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Paris [Nov. 28th, 2006|02:05 pm]
If you can’t spend Thanksgiving at home with your family, you might as well spend it in Paris. We didn’t have school on Thursday, being an American school, so I flew out of Rome to Paris early Thursday morning. I got to my hostel easily, although it took a lot longer than I expected. Also I didn’t realize that most of the Metro stations have stairs instead of escalators, so lugging my suitcase around was not too fun. The hostel was on the edge of the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank, so there were lots of restaurants around and a lot going on. It was the most stereotypical hostel I’ve stayed in. I was unfortunately on the top floor, so I had to go up 4 flights of an incredibly tight spiral staircase. It seemed very Parisian in my room though because the ceiling was sloped and looked over the rooftops.

After checking in, I got a crepe for lunch that was a little heavy on the cheese. Then I went for a walk. I started at Notre Dame because it was close to the hostel. I’ve seen a lot of churches on this trip and Notre Dame was definitely the most impressive. The stained glass windows were magnificent and it was so huge inside. Then I walked down the Rue di Rivoli and did some reconnaissance for my shopping plans for Saturday. I walked past the Louvre and the Tuilleries up to the Champs Elysee where all the lights were coming on because it was getting dark. I got up to the Arc de Triomphe and decided I was exhausted, so I got on the metro and went back to the hostel. Also it rained during the entirety of this little walk, so I was wet too. I had tried to get in touch with one of my friends in Paris, but she was unreachable, so I went out to dinner by myself. So my Thanksgiving dinner consisted of French onion soup, beef bourguignon, and apple pie. When I got back to the hostel, I fell asleep almost as my head hit the pillow.

Friday I woke up bright and early to go to the Louvre. I went in the secret underground entrance and bought my ticket in a tobacco shop in the underground mall to avoid the lines, but I discovered that there were no lines at 9am on a Friday in November. I headed first to the wing with the Mona Lisa. One of the first things I saw on the way was the Victory of Samothrace, aka Winged Victory. It’s one of my favorite statues, so it was very exciting to see it in person. Then I saw a bunch of Venetian art pieces that I had learned about in class as well as some other Leonardos (it’s the Italian wing, naturally). Then I saw the Mona Lisa and wasn’t that impressed, because a) it’s small and b) you see it everywhere, so it’s not a surprise. The eyes do follow you uncannily however. I was much more impressed by the giant Tintoretto (or was it Veronese?) picture of the Wedding at Cana. Then I walked around for three hours, taking in as much as I could until I started going cross-eyed. I think I only saw about half of the museum, but I just couldn’t do anymore. Oh well, one must leave something to see the next time one is in Paris. I had lunch in the museum café and then headed over to the d’Orsay to continue the museum-going extravaganza. The d’Orsay is a remodeled train station, so the inside is very cool; it still has the giant clock on one end. It is also a collection of Impressionism as well as the art that preceded it and followed it. I skipped most of the academic art of the salons of the late 1800s and focused on the Impressionists. Since I took an Impressionism/Post Impressionism class last semester, it was incredible to see everything I had learned about in person. They had my favorite Manet picture, Olympia, as well as the Drummer Boy and Dejeuner sur l’Herbe. They had tons of Monet and Renoir and Degas as well as Van Gogh and Cezanne. I finished at about 2 and went to go see the Eiffel Tower. I came around from the back, so I didn’t get the full approach of walking up the Champ des Mars, but it was very impressive none the less. I decided not to go up in it because it was raining, and I feel like I’ve been to the top of every monument in Europe and the view is always very similar. So I walked down the Champ des Mars instead and kept having to walk backwards so I could look at the Tower. It was still relatively early so I went to go find the Moulin Rouge.

The Moulin Rouge is in a pretty seedy area that’s full of sex shops, so I just went and took a quick picture and moved on to Montmarte. When I got to Montmartre, I thought I was being clever by taking the metro to what I thought was the top of the hill and then walking down to Sacra Coeur. Turns out, the metro let out in the middle of the hill, so I walked down the hill, the wrong direction, for twenty minutes before I realized where I was. So then I had to walk back up the hill. I was glad that I didn’t give up, because the area near the church is very beautiful and quaintly Parisian. The view from the church is incredible and I felt just like Amelie when I walked down the steps. In front of Sacra Coeur, I finally got a hold of my friend, so I said I would head to the metro stop near her apartment and she would come meet me. She lives a block away from the Eiffel Tower and you can see it if you lean a few inches out the window. Her French apartment was pretty similar to my Rome one, so that wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. Then we went to dinner in an area near my hostel. We walked around for ages looking for a place to eat but we finally found a good place. I ordered beef tartar, and the waiter checked to make sure I knew what it was, I thought it was funny, especially considering that Whitney ordered escargots and he didn’t ask her if she knew what they were. I’m used to beef tartar being an appetizer and in a very small portion, but this was a whole plate of it! It was delicious and came with such good fries that I didn’t even mind that there was no ketchup.

Saturday morning, I got up and met Whitney at the Paris Catacombs because she hadn’t been there yet. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was a little shocked at the piles of bones right out in the open. I guess I had thought it would be a little more like the Capuchin crypt where they were laid out in designs. Or that they would be skeletons laid into niches. But no, they were just piles of bones. It would have been less amusing if we didn’t know any French, because there were all these creepy signs saying things like “it is only in death that I found freedom” and other morbid things like that. We couldn’t read them totally but between the two of us, we got the gist of most of them. After the catacombs, she headed home to write papers and I went off to do some shopping. I was very successful at H&M, which almost feels like cheating because we have that at home, but I got a great wrap dress and a swishy black skirt. I wandered around a bit more and then went back to the hostel to give my feet a rest. I wasn’t too hungry, so I went to a “pie shop” and had a nice piece of quiche for dinner.

Sunday, I went to Versailles. I’m so glad I did, because it’s really amazing. I was most impressed by the opera. It’s quite possibly the most beautiful room I’ve ever seen. Its all pale blue and gold and velvet and gorgeous. The rest of the palace is incredible too. Unfortunately, the hall of mirrors is being restored, so they only had part of it open, but they were very creative and put up mirrored panels over the construction, so in the reflection, you could get the feel for what it looked like. I loved the gardens too and would love to go back someday and go in one of the rowboats on the lake. Someday when it is warmer! When I got back, I did some last minute shopping, buying a pair of very “European” boots and some souvenir-type stuff. Then I had dinner and went to bed early.

I woke up at 4am, got up and dressed so I could leave by 4:30 to get my shuttle. The shuttle company wouldn’t come to the hostel, so I put down the Comfort Inn a block up the street. The shuttle said they would come at 4:40. So I’m out in front of the Comfort Inn at 4:30. And I wait and wait and wait. It’s almost 5 and it’s still not there. The guy in the lobby of the Comfort Inn sees me and says that the shuttle came at 4 and waited for about 20 minutes and then left. He’s nice enough to call me a cab and I get to the airport in plenty of time and it didn’t even cost that much (I was worried because I was running low on cash). The plane took off without a hitch but when we got to Rome, we had to circle for about half an hour because of fog. Then it took a record amount of time to get my baggage. Then there weren’t very many cabs and the guy I got was one of the ones that won’t obey their fixed rate rule and tried to convince me it would cost 50 euro to get to my apartment when I KNOW it should only be 30. So I gave up on the cab and took a shuttle bus to the Rome train station where I caught a cab to my apartment. It took longer, but at least it was way cheaper than taking the cab straight from the airport.
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Florence [Nov. 20th, 2006|03:07 pm]
This weekend I went to Florence. My train was at 7:30 on Friday morning, so I got into Florence at about 9. Florence is so small I was able to walk from the train station to my hostel easily. I checked in and was out the door again by about 9:45. I walked around a bit and ended up at the Church of Santa Croce, so I went inside to see the graves of Galileo, Machiavelli and some other important Italians. Then I went to the Pitti Palace where I skipped the art wings and just saw the costume gallery and the Medici Silver and a porcelain collection. I was also able to go into the gardens behind the complex which were some of the prettiest gardens I’ve ever seen. They were on a hillside though, so walking around was a little strenuous. Then I went to have some lunch at one of the piazzas nearby. I had delicious tagliatelli with meat sauce and watched a bunch of teenagers either protesting or having their lunch break (it was hard to tell). By then it was about 2:30 and my guide book said that there was a Gregorian chant vespers service at this church up on a hill at 4:30, so I headed that way because I didn’t know how long it would take to get there. I missed the road that leads to the church, but I saw some steps heading the same way, so I decided to take those. Big mistake. When I got to the top of the steps, I saw that there was a trail leading up the hill, so I hike up this hill and finally get to the church and it’s only 3. I’m not about to go down and come back, so I decide to wait. There’s an absolutely gorgeous view of Florence from the hill. Then I saw the sign on the door that said that Vespers was at 5 and not 4:30 like my guide book says. So I wait and wait. Finally at about 4:15 I go inside the church because I figure that it will be warmer inside. It was about 10 degrees colder inside and almost completely dark. So by the time 5 o’clock rolls around, I’m freezing. It was worth the wait though, because they did the service in a sort of underground chapel that looks like the perfect setting for Romeo and Juliet’s wedding. They do incense and everything, and the chanting is very cool. But I was so cold that I snuck out after about 20 minutes. I took the actual road back down the hill and it was much easier than the hike up the hill. I was so tired and footsore that I just grabbed some quick pizza before going back to the hostel and going to bed.

Saturday morning I woke up bright and early to go to the Uffizi gallery. I got there at about 8:45 and it was fairly empty. They had a special exhibit of Leonardo’s drawings, which was really cool to see, you could see how he wrote backwards. They also had a few Leonardo paintings, including one on loan from the Vatican that the Vatican said was “in restoration”, liars. Then I got to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera which was very, very exciting. Then I saw the Venus of Urbino which was extra-exciting because I’m writing a paper about it. After the Uffizi I went to get some lunch, I had a delicious risotto with artichokes at a trattoria that my guide book recommended and afterwards some gelato from “the best gelateria in Florence”. Then I did some shopping, which is way more fun and easier in Florence than in Rome. I bought myself some gorgeous leather gloves and some other things for other people. Then I went back to the hostel to take a nap, and ended up staying there for a while because it started pouring. Then I went out for a nice big Tuscan dinner. I found a great place that had one of the best prix fixe menus that I’ve seen. I started with a sampling of three Tuscan soups, the bread soup was delicious and the other two were very good too. Then I had beef stewed in Chianti and finished with Vino Santo and biscotti for dessert.
Sunday morning I had another early day to go see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia. There are some pieces of art that are a little disappointing in person, and some that go beyond all expectation. The David was of the latter category. It was enormous and absolutely stunning. Especially when I went and looked at the copy at the Palazzo Vecchio, I could really see the difference and how much better the Michelangelo was. The Accademia was much smaller than I had realized, so I was done in about 45 minutes. So I went and had some breakfast and figured out what to do with the rest of my day. I started out at the Duomo museum where I got to see a great Donatello wood carving of Mary Magdalene, it was almost scary, she was so haggard looking. The museum also had the original panels of Ghibertti’s Gates of Paradise from the doors of the Baptistery. Then I had a quick lunch and walked up to Santa Maria Novella which is a very pretty church. Then I walked back to the Duomo to go inside. It’s huge, but not as elaborate as I was expecting. Then I wandered around for a while, bought some last minute stuff and window shopped. Then I picked up my stuff from the hostel and headed to the train station two hours early because I was tired, footsore, had seen everything I wanted to see and it was raining. The train ride was uneventful and when I got back, one of my roommate’s parents were there, so they took us out for a delicious dinner.
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Celebrity Sighting [Nov. 15th, 2006|02:38 pm]
Today I went to the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum. They were both really cool. The Palatine Hill has the ruins of the Emperors Palaces. The Colosseum was the Colosseum and very impressive.

THEN as I was walking past, I see tons of cameras and stuff and then I see Rachel Bilson from the OC. When I got back to school, I looked online and it seems they were filming this movie called Jumper about a guy who can teleport. I saw Hayden Christensen with her, but I didn't recognize him. So I took some paparazzi photos, which are mostly of their backs.
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London! [Nov. 14th, 2006|01:46 pm]
This weekend, I went to London. Mary and I left very early Friday morning, and due to the time difference, we arrived in London a little after 8am. Then we had to take the train in from the airport and find our hostel. We managed everything, and a very nice gentleman even told us when to get off the bus without us even needing to ask. The hostel check-in was the fastest we’ve done and we were out the door at about 10:30 to go off exploring. The first order of business was to get some breakfast. We went to a café around the corner and I had bap (which is basically a soft roll) with a fried egg and bacon (that was much more like Canadian bacon than American). Then we walked down the Thames, taking many pictures, to get to the Tower of London. We went on a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) tour of the grounds, which was very informative, because we learned things we wouldn’t have known about. The cottage that King Henry VII built for Anne Boleyn is the only remaining Tudor building in London because the rest were burned in the great fire. We saw the Crown Jewels which were amazingly gorgeous and debated the pros and cons of marrying one of the Princes. Then we walked around the armory and the old living quarters of Edward V and saw the place where Anne Boleyn was beheaded (along with many of Henry’s other wives). After we had finished at the Tower, we went back to the hostel to have a rest. Then we went searching for dinner. The hostel is located near St. Paul’s Cathedral which is also a business district, so there wasn’t much in the way of restaurants. We finally went into a pub and were dismayed to find out that they stopped serving food at 5pm (?) but they took pity on us and gave us some dinner. Then we walked along the Strand which is where many of the Theaters are. I wish I had looked more into discount theater tickets, because they had some good shows on. We walked all along until we found ourselves in Trafalgar Square. Then we realized that we were near Buckingham Palace and decided to walk there and see it before turning back. The walk was a little longer than we had thought, and then after we saw the Palace we had a hard time finding a nearby Tube station and had to walk around in the rain for a bit.

Saturday morning we woke up bright and early, had the decent continental (free) breakfast buffet at the hostel and then headed out. Our first stop was the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles and the Portland Vase. And that was what we saw. The museum was so huge, you could have spent and entire day there, so we just saw those three things and whatever was along the way. I had to convince Mary that the marbles were the real ones from the Parthenon and not copies (same with the Crown Jewels); I think she is still skeptical. Then we hustled to get to Buckingham Palace (again) by 11:30 to see the changing of the guard. Of course when we got there at exactly 11:30 there was a crowed 5 deep along the fence. But somehow we managed to squeeze in for a better view. There was a lot of pomp, but it moved a lot more slowly than I expected. It was quite a surprise to hear the guard band playing the Mission Impossible theme song and a Beatles medley instead of marching music. Then we went and had some Cornish Pasties for lunch which were delicious along with the first Dr. Pepper I’ve seen in Europe. After lunch, we caught the tube down to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Parliament and Big Ben (which is the name of the bell inside and not the actual building btw) were even more impressive in person than they are in pictures. We got into Westminster about 20 minutes before the last entrance, so we were glad we hadn’t gone somewhere else first. It was really incredible to see all the graves of so many important people all in one place. The biggest surprise for me was that Elizabeth I and Mary Tudor were buried in the same grave. Since it was Armistice Day they had all these little remembrance crosses out on the lawn of the church and everyone was wearing poppy buttonholes. After Westminster, Mary headed back to the hostel to rest and I went to the Victoria (it was so weird for me in London to see my name plastered all over everything) and Albert Museum to see the fashion collection. They had a special exhibit of Sixties Swinging fashion which was really cool, they even had a Twiggy mannequin and paper dresses! The permanent fashion collection was really neat too. I probably could have looked around the museum more after that because it looked really interesting, but I was so tired I just wanted to get off my feet. So I went back to the hostel where we couldn’t find anything open except Subway, so that’s what we had for dinner. Then we fell asleep really early.

Sunday was another early day. We bought tickets for the London Eye at the hostel to avoid the heinous lines and then headed over to ride it. The line wasn’t too bad, but you could see where they had more snake-line sections for the busier times of the year. The London Eye is the giant Ferris wheel that they built for the Millennium celebrations. I think they said it was like 460 feet tall. It doesn’t even stop as you get on; you have to slip into the large glass gondolas as they glide past. It was neat to get such great views of London (and I had fun figuring out which buildings were what), but it was a little over hyped and definitely not worth the 12 pounds for the half hour ride. Then we went to Piccadilly Circus to walk around and look for souvenirs. After that, we went to Trafalgar Square to go the National Gallery. We were both very tired and footsore, so we did a very fast highlight tour, but I can’t wait to go back and look at everything properly. They had a great collection of Titian. They had a whole room of Rembrandt which I took some time with since I will be taking a whole course on him next semester. We saw Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks. They had a special exhibit of Impressionists/Postimpressionists and it was like a recap of the class I took last semester. It a fabulous collection of stuff and I saw many things I recognized. They had an important Seurat piece and one of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. As we were walking down the steps, I tripped and banged my knee and my shopping bag into the cement, shattering the awesome Union Jack shot glass that I had bought. Since it was the end of our trip, I didn’t see another and had to buy a far inferior one at the hostel. Then we went and had an early dinner before heading back to the hostel to rest our feet before the Jack the Ripper walking tour that was being given for free by a hostel volunteer. The Ripper tour was pretty interesting; we got to see a different kind of London neighborhood even if it was a little creepy. The guide wasn’t very good, he was mostly reading from his notes, but I’m pretty familiar with the Ripper stuff, so it was interesting just to see the sites (not that there’s much to them). The only problem with the tour was that it was supposed to be 2- 2 ½ hours and ended up being 3 ½ which was a little on the long side. We got back to the hostel at around 11 and ordered our cab and went to bed.

I was worried about making our flight, so I didn’t really sleep at all, just listened to the St. Paul’s bells chime. I woke Mary at 2:30 and we got ready quickly and went downstairs where the cab was waiting to take us to the train station. We thought it would be one of the cool cabs, but it wasn’t so it was a little sketchy, but since the hostel had called the cab company for us and they guy had been inside talking to the security guard, we figured it was safe. He dropped us off at the train station and then we tried to find the place where the bus would come. The trains don’t run that early in the morning, so they have a bus service instead. The whole train station was locked up, so we didn’t know where to go. If we had read the sign on the door in the first place, we would have been better off, but we didn’t. So we wandered around the outside of the station looking for where the bus would come, but we didn’t see anything that looked promising. Finally we saw some people with luggage who looked like they knew what they were doing, so we followed them. Back to the spot in front of the station where the cab let us off. Then I saw the sign that said wait here for buses to the airport and smacked my head. The bus came a few minutes later and we were at the airport in about an hour. Then the real fun began. We got in line to get our boarding passes and I needed to check a bag because of the stricter restrictions on liquids. But I hadn’t paid for it in advance so the lady at the counter said I had to go to another counter, pay and then come back to get my boarding pass. So that took forever because the line was really long. Then we only had about 10 minutes before our flight was supposed to start boarding. Then it took about 15 minutes to get through security and we ended up running to our gate (the farthest away of course) to find that it hadn’t even started boarding yet. Then we get on the plane, got seats and then the plane was delayed for almost two hours because of fog in Rome. After that the flight was fine and we got into Rome safe and sound and exhausted.
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I Saw the Pope! [Nov. 8th, 2006|04:30 pm]
Today I got up very early to go to the Vatican Museums. The trip there was much less stressful than the first time I went to the Vatican. I got to the museum at about 8:30 (the open at 8:45) and the line was only a block long, so I was inside by 9, which was pretty exciting.

There was a lot less "stuff" than I thought there would be. The Pianoteca (painting gallery) was nice, but there wasn't anything spectacular. The Leonardo da Vinci painting that they had was gone for restoration. The wall frescos were, however, very impressive. Usually I find that art works seem much smaller in person than I had imagined, but Raphael's School of Athens was enormous and beautiful. And of course the Sistene Chapel was incredible. There was also a painting on the wall that I had forgotten was in there. I love it when I see a painting I know unexpectedly.

Then I wandered down towards St. Peter's sqaure where I happened to see a gelateria that had come highly recommended to me as one of the best gelato places in Rome. And it was one of the best gelato places I've been to. So I decided to go down to St. Peter's square to eat my gelato and people watch. I knew that the Pope had his public audience on Wednesday mornings, but that it was at 10:30 and by that time it was about 11:15. So I thought it would be over, or now that it's winter it would have been moved inside. But no, the Pope was out under his canopy on the steps of St. Peter's. I couldn't really get a good look because he was so far away, but they did have big screens to show everyone what was going on. So I found that pretty exciting. After a while I managed to move up a little closer so I could see more than a speck of white. Then I went home and took a nap.
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Venice [Nov. 6th, 2006|01:54 pm]
This weekend was my Venetian Art History class’ trip to Venice. Except we had to make our own travel and accomedation arrangements so it was less a trip than an onsite class that happened to be really far away. Mary came with me so she could see Venice and I could have some company in the hostel.

We had a 7 am train on Friday morning and we got to the station on time and everything without any problems. The 4 and a half hour ride wasn’t all that bad either although we started out facing the direction the train was going and ended up riding backwards after the stop in Florence. Our hotel/hostel was right near the train station, so we didn’t have to walk too far with all our stuff, it was even easy to find. We were too early to check in so we just dropped our stuff and set out to explore. We walked down to Piazza San Marco, getting to see all the twisted streets and canals along the way. Venice is really as confusing as they say, but very beautiful and interesting. The Piazza was amazing, huge and full of pigeons. We window shopped and were tempted to spend 8 euro on hot chocolate/coffee at Café Florian, but resisted the temptation and went someplace cheaper for our warm drinks because it was COLD. Then I went to meet my class at the Palazzo Ducale. We almost didn’t get to go in because there was some sort of demonstration, and on the front page of the paper the next day, I saw that they had assaulted some government official, I guess that’s what the riot police were for. But they reopened it just as we walked up. The Palazzo Ducale is full of art, including the very famous Tintoretto’s Paradise in the Grand Council Hall. Then we went to the Church of San Zaccaria to see the famous altar piece there by Giovanni Bellini. Then we were released. I went back to the hotel to meet up with Mary and to go to dinner. We just ate at one of the places in the campo our hotel was on. We majorly lucked out on the hotel. It’s an actual hotel that also has a few dorm-style rooms. So we were in a room for 5 people that had its own bathroom. It was all girls and they were all nice and we got to chat for a bit. It had plenty of blankets and the heat was on, so it was very comfortable.

Saturday was my full class day. We started out by meeting at the Frari which is an important church that has Titian’s tomb as well as his Assumption of the Virgin altarpiece. It also had a small wooden carving by Donatello and a small altarpiece by one of the Bellinis. Then we went to the Scoula di San Rocco to see an example of a Venetian Scoula. The Scoula were groups of citizens who formed social groups to help each other out, they would provide dowries for daughters, funerals, old age homes and the like for their members. Often, immigrant groups would form Scoule to have a home away from home. This particular Scoula had a deal with Tintoretto that he would provide all the paintings for the decoration of the Scoula and he produced about three paintings a year for them for many years so the place is awash in Tintoretto. For some of the ceiling panels, they even provided mirrors to look at them through so you didn’t have to strain your neck. Then we had a break for lunch and had to meet at the Accademia at 3. The Accademia was very interesting, and I wish that we had done it earlier so I wouldn’t have been so tired. They have many beautiful Gothic altarpieces and some very famous paintings by Titian, Bellini and all the rest. They had some of the narrative paintings that Venice is famous for and it was nice to see them in person instead of trying to see the many figures and elaborate scenes of the paintings in a tiny textbook picture. Of course, none of these places had any heat whatsoever and I was freezing the entire time. We were let out of the Accademia at 5:45 and I hustled to go do all my souvenier shopping. We hadn’t bought train tickets in advance, thinking we would want to wait to see how long we wanted to stay, but on Saturday morning, my classmates were talking about how hard it had been to get return train tickets, so I called Mary and told her to go buy us train tickets before there was nothing left. The only train left with seats was leaving at 1:20 on Sunday afternoon, and I wasn’t going to be finished with class until noon, so I could only shop on Saturday night. Miraculously, I found everything I wanted. I got a beautiful Carnevale mask for myself and some surprise presents for other people. Then I went back to the hotel and Mary and I went to dinner. I was very surprised with how good it turned out to be, I had gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce and it was delicious. I was surprised because I hadn’t been too impressed with the quality of the food we were finding in Venice. Then we went back and chatted with our roommates for a bit before going to bed.

On Sunday we were meeting at Piazza San Marco, so I decided to take the vaporetto (water bus) down the Grand Canal to get there so that I could get the canal experience. It was even colder on the water than it was on land, and I had to keep my hands out to take pictures. It was a fun ride and I saw some really pretty palaces, but when I got off the boat, my hands were like ice and I ended up spending 8 euro on a pair of gloves that weren’t even very warm. Then we had to stand in the piazza and listen to one of the girls give her final presentation on the library that we didn’t even get to go into. Then we walked to another Scuola to see some narrative paintings like they would have been originally. Then we went to the church were Vivaldi was baptized to see an important painting there. Then we were done and I walked back to the hotel to get Mary and my stuff and we went to the train station, had lunch and headed back to Rome. This train was a regional train, so it was 5 ½ hours, which was a little too long considering the guy next to me had the worst breath ever. And then I got home and our house hadn’t been broken into (there have been a lot of break-ins to student apartments lately, so its always a relief to come home and find that your stuff is still there) and then did some schoolwork and went to bed.
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No Berlin [Oct. 29th, 2006|06:57 am]
Right before we left for Dublin, Mary and I decided to go to Berlin for the last weekend of October. We get to the airport on Friday night and wait as we are delayed again and again. Finally at about 10:30, 2 1/2 hours after we were supposed to have left, they tell us that the flight has been cancelled. So we don't get to go and we can only get refunded for the canceled flight and not our return flight on Sunday. Not fun at all.
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Dublin!! [Oct. 23rd, 2006|06:38 am]
This weekend I went to Dublin. Our flight was at 9:30 on Friday morning, so it wasn’t as early as the flight to Barcelona. The flight was late leaving because of fog and clouds in Dublin, so that was annoying. We flew over the Alps, which were amazing even from above. I also saw more airplanes in flight than I have ever seen. One ever passed fairly close to us.

When we landed in Dublin we easily found the Airlink bus that took us practically to the door of our hostel. The Four Courts hostel is rated the best in Dublin and it was pretty good. It was huge, so there wasn’t much mingling between guests. It took forever to check in because we got there at about 2:15 and they said our keys would be ready at 3, but then they weren’t ready until 3:30. In retrospect, we probably should have just gone out and finished checking in when we got back, but we didn’t think of that at the time. Our room was a 16 bed dorm, 8 pairs of bunks. We were kind of annoyed that we weren’t in the same bunk, but it wasn’t a big deal. We locked our stuff up and headed out to explore.

Since we basically hadn’t eaten anything all day, were starving had lunch/dinner at 4. We went to the Gallagher’s Boxty House because I had seen it recommended a bunch of places. It had a traditional Irish food called boxty which is basically a potato pancake with filling in the middle, kind of an Irish crepe. We started off splitting a mashed potato pancake with tomato sauce that was delicious. Then for the main course, Mary had a chicken boxty and I had corn beef and cabbage boxty (therefore combining two Irish foods). They were soooooo good. Then we split a sticky toffee pudding for dessert that was pretty good. Since it was only 5 when we finished, we walked around Temple Bar a little, then walked up O’Connell Street which is the main street in Dublin. It has lots of statues of famous Irish people. And lots of stores! They have such good shopping in Dublin. There was an H&M, Zara, etc. We also went into Marks and Spencers to look at the food hall, which wasn’t quite as impressive as I had been led to believe but it was cool nonetheless. We wanted to go on this musical pubcrawl that I had found online, but it didn’t start until 7:30, so we went to go have a drink and rest our feet for a bit. We went to the Temple Bar Pub and I ordered a half pint of Guinness because I had to try it. I’m not a beer drinker anyway so this was vile. I barely managed to drink half of it, and Mary helped me drink that half. According to her, though, it tastes much better in Ireland than it does in the States.

Finally it was time for the Musical Pub Crawl, which was an excellent choice for the evening’s entertainment. We started off at the Ha’Penny Bridge Inn where I had a small glass of Bailey’s to get the Guinness taste out of my mouth. There were two Irish musicians that were absolutely hysterical playing and talking about Irish music and making everyone sing the chorus to songs. We were at the first pub for about an hour and then moved to a second pub that was out of the touristy Temple Bar area. I had some hard cider to drink which was a big improvement over beer. They played a lot of jigs and reels which I was familiar with from doing Irish dance and I must say it made me want to take it up again. Then they also did some unaccompanied singing which was lovely. At the end they recommended some other places to go to listen to good Irish music, so Mary and I went to one of the places with two guys we had met (one was from Santa Cruz of all places). The new place was pretty close to our hostel and the music was very nice because there were a lot more instruments. We stayed there until they closed at 12:30 and then went back to the hostel and to bed.

Saturday was our heavy sightseeing day. We ate the lame toast breakfast that the hostel had and were out by 9:30. Since the public transportation is Dublin isn’t that great, we signed up for a double-decker hop on, hop off bus that went past all the places we wanted to see. We started at Trinity College and the Book of Kells. We only saw a little of the college, but it was very pretty. The Book of Kells exhibit was fascinating. First you learn about medieval manuscripts and how they are made and then you get to see two of the Books of Kells (two of the four Gospels) and two other really old manuscripts. They are beautiful in pictures but absolutely stunning in person. It’s so amazing that such intricate designs could have been made by hand so long ago. Then you get to go through the old library that has all these really old books from the 1800s and it’s in a beautiful building.

Then we got back on the bus and got off at the National History Museum. There we got to see a lot of pretty boring Stone, Bronze, and Iron Age arrowheads and other such things. They also had an extensive collection of Celtic gold jewelry that was amazing. The piece de resistance was the bog bodies. I didn’t realize that there were so many of them, but this museum had 4 or 5. They were fascinating to look at because they were so well preserved but the skin had turned black and kind of shiny. I thought it was funny that they were kind of unceremoniously laid out on slabs under glass. It was really creepy to see their hands because the fingers looked so alive. There was also an exhibit on the Vikings in Ireland and a display of Medieval Irish objects like the Bell of St. Patrick.

Then we had a delicious lunch at a café, not particularly “Irish” but I had a really good sandwich and Mary had a breakfast crepe. Then we went to House of Ireland which is a store of Irish products. I was looking for some Beleek china, I found a mug I liked but it wasn’t in the shamrock pattern that I wanted and there was nothing else I really wanted, which was a little disappointing. Then we got back on the bus and went to Christ Church Cathedral. It was kind of nice to see an Episcopalian/Anglican church after going to about a million Catholic churches so far. It was really pretty inside, but the cool part was going into the crypt area below it which was huge. They were warming up for Evensong when we left so there was lots of pretty music adding atmosphere. For some reason, it took 40 minutes for the bus to come by the Christ Church stop, which was irritating because we had lots left to do. Finally it came and the next stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but we didn’t get off because they were having some sort of graduation ceremony and the church was closed to the public.

Our last stop was the Guinness storehouse. It was a pretty uninspired beer making tour, but it was fun and the displays were really good. You get a free pint of Guinness at the end, but I passed because I obviously didn’t like it. The views from the bar were very nice though, because their “gravity” bar is on the 7th floor of the building. We were going to go to the Jameson’s Distillery after that, but we were soooo tired all we wanted to do was go back to the hostel and rest. So we did. We took a little nap and then went out to find some dinner. We had liked the Boxty house so much, we wanted to go back, but they were full until 10:30 so that wasn’t going to work. We tried several places, but they were all full, being 7pm on a Saturday. We finally found a place that had room and had some delicious stews. We were still so tired that after dinner we just went back to the hostel and read and went to bed at like 10:30.

Unfortunately, the only flight out of Dublin on that Sunday was at 12:30, so we didn’t get to do anything other than get up and check out and go to the airport. We felt that we had had a very fun trip even though we only really had one day. I would love to go back to Ireland some day and do some trips out into the countryside because it seems like it would be a lot of fun.

Then the cab driver on the way home tried to overcharge us, but we resisted and won, yay!
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Pisa and Perugia [Oct. 16th, 2006|01:11 pm]
This weekend was supposed to be really relaxing and low key, but I ended up doing a lot of stuff anyway.

On Saturday, Mary and I decided at the spur of the moment to go to Pisa since we hadn’t been able to go when we originally planned. So we headed to the train station and managed to buy tickets and get on the correct train without incident. After a fun 3 hour train ride past much scenic coastline and much more industrial yuckiness, we get to Pisa. We find the right bus and get to the Campo di Miracoli easily. And there is the Leaning Tower leaning away right in front of us. Since it’s 2 in the afternoon we decide to have some lunch first. So we go to a restaurant that has a nice view of the tower and I read the history of the tower out of my Frommer’s guide while we wait. We learned that it took almost 200 years to complete the tower (or Campanile if you want to use the official title) because they knew from the beginning that it was going to lean. We also learned that they had closed the tower for 10 years for repairs and had just reopened it in 2001, but you had to make reservations 16 days in advance to go up. After lunch we went and took silly tourist pictures that looked like we were holding the tower up and everything. Then we walked around the outside of the church and baptistery to look at the pretty architecture. We wandered around the many souveiner stands, bought some postcards and headed back to the train station, because there really wasn’t anything more to do. We got tickets and got back to Rome in one piece. Taking the train was interesting because going there, it just had normal seats and coming back we were in a compartment. It was a little bit of a long way to go to take some silly pictures, but it was fun.

Sunday, Mary (again) and I went to Perugia to go to the Euro Chocolate fest on a trip that was organized through the school. So no trains. We met at the meeting point at 7 am and got on the bus for (another) 3 hour trip. We get to Perugia and have to take a shuttle up to the town. We get there and there are masses of people and masses of chocolate everywhere. It was a little chilly in this hilltop town in Umbria, so we started off with some absolutely, amazingly wonderful hot chocolate. Then we wandered around the booths selling every kind of chocolate imaginable. Then we got some churros with chocolate dipping sauce. Then we looked at more booths and watched the chocolate-sculpture carvers hack away at 3 feet cubed chunks of chocolate, throwing the chopped parts out into the crowd. Then we sat on the steps of the piazza and people watched for a bit. Then we were hungry, so we try to go to this restaurant called Ristorante Victoria, but it was full. So we walk down this really steep hill because we see signs for another restaurant. We get there and it looks really good, so we go in. The waiter they give us must have been an American living there, which was nice because the menu was a little complicated for my Italian skills. Mary ordered a really good steak and I got carpaccio. I though the carpaccio would be like the seasoned raw meat that I have always called carpaccio. But what I got was like very thinly sliced corned beef. It was good, just not what I was expecting. Then we went shopping for chocolate to bring back, stopping for chocolate covered popcorn on the way. I bought some baci (kisses) some filled with hazelnut and some with cherry, a variety of truffles in different flavors like amaretto and zabaglione, and a small bottle of orange-chocolate liquer. I almost accidently bought hot pepper-chocolate liquore, but the guy explained that I didn’t really want it. We asked if the chocolate would keep long enough to bring home for Christmas presents, but apparently since there are no preservatives, it wouldn’t taste very good three months from now.
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Barcelona [Oct. 9th, 2006|02:06 pm]
This weekend I went to Barcelona!

Our flight was at 6:45 on Friday morning, so we all met up at the school at 4 am to take a cab to the airport. Everything went smoothly; we got on the plane and flew to Girona, which is a small airport about an hour away from Barcelona. We easily found the bus that takes you into Barcelona and bought tickets and got right on board. When we got to the bus station in Barcelona, things got a little more complicated. We got on the metro and got directions on how to get to the hostel from the attendant at the metro station. I don’t know what happened, but he told us to get off at a stop that was actually really far away from the hostel, so we walked a really long time before giving up and taking a cab.

Our hostel was a really, really good hostel. It was in an amazing location, really close to a lot of the Gaudi stuff and about a 15 minute walk from La Rambla. The staff was really friendly and helpful. The beds and showers weren’t gross or anything either. The other people staying at the hostel were really friendly too, for the most part.

We got to the hostel about noon and were starving, so we went to try to get some lunch. The first problem was that most restaurants don’t open until 1. So we went into one that was open, and it seemed fine to me, but one girl in our group was allergic to everything under the sun and the guy who was with us is the pickiest person I have ever met in my life. So they decided they couldn’t eat a single thing there. So we tried a couple of places before finding a place where they could eat plain grilled chicken. I had sausage and French fries, which was okay, but I would have preferred something more interesting.

Then we were really tired from being up since 3 in the morning, so we went back to the hostel for a long nap. Then, three of the kids with us had tickets for a Ben Harper concert, so they went off and the three of us remaining went to La Rambla. La Rambla is a long street with all sorts of stores, people, and performers. They have way better street performers than we have in Rome. We saw an awesome Michael Jackson impersonator and lots of really creative outfits. We went to the big market building, which I guess is one of the biggest in Europe. They had everything you could imagine, including whole sheep’s heads. There was delicious fresh fruit juice too. We walked all the way down the street to the monument to Columbus. Then we were starting to get hungry, so we tried to find this tapas bar that my roommates had told me about. The only problem was, the street wasn’t labeled on the map I had and there was another street with a similar name, so we kept asking people how to get there and got pointed in many different directions. We finally gave up and went to another restaurant that was recommended to me. It was pretty good; I had a grilled artichoke and some sort of meat in sauce. Then we went back to the hostel and hung out and chatted with the other guests until the rest of our group got home. When they did, we were glad that we hadn’t gone to the concert with them. They had bought tickets without finding out where the concert was, so they were in for a nasty surprise when they found out that it was not in Barcelona itself, but was about an hour away. So they had to take a series of metros and cabs and then one of the girls injured her foot and it was a complete disaster. Then the hostel was organizing a trip out to one of the bars and then a club after, so we went along. The bar we went to was really cool; they have 150 different kinds of shots that are really neat for only 1.50 euro. One shot was called the Boy Scout. They gave you a marshmallow on a skewer and made the drink and then put a little dish out doused in alcohol that they lit on fire. You had to toast your marshmallow in the fire, put it out in your drink, eat the marshmallow, and then drink the drink. It was really fun, but I was so tired that when the group moved on to go clubbing, I went back to the hostel with a couple of other people. I was glad I did because the rest of them didn’t get back until 5 am.

Saturday, I had a full day’s worth of stuff I wanted to do. The rest of the group, however, had no idea what there was to see in Barcelona and I got blank stares when I said that I had to go to Casa Mila that day because it was closed on Sundays. So they all went on a bus tour while I set out on my own. I don’t really understand why you would go on a trip without finding out anything about the city that you are going to see, but maybe that’s just me. My first stop was Casa Mila because it was only a couple of blocks from the hostel. It was really cool and there was a free audio guide included in the price. They had the show apartment done up like it would have been in the 1920s when Gaudi had designed the building. It was really neat. Then you get to see some of the attic, so you can see the way the building is constructed and it also has some explanation of how Gaudi came up with his ideas. Then you get to go up to the roof which is full of strangely shaped chimney pots and air vents. It also has an amazing view of the city. After Casa Mila, I went to go look at the other Gaudi and friends buildings that were only around the corner from our hostel. They were really neat on the outside, but I decided I didn’t need to go inside. So I went and had a Serrano ham sandwich. Then I got on the metro to go to the Gothic quarter.

The first thing I did was go to the Cathedral. It was a really beautiful gothic cathedral. They even have an elevator that takes you up to the roof which was really cool because it had an even better view of the city. When I was done there, I tried to find a shoe museum that I had read about, but the streets in that area are very medieval and confusing, so I couldn’t find it. Then I went to the Chocolate museum, which was pretty tiny, but still interesting. They explained the process of making chocolate and had some antique Spanish chocolate cups and some chocolate sculptures. When I was done, I had some hot chocolate in the café, which was really good, but so thick and rich I couldn’t finish it. Then I headed down the street to the Picasso museum which I enjoyed immensely. Picasso donated much of the collection himself, so it had a lot of his sketch books and things he did as a teenager. It was organized chronologically, so it was really neat to follow his development. They had a large portion of the study and reinvention that Picasso did of Velasquez’s La Meninas which was really neat. We had agreed to meet at the hostel at 6, so I headed back there after I was done with Picasso. When I got there, everyone was napping again, so I waited until 7 and woke them up because we had wanted to go see the Magic Fountains on Mountjeuiic (spelled wayyyy wrong) which stopped at 9. But everyone was hungry, so we decided to go to dinner first. I had found an amazing sounding tapas bar in the book of restaurants the hostel had, so Remy and I went there, while the rest of the group went to the Hard Rock Café which we found really annoying. The tapas bar was even better than we expected. We sat at the bar and had some sangria. The menu was printed on your placemat, and had pictures and descriptions of all the different kinds of tapas. It was a little like a sushi bar. So we ordered about 10 different kinds and almost all of them were delicious. We finished at about 8:15 and hurried to the metro to get up to the fountains. We made it there at about 8:45 so we were able to watch for about 15 minutes and it was soooo cool, we wished we would have gotten there earlier. It was a lot like I imagine the fountains at the Bellagio in Vegas are like. The others didn’t make it.

Sunday, Mary and I went to Sagrada Familia, which is the big Gaudi church that was started about 100 years ago and is going to be under construction until about 2050. It was really cool and crazy. We got to go up in another elevator to the top of one of the spires. It was really cool with a great view. But then we had to climb down about 500 hundred stairs, Mary was starting to get afraid of the height and even my legs were a little shaky by the time we got down. Then we went and found the tapas bar that we had tried to find the first night. It was okay, but not as good as the place we had gone the night before. The cool feature was that you got to just grab the stuff off the bar and then they counted how many toothpicks you had at the end. They also serve hard apple cider that they pour from about 4 feet up to aerate it. Then I had wanted to go shopping because Barcelona has tons of funky and cheap clothes stores, but I hadn’t thought that they would be closed on Sunday. Even Zara and H&M were closed. So we went and found a café where we could have hot chocolate and churros since it was kind of cold and cloudy. Then we walked around and I found one store that was open and bought a cool tee-shirt that had a big, swirly, cartoonish face on it. Then we bought some souvenirs and headed back to the hostel to get ready to go to the airport. Got back to the airport and to Rome without incident and got home around midnight.
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