(aka Scotland), Mandi, Rob and I walked back to the hotel, but took a wrong turn along the way.
I didn't mind though because Florence is just as pretty at night and we had a nice walk/talk.
Some Italians took our photograph as we posed in front of Neptune's fountain.