ITALIA Day 3: The Borghe-see and Holy Sight-See

Good day, i miei amici! First, a few administrative announcements. As I have fixed the computer situation, I am able to go back to inserting a few of my favorite photos from the day directly into my posts. In addition, I will have a full score of photos up on Flickr when I get the chance. Admittedly, my motivation to do much in the way of blogging while on vacation is difficult to maintain…so hopefully I’ve not disappointed you thus far 🙂

Today brought two of Rome’s most important, historical sites: the Borghese Gallery and the Vatican. My brief descriptions, along with some selected photos from my phone, will follow:

Borghese Gallery – No amount of stress I had this morning (following a 30 minute ordeal to find a cornetto e cappuccino and an unexpected medical emergency) remained after seeing the splendor and beauty found within the Borghese Gallery, as well as the Borghese Villa itself. This vast, green garden houses an intimate but opulent museum with a decorative scheme that is just as impressive as the Classical and Baroque masterpieces it houses. Although we were not allowed to take photos within the Gallery itself, I was able to get a few of the Villa, which is just fine: the Villa is breathtaking. Reservations to the Gallery are MANDATORY and your visit is strictly limited to two hours. We booked about 3 weeks in advance, though I think you’re fine with one unless there’s a holiday coming up.

The first floor, which contains mostly sculpture, is the most interesting, although the Pinacoteca on the second floor contains some notable paintings (such as the famous Amor Sacro e Amor Profano) as well. I highly, highly recommend the audio tour as a supplement to your visit if you’re at all interested in the history of the museum or, in particular, the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

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The Vatican – My first reaction upon seeing the line to the Vatican:

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Needless to say, we found a tour guide.

Of course, it was about 55 €/person and we did it with about 20 other people, but at least we skipped the main line. It was still extremely crowded in the museums (yes, the Musei Vaticani is composed of multiple mini-museums, rather than one big one) and the Sistine Chapel, while less so in St. Peter’s Basilica. I have a few pictures (below) of the museum’s pre-Sistine portion, but I’m honestly glad we weren’t allowed to photograph it. Truly, photos do not do it justice. No photograph can capture the visual inundation of figures, color, and beauty that is Michelangelo’s magnum opus. Our tour guide, Angelo, was especially knowledgeable of the life of Michelangelo and regaled us excerpts from his diary after completion of the Sistina. These insights into the mind of such a genius, in effect, helped make the tour.

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The Basilica is also a wonder, and probably the most grandiose thing I’ve ever seen in mah lyfe. Indeed, it is the biggest church in the world, and, to no one’s surprise, has effectively been under construction for 500 years. The most beautiful and impressive part, in my opinion, is the High Altar, seen below:

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While some people think the main event here is the statue of St. Peter, I find the above wayyyy sicker. Not that I don’t love mushy feet.

We had lunch after the Vatican at a nondescript trattoria (do not eat near the Vatican…that is all). However, our dinner was delicious and sooo much fun. My review of our restaurant is below.

REVIEW – Antica Enoteca

ambiance – dark, cavey, with an almost medieval quality, but at the same time upscale. Focal point is the bar, for sure. Kinda crowded, but not uncomfortably so. Mostly locals. (5/5)

food – sorry to be boring, but everything was delicious! My eggplant parmesan was to die for, as was the vegetarian pizza my mom ordered. Bruschette, which we’ve ordered at every restaurant thus far, was fairly standard…which means it was freaking delicious. My mom’s salad looked slightly boring, but I’m sure it tasted fresh and good regardless. (4.75/5)

service – Pretty dang good! Our waiter was prompt and a very nice guy. And he (rightfully) complimented mia bella mamma! 🙂 (4/5)

cost – Probably nice for drinks or a casual dinner. ($$/$$$$)

That’s it for tonight, folks! Tomorrow we depart for Bari, the boot-heel port town of our Adventure Part Deux, and tonight I will convince my mom to let me go to the Jewish Ghetto tomorrow…or at least the Missoni down the Spanish Steps.

Okay, fine. Zara it is. 😉

Thought of the day: Don’t be afraid to have a sense of humor. That’s the key to life.

– H

ITALIA day 2: Rome in a day…ish

Amici, where do I even begin with this day?! I mean that in the best way possible, of course. Now, I must add that due to a rather egregious derp on my part, I know longer have my computer to blog with and my entries with hereafter be a bit curt. In addition, I am probably gonna have to redirect your guys to my instagram (imcoolandawesome) for photos. 🙁 Sad!! My new best friend is the business center in our hotel, though, so it ain’t half bad.

UPDATE: I have my computer back! Select photos have been inserted.

We had a long, exhausting, and unbelievably fun-filled day today! I will just briefly go through the sights we saw and do a quick review of the restaurants we dined at (although, spoiler alert: they were both exquisite):

Coliseum – fun, breathtaking, but can be seen within about 30 minutes. It’s the history behind it that’s most fascinating. Do the audio tour and skip the lines. The ticket you buy here covers both the Coliseum and the Forum, so yay!

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Forum/Pallatine Hill – unexpectedly expansive, GREEN, and beautiful. Lots of mini-sites and a small museum filled mostly with sculptures. Worth seeing, the archaeological grounds can be covered in an hour or two.

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Pantheon – Can be covered in its entirety within 15 minutes, but truly a marvel to see, especially on the outside. It’s also free.

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Chiesa di S. Maria sopra Minerva – One of the few (if only?) Gothic churches in Rome, it’s main feature is a dope pipe organ that you can see below:

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Chiesa di S. Ignazio di Loyola – Again, another lesser-known treat. Absolutely stunning ceiling frescos make this place worth any journey. Both churches listed here are free.

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National Museum of Rome – PERFECT for a mini-overview of all things Roman history from an art perspective. I have to say, I found some truly hilarious pieces of art here as well.

THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS
THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS
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“…really?”
"...Just sayin'!"
“…Just sayin’!”

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Trevi Fountain – We ended our night with this beautiful sight, which looks like it came straight out of an underwater kingdom. Mind the plethora of creepers that patrol the area and you’ll be juzzzz fine.

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REVIEW – Osteria da Mario (lunch)

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ambience – Homey, mom-and-popish, and classic red checkered tables. All local business people around us. No brown nosing, obnoxious tourist trapping. SMELLS AMAZING. (5/5)

food – Had vegetables and soup. Nonetheless, they were the best dang vegetables and soup I’ve had in a while. (5/5)

service – See above. The servers don’t mess around and service is EXTREMELY prompt (5/5)

cost – ($$/$$$$)

REVIEW – Ristorante il Gabriello (dinner)

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ambience – Underground, chic-modern, stone floors and white walls and an apparent Marilyn Monroe photo fetish. Locals and savvy travelers abound. Love it.  (5/5)

food – Had minestrone soup, swordfish, and tiramisù. Main food was the booooommmbbb; dessert forgettable (but I’d go back and try their others any day) (4.5/5)

service – Servers are kind, helpful, and quite multilingual! Hosts are jovial and welcoming. Our waitress spoke Spanish, Italian, French, and English. They also sat us way early. Coolio! (5/5)

cost – ($$$/$$$$)

Tomorrow brings the Vatican and the Borghese Gallery; tonight brings sleep. And lots of it. I promise to add more information and pictures when I get home…thanks for reading!

Thought of the day: Exercise can actually make you less tired…yeah, give me some time to get creative again, sorry 😉

-H

ITALIA DAY 1: Ready, Set, Go-go-go!

Nothing like a nice, long, multi-timezone, day, am I right? Well, we departed LAX (I misspoke when I said OC, sorry) at 7:00 pm and arrived in Frankfurt after a cozy 11-hour flight in business class (I know, hashtagspoiled…but ’twas but a one-time thing). I read most of the way, slept for 4 hours, and watched TV once for this documentary about Whales. Interesting facts about whales…:

  • Whales migrate using the Earth’s magnetic field, as they apparently have iron oxide particles in their bodies. Might I have some of those? My sense of direction is abysmal at best.
  • The average humpback whale eats about 5,000 pounds of krill per day. I’ll remember that the next time I eat two 4x4s so I don’t feel so bad.
  • The white markings on whales are as unique to each whale as fingerprints are to us. Pretty cool!

I read a large chunk of my copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which I highly recommend if you are at all interested in world mythology, Americana, or dark humor. A perfectly random mix that makes for an adventure as tumultuous and trippy as they come.

I accidentally managed to convince the flight attendant that I was German with the limited Deutsche I know, until I forgot the word for tea (it’s “Tee”, by the way).

We had a short layover in Frankfurt, which proved to be a mini-adventure in and of itself. The airport in Frankfurt is nice, if not a bit sterile.

Then, as if things weren’t rad enough already, we arrived in Roma at around 6:30 pm. After a minor luggage-finding snafu, we made our way to the Westin Excelsior and freshened up for a night on the town. We walked from our hotel and down the beautiful Spanish steps:

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In the Italian tradition, we began dining around 9:00 pm and did so at a restaurant on Campo de Fiori called RJ Numbs; my review follows.

REVIEW – RJ Numbs Restaurant – Campo de Fiori 28/29, 00186 Roma, Italia

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*All restaurant reviews rate the restaurant on four criteria: ambiance, service, and food preceded by a brief, general description.
We stumbled upon RJ Numbs after finding ourselves sitting on an hour-long waitlist at nearby Il Gabriello. We were both famished and cherished the modern-looking, busy environment that seemed to invite us in readily. The place has characteristics that are typical of most European cafes, with a nod to American culture via Roman Holiday stills placed against red walls inside.
ambiance – Like I said, it’s cute, chic, and clean place that certainly attracted a lot of customers. We sat outside and had Americans on both sides, which didn’t bother us too much. But be warned, this does appear to be a bit of a tourist-y place. Nonetheless, it’s a nice place to be at night for a casual dinner. (3/5)
service – It took a while for us to get seated, but I chalked it up to it being prime dinner time for the locals. Service was nothing spectacular, but certainly good for a busy, European restaurant. (4/5)
food – We ordered a tomato and basil bruschetta, a porcini mushroom crostini, roasted vegetables, and two salads. Sounds like a lot of food, but was extremely reasonable in terms of portion size; to be expected in Europe. Everything was fabulous except for my Greek salad, which was certainly edible and fresh, but pale in comparison to the creamy, richly umami crostini. (4.5/5)
cost – You’re looking at a minimum of 15€/person if you want to split an appetizer and get an insalate or cheap secondi. As with the United States, sit-down restaurants are going to be markedly more expensive than an osteria or tavola calda. Italy Protip: Wait staff are generally not tipped unless you’re spending upwards of 50€/person. However, there is a small tip already included in the bill for many restaurants, called the pane e coperto (“bread and cover” charge). ($$/$$$$)
I will see you all tomorrow, hopefully with pictures that are NOT simply iPhone shots. Hahaha. Bear with me now…this will pay off! Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow!
Thought of the day: When you’re having an off moment: close your eyes, look up at the sky, and think about all the great things you have.
-H

ITALIA Day -1: Pre-Departure Thoughts and 3 Things I’m Not Bringing

IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING! My trip to Italy is here! Well, almost. It’s the night before and my exciteys are ragin’. I can already visualize the other-wordly artistry of the Sistene Chapel, smell the ethereal caffè coming from the nearest bar (yeah, different meaning in Italian, haha), and taste the mind-blowing pizza, pasta, and seafood that will be welcomed warmly into my mouth. Yes, it will be epic! Probably moreso than I can articulate.

To give a general gist of the trip I will be taking, I am going on a 10-day excursion to Italy with my mom. Yes, just my mom! She is one of the most amazing people the world has known as well as one of my best friends. We are doing 4 days in Rome and on June 1st, we depart for Bari, in the Puglia region of Italy, for a 6-day biking tour. So many activities will follow in addition to the biking, though. I am stoked something fierce, and couldn’t imagine a better graduation gift. We leave tomorrow from Orange County at 7:30 pm.

But my friends, this blog is just as about YOU as it is me! So, I guess I’ll give some preemptive “advice” for the European traveler. Bear in mind that I’ve never visited Italy itself (though I have visited other places, which you can ask me about some time), so I’ll have to get back to you on how useful this advice actually was. Three things I will NOT be bringing to Lo Stivale (“The Boot”) include:

1. Heels – A part of me died inside when I read not to bring these, especially since Italians are known for dressing to the nines and heels are essentially part of my anatomy. But alas, I’m no fan of getting stuck in cobblestone, either. So I’ll compromise with wedges.

2. Shorts – During my travels in the rest of Europe, I didn’t really notice shorts, and my Google studies indicate that Italy is no different. Given the fact that I’ll be visiting more museums than pool parties, I’m gonna pass on packing these.

3. Designer purses – What?! No Dolce, Gucci, Fendi, or Prada? Yes, and I’m sticking to that. I don’t want the ONE, maybe two, nice things I have stolen because I felt like being fancy, huh. I’ve heard that pickpocketing is rampant in Italy, and I’m going to be an equal opportunity offender here and say that that’s to be expected in any large, metropolitan area – so I’m staying safe.

Finally, I sincerely promise that things here on IC will get more interesting as this trip progresses! I plan to review every restaurant and sight we see, regale our experiences as travelers in an entertaining manner, and write a thought to accompany each day. Feel free to e-mail me any time, too! Buona serra – and see you tomorrow!

Thought of the Day: The mind is a powerful thing. Your potential means nothing unless the mind allows you to use it.

A fresh adventure in a familiar place.

Since returning Home, I’ve decided to make connecting with my family, friends, and surroundings here a priority. As it will be a long time before I return here permanently, I intend to make the most of the few, precious months I have here in California this summer. It’s funny, but no matter how familiar you are with a place, there is always more to see and more to do. Whether you reside in a bustling metropolis or a quaint, country cabin far removed from human connection is, frankly, immaterial (accounting terminology – you saw what I did there).

Doggies are family, too.
Doggies are family, too.

One of the best things to explore, wherever you may be, is the surrounding natural environment. Nature is eternal. Everything from the vast ocean vista to the patch of sand under your feet has a story and has seen more than you can and ever will see. Last Saturday and Tuesday, I decided to explore the beach (Emerald Bay, Laguna Beach, CA) that I have lived right next to for over 11 years. While slowly stepping through the tidepools, I couldn’t help but be delighted while observing the simplest things, like this adorable crab who seemed to be saying “Good morning!” to me.

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How about a hug?

Even after all this time, I STILL found it fascinating and even reenergizing. As I listened to Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (great audiobook, by the way), I couldn’t help but snap a few photos to document my mini-trek and preserve the experience. The following photos were taken with my iPhone.

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Thought of the day: Don’t be in such a rush to “escape” the life you live. You never know just how many amazing things exist just where you are.

-H