Friday, June 29, 2012

The Italy Series: Ciao Roma!

The night before we took this picture, we ate fried flowers and pizza at a little, old, fantastic (regardless of its strange name) osteria called EST! EST! EST!*

There's not much more to that story, just that it happened.  And I had to make sure I wrote it down somewhere.  Well, and I guess it's part of this post since it was our last real meal in Rome.

Our real Roman finale (not cuisine-related) was to visit the Borghese Gallery, here.  Think of it like a personalized art Mecca for me.  It houses some of the most beautiful and important western sculpture, starring Bernini.

We weren't allowed to take anything (no purse, no camera, no nothin') into the galleries, but I was fine with that.  The only downer is that I have nothing to show you from inside--but even if I did, I'm not sure if I'd post it because it wouldn't do anything justice.

Apollo and DaphnePluto Abducting Proserpina?  David?

I mean, how can you do justice to hundreds of so-thin-they-are-transparent, carved marble laurel leaves?  Or the look on David's face, mid-sling?  Or how stone fingers can sink into stone flesh?  Or the most complete devastation I've ever read on any face, alive or in stone?

I don't know, except to see it in front of you.

I've only ever gotten weepy in front of art twice in my life.  Both times on this Italy trip.  And this was the first.

It was all a perfect send-off and culmination of our planned tour through history--beginning in Ancient Rome, then through the Renaissance, and finally landing at the height of Bernini's baroque art.

One more walk through the Borghese gardens, and then we set off for the train station.

*I'm pretty sure this (actually, very cool, historic, classy) restaurant's name translated to EAT! EAT! EAT!   

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Italy Series: Squares, Forts, Temples, and Churches

Some of my best memories of vacations are always the days where we end up wandering.  Our second afternoon in Rome was just that--across bridges, through squares, into the Pantheon, around the city.  Eating a hunk of smoked mozzarella and finding the Roman flower market.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Keeping It Classy in Denmark

Dandy crossing- top hats and canes required
Or, a post that could be titled "and now for something completely different."  Hooray!  Something not Italian! (Wait...that sounds weird.  Italy is always awesome)

We had a chance to go on an overnight trip to Denmark this last weekend for a price of around one euro and cheapness, so, ever interested in being able to say annoying statistics like, "I've been to four countries in four weeks," I was all in.

Here is my thesis (if you only want to scroll through the images and not read the rest):

Denmark is a place to live more than a place to visit, but if I had to give it a score for livability from 1 to 10 (10 being awesome)?  I'd probably give it...12?  Maybe 25.

Additionally, I'm glad I went because I had no mental stereotype to work from for Denmark.  If you said, "France" then I could think of "France" or "The French" in a way that was probably completely untrue, but allowed me to at least have something to start with.  Denmark?  Blank slate.  There was a period in my life (until around 48 hours ago) when I couldn't say for certain whether Denmark was the same place as Holland or the Netherlands or Belgium.  But, since that delusion was cruelly taken away from me while on the ferry boat ( tulips?) I had no idea what to expect.

Except vikings.  I knew about the vikings.

We were headed to a relatively smallish city named Odense on the island of Fyn, which are pronounced something like "Oensu"/"Ounse"/"Ousense" and "Fn" respectively (as if the words just sort of fall out of your mouth suddenly and with as little effort as is possible, kind of like drool).  I chose to refer to the city as "Kentucky" since that is what Google Translate told me.

One of the things that startled me most on the trip was the superhuman ease in which everyone could switch at will between German, Danish, and perfect English.  Subsequently, the only Danish I learned was what I assumed to be "Hello" (something that sounded like a really casual Hey! Hey! or Hi!) and "Thank you" (Tak!) since it was written on all the garbage cans.

Kentucky is famous for exactly one thing--it's the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson.  Which is really cool and probably accounts for how many ducklings and swans we saw waddling around.  And all the awesome playgrounds.
With Hans

I also found a mysterious tree that had hundreds of pacifiers hanging from branches.  Initial reaction: creepy   Stephen-King-book-idea tree, especially since it happened to be right next to the city's (very large, beautiful) cemetery.  [Side note: Cemetery = Kirkegaard.  So remember that when you read philosophy--seems appropriate.]   
Kentucky's Suttatrae, est. 1996

It wasn't in the cemetery though, so I personally vetoed Paul's guess that every pacifier represented a dead baby.  Also, Denmark has a remarkable healthcare system so...  

Turns out that these trees are a Danish (or even Scandanavian?) tradition called Suttatrae.  When it's time for your baby to lose their pacifier (or "plug"), then you bring them to the Suttatrae where they get to hang it up on the tree to say goodbye and then be rewarded with a present for their bravery.

Waaaaay less creepy than Paul's idea.

Other impressions of Denmark?  Well, the only bummer in my mind is the fact that food is so incredibly expensive.  That the money is still in Krone and involved a complicated exchange calculation (1 euro to 7.5 Krone except when you carry the one or something), well, it didn't help.

As an example, we ate one meal at a cheapy restaurant where we shared one burrito, a side of nachos, and two glasses of tap water.  The bill?


I am not even joking.  NOT even joking.  

The price of food is probably my number one reason why it would be better to live there rather than visit--at least when you live there you get to enjoy higher salaries so you can, you know, eat (highest minimum wage in the world!).  

Didn't see any vikings; did see that Kentucky has a viking ship in the harbor though.  Didn't see any Great Danes, but did see that there was about 200% less dog poop in the parks.  Didn't see any graffiti.  Did see the bones of St. Canute.  Didn't see any pickled fish.  Did see a lot of bikes.

Finally, I couldn't visit Denmark without eating a Danish...

So, you know, I win.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Italy Series: St. Peter's Basilica

After four miles of world-class art and thirty minutes in the Sistine can feel rather, well, overwhelmed.  We had no chance to just decompress because, before we knew it, we were walking through the giant entryway of St. Peter's Basilica.

As a traveler's tip: most of the time, you have to walk all the way back through the Vatican Museum, around the outside of Vatican City, and then through a security and dress-code check to get back to St. Peter's.  However, if you're sneaky, there's a small door at the back right of the Sistine Chapel with a sign that says "For Tour Groups Only."  If you want to save your blistered feet a two+ mile walk, just hang around for a big tour group and simply tag along with them through the door for a direct link to St. Peters.

I don't feel bad about doing this at all.  First, because I had a blister the size of an acorn on my pinkie toe and second, Rick Steves told me to do it.  And, we all know that Rick Steves is omnipotent, omniscient, and the bringer of all good travel-things (hail Rick, hail).

"Tu es Petrus"

We saw the sights--rubbing St. Peter's toe and wondering in awe at
Bernini's Baldachin and stained glass window 
(the only stained glass in the Basilica)

St. Peter's is so, so incredibly huge.  It's a strange experience because, even though you know how huge it is  , it doesn't give you that initial impression.  You see the markers on the floor, noting where St. Paul's or Hagia Sophia are so much shorter, or you read that all the statues are 20+ feet tall...but still, it's all a play on the eyes.

But, really, just to give you an idea....  That bronze Bernini Baldachin?  That canopy-like thing over the high alter just above here?  

It's SEVEN STORIES TALL!  That unimposing alter canopy!

Do you see this?!
Yeah, so...

St. Peter's.

Go see it.  But maybe go see it first or on a different day than the Vatican Museum because it might not hit you as hard as it should if your mind has already been blown by Rafael and Michelangelo.

Plus, you'd get to see these guys sooner:

Signing off from Vatican City (three months ago),
H & P

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Italy Series: Museo Vaticano

Being the tourists that we are, we woke up our second day (yes, we're just on the second day) around 7am, ate our stale-ish nun rolls (staying in a convent), drank our Hawaiian Punch-like juice, and set off into Roman rush-hour to hit up the Vatican Museum.

To sum it up in one word?


Oh, and architecture...of course.  
We can't leave out Michelangelo's dome even though we were really there to see his chapel.

We sat there for thirty minutes, craning our necks, overwhelmed.

Which wasn't all that surprising.  First, because the Sistine Chapel just is overwhelming.  But, second, because by the time we got there, we'd walked through four miles of this...


Hall of Maps

I've loved this statue ever since I saw it on a college powerpoint.  The Laocoön Group.  Not only because, by that point, I'd become deeply obsessed with Greek mythology (reading Hesiod and Ovid during lunch just for kicks), but also because it's's just such a beautiful piece of art even though it's showing such a horrific moment.  

Like Pliny said, this piece really is a "work to be preferred to all that the arts of painting and sculpture have produced."

Though, as you may guess, there are a couple Bernini's that may tie... (Apollo and Daphne, anyone?)

Apollo Belvedere

Hall of Maps

And yes, that is Rafael's The School of Athens

Which, I should say, was painted as if the philosophers were all inside St. Peter's Basilica while in-construction.  Which is really cool to look at since that was precisely where we found ourselves after leaving this incredible, gorgeous museum...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Italy Series: A Night Walk through Rome

Trevi Fountain
or...a post that could be called "Mostly the Trevi Fountain"

Because that thing is really quite the loveliest, most gigantic thing to come across on a night stroll through an ancient city.  

We had just finished our first "real" Italian dinner of pasta and artichoke hearts.  We had just wandered through a maze of back streets lined with gelatto shops and men shoving roses into Paul's face: "BUY FLOWER FOR LADY!"  

And then, you hear this rushing water.  And then you turn a corner into a tiny, crowded, hidden, little square. And there it is!  The Trevi Fountain.

Throwing a coin over my shoulder into the fountain
--promising I'll come back to Rome
(and look weird in a picture)

The Spanish Steps with groups
of teenage hooligans

We also ended up walking to the Spanish Steps, but soon realized that one should always start with the Spanish Steps because when we got here we sort of were like...mehhhhh, wanna go back to the fountain?

So, we did
And, of course, got our "couple picture" for the record

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