Friday, October 23, 2009

movin' on up...

After much thought, I have decided to switch to a different blog site... The new link is Fortunately all of the posts and comments from this blog have been transferred to the new one :)

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

italy photo albums

here are all my photos from italy!

Friday, October 9, 2009

a call to action, america

I have been thinking all afternoon about how, or even if I should express my feelings over today's political events.

Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

He became one of only four U.S. presidents to be awarded this honor, only the third sitting president, and the only to win in his first term. While I am just as shocked by the news as everyone else in the world — other than the Norwegian Nobel Committee, of course — I have to say that I am disappointed in America's reaction.

I remember someone else who recently won an award and was then told that they didn't deserve it. For those of you who did not watch the VMAs, Taylor Swift was awarded Best Female Video and Kanye West crashed the stage during her acceptance speech. This caused an incredible uproar heard around the globe — I know, because I was in Italy and I still heard about it with little internet or tv access. Viewers and participators alike were astounded and disgruntled by his actions. Who was he to decide whether or not she deserved that which was given to her based on a vote?

Of course today's situation is a much more serious issue, and it is for this reason that I am disheartened. (I can guarantee that I didn't spend any time researching the VMA awards process because of his reaction.) Yes, I voted for obama, but I can honestly say that if I hadn't, I would still be proud for our country and our leaders when given such a prestigious accolade.

As I said, I too was shocked at first, which is why I scoured the internet all afternoon to learn more about the process and the reasoning behind this year's selection. In my research I found this article, which was printed two days ago, describing the type of person wanted by the committee.

"It's quite likely this committee will reward somebody who is engaged in current processes," said Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the International Peace Institute in Oslo (PRIO).
"They want the prize to have an impact on things that are about to happen and want to affect events," he told Reuters.

After reading this, I understand their decision, granted it is still hard to accept him entering the realm of previous laureates — Kofi Annan, nelson Mandela, the Dalai, lama, Elie Wiesel, Mother Teresa, Henry Kissinger, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many more. Obama has a lot to live up to, but clearly the hope of the committee was that the award would prompt actions resulting in peace.

My hope is that America can stop focusing on partisan politics, using this as a way to yet again point out Obama's faults, and instead take this day to come together in pride for our country, using this as a way to unite against the many tasks at hand, both in our country and abroad. 

As Obama said, this is "a call to action." It's not just a call for him though.  

home sweet home


i woke up and almost immediately needed a xanax because i was so nervous about flying standby. i hated feeling responsible for everyone else without any internet to even check the boarding totals! not to mention, that when i booked the flight there seemed to be a problem with the credit card. regardless we made our way to fco on the leonardo express train.

leaving rome

at the airport it was like a maze trying to get to the check-in terminal and then back to our departure gate. we did have a problem with the booking but the ticket counter man took me to an upstairs office where i could rebook joann and gaylyn’s travel plans. for some reason ed’s card and the coair site do not play well together. while i was rebooking i checked the PBTs and felt confident we’d all get on.

once through ticketing, security screening, and passport control, we got on another bus back to the terminal where we shopped and snacked until it was time for our flight. we actually rode the same bus as the crew on our way over, which was definitely to our advantage since we wouldn’t get seats in first class. being on that bus really made me miss the camaraderie that comes together with being together on the flight crew. the crew took care of my family and me throughout the whole flight. as joann said later, we’re kind of like our own family, looking out for each other.

we made it back to newark and since i already knew all the flights to dallas for the next day were full, i was coming up with some other ideas. we could get to houston that night, stay in a hotel and try to get to dallas the next morning. at least it would put us in texas… so that’s what we did. it was a long journey but by 10am sunday morning we were back in dallas!

rome again rome again jiggity jig


we made it back to rome today, but not without a train mishap – jo left her backpack with copies of her passport and credit cards, gifts for the girls, books and her blackberry! we tried to get it back but it seems like a lost cause…

there was a little miscommunication between mario and his wife so no one was at the apartment b&b to meet us. once we got checked in, it was too late to see inside maria della vittoria church from angels and demons so we booked it on the #71 bus to the pantheon. i couldn’t have imagined how marvelous it was inside. the experience made it worth the stress of re-planning our flight home.

the pantheon

the oculus - i wish it had been raining

inside the pantheon

we ate dinner at piazza navona again, but at a different restaurant with just as, if not more, handsome of a server as the other! we had champagne and wine and i had one last serving of gnocchi.

piazza navona one last time

on the way home we stopped at an internet cafĂ© to double check our flight plans and check in on grandpa. he was not answering his cell phone – in fact, it was just going to his voicemail! as we passed in front of a restaurant, i picked up two more proposals, and it was then that i decided maybe i should just stay in italy!

a fairy-tale ending


we tried to cancel this portion of our trip when we found out we were leaving out of rome instead of milan. we’d be there for less than 24 hours, and it was pretty far our of the way, but we were all happy that we couldn’t cancel once we got there. the sea was beautiful and the town relaxing after a very busy florence. we weren’t able to do the cinque terre hike because of time restraints, but the trip was more than worth it even just for the scenery.

by the time we got there and settled in, it was after 2pm. we sat up on our rooftop terrace with a great view of sestri levante and baia de favole. then we walked along the shore and crossed over to baia del silenzio for an afternoon drink at citto beach bar. the atmosphere made for a perfect end to the otherwise sort of hectic trip.

 relaxing on the terrace

view from the terrace

baia de favole

drinks at citto beach bar

happy feet... and tummy

while the others rested, joann and i visited the TI which was when we realized the cinque terre hike wasn’t feasible. i was pretty bummed, but tried to keep in mind that i can always come back…

for dinner we ate at a great restaurant with a beautiful outside patio. the food was tasty and i had a nice local-ish wine.

sunset on the way to dinner

cutest menu ever

enjoying our private dining experience

we headed down the main road for gelato from a stevie rec but it was closed. this actually turned out to be lucky for me because another place next door was open and i got the best cone imaginable for 2€ - three flavors topped with whipped cream and nutella! to say the least, i slept well that night!

happy birthday to me (and joann!)


the first thing i checked was my email for hotel responses about friday night. i had “good” news that one place had space but the problem was a shared bathroom with possibly unknown people. mom decided to call mario, our current landlord, to ask if he had rome accommodations and he did! she visited him at high b&b in PDR, which pushed back our daytrip to sienna. since it was close to noon we decided to dash back to the shop where we found the bags near pitti palace the day before. joann got one from gma for her birthday, mom bought me on for mine, and gaylyn got herself one because the rest of us are good at peer pressure!

my GABS bag  :)

on our way to drop our purchases off at the apartment, we ran into a "statue" of cupid in the uffizi courtyard. i approached him for a picture and he would not stop looking at my chest, which made me extremely uncomfortable, especially with the very large crowd of onlookers. he kissed my cheek for a photo, he petted my head, and then as i tried to walk away he grabbed my hair and would not let go. needless to say it was a very uncomfortable encounter for me! we dropped the beautiful bags at home, grabbed lunch to go, and headed to the bus station.

cupid and me

we didn’t end up leaving for sienna until almost 4pm! it was raining when we got there, but we tried to make the best of it. we saw il campo, the main town square where il palio is held, and the duomo, which was one of the most beautiful churches we saw. all of us agreed that we would’ve enjoyed three nights there with just a day trip to florence.

by the time we got back to florence it was after 9pm and we were starving so we walked back to our favorite pizza place near the duomo. lucky for us, it was still open! gma wasn’t happy because they didn’t have anything she’d like to eat, but the rest of us were in heaven. my slice had huge chunks of sausage and i had a moretti beer to go with it. all i needed was some football americano!

our favorite pizza place - creative name, huh?

we were ready for bed after our eventful day in the crappy weather, and i was just relieved to have our return arrangements figured out!

lucky me


i tried to make reservations for academia, but everything was booked for the week. we checked out the line, but seeing as it went from the museum entrance half-way to the duomo, we decided we’d settle for the copies all over town, including the one by uffizi where the old david used to stand anyway.

we shopped san lorenzo market for most of the day, are the best pizza near the duomo, then sat on a bench inside to admire the cathedral’s pink, green and white marble floors and, of course, the dome.  i read that when the church was first built it had a hole where the dome is now. they were waiting for the technology to build the dome, which was finally completed by filippo brunelleschi. it was the first renaissance dome and the model for those after it.

san lorenzo market

the duomo of florence

inside the duomo

the duomo floor

from there we walked the pedestrian area down via calzaiuoli, through piazza della repubblica and piazza della signoria. in PDR we saw the obelisk, which marks what used to be the intersection of the two main roman roads, and in PDS we saw the copy of david standing where the original stood until 1873.

obelisk marks the point of intersection of the two main roman roads

fake david

after some photo shoots of fake david, joann, gaylyn and i dropped mom and gma at the apt while we strolled ponte vecchio to the pitti palace. hoping to catch a glimpse of the gardens, we were disappointed to discover the fortress walls hiding them. the upside to this “pitti”ful discovery was the little purse/shoe boutique we found which carried handbags we’d spotted at a different store… for a lower price, with a greater variety of colors, and a much friendlier saleslady.

view of the arno from ponte vecchio

on our way back to the apt we saw a cute restaurant called “caruso,” which is aunt ro’s married name, and decided we’d drag the other two back there for dinner. joann and i even know what gma would order. i had a salad with pear, gorgonzola, pear, and walnuts… yum!

after dinner we walked around without a specific direction in mind. we found a new square with a hog statue and tons of people crowded around it. one girl told us that you are to hold a coin in the hog's mouth and then let it drop. if it falls through the cracks of the drain underneath then that means good luck for that person. my coin fell on the first try! walking back to the apartment we passed by uffizi for our first night view and it was beautiful, not to mention there were artists and singers all around displaying their work.

lucky hog!

uffizi at night

area around uffizi at night

that night on tv we found an italian drama to watch and the girls created their own storyline – very entertaining! we were all shocked at the amount of killing that was in the plot, and i decided the next day that the show was to blame for my weird dreams that night.

before bed i searched for more accommodations in rome for friday night so that we could fly out of FCO saturday afternoon. this was probably another reason for my unsettled night’s sleep.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

rain, rain, go away...


we made it to florence without any problems and we met a really nice girl from iran on the train. she works for the un and is taking a few weeks to travel all over europe by herself.

florence is dirty and loud… and i’m sure all this rain we’re having doesn’t help.

this afternoon we bought wine at a cute shop by our apartment. the lady working was very nice and helpful. she recommended wines for all of us.

we walked towards the arno river and found a neat structure in front of the science museum. it is a monumental sundial, which projects the time of day and period of year using markers on the ground. the shadow projected by the glass indicates the solar time of day and period of year.

the monumental sundial

markers for determining time of day and year

we passed through the uffizi courtyard and over to ponte vecchio, walking in and out of jewelry and leather shops, stopping for fresh hot sugar waffles from sidewalk vendors. then the rain came down… and we went in for the night.

around uffizi

the arno river

back at the apartment i broke the news to everyone about the flight from milan being full, but i also had good news that we could get out on the fight from rome. i had known about milan for a couple days, and it was stressing me out, but i wasn’t prepared to deal with it. once i figured out rome would work i felt so relieved! luckily we could cancel our apartment in milan, but now we had the problem of finding one in rome. i searched online a sent out some reservation requests, but it was late and i was sleepy. bedtime!

grandma, ready for bed, saying
"you better not take that picture!"

venice is for lovers


we started the day with homemade scrambled eggs and red peppers, olives, fruit, and crunchy breadsticks that mom jacked from the restaurant the night before. it was delicious!

the plan was to tour murano (the glass-blowing island) first and then come back for st. mark’s basilica (because apparently it wasn’t open except for a few hours in the afternoon) but when we got to the square we saw people on the second-floor terrace and figured it was open. joann and i climbed the steep staircase to the top and ralized it was just the gallery and terrace for 4€ but we decided we might as well do it since we were there. we could see parts of the basilica ceilings and walls, which are completely mosaic and incredible. the coolest part was that we could hear the singing and smell the incense from the service in progress. we walked the halls lined with tapestries, huge song books, paintings, etc. before walking out on the terrace to admire the view of the square and doge’s palace. it was getting very hot and the others were waiting so we took pictures and climbed back down the steep staircase, heading to the vaporetto en route to murano.

joann and me on the balcony

view of st. mark's square from the balcony

on the boat we passed by the beach island of lido and several other smaller islands, one of which had a giant elephant statue. from then on we noticed elephants everywhere! we’re still unsure of their significance.

view of the gondolas as we left san marco

that crazy elephant

the island was full of glass shops and i think we went in every single one – some twice! one of the shops gave us a demonstration. it is unbelievable how quickly and easily they create each item!

we walked through the shop attached to the “show room” and i received another proposal… this time though it got mom a discount! i could barely understand his name at the time so i certainly couldn’t spell it now, but we had a funny conversation. i was having a hot flash after being crammed in the room with a large group of people in front of a glass furnace and he took my discomfort to be because of him.

after a series of questions and holding my hand:
“i think i make you uncomfortable.”
“no, i’m just really hot!”
“where is your mom? we go tell her we are going to get married and you stay here with me.”

clearly my discomfort didn’t phase him…

my italian fritz - met him in front of one of the many shops
he felt like velvet!

pretty picture of murano

murano hangs their dirty laundry for all to see

by this time it was late in the afternoon so we headed back to san marco where i was “attacked” by the pigeons. their claw-hands are so warm that i kept thinking they were pooping on me. one nested itself in my hair and wouldn’t get off even when i shook my head back and forth!

all of us headed back to san marco on the vaporetto

we walked a different way home discovering new alleys and, of course, new shops. for dinner we ate at a self-service cafeteria-like place suggested by stevie, as gaylyn started to call our “tour guide.” they had a great pesto pasta, pretty good fish, and a nice house wine, but since it was a la carte style it ended up being very expensive.

random street
translation: street of wine :)

afterwards we strolled to the rialto bridge for a great night view of the grand canal. the area was crowded with sidewalk tables full of people drinking wine and beer. mom and grandma went back to the apartment while jojo, gaygay and i let ourselves get “lost.” we continued walking down dark alleys and around new corners which led us to hidden squares. as we passed in front of the canalside ristorante, we laughed at a little boy standing at the entrance, dressed as roman soldier, holding out a basket for passers-by to drop in coins. as we looked up one of the hosts/servers from the next ristorante asked if we'd like to sit and then he grabbed my face and kissed both of my cheeks. i was in such shock that i just stood there with my jaw dropped. the three of us walked on, laughing all the way to the boat. i grabbed some berry flavored gelato for the ride home. (it was my favorite of the whole trip!)

little boy in front of the restaurant with a basket out for coins

the girls in front of rialto

night view of the grand canal from the rialto bridge

back at the a.p.t. we sadly packed our bags and went to bed to rest for our morning train to florence.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

jon paulo to the rescue

I’m hoping that this is the only day of the trip with any malfunctions… luciano, the man who drove us from the station to the hotel upon arrival, was supposed to pick us up early this morning so that we could make our 6:12am train. Well he never showed, so we missed our ride to Venice. Of course since it was 6am in a tiny Italian village so no one was awake except the trash guy who spoke no English. He did give me a business card for a taxi service, but no one answered. Luckily one of the hotel employees woke up and we somehow communicated the situation. She called Jon Paulo to drive us and he spoke a “leetle” English. At the station we realized we’d be waiting hours for another train headed in the right direction. For 50€ jon Paulo drove us to Perugia where the service center was actually open. The manager gave us a new route, which added another connection, and it was a tight one… poor gma! It was at this point that I think the girls realized why I was pushing for smaller suitcases – schlepping the big ones is not fun.

Finally we made it to our Venice apartment where the apartment owner, furio, gave us tips and showed us around our home for the next two nights. It was great! We had a ton of space, nice bathroom, washing machine, and wifi!

views from our apartment

 After getting organized we went to a market furio suggested for eggs, milk, olives, and peppers. Then we window-shopped our way to st. mark’s square. I fell in love with Venice instantly. All my previous hesitations about this city of bridge-connected islands were gone.

this way to st. mark's!

st. mark's basilica

 bridge of sighs

 The rest of the night we strolled the alleys, took pictures, ate a great dinner with good wine, and went to bed to rest up for the next day.