Rome: A Layered City

Rome is a layered city. There is new and old everywhere you look. I heard it once decsribed as a lasagna because new buildings are built on top of the old. Construction takes forever here, because as soon as they dig down to build a parking garage or fix a pipe, they discover a lost building or artifact. For this post, I am going to honor the layers of Rome by writing about an old site we visited, and a new tradition we started.

When in Rome, you must see the Vatican (and the Colosseum and the Pantheon and the Spanish steps and so many other things, but I am going to focus on the Vatican, here or else it would be quite a long and boring read). And you must use the saying, “When in Rome” as much as you can J Our first day in the city, Savannah had organized a guided tour of the Vatican. We walked to the Vatican city and were blown away by the beauty of it. Did you know that the Vatican is it’s own country? I think my favorite part of our visit was seeing the Sistine Chapel. I had studied it in school, but seeing slide show photos of it or reading about it in a textbook does no justice to the actual work itself. Our guide gave us a ton of information before we entered, because there is no talking and no photos allowed inside the chapel. He told us how Michelangelo did not want to paint the ceiling and the Pope, with so much power, convince/forced him to do so. Michelangelo, who specialized in sculptures, had to learn how to paint a fresco which is not an easy task. The process includes putting plaster on the ceiling and then applying paint at the perfect time; not too early because it will soak in too much, and not too late because it will crumble off shortly after the plaster dries. Painting a fresco is extremely difficult and requires not only efficiency, but great skill.

After Michelangelo learned how to paint frescoes, he locked himself into the Sistine Chapel and put a sheet below so that if anyone got in they would not be able to see what he was working on. After two** grueling years, arguments with the pope, and lasting back problems from standing and arching backwards to paint, Michelangelo had completed a masterpiece.

Masterpiece has so many definitions and is sometimes applied to too many works of art or literature. But the Sistine Chapel with this amazing ceiling, The Last Judgment painted on the wall and other paintings throughout by other renowned artists, such as Perugino and Bottecelli, is definitely a masterpiece and inspires silence even if the room didn’t require it.

After seeing visiting the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica, something old and full of tradition, Savannah and I visited a gelato place called La Romana to start our own new tradition. Just like the new buildings that stand on top of the old, we, inevitably made our own new mark on a place where millions of others had for thousands of years before us. This time, our mark was in Gelato. The hostal we stayed at recommended La Romana and we decided to check it out. I am so happy that we did, because it was the best gelato I have ever tasted. It was fluffy and sweet, creamy like ice cream but light like gelato and they topped it with homemade airy and decadent whip cream. After our first night, Sav and I revisited the place every single night—one of the workers even began to recognize us. My favorite flavors were the dark chocolate, the biscotti and the yogurt with honey and walnut topped with chocolate whip cream shown in this picture. When in Rome, go to La Romana.IMG_5769

Old and New. New and Old. And Gelato that would never get old. And that’s an un-wrap.

No Chocolate for David

Savannah immediately liked Florence with it’s wide, clean streets and old, yet elegant, buildings. I liked it too because it reminded me of New York in some ways, just not as tall or crowded. On our first night, we slowly meandered the streets to get a feel for the city and we walked right into a Piazza with a huge fake statue of Michelangelo’s David in the place the original statue stood when it was first created.

The next morning, Savannah and I woke early and bought croissants (and Sav tried her first cappuccino, which I don’t think she will be getting another anytime soon) at a small bakery before heading to the Galleria Dell’academia—a museum designed specifically to hold the original sculpture of the David. Although we had seen a version of it the night before, it was truly overwhelming to see the real thing. I was surprised at his size. The musuem had a huge dome with the statue in the middle so you could walk around it and see it from all angles. Even though there were other pieces of art in the museum, the David definitely demanded your attention—it was so large that his hand was bigger than my head. In my art history course I learned Michelangelo believed he was merely uncovering a statue or form already in the rock, and that he carved his statues from one large slab instead of placing multiple pieces together like other sculptures sometimes did. I have no idea how anyone could carve such a large form with life-like precision out of just one piece of stone. It was incredible. The look in his eyes was intense, his muscular features were enhanced, and you could even see the veins in his hands. He was “chiseled”, literally and figuratively, and represents an extremely strong David. He must not have eaten much chocolate because his body looked pristine.

IMG_5671Copies of the David are scattered throughout the city like a scavenger hunt. We saw one the first night, we saw the real one in the museum, and we found another one our last morning at the Piazza de Michelangelo: a hill that looks out over all of Florence. In fact, the whole city seemed like one giant treasure chest containing the better known ornate jewelry on the surface as well as hidden gems burried beneath. There are over 70 museums, of which we only had time to dedicate to two, the Galleria dell’accademia and the Uffizi. But there is also art, new and old, everywhere you look. For example, my favorite secret gem of art appeared in the form of small little men. There were stickers of them on the street signs and graffiti of them on some of the walls. Every time I saw one of these little guys, I couldn’t help but smile.IMG_5685



In between admiring the David’s, the little men, and all of the other old and modern treasures of art we came across, Sav and I uncovered my favorite chocolate of the trip so far. We were walking through a street market when we found a huge warehouse with little stands selling everything from fresh cheese and meats to olive oils and wine. As we strolled through, I made a last minute decision to purchase two square chocolates. The little squares were thick and covered with chocolate cocao nibs on the outside, a layer of dark chocolate, with a center of rich dark chocolate on the inside. The taste lingered in my mouth for the rest of the day. I hope I can find them on Amazon or in an international chocolate shop when I get home.

And that’s an un-wrap.

Round and Round in Venice

My best friend and former teammate, Savannah, traveled all the way from Arizona to be my travel companion for a week. We met for a brief adventure through Milan and then took the train to Venice that evening.

They say if you don’t get lost in Venice, then you aren’t doing something right. Well, Savannah and I definitely did Venice “right” by these standards. When we stepped off the train, the sun had already gone down and the city was covered in darkness. We climbed the Ponte degli Scalzi, or the Scalzi bridge, and looked out over the grand canal. Mist hung in the air and scattered around the buildings that seemed to grow out of the water and dim lights reflected across the canal. We stopped and looked out for a while, soaking up the city and trying to digest the fact that we were actually, truly standing in Venice.IMG_5526

Savannah and I followed maps and directions I had taken pictures of on my phone and printed directions from the hostal, and we made it pretty darn close to where we were staying. We followed the maps through the narrow streets, onto a ferry, off of a ferry and around churches and shops into a place called Campo Santo Stefano. However, when we got to this square, (and were literally only 2 minutes away from the hostal) is when everything went downhill. We tried every single street that lead away from the square and we asked over five or six italians for directions. Most of them tried to help, but even with their pointing and hand signlas, they often sent us in the wrong direction or back to the square we had come from. After two hours of walking round and round, we walked into a restaurant and asked the lady to call the hostal to tell them we would be late. Instead of making us buy food or having us sit down for dinner to use the phone and wifi, she asked us what hostal we were looking for and walked us to a man in a different hotel who walked us right to the front door so we couldn’t get lost again. I don’t know how we would have found the place without her help.

After dropping our bags off, we headed back out into the zig-zaggy, name-changing streets of venice and made our way to San Marco Square for a pizza, salad, and of course, some gelato after dinner. Sav ordered Pistachio and I ordered the Bacio Gelato, which is a chocolate hazlenut flavor with small chunks of hazlenut. It is designed to taste like the famous silver and blue wrapped candies that are all over Italy.

The next morning, Sav and I wandered the streets once more. They were much easier and more enjoyable in daylight and with a paper map from the hostal. We window-shopped all of the bakery and pastry shops looking for the best one and were eventually drawn to a little glass one where sweet and buttery smells wafted into the street everytime the door swung open. It was like a secret club where you hear only a glimpse of the music every time the door opens. Sav bought a slice of pastry with spinach in it that tasted like some kind of savory quiche and I bought a circular scone-type pastry with huge chocolate chips called “Ciambella Cioccolato”. We ate our breakfast while sitting on the edge of the water where we could see people go about their daily lives.Eventually, we completed our journey in Venice full-circle back at the train station to head to the next stop of our trip through Italy.

IMG_5530 Round in circles through the city , round pizza, round gelato, round scone. I had a good time running ‘round Venice. And that’s an un-wrap.