Friday, December 27, 2013

Cari's Birthday in Rome!

Cari and I arrived in Rome Wednesday evening! Luckily Rome was the one city where we didn't have to drag our bags across town and we arrived at Freedom Traveller within 5 minutes of leaving the station.  By 8:30pm we were settled in and by 9pm we were at dinner across the street.  We shared a delicious bottle of white wine from Orvietto (not too sweet and not too dry) and chowed down on hearty dishes of pasta.  In honor of our trip to Rome we ended the night with "When in Rome" and Baci from Perugia.

St. Peter's Basilica
Our hostel was very near the train station but as it turns out, not so close to all the tourist attractions.   We took the circuitous route past the Colosseum and the Piazza Venezia on our way to the Vatican Thursday morning.  Unfortunately we took a wrong turn and ended up walking about 30 minutes past the correct turn (the map wasn't much help either) however this luckily placed us in the Piazza del Popolo which we may not have seen otherwise.  2 hours later, already exhausted we found the Vatican!  However we had forgotten my guidebook and while we visited St. Peter's Basilica, we ended up walking around the entire Vatican without finding the non-tourist group entrance to the Vatican Museum (it appears we should have looked harder as we found it the next day).  All was not done in vain though as we ended up lunching at the exact same pizza place my father, brother and I had loved so much two summers prior.

The Roman Forum
On our way back from the Vatican and heading to a free walking tour at the Piazza di Spagna, I had the brilliant idea of stopping in the Piazza Navona where a large Christmas market was going on.  There were several spray paint artists there and we became hypnotized in watching how with a few strokes of paint they could transform a blank canvas into beautiful and colorful settings. We got a bit too caught up in the street artists, and ended up having to make a mad dash 6 or so blocks to the free tour meeting point.  All the while checking our useless map and asking random passerby (who were also mostly tourists) how to get there!  We arrived breathless and sweaty but we had an informative tour given by a passionate guide that passed by the "Spanish Steps" (which we learned should actually be called the French Steps given that a French King built them), the Trevi Fountain, Capitoline Hill, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.  Afterwards we had a lovely dinner with some of the girls from our tourist group.
Trevi Fountain 

Friday went a bit more smoothly.  We trekked the 2 hours to the Vatican (we would make it this time if it killed us) hitting the Pantheon along the way and entered the Vatican Museum.  I had seen it two years ago, but this time around I saw somethings that I didn't remember seeing before and of course the Sistine Chapel was just as stunning as before.  No matter how long you look you always notice some new details or pieces.  The rest of the day we took a bit easier just hitting a few shops on Via Del Corso before heading back to the hostel.  After several 13 hour walking days in a row, we were beat and we still had Saturday to go!

Teatro Marcello
Saturday was a special day! Cari's birthday!  I can't believe I have known this wonderful and crazy chick for over 12 years now.  We always have a blast and I knew our last day in Rome would be no different.  We meant for Saturday to be a bit more relaxed but of course we also wanted to see everything in Rome so it wasn't destined to be.  We started the day with a free walking tour found through couchsurfing that was said to hit the off the beaten path sites of Rome.  It took us awhile to find our tour guide as at first we thought he was one of the bicycling Santas we were seeing everywhere. However once we found him we had a lovely walking tour past the Teatro Marcello, the Jewish Ghetto, Trastevere, some of the lesser known churches, the Knights of Malta and Campa di Fiori. 

La Traviata
After the walking tour we entered Palantine Hill and the Roman Forum; we were a bit worn out so we just took a cursory walk around the gardens and then headed for the Colosseum.  We made quick stops to re-visit the Pantheon and Piazza Navona then headed home to get ready for a special night!  Cari and I had managed to get tickets to the Opera, La Traviata, when we visited the Pantheon on Thursday and we were pretty excited to go to something that Italy is famous for.  After a quick celebratory aperitivo of tagliare and wine from Orvietto we headed to the Opera all dressed up.  La Traviata is about a courtesan named Violetta who falls in love with Alfredo, however his father convinces her to leave him and Alfredo essentially calls her a slut.  Alfredo then rushes to Violetta's bedside as she dies from tuberculosis. The 1st act was a little slow but it picked up and the last scene was especially beautiful.  We ended the night with Birthday Tiramisu and then hit the sheets early so that Cari could be up for her 7am bus ride to the airport and I could head out early for my train to Montefegatesi in Tuscany. Next up Tuscany....

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The City of Love and Crazy Coincidences

Bridge near our B&B
Cari and I stood outside the door ringing and ringing the doorbell.  We had tried calling, but one of the numbers was wrong and the other call wouldn't go through.  We were standing outside of a B&B in Verona after having tried 2 other B&Bs in the area with no luck.  At this point we were reaching desperation; we had dragged our luggage an hour and a half across town and seemed to be no closer to our destination.  Finally... I stopped a passerby and asked to borrow her phone for one last try. "Ring ring...Pronto" Hallelujah! Someone at the first B&B, Citta di Giulietta, picked up!  After explaining our situation the owner agreed to meet us there in 20 minutes...we were saved!  

After this near fiasco, we settled into our lovely B&B; we had the whole apartment to ourselves for a mere 20 euros each a night!  Our first tourist stop was Juliet's house where Cari and I wrote our names on the wall, although there was no wall where you can leave letters to Juliet, which was a bit of a disappointment!  At first we had a bit of bad luck getting into the tourist sites (as many are closed in mid-afternoon) however we finally got a Verona Card which is an amazing deal at 15 euros for 24 hours and it lets you into all the main attractions plus the bus. 

We visited the Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Signori which were beautiful sites with magnificent architecture, Christmas markets with all sorts of brightly colored wares and hanging Christmas lights.  Then we visited the Roman Arena which was impressive and stunning; with the beauty it was hard to imagine all the bloodshed that took place there centuries ago.  We briefly visited the Castelvecchio and then headed to scale the Torre dei Lamberti for a beautiful panoramic view of the city at night, before heading back to Juliet's house to tour the museum.  In honor of our trip to Verona and Juliet's house we ended the night with chocolates and "Letters to Juliet".

A day and a half is a very short time to see an entire city so the next morning we rushed out the door to see the Chiesa di Santa Anastasia and the Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore before catching a train to Milan.  
Cari and I arrived in Milan on Tuesday in the early evening; we were couchsurfing that night so we only toured the attractions briefly before heading to meet our host for the night.  We got a bit lost (aka searching for 30 minutes for the location), but when we arrived we shared a nice hot meal and had a comfy night's sleep.

The next morning we walked into the train station's baggage deposit and who should I see? My friend Demetrio from Pesaro on his way back from India! (Keep in mind Pesaro is about 5 hours from Milan). Not 5 minutes after I said goodbye to Demetrio I received a text from another friend from Pesaro, Elena, "Where are you? I'm going to Milan!"  I couldn't wrap my head around seeing two people from Pesaro in Milan on the one day I would be there!  I took this as a sign that Cari and I would have amazing luck in Milan... unfortunately Milan was not destined to be our city!

The Duomo
Everything we came across was closed! The Duomo terrace, La Scala (the Opera house) etc. However we did manage to visit the Sforza castle where we saw Michelangelo's final pieta before meeting up with Elena!  After seeing Elena our luck improved a bit and we were able to make the long climb to the Duomo's roof (just as we grew too tired to move anymore we reached the top!).  The view from the roof was absolutely breath-taking and the Duomo itself was a masterpiece of high turrets and massive marble columns.  Unfortunately our luck ended there; we had to take a later train to Rome which cost us twice as much!  Continued in Rome...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Non-Singing Gondolier

"Would you like to ride in a gondola...would you like to ride in a gondola" I repeated over and over to passerby, sounding like an advertisement for the pricey Venice attraction.  It was Cari and I's second day in Venice and we had been recruited by a family to share a gondola (you can have up to 6 people for 80 euro), however we were still missing one.  It is tricky to spot a lone tourist as groups often spread out as they take in the sites, so we creepily stared at people trying to figure out if they were on their own or not.  More often than not they were travelling with friends.  30 minutes later we decided to suck it up and split it between the 5 of us.  Our gondolier didn't sing or wear the striped shirt but it was great seeing Venice from a new perspective!

Cari had arrived Friday afternoon and we had spent the afternoon and evening wandering around the siestre (neighborhood) Castello.  It was absolutely freezing and very foggy as we strolled which gave the streets an eery but quasi romantic feeling as streetlights created silhouettes and shadows through the mist. Although, I did at one point compare it to something out of Jack the Ripper as we walked through an especially empty park.  It was highly recommended that we get "lost" in Venice and we did just that while in Castello.  Wandering without a goal or destination really is lovely since you can just experience the city as it comes at you.

Before our gondola ride Saturday we headed to the Basilica di San Marco in Saint Mark's Square.  After the gondola ride we decided to head to the Palazzo Ducale for refuge from the cold since we were told it would take two or three hours to make our way through...unfortunately they didn't believe in heating so the palace was just as cold as outside!  Apparently many of the paintings inside were designed to impress foreign dignitaries and they were definitely magnificent.  After the main rooms, we crossed the Bridge of Sighs into the prisons.  The bridge seems like it was cruel and unusual punishment as it was prisoners' last look at the outside world as they went into imprisonment or to their death.  After our tour of the main tourist sites in Saint Mark's Square we headed to dinner.  We never made it to dinner though as we came across a benefit event for the pediatric hospital.  They had an awesome band all dressed as Santas and a variety of snacks and wine!

Sunday we had an organized tour to Murano, Torcello and Burano.  Murano is renowned for its glass artistry, so of course we had to see a glass-making demonstration.  The translucent, glowing orb of liquid glass was quickly spun so that it lengthened and then with a few quick movements the master transformed it into a vase like shape.  With a few more deft movements of a bar the vase was capable of holding flowers.  In the second demonstration, the master transformed a similar orb of glass into a horse within under a minute; he adeptly shaped the horse's body and then with a few rapid snips of a pair of scissors created a flowing mane and the legs bringing the figure to life.  

Glass Demonstration
With a glance at my clock I yelled to Cari "We have to run!"  With our bellies full of an assortment of fried finger foods, arancini (rice and fish balls), stuffed olives and fried mozzerella we sprinted for the docks.  Our boat had just pulled in the plank as we arrived breathless and shouting "wait!".  We had been at our next stop on the tour, Torcello, enjoying a light lunch when I happened to notice that the boat was leaving in 1 minute and we were 5 minutes minimum away!  The most interesting aspect of Torcello is its minuscule population; as of right now, 11 people live on the island!  Our last and prettiest stop of the tour was Burano (pictured left).  The law there states that the inhabitants are forbidden from changing the color of their houses as the town is a rainbow of color, with houses in every hue imaginable.  Aside from their colorful and beautiful houses, Burano is known for its lace; delicate cloths as fine as gossamer spider-webs.

Our last tourist site in Venice was the Guggenheim in Dorsodoro.  To be honest, much of the works were a bit too modern to be aesthetically pleasing to me; I'm much more of a traditionalist, although I do love the impressionists. However it was a very worthwhile visit since the collection includes pieces by Dali and Picasso among others.  The next morning we left Venice at 7am in order to avoid a citywide strike that would shutdown all the vaporettos we needed to get off our island!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Last Days in Pesaro

Well I am down to my last few days in Pesaro.  It is a bittersweet moment; I am so excited to meet Cari in Venice and explore but I am so sad to leave my host family and my friends here.  I have met some really awesome people over the last 9 weeks.  People who have shown me true Italian generosity and made sure that I saw everything I could see!

One such friend is Stefania who invited my friend Cristina and I to Rimini to enjoy homemade pizza on Friday night.  The pizza Cristina and I made was a simple margherita pizza but Stefania's boyfriend's pizza was an artful masterpiece of towering cheese, sausage and red onions and it was delicious! After dinner we headed to Rimini's bi-weekly language exchange.  We had fun playing the game where you guess what object/person is taped to your forehead (even though we looked a bit silly doing it --> see picture).  

Saturday the girls, Anna and I headed back to Candelara.  Since it was daytime there were all kinds of fun Christmas themed performances and activities.  There was live music; a concert where the singer sang in Italian, French, Portuguese, and English (all with perfect pronunciation) and a band with all kinds of unique instruments.  Dancers on stilts sashayed down the street, joking with passerby and playing drums and tambourines (see picture).  For the kids there were also games; mine and Elena's favorite was one where we hit each other with pillows to knock the other person off the balance beam.  As night fell, the lights went out and luminescent globes were sent into the sky, twinkling as they drifted up into the heavens.
Natale (Christmas) in Candelara

Another couple of friends who have always shown me a fantastic time here in Pesaro, are Fiona and David, as evidenced by how prominently they have been featured in this blog.  Sunday they yet again hosted me for lunch in their home, then they, some other friends and I wandered around the Christmas market in Pesaro where we tried samples from most of the vendors and almost made an additional lunch.  

The problem with leaving is that I'm going to miss everyone so much, so every time I say goodbye I end up planning to see them again!  So the rest of this week has been filled with farewell dates.  Stefania came by Pesaro on Monday to get hot chocolate. Michela and I went to the shopping center yesterday.  And today I had a goodbye coffee date with my dear friend Elena who introduced me to fashion shows and scooters.  Luckily she was also able to join Fiona, David, Cristina and I tonight for an after dinner passeggiata (walk) and gelato.  Fiona and Donato took me to a pugliese restaurant where I got to try a scrumptious, gooey, cheese-filled delight called a panzerotti (a much airier and flakier calzone) and pizza Americana (which is similar to a Hawaiian pizza).

I am in such denial about leaving that I haven't even started packing yet (I know it will end up being done around 10pm tomorrow).  Tomorrow is my last evening with Dana, Elena, and Anna whom I now consider extended family.  Workaway has been such an amazing experience and I am so glad I was able to spend it with them.  

Next time I will be writing from Venice with Cari... I always have so much fun with this chick and I can't wait!
Pesaro in Review

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Marathons in Porto San Giorgio

Ancona's Port
Italy is a food centered culture; it is featured as a way to bring together friends, create community and is at the center of Italian hospitality.  This is true to an extent in the U.S. as well, it is common to meet friends for dinner or drinks, however it is equally common to meet a friend for coffee.  Here the coffees are short and not meant for sipping over long conversations (as opposed to the large U.S. coffees that can last an entire 2 hour conversation), instead it is the meals that people reinforce their bonds during.  I especially noted this emphasis on food as a way to bond this past weekend in Porto San Giorgio.

Piena (Full) from a Great Meal
I most sense the Italian generosity when my friends invite me into their homes for dinner or to share meals with them.  My experiences so far in Umbria, Pesaro and Porto San Giorgio have shaped this idea.  There is something so welcoming and intimate about someone taking the time to share their culture with you through food.  

In Umbria, Agnese prepared a lentil stew from the region the first night and we became familiar with each other over this first meal.  My friend Ilenia invited me to her home in Porto San Giorgio this past weekend and we became fast friends over apertifs and pizza Friday night.  Saturday we became closer friends during a wonderful lunch where we shared regional foods, languages and stories.  I have come to think of Italian meals as marathons, you have to pace yourself in order to save room for the end.  Our Saturday lunch consisted of tagliare (Italian cold cuts), bruschetta, an assortment of fried finger foods, vigesgrassi (this region's lasagne), crema catalana (like creme brulee), biscotti (cookies) and plenty of wine.  Sunday I yet again found this warmth created by the sharing of a meal when Fiona cooked polenta with a delicious meat sauce for me.  Every bit the example of a southern Italian, she said "Manja manja (eat eat)" until I could eat no more; again showing the Italian generosity.  Interestingly, multiple people have told me that while Italians are incredibly generous hosts, it is unusual for them to have someone stay with them as my host family is doing.
Mountains near Porto San Giorgio

Of course food was not the only highlight of the weekend!  Ilenia also took me to Ancona (where my parents had taken a ferry from to Croatia for their honeymoon) and we saw the beautiful panoramic view of the port where all the cruises leave from.  Additionally, we visited a heels factory where I gained a much greater appreciation for all the craftsmanship that goes into the beautiful shoes that are made here; with each heel of each shoe sculpted individually and painstakingly.  Saturday we started the night out at a really nice lounge where a live band was playing that had a great rhythm perfect for a relaxing start to the evening.  The lounge also had "Roman Holiday" playing in the background (I got a bit distracted watching it, after all I've finally been to some of the places in it!).  Then around 2am we headed to the discoteca and ended the night dancing until 4 in the morning!
Christmas Festival-Candelara

Sunday I got an early start and headed back to Pesaro at 10am (a bit worn out from the night before admittedly).  After lunch at Fiona and David's, we headed to the Christmas Festival in nearby Candelara.  Candelara is known for its candles so three times during the evenings of the festival the lights of the entire town go out and it is illuminated only by candles.  It was a beautiful sight, with the flickers of candle flames giving the picturesque city a warm light and the vendors' stalls seeming to go back in time.  The beautiful darkness did have one downside though; we had to essentially play Marco Polo in order to keep track of each other!  This weekend Dana, Elena, Anna and I are going back to participate in all the fun kid-oriented activities the festival includes!
Candelara by Candlelight