21 June 2015

The Grand Tour...of Venice

My second day in Venice dawned very cloudy (not a precipitous start to my avowedly poncho-less existence). The plan was to meet Dr. Rosen, a UTD art history professor, at the Piazza San Marco to begin a tour of Venetian churches and artwork. We rose early, afraid of getting lost, and took the vaporetto to San Marco. The church and Doge’s Palace are gorgeous! Delightfully unsymmetrical and different than anything else I have seen in Italy. Because of our temporal fear, Natalie and I arrived quite early. We then went on a search for food. I had, I kid you not, the best breakfast ever that morning! Two fresh, hot Nutella filled croissants and a latte machiatto (which has become my go to drink). 

Soon Dr. Rosen arrived and we explored the piazza, standing under the cover of the library to avoid the showers. After a detailed look at the architecture of the piazza, San Marco and the outside of the Doge’s Palace:

we moved on to the Dominican church San Giovanni e Poalo. The architecture on the inside reminded me of the Duomo in Florence. Compared with other churches in Italy it is relatively unadorned, most of the walls are made of simple brick. 

There are gorgeous paintings and many tombs embedded in the building’s walls. Dr. Rosen once lived in Italy, so he was very knowledgeable about the structure and the history behind all of the artwork. It was so nice having a guide (as previously stated, Venice is not a particularly easy city to navigate). After the Dominican church we headed over to Santa Maria Dei Miracoli, Ezra Pound’s favorite church in Venice, often called the Jewel Box. 

As Dr. Rosen pointed out to us, most structures (like San Giovanni e Paolo) are made of brick and the brick shows through. Santa Maria Dei Miracoli is completely covered in marble, porphyr and other stones so as to render it even more elaborate and gorgeous! Also, in contrast to San Marco which has varied and not in uniform architecture and style, Santa Maria Dei Miracoli was built by one architect who had the sole charge of the building. This central planning figure gives the chapel a cohesiveness and uniformity which is often lacking in Venetian architecture. I also had a cappuccino in the small campo abutting Santa Maria Dei Miracoli. I wasn’t sure I needed more caffeine…but Dr. Rosen said he always recommends more coffee, truth be told I required very little persuasion. Drinking coffee in Italy has been one of the great pleasures of this trip. After we admired the Jewel Box thoroughly, we moved on to the Franciscan church, the Frari. This church possesses some amazing artwork as well, most norably The Assumption of the Virgin by Titian, my favorite Venetian artist. 

The colors and perspective of the painting are reminiscent of Raphael, the illustrious composer of The School of Athens which I was blessed to see in the Vatican museum. I did not like the Frari as much as San Giovanni e Paolo. It was bigger and more elaborate. The architecture did not remind me of the Duomo (which you might recall is my favorite church in Italy). It was lovely, highly ornamented and elaborate. Titian’s painting is the alter piece and was exquisite, but the church as a whole was not my favorite, that is reserved for the Duomo and perhaps the Jewel Box, which, though highly ornamented, is still simplistic in architecture. And with the Frari our tour was done – a full day of touring, right? Wrong! Still much more to do. Natalie was not feeling well, so she left and went back to the hotel. With her loss I was left with a lot of people that had not been to Murano. I was definitely game to go back, seeing as I had not bought half of the things that I wanted the day before. So to Murano we all went, a jolly little group. Amazingly I was able to find all of the things that I had wanted to buy previously. It was so fun! Then Hope, Alex and I decided to go visit the Jewish Ghetto for dinner and have some falafel. Unluckily, we forgot that it was Friday night until we were almost there. Even so, we decided to see if the restaurants were still open since it was still well before sunset. They were not – a tragedy. Instead, in a stroke of irony, we went to a little streetside cafĂ© and had pork chops and French fries with very little ketchup. I am going to be so happy to get back to my large bottle of Heinz, I am so tired of rationing the one to two packets of ketchup I get in Italy.

We then went home to the hotel to pick up Natalie and go find Olga’s house. After wandering for awhile, we found it! Eureka! 

And right after that – it started raining. But I valiantly resisted the hagglers trying to sell me a pancho and instead ended the evening thoroughly soaked, but five euros up – a success to my way of thinking. On the way back to the hotel we stopped by Grom, a gelato place (Travel Tip #9 for anyone going to Italy: GO TO GROM!) that was recommended to Natalie and me by Gaspare, our Roman friend. Hope was impressed, both because that place is just stinking impressive and because all of the flavors and the cones and cookies are gluten free, which meant she could have anything. Then home and time for sleep. A long day, full of fun! Venice just might be my favorite city in Italy! It is definitely tied with Rome as of now…one more day to edge out the Eternal City. Until next time, goodnight from the city of the Winged Lion!

Venice: The City of the Winged Lion

Latte Machiatto at the Train Station

Again, I am sorry for the late posts. WiFi was a nightmare in Venice once again - but I am back and should have many posts forthcoming as soon as they can be transcribed from my notebook to the computer.

So...arrival day in Venice was quite the debacle. Natalie and I, after our experiences in Florence, decided that arriving in a new city during rush hour is not a good thing. So we got up at 6 am and caught a train. 

We arrived in Venice around noon and set out to find our hotel and some very much needed food. Upon leaving the train station I was immediately spell-bound by the magical city of Venice. Gondolas and vaporettos vie for dominance of the Grand Canal while tourists and locals walk leisurely over the bridges. It is beautiful!


After wandering around for awhile we finally found a panini place where I decided to get lunch and a coffee: worst mistake ever! Not because the food was bad (it was actually quite tasty) but because Natalie found a much better place to eat just a few minutes down the road. It was a homemade pasta hole in the wall. She got a to go carton of pasta with bolognese sauce for 5 euros, and it was very, very good! One of the great things about having Natalie for a travel buddy is our shared passion for good food. We have eaten our way across Italy, and we always share food. I have gotten to try double the Italian food that I would have experienced if I had just traveled alone.
After lunch we wandered some more, looking for our hotel. For those of you who have never been to Venice, let me set the scene. There is water everywhere! Not only the Grand Canal, but many other, baby canals block your progress. The streets are very poorly marked and the buildings are built so close together that it is almost impossible to see landmarks (as opposed to Florence where we could see the Duomo from practically anywhere). I had a very good map (thank you, Leah!) but we still could not find our hotel. A nice man finally noticed our plight and walked us to the door of our hotel (for a small fee). The main problem was that we were looking for a building big enough to be a hotel. Our abode can scarcely be called a hostel, let alone a hotel in the Texas sense of the word. A small room with four twin sized beds and a bathroom that we share with the rest of our floor...certainly NOT the Ritz. Natalie and I were a few hours ahead of Hope and Alex so we decided to go to Murano and look for souvenirs. Here is where I enlighten my readers to Travel Tip #7: If you find something that you know you like, buy it, regardless of the expense. I found several things on that island that I knew I wanted for gifts for people back home, but I decided to keep looking...bad idea! All of the shops started closing at 6 and I was left with nothing but a big pile of regrets and beautiful memories of exquisite glass...tragic.

On the Vaporetto to Murano
Glass Sculpture on Murano

When all the shops on Murano started closing, Natalie and I took it as a sign that we should move on. It also started raining, one more clue it was time to head back to Venice. Not sure I have put this in writing before, but just for the record: I do not have an umbrella or a rain poncho, and the raincoat I brought rarely gets put in my bag because of its bulkiness. I have valiantly (or stupidly) resisted buying an umbrella/poncho from the myriad road side vendors who repeatedly hassle me to buy one. With the forecast this weekend it will be a miracle if I do not cave...but that is the goal! I do not want to spend the money on something right before I come home that is not particularly useful to me once I return. Now back from my tangent...once back in Venice we looked up restaurants at the hotel for potential dining options. We had heard from Dr. Redman that food in Venice is often underwhelming and we wanted to be sure we got a good option. I found a place called Travena San Travaso that looked promising according to Yelp and Trip Advisor (also, Travel Tip #8: Yelp seems to be the rich person place to review restaurants. If it says that the restaurant is affordable, this could mean anywhere from 17-30 dollars per meal. Trip Advisor is much more close to the college student's notions of "affordable"). We decided to go to the Traverna and eat...not a good choice. At this point in time I would like to write a brief disclaimer. On Thursday I had woken up at 6 am in the morning for our bus ride after staying up until almost 1 am packing. That means a grand total of 5 hours of sleep - not enough for any human being, I don't even know if superman would be ok with that much sleep...in any case certainly NOT optimal. With that being said, my experience at this restaurant was the worst I have ever had at any restaurant in the history of my restaurant dining life bar none. Here is how it went down:I ordered the pasta with Duck sauce. When it came out, it was a dark black mass of pasta that smelled atrocious, though visually stunning:

 I asked the waiter if it was the Duck sauce pasta, he said it was "dark sauce" pasta, which was not what I ordered, then he stormed off. I did not want to eat the black pasta, both because I wasn't sure how much it costed and because it smelled very unappetizing. So my friend called over one of the waitresses and asked her if the pasta I had was the Duck sauce pasta. She said no and that she would take care of it. I usually do not complain, but I did not want to pay 15+ dollars for something I did not want to eat. The waiter then came up again and said that he had worked here 15 years and that I did NOT say duck sauce and he was NOT stupid! He yelled at me in front of the whole restaurant and called me a liar. It was terrible! I have never been treated that way in a restaurant in my entire life. It was a traumatic experience.

In Honor of Giovanni Bellini

Travel Tip #9: I would highly advise not going to the Traverna unless you do not mind getting yelled at and treated like an idiot. I was not setting out to ruin this waiter's evening. I was calm and collected, and did not call him stupid. I just did not want to eat that unappetizing dish. It is not something I would ever order. What really upset me was that he accused me of lying and yelled at me in front of the entire restaurant which was a humiliating experience.

The food is not cheap either. I paid 16.50 for pasta and a Bellini. On the way out of the restaurant we asked to speak with the supervisor and were asked why we wanted to speak with him. Upon saying we had a question, we were informed that he does not speak English, so we could not communicate with him. It was a shockingly awful experience, and one that made me yearn to be back in the good ole US of A where I (as a consumer) am always right. Working in the food industry I understand that in a capitalistic meritocracy one cannot treat a consumer that way. If any of my friends from Chickfila are reading this, please remember that though customers may try our patience sometimes, no customer should EVER have the type of experience I did at a restaurant of any kind in the US. Common human courtesy (if not marketing intelligence) should be enough to make this interaction obsolete.

After dinner we returned to the hotel and went to bed. It was a long, full day. Seeing Venice for the first time was fascinating! Though I was less than impressed with the people of this magical city. We will see how interactions with the locals improve upon closer acquaintance. Until next time, goodnight from the city of the Winged Lion!

17 June 2015

Sacred Heart Fires and Cooking Dinner

Sunday night, upon arrival at the Castle we settled back in, cooked dinner and did some homework, then climbed to the top of the tower to view the Sacred Heart Fires. In South Tirol there is a tradition to climb, high up the mountains, and light fires in beautiful shapes (crosses, hearts, etc.,) in celebration of God's deliverance of the Tyrolleans from the Napoleonic forces. In the 18th century, as Napoleon's troops marched ever closer to the Tirol, many of the leading family in the area met together to discuss strategy. The Abbot recommended that they dedicate themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and trust that he would save them. The Tyrolleans committed to setting the fires once a year on a Sunday evening in memoriam of this dedication and salvation from Napoleon's troops.

My pictures of the fires did not turn out so well, but it was a sight well worth seeing! The fires are gorgeous on a dark night, glowing across the valley. It is a ritual, a lovely tradition that requires a great deal of commitment as mountaineers hike up into the mountains, carrying kindling and petroleum in their backpacks.

The next morning, Monday, was relatively uneventful. The highlight of my day had to do with food.

Lunch with Brigitte was sumptuous, as always. Dr. de Rachewiltz was not feeling well, so she made some chicken soup! So sweet. She is not only an amazing cook, but a very nice person as well.

Tea with Mary was a grand affair. It rained all day, so we could not have tea on the terrace, rather it was moved into Mary's apartment. Kasey and her family were there (it was nice to meet her mother and siblings) along with a UTD art professor, Dr. Rosen, who came to show us Venice this weekend and arrived on Monday, Betsy (a literature professor from St. Andrews, I enjoyed talking to her about Jane Austen), most of the students and Michi - a full house! It was the largest tea I have attended, full of conversation and learning.

Then later that night I made dinner for the group. It was very fun! I have never made gravy or pork chops before, but they turned out well. I was pleased.

 Then it was time for reading and my bed! A very cloudy, rainy day,  redeemed by good food and conversation. More to come soon from Castle Brunnenburg!

16 June 2015

Florence Part Trois

Our third day in Florence was super packed! We walked over 25,000 steps, almost 12 miles, and subsisted on a diet of gelato and McDonald's, but more on that later.

The first thing we did upon waking up Saturday morning was to get ready to catch the bus. We then caught said bus into the city center, arriving well ahead of our ticket time for the Uffizi Gallery. While waiting for our ticket time we went in search of the Vivoli Gelateria, a recommendation of my cousin Melea. I had googled the address and screen-shotted the map from the Uffizi so that we could dart over and grab some gelato. But we could not find it. So my friend, Alex, turned on her data on her smart phone and guided us to the Piazza Santa Maria Novella where google maps claimed that the Vivoli Gelateria resided. But there was nothing there called Vivoli, just a little, obscure gelateria. We went in (by this time it was perilously close to our ticket time for the Uffizi) and got some gelato. It was the best gelato I have had in my entire time in Italy! After the first bite I asked the lady behind the counter "Is this Vivoli?" She said yes. So I thought maybe we had stumbled across my cousin's recommendation. But after looking at the maps again I'm not sure it was the right one. Regardless, in attempting to follow Melea's advice I got the best gelato I've had thus far - so either way she's a genius. Thank you, Melea!

Tip #5 for Italy: When in Florence, ALWAYS eat the Biscotti flavor from the nameless gelato place in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. It is, without question, the best flavor I have had thus far. It was also all I ate that morning besides some banana chips (Travel Tip #6: NEVER go touring around Florence, in 95 degree weather and nothing but gelato in your stomach - BAD idea). We ate on the go and arrived just in time for our ticket time to the Uffizi. The Gallery was amazing! Such lovely works of art by masters like Leonardo da Vinci (not everything he painted is in the Lourve or Milan!), El Greco and Botticelli. 
Random Roman Guy that I Liked


Annunciation by Botticelli

Birth of Venus by Botticelli

Medieval Painting

Another Random Roman Guy

El Greco Painting

Primavera by Bottecelli
It was very fun! We wandered around for over two hours, enjoying the art and feeling very cultured. Then we left and Alex separated from the group to find some coffee (wonderful idea in Florence, the espresso is to die for) and Hope, Natalie and I went in search of Santa Croce. After walking all over creation we were extremely miffed to find that Santa Croce was closed! It started raining as we walked back towards the Duomo, our chosen meeting place. In the Piazza Della Signoria (lovely replica statues there!)

We were separated from Natalie by another parade of people in medieval costumes:

I almost had a heart attack. She doesn't have a phone that works outside of WiFi and Hope and I looked and looked and could not find her. It was a terrible scare! Finally we decided to continue on towards the Duomo, where we were supposed to meet, and hope that she was able to make her way there. Beneath the shade of that glorious dome we met up again. It ended up being fine, but I had a minor nervous breakdown considering what would happen if I never found Natalie - not a pleasant half hour. 

We dropped off Hope with Alex so they could go to dinner and Natalie and I went on our merry way in search of The Oil Shoppe, another recommendation by my cousin, Melea. After about thirty minutes of fruitless searching (I am hopeless at directions, even my screen-shotted map did not help much) we found The Oil Shoppe. Keep in mind that at this point I had only eaten banana chips and gelato all day and have walked over 20,000 steps in the glaring sun with very little water because I did not want to pay a euro (or two!) to go to the bathroom (I would also like to again draw the reader's attention to Travel Tip #6...please learn from my mistakes). With my stomach growling in hunger, imagine my horror when I saw that The Oil Shoppe was already closed! It was awful! At this point Natalie and I decided that we were going to eat NOW! So we went to McDonald's and had a wonderful dinner with LOTS and LOTS of ketchup (for .25 euros each...robbery!) Then we went to the nameless gelato place in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella for the second time in one day...and I'm not even ashamed. That gelato is scrumptious:

We caught the bus back to Tuscany and that was the end of a long, tiring day touring Florence. Many emotional ups and downs, good gelato and beautiful art made it an unforgettable rollercoaster ride. The next day, Sunday, we made our way back to Castle Brunnenburg - home sweet home. I was so thankful to be back in the peaceful, cooler mountains. It's paradise up here! Florence was lovely, but there is nowhere in Italy so near and dear to my heart as South Tirol. The closeness I feel to the earth and to God in this stunning countryside takes my breath away. A fitting end to a long week, going to sleep, sweet sleep, on these sacred, steep slopes. My Florence adventure is at an end. More to come from Venice this weekend! Goodnight from Castle Brunnenburg. 

Just a Few More Pictures

So since the blog cut me off yesterday, I wanted to put the rest of my pictures of the Duomo and, of course, food up for you to see.

The Duomo

On top of the Duomo

Free Champagne
Potato Puree Ravioli

We also heard some great music on our second day in Florence. There were several parades that we saw during the course of time in the city. On Friday, while in line outside the Duomo, a band marched through playing jazz type music - very beautiful! It was a good, exhausting day. And that is FINALLY the end of the second day in Florence.