Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The End. The Beginning

I guess you could call this a part two to my travels/final chapter to my year abroad.  After traveling around in a giant circle, I returned to the farm in Liguria for a week.  I finally finished my walk path, which was thoughtfully nicknamed "St. Jon Jon WWOOFer Street," and got to see how a chicken becomes food. 

I apologize for the morbidness of this photo, but it's life and something you confront when working on a farm with animals.  Tobi, a member of the farm, walked me through the slaughtering of a chicken while I eagerly positioned myself for a good shot. 

My last week at the farm was the perfect way to say goodbye and give closure to this experience.  A good portion of the group was at the farm for a course in Tai Chi, which I got to participate in as well.  
Here's the group in discussion after a huge and delicious Italian lunch.  It was a beautiful and hot day, perfect for lounging in the shade.  That night I got to cook everyone dinner.  I made gnocchi in a mushroom, marsala sauce for 16 Italians and received an approving "Bravo."  It was my way of saying "Thank You."
I left the farm on a Monday morning, saying goodbye to some of the kindest people . . .  and one very affectionate dog.  I caught I ride to Milano, stayed the night with the hospitality of Paolo (The Teacher), and caught a sad flight to Dublin the next day while listening to Fabrizio de' Andrè. 

Being in Ireland was a bit of a shock at first.  I could actually understand everything I heard and read!  After realizing that english was the official language of this place, I explored the beautiful city.  Being over shopping and looking at old buildings, the only thing that was left was to find some good art. 

After having a good chat with a tourist information attendant, I found myself at the amazing Hugh Lane Gallery, where there is a large portion of the collection dedicated to Francis Bacon.  Here is his studio, exactly the way he left it.  If you know his art, this will make sense to you.  If you don't, click on his name and find out.  There were also a number of notable artists' work there, including Manet, Monet, Gustave Corbet, and Brocquy.  

Outside, Dublin seems like a typical city.  But there is really cool, interesting and modern architecture all over the place, including this sky-reaching tower in the middle of the main shopping area.  

It is really neat during the night.  With just the top illuminated, it seems like this point of light is floating in the air.  

On my last day in Ireland, I took a day trip to Cork with the hope of seeing a Conor Harrington in real life.  This extremely talented street-turned-gallery artist is from Cork and I knew of  a few places he might have left his mark.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything. 

I did, however, get to see other amazing works like this one.  

The next day I headed back to the States.  It is totally unreal what you have to go through, compared to everywhere else I've been, to get into this country.  They checked my passport literally five times before boarding the plane and non-US citizens have to go through this:

Finger print all ten fingers and photo.  It can make one feel like a criminal for just going on vacation.  

My travels weren't quite over as soon as I expected.  My plane leaving Dublin was delayed and pushed back everything.  I flew to Philly and got stuck there for the night, having missed my original connection and a hopeful new one to San Francisco.  They did pay for my food and hotel this time, so it was a bit better than last year, but still a pain.  The following day I flew to Vegas before finally getting back to San Francisco, officially ending Chapter Italia.  

To summarize the last week, I've been spending some much needed time with Casey, got to see an amazing concert by Grizzly Bear, found the perfect place to live and actually got the room, had a giant welcome back party and reconnected with friends, and am playing the "Let's Find A Job!" game.  Wish me luck!

To my friends in Italy (Ai miei amici in Italia):
Veramente, grazie mille per tutto. Il mio tempo in Italia era grandissimo e sono proprio felice che èrano un parte. Grazie per la tua ospitalità, la tua gentilezza, e la tua amicizia (e anche il cibo!) Spero proprio che ci rivedremo ancora nel futuro e che il mio italiano sarà un po meglio. Arrivederci per ora. A Presto!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Travels Around Europe - The Photos

Here's finally a catch-up of photos on my travels for the last month (or so).  Just a warning, this is a long one and my feelings won't be hurt if you just want to just scroll through the pics.  

I left the farm after La Festa di Primavera (The Spring Festival), a big event the farm had to celebrate the reconstructed Mulino (Mill), a historic mill that used to produce the flour for the area.  
Here's some friends enjoying the music after a long weekend of preparation.  
I left the farm and hitched a ride with Paola (she's the one weighting vegis in a couple posts back) to Firenze to meet up with some friends.  

Lexi and Bobby in Italia!  I have two great days with my old friends, showing them around my city before they headed up to Venezia to be all romantic.  Oh, and I'm assuming its public knowledge now (if not it is NOW) but congratulations on the engagement guys!  

I spend the last day in Firenze hitting up all my favorite places and really saying a good farewell.
This is a view of my bridge (Ponte Carraia) from the bridge next to the Ponte Vecchio.   It's the only bridge where you can sit on a ledge of the bridge and look over the water (although not legally).  It was the prefect was to say goodbye. 

That night I caught a train to Pisa and got an interesting scar on the way to the airport.  I'll tell everyone the story soon enough.  From Pisa I flew to Puglia.

The first night, Eugenio (the handsome mug in the red shirt on the right) and his friends made a huge dinner of Cozze (muscles).  If you know me, I'm not much of a seafood eater, but it was delicious.  These are my new friends from the south of Italy that welcomed me to Lecce with open arms and ready bellies.

La Roca, a town next to San Foca where I stayed in Lecce, with a tower built during the Byzantine times to look out for Turkish invaders.  Its amazing that it still stands strong and an incredible feeling to walk around.  Eugenio and I took a swim around this area.  The water was deep and amazing.

Here's Eugenio, or should I saw Pastore Moses, leading the way to the tower.  My week in Puglia was perfect.  Sun, beach, guitar and great memories.  After Puglia I headed to Napoli for a day.  No pics, just because I didn't do much but see some amazing churches.  I then took a 16 hour boat ride to Cagliari, in the south of Sardegna, to catch a three hour train up to Sassari to meet up with my friends from Anidagri.  We headed to La Isola dell'Azinara, a former island prison now a tropical paradise.  

This is the secluded beach me hung out for a while.  The water was an intense blue and a lot of fun swimming around in.  I'm pretty sure I was a sea animal in a past life, because I felt so free and comfortable in the water, realizing how much I missed it.  It was the perfect last beach day.

Christina, who I stayed with in Sardegna, showed my Castlesardo, a really quaint old town on the top of a hill overlooking the sea.  This area is known for their crafts. 

Here's a friendly Sardo making either a bowl or a pot mat like many Sardi have made in the past.  I left the next day for the next stop of my travels...but not before taking a picture of the family.  
Here are some of the nicest people I know. Angelino, Christina, Valentina, Giada, Virgina and Marco in front of a blooming tree at Christina's home.  

Next stop, Prague.  
An amazing view of the city from the castle.  Kind of looks like monopoly huh?  Prague is a beautiful city, fully of history and character.  I think it's one of the coolest places I've been. 

Here's St. Vitus' Cathedral, an uber gothic cathedral full of high towers and gargoyles.  It was really amazing.  The best part though, in my opinion, was inside.

Here is a magnificent stained glass window made by my man, Alfons Mucha.  It is just spectacular.  The coordination of colors and smart placement of figures really proves his genius and ability to work in many mediums.  I was in complete awe of this.  

Another thing I really like about Prague are the colors.  The buildings are painted the most interest colors I've seen, with a bunch of achromatic grays and muted colors.  It really makes wandering around enjoyable.

At noon everyday at the castle, there is the changing of the guards.  It's a big tourist spectacle and mainly for show since there's no monarchy to guard anymore.  But it really is cool to watch and see how synchronized they are.  

On my last day in the Czech Republic I went to Moravsky Krumlov, a very small town near Brno, to see Mucha's greatest work, The Slav Epic.  It is 20 giant paintings of his country's past and his heritage and complete perfection.  It was a very special feeling, standing next to the work he devoted the last 18 years of his life to, seeing his hand and the work he put into it.  Needless to say it completely inspired me.

This is just the view from the train station, and by station I mean one room with a ticket office to go either left or right.  It was probably the most Eastern Europe-y thing I got to see.  

Next on the list, Vienna.  I only stayed in Vienna for a day, but I got to see a lot.  At the end of the first day I went to the giant palace.  Actually, giant isn't a good enough word... let's use monstrous.  This place is enormous.  

What did I say?  Ginormous!  The thing about Vienna is that they not only built enormous buildings, but they surrounded it by a lot of open land, making it feel even more vast.  One can seriously feel miniscule while walking around on the property. 

Here is another huge building.  This one was at the top of steep hill behind a huge pond.  The architecture was an interesting mix of Italian and French.  The palace was really well kept and being there really made me feel like I was living when royalty roamed the grounds.  

My last day in Vienna was mostly spent in the Leopold Museum, discovering great artists that really should be more well known.  It was a great collection.  That evening I caught a night train from Vienna to Venezia, waking up to the sunrise over the alps in Switzerland.  As if I haven't said it enough, it was amazing.  

That's my three weeks in a giant circle.

Friday, June 5, 2009


I'm in Prague. I got here late on the 2nd and have been enjoying it since. Prague is an amazing city. There is great architecture with some of the coolest colors (a bunch of achromatic grays), nice people, amazing art, and an awesome public transportation system. It is really easy to get around here and find your way though the city. Some highlights of my time here:

Mucha Museum - I finally got to see it! It was the first thing I did here, other than get some delicious pastries for breakfast. They had all this well known works, with the print that made him famous, hand drawings, large oil paintings and sculptures. It was amazing to see his work up close and I left fully satisfied.

Prague Castle - Its apparently the largest castle in the world since its pretty much a mini town. The cathedral was incredible. Super Gothic with stained glass windows, sculptures everywhere, high pointed towers and an army of gargoyles. The castle also houses some great renaissance art.

Gardens - There is a large area near the castle that is devoted to grass and trees. Its really nice to just sit there, eat a sandwich and drink a Czech beer (which is delicious and cheaper than water) while looking out to the city.

This kind of seems like a tour guide book. Anyway, I'm having a great time and will be heading to Austria tomorrow or the next day.