Friday, December 29, 2006

aesthetic [es-thet-ik]
pertaining to a sense of the beautiful or to the science of aesthetics; having a sense of the beautiful; characterized by a love of beauty; pertaining to, involving, or concerned with pure emotion and sensation as opposed to pure intellectuality
Synonyms include: artful, artistic, creative,

"Aesthetic" is one of my favorite words. It means being concerned with how the beauty of something affects how you feel over what you think. Florence, a mecca of all things art, is the perfect place to experience such beauty.

Mission #6 - Live among the Florentines - Part 1
Point of Origin - Venice, Italy
Destination - Florence, Italy
I believe this was train ride #5 for us. From Venice to Florence, 3 hours on the EuroStar was time enough to prepare ourselves for the next 5 days in a new city. At this point, we've grown accustomed to train travel. Everyone knows where they have to sit (certain people can't face the opposite direction of the train's run), how much time they have to nap/watch movies, and at what point before arrival we have to get ready to haul our luggage off the train.
We took 2 taxis on this rainy day to our apartment, 63 Via de la Pergola, situated nicely in the middle of...well, everything. 4 flights of stairs later (don't even ask how we got all that luggage up there. We just thought up a "system"), we had arrived in our new home for the week.
We were met at the front door of the building by Gabriela. She's kind of like the caretaker of the place. Anytime we had a problem, we would call her. Nice lady, spunky as hell.Cile grated parmesan cheese in her scarf and beanie. We couldn't figure out how to adjust the temperature in the apartment that first night and she was freezing. The next morning we woke up at 3:30 am because it was hot as hell!
After walking all over the area around our apartment in search of a grocery store ("Scusi, dov e che un supermercato?") we sat down and had our feast. Cooking dinner in our own kitchen, eating in our own dining table and washing dishes in our own sink was just the nicest feeling. For the first time, I think, we felt really at home in this foreign place that had been so welcoming to us already.
Our first order of business on our first full day in Florence was to go to the Uffizi Museum. It's this huge place of paintings galore! I honestly didn't expect to get so much out of this museum visit, but my journal would prove otherwise. Here's Randy, Pat and Kay making fun of my head tilt. I just do it unconsciously in pictures. It's like a nervous tick. Kay demonstrating one of the Korean words we learned: HAJIMA! Which means, "STOP IT!"
This is the Ponte Vecchio, which literally means, "old bridge." It crosses the Arno River and is a strada of jewelry shops and stands. The bling on that avenue is wow!
I love hallways and archways, etc. This is a hallway which leads to the Ponte Vecchio. You should see all the writing on the wall. It's kind of crazy to see what people have passed through the very same way.
After a snack at a cafe (gotta feed the hungry American tourists), we stopped at the Boboli Gardens. We figured it'd be a nice place to visit, see some greenery, take some pictures, just chill.
We walked around the property, and came upon this staircase on the side of a building so we climbed up wondering, hmm, what's up here? When we got to the top we were blown away by the view. We were seriously shocked because we didn't expect to encounter such beauty. Seong was like, "What is this place! SOMEONE MAKE OUT WITH ME!" hahaha!

On top of this building, which looked like it could've been a house, was a most beautiful view of Florence; knolls and hills on one side, a thriving metropolis on the other.
Around and around we walked, through angled pathways and bamboo canopied-hallways like the one above. It was very easy to feel displaced in these gardens; not so much physically lost. Actually, now that I think about it, to resound the theme of this entry - it felt more like being aesthetically found. We came into this foreign land, whose citizens speak a different language, where food is prepared with swift but reverent quality and where the lay of the land is a bit estranged. Yet, somehow we found ourselves visitors no longer. Instead realizing just how big the world is - and that we are part of it.

I call this shot, "J.Crew fall catalog 2006."

I fell in love with autumn while I lived in Washington, DC. No other season brings about such multi-colored foliage. And lucky me, to be standing in the middle of the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy, under these beautiful trees whose leaves rained upon its walkers ever so gently... Just kidding. That was Pat and Seong throwing leaves at me. hahaha! It took 5 or 6 shots because they were having the toughest time catapulting the leaves high enough to achieve a falling sensation. No wonder we spent 2 hours in the gardens!

Finding sculptures to imitate was also a fun activity for us. If only we had the props.Hmmm, more jumping shots. You'd think that by day 6 we'd be sick of doing this. But we were fueled by location and opportunity. Can't resist jumping in the middle of this star at the end of the long path behind us.
There was even a chain there, just inviting a jumprope picture to be taken. Check out the amused tourist in the background.
Gelato break before the next mission...

Mini-Mission #6a - Get to the top of the Duomo
Santa Maria del Fiore, more commonly known as the Duomo. There's like 50 Duomos in Italy. Haha! This is one of the grandest ones.
Inside is a great dome where a fresco gives observers an idea of what to expect should you find yourself in heaven, purgatory or hell. It looks daunting from the ground, but when we got up there to see it up close, the images were nothing short of disturbing and threatening. Randy was like, "I know we joke around about going to hell, but....I DON'T WANNA GO THERE." hahaha! We might as well stop talking, Randalf. Hahaha!
The churches (though I can hardly describe this place a mere "church") aren't populated by pews from front to back.
The inside is just like a great big room, where floors are tiled in intricate geometric designs and walls are occupied by gigantic biblical interpretations.
We stood by the entrance (while Cile attempted to sing a version of a song with her own lyrics. "You are to me, what open dreams try to say with its words...). 463 steps? Really? Do we have it in us? Finally we figured, how often are we going to have this chance to climb to the top of this magnificent Basilica? ANDIAMO! (Let's go!)
The way to the top was a series of narrow, circular staircases, steep flights of stone stairs and a heaving bunch of tourists.
But we were determined! Sprint, you lazy Americans! Up the stairs you go!

We each got to the top of the final flight of stairs, caught our breath and then saw THIS view. It was a 360 degree view of Florence. We came all the way up here, we thought, so WE'RE GOING TO STAY AS LONG AS WE WANT TO! So what did we do on top of the Duomo for an hour?

Well, I wrote in my journal...we took pictures...
...Pat sketched...

...and DUH...WE JUMPED!

We rewarded ourselves later that evening with a tasty dinner at this Osteria where the chef looked 17 and the waiters watched an Italian version of "Survivor" while we ate.

We were loving Florence...

random analogy for the day:

Always and Forever:Kost 103.5 :: If It Isn't Love:100.3

100.3 LOOOOOVES IF IT ISN'T LOVE BY NEW EDITION! I swear I hear it every single time I turn it to that station!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

glutton [gluht-n]
a person who eats and drinks excessively or voraciously; a person with a remarkably great desire or capacity for something
Synonyms include: overeater, gourmand, pleasure-seeker, epicurean

I know that each city, no matter what part of the world you're in, has something special to offer. But there's a mysticism about Venice that I can't describe. Maybe it's all the food we ate! Hahaha, just kidding. In all seriousness though, it's one of the most unique places I've ever been to. Being there felt surreal at best.

Mission #5 - Maneuver our way through baffling Venice streets
(Whilst we try to eat ourselves to death. Seriously though,
just check out how many times we ate and drank in a span of 24 hours)
Point of Origin - Lugano, Switzerland
Destination - Venice, Italy
I realized that I certainly do attract guys...guys 3 years old and under, apparently. This cute little boy was walking by while we were waiting for our train and when I saw him, I waved and said, "Ciao!" And he stopped to kick it.
His jacket was zipped up and buttoned up so tightly that he could hardly move. Hahaha! So hilarious but so adorable!
So, off we go to the next city on our tour. We took one train from Lugano to Milano Centrale, and then switched trains at Milano per Venezia. These were train #'s 3 & 4 on our trip so far.
Before we crossed the Swiss-Italian border, these men in uniform walked through the train checking passports. It was a little creepy, truth be told, guns in their holsters. And after we crossed, a new set of officers (Italian ones), walked through to do the same thing.
I tried not to fall asleep during the train ride. The view outside varied, from mountains covered with green grass, to nearly decrepid apartment buildings with clothes hanging from the balconies, to old churches in the background. I had to write everything down! The train was, byfar, my favorite place to write while we were there. There's something about sitting still and watching the world move by you, instead of the other way around.
Yay, we're finally here! From the train station to our hotel, we have to take what's called a "vaporetto." It's basically a water bus. "Se biglietti per favore!" (6 tickets please!)

We all just kind of stood in the vaporetto, half excited and half in complete disbelief, watching Venetians and tourists in harmonious commute. City people in the states take subways through underground tunnels, buses through one-way streets, cars through 5-lane highways. People in Venice ride boats to get around. I love it!
Hey Joe, Iya & Riann, CALL US CRAZY but look what we found! Crazy Pizza in Venice! Hahaha!
We arrived in Venice at around 4:00 so, naturally, we're starving. Heaven forbid we should go 3 hours without eating. So we ventured through the maze that is Venice. Cile and Kay were our shepherds, guiding us along, never letting us get lost. At one point that evening though, they were looking at a map and then exclaimed, "This way!" while they pointed in two different directions. It was classic!

We had dinner at this place called Piccolo Martini. Again with our house wine, vino rosso de la casa, per favore. Although, we didn't really need to speak Italian there because all the servers were Asian! The heck? Here's Nonna trying to pour wine in everyone's glasses...before she poured it on Pat's sleeve. Hahaha! I did the same later on so I should shut it.

First full day in Venice - time for our morning calisthenics in front of the Basilica di San Marco. What did we do for exercise during vacation? JUMP!!!

This is us doing the "Anna-jump." I was a cheerleader, this is how I jump. Yay Venice!

Breakfast - tre cappunini e tre caffe latte, per favore! Aaah, I miss trying to speak Italian!
Why do I look like I'm twelve years old in this picture?!

Just look at this place! I can't imagine living here and doing anything but daydream!...and write of course. Wake up...daydream...write...take a walk...write...
...daydream...go catch my drift I'm sure. It's such a strange place, Venice. I wouldn't mind going back there and just sitting somewhere to people watch. Our hotel lady, Donatella, told us how slow life is over there. Honestly, sometimes I wish life was that way over here.
This is the Basilica di Santa Maria di Salute in Dorsoduro (one of Venice's 6 neighborhoods). It was built...a long time ago in honor of Mary after the city had been relieved of a terrible plague. "Salute" means "health" in Italian. Hence, when people toast, "Salute!" they're basically saying, "To your health!"

Yes, we literally did light candles at every church we went into. This was actually the FIRST church we visited on our trip.

We even managed to walk into the middle of a mass. I found myself standing by the side, kind of praying to myself. Next you know, tears are flowing from my eyes like no one's business. I wasn't sad - I was happy. Cheesy as all this sounds to you all, I was just so thankful that day for my life.

Ooooh gelato! Check our Randy double-fisting it! Hahaha! We literally had gelato at least once a day! YOU JUST CAN'T HELP IT! There's a gelato place everywhere you turn!

We walked around the corner and ran into this bacaro, that's "wine bar." Venetians go to wine bars to have a snack or two before lunch.
They have all these appetizer type things called "cichetti" and you can choose a variety to munch on with your glass of wine. Well, when in Venice... as the Venetians do. So we ate a couple plates of cichetti, had some glasses of wine and aqua frizzante (sparkling water) and then went on our way.

We walked around for maybe another hour or two, rather enjoying the disorientation and, well, we got hungry again. I know geez! So we sat outside this quaint little cafe in San Polo (another one of Venice's neighborhoods) and had some paninis and...more wine. I think it was about 1:00 in the afternoon by the time we got to this point.

After eating, we got back on our way and found ourselves at the Ponte di Rialto (the Rialto Bridge), which crosses the Grand Canale. It's the grandest bridge in Venice, where you will find merchants lined all the way across, selling everything from fans to jewelry to silk ties, etc. You name it, it's probably sold on the Rialto.

We went back to the hotel to rest after our full day and then decided to look for this Osteria that Giada (from the Food Network) visited on her tv show. We actually followed Giada and Rachael Ray's shows quite a bit on our trip. It's good to have guidance.

The guy who took our picture is Gigi, who Giada was all buddy-buddy with on the show. The place was getting ready to close for siesta but we made it just in time. What's the eating count so far? hahaha! But it had the freshest seafood on one plate! I wish I hadn't eaten 90 minutes before. Then I would've finished my food! There was some meat stuff, octopus...ummm what else? Just lots of stuff that I've never eaten but was the tastiest thing I'd had!

After we ate (again), we took a stroll through the Piazza di San Marco where all the flying rats seemed to be doing the same. Solution? Break out that umbrella!

Here's the only Chinese restaurant we saw in Venice. It's all tucked into this long alley. Aaaw, kawawa...

What? Another gelato break? So soon? hahahaha! I love it! We could've bled gelato and wine over there for real.

Hey James, look what we found! Hotel Canada! Maybe we can all stay here next time!

For our last dinner in Venice, we ate at a restaurant called A La Madonna. When you travel, it's nice to experience things you wouldn't normally do at home. Take Randy here, for example, enojoying his sea bass (which they de-boned for him). He doesn't even eat fish here but he loved this!
Here's Nonna ("grandma" in Italian) having her fish soup. It was a comforting thing to have since it was freezing outside.
I believe Chef had some steak. No frills; just the meat cut, seasoned and cooked to perfection, plus lemon and his regular side of spinach. Seong seriously had a -gasm every single time we sat down to eat. Italy was like the mothership calling him home.

Cile had some lobster. Geez, look at that thing!

Pat had some tender steak as well. See how nice and plain the plate is? No fries, no salad, no garnish - just the food. Sometimes that's all you need.
The best lasagna I've ever tasted!! The pasta literally melted in my mouth, the cheese wasn't chewy and the sauce was just right. The waiter offered me parmesan cheese, but I've never been a big fan so I kindly said, "No grazie." He was like, "are you SURE?!" Seong and Randy were like, "Dude, it's not Kraft - eat it with the cheese!"

Cile packed and re-packed her suitcase every single time we left a city and Venice was no exception. Her system of re-packing goes something like this: empty suitcase by throwing everything on the floor....lie down and take a break...fall asleep..."I'll finish it later." hahaha!
Chef Seong at the fish market is like a kid in a candy store! He was running around all over the place, taking pictures of every type of sea animal you could fry, sautee or broil!

Europeans are all about their mini elevators. We had to go downstairs one by one! It's literally the size of a closet!
Ciao Venezia!

Andiamo a Firenze!