Posts Tagged ‘traveling’

Foodie finds food!

Peas, Herbs and Garlic Scapes

So much awesomeness for my last day in Boulder! The second day of Food and Light, wonderful lunch at The Kitchen, and an unbelievable dinner at Frasca Food & Wine. In the midst of all this, I have decided that I want to live in Boulder – not necessarily right now, because I’m pretty sure I could barely afford a broom closet, but eventually – maybe in the Whittier area… hmm..

The workshop was, of course, fantastic. Diane Cu and Helen Dujardin led discussions on artificial and natural lighting, exploring speedlights/flashes/strobes as well as bounces/scrims & diffusers and how to use these different tools to properly light a given subject and create different effects. Super helpful and informative, both in terms of techniques but also tools and future purchases (aka more additions professional wishlist).

Mmm lunch!

After our morning session, I returned to The Kitchen for another fabulous gluten-free lunch. Instead of the lamb burger, I got in touch with my inner Italian with a prosciutto and burrata sandwich with arugula, mint and balsamic dressing on grilled Udi’s bread – YUM! – with a warm Yukon potato salad. I headed back to the gallery for our afternoon session, which featured two awesome demos on food styling by Diane and Helen, highlighting their different approaches to planning and composing a shot – so cool!! Our afternoon session ended with a little bit more shooting, followed by five photo contests with two winners each, judged by both our instructors and peers. It was so amazing to see everyone else’s photos – so now I’ll share them with you here!

After we wrapped up for the day, I headed over to Frasca Food & Wine for one of the single-most amazing meals of my life. A warm roasted beet salad with blistered grape tomatoes, burrata cheese and radishes in a light vinaigrette followed by a gorgeous risotto of chicken conserva with Chanterelle mushrooms, thyme and leeks – it was smooth and delicious, a perfect blend of flavors – and so light! I daresay, it was almost refreshing, even in this heat! If I could have that every day, I could die happy (probably of a heart attack, but that’s beside the point!). Finished editing photos and packing, now it’s time to veg out in my hotel room before my 8h30a shuttle ride to the airport and home to Seattle!

Mmm cherries!

Cherry Chile Chocolate from Chocolove

Donut Peaches

Baguette and Olives

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Food and Light

Dried Chiles

What a day! The first day of the Food and Light workshop was fantastic, although it started off a bit rocky. I set my alarm last night and, exhausted, fell asleep around 9h30. I must have turned off my 7h00 alarm in my sleep, because I awoke at 7h46 in a panic – the workshop begins at 8h00. I ran around like an idiot getting ready, shoving my contacts in, grabbing my camera and laptop, etc. and – to my utter amazement – appeared, presentable, on time at the gallery across the street! But oh man, what a way to start the day!

The first part of the workshop covered the pretty basic fundamentals of photography and the camera, etc. and spent a lot of time doing hands-on work with different props and other things. Grabbed an unbelievable lunch at The Kitchen – “Boulder’s Community Kitchen” – which stocks locally sourced ingredients (including Udi’s gluten-free bread!!) and is generally eco-friendly (the kitchen runs on wind-powered electricity and the used oil is recycled to run the owner’s car). I had their amazing fire-grilled lamb burger with pepper, tomato and mango chutney on Udi’s bread, with french fries and a green salad with a big, refreshing glass of iced tea – delicious, filling, and perfect in the heat!

Fire-Grilled Lamb Burger & Fries
Grilled lamb burger on Udi’s gluten-free bread from The Kitchen

The second half of the workshop included a lecture on lighting and lenses, then more hands-on work-time in the gallery with cool props, great people and our fabulous instructors. Here are a few examples of what I’ve been up to… and a link to the Food and Light Flickr group – let me know what you think!

Dreamy Raspberry Cupcake

Fresh Blueberries

Fresh Strawberries and Raspberries

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Colorado, ho!

Gorgeous, no?

Well! Just arrived in Boulder and I am so excited for the Food and Light workshop tomorrow and Tuesday. Located in the Rembrandt Yard art gallery, right in the heart of historic Boulder, my attendance at the two-day workshop is a graduation present from my family – aren’t they wonderful? I could laud their amazingness for pages, but I wouldn’t want to bore you. In any case, the workshop is taught by four of my all-time favorite photographers: Diane Cu and Todd Porter, Helen Dujardin and Jen Yu. If you really try, I’m sure you can conjure up some idea of my excitement!

I’m staying in the charming, historic hotel near the Pearl Street Pedestrian mall – it’s all dark wood, chintz fabric and highbacked chairs – basically, super cool. I took a leisurely stroll (almost two miles…) to the 29th Street Mall to have dinner at the wonderful Laudisio and boy, is it worth it!

Antipasto: gluten free breadsticks and a Bibb lettuce salad with pancetta, fennel, grapefruit, chevre and a grainy mustard vinaigrette.

Primo: Polenta baked with creamy spinach, ricotta and Gruyere, with a puttanesca sauce and fresh tomatoes in a crisp parmesan cup.

“Living Bibb” insalata

Polenta alla “Boulder”

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Civita di Bagnoregio
Civita di Bagnoregio

Today was another long day in the field – but so amazing! We met our charter bus at 7h45 this morning, driving (albeit rather slowly) for almost three hours to Orvieto. We took the funicular from Orvieto Scalo to Orvieto proper and proceeded first to the most adorable artisan chocolaterie, then to the cathedral. Il Duomo (1290s-1310) is intense: a solidly Gothic cathedral, constructed from alternating layers of volcanic rock: black basalt and white-gold tufa, looking kind of like a Beetlejuice layer cake. Yeah. Anyway, it is one of few definitively Gothic churches in Italy and is utterly unique at that: the facade is decorated with bas reliefs, unbelievable mosaics, a large rose window with complex tracery and sculpted pilasters and columns inlaid with gold and marble tiles. The facade is most known for the aforementioned mosaics which shine brilliantly (some might argue blindingly) in the afternoon sun, making the cathedral glisten like a beacon on the hilltop.

Inside, the basalt/tufa construction continues, and you come to notice that the lancet windows are not glass (obvious from the outside) but they are not bricked over, either – they are outfitted with paper thin panels of marbled alabaster, which casts a gentle golden light on the side chapels and aisles. The late 16th-early 17th century design campaign, initiated by the Opera dell Duomo (a civic committee of laymen who have been in charge of the cathedral’s design since the 14th century) was a major art historical event, but the products are no longer in situ. The sculptures and altar were removed in the 19th-20th century when the interior was renovated back to its Late Medieval appearance. Thus, the 12 apostles (by various artists), Francesco Mochi’s Annunciation, and the highly architectural tabernacle have all been removed to local museums.

That being said, there is still much to see in the Duomo: the Cappella del Corporale (Chapel of the Corporal) which features the relic from the Miracle at Bolsena (which I am not going to get into, but do read it for yourself), as well as the Cappella Nuova which features frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Fra Angelico. Unfortunately, the Cappella del Corporale is really dark and has a rather odd fresco cycle depicting scenes from both the Miracle at Bolsena and the history of the Eucharist. The Cappella Nuova, from the 16th century, has intense frescoes by Signorelli of the Apocalypse/Book of Revelations, the Last Judgment and scenes of Heaven in the vaults, as well as Fra Angelico’s depiction and Christ with the Apostles over the altar. On the walls proper, there are portraits of poets and humanist scholars (like Dante) and tondos depicting scenes of historical violence and martyrdom, as well as a Lamentation which both quotes the Meleager sarcophagus and a miniature reproduction of the antique itself in the background.

We finished up at the cathedral then walked across town to the museum. Oh my goodness, my inner (okay, outer) art history nerd was in HEAVEN: Francesco Mochi’s Angel and Virgin Annunciate right there, in front of me. AH. I can’t even tell you how unbelievably amazing it is to see two of your favorite sculptures in person, without a huge crowd, not sequestered behind bulletproof glass or ten feet away behind a railing. AH. Okay, so the story of Francesco Mochi’s Annunciation is awesome – basically, the young artist, untried and untested, was suggested to the Opera del Duomo by Alessandro Farnese c. 1600. Now, the Farnese had a pretty big influence in Orvieto and the Opera conceded, granting Mochi the opportunity for his first major commission which produced what I consider to be the first sculpture of the Baroque. Look at the angel! His drapery is twisting, rustling, whirling – as if he is streaking down from heaven like a meteorite, about to crash land on the altar! Erm, ok maybe not, but it does look like he’s still in the process of racing to reach the Virgin. And the technique! The undercutting is so intense and the base so tiny, but the whole work is an unbelievably set of counterweights and the whole thing balances perfectly, but to obtain this, the draper is so thin in places, that if you get down on the floor and look up (which I totally did), you can see the light shining through. AH. Bernini-shermnini! (It’s ok Gian Lorenzo, I still love you).

And the Virgin! Here she is, her profile modeled, first of all, after the sybil a 13th century Tuscan sculptor, Giovanni Pisano (Mochi was all about the Tuscan tradition and saw himself as part of the legacy of Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo). Anyway, the Virgin – this sculpture was super controversial at the time – not that you would ever know it now. The Bishop of Orvieto* refused to allow it to be installed on the high altar because he found it extremely inappropriate – why? Well, two reasons: first of all, he argued that her drapery was too clingy and, albeit not revealing, but evocative – of the wrong sort of idea. Second, he felt that it was not the kind of moment we wanted to represent – here she is, grabbing her dress, and looking totally startled/annoyed/frightened – she stood up from her reading (as the text goes) so quickly that her drapery is tangled on the chair and the chair itself is rocking off the floor – but then, if a speeding angel appeared in your bedroom, bearing news that you were at this very moment conceiving the son of G-d, wouldn’t you freak out too? Anyway, after three years of stonewalling, the Opera won out and the pair was installed.

Okay, okay I’ll stop. After the museum, we wandered around Orvieto for a few hours, souvenir shopping and grabbing lunch before meeting back up, taking the funicular back down the mountain and hailing our charter bus – next stop, Civita di Bagnoregio!

Civita, an hour or so from Orvieto, is a teeny little town in two parts: the more modern part, and across a canyon, the more famous medieval hilltop town. We walked down the mountain, then back up on that teeny little footbridge in the lower right of the picture. Uh huh. But our efforts were rewarded! The most amazing bruschetta (so I was told) with wonderful cheese and house-made olive oil and wine. The family who owns the osteria has been producing olive oil in Civita for 500 years and now also produces red wine and honey – and they’re amazing. The olive oil is light and olive-y and almost garlicky, but delicious. Oh wow.

We left Civita around 19h15 and didn’t get back to Rome until 22h00… yeah, just a little bit later than our professori had anticipated, so they’re cutting us a bit of a break tomorrow, giving us a late start. Thank goodn

* Oh did I mention that this bishop also collected paintings by Caravaggio? Yeah. Triumphant Love is totally cool, but this Virgin is ALL WRONG.

Orvieto - Guitarist
Guitarist performing near il Duomo

Orvieto - Il Duomo (Exterior)
Il Duomo (Orvieto Cathedral) henceforth known as the Beetlejuice Basilica

Orvieto - Il Duomo (Exterior Detail)
Detail of the intricate Gothic facade

Orvieto - Il Duomo (Nave)
Il Duomo – Nave

Chiese Orvieto
Two churches and rooftops, en route to the museum

Orvieto - Giardino
Arcaded atrium (I love arcades in sharp lighting)

Mochi's Annunciation
Mochi’s Virgin Annunciate (1608-09)

Mochi's Annunciation
Mochi’s Angel of the Annunciation (1603-05)

Mochi's Annunciation
Detail of Mochi’s Angel

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Ah, Roma!

Il Stazione
Stazione Roma Tiburtina

Today was beautifully, remarkably uneventful. We woke up early and caught the 9h39 train as we had planned, arriving back in Rome around 13h15. Unfortunately, we arrived back at Roma Tiburtina at 13h15 and couldn’t catch a local commuter to Stazione Termini until 14h00. Ah well, the sun was warm and there were wildflowers growing between the tracks that were begging for a portrait! Alas, nothing was open and we were unable to restock our sadly, sadly depleted refrigerator, but we all have pasta, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic as well as peanut butter and jelly, so we’ll be just fine.

On a side note, I am fairly certain that I am, in fact, allergic to Rome. Every time I leave the city, my nose stops running and I stop sneezing – as soon as we come back, 20 minutes later, I’m sneezing, my eyes are itching and my nose is starting to drip. Attractive, no? Oh, Roma.

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Vasto - Pier
Pier out over the Adriatic Sea

Happy May Day! I’ll be honest, it was a little more (or less) happy here! In Italy, May 1st is also Labor Day and everyone takes the day off to be with their families, hit the beach, whatever. On the down side, everyone takes the day off and practically nothing is open – you’ll be lucky to find an open bar for your morning espresso!

Today was gorgeous – we took the train from Chieti to Pescara and from Pescara to Vasto, a small seaside town an hour or so away. We arrived just after 11h00 and immediately hit the beach, walking along the shallows for over an hour before deciding to head up to the town itself. Now, we were too cheap/lazy to find a bus, buy a ticket and deal with all of that so we elected to walk up the mountain. Yes, mountain. It took us an hour, in sundresses, sandals and 75F sun-shining weather, but we did make it, and only mildly dehydrated/sunburnt at that. We walked around Old Vasto for a few hours, grabbing lunch at a charming local restaurant (okay, it was our only choice – nothing was open) where we feasted (okay, not really) on local Pecorino cheese and a balsamic reduction, a salad for myself and pasta for the girls. This not-quite-epic lunch was, however, followed by the most amazing gelato ever (not to mention cheap! €1.80/medium aka 3 flavors mounded into a giant cup). Of course, I got hazelnut, coffee and dark chocolate — how can you go wrong! — but the vanilla, coconut/dark chocolate as well as lemon and cherry/cream were apparently excellent as well.

We meandered our way down the mountain, past orange trees and farms, along the highway, through the new part of town, past the old train station and back to the beach. We walked the boardwalk on our way back to the (new) train station, picking up some souvenirs along the way (I found adorable wood earrings and Gina found a bouquet of 15 hand-woven silk flowers). We headed back to the train station, walking past restaurants and hotels we had passed that morning, enjoying the cool breeze and warm afternoon sun. We ended up taking the 18h41 train back to Pescara – no big deal, there were two more that ran that night, one at 20h00 and one at 22h00. However, in the process of booking our tickets from Pescara to Chieti, we were confronted with the realization that there were no more trains that evening – the last one left Pescara at 18h00 and there would not be any more until tomorrow morning. We were a little concerned, but Pescara is not far from Chieti and our hosts had encouraged us to just take the bus anyway – so we would do that.

An hour and a half later, we pull into Pescara Centrale – pleasantly sunburnt (I daresay) and ready to head home for dinner. We visit the newsstand/bus-ticket-purveyor in the lobby only to hear that there are also no more buses tonight. Great. We had to call Tony. 20 minutes later, Tony pulls up in the rickety (albeit stable) Fiat Punto we have become so accustomed to and we take off, once again at breakneck speed, through Pescara, along the turnpike and back to Chieti. Fortunately, we leave early tomorrow morning (9h39) and will be back in Rome in the afternoon, just in time for… oh wait. It will be Sunday. Like good roommates, we cleaned out all of our perishables before leaving the apartment for three days; like unadvised foreigners, we didn’t set anything aside because we didn’t know any better. At least there’s Monday!

Vasto - View to the Beach
View of the Adriatic Sea and the Beach from Old Vasto – see that skinny little dock? That’s the pier in the previous photograph.

Vasto - Carousel
Carousel on the Vasto Boardwalk

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Taranta Peligna

Taranta Peligna
Window + balcony of another abandoned building in Taranta Peligna

Well, as it were, Tony’s friend ended up not being able to go with us this morning, so Tony drove us himself. It’s roughly an hour and a half drive from Chieti Scalo to Taranta Peligna, the small mountain town where Maria’s great grandmother, Maria DiNardo is originally from. The country is beautiful, and the route took us along sharply winding roads through the Maiella mountains, through Fara San Martino (where the best spaghetti in the world is produced- according to Tony- using water from a mountain spring) and Casoli.

Taranta Peligna (the name has something to do with tarantulas – fantastic, no?) is a small, small town (population c. 500), nestled into the side of the Maiella mountains in the Aventino River valley. We rolled into town in Tony’s cobalt blue Fiat around noon and, in true Italian form, immediately pulled over to talk to someone. It turns out, Tony spotted three aging gentleman and immediately began explaining to them the whole situation: we’re three American girls, studying in Rome, staying in Chieti Scalo at his B&B and that Maria is trying to find her roots, here, in this town. He asked about Maria DiNardo, Maria’s great grandmother, and the three gentlemen hopped into their respective cars and we wagon trained 1/4 mile down the road to a small house on the hill. One of the gentlemen introduced us to the family – two aging siblings (in their 80s), and their daughter, explaining that these are the DiNardo’s and that they must be Maria’s distant cousins. After trying to sort through names and relationships from c. 1920, we were invited in for cookies and juice, and met the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of the siblings who might be Maria DiNardo’s brother’s children. We spent an hour trying to sort the whole thing out, to little success but great excitement. It was amazing to just show up at someone’s home as a long lost relative and be well-received, even invited in for an afternoon snack.

We made our way down to City Hall to speak to another DiNardo and check the ledgers of all the people and families in Taranta Peligna who emigrated to America. Not much luck, but we were pointed in the direction of a local man – Enrico Rosato – who was just returning from Rome this very afternoon and whose hobby it is to catalogue the family histories of Taranta Peligna. We stopped in at a small bar and got ice cream (oh Magnum bars, how I will miss you!), before the amateur biographer arrived, at which point, Gina and I wandered off in search of adventure.

And did we find adventure… We found the medieval castle/church/fortress near the Aventino River, and behind it, a small abandoned house. Technically, there was no breaking, only entering, but we definitely had to duck under construction fencing… oh well. The house itself was small (four rooms between two storeys, maybe 200 square feet in all) and was obviously used, at some point, as a local after hours hang out spot for high school kids. We were poking around, looking at things when Gina found a Rolling Stones album and I found the box of an original Diana+ camera…from the 1970s. Upon further investigation, all of the magazines and newspapers still on the floor also seemed to hail from this period and it was a little disturbing, this cute little house in the shadow of a church would be abandoned for 40 years.

We wandered our way back to the bar/cafe, only to find a half-dozen people crowded around the table with Maria, Tony and the biographer. They had found Maria Vincenza DiNardo, born in the 1890s. After another few hours and much discussion (during which time Gina and I ended up falling asleep in the shade by the river…oops.) it seems as though we may have found the right family. Maria (and Gina and myself) were introduced to another pair of aging siblings (also in their mid-late 80s), a granddaughter, a grandson and a great-grandson (although he was only two or three) and were able to see the ruined foundations of the house in which they think Maria DiNardo was born, way back when. All in all, it was a fruitful day, and the hour and a half car ride home seemed much less anxious in the fading afternoon sun.

Tony’s wife and our gracious hostess, Amina, offered to make us dinner – much easier than trying to find another open and nearby restaurant, we were thrilled at the offer. She made whole roasted spigola, a type of white fish about the size of trout, but which tastes more like mahi mahi or tilapia, with roasted potatoes, a green salad with sliced heirloom tomatoes, a local cheese (with bread), imported walnuts and a fruit salad for dessert. It was lovely and, if you know my eating habits well, you’ll be shocked and amazed that I dealt with a whole fish (admittedly, headless) on my own and actually ate almost all of it.

Tomorrow we’re off to beautiful, coastal Vasto for a day at the beach!

Taranta Peligna
Small masonry building just outside Taranta Peligna

Taranta Peligna
Houses in Taranta Peligna

Vineyards in Chieti
Afternoon view from our B&B towards a neighbor’s vineyard

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From Palazzi to Chieti

San Marco at Palazzo Venezia
The Nave of San Marco, part of Palazzo Venezia

What a day! We started off with a class on Renaissance palazzi in Rome, primarily cardinals’ residences built in the mid-14th century. We began at Palazzo Venezia and examined the courtyard (albeit from a distance, as the palazzo now houses the office of the superintendent of monuments) and the interior, which is a unique juxtaposition of Classical forms (exterior) with Gothic elements (interior). In light of our reading, this juxtaposition seems to be a formal expression of the relationship between secular and religious spaces.

We next visited Palazzo Mattei in the Sant’Angelo neighborhood (right next to the Fontana della Tartarughe that I spent so much time trying to find a few weeks ago) just to briefly see another Renaissance palace – this one is outfitted with antique sculptures and busts, as well as parts of friezes and grave markers that have been incorporated into the architecture of the courtyard. Afterwards, we took a brief break at the Campo before walking over to the Cancelleria, another cardinal’s palace which incidentally abuts the Campo. One of the largest palazzi in Rome, the Cancelleria also juxtaposes Classical forms (used in the courtyard and exterior, although according to an Albertian ideology) with Gothic and Early Christian elements of the titular church enclosed therein.

After class broke up for the weekend, Gina, Maria and I grabbed a quick lunch and ran some errands before heading over to Stazione Termini to catch our train to Chieti. As it turns out, we had to connect in Tiburtina, which is the smaller train station on the outskirts of Rome, and then took a 2 1/2 hour train to Chieti where the wonderful owner of the B&B we’re staying came to pick us up! Tony and his wife, Amina, are a wonderful couple and incredibly hospitable hosts. Because of increased traffic this weekend (May Day and there’s a military event nearby), Tony and Amina ended up giving us their bedroom for the weekend – talk about above and beyond! Tony, evidently, was born and raised in Chieti but moved to Philadelphia when he was in his 20s and lived there for 35 years before marrying a childhood sweetheart and returning to Italy. They are the sweetest couple, driving us the short way into town to a restaurant for dinner and picking us up again so that we would not have to walk in the dark. Tomorrow, we’re heading to Taranta Peligna, a small town about an hour and a half away where Maria’s great grandparents are originally from – more details then!

Oh, and in other news – we got our midterms back today and my grade was a pleasant confirmation of how I was feeling afterwards AND I was featured on Everyday Intensity as one of Five Young People to Inspire You! Very excited! Thanks Lisa!

Palazzo Venezia
Staircase inside Palazzo Venezia

Palazzo Mattei - Busts
Busts along the Balustrade in the Courtyard of Palazzo Mattei

Palazzo Mattei - Windows
Windows into the Courtyard of Palazzo Mattei

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Villa d'Este - Le Cento Fontane
Le Cento Fontane (Avenue of 100 Fountains) at Villa d’Este

So… tired…

Kit and I met up at 9h00 this morning to head out to Tivoli, a small town 40km from Rome
This required catching the autobus 87 from Largo (di Torre) Argentina to the Colosseum, taking the Metro linea B to Tiburtina, and then a treno regionale for an hour and a half out to Tivoli. It was kind of ridiculous. So, at 11h30 we finally roll into the station – a teeny little building, two tracks, and one platform – which you have to traverse (by way of plywood planks between the gaps) to navigate between the platform and the station.

We head out of the station and immediately see signs for Villa d’Este (our destination) and also Villa Gregoriana, pointing the same direction. We get to a roundabout and, of course, the signs are conspicuously absent, so we walk over to a picturesque little lookout and voila, the Villa Gregoriana.

Now, “villa” is a loosely applied term. For €5 you are granted access to a beautiful park-space (in the style of well-preserved wildlife parks in the states, sans wildlife) with defined trails leading between different sublime (in the 19th century sense of the word) panoramas and picturesque locations. One particular element is the Grand Cascade (Aniene Falls) which drops 120m, diverting water from Aniene to the valley below. The Villa pivots around the Aniene Falls, part of an artificial diversion of the river constructed in 1835 at the behest of Pope Gregory XVI in response to the devastating flood of 1826. While the falls are lovely, the route to reach the lookout necessitates 95 steep, travertine stairs down, and the breath-taking (in the unpleasant, impending pulmonary embolism sort of way) 95-steps back up to the main trail. We did it – and it was lovely.

Other features include the Bernini Cascade – and no, it’s not what you’re thinking. Literally, Bernini constructed an early subterranean canal between the Aniene and the Valley of Hell (the valley upon which villa Gregoriana is perched) which culminates in a cascade – thus, the Bernini cascade! Anti-climactic, I know.

There are close to a dozen waterfalls, mostly natural, which funnel water down into the valley to join the small lake (and river) at the base of the Aniene falls. Around these cascades are natural caverns, formed by water rushing through the porous tufa stone, creating really cool looking formations and interesting passages of water. Two of these caverns were named in the 19th century by Romantic (French) poets: the Mermaid Grotto and Neptune’s Grotto, both worth seeing, but unfortunately, no mermaids.

The problem with Villa Gregoriana is this: once you hike your way down to the Mermaid Grotto, you’re feeling alright – perhaps you’re a little tired, but there’s tons to see and the air is nicely cooled by the mist from the grotto. Unfortunately, you look up and realize that you are at the bottom of the Valley of Hell and must make your way back up to the top – either back the way you came, or up towards the temple ruins and the gift shop. Half way up, you reach the Grotto of Neptune and are refreshed, but the last third of the trek, the pathway now consisting of eroded tufa instead of dirt, you stop wondering why they call it the Valley of Hell.

We finally made it to the top, passed through the irritatingly air conditioned bookshop and wandered our way back to the main road. The signs direct you to the uscita (exit) through this little alley, but that’s it – one sign, taped to a building, and you’re on your own. We make it back, cross the small stone bridge spanning the valley and find ourselves back at the unmarked roundabout. Heading in the only other possible direction, we walk for another 15 minutes (uphill, on a two-lane road, with no sidewalk) before reaching another roundabout with a distinct lack of signage. We guessed correctly, as it were, and after another 10 minutes of uncertain wandering, we found a sun-bleached sign that indicated that the Villa d’Este was to our right. 10 more minutes and we arrived – along with every other tourist in Lazio. Seriously. (Okay, maybe not). You see, today kicked off settimana della cultura – Italian culture week – which, in addition to hosting a ton of cool events, provided free entrance into state-run museums, archeological sites, etc. So, in addition to ourselves, there were a half-dozen senior citizen groups, a dozen or so different school groups (kids between ages 8-18 running about bored) and dozens upon dozens of tourists. Yikes – but so worth it.

Now, as many of you know, this is one of the principal sites I’ve been dealing with in my research. My honors thesis relates three gardens – the Villa Giulia in Rome, Villa Farnese in Caprarola and Villa d’Este in Tivoli – to both each other and the larger picture of garden design and aesthetic theory in the late Renaissance. All three villas were constructed circa 1550 and are all near Rome (Caprarola is a little under 70km northwest of Rome and Tivoli, 40km east) but each embody different aspects of Renaissance, and particularly Mannerist, ideologies concerning aesthetics, architecture and the role of the villa. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see the garden in person, and I was not disappointed. Admittedly, the Fountain of the Pegasus was under construction, and the Fountain of the Tivoli (also known as the Fontana dell’Ovata) was drained due to hydraulic problems, and most of the catena d’acqua were fountains were not running, it was still unbelievably cool.

We meandered around the property for almost four hours before heading back, realizing a much more direct path back to the train station, and arriving just in time to catch the 16h26 train back to Rome – fortunate because the next – and last – train back to the city didn’t leave until almost 18h00. On the upside, transportation is cheap – €3 for the bus rides to and from the metro station and the metro rides to and from Tiburtina, then only €4.60 roundtrip to Tivoli (total of $10.26 USD) so it really wasn’t anything to complain about. That being said, I am exhausted. Villa Gregoriana was a hike and in our four hours at the villa, Kit and I probably walked the whole thing three times over. I would be foolish to estimate distance, but I’m not that out of shape and the only thing I can think of is sleep.

Stay tuned for more adventures al’Italia.

Villa Gregoriana – Cascade through the Valley of Hell

Villa Gregoriana – Grand Cascade

Villa Gregoriana – Grotto of the Mermaids

Villa Gregoriana – Temple of Vesta

Villa d’Este – The Fountain of Neptune and Bernini’s Water Organ

Villa d’Este – The Rometta: Goddess Roma with Romulus + Remus and the Shewolf

Villa d’Este – The Rometta: Skyline of Ancient Rome

Villa d’Este – Fountain of the Dragons

Villa d’Este – Catena d’Acqua

Villa d’Este – Medusa Catena d’Acqua

Villa d’Este – Diana of Ephesus, the Goddess of Fertility // Mother Nature

Villa d’Este – Wisteria-covered Walkway

Villa d’Este – Wisteria

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Rah Rah ROMA Ma*

Santa Maria di Aracoeli, Vicenza, Veneto, Italy, Italia, church
Santa Maria di Aracoeli, Vicenza

Sigh. The weekend is unfortunately over… We checked out of our hostel this morning and wandered around Vicenza, one last time. We walked back over to Querini Park to see it during proper daylight hours, encountering Santa Maria di Aracoeli and a flock of roosters. That’s right, roosters. Loud, young, brightly colored roosters.

Anyway, we continued our walk to the train station, stopping at the Campo Marzio on the way – a smaller park at the far opposite end of Corso Palladio which had been closed when we had walked by in the past. The park itself is filled with reproductions (ok, poor reproductions) of famous sculptures, including Greco-Roman urns, Bernini’s Rape of the Sabines and something that might have been the Apollo and Daphne, in a past life. In any case, the park was small, but gorgeous, and a perfect way to exit the town.

The train ride back was uneventful; still 5 1/2 hours I wish I had back, but it gave me time to begin listening to Frances Hogdson Burnett’s A Little Princess and slept a little bit. I’m excited to be back in Rome, but I’ll forever have warm memories of Vicenza.

*Just for the record, I don’t even like Lady Gaga – sorry.

Reproduction of an ancient Greco-Roman urn at Campo Marzio

Vicenza Roosters
Vicenza Rooster… in a tree

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Villa Capra, La Rotonda, Villa La Rotonda, villa Italy Italia Vicenza
Villa Capra “La Rotonda”

Woke up early this morning and booked it to the train station, intending to take the 9h05 train to Desenzano on Lago di Garda. Unfortunately, “The best intentions…” and all that – our train was full and the next one didn’t leave until 11h35, so what are we to do at 8h45? We walked to Villa Capra “La Rotonda”, that’s what. It was a half-hour walk through the outskirts of Vicenza, up a long, gentle hill but there we were. We had some time before it officially opened at 10h00, so we walked down a serpentine dirt road to the mysterious Villa Valmarana ai Nani – the Villa of the Dwarves. Although we did not enter to the villa itself (€8/person just to fill some time seemed unnecessary), the gardens were gorgeous, the dwarf statues charming and personable, and as luck would have it, there was a sordid legend. The plot thickens.

Legend has it that one of the Valmarana daughters was afflicted with dwarfism. To disguise her disability, her parents only hired other dwarves to staff the villa and its property so that their daughter would never realize her handicap. Of course, one day a handsome prince rode by and, falling madly in love with him, the daughter professes her feelings. The prince, certainly not Charming, was so offended that someone so afflicted would speak to him, he immediately rejected her and fled the scene. The daughter was so devastated, she committed suicide and, in their horrified and grief-stricken state, all of her servants turned to stone.

I told you it was sordid.

Anyway, 10h00 rolled around and we ventured over to Villa Capra – it was amazing. I have studied this work in every architecture course I’ve ever taken, in several art history classes and even in landscape design, it is that cool. So lucky to see it in person – I can’t even tell you. The villa itself was designed by Andrea Palladio and built in 1565 for Paolo Almerico, a Vatican priest and secretary to Pope Paul IV, as a retirement villa in the antique style – that is, based on the writings of Pliny the Younger, the villa was meant to be a country pleasure palace for leisurely (intellectual) activities. Inspired by the Pantheon, the house is perfectly symmetrical. Perfectly. And while it inspired countless structures since its completion, the most notable descendent is Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello outside of Charlottesville, VA, built between 1809-1826.

We wandered our way back to the stazione and caught our train to Desenzano, one of a dozen small towns on the shores of Lago di Garda (Lake Garda) at the foot of the Alps. Fairly touristy but absolutely gorgeous (it was a beautiful 70F with blue skies and bright sunshine all day), I was reminded of California. The sidewalks bordering the lake are edged with palm trees and there is even a cute hotel called the ‘Imbarcadero’.

The lake itself is huge and turquoise and edged with roughly hewn blocks of white quartz and lovely. The cool air blows in from the north, providing a brief respite from the heat of the blazing sun. I would have perhaps enjoyed the city more if I ate seafood – an obvious local specialty – but alas, this is not the case and I enjoyed a creamy wild mushroom soup for lunch instead.

The train ride back was uneventful and we returned to Vicenza exhausted, sun-kissed and thrilled. We crashed at the hostel, sent e-mails, changed clothes and went out to the restaurant from last night, the Antica Casa della Malvasia, and it was fabulous, again. Tonight’s selection was insalata Greca (I bet you can figure that one out) with crisp chunks of cucumber, crunchy bell peppers, tasty kalamata olives, thinly sliced onion and fresh, salty feta cheese – with a combination of a local spinach-like green and radicchio (it’s everywhere I tell you!) topped with aceto balsamico and olive oil. Delicious!

Villa Valmarana ai Nani, Vicenza, Italy, Italia, dwarves, villa
Villa Valmarana ai Nani

Villa Valmarana ai Nani, Vicenza, Italy, Italia, villa, architecture, dwarves
Villa Valmarana ai Nani – Detail

Villa Capra, La Rotonda, Andrea Palladio, Villa La Rotonda, Italy Italia Vicenza
Villa Capra “La Rotonda”

Lago di Garda - Desenzano
Desenzano on the shores of Lago di Garda

Lago di Garda - Desenzano

Desenzano Swan

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Oh, Mantova

Mantova Street urban Italy Italia Mantua architecture
Urban Mantova

Woke up early and took the train to Mantova (Mantua), arriving just in the middle of siesta (a long lunch break during the Italian work day, usually sometime between 12h30 and 14h00, sometimes going as late as 16h00), so we meandered through the sun-baked streets, looking for lunch. We finally stopped at a small cafe/restaurant near the historic center where the Girls enjoyed Pizza con Buffala (pizza with tomatoes, basil and traditional water buffalo-milk mozzarella) and myself, a salad with melon slices, cottage cheese, radicchio (an Italian staple, I swear) and sweet corn – all in all, pretty good, but I probably would not choose to repeat it at home.

We ventured to the historic center and ran around for a few hours, seeing Alberti’s Basilica di S. Maria di Mantova, the Rotonda di San Lorenzo, the Palazzo Ducale (including a public topiary park) and the Duomo di Mantova (Mantua Cathedral). We took the slightly longer walk back through town to the train station and arrived back in Vicenza just in time to enjoy (a late) dinner at the restaurant Antica Casa della Malvasia, a cute little hole in the wall just a few minutes from our hostel. Even at 21h00 there was a half hour wait for a table, but it was so worth it. Eclectic, rustic design – the walls are rough plaster, arches trimmed in brick, a heavy brick fireplace sat at the center and random art objects adorned furniture, mantles, shelves and tables. The food was delicious, the wine excellent, the cover charge reasonable – we escaped for €12 each for a liter of water, half liter of vino rosso for the table and a secondi (meat dish – I ordered a Ginger Chicken over warm Wild Rice and it was unbelievable!) Can’t wait to try it again tomorrow!

Medieval structure spanning the river

Basilica di Santa Maria di Mantova
Basilica di Santa Maria di Mantova

Basilica di Santa Maria di Mantova
Interior of the Basilica

Rotonda di San Lorenzo
Rotonda di San Lorenzo

Mantova - Piazza Erbe
Piazza Erbe

Piazza Ducale
Piazza Ducale with the dome of S. Maria in the background

Duomo di Mantova
Duomo di Mantova (Mantova Cathedral)

Stazione Verona Porta Nuova
On the platform at Stazione Verona (Porta Nuova)

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Ciao Vicenza!

Querini park, Tempietto, Vicenza, Veneto, Italy, Italia, architecture, park
Tempietto in Vicenza’s Querini Park

Oh wow – what a day!

Dabney, Gina, Maria and I decided to spend the long weekend (today-Sunday) up north in the Veneto region, so we packed up and took a train this morning from Roma (Termini) to Verona (Porta Nuova), leaving at 10h36 and arriving at 16h24. Now, just getting to the train station is half the fun: we followed our usual route to the Campo de Fiori at 9h15, took a bus from the Campo to the Colosseum and the subway from the Colosseum to Stazione Termini. Whew.

We get to the station early (10h15) so Dabney can buy her ticket, but due to the silliness of the Biglietti-Veloce! machines, she wasn’t able to book into our cabin anyway. As it were, European train stations don’t post/announce the platform of a given train until the train is physically present in the station – usually 10 or so minutes before departure. This gives me an anxiety attack. There are 24 platforms at Termini – what if my train leaves from platform 24 and I’m all the way over by platform 1? What if I’m in the middle at 12, but I don’t see the announcement right away? On top of the distance between platforms, the second class cabins (4-10 usually) are a long trek down the platform, and it certainly doesn’t help that everyone is in a panic the whole time! But these trains are prompt and do not wait around for anyone. Alas, our train ended up being 20 minutes late (thank goodness!) so we grabbed soft serve sundaes at McDonald’s (barf. but there were clean seats… don’t hate me.) and waited.

Our platform posted, we made it to the train, I fought my way down the platform to Carozza 4, compartment 6 and — ! There’s a strange, middle-aged Vietnamese woman sitting in my seat, sandwiched between Maria and an older gentleman. On the opposite side, the gentleman’s wife is also at the window with Gina in the center and a young man on her right. What the hell am I supposed to do? I look at Maria expectantly and she explains that they’ve been trying to get this woman to find her own seat (Carozza 4, seat 24) but apparently she speaks no English, no Italian, and no French or Spanish either. Great. We show her our tickets, we point to the numbers on the cabin and she sits, blissfully blank, holding her purse in her lap. Ugh. So we wait, the four of us: the Neapolitan gentleman (as we soon found out), this strange, mute woman, Maria and myself. It was not particularly uncomfortable, for the first hour, but we figured as soon as the attendant came by to check our tickets, he would assist.

Wrong. The train attendant came by sometime into hour two in the crazy cabin and, after looking curiously at the seven people in the cabin meant for six, and punching all of our tickets which clearly indicate that this woman does not belong, he walks away with an unenthusiastic “Buon giorno”. Are you kidding me?

We pass Orvieto when I finally flag another attendant down and, between Gina, the Neapolitan gentleman and myself, explain the situation. After trying to get the woman to come with him, the attendant’s ultimate solution is to make the poor Neapolitan gentleman leave his wife and luggage for the remainder of their journey (Prato, just past Firenze [Florence] but another hour away). Great, no? So the strange woman curls up in the corner against the window, basking in the sun, and closes her eyes. We’re all somewhat stunned, and more than a little irritated, when she sits up and pulls out her phone – a standard Nokia POS – and dials a friend. Until this point, we sort of assumed she was perhaps ignorant or illiterate and really did not know what was going on and, in her gentle muteness, was simply scared of the group of foreigners. But no, as soon as she dialed her friend, we knew that – if nothing else – she understood that she was sitting in the wrong seat and was just that rude. Fortunately, it was not long before both she, the Neapolitan couple and the young Italian man disembarked at Prato and the cabin belonged to us.

It was not long before our cabin was refilled by a boisterous Irish family, father, mother and sulking teenage son, from Kells. We had a pleasant chat about my time in Letterkenny and Dublin in 2005, the ScoilEigse and the Fleadh Cheoil. The couple was quite talkative and it was an altogether pleasant experience. They disembarked at Bologna Centrale and we were left in peace.

Our train finally arrived in Padova (Padua), grabbed snacks at a convenience store and hopped our final train to Vicenza. It was after 17h15 and the countryside was bathed in golden afternoon sunlight, giving even the most dilapidated train stations a romantic glow.

After arriving in Vicenza, we walked two miles or so along Viale Roma, down Corso Andrea Palladio, past monuments to Garibaldi and Vittorio Emmanuele II, designed shoe stores, and countless gelaterias before arriving at our hostel: Ostello Olimpico, aptly named for its close proximity to the Teatro Olimpico, designed by Andrea Palladio in the late 16th century. I hate to admit it, but the Rick Steves’ recommendation was spot on: clean, friendly, free wifi and the room for six was given just to us four, a pleasant surprise indeed.

We dropped our things off and went for a walk, exploring our new surroundings. The river winds its way through Vicenza, creating a confusing situation of curving streets, dead ends and a twisting waterway which you can cross twice walking along a given road. We first found Querini Park which backs up to the Church of Santa Maria di Aracoeli (Virgin Mary in Heaven) and contains a gorgeous tempietto surrounded by a spiral of boxwood hedges and contained within a small island, isolated by a moat-like stream, fed by local springs and filled with turtles, large koi-like fish and different type of ducks and geese. A processional walkway leads up to the tempietto, lined with reproductions of antique and Renaissance figures.

After heading back into town in search of food, we explore the historic area and discover, in short order, why Vicenza is known as “Venice on dry land”: Palladio recreated the iconic elements of the Venetian Piazza di San Marco in Vicenza. In addition, many of the buildings feature architectural and decorative elements which are reminiscent of Venetian architecture, particularly the Doge’s Palace on the Piazza S. Marco.

water, fountain, spigot, pump, spout, iron, Italy, Italia, spring
Water spigot in Querini Park

Vicenza, Venice on dry land, Andrea Palladio, architecture, San Marco, piazzo, square, column, Basilica Palladiana
Andrea Palladio’s recreation of Venetian Piazza di S. Marco, in Vicenza

Vicenza, Palazzo del Capitaniato, Andrea Palladio, architecture, Renaissance, 16th century, Italy, Italia, Veneto
Andrea Palladio’s loggia of the Palazzo del Capitaniato in Vicenza

Vicenza, Basilica Palladiana Clocktower, Andrea Palladio, Veneto, clocktower, tower, Renaissance, architecture, Italy, Italia
Clocktower of Palladio’s Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza

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Primo giorno

Farnese Fountains, Palazzo Farnese, Italy, Rome, Italia, Roma, fountains, Farnese

Okay, last night I did not sleep nearly as well as I would have liked. The only physical disadvantage of our apartment is its location on a busy street and the silly garbage trucks make an unbelievable amount of noise at 6:30 – UGH.

Last night, Lauren called a cab for Maria and I and arrived at the apartment on Via Goffredo Mameli at around 11. We loaded our stuff into a teeny-tiny 8 square foot elevator and inched our way up to the tre piano (4th floor) and our lovely, lovely apartment. The building itself has a small atrium between the two ‘wings’, and our apartment has shuttered windows which open to both the atrium (east) and the via (west), as well as a balcony connected to the living room, which looks out over the street.

When I said, lovely, I meant it – we have a brand new kitchen with granite counters, built-in refrigerator and freezer, gas range, oven, dishwasher and a small washing machine (no dryer though – my poor jeans!). There are three bedrooms, two baths (one has a shower, another a full bath), a living room with a sofa, armchairs and a TV, connected to the kitchen. The doors are narrow, but the ceilings are high (14+ feet) and our bedroom features a built-in closet unit thing which is really cool, but the doors squeak like an injured animal – jeeze! The only downside to our apartment is the distinct lack of internet, but two girls have purchased wifi pens which receive the internet from satellite through a local mobile carrier (€0.50/hour — super cheap!) and they seem to working alright, but as a USB modem, they only serve one computer at a time – blah! Need to get one tomorrow!

After our meetings, Kristin, Kit and I went on an adventure for toiletries and internet sticks of our own (unsuccessfully), found the Via Argentina, Sant’Andrea della Valle (the facade of which is under construction – LAME) went grocery shopping, marveled at the Palazzo Farnese (French Embassy), then headed home.

Threw together a modified chicken pizzaiola tonight – dredged pieces of chicken breast in egg, then finely, finely grated parmesan, sauteed in olive oil, then covered with a sauce of stewed tomatoes, sauteed shallots and mushrooms – surprisingly good, relatively easy, and I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

Tons and tons of reading for tomorrow, I’ll keep you posted!

Buona sera!

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