Sunday, August 23, 2015

Italy: Turin

We arrived in Torino at the beginning of an Italian heat wave. The temperature was high and steadily climbing. Like many places in Italy, the apartment we were renting for four days did not have air conditioning nor did it have a fan. The first night we slept OK, the second night was pretty miserable so we asked our host for a fan. He provided one and it made all the difference in the world. The rest of our nights were nice and breezy. Our first full day in the city we had a mission to buy camping supplies (at least what we could manage to take on our RyanAir flight) in order to avoid the not only the high prices of Norway but the risk that they may not have what we needed. We found a nice little tent for cheap and a sleeping bag. We then returned to our apartment and had a nice salad for dinner. Torino is a beautiful, hip city and we went for a little walk around town before bed that night. The wide streets and majestic buildings create a relaxed, sophisticated feeling in the city.
See how sophisticated and relaxed we are?

Residences of the Royal House of Savoy

What a beautiful glow as the sun set

The next day we went to the famous Cinema museum (after another mail run) and had a great time perusing the exhibitions related to the history of film as well as modern day displays of costumes and set designs. My favorite parts were the sections made to look like different films or genres with informational signs explaining that particular section. It was definitely worth the effort and the euros to go see this museum in the historic and iconic Mole Antonelliana of Torino. We also tasted a delicious chocolate espresso creation (native to Torino) called a bicherin.

Yum! Bicherin!

The Mole!

Our final day, we went to the Royal Houses of the Savoy Family. This is one of several palaces in the Torino area as it is the city where royalty previously resided. The museum was pretty sparse but it was enjoyable to walk through the rooms of the palace and read about their history and also see some of the furnishings and paintings from centuries ago. Included with the price of admission to this museum was admission to the recently opened Galleria Sabauda. Neither of us have the ‘eye’ for discerning good vs. bad art but we are getting better at noticing themes and differences between works in the same museum or others that we have visited. As a result, our museum attention span has increased from around an hour to closer to an hour and a half. After that, we start to get antsy and distracted and we find ourselves just aimlessly walking through the rooms. As such, we left about 2 hours later and, since it was the 4th of July, we went to get a hot dog! We then had to rush back to do some laundry so it would be dry for our flight to Oslo the next day. After getting it on the line, we went for one last apertivo in Italy and said our goodbyes to delicious pasta and gelato as well.

Jared was not happy about mustard on the bottom but I sure was...
Buuuut before we left we went to the World Expo in Milan! This was an incredible experience and I'm really, really glad Jared convinced his tight-wad wife to go. I could not have imagined what I experienced. Every country had a unique, huge exhibit focused on the central theme. It was a beautiful expression of global togetherness. At least, I think so.

In the beehive of Britain

Ooooooklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plains

On the nets at the Brazil exhibition

 After a month in arguably the most scenic, cultured and historically important country we were sad to say goodbye. But, since goodbyes are always tough, we shouldered our packs anyway and got on a plane to Oslo the next day.

Italy: Lake Como

We stayed in a little village called Gravedona on Lake Como for two nights. It was our chosen place to celebrate our 3 year anniversary! We didn’t see George Clooney although I had several pretend conversations with him and envisioned how cool and composed I would be if we did see him. We had an amazing view and all we did for our two days there was: run, swim and eat. It was spectacular.


Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me.

Mountains, Lake, Sun, Amazingness, Husband. This girl was on cloud 9.

Goodnight, Como.

The restaurant where we ate dinner is up this alleyway. Idyllic.

All of the pictures sent to me via messages get automatically saved and my bestie Kara sent this to me as a memory from my wedding day. I feel all the feels.
After Lake Como we trained it on over to Turin!

Italy: Bologna

After arriving at the main station in Bologna, we bought our bus tickets (buying bus tickets can sometimes be an adventure- they aren’t sold on the bus and you have to find a Tabbachi shop that also sells tickets. This has been an issue for us but so far has not prevented us from travel.). We arrived at our little apartment and had a brief introduction to the appliances. We had a nice little clothes washer and I started a load before we went out and explored the town that evening.  On our evening stroll we discovered that there was an outdoor movie festival in the town center! While this created an obstruction of the scenery, it offered a fun option for an evening activity. The movies didn’t start until 9:45 in the evening, however, and so we decided to wait and watch a movie on a night following which we didn’t have anything to do. When we returned to our little place, the electricity was out. Hm, well the rest of the building still had electricity and we didn’t see anything that looked out of place but we had to get into contact with our Air BnB hosts to see if they could come fix it. I ended up on a Skype phone call with the primary renter and he told us where the fuse box was- problem fixed! We started the washing machine again and in about 40 minutes or so heard a loud pop followed by the smell of burning and…. The lights went out again. This time the fuse box didn’t solve the problem so we had to have the person managing the property come out and he had to switch a main breaker. The problem solved (again) we were able to go to sleep and luckily all our laundry was done for the night. Oh, and they installed a brand new washer the next day!
Main cathedral façade

Empty streets on a morning run

The next day we rented our first car! My dear friend Tristan took all the paper work that we mailed to her from China and went to the AAA office in Seattle and got both of us international driver’s permits. Once we finally got the keys (we missed our bus stop and had to wait 1.5 hours at the airport office for them to get an automatic ready), we were off to Ravena! Ravena is a cute little city and we ate lunch and toured several different churches for a couple of hours.

Every ceiling is a canvas to communicate a unique message

I'll just take that room at the top....

These. Ceilings. I was instantly in love.
We then took the short little drive to the beach. We decided not to try and swim since we had had such a late start to the day but we found a place to relax and snack a little bit before driving back to Bologna.

The next day was jam packed. We started with a tour and tasting at the Parmigina Remano factory. This is where they make genuine parmesan cheese. It was a fun and informative tour. We bought us a little hunk o’ cheese to take with us to snack on. After our cheese tour, we went for the basalmic vinegar tour. Similar to the cheese, in order for vinegar to be authentic Modena vinegar it has to be made in that certain region of Italy. The basalmic vinegar that is sold in most superstores that says Modena is most likely made somewhere else and then shipped to Modena to be bottled with the famous label. We learned a lot here as well and Jared discovered that he really does like balsamic vinegar! After this last tour we had a quick trip into the town of Modena and walked around. They were having a fun antique market in their main square! Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much time to wander because we had to get the car back before the shop closed.

A hunk a hunk cheesy love
All of the vinegars all in a row
That evening we went across the street from our apartment to this wonderful little Italian (obvs) food restaurant, Il Sangiovese before making our way to the square to watch Casablanca under the stars. The stars, however, were covered by clouds and it wasn’t long until our attempt at doing something after 9pm was spoiled by rain.
Of all the gin joints in all of the world and... it had to rain on mine.

Our last day in Bologna we had NOTHING planned. It was so nice to sleep in and not worry about catching a bus or checking out or making sure we were here or there when it was open. We went on a nice run, had breakfast, took showers and then promptly took a 2 hour nap. It was our first real nap since we’ve been gone and it was divine. Once we got up we went back into town for a coffee and to walk around to the sites we missed during our first afternoon walking tour. We cooked dinner at ‘home’ that evening and spent the evening and night hours planning, researching and relaxing.

The next morning we were off bright and early to go to our Lake Como retreat where we had even more relaxation!

Italy: Florence

We arrived to our next rented room at about 2 pm. We decided to go ahead and catch a bus to the city center to try and see the Duomo (we visited Florence during our last trip to Italy but weren’t able to go inside the Duomo). We made it inside and it did not disappoint. The exterior is stunning and the interior is not too shabby either. Instead of trying to climb the towers or see the optional museums, we went to the Uffizi and attempted to reserve our tickets for the next day. However, when we made it through the queue, the ticket agent told us the next day was booked. Well, we still had a little less than two hours left until closing, so we went ahead and made our visit then! It was an unplanned successful afternoon and took some items off our list for the next day.

This building is unbelievable

A peak of the painted duomo
Our unplanned afternoon turned out to be quite fortuitous. We were not aware that July 26 is the Feast of San Giovanni (St. John), Florence’s Patron Saint. As a result of this celebration, many sites were either closed or had irregular hours. We found out the hard way that the Piazza di Michelangelo (overlooking the city) was completely blocked off to shoot fireworks, yet fortunately discovered that if you are willing to walk a few more stairs to a little church further up the hill from the Piazza, you can still get a pretty good view of the city. Next we ate some gnocchi and visited the Ponte Vecchio (“old bridge”), the only bridge in Florence to not be destroyed in WWII. After that, we toured the Palazzo Vecchio and caught some of the parade through the city.

View of Firenze

I never know what to do with my hands.....

Punte Vecchio. This old bridge survived the war! 

Part of the Saint’s Day celebration is Calcio Storico , the championship match of a sport that is a combination of rugby, soccer, and kickboxing. This was held in a large piazza right in front of a church in the city center, and we discovered after trying to get in that tickets were required for entry. Since we had been running around all day, we sat with a big old bottle of water in a café and watched the match on tv. Our day ended with some fireworks which we watched from a bridge nearest to the apartment where we were staying.

Calcio Storico on the TV 

It was a quick stop in Firenze but our next stop was for four nights in Bologna in Emilia Romana- the food capital of Italy!

Italy: Siena

In Siena we rented a room in a shared apartment (there were two other rooms, a shared kitchen and a bathroom) that had a stellar view of the city. The bed was comfy and we were only minutes from the main square, although once you're in the heart of Siena, everything is within walking distance. We explored the streets of Siena that afternoon, discovering that our stay was only days before the famous horse race that takes place in the middle of the city, Il Palio.  The city is divided up into contrades (like districts) and each contrade is represented by a different horse and jockey. They race in the main plaza, which is  a very small area relative to a normal horse racing track, and winner gets bragging rights for their contrade. I’m certain Il Palio is an unforgettable experience, but it is one we will unfortunately have to see at another time. We also toured Siena Cathedral, which probably has the most beautiful façade of any cathedral we saw in Italy, and an unusual black and white stone color adorning both interior and exterior.

Room view during the day

Room view at night

Upper part of the main façade

How amazingly unique!
Camouflage. On point.

Uh... this is the FLOOR!
Our first full day in the city we rented a motorbike and headed out to the surrounding Tuscan countryside, where we visited Castello di Monteriggioni, the quaint medieval town of San Gimignano, and a winery for some Tuscan wine tasting. It was a really nice day with great weather, and we were again reminded of the advantages of having our own transportation.

Watch out Tuscany, here we come!

Movin' on up... to the San Ramagiano...

In front of the Castello
I had an idea... that this light bulb would represent me having an idea...
 The next day we returned our motorbike and hopped on a bus to Firenze (Florence)!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Italy: Rome

Rome is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and it is more than deserved. Rome was the first destination where it became obvious that summer vacation had begun, as we encountered thousands of fellow tourists here. These tourists flocked to see the beautiful old ruins, magnificent churches ,and unparalleled architecture, just as we did. This city truly is magical and it is hard to find a street that does not hold a special kind of charm unique to Rome. We stayed at an Airbnb with our host, Alessandro and his sweet cat, Gasperino, in a non-touristy neighborhood called Porta Forba Quadraro. Our host was born and raised in Rome and had travelled quite a lot (although he hasn’t even seen the Sistine Chapel!- You have to go Ale, if you are reading this!) and was able to give us an interesting perspective on some of the places we have been as well as advice on the sites in Rome. For instance, when discussing Agrigento (the ruins I described in the post about Palermo), he alluded to an overall feeling of indifference towards the ancient ruins. This attitude made perfect sense after we experienced the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. These three iconic places are all near each other and all included in the same ticket price (we bought a RomaPass which gave us two free entrances, free public transport for three days and other discounts). There is nothing that compares to the Colosseum. I realize I also said this of Pompeii but both statements are true. The Colosseum is one-of-a-kind just as Pompeii is. The size of the structure is impressive, and when you add the known history along with cinematic elaborations of true events, images of the past come easy to you as you stare down at the partial floor and maze below. Palatine Hill is also home to some colossal buildings. There were buildings as high as three stories and the complex of ancient palaces and gardens overlooks the city and the Roman Forum, as well as Circo Massimo. Circo Massimo was the only part that of the first day that we could describe as disappointing. The ancient grounds of the chariot horse races are pretty unkempt and barely resemble the type of place we were expecting. The Roman Forum is essentially an ancient town square. Here is where the important temples and political buildings were consolidated. An easy stroll around the area and you see remains of ancient temples and fountains.
Good morning, Gasperino!

Classic picture of the Colosseum

It. Was. Hot.

I can just see the wild animals roaming and the gladiators preparing

In front of the Arch of Constantine
The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

Looking up to Palatine Hill from the Roman Forum

After these explorations (we spent a little over 4 hours between all three), we were quite exhausted. We still had a goal for the day though, so after a lunch of some delicious pasta, we headed on to the Castel Sant'Angelo. This fortification is relatively close to the Vatican City and was originally built by Hadrian as a tomb for himself and his family. After serving that purpose for a while, it was transformed into a military base and then eventually became an escape stronghold for the Pope.
On the bridge walking up to the Castel

View of the Vatican from Castel Sant'Angelo

We ended the day by returning to the house, eating dinner, and then Ale invited us to have a drink with him and his friend. It was a lovely evening spent in conversation and we had our drinks in an old horse stable! The next day was a little more relaxed and we didn’t leave the house until late morning but we were able to still visit three of the four Papal churches (the 4th is St. Peter’s which we visited the next day) and the Museum of Modern Art. That evening we went to the Trastevere area and walked around while enjoying the ambiance of this beautiful Roman neighborhood. We ate at a delicious fish market and had a longer than expected commute home (since the metro was closed for construction), but we made it back and quickly went to bed to get some rest because we were set to get up early the next morning for our tour of Vatican City.

I think he was grumpy in this picture but the floor was pretty cool at the Modern Art Museum
We had an organized guided tour through the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. We even got to wear the cool headsets we had snickered at on other occasions. I really, really enjoyed this day. Even though we have already seen quite a few things that we had only previously studied, not many of them had been world-famous works of art. I am not a huge art enthusiast; it is a skill that I can only superficially appreciate since I have very limited technical knowledge. However, with these paintings, and the Sistine Chapel in particular, you do not need technical knowledge to appreciate their grandeur. The way that the figures seem to be coming off the ceiling is unreal. I could have spent much more than 15 minutes in there looking at it all. I don’t think the Swiss Guards would let me lie down in the middle of the floor though, so we only stayed for our allotted tour time. We were able to stay longer in St. Peter’s Basilica though and enjoyed the many beautiful works of art there as well. Another example of something I studied about in my one art history class is the statue La Pieta. This was made by Michelangelo when he was only 21 and shows Mary holding her recently crucified son. It’s simply beautiful.

The School of Athens... and Jared.
There was even some Dali hanging in the Vatican.

It is hard to capture the Basilica in a single picture. It is so immense and so stunning.

Gasperino! How'd you get into St. Peter's?! Just kidding....

The beautiful altar looks like it has gold lava flowing from a center starburst

La Pieta
Our last full day in Rome we started with a nice run near our house by some ancient Roman aqueducts. It was a beautiful park and a nice way to start our last day of exploration. Once in the city, we walked around the old part of Rome and saw the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (under construction) and the Pantheon. We stopped along the way for gelato, granite de café, bruschetta (and wine), and some fried fish. It was like a site seeing progressive supper!

This is not a painting! It is real life.

I'm on the steps! The Spanish steps.

The sun is going down! In the Jewish neighborhood.

Sleepy Gasperino! I think he got tired of pictures.
All of us in for a pic before we left town!

The next morning we left our new friend, Airbnb host and the best tour guide we have had. Alessandro and his playful cat Gasperino made our time in Rome unforgettable. Thanks again for everything Ale!