Archive | December 2013

Italy’s culinary capital, the oldest university in the world, and Commie agitprop: Bologna

A view of "La Rossa" from the Asinelli Tower.

A view of “La Rossa” from the Asinelli Tower.

The home of the oldest university in the world is also touted as the culinary capital of a country universally renowned for its food. Throw in centuries of left-wing agitation, and you’ve got Bologna, Italy.

A beautiful town with an expansive medieval cityscape, nicknamed “La Rossa” as much for its political leanings as for its terra cotta bricks and roof tiles, Bologna was Read More…

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Florence is for Lovers

The Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge in Florence to survive World War II.

The iconic Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge in Florence to survive World War II.

Instead of dragging the reader through a play-by-play of the three days that Amanda and I spent in Florence, highlighting a few of our favorite sites and experiences should provide a window into one of my all-time favorite cities. After Naples and Pompeii, we took a high-speed train to Florence — it was a bit pricey, but the train was nicely furnished and took a mere two and a half hours.

In no particular order and certainly not in an exhaustive list, here are some of my favorite Florentine experiences.

Wandering the Streets

For some reason, Lonely Planet really lays into Florence — especially the historic city center. While the city can become hot and crowded during summer, people flock to Florence because it’s a beautiful city with a lot to offer. If anything, December was the perfect time to visit — we traded off longer daylight hours for almost no crowds or lines, while the weather hovered at a blessedly sunny and pleasantly crisp 50 degrees most days. Read More…

That’s Amore: Naples and Pompeii

Mount Vesuvius looming over the ruined city of Pompeii.

Mount Vesuvius looming over the ruined city of Pompeii.

After Rome, we were off to Naples, a city immortalized in the Dean Martin song “That’s Amore,” birthplace of pizza, and a seedy locale stereotyped as a mafia hotspot. While the Lonely Planet guidebooks generally cast a positive light on destinations they cover, they don’t mince words introducing Naples, describing it as “a raucous hell-broth of a city.”

We took a dusty regional train south from Rome through the dry, Mediterranean hillsides of Southern Italy. As embarrassing as admitting this apparently should be — based on the expressions of the Europeans I later told this to — this was my first time on a train. Read More…

Ancient Rome: The Colosseum and the Forum

Panorama of the Colosseum.

The Ancient Romans and their Greek forebears laid the foundation for the Western World to such an extent that I feel a bit silly blogging about ideas and images as immutable as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. What can I say that hasn’t already been said by greater men than me?

Our second day in Rome was dedicated to the glory days of the Republic and the Empire. From the main Termini station right by our hostel, we took the Rome Metro two stops to the Colosseum station. Emerging from an underground train still reverberating with the rich sounds of a street musician’s saxophone, we spilled out into the crisp city air with the huge amphitheater standing just across the street.

Despite a slight chill and clouds (which later lifted to herald a bluebird day), visiting the Colosseum in December is an excellent time: While there were still quite a few people there, it was empty compared to the deluge of tourists during my last visit in summer 2005.

Amanda and I in front of the Colosseum.

Amanda and I in front of the Colosseum.

Most people know Read More…

Our Roman Holiday

Rather than try to write about events from a few months ago, I will start this blog with Amanda and my Christmas travels. Amanda has already posted about our journey from Billings to D.C. and our first few weeks in Oxford.

We spent 11 days in Italy and 17 in Germany. Italy was a whirlwind of more touristy travel: Our itinerary included Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Florence, Bologna, and Venice. Germany was much more relaxed because we were traveling with Paul and Alice, two of our good friends who are there on Fulbright scholarships.

On the evening of December 11, we flew from London to Rome. From the Fiumicino Airport, we took a Terravision bus to Roma Termini, the main railway station in Rome, with trains, buses, and the subway all intersecting a few mildly seedy blocks from our hostel.

The next morning, we were up early to head to the Vatican Museum. We had reserved tickets online beforehand, so we were able to jump the queue (something I highly recommend doing, even though it costs an extra few dollars).

Amanda just inside the Vatican Museum.

Amanda just inside the Vatican Museum.

After passing through the entrance, we headed through fantastic exhibits on Ancient Egypt; Greek and Roman statues; the oddly interesting Sala degli Animali (Room of Animals); and displays on the Etruscans, the most important pre-Roman Italian civilization.

Funerary mask of Nymaatra.

Funerary mask of Nymaatra.

Etruscan pottery.

Etruscan pottery.

Amanda and

Amanda and Juno.

Read More…