Anniversary

16 Sep

It has been a year since I started my trip to Italy. I spent about that much time planning for the trip as well. Now, I am here to say that I have plans for yet another adventure, though not as thorough as my previous plans as I have not had any vacation time approved. As soon as my vacation time for April is approved I will be visiting France! Originally I decided to visit a few cities throughout France, but there were too many to choose from and if I really wanted to do them justice I would have been there for months! Alas, my work won’t allow 3 month vacations. Ha! Therefore, I had to narrow the list of places. I ended up deciding I couldn’t miss out on Paris. Paris has so much to see that a month there wouldn’t even do it justice, but thats the maximum time I can take for vacation at one time. In addition to Paris I would like to make short trips to Normandy, Giverny, Versailles, Saint Denis, and a few other little villages and chateaux around the area. A full itinerary will be posted as soon as I know my vacation time is approved!

P.S. I may have to give you a link to a new blog for my French trip, as this one no longer allows any more photographs to be posted unless I purchase an annual upgrade. The new blog will be at Leahsfrancetrip.blogspot.com

24 Apr

Alan Alda once said, “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.  What you’ll discover will be wonderful.  What you’ll discover is yourself.”

This trip was taken to learn more about myself, learn who I aspire to be. To learn about me free from anyone else. I wanted to see if I could do things on my own, without the help of anyone else. I was open to failure, because if I failed it would be my own doing and it would only build in me the character to not fail in the same circumstances in future.

I wanted to discover my self, as I seem to be in somewhat of a quarter-life crisis. After finishing college, nailing the job of my dreams, and and purchasing my first home I feel lost as to what the next step in life is for me. Should I stay single or should I pursue a relationship? Should I have kids or should I enjoy the blessings of a life without them? Should I pursue my doctorate or stay at my current level?

This trip of self discovery taught me many things, but in actuality didn’t help me discover what I want in life at all. Instead, it seemed to open up more questions, more doors, and only furthered me on my path of discovery. I am more able to give reasons for how I feel one way or the other, but I feel no nearer to making a decision about my future life.

What I do know is that I need more time. I need more discovery. I need more travel. Alone. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “No single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us.  To live is to be slowly born.” I have started something, but I haven’t finished it. I am realizing now it may be a slow process, but one I may need to do as quickly as possible so as not to lose the time that this things need to happen within. Lives are short.

Most of the things I did learn on this trip are very personal, so I don’t feel as if I can share them here. I will summarize though with a quote from Anais Nin. “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I don’t feel I have come to that point yet in my life.

I do feel I learned some ‘lighter’ lessons as well, and those I will readily share.

-I have guts. I have confidence, to an extent. I have courage that maybe others see but that I brush off as nothing.

- I still judge…a lot. I have been trying lately to first see things from the other individuals shoes, but then if there isn’t a reason that I can’t see as ridiculous I decide to judge. Shame on me.

- Despite technology setting us free in many ways, it also imprisons us. I don’t need my computer, cell phone, or TV. Its nice, but it isn’t necessary to my life. It doesn’t seem that other people see it that way. This seems universal. Even people in Europe would stare at their phone, or the invisible human on the other end than talk with the person that is with them.

I do plan on visiting more places throughout the world. My 2012 international trip won’t work out due to work related issues, but I definitely plan to make a trip in 2013. Paris and Normandy seem to be the next place calling my name. This time, a city stay with a short side trip. I think the experience will be different in an apartment. Hopefully work will allow me the time I wish to take. Afterwards I am sure I will know where I need to go next. I have a running list of places, some which I feel I have the confidence to visit on my own and others I dare not even imagine solo. Perhaps that day will come though.

If I decide to write a blog of this next trip it will require I start a new blog (this one won’t allow any more photographs)! I will direct everyone to it if that happens. For now, this blog will have to satisfy my need to write down my experience for my own further referencing.

Last Day in Rome

24 Apr

I spent my morning at the Borghese gallery.  All I had with me was a very small purse, the size of a small paperback novel, but I was required to check that bag! They require you to check coats as well.  I believe all of this is in an effort to prevent photography, as there are many great works of art inside. I was particularly excited about the sculpture. Gorgeous, amazingly well done, sculpture. I couldn’t help but stare at them for some time.

From the Borghese I went to the completely empty zoo. There was literally no other guests there but myself. It was a creepy feeling. If anyone wants an idea for a horror movie, I think it should involve an empty zoo at night. Haha. I paid the fee for the zoo, only to find most animals were put away for the season. I suppose 60 degrees is just too cold for Italian zoo animals. The barriers at the zoo are not optimal however, and I see the fact that these animals are away as a blessing in disguise. I wasn’t at the zoo for very long, as there really wasn’t much to see.

I was happy to visit the contemporary art museum. I was so glad that I did. The art was truly magnificent and different than I expected. There was only a small portion of modern art (which I don’t like) and the rest was 1950s and earlier, though most significantly earlier for contemporary artwork.

I was at the Etruscan Art museum but I probably wouldn’t decide to visit again. I roamed my way through the Borghese garden, enjoying the sights, including the pond, sculpture, and various gardens. I walk my way all the way to the farside of the Gardens and find myself walking toward the Spanish Steps. They are, of course, bustling at mid-day. Another pet peeve I have notice while in Italy? People that wear their backpacks in front. They think they are protecting themselves from theft. Maybe they are, but they are simultaneously making themselves look 9 months pregnant.

I went to visit Palazzo Barbarini. Amazing! The artwork and the architecture was entirely worthwhile. Their family insignia is a bee, so I was noting everywhere that I saw it. There is this grand 4 story room in which the ceiling is painted and the only thing in the room is a large duvet in the center. I laid on it and stared at the ceiling for a good while, enjoying it and imagining what sort of activities took place in this room. The ceilings are the tallest I had ever seen in my life. I doubt I will see anything grander, but I do have some more years.

I ended up not having any more museums on my list to visit. I had visited not only the museums that were on my must list, but those that were on the maybe list and those I really didn’t think I had an interest in. What was left? Probably the worst museum in all of Rome. A wax museum, which I typically like, but was told to steer clear from. I didn’t listen. I had time. Why not visit. The visit lasted likely a total of 5 minutes. The sculptures were awful, except for the few that were in the front windows, but you could have seen those without paying for the museum.

I headed for a restaurant at this point. I enjoyed a decent meal and people watched, which really is one of the greatest parts of Italy.

I leave tomorrow and in a way I am glad. I miss my babies (I work in a NICU), my family, and overall my house and routine. I need to start eating better and working out more intensely.

I woke up in the morning to hop on the train. All the machines were broken and I couldn’t buy a ticket to the airport but the train was going to leave in literally one minute. I eventually went to the conductor and told him my plight and he let me purchase a ticket from him. I don’t know if it was legit, but I arrived at the airport in one piece so it worked. Once at the airport I tried to find my terminal but there was a door to it that was locked that stated it would open in two minutes. Two minutes passed and nothing. A mother and daughter were standing near me, dumbstruck. We decided to take some stairs and eventually did find the terminal by doing that. I don’t think the door ever opened.

The flight was long. It felt longer going back than it did coming, which always seems to be the case for me. Watched a few movies, listened to some music, tried to sleep. It felt like I was on that plane for 48 hours! Eventually, I returned home to Alaska. I had to call my dad to bring my winter jacket when he came to pick me up, as it was cold outside and I only brought a very light fleece with me to Italy. Brr!

Now I get to reminisce about Italy on my way home, and until I go back again.

The Quick and the Dead

18 Apr

Woke up early this morning and decided to sleep another hour before heading out to the Vatican. I first went to see the outside of St. Peters Basilica. I have one major regret of my visit to Italy. I was in Italy, in Rome, in Vatican City and I completely forgot to enter St. Peters Basilica. What was I thinking! It was on my list of things to experience and it completely slipped my mind! I even knew at the time that something wasn’t right and I was forgetting something. Terrible! I guess it means I have to go back to Rome. How did that even happen?

I had a croissant and hot chocolate for breakfast while I waited for my timed entry to become due. When the time came I skipped the line and entered. Thank goodness I wasn’t with a tour group. What a hassle! Here is another place in Italy where everyone sees fit to only take escalators. I was the only person of hoardes of thousands of people that took the stairs. Its not like the stairs are dank and dreary and out of the way. No! They are actually fairly interesting and have artwork on the way up. Why are escalators so appealing to the masses?

The museums were fantastic in many areas, particularly the sculpture. The tourist groups only visit specific rooms and I realized then and there if I took a tour group I would have been entirely disappointed because there were many rooms I wanted to see that they didn’t even step foot in. In many rooms of the Vatican I was the only person in there! Such a shame and a waste of beautiful art for people to only visit the “highlights.”  Who decided they were the highlights anyway?

 I really wanted to find a religious tie, tie pin, or cufflinks for my dad for Christmas but the ones at the vatican were either not religious themed (only abstract ties) or they were overtly Catholic, which we are not. I don’t know the appropriateness of wearing a papal themed tie to a Lutheran church. :) After leaving the vatican I searched around at many of the stores that had religious themed items to no avail. It was, however, very exciting shopping in stores with nuns, monks, and priests.

From the stores I headed to the Tiber past the Castel Sant Angelo through a lovely market. I bought myself a bag of assorted candies from a vendor that had everything from gummy bugs to traditional european candies I remember eating from my time living in Germany. Brought back wonderful memories. Interesting side note that has nothing to do with candy: I saw a man alongside the Tiber river taking a photograph of a dead rat on the side of the road. Ahh…tourists take pictures of the strangest things.

I went to San Giovanni, which was somewhat out of the way but interesting. A service was being finished and the place was packed. I then tried to visit Santa Maria Maggiore but didn’t have any luck.  I have walked passed this church 3 times in the last few days and it never seems to be open! Perhaps I just wasn’t at the right enterance. Another site I will have to see on a return visit.

I went to the Protestant Cemetery which was incredibly exciting. I know many people will find that morbid, but things like this are interesting to me. I spent more time in the cemetery than I have in some museums. Technically, the cemetery is free to visit but they do request a small donation. I donated more than requested, as the money is used to up keep the monuments, stones, and the cat sanctuary (they are considered the unofficial caretakers of the cemetery). After I placed the money in the box I felt a little giddy.

I made my way to the corner where Shelley, Keats, and the young son of Severn are buried. It was moving. I wanted to bring daisies but couldn’t find a florist, but it looks like others beat me to it, as I expected.

There were a lot of graves in the old sector of individuals that died on their grand tour. I’m glad its not me, but I suppose I still have a day. I can’t wait to get back and tell my dad about these. I see the plots of princes and nobodies, the old and the very young, and people from around the world. The cemetery is completely worthwhile and I feel a connection to some of these people in an odd way.  While some people may feel that taking a photo of a gravestone is disrespectful, I feel it is somewhat of an homage. You feel enough of a connection to take a photograph to remember that person forever. There is something amazing about that.

The Big Stuff

18 Apr

I don’t know what happened but in my travel journal I completely forgot to write anything about this entire day of my trip. I am not sure why, and my memory may not be the best, but I will attempt to reminisce the best that I can.

I woke up early to make my pre-booked time to the Colosseum. I didn’t wait in line at all, got in within a few minutes and went on my merry way along the “path” that is designated. The colosseum is one of the many places in Rome where your imagination comes in handy, so you will hear me use the word a lot. I saw some of the men dressed as Roman guards outside of the colosseum. I noticed one was signing, in what I can only imagine is Italian sign language.  It was interesting to see, especially as I imagine that in Roman times such a person wouldn’t be provided respect as a Roman soldier. I imagined the thousands of people killed in this colosseum for the simple sake of entertainment. Somehow I feel like many aspects of that are still true in this day and age. I was moved by the cross put in place for the many Christians slaughtered in the arena. I imagined people taking the steep steps to their seats. I imagined the individual that threw himself into the arena to make an example of how barbaric the killing of Christians for the sake of religious differences truly was. No one cared for another couple hundred years.

From the colosseum I headed to Palatine Hill via the Roman forum. Walking through the forum also requires imagination to see buildings along the cobbled roads. It was early enough that I was the only person walking through.

 

When I got to Palatine Hill I was able to visit the museums. They were wonderful and immense!

 

 

From there I walked to the Mouth of Truth, as made particularly famous by the movie Roman Holiday. I thought about interacting with it but the cost was exorbitant and I had no one to take a photograph for me, nor did I really want to stand in line for what seemed like hours. Instead, I made a trek up the hills to the Knights of Malta keyhole. The Knights of Malta used to have the smallest country, but it is no longer considered one. The current excitement, and what the place is known for now, is a keyhole in the entry door to their “compound.” It is on one side of a nondescript parking lot. The only key I had that this was the place was a hot dog vendor on the other side of the parking lot. I was one of three people at the keyhole today. This isn’t a well known tourist attraction, but from what I understand the line for the keyhole can be quite long some days. The excitement about this particular keyhole is that when you look through it, one can see the spires of St. Peters. How cool is that? I tried to take a photo, but being that my camera is point and click it didn’t turn out the way I saw it in real life. Oh well, it just means you will have to go and see it for yourself!

I headed down the hill toward Trastavere to visit the Corsini Palace and Villa Farnesina. Trastavere is a wonderfully vibrant neighborhood and if I were to visit Rome again I would consider spending more time there. The restaurants looked delicious, the area was away from tourism but interesting anyway. On my way I stepped into Santa Maria. A service seems to have just finished. It was very busy, but it added to the atmosphere.

I arrived at the Villa Farnesina but it was closed, so instead I visited the Corsini palace. I paid my fee to enter, which I paid quickly as I really, and I mean really, had to use the restroom. A woman was already using the restroom and there was one more in front of me. The woman in the restroom was taking a long, long, long time. I was having a difficult time holding it. The second woman also took a long, long, long time. Perhaps the idea of eating at any restaurants nearby is a bad idea if it is causing this sort of lengthy bathroom visits. While I waited I contemplated what seemed like only a slightly more disgusting way to die than the one I was currently facing (burst bladder) in the painting directly across from the restroom. It was a man whose insides were being eaten by a vulture whilst said man was alive.

After the museums I walked along the Tiber and enjoyed some tarts and gelato.

I walked east near the Spanish steps. I see the most well dressed individuals. Even the guys dress nicely and I know its not their girlfriends putting together outfits for them, its their own doing which is even better! I also see plenty of girls taking photos outside of stores they obviously can’t afford, which is odd to me. I spent the afternoon visiting the Roman history museum which was more interesting than I imagined it would be. It had plenty of sculpture, which I love. It even had a gold hairpiece worn by a woman during Roman times (sounds wierd when you realize romans are still around) and there was a painting from the time period showing her wearing it. How amazing is that?

The two couples that sit by me at dinner are judging me. At least, I think they are judging me. They keep looking at me and then my food and saying “verdure” which I am pretty sure is a discussion about the vegetables I am eating. Can the fat girl not eat vegetables? Its really annoying not knowing what people are saying, and in Italy they don’t seem to care if you know they are talking about you or not. Maybe they aren’t judging what I am eating. Maybe they are judging that I am alone. I’m going to order dessert and make them talk even more!

Here and There

18 Apr

I woke up around 8ish in order to have a very busy day of visiting museums and churches today. I arrived first at St. Ignazio.  It was just me and one guy enjoying the inside. I love the optical illusion on the inside ceiling. I had to move around the center in order to get it to be perfect visually.

Headed to Palazzo Colonna. On the way I met a gentleman raising money for a Roman drug rehab center. I asked him some questions. He had been clean for two years. I congratulated him and gave him a few dollars. He thanked profusely. It is moments like these that, despite not being glamorous, really give you a feel for the city and brings to realization that a place you fantasize about is not a fantasy world. I also saw the balcony where Mussolini gave his famous speech. Palazzo Colonna would have been better with a tour of the apartments, but without advance reservation I wasn’t able to visit them. There is a huge main hall in which a large cannonball is wedged into the center of the steps. So incredibly exciting and quirky! Apparently it was fired by the French from Janiculum Hill in 1849. Outside they were trimming a palm tree, which I had never seen before.

I received a free audioguide at Palazzo Doria Pamphilj which is all read by the Prince who lives on and off in the residence. His stories were cute. There is one about how his mother would scold him and his siblings for rollerskating on the marble floors and causing scratches in them. It was beautiful and the commentary was completely worthwhile.

I visited the Pantheon, but it was only worth it because it was free. There were so many tourists. I basically walked in and walked out. I would have liked to have been there at high noon or when it was raining so the oculus was more interesting to view.

I went to the Ara Pacis which wasn’t worth the entrance fee. It was beautiful but I could have seen it from outside of the building and been satisfied.

 I walked along the Tiber to find a place to eat but every main drag had obviously touristy restaurants and when I went to the side streets there were no restaurants at all. I ended up going back to my neighborhood to find something. I went back to my room to grab my jacket because the shadows between the buildings cause a bit of a chill.

After lunch I went to the Shelly-Keats Museum. It was worthwhile, though small. I saw the death mask and the room he stayed and died in. It is a shame that they burned everything from the room due to tuberculosis related laws of the day. They had some locks of his hair on display, which I am proud to saw are the exact color as my own. Finding similarities in others help you relate more deeply. The view from his window was worthwhile. The entire time I was in the room I was remembering a movie I saw with a friend about Keats life called Bright Star. It made me miss my friends. I learned a lot in his house. For example, he didn’t open any of Fanny’s letters and they were buried with him…unopened. How romantical.

I went back to my room for a nap and to do a little more research of places I could visit. I would like to mention that I realized at this point that I stopped taking pictures of food. It wasn’t worth perhaps being caught being the weirdo taking photos of her food.

In the neighborhood I keep seeing very cool graffiti. For example, Mario Brothers mushrooms, religious symbols, and a ‘no-entry’ sign made into a man carrying a surfboard.

I hear more of every other language around here than I do English. It makes me wonder if the American reputation is all its own, or a mix of other nationalities that have our appearance. For example, people of almost every country have no idea about sidewalk etiquette. They take up the entire sidewalk and don’t allow others to pass. They all take the token tourist photos and all of them are at the same level of annoying as any other nationality. It isn’t about where you come from, its about your manners and your respect.

I decided I wanted to buy my sister a kitschy gift from Italy for Christmas. A few years back I bought her a “Nuns Having Fun” calendar and I think she liked it, so this time I decided I would buy her a “Men of the Vatican” calendar. I went to the gift shop and quickly picked one up and paid for it even quicker as if I were purchasing porn. I didn’t want to be “that person” buying such a strange product. When I got back to the hotel I realized that in my embarrassment I purchased the 2011 calendar without noticing!  Now I had to go back for another embarrassing trip to pick up the 2012 version. Serves me right. Now I had to relive the experience again.

I went to a few other museums in the afternoon. All worthwhile, though unplanned stops.

I climbed the steps of the Vittorio monument at sunset and took the elevator to the top. It was awesomely beautiful. I stayed up there for a while.

 

 When I headed back to the convent the film fest was playing again. I tried to call mom and dad, as I have been frequently, but haven’t had much luck with phones lately and when I find one that seems to work its a strange hour of the day to call them with the time difference. I’m sure dad is worried to death and is probably distributing the photograph he took of me at the airport to all news media.

I had dinner at Osteria 16, which was delicious and entirely too filling. I was craving a meat and potatoes type of experience and it fulfilled it. I sat at the table and thought out my plans for tomorrow. I had some things I for sure wanted to do and then some roaming time. Next to me was a man who was obviously on a solo trip as well. It made me think again about whether I want another person in my life in a romantic partner way. I am not sure what the answer to that is at this point (and still am not) but I know that if I do decide for sure on it that I want it to absolutely be the right person or it would only bother me. I think Jane Austen had it right with, “Only the deepest of love could induce me to matrimony.” Ain’t that the truth! She died single, and I don’t think it would hurt me any either. I suppose my next solo trip will help me broaden the thought process and perhaps lead me to a decision. The 20s are hard for their very own reasons, and relationships are a part of that I suppose.

When I return to the piazza I notice there is a grape fest! There is free wine, but as I don’t really enjoy the taste of alcohol I skipped that. I did however enjoy the spectacle of individuals dressed up in costume and a band leading them in a parade. There is also a little concert with a guitar player, electric violinist, and singer. Pretty good, and the violinist wasn’t too shabby to look at.

Tivoli Day Trip

18 Apr

Today is my trip to Tivoli.  I recall as a youth seeing paintings of Tivoli overgrown with climbing plants and flora.  The trip there was a bit eventful.  I rode the metro as far out as it would go and from there took a bus.  Finding the right bus at the metro station was hectic.  I kept being told by multiple people various different places where to find the bus. Only one person could be correct though, right?  Yes. I finally found the bus in a place I didn’t expect it…on the second floor of the metro station. I was at the beginning of the line so I managed to get a seat, and boy am I glad because the ride was a bit long with so many stops (everyone going to work) and the bus was packed with people standing and pushing their way onto the bus. In fact, on the way back I had to bypass one bus because it was so full and I had to smoosh myself onto the next one.  After a few stops I finally squeezed into a seat, but it was packed even further into the day.  Perhaps they need more frequent buses.

First stop in Tivoli is Villa D’Este.  The Villa itself was not so exciting.  Most of it was in disrepair with not much to look at, but the outside was wonderful. Fountains, greenery, and really great views. The fountain that plays music was not playing music that day.  Too bad. I was actually really looking forward to it.  I was the only American at Villa D’Este.  There were a few other tourists but all sounded like they were from different countries.

 

I then made a very roundabout walk to Villa Gregoriana…thanks to the terrible Tivoli signage.  They had signs that lead you to the Villa, but apparently the signs are made for cars and the walk there is roundabout and doesn’t have very many sidewalks.  Some people gave me weird looks, but I am used to that by now.  Sometimes adventure means work and disapproval. I am glad to say I got there without event.

I took my Villa Gregoriana hike and saw the beautiful waterfalls and the temple.  Three fourths of the way through my hike it was looking like rain so I high-tailed it back into Tivoli to catch the bus back to Rome.

 

 

I am not sure what to do this afternoon, as I had planned to spend my entire day in Tivoli, not being aware how much time I would truly need.  It only rained while I was in transit back to Rome, so it is now fresh and clean, ready to be seen by the world. I eat pumpkin blossom sauce over pasta, which wasn’t very good because the pasta tasted like it came from a box which surprises me because this restaurant is rated highly and is known for having fresh food. Fresh from a box I suppose. There is a British family that sits at the table near me.  The have two elementary age children.  I am still…still after almost 3 weeks…amazed at the amount of people that don’t even try to speak Italian first and just burst into English!  If I were Italian I would just look at them puzzled and tell them “Non parlo Inglese.”  I suppose that wouldn’t work though, as those that insist on speaking English would probably have a tizzy and insist they have an English-speaking waiter.  Sigh.

As I sit at lunch I have a fleeting thought that I should go shopping, as I will be heading home soon and there will be a little room in my bag. Besides, so many clothing stores here really do call out my name.  You know the terrible thing though?  My immediate first thought was no, because the Italian salespeople would deem me fat, especially compared to their Italian clients.

I ended up spending my afternoon strolling what appeared to be the government sector of Rome.  I explored piazza del Quirinale and saw the Quirinale Palace from the outside.  Very well guarded with Italian soldiers and their weapons.

 

I walked down to the Quattro Fontane, which were smaller than I imagined and not as regal.  Now don’t judge me for what I am about to say. I then ate dinner at McDonalds, which everyone says not to do because you have such good Italian food around you.  Whatever.  I think this rule is ridiculous.  Mind you, I don’t eat at McDonalds at home more than maybe once a year, but I find that McDonalds in other countries can be very eye opening.  This particular one had tiramisu, doughnuts, foccacia, pineapple “fries” and even croissants on the menu.  There are similarities to the American McDonalds though.  The servers find no interest in serving you, much less serving you with a smile.

Walked back to the convent and you will never guess what I found there in the piazza.  A boxing ring!  I bought a latte from the vending machine in the convent (a real latte, not the American coffee version) and stood outside watching the interest build and the boxers gathering.  There were boxers in every weight class and even kids showing off their judo. It was exciting! I watched Judo and boxing for a great deal of time from my window before heading to bed. Very cool.

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