Sunday, March 30, 2014

Beer and Antiques

Beautiful plaza full of charming shops

This weekend I fully intended to take it easy.

Parent/Teacher conferences are coming up, and Tuesday one of my very best friends is coming to visit, so there's a lot to get done and this weekend seemed like the perfect chance. Well... that didn't happen. I finally checked the Navigli Antiques Market off my Milan to-do list and went to the Italian Beer Festival.

Stone cow with bike seat... normal. 

The Beer Festival was a ton of fun. 

A few girls from school and I met up for an extra-long trek to some unknown mystery part of the city (unknown to me, but probably not to others). One knew a few people from another international school in the area, and it was great to meet a few new people! Anyways, there were tons of vendors with all different types of beer. I go into these types of things with the intention of discovering what I like in terms of drinks, but then the drinking happens and I still have no idea whether I'm more of a pale ale or lager fan (or what the difference is). I think I like red beer... maybe...

At school, the majority of our coworkers are women, so it was lots of fun to people-watch at a primarily male event. I got one of my best compliments I've ever gotten: A lovely Swiss man told me he never would have guessed I was American- he would have thought British because I look like a princess. Add that to my hairdresser telling me I look like a cartoon on Thursday and basically that makes me a Disney Princess. I don't even care if it was a bad line, call me a princess and I'm yours.

Beer in a wine glass... normal. 

Look at that adorable picnic basket!

On the last Sunday of each month there is an antiques market along the Navigli Grande. 

Somehow, I never made it over. There has always been something going on, whether a trip, time at home, or just terrible weather. This was one of the "Milan Things To Do" I had found last summer during my endless Milan research, so I've been dying to go. It was worth the wait and anticipation! We had a perfect day- the sun was shining, it was a perfectly mid-60s day, and there were millions of things to see. Antique furniture, interesting and quirky artwork, jewelry, dishes, clothes... Actually
being in the city brings me so much joy. The hustle and bustle of people all around is exciting, but at the same time there was no rush. For this first time I was glad just to look around, but I think that next time I'll go in with a mission. It would be less overwhelming to be on the lookout for a necklace or a pair of sunglasses (why a pair? It's just one... Just realized that makes no sense) rather than stopping to look at absolutely everything. All in all, fabulous weekend!


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Failed Attempt to Describe Rome


Please excuse the rambling tone of this post. Too much to say to make sense...

Ethan knows what's up

It blows my mind that I can say things like, "For the second half of White Week, I visited Rome again." 

Rome. Just for a few days. For the second time. Is this real life? Honestly, it doesn't feel like it. Anyways, for the second half of White Week, my parents and I went to Rome. I remember loving it while studying abroad. That had been my first time in Italy, and I remember setting a goal to eat pizza, pasta, and gelato during each day of my stay. Obviously, I succeeded.

After searching out someone "Safe" to let hold my phone, we finally found a family to take
a picture of the three of us.

Our hotel lounge... so posh

This time was different. 

The more I travel, the more I discover about myself. Maybe it's not even a travel thing, but a growing up thing. This time, I found that I enjoy taking things slow (kind of). The way my parents travel is perfect. They stroll. They meander. They pause and truly appreciate everything. They're in no rush, but somehow manage to see all the major sights, as well as "experience" the city they visit. They will open the door to any church they pass just to see how it compares to the 1,123,413,412,341,324 other churches and cathedral's they've wandered into. They enjoy everything- we spent a good hour checking out a store that sold all different pastas, oils, and spices and truly loved it!

View from the steps of the Vittoriano!

Rome is really just magical. 

I know that I used the same descriptor for Florence, but Italy is special like that. Every turn is something new and interesting, and every view stops you in your tracks. Rome is the perfect city; it's big with lots to do, has tons of character, and an incredible history. There wasn't a dull second, but at the same time we never felt rushed. We accidentally took a wrong turn and ran into the Trevi Fountain on three different occasions, and had coffee sitting on the Spanish Steps on two of our mornings. On the way to the Colosseum one day, we came upon the Vittoriano- I had know idea that the stunning building was even a sight to see, let alone one we'd want to stay at for so long. Of course, the Colosseum and Forum were unbelievable. I don't even know why I'm writing this post because there are no words to describe how it feels to stand before such magnificent history.

Dad and I on the Spanish Steps
On our last day, the one day of rain during our time in Rome, we toured the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican. I had been to the Sistine Chapel before, but not to the Vatican. As much as I loved it before, we took a tour this time and having a guide made a huge difference. He gave history and background to many of the paintings and artists, giving us something to search for in the stunning and overwhelming amount of art there was to take in. After going to Alfred for five years, I have immense respect for artists. Seeing how much effort and heart goes into one beautiful painting or sculpture (or one of the many other beautiful pieces I've seen my friends create over the years) just had me in awe of everything I saw. Last year, two friends had a poster of Michelangelo's depiction of God giving life to Adam on their wall- just the hands almost touching (a lazy tip touch, if you will... their words, not mine), and seeing it in real life... incredible. My Mom kept saying that awesome had taken on a very different connotation and was unusable now, but that it really was awe-inspiring.

Best travel buddies ever

At the Forum

The Vatican itself was beyond words. 

I fully intended to take pictures (and sneaky taking them like I did a few years ago in the Sistine Chapel), but it just is... astounding, amazing, mind-boggling... I'm actually on right now trying to find the word that actually describes the feeling of being in the Vatican, but there isn't one. Michelangelo's Pieta (I can't figure out how to add an accent over the 'a' in Blogger!) brought me to tears. While I'd seen pictures of it before, it's such a heartbreaking piece of artwork, which I guess I'd never realized.

Mama and I at the Trevi Fountain
I feel much closer to God after my trip. I've always been of the opinion that church doesn't do it for me; I've felt more connected to God while praying in my bed or while driving than in a church, but it was very different in the old, grand cathedrals. Rome (including the Vatican and all of the other incredible cathedrals we visited) made me feel small, but not in a bad way. I mean that it made me want to be more, do more, and see more. I want to be better than I am, but not in a self-deprecating way; I just want to do the very best I can with this life I've been blessed with. The ancientness and fascinating history of the Forum and Colosseum, the beauty of all the art, the grandeur of the Vatican, and the wonderful company of two of the best travel companions I could ask for... The world has so much to offer and so much to see. I need to experience it all. 

On a lighter note, I've discovered my new travel uniform- I hate pants and from now on am only bringing dresses, tights, boots, and sweaters. No pants ever.

Tossing a coin into the fountain is a promise to come back- I'll be back for sure!

My sneaky picture- breaking the rules! 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

City of Lights and Gargoyles

They're so cute

White Week: the wonderful Italian tradition of taking a week in February to enjoy the mountains, snow, and skiing. 

Just strolling on down the Champs Elysees
My parents and I spent the first half of the week not-skiing in the City of Lights, Paris. Since my last visit while studying abroad, I've said that Paris is my favorite city in the world (other than Granada, of course). This time I still adored it but the feeling was different. At first I couldn't put my finger on why, but I've figured it out; Paris is elegant and regal with a polished charm. Its beauty and impressiveness take your breath away, but I missed Italy's warmth, hospitality, and character. Still, I would go back in a heartbeat and enjoyed every second of the visit. 

On our first day, I discovered what at the time I thought was my favorite French food: Croque. It was basically just an open ham, cheese, and tomato sandwich but YUM. So good! It didn't end up being the all-time French favorite though; Millefuille a la Vanilla Bourbon from Angelina's. Oh my God. Anyways... after breakfast, we came upon the Louvre, walked through the courtyard, and strolled through the Tullierie gardens. We ended up going into the Musee de l’Orangerie. Being surrounded by wall-sized Monet paintings was an unforgettable experience. I just started writing about that scene from Clueless with the Monet comparison, but then remembered that I said that in another post. So go back to that one, review, and understand that in large scale, with paintings I had seen in calendar form since I was a little kid, the overwhelming feelings were even more intense. 

Day view!

Add caption
Coolest shadow of all time.
The trip was too full to go day by day, so I’ll just cover a few of the highlights. My parents and I went with a guide to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. I don’t love the idea of a guided trip, with each day planned out and being stuck with a group for days, but I’m finding that I really enjoy short, guided tours. First of all, we skipped the 3-hour line to the elevator. Our guide was full of interesting, informational, humorous anecdotes about the Eiffel Tower, Paris, and France. For example, who even knew that some tricky trickster successfully scammed someone into buying the rights to tear apart the Tower and use the scrap metal? Twice! Our guide had a good sense of humor about the French, but was so obviously proud of his heritage. He explained the history of the city as well as what the different buildings and monuments were that we saw from each side. We had a beautiful view, and couldn’t have picked a nicer day for the experience. 

So stunning!

I think this one is Lavern. 
On my 6th birthday, my family and I went to see “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in the theater. I’m still a sucker for Disney movies and am lucky to have the teacher-excuse of having to keep up with kid culture so I can keep watching them (we all know I would no matter what). Throughout the whole trip, I bugged the heck out of my parents to watch the movie again with me. As lame as it sounds, seeing the Notre Dame in cartoon form got me so pumped to see it again in real life! We went through the inside on our first day, but the climb to the top was closed. The stained glass windows were stunning, as well as the architecture. It always amazes me that so much was possible before all of the modern building tools we have today. We went back the next day and waited patiently to climb nearly 400 steep, spiral steps to get to the towers. Every step was worth it. The view was even better than from the Eiffel Tower, possibly because the Eiffel Tower was… you know… in the view. The gargoyles were a ton of fun to see! In elementary art class, we studied gargoyles and then made our own out of clay. I was a persnickety little weirdo (I'm sure, knowing me now, you'd never believe that I was a weirdo) and didn’t want to make something ugly so I made an angel sitting on a cloud instead. Now, however, it was so cool! I wished that they would get up and sing to me about being shaped like a croissant or something. 

Give me one dayyyyyyy out thereeeeee!

We climbed it!

Napoleon Apartments

At some point while I’m living in Europe, I’d love for the chance to spend a few weeks in Paris and soak it all in. 

If I ever get that chance, I fully plan on spending part of every single day in the Louvre. I could spend years exploring the halls. Every turn you take through the museum leads to another mind-blowing piece of art that you didn’t even know you knew. As much as I loved every bit, my absolute favorite is the statue of Cupid and Psyche. It seems so graceful and delicate, as well as so romantic. Other highlights included the Venus de Milo, The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Josephine, and, obviously, the Mona Lisa. I tried my hardest to do a Mona Lisa smile with her, but there’s a reason she was painted; that mysterious little smile is really hard to do! The Napoleon Apartments were also fabulous. They were so over the top and ornate, it makes you think what it would be like to actually live like that!
Smiling mysteriously is tough stuff!

Cupid and Psyche

The Hall of Mirror's was incredible!

We also visited the Palace of Versailles. 

Unfortunately, it was rainy and cold so we weren’t able to see the gardens. Really though, can you call it unfortunate when you get to spend a day tracing Marie Antoinette’s steps? Getting there was a little bit of a fiasco. After going on and on about how easy the Paris Metro was to learn, we got on the wrong train and ended up going an hour in the wrong direction, had to turn around, and try again. Just another adventure! Anyways, it was fascinating to see how such well known historical figures lived, especially ones during such an interesting period of time. Our Eiffel Tower guide told us that an easy way to remember the later Louises (Louis’s? I don’t know how you’d spell that) is that when it comes to Versailles, Louis XIV built it, Louis XV enjoyed it, Louis XVI paid for it. Easy enough if you remember what number to start with! The most breathtaking room is, of course, the Hall of Mirrors, but I also loved being in Marie Antoinette’s bedroom. Just like with the Napoleon Apartments, it’s wonderful to think about how they must have lived. But while living in such splendor sounds amazing, it must have also been overwhelming and exhausting. To be woken up to a rising ceremony (surrounded by people), eating the “Grand Public Supper” with an audience, and being basically put to bed and tucked in, again with a room full of people, I can’t even imagine how you ever felt… rested. I spent the day in sweatpants and a sports bra. I am eating my dinner on the couch as I type this post and watch Hart of Dixie. I couldn’t ever handle being on display at all times and don’t know if I could give up alone time, even if it meant getting to live in the Palace. 

Anyways, Paris remains one of my favorite places in the world and I feel impossibly blessed to have seen it with two of the people I love most in the world. As always, I feel like I have so much to read about and research after seeing all that I saw. 

Two of my four loves