Monthly Archives: July 2014

Venezia, Italia

July 27, 2014

i immediately fell in love with Venice. we stepped off the train and into a boat for our transport to the hotel. for those of you who don’t know me, i was raised on a boat. my parents have been boat owners since before i was born and my fondest memories are from tube rides and learning to ski and being rocked to sleep by the waves.

Venice is a compilation of 118 islands separated by canals and connected by bridges. that being said, there are no cars because there are no roads. i was in heaven. a town that relied solely on water transportation and walking? yes, i would happily live there.

now once we arrived at our hotel, we were informed that my immediate family would be staying in a suite. now that’s sweet. so the concierge calls the bellhop to take us and our luggage to our room. we all stood befuddled for a minute when the bellhop walked out the front door. after a little encouragement from the concierge, we followed him out. around the corner into a small alleyway. around another corner into a smaller alleyway. to a door. and he rang the bell. my first thought was that we were staying in someone’s home. now i am all up for bunking, but i was simply not expecting it. and remember, it’s all about expectations. the door clicked open and the bellhop showed us up the stairs to a beautiful, massive suite for us 4 to share. was it a little sketch? yes. was it awesome? absolutely!

after we were settled and situated in our secluded suite, we embarked out to find food since we were all ravenous (and i become a bit of a monster if i don’t eat). i inherited my love for the water from my father, which he intentionally cultivated through my entire childhood. so it was no wonder dad opted to find a place on the water to eat. the recommended place was farther than anticipated, but well worth the hike. an afternoon of pizza and beer sitting out over the water. ah. it was my perfect afternoon.

eventually the time came to see the city. we quickly learned that maps were pointless and took the local’s advice to get lost and see what you find. we wove through an unending maze of alleys, “streets”, bridges, and dead ends. seriously, you stand no chance of maintaining your path. we found the very first ghetto on our first day. it originally housed Jews that were subjected to curfews, strict rules, and complete segregation. its original inhabitants are now honored by memorials adorning their homes. it wasn’t what i expected. it was clean. colorful. very Italian looking. and there was a group of local boys playing soccer in the courtyard. it no longer held the oppression of the original inhabitants.

Venetian Jewish Ghetto

the next day we stumbled into Piazza San Marco where St. Mark’s Basilica stands. did you know that St. Mark’s remains were stolen by the Venetians to be placed into the basilica that bears his name? do you want to know how them smuggled him back from Alexandria? in a box of pork after they bribed the Alexandrian priests to relinquish the body. it seems like an odd way to honor your patron saint.

the piazza is also home to Torre dell’Orologio, the coolest clock tower that told the time of day, the current month, and the lunar phase. and it was created in the 500’s. now that’s some impressive work. and it looked pretty. across the square is the Campanile, a large bell tower that provided beautiful views of the city. are you noticing a trend? i like to go up to the tallest part of the city and look out over everything. it makes me feel so small and insignificant and it is such a freeing feeling. 

Piazza San Marco

top of Campanile

Venice also held adventures in the Doge’s Palace with the golden staircase, to Murona to watch the glass making process, over to Burano which specializes in making lace, across the Rialto Bridge that houses the financial hub of Venice. the glass making process was really interesting. we saw 2 main techniques: blowing and pulling. i’m sure there is some dirty joke in there. but i won’t dare try to coax it out. regardless, i would burn myself. or break the glass. or both.

one night after dinner, we managed to get ourselves lost walking off dinner and thanks to my sister’s guidance, we even found a beautiful waterfront view of Santa Maria della Salute.

of course a trip to Venice would not be complete without a gondola ride. did you know they can fit 6 people in those gondolas? our guide easily maneuvered through tiny canals making 90 degree turns on a boat longer than a bus. talk about skill. the best part of the whole ride was actually the gondola in front of us. a duo of musicians were riding along and serenading the passengers of the boat ahead of us. the accordion sang out a sweet melody to accompany a deep baritone that had a voice as rich as mahogany and as smooth as honey. of course, i really have no idea what i’m talking about when it comes to music, but man, it sounded good.

gondola ride

my parents are adorable

our last night was relaxing, as it should be. after a delicious dinner on the waterfront (during a rainstorm) we listened to jazz on the patio of a bar, drinking wine while it continued to rain. if Venice hadn’t stolen my heart the first day, it definitely had it by now. the quartet played a mixture of tenor, soprano, and alto saxophones, a clarinet, the piano, and drums. nothing could have been more romantic. except, of course, if i had a boy to take with me. but it was a perfect ending to a wonderful trip.

or at least i tell myself that because i intentionally block the horrid memories of a 3 am wake up call for a 6 am flight, 24 hours of traveling, and a very grumpy group of family members. that last day just didn’t exist because we are a sweet, perfect family that never loses their tempers. yeah right.


Firenze, Italia

from Rome, an hour train ride deposited us in Florence (Firenze according to the locals). now the train ride itself was uneventful. getting on the train was another story.

my father has a habit of wandering off from the group at the most inconvenient times. so it is no wonder that he disappeared 10 minutes before the train was to arrive. and we only had 10 minutes to board. that probably seems like an eternity to board a train. but my grandma was accompanying us and we had 6 bags to load. rushing the process seemed like a poor choice. 5 minutes before the train is to arrive, i depart to find my father with his and my bags. being daddy’s little girl, i have a knack for finding him. or he has a knack for finding me. one of the two. and we are to then meet the family at the train to board.

i find my father. or he finds me. no problem. we return to the group that has an individual helping them load bags onto the train. okay. cool. we manage to situate everyone onto the train and the two individuals helping load the bags follow us to our seats. my mother tips them generously because that’s what my family does.

but they won’t leave.

they want more money. how much? i’m glad you asked. they wanted 10 euros per bag. yes, per bag. that’s 60 euros for 2 minutes of work. while we are appreciative of their help, i know that money won’t be recorded or taxed. so after 2 minutes of them insisting on 10 euros per bag, they left in a huff with 10 euros each. sometimes that was all i would make waitressing an entire lunch shift. and that income was taxed! needless to say, we didn’t allow anyone to help us when we boarded the next train.

once in Florence, it was a breath of fresh air after the hustle and bustle of Rome. our first stop upon arrival (after the hotel to deposit the bags) was a little restaurant for a delicious meal, monstrous beers, and an impressive duo playing the accordion and singing. it’s what i thought of when i think of an italian lunch. and it was perfect.

after some much needed naps, we found the bus route to Piazza Michelangelo. i don’t have a clue why it’s named after Michelangelo, but it was a beautiful site to see. there were panoramic views of the city, and we even stayed for sunset. it was my favorite place. but probably not for the reasons you think. i loved the view. i loved the sunset. but what really set it apart was the fact that it was the first place that we had really stayed at for more than 2 hours. it was nice to just take it in. slowly. and i got to just hang out with my sister for an hour taking pictures. talking about nothing. we don’t get to see each other often because we are rarely in the same location. but she’s my favorite. she’s my role model. if you know my sister, then you know why. she’s awesome. it was nice to catch up.

Piazza Michelangelo

sunset at Piazza Michelangelo

the next couple days were another whirlwind of sites. we saw the Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza del Repubblica, Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, the church of San Lorenzo, and the Piazza della Signoria. we also saw the famous Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo) the different colored marbles constructing the facade were fascinating. i don’t often think of the green, blue, and red marbles, but they adorned the picturesque exterior of the Duomo. it was far prettier than St. Peters… but only on the outside. we even took a trip through the Tuscan countryside one day to see San Gimignano that boasted breathtaking views from the top of the bellower and world champion gelato (which of course we had to have), a winery tour at Tenuta Torciano to enjoy the delicious chianti wines and where i volunteered my parents to demonstrate the swirl, dunk, and taste dessert ritual (i know, i’m the best daughter ever), and to Sienna for the gothic architecture and town’s horse racing traditions. 

el duomo

San Gimignano

another must see of Florence is Michelangelo’s David. now i’ve already mentioned that i am particularly amazed by statues. but words cannot even describe the sight of this masterpiece. a 17 foot tall marble statue in the Galleria dell’Accademia that is as life-like as an actual human being. it was incredible. i didn’t expect to be struck dumbfounded, but i was. you can see the tendons in his hands, the veins running up his arms, the dimples on his knees. it looked so genuinely real. he was incredible. but i must say that he had some very large ears and a very italian nose.

Michelangelo’s David

Vatican City

let me first say, i had no idea what i was getting into when we went to Vatican City. we did a combination tour of the Vatican museum, the Sistine Chapel, and Basilica di San Pietro. for those of you who don’t know, this place is huge. the dimensions of St. Peter’s are 730 ft by 500 ft by 452 ft.* but those numbers do not have the same effect as the whole imposing mass standing before you. 

first we toured the Vatican museum, where hundreds of rooms hold thousands of pieces of art. paintings, statues, canvas prints, maps, elaborate ceilings. i mean thousands of pieces of art. i’ve never seen so much art in my whole life. i found that i am fond of statues. paintings are pretty. and i won’t even pretend to be capable of such work. but something about the artistry of marble shaped, life-like forms mesmerizes me. there was a room of mythological gods and heroes that i could’ve spent hours in.

Basilica di San Pietro

the museum gave way into the Sistine chapel. it stirred a mixture of emotions in me. the idea of a man craning his neck to spend years painting a ceiling stirs strong feelings of respect. the depiction of every man, woman, and child from those days perfectly muscled with at least a 6 pack, if not 8 rippling abdominal muscles, stirs feelings of envy. for real. every. single. one. the hundreds of originally nude figures of the Last Judgement covered by painted ribbons of fabric stirred feelings of laughter**. the paintings of the prophets and biblical stories on the edge of the ceiling stirred feelings of amazement. they looked three dimensional. as if they were statues. but overall, it was anticlimactic. now before you bristle at my nonchalance, hear me out. we walked through hundreds of rooms, looking at thousands of paintings while our guide constantly referenced the Sistine Chapel. over and over and over again this great masterpiece was constantly built up. to the point that it couldn’t fulfill the expectations. so it was anticlimactic. it’s all about expectations. and unfortunately pictures aren’t allowed in there.

next was St. Peter’s Basilica. as i mentioned earlier, this place is huge. and we had already been walking for 3 hours. our feet were tired, our backs were sore, and my neck hurt from looking at the ceilings. but as soon as i walked into the church, my breath caught in my throat. it was beautiful. ornate. intricate. sprawling. the ceiling was speckled with gold. rays of natural light were streaming in around the altar. the statues looked like real people trapped inside stone. beautiful pieces of art covered every surface. it was as impressive inside as it was out.

the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica

the sweet Swiss guard uniforms at the Vatican

the end of the day left us tired and sore from walking over 8 miles. don’t get me wrong. i will happily go run 8 miles. i find that enjoyable. that’s a quick hour long endeavor. but the slow, monotonous tread of walking 8 miles is torture. needless to say, sitting down to dinner was magical. and delicious. however, we came to learn that they don’t really sell wine by the glass in Italy. just in bottles and half bottles. and i’m the only one of my family that usually wanted red wine. so by the end of the meal, i was happy to continue our walk to find gelato and see the beautiful sunset over the Spanish Steps. when we finally got back to the hotel, my feet didn’t hurt, but i definitely had to pee.

Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti

* those numbers came from wikipedia, by the way

** don’t know the story? so Michelangelo painted the entire wall behind the alter to depict the return of Jesus to the world and the Last Judgement of all people. well, he believed that the naked human form was God’s greatest masterpiece. so everyone was naked in the massive mural. Cardinal Carafa thought it was awfully inappropriate and threw a temper tantrum. (which Michelangelo responded to by painting a portrait of the Cardinal descending into hell after his judgement). after Michelangelo finished his masterpiece, Daniele da Volterra was commissioned to cover the exposed genitalia, earning him the nickname of “the breeches painter”. moral of the story? don’t piss off a painter. and don’t get involved in the cover up.

Rome, Italia

my darling mother has always wanted to go to Italy. always. and who would blame her? the food. the wine. the architecture. the art. the history. the countryside. i sigh just thinking about it.

so when discussions about a big family trip began to circulate in january, Italy was discussed. slowly ideas of Napa Valley tours, Ireland adventures, Mediterranean cruises, and tropical beach vacations were neglected for the rich history, food, and culture of beautiful Italy. and in a blink of the eye, flights and hotels were booked for my parents, my sister, my aunt, my grandmother, and me.

our first stop was Rome. oh bustling Rome. and we didn’t want to miss any of it. so our jet lag was vanquished by a brisk walk to the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti, where a man proposed to his girlfriend and fulfilled every cliche perception i had of the Spanish Steps, before we transversed over to Fontana di Trevi, where we touristically tossed a euro into the scaffolding covered Trevi Fountain. of course we had to stop to appease our disoriented appetites with the tasty gelato from crispino’s. you’ll quickly learn that gelato was a recurring theme of our vacation. mostly due to the fact that i inherited my grandmother’s brown eyes and her insatiable craving for ice cream. energized by our sweet treat, we went to explore L’Altare della Patria and some surrounding ruins that were still standing from the time of Christ. talk about built to last. these buildings were constructed, covered with dirt, built on top of time and again, and are still there. maintaining their shape. supporting the infrastructure of modern Rome. providing a glimpse back into history. 

what i found more amusing was in the midst of these ruins hundreds of people were sitting in the street. as cars drove around them. watching the world cup on a big screen. these people are dedicated to their soccer. cheers and shouts would erupt denoting the sections of corresponding fans, echoing off the 2000 year old buildings. try and spot the car.

the next day held more adventures to the colosseum. did you know it was originally called the Flavian Amphitheather and it was only renamed the Colosseum because of the monstrous statue of Colossus that was located outside the building? because i didn’t. and now i do. and so do you. then we walked Palatine Hill, an imposing display of the grandeur of the old Roman empire, even though half of it has not faired well through the weather and the centuries.

Palatine Hill


one of my favorite adventures in Rome was to the top of the L’Altare della Patria, or the Wedding Cake as it is informally known. not only did it offer breathtaking views of the city, but my selfless sister and altruistic aunt hoisted me into the air, in the blistering heat mind you, so that i could capture an infamous foot picture from 230 feet in the air with the sprawling Roman landscape in the background. i have the best family. 

the top of L’Altare della Patria

L’Altare della Patria


in Rome, we also visited the Repubblica with an intricate organ larger than a whale, the Circus Maximus- the location of chariot races, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore- the largest church in Rome, the Pantheon, the Piazza del Popolo, and many more piazzas, churches, and beautiful landmarks than i could ever give credit to. i was simply awestruck by the ingenuity, creativity, and accomplishments of the Romans. just dang. it was cool.