Thursday, April 30, 2009

Return of the King

Our first evening in Rome was pretty perfect to me. When we had arranged all the apartment stuff, we took a (free) bus over towards our neighborhood and vibrated our bags over the cobblestones to the place. This little jaunt, because we got off the bus too early, took us past the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, a perfect introduction to Rome. We settled in a bit and decided to take a small walking tour to several places that are great to see in the nearing-dusk hours. We gave them the schpiel about Bernini's Four Rivers and and enjoyed Piazza Navona for a while longer. Then we walked over to the Pantheon and went inside. Marveling at the dome and Raphael's grave, we had a nice little rest inside. Then we took Mom and Dad into Chiesa di St. Ignacio, where the ceiling had been painted to only look accurate from one spot on the floor. This was a pit stop on the way to the Trevi Fountain, which is GORGEOUS at dusk. We sat there for a long time, just relaxing and watching people take all sorts of pictures in front of the fountain. Rome truly is always flowing. We took the long way home and passed quickly by the Forum/ Colosseum at twilight on our way over to Campo de Fiori, a lovely piazza that fills during the day with a fruit market and is lined with restaurants at night. We eventually found a restaurant that wasn't a tourist trap. In fact, it was a menu entirely based around the Buffalo. Obviously, the mozzarella was to die for and I had something as UN-Italian as I could find. I had buffalo meatballs covered in a yogurt sauce and served with rice and salad and thick, heavy, amazing sour cream. Ahhhhhh! Sorry, but my life here revolves around mealtime. It makes or breaks my day. Ok, so that's true about my life all the time, I suppose. After dinner we went to the best gelato place in Rome, Giolitti's. Then it was crashing time.

Day two in Rome started with the most expensive cappuccinos & croissants of all time. So, I know that the price goes up if you sit down with your breakfast at a cafe, but this place DOUBLED the price! 24 Euros for breakfast! Unbelievable. Anyways, this morning we walked over to the Vatican from our apartment. We walked down an antique store lined street where my dad showed incredible restraint. It was a gorgeous day, so people were out in full force and the line to get into St. Peter's was just too long. We went over to the Vatican Museum instead and saw as much as we possibly could before we were falling down with hunger and thirst. It's an incredible museum, even the second time around! After, we found this phenomenal panini joint where they make everything fresh for you and have really interesting ingredients. Fuel for our tiring bodies! We checked the line again at St. Peter's and decided to still abstain. We walked along the Tiber River up to the Piazza del Populo and saw the two Caravaggios in the church and enjoyed a break in the Piazza. We walked down the Roman shopping streets to the Spanish Steps. It was swarming with lovers and shoppers. Mom and I sat on the upper section while Penn and Dad climbed up high to get a good view. We only stopped on the way back to shop at these little outside antique kiosks. Somehow I was able to resist Gucci, Prada and Armani (maybe it was the price tags). For dinner that night we took them to our favorite place, Maccheroni, where I had a lovely Gorgonzola & pear gnocchi. Ahhhh. Then we stumbled across the famous Sant Eustachio coffee shop and Mommy stocked up for the U.S. while we took a shot of their intense espresso. Then we stumbled across this awesome fountain where books are spouting the water out! Of course, Daddy and I got a picture of us sipping from it. Then we crashed again.

Day three in Rome was the fateful black-flats day. Even though everyone around you may be wearing them, don't ever try to wear useless flats around Rome. The cobblestones'll kill ya. Anyway, we started that morning apart from one another, while Daddy did some antiquing/walking and the three of us had coffee and saw some more Caravaggio paintings. The series on Matthew's life was unobstructed this time around and these paintings were well worth the wait! Very cool. So, we met up with Daddy at the Four Rivers fountain and headed over to the ancient sector of town. We started with Michaelangelo's Campidoglio, which is a piazza that he designed and looks nicely over the Forum. There were a couple weddings going on! We gaped at the Forum for a while and then went over to the Colosseum. It was free to get in that day! Woohoo! That was awesome. They have a really great museum inside and it's just crazy to think about all that went on there. We were all noticing the blatantly absent mention of the sacrifice of Christians in the Colosseum and the flippant mention of the destruction of Judea by the man in charge of commissioning the Colosseum. Strange how one's history gets skewed, the U.S. probably being the worst culprits of this practice.

Anyway, from there we went on a desperate search for lunch that might include a bathroom for me. Unfortunately, that means we passed by several lovely sandwich shops and got roped into a sit-down place by a very convincing and deceivingly charming old Italian man. Note: If they feel that they have to "sell" their restaurant to you, then you probably don't want to go there. Food was normal bordering mediocre and the guy was pushing lots of different items on us, all of which we resisted with much difficulty. Then, in the end his English suddenly wasn't so good when he was trying to explain why they didn't take credit card that day. So, Dad gave him a 50 for the slightly-less-than-50 Euro bill and never saw his change again, until the waiter came to our table holding up the change stating (not asking), "For me!" We referred to him as "Il Bastardo" for the rest of the day. Oh well. We got to go and see Michaelangelo's sculpture of Moses in the Church of Peter in Chains. Then we wandered towards something that was listed on the map as some sort of ruin, but ended up being the equivalent of Edgewood Park, but in Rome (for those of you who didn't grow up near New Haven, this park is the notorious hang out for gangs, drug dealers and just generally sketchy people the second the sun starts to set...). We got out of there pretty quick and slowly, slooooowly wandered our way back through the ruins and back toward our neighborhood. We took some better pictures at the book fountain, hit up the candy shop and lingered a while at the Communist rally going on in Piazza Navona. That was strange. Nights in Piazza Navona are so interesting. There are caricaturists with actual talent spotting the center of the piazza, chestnut roasters, street dancers and often live bands, among other things of course. So, we passed through this party of sorts and went to rest at the apartment. This ended up being about a 2 hour nap for most of us. It was well earned and much needed.

When we woke up and rubbed our eyes a bit, we went in search of the perfect wine bar for some light fare and heavy atmosphere. It was sprinkling a bit, but it stopped pretty much just in time for us to sit half-under the canopy of the Pantheon neighborhood's most popular wine bar. And rightly so! They brought plate after plate of hors d'oeuvres to us while we split a bottle of red and lots of conversation. Eventually we were able to move further under the canopy and feel totally immersed in the crowd. I think we ate three full plates of munchies and two large bowls of potato chips. Yum yum. Of course, we knew what awaited us: Giolitti. This time at the gelato place, the men went for medium cones and the ladies stayed with the already too big small cones. I think we ALL got the cinnamon gelato as part of our medley. Gotta go out strong! Just delicious!! We wandered the streets with our ice cream and found some nooks we'd never seen before. I love that area! I can't even tell you. We lingered again in Piazza Navona to take some night shots of the fountain and to resist going back, which meant that the weekend was almost over. But, eventually we did go back to pack up and clean up a bit.

The next morning was a leisurely one of packing, cleaning, locking up, wandering, breakfast, bussing and ticket buying. Because Mom and Dad came at the beginning of the middle, it was hard to say goodbye. It meant that we have even longer to wait before we get to see them again! I'm glad that the last few months are jam-packed with visitors and trips. Keeps my mind from homesickness! Love to all...

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Second Installment


We got up early to catch a train over to Florence! I showed Mom and Dad how the Italians drink their cappuccino (really quickly, that is) because we had about 8 minutes to have one before the train arrived. Ah, Florence. An incredible city all in walking distance. We started with The Church of Santa Maria Novella, the namesake of the train station, in fact. It has similar coloring to our duomo, but is much more ornate inside. It's set in an oval shaped piazza where they used to have chariot races! From there we did the obligatory walk through the tight streets over to the famous duomo of Florence. First we walked around the baptistry and gaped at the famous doors (now copies of the originals that are safely in museums). The original East doors of the baptistry were made by Lorenzo Ghiberti, who was chosen over both his mentor, Brunelleschi, and the one and only Donatello. Our book told us that these bright gold doors and their North & South counterparts (created by Brunelleschi) are "often regarded as the first products of the Renaissance" and Michaelangelo famously called them the "Gate of Paradise." I mean, heck, Dante was baptized there...they better be pretty nice! 

Next we went inside the duomo itself. My favorite part was the floor. It's very geometric and eye-boggling. Daddy liked the lock on one of the doors the best, go figure. We went down into the lower floor, too, but didn't get up into the cupola because of an insanely long line. I'm actually glad we didn't now because one of the new professors here said it's a claustrophobic's nightmare...though the view is to die for apparently. 

Next we did another thing I'd never done before: go to the Galleria dell' Accademia to see The David. The museum itself houses some pretty fantastic paintings and sculpture. And, someone very brilliant designed the corridor down which you walk to arrive at Michaelangelo's famous sculpture. One either side of you are several of Michaelangelo's unfinished sculptures, each in various stages of creation. It was marvelous to see how he started and how he saw these forms in blocks of marble.  At any rate, it really prepares you to see his finished product/masterpiece/slice of heaven. I was not disappointed at all. In fact, I was proudly a tourist who sat/stood/gawked for a very long time at every little detail of The David. It was unreal to me. After that have-to-do-it-before-you-die moment, we wandered back over to the main drag and did what Florence does best: surprise ourselves by what we came across in the most normal of streets. There are clothing stores in the bottom floors of ancient palaces and centuries old churches littering the main shopping drag. Again, Daddy was in heaven. We walked through the Piazza della Republica containing a triumphal arch that is a remnant of the short period when Florence was the capital of Italy. We also did the PIazza della Signoria, which is the original home of The David and many other important, inspirational sculptures of Florentine history. Some oft he originals are still there, but many are in museums. We decided to find somewhere to eat over by the river and Ponte Vecchio. Of course, we were enthralled by that bridge and all the history of it as well. There is so much to learn at each of these pit stops. In our search for a restaurant, by some perfect twist of fate, Daddy found a "Legatori di Libri". You guessed it. A book bindery. We watched the men do their work with great precision and skill; applying the gold leaf and wrapping the cover with the red cloth, hammering it into place. With broken communication we told them that my dad was a student of this practice in the United States and that he was interested in buying some authentic Florentine marbled paper. They recommended this old shop just up the street for some handmade papers. We thanked them profusely, grabbed lunch and had some nice time in a nice family-owned stationery shop. 

Now nourished and hands full of excellent Florentine souvenirs, we wandered up the river and climbed up to Piazzale Michaelangelo that shows all of Florence sitting prettily beside the Arno River. It is definitely one of my favorite places in Florence, minus the vendors and the PDA that inevitably inhabit the steps. We rested there for a while and decided to hurry back to the train station to catch an earlier train back to Orvieto. We ran a bit and found out that I was wrong about the departure point for the train and had to wait for the later train anyway. Oh well, live and learn. Note: there are no benches in the Florence train station. Don't plan on loitering there anytime soon.

Thursday morning back in Orvieto was a wonderful one. I took Mom and Dad to the Cappella Nuova, better known as the San Brizio Chapel. It is certainly one of Orvieto's finest gems. It is primarily painted by Luca Signorelli (with 2 panels done by Fra Angelico) and absolutely envelopes you when you walk in. There is so much to see, I swear 15 people came and went in the time that we gaped. Please look it up and read about it. We are very proud of our famous chapel. We also did the Papal Palace Museum, which is full of centuries of art and sculpture and artifacts all from Orvieto or done for Orvieto's duomo. Then it was shopping sprinting time. We got a lot done that morning before we had to pack up, grab lunch and (BARELY) make our train to Rome. Literally Daddy was sprinting up the stairs when the train was pulling in. Holy cow. Not much of a goodbye to Orvieto, unfortunately. Sorry M&D! It was very good in the end because we had a perfect evening in Rome to finish out the day.

I will finish with the intense Rome portion quite soon, I promise! We are staying in Orvieto for the weekend, so I should have some down time to work with over the next couple of days. Love and miss everyone! Can't wait for the next round of visitors to come see us!!!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We'll start with this:

Mom and Dad's visit 4/11/2009 - 4/19/2009

The Menzies Italian Tour has come to a close. We had a week filled with history and art, food and wine. It's strange to be back to "normal" here at the monastery. We saw three wonderful and very different cities: Orvieto, Florence and Rome.

We started with a lovely, long set of days in our Orvieto. The first day provided some time to get to know the little city. We started them on a tour of the monastery and a small respite in our room. Then we made our way over to Pizzeria Charlie, our favorite in Orvieto. We took them on a slow walk over to their B&B, finding out along the way that it was the Antiques Fair weekend in Orvieto, as though they knew my father was coming. There were more people in our little town than there have ever was actually bustling in the streets! We spent the rest of the day walking around the old part of town and visiting the antique shops that were actually open for once and spilling out onto the streets to meet the other vendors now crowding our piazze. We did the obligatory pause in the Piazza del Duomo and even popped inside for a moment. After some great shopping and gaping, we split up for a while so that Mom and Dad could relax and clean up a bit. We met in the Piazza della Republica later and tried to eat at a local place called La Palomba, but it was filled to the brim. So, we wandered around and found a little trattoria near the Duomo. We had a lovely antipasti of meats and cheese (drizzled with honey....mmmmm!). It was there that I had my first real meal of Cinghiale, Orvieto's famous wild boar meat. It was deliciously stewed in a dark brown gravy...yum yum. Then, of course, we took them to a late night gelato at our favorite place in town...Mommy ate every bit of her pile of chocolate gelato.

Easter Sunday! Penn and I ate a pancake breakfast with the others in the program and then met up with Mom and Dad. We surprised them with our membership in the Easter choir at our church in the old part of town. They came to hear us practice and to soak up the ancient building we get to worship in! Dad was in heaven. It was a good reminder of the incredible uniqueness of our life here; our church was built in 1004! The singing went very well and the priest gave us all hand-painted Easter eggs as a thank you. He actually acknowledged the American choir members during the service, noting our talent, energy and enthusiasm. Our director was very proud. Then we went back for a rushed lunch at Locanda del Lupo and a small wine reception in the courtyard at the monastery, hosted by the Howards. We had a small photo shoot of those all gussied up for Easter and then Penn and I took my parents on another walk around the city to soak up the Easter excitement of an Italian city. It seemed that everyone and their grandmother (literally) was roaming the streets that morning. We found our way over to the church where Thomas Aquinas spent 4 years in residency and then to our favorite little park that overlooks the cliffs and the Medieval Quarter. We got rest and pictures there. In town again we stocked up on food and wine for our picnic the next day, in case stores weren't open for Easter Monday, a national day of rest and do-nothingness in Italy. Again, we parted ways to freshen up for our Easter dinner with friends. Riel, Allyson, Jana, Penn, Mom, Dad and I went over to our friend's restaurant, Da Carlo. We weren't disappointed by our host. He was in top form that night, working with his co-waiter to keep us entertained and fed. It's always nice to go there because he does traditional dishes and non-traditional dishes, all with a very special...flare. We had a blast and ate very well. Unfortunately, we parted ways without making a plan for the next day and no cell phones to speak of, so I knew my next morning was going to be an interesting one...

I woke up early to get over to M&D's before they would have left from breakfast. I arrived at 8:40 and called up to them, occasionally using little pebbles on what I hoped was their window. The lady on the floor above them got very concerned about my presence and finally asked if I needed to get in. She buzzed me through and I rang the bell to the B&B. I did so three or 4 times and figured that they had gone out for some early morning antiquing or strolling (or both). So, I sped-walked around the city, making a pit-stop potty break at the monastery on the other side of town. Finally, I went back to the B&B thinking we must have just missed each other. The main door was open and I could get up to their place without having to ask the curious lady on the third floor. I rang their bell again and heard slow feet coming over to the door on the second or so ring. It was Dad. They had slept in until 9, having shut their shutters, blocking out all light from outside! Well, I got my exercise! We had another shopping and touring morning. We retrieved Penn after his class was done and went over towards the Etruscan tombs to find a place to picnic. I think it was fate that we decided to do that, because the cliff on that side is breathtaking and we found a private little triangle of land to eat our meats, cheeses, breads, olives and wine. By far my most favorite picnic and the most calming moments of our time here. So delicious. And we had Nutella and cookies for dessert! Penn went off to draw for his final and we explored some of the cliff and the Etruscan caves. We got some really good exercise and saw some of the city that I'd never seen before. We tried to go to Palomba again that night, but it was full AGAIN. No one told me about needed a reservation for that place! Oh well...we ended up at our favorite wine bar, Vin Caffe and had some lighter fare (salad, oh lovely salad, how I've missed you!) and delicious Prosecco. Gelato again and then bed.

Tuesday we shopped in the morning and met Penn to head over to the wine tasting. We grabbed kebabs on the way (MmmmMmmm) and had a nice, long time with the cellar lady. It was really interesting to go there with my parents, who know all the right questions to ask. After two big glasses of red and white, Penn and I made them walk up the steepest hill in the Medieval Quarter. Woops! Penn went back to draw again and I took Mom and Dad over to our side of the cliff. There we did a walk around the perimeter of the fortress and sat in the daisies for a while. Then it was time for the 200-some-odd steps of St. Patrick's Well. Unfortunately the camera died just before that, so we'll have to go down again to show you all the cool view. We made wishes at the bottom and stopped every 50 steps on the way up to breathe. I think the story of the well may be slightly more interesting than the actual trip down/up, but it's one of Orvieto's claims to fame, so we had to do it. We parted ways again to get ready for dinner at the famous Mezza Luna...Orvieto's best Pasta Carbonara. This night was definitely one of the most memorable meals of the visit!! We started with a mixed antipasta including pate and lard bruschettas! That was interesting. Three of us got the carbonara and mommy got ravioli with meat sauce. By the end, we were all a little giddy on the house white wine (infamously much stronger than normal bottles of wine...we forgot about that fact!!!!) and I was so full I couldn't even think about bacon anymore, though it looked like I had barely scratched the surface! Then, let's just say that there was a funny incident with the check (il conto) where Daddy was at one point following the owner into the kitchen until I called him back to the table. Tears of over-laughter were shed by all. Now I wish I had that pile of carbonara left-overs...

Wednesday was a day trip for the parents and me. And I will finish writing about Florence and Rome tomorrow!

Friday, April 10, 2009

M & D Come Soon

Sorry the blogging has been minimal, we've been preparing for the Menzies's arrival! Over the past few days, there's been a lot going on...

1.) Aftershocks galore. I've felt 2, but there have been upwards of 4 or 5 that have been pretty high up on the scale! It's soooooo weird. Like being on a really wavy, stone boat.

2.) There was a movie filming in our Piazza del Populo for a couple days! We went to a photography exhibit and peered out the window over the Piazza to see a big three-wheeled orange truck tipped over in the square. We watched as three men pushed it further over and couldn't imagine why the polizia were just standing there letting this happen! That's when we noticed the huge camera crane and the director shouting commands. We went down to the square to watch for about 45 minutes. During that time they probably shot about 7 to 10 seconds of the film. There's so much down time and set-up time in the cinema! How boring for the actors! Anyways, yay Orvieto! We're famous!

3.) Meeting with Matt Doll, director. Penn and I have found a wonderful mentor and friend in Matt. He and Penn have a ton in common and have great conversation together. He's been helpful in the decision-making process regarding our future. Thank God for Matt!

4.) Penn has been drawing up a storm. Above is a picture of the "Still Life" that they have been charged with drawing. Penn just finished his yesterday and it looks awesome. There are so many elements to include!

5.) Allyson's parents came in from California! We got have a lovely dessert with them at one of our favorite places and then a drink at our favorite pizza place. It's so great to have families starting to visit. Can't wait for Saturday!!!

6.) Holy week and Easter weekend has a lot going on here in Orvieto. Palm Sunday was amazing, and tonight we are going to a candlelit procession starting from Piazza de San Jiovenale and ending at the duomo. They also have an Easter Mass at the Duomo on Saturday late night and all the restaurants offer huge pranzi (lunches) Easter afternoon. I hope M&D's jet lag isn't too bad because they have a busy weekend ahead!

I'm sure there will be much to report once my mom and dad get here. We just CAN'T WAIT. Visitors are the best.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Alive and Well

Everyone in Orvieto is alive and well following the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit this region around 3:30am today. It was a town about 9 miles from us that bore the brunt of the damage and the casualties. In fact, most people in the program here slept through the entire thing (including Penn and me)! Those who didn't, woke up wondering why their roommates were shaking their beds. Our director was awoken by his wife saying, "We're moving." He thought she wanted to leave Orvieto! Penn and I were like rocks in our beds and were none the wiser.

We know everyone was panicking, so we're taking our first chance at the internet to tell you that we are all more than fine. In fact, we had a wonderful Easter party today for the kids and their friends with egg dying, cookie eating, basket making and Easter egg hunting. There was only one casualty from today, but that's inevitable with 12 tiny kids in a stone courtyard. He just got a little clonk in the head...but we all know how those bleed. Yikes.

Penn has been drawing like mad and I've been babysitting, so we're pretty tired here. We'll keep you posted as families start visiting and we do more traveling!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Florence by Bike

Daddy M, we got the package. Your timing is perfect and you know me too well. I love you!!! We've been very selective in our sharing of the Cadbury minis. Everyone loved the declaration on the outside of the box: "candy". And your handmade card was gorgeous! You're getting crafty...Bethy must be proud. Thank you!

So, yesterday Penn, Allyson, Riel and I did a day trip to Florence. Because the school-sponsored trips have been so jam-packed with culture and religion and literally running around the city, we made only two plans for this trip: shopping and renting bikes. We didn't set a schedule or hurry anywhere. We started with the shopping and found a few things to satisfy that urge (including several 1 Euro leather strap bracelets so that we could say that we bought SOMETHING leather in Florence). Then we had a lovely meal at a trattoria near the duomo: fixed, two course menu for only 9.30 Euros! Plus some good wine and people-watching. From there, we made our way to the bike shop I had googled via the market streets. We rented 4 "city bikes" and decided to take the advice of the bike shop lady and go up to the Piazza del Michaelangelo, though we knew we'd never make it all the way up with the bikes. We took the entirely convenient bike lane all the way around the city and to the river. We rode along it for a while, crossing just before the Ponte Vecchio and winding our way up to the piazza. There were lots of people there speaking all different languages and enjoying the view of another fabulously ancient city. After a long rest and a bottle of water (the weather was about 70 in the sun and breezy and perfect), we rode over Ponte Vecchio and did a little more market shopping. We returned the bikes after about a 2 hour head-clearing tour around that lovely city. I would recommend that rental place to anyone and everyone who visits Florence. We got around so quickly and got exercise in the process and it was only 6 Euros each for those 2 hours (or 8 Euros for 5 hours)! It's called "Florence by Bike" and it's got a great reputation around the city, which was apparent immediately.

We took the train back to Orvieto at 7:13, which meant that we were there for over 9 hours. Time flew by and it was a great day trip. We've got to do that more often...

I feel the need to mention that, though I am posting all the pictures on my facebook page, Penn takes about 40 or 50% of them. I cannot take credit for them all! We've got similar style, and often one of us will be behind the camera and the other one giving positioning instructions. We're a good tourist team. Though, I have been learning a lot about the camera here, which was one thing on my To Do in Italy list.

We're thinking about Croatia for one of our free weekends or for a chunk of our post-semester traveling. Suggestions are welcome!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Few Italian Thoughts/Questions

How do pigeons poop in perfect spirals?

Did you know that a pigeon's coo is actually quite beautiful?

What possesses 40 Middle School students to crowd around an artist and block his view?

Why haven't I had more wine since being here? I need to get to Tuscany.

Did you all know that Prosecco is the nectar of the gods?

My favorite thing to do here is wander the streets with Penn.

Penn has become famous for his handwriting here...and now Dad G has, too.

I have been come (in)famous for my Gretty laugh. You know that deep, guttural thing that tags on at the end of a good outburst? People try to impersonate it, but it's just me an Gretty. :)

I plan on eating a lot more sausage when I get back and I will make you all fall in love with it as I have. Finding a proper butcher to fit the bill may be hard...

That's all for now.