Wednesday, April 14, 2010


For the second part of our spring break we headed to bright and sunny Spain and spent four days in Barcelona. It was incredible, definitely one of my favorite places in Europe thus far. As is apparent from my inability to reduce the amount of pictures in this entry below ten, the weather was amazing and the city itself was beautiful. This here is Plaça Reial (said "pla-tha" with the Spanish lisp...i actually couldn't stop saying it after we heard it a few times), which is where our hostel was located, right off Las Ramblas.

The long and busy strip called Las Ramblas is divided in the center by a large sidewalk that hosts a variety of street performers (like Edward Scissorhands shown here, who I thought looked uncannily like Mr. Depp) as well as flower shops and stands selling an odd assortment of birds not usually seen in your average pet store (i.e. pigeons, chickens, doves, etc.). Very strange.

The facade of the famous La Sagrada Família designed by Antoni Gaudí. Looking exactly like a drip castle made of sand and yes, still under construction. But even with the cranes in the background the church was fantastically bizarre and definitely lived up to its reputation-unlike anything I've ever seen!

Although the church was beautiful, I think my favorite of Gaudí's creations (at least of the few I was able to see during our short visit) is Parc Güell. There were beautiful views of the city, and the design of the park seemed like a strange combination of elements from Jurassic Park and a Dr. Seuss book, all mixed together with colorful broken pottery pieces. Again, the whole place was surreal in the best way possible.

After visiting Parc Güell, I wanted to see more of Gaudí's buildings and so I took a walk toward one of Barcelona's main streets called Passeig de Gràcia to see the Casa Milà apartments. Not a particularly great photograph, but just wanted to show the serpentine balconies and the interesting avoidance of corners. Since Gaudí's buildings are scattered throughout the city, they seem to stand out all the more alongside their comparatively conservative neighbors.

We took a free walking tour of the city on one of our first days and our tour guide told us that this rather ugly looking building is ironically an architecture school. And this drawing here-which in my opinion saves the structure from being a complete sore thumb in this main center-was apparently copied from a sketch done by Picasso on a restaurant napkin. I love that guy.

On our tour we visited a small plaza and came across this group of adorable preschoolers wearing pastel-colored smocks. I couldn't tell if it was a uniform or if it was for some sort of arts and crafts project, but they looked so cute and they were really excited about wherever they were going. And I was able to practice my creeping-on-people picture-taking skills, hence the odd angle of the photo (but I'm just going to call that an artistic choice).

On one of our last nights we finally made it to Barceloneta, a small part of the city that borders the beach. Of course the only time it drizzled while we were there happened to coincide with our beach time, but as we got closer the skies cleared and we were able to witness quite a beautiful sunset.

This was the marina we walked alongside in order to get to the beach, packed to the max with sailboats whose masts reached like a wall up to the sky.

By the time we made it onto the sand the sun had almost completely set, but to see the water and the city behind it was still incredible. I really hope to go back to Barcelona when it's warmer, but the peaceful emptiness of the city beach in off-season was greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


So the last few weeks have been pretty hectic and I've fallen a bit behind on updating this blog...I currently have around four entries worth of pictures, so here I am starting back a few weeks ago with spring break. One step at a time, and starting with Amsterdam!
Here is one of the many canals we walked over while traversing the city, close to the red light district (and for some reason this canal in particular was always filled with large groups of swans). I never realized quite how many waterways there were in the city until I got there; there are four main canals that circle the center of the city, and therefore any sort of walk through Amsterdam involves multiple canal crossings (each bordered by unique buildings).

This is Amsterdam Central Station, the main train station designed by the same man who created the winning design for the Rijksmuseum (the national museum which we also visited) in the late 19th century. I think it's one of the most beautiful stations I've ever seen, and the color of the brick looked incredible in the light of the setting sun.

The table in the room of our hostel. A random picture but for some reason I liked how it looked like graffiti and seemed to act in lieu of a formal guest-book. It was covered with names and all sorts of quotes and words of advice--i.e. one of our French roommates who left the day we arrived contributed "Free your mind from mental prostitution." Deep, man.

Amsterdam is really a city of bikers. My roommates and I rented bikes for three days, and while some were happier with the experience than others, I absolutely loved being back on two wheels. I had forgotten how much I missed riding around the city and how much more efficient it is than walking. We got caught in one of many rainstorms when we were on our bikes and I actually found it thrilling to ride back to our hostel with the rain in our faces and rushing over various bridges.

On our walk back from breakfast one morning we spotted a group of people staring toward the canal, and upon closer inspection realized that there was a heron on the roof of a parked car (or maybe it's a crane? not sure). I was surprised how calm it was, and I was able to get up fairly close to take its photo, almost as if it was enjoying all the attention.

On the weekend Maddie, David, and I went to one of the main markets near the canal named Prisengracht (which also happens to have an amazing vintage market on Monday mornings...could have spent all day there on my own!). They sold specialty foods, plants, and all sorts of random objects to a lively crowd of both locals and tourists alike.

I've noticed that whenever I go to Europe for some reason I see marzipan everywhere, and the Netherlands were no different. There were lots of nut stands, and Maddie and I splurged on this amazing creation of sliced walnuts filled with rounds of marzipan and rolled in sugar. And yes, it was as good as it looks and sounds.

On the way back from the market we came upon a group of street performers, playing what sounded like a kind of folk music (maybe even a bit like klezmer music?). Whatever the genre, it was nice hearing live music that seemed in some way connected to the surrounding city that we had been exploring.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Two of my roommates and I went to Milan last weekend and it was pretty amazing. It was strange being back in a "city" but it still had that quintessential Italian beauty, everywhere from the people to the buildings. The architecture was absolutely incredible, especially Milan's Gothic Duomo--apparently one of the largest cathedrals in the world--and which had a sort of pre-Gaudi drip castle appearance.

The interior of the church was equally impressive (unlike the rather austere interior of Florence's Duomo). There was beautiful stained glass, sculptures, huge pillars, and an elaborately decorated floor. Also significant to the entire experience was the fact that it was finally SUNNY. It made the whole day more enjoyable but it was also amazing to be able to see the lighting effects within the cathedral.

One of the most amazing things about the Duomo is that visitors are able and allowed to climb to the top; definitely the best 5 euro we spent all weekend. After countless sets of stairs and minor breathing difficulties we were rewarded with an amazing view of the top of the city and the Alps in the distance (this picture here, however, is facing away from the mountain range).

This is what you see as soon as you emerge from your trek up to the top. It's interesting how the extensive embellishment and decoration makes the structure seem simultaneously haunting and delicate.

Here is a fashionable Milanese dog in Zara. I thought the rhinestones and the pink color set off her coat quite nicely, but unfortunately it didn't seem to be the most comfortable of garments; she wouldn't stop rolling on the floor the whole time we were there. As a side note, I find it funny how here in Italy shopping is almost always a family affair, and everyone from the dog to the baby to the (willing!) husband comes along.

Here is the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the impressive glass-covered shopping arcade that was constructed in the 19th century. The shops and cafes inside are accordingly expensive, but interestingly enough that didn't stop a McDonald's from springing up around the corner.

We had lunch in the Navigli district, one of the older parts of the city and named after the many canals that run through it. On our way back to the center we spotted this large graffiti wall, which although seemed a little out of place, in retrospect seems to fit with Milan's attachment to the Modern.

On the walk back home we spotted these hearts in the sidewalk made out of red bottle caps. What a great idea for making concrete sidewalks more aesthetically pleasing!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


This week was Carnivale, and to avoid the insane crowds (and jacked up hostel prices) that we would inevitably encounter in Venice, a few of my roomates and I went to Viareggio, a seaside town in Tuscany about an hour and forty minutes by train outside of Florence. Viareggio is known for having the second biggest Carnivale celebration in Italy after Venice, and supposedly the festival that more of the locals attend. Regardless, we certainly weren't disappointed; the floats were absolutely incredible, especially seeing them in action during the parade. Most were political satires or had some underlying social commentary, but some were a little more random (like this float here dedicated to "Il Re de Pop").

Equally entertaining were the people who were riding on the floats. This fine lady here was having quite a good time dancing upon the Michael Jackson float (they were playing "Beat It" and then played the amazing MJ cover of "Come Together").

Preceding the float were groups of Italian children dressed up as Michael Jackson-boys and girls alike. And they had both the clothes and the moves to match.

This dragon float was preceded by a group of men decked in Chinese costume and carrying one of those snake-like dragon floats on sticks. The dragon's head on the float moved from side to side and spewed smoke-probably one of my favorites overall.

Obama! The sign he's wearing reads "Il Viso-ne Americano," which means essentially the American Mink, probably referring to the mink coat? (but viso also means face, so I guess the face of America as well). We were quite excited to see a bit of the ol' home country represented in this Italian festival.

Carnivale seems essentially like Halloween for those not from the States. Therefore cute kids in costumes were everywhere, usually dressed in cozy animal outfits or historical costumes. This boy here dressed as a dalmatian was probably the cutest of the day; he was so enthralled with the moving floats.

There was an Alice in Wonderland float and the caterpillar was enjoying the attention from dancing on his mushroom perch.

I'm not sure who the characters were on this float but I loved the colors, and as the float moved along her mask moved up and down and her eyes moved from side to side.

The streets were strewn with confetti of all different colors; people were selling bags of it on the street in all different colors and many of the people on the floats were throwing it everywhere. We were frequently pelted by handfuls of the stuff, and one guy on a float got a handful of it in my mouth. Needless to say we're all still picking pieces of paper from our hair and our apartment is covered with memories of the festival.

I loved this Edward Scissorhands float (labeled as "Silvio Mani di Forbice", I'm guessing after Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister). Each blade moved individually and there were words like "school" and "justice" moving around him.

The beach at Viareggio, right alongside the street that the parade was on and with the Alps in the distance. Even though it was still pretty cold, we all loved being at the beach and smelling the ocean. A great carnival day!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

exploring: and so it begins

The angle is a bit awkward but this is the view from our common room/kitchen. One day when we were walking home we heard this man playing accordion outside of the bar below us and I think we all had one of those "Oh right, I'm in Italy" moments. He left soon after we went inside but it was nice hearing the music from our kitchen for a while.

For the only semi-recreational activity that NYU planned for us as part of our orientation we took one of those "Hop On, Hop Off" double-decker buses around the city. Unfortunately it was one of the first days since we had arrived that it was overcast and freezing, but it was nice to see new parts of the city nonetheless. We had an opportunity to get off the bus at Piazzale Michelangelo, which I had been to before but still managed to amaze me with the sweeping views it offers of the city.

This was looking down from Piazzale Michelangelo, on the road that twists and turns back down the mountain. I love how love notes and other public displays of affection (like the love padlock tradition or "lucchetti d'amore") are so popular here; it makes the city feel even more romantic.

One of my roommates' family friends lives outside of Florence and invited us for lunch at her villa. She had a gorgeous view of the city, and had her own garden and patio where her daughter got married. The colors of the stones on the terrace were such vivid colors I thought I'd capture it...figures that even the rocks are prettier here.

In true Italian style the meal was multiple courses and delicious, and she even bought some traditional Florentine desserts for us to try. These here are called cenci, which means "rags" in Italian. They taste somewhat like fortune cookies with lemon and then covered in powdered sugar. We also tried a light and citrusy sheet cake (also covered in powdered sugar) called schiacciata alla fiorentina, which I coincidentally had been seeing around the city and wanting to try. Apparently it's a specialty for Easter, so it only appears in pasticcerie around this time of year up until the holiday.

After lunch we were dropped off in the center of Fiesole, the city right outside Florence and known for its views since it's located so high up in the mountains. We didn't have much daylight left so we decided to visit the monastery for the remainder of the day. We ventured around the grounds and since it was overcast it was fairly empty and everything took on a certain eerie quality. These here are the steps leading up to the monastery.

We walked immediately toward what looked to be the best vantage point, through the lush giardino pubblico that reminded me quite a lot of Pan's Labyrinth for some reason. There was a sort of altar or shrine type structure in the middle, and around it were engraved panels like this covered in moss and mold. I'm not sure what this is of, but I just really liked both the image itself and the colors it had attained over time.

The monastery of San Francesco, complete with cloisters and a strangely placed museum somewhat hidden on the lower floor (and with an equally strange array of objects: Chinese, Etruscan, Roman, Egyptian, etc.). It really had that serene quality that monasteries and other buildings made for devout followers tend to convey.

We went inside the main building and walked up the small staircase to a set of tiny rooms, I think where the monks would study. They seemed more like prison cells to me though, and the combination of the weather and the small windows made it feel both cold and otherworldly.

When we started our descent to the center of Fiesole to take the bus back home, the sun had already almost set. At this point we were all freezing, but the last glimpse of Florence at night and a semi-sunset seen through the clouds made for a nice farewell.

Friday, January 22, 2010

benvenuto a firenze!

Our first real cappuccino, purchased at the cute cafe right below our apartment. I think he's slightly overwhelmed when eight girls storm in ordering "cappuccini" but he's very friendly nonetheless. And it's nice that you're forced to drink it at the cafe--certainly no take-away here--so hopefully we'll have some more extensive conversations with the owner in the future.

The Duomo is a mere two blocks away from our apartment--you can see the tri-colored marble if you look to the left once you've stepped outside the apartment. This is the baptistero which lies opposite from the front of the main church, and has beautiful gold doors (called the "Gates of Paradise") with scenes from the New Testament. My roomates and I are hoping to go inside the Duomo in the next few days, although unfortunately it's a separate cost to enter the baptistero and the campanile.

Here's a corner of the front of the Duomo; the engravings and the colors are absolutely beautiful, and I love how it looks next to the yellow and reds of the surrounding buildings. It's interesting how there is so much experimentation with color in architecture here (that quintessentially Tuscan mustard yellow being particularly popular), whereas back home people seem more comfortable sticking with neutrals. But color adds such energy and interest to this city and the culture, an artistic power I had never really previously realized.

An old-fashioned carousel in the middle of Piazza della Repubblica, a large square with a huge arch on the western side. Apparently it's only a euro or so to ride it, so i've definitely added this to my list of things to do before I leave!