Saturday, February 22, 2014

Italian Extravaganza: Day 4

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       Our second day in Venice fulfilled another Venetian dream of mine. My guide book...wait segue. I never mentioned that my whole trip in Italy was made possible by National Geographic's guidebook to Italy. That thing was my bible. It has gorgeous pictures (because it's National Geographic) and didn't steer us wrong once. You'll see, it only made Italy better. I highly recommend it if you ever head over to Italy. So anyway, back to Venetian dreams coming true. My guidebook recommended that we tour some of Venice's islands if we had the time. This was something I wanted to do because it seemed unique and off the beaten path. National Geographic said to "move heaven and earth" to get to the island of Torcello. So I did. I got a job in Spain, moved here, got my Dad to come all the way to Italy, and I planned the trip of a lifetime. Would you like me to move anything else? This was one of my favorite days. Due to Venice catering to the tourists, there was a half day tour of the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. It was a decent price, too. We caught our boat in the nick of time, our first stop was Murano. Murano is known for it's glass. We saw a glass blowing demonstration and made a pit stop to buy some gifts. We used our remaining time to wander around the island before being herded back onto the boat. Next stop, Burano. Burano is known for it's lacework. We also made some purchases here. Doilies anyone? But actually, the artwork and painstaking attention to detail was incredible. Dad and I attempted to put together a lunch (we ended up with chips and a hunk of cheese) and then hopped back on the boat to Torcello.
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       Torcello is different from Murano and Burano, it isn't a town and the few people that live there (I think the tour guide said something like 11 people) are only there to take advantage of the tourism. This island is all about the mysterious scenery and the ancient fortress and church. It's as close to Narnia as I will ever get. I moved heaven and earth and I ended up through the wardrobe. Dad and I almost decided to skip the boat and take a water bus back in order to take more time to explore. We ended the day at a teeny tiny takeout restaurant called Alfredo's. It's this small hole in the wall that serves fresh pasta in a to go box. Even though it looks like it's to go, they strongly insist that you eat it right then and there. The staff was fantastic and my pasta was to die for. 
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Friday, February 21, 2014

Italian Extravaganza: Day 3

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       After an early train ride, Dad and I continued our tour to Venice. This was per Dad's request. I had been to Venice last year, but since he was nice enough to fly across the ocean to travel with me, I thought I would fulfill one of his requests. I took the return trip as an opportunity to do everything I wish I had had time to do the first time around. We took a water bus down to the  Piazza San Marco (because you have to take a boat down the Grand Canal at least once in your life). We walked around and then made our way into Basilica di San Marco. I hadn't gotten to go inside last year and I was dying to see the mosaics. They didn't disappoint. We paid a little extra to go up to the balcony and check out the view and a small museum.  photo IMG_1085.jpg  photo IMG_1105.jpg  photo IMG_1098.jpg  photo IMG_1103.jpg
       After Piazza San Marco, Dad and I followed the walking path that my National Geographic Guide book suggested. We made a pit stop at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, another thing I had missed last year. It didn't disappoint either. It was crammed full with weird modern art and Peggy's fabulous life. After the art collection Dad and I finished our walk. We ate dinner at the same restaurant I went to last year (because it was a smash hit). It was a little overpriced, but delicious food per the usual. Dad and I split a salad and a pizza. Venice is known for it's okay food that is entirely overpriced. I would say that I didn't feel like my money went to waste but that pizza was definitely not the most mind blowing meal of my trip.  photo IMG_1239.jpg  photo IMG_1117.jpg  photo IMG_1120.jpg
       Dad and I got lucky with our first day in Venice. It was still some sort of Christmas holiday in Italy so there were practically no lines and the art gallery wasn't overly crowded. From experience, Venice can be an obnoxious tourist trap. My complaints about this come later in the trip, however. We had a lovely first day in Venice, the city never ceases to amaze me. Tourist trap aside, the appearance of the city is awe inspiring. I don't regret being able to say I've had the opportunity to visit twice.  photo IMG_1091.jpg

Monday, February 17, 2014

Italian Extravaganza: Day 2

     It was Christmas Day. Everything was closed, so Dad and I got a slow start to our day. We strolled around, ate fast food pizza and did what we could to get in our Jewish history. We stopped by a synagogue which had armed guards at both entrances, so that was disconcerting. We also walked around the former Jewish Ghetto. It is now a lovely residential area with locally owned artisanal shops. We ended the day with my least favorite meal of Italy (poor service and okay food).
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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Italian Extravaganza: Day 1

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     For me, Bologna was all about the food. We ate like kings in Bologna when we were willing to pay for it (the cheap pizza was good too). Our day started bright and early with a half day tour of the city center. Bologna is still emerging as a tourist attraction, so there weren't many tourists around. That, and it was Christmas day. I liked Bologna. Of all the cities we visited, I would choose to live there. It reminded me of Sevilla. Not overwhelmingly large and a nice balance between locals and tourists. As a tourist though, I was looking forward more to the bigger cities on our itinerary like Florence and Venice.
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     After the tour we made our way to an early lunch. We found a nicer restaurant (aka: expensive) and had our first true Bolognian meal. I had tortillini and Dad had pumpkin stuffed tortillini. Our taste buds were blown but my stomach was not full. This restaurant was definitely about quality over quantity. Oh, and I had the best chocolate cake of my life. So great food, but nowhere near enough of it. After lunch Dad and I headed over to one of the many towers of the city. We climbed up the 500 some steps to get a great view of the city. This tower was a safety hazard, as in, it would never be open to the public in America. Dad tripped his way up the stairs (he tripped his way through Europe actually), and I held on to the railings for dear life.
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      After the tower we headed back to our hotel, rested, cleaned up and got ready for Christmas dinner. We had made reservations at a restaurant next door to our hotel. It was owned by the most adorable family. My meal changed the way that I view eating food. I had a steak fillet with a vinegar sauce, seasoned potatoes and a baked pear for desert. I believe I had quite a romantic relationship with my food that night.  photo IMG_1231.jpg  photo IMG_1063.jpg

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Italian Extravaganza: Preface

     After Christmas week was over I took the vacation of my dreams. It was so incredible that it needs a preface. As Christmas break was starting to loom, my family and I had talked half heartedly about me heading home but what I really wanted to do was travel. A joke about my dad coming Europe became a plane ticket and thus the Italian Extravaganza was born. Since I can remember I have loved Italy. I had been there twice before on vacation and it is always the top destination on my list when I'm abroad. But this trip would be different. It wasn't a rushed weekend or a school organized trip, this was the trip that 8 year-old Maddie had planned. It was of the utmost importance for it to be perfect. There was a list of places I had to go: Florence, Pisa, etc. And then there was Tuscany. 8 year-old Maddie didn't know that Tuscany wasn't some city I could quickly visit, I had set myself an entire region in Italy to see. A beautiful region, but no small feat. So the planning began. I had about 13 days to fill. My dad had sent in some requests but all final decisions were my call. Below is my itinerary all meticulously planned. I'm quite proud of it, if I do say so myself. Obviously some of the plans changed as we went. I didn't commit us to any tours just in case we ended up not being able to go to them. Tuscany was always kind of up in the air because my father got it into his head that we would rent a car (best idea ever) and I was kind of skeptical during the planning stages. I still can't believe how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to visit Italy with my dad. He stuck out like an American sore thumb, but he's my dad, so I overlooked it.  photo IMG_1289.jpg

Italian Extravaganza Itinerary

Day 1 (23)
Arrive and Sleep

Day 2 (24)
10:30 - Guided tour of Bologna

Towers (if not before lunch)
Jewish Ghetto/Synagogue

Day 3 (Christmas!)
Sleep in
Visit the Christmas Street Market and the Santa Lucia Market
Wander some more
Enjoy the lights and the Christmas tree (maybe go skating) in Piazza Maggiore and Piazza Nettuno
Early dinner
Early to bed

Day 4 (26)
Wake up VERY early to get to Venice
We leave a the crack of dawn from Bologna in order to have a full day in Venice on the 26th. 
Day 4
Arrival - 2pm: 
Arrive at the Venice train station, 
Ride down the Grand Canal
     Piazzale Roma, Bus 1 or 82
Arrive in Piazza San Marco
Basilica di San Marco.
            Loggia dei Cavalli and the Sanctuary.
2pm - NG Pizzaria
After lunch until dinner - The stroll that NG suggests.
Pit stop at the Peggy Guggenheim collection.
          My admission is 8 and yours will be 14. 
Dinner - We'll find something

Day 5 (27)
Morning Trip to the Islands
          18 euros for a 12 hour pass to the islands
           Leaves from Fondamente Nuovo
Whatever Dad wants to do

Day 6 (28)
Guided tour of Palazo Ducale (9:55am)
Must reserve asap

Head to Florence

Dinner Sleep

Day 7 (29)
Museum Day!
Galleria Degli Uffizi
Pit stop in Piazza de la Signora to see the copy of David
Galleria dell'Accademia (DAVID)
The walk that NG suggests
Day 8 (30)
Half day trip to Pisa!
Piazza de Santa Maria del Fiore 
   Climb/visit the Duomo
Santa Croce (if we have time)

Day 9 (31)
Museo Salvatore Ferragamo
Drive to Siena
New Years!

Day 10 (1)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Christmas Week

     The week before Christmas everything was complete mayhem at my school. The thing I didn't know about Spain, they take Christmas SERIOUSLY. Not just religiously, they also love the celebrating part. About two weeks prior to Christmas break my schedule fell apart. All the classes were starting to practice for their Christmas performance and doing related activities, so sometimes I would be needed, sometimes I wouldn't. It got to the point where I spent more time in the teacher's lounge than in the classroom. That was fine though, it meant I had time to plan my trip to Italy.
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      I tried to participate in the activities and be as helpful as possible. Christmas week meant some very stressed out teachers. My favorite day was when I showed up to school and a churro stand was parked in our parking lot. Churros and chocolate for everyone thanks to the energetic mother helpers! That same day the third grade took time off science to walk over to a nearby church and sing some carols (all in Spanish, of course). The teachers were stressed, but I was having a blast. I didn't have to prepare anything and most of the time I wasn't needed. That meant I got to watch rehearsals, go to churches and eat churros.
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     That Friday was the grand performance. Technically I didn't need to go to work. But I wanted to see my students perform. I stuck with the second graders. I think it was helpful just to have an extra set of eyes and an extra person to help with the wrangling. The performances were adorable and brought me back to my elementary school days. The performances were split up by classes. So I saw the first and second graders perform. Since we are a bilingual school, they sang one song in Spanish and one in English. Both Spanish songs were accompanied sign language, which was beautiful to watch. Below are both first grade classes performing a song in Spanish complete with sign language.