Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fiesole Adventures

Fiesole was another quick day trip for Mer and me. Located just 8km from Florence, the little town's claim to fame is a spectacular panoramic view of Tuscany.

It was another hot as could be day so once Mer and I figured out how to get to the places with the good views (we headed in the wrong direction first, naturally), we took in the slightly hazy but beautiful view, and the headed to a small restaurant for an amazing lunch of pasta and a meat tray.

The real treat of the day, however, was having a drink at the spectacular Villa San Michele. This place was a "Must Visit" according to our friend from Brazil so Mer and I decided to see it.  Our Brazilian friend was right, the place was definitely a Must-Visit.

First I should mention we walked there from the center of town. This would not be a huge deal except we had to walk on the street and dive into the very tiny ditches every time a car rounded one of the curves.

Second, I should mention we had to walk down the hill to get to the property only to then have to walk all the way up the hill that the hotel sat on. Remember I said it was really hot? Yeah, so take a moment and imagine what sweaty messes we were as we rolled up to this gorgeous 900 euro a night hotel. I'm amazed they let us in, let alone were as gracious as they were.

The entire place was like a dream (a very expensive, out of our league, surprised they aren't calling security on these two sweaty lunatics dream) but we had lots of fun sitting at the patio bar drinking our prosecco while checking out the view and people watching.

That's the hotel property, isn't it wild? As we flipped through the hotel property book I saw the same company owns the Grand Hotel Europa in Saint Petersburg which is equally dreamy.

And the bar was pretty awesome too.

Overall, it was an awesome little day trip, well worth the 2.70€ in bus fare.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Gorgeous Verona

Verona was our second weekend trip while Mer was visiting me in Italy. Originally we wanted to head south to see Positano and Capri, but problems getting my Russian visa meant we didn't have as much time as we originally thought. So rather than a rushed (and expensive!) trip south, we decided to take a day trip to Verona.

Verona is just gorgeous. We went on an especially hot and busy day so the streets were crammed with people, and there was precious little shade to be found, but we still had an amazing time.

Our first stop was Casa di Giulietta, naturally. While I was really happy we got to see the house and famous statue, it certainly was a test of patience. The courtyard was crammed full of eager statue fondlers making it hard to move let alone get a picture. I also noticed that locks seem to have replaced love letters these days (in a true sign of the times, inside the house museum you can send Giulietta an email on one of the provided computers).

After a tour of the interior of the house (well worth the visit and price of 6 euros) we decided to wander through the center of town and then to the outskirts.  The center square was packed with vendors and our fellow tourists looking for bargains at the crazy end of summer sales going on so we continued to head away from the center.  We lucked out and found a small cafe with a balcony right over the river. For such an amazing view the prices were very reasonable. I had a salad of arugula, lemon & thinly shaved beef. It was one of my favorite meals in Italy. Light and delicious.

We walked around for a bit more after lunch until the afternoon sun forced us to seek out some shade, and take advantage of the extraordinarily cheap aperol spritz specials many of the cafes had (they were around 5-7 euros in Florence, we paid 2-3 euros in Verona). 

Our time in Verona went much too quickly. Since it was only a day trip we were unable to see an opera due to the train schedule (trains stop running before the performances end). This means Verona is on my Must-Return list.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lago di Como

I've been lucky enough to have visitors during my stay in Italy. First, my friend Alex came over for a way too brief weekend visit where we explored Florence and made a quick trip to lovely little Lucca. Alex was my roommate on my first trip to Russia in 2003, so it was our 10 year anniversary of being abroad together. Next up was my best friend Meredith. Since I had class while Mer was here it meant our travels were contained to the weekends. Since Mer arrived on a Friday, it meant she had to hop off the plane & jump right on a train so we could explore Lake Como. She was a trooper--I'm not sure I could have fought off the jetlag as well as she did.

The lake is pretty much what you expect it to be--gorgeous, breathtaking, stunning, etc. I kept asking Mer, "Why don't we live here? Why would anyone want to live anywhere but here?" We stayed at the Parco San Marco resort for our brief trip, and were spoiled by the incredible view from our balcony and the free room service breakfast.

We spent the rest of our day moving from the various pools to the lake and back again, and capped the afternoon off by playing on the waterslide.

On our final day we took a boat ride to the town of Bellagio where we shopped for silk scarves (what the area is famous for), and had lunch at a great little enoteca where the staff sliced the proscuitto right in front of us. The local wines were 2 euros a glass, and Mer and I lamented once again that we didn't live there.

It was a quick trip, but we saw enough to know that Lake Como is definitely a place we have to visit again (and again and again and again).

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Travel & Technology (Computer Edition)

                                My sparse but effective work station in my apartment in Italy.  

This is my first time traveling with my beloved Mac since I started grad school in 2007.  Last year, my computer started giving me the death wheeze and I knew that it was time to upgrade to something new if I was going to start writing my dissertation.  Right before I sailed with Semester at Sea in 2009, my hard drive crashed and everything was lost so knowing that I never ever want to live through that again (even the thought of that happening during the dissertation process makes me a little hysterical), I purchased a new 13 inch Macbook Pro with a few upgrades thrown in.

When I received my grants to research abroad this summer and fall semester, I was faced with the same problem.   Did I really want to take an expensive (expensive for me at least) computer containing all of my work from grad school, my dissertation and all of my work to Italy and Russia? Did I want it bumping around on planes, trains, buses? What about overnight trains in Russia? Even with online storage, a backup hard drive and travel insurance I still wasn’t in love with the idea of something happening to my computer or the hassle and expense of replacing it.

I knew I needed something to work on while I was abroad, so I purchased a Google Chrome Book by Samsung.  It seemed like a good fit for most of my needs. It’s inexpensive (I actually cheaped out and bought the Warehouse deal for $184 rather than paying full price), it automatically saves everything to Google Drive and it’s lightweight enough to not add too much weight to my bags.  I especially like that if something were to happen to it, everything I had was safely copied and saved in my Google accounts.  

After 7 weeks of working with the Chrome Book, I feel pretty aware of what it can and cannot do.  It’s relatively straightforward to use and adapting to using Google Docs exclusively was easier than I imagined.  The computer is fast and it’s easy to navigate through the various features and apps.  I also love that it’s small enough to use on a plane or train without bumping elbows with the person sitting next to me, yet it has a full sized keyboard so I’m not constantly hitting the wrong keys.  There are certainly a lot of quirks to it, and it can be endlessly annoying to get to a coffee shop with broken WiFI on a day I forgot to download a much needed document. Since everything online it means that without WiFI (or making sure you have saved everything offline if you know you’re going to be without internet) I’m not a huge fan of blogging with it because getting my pictures from the cameras to the computer is a challenge.

Overall, it does what I need it to do so I’m pretty happy with it.  I do have my iPad here as well and the combination of the two (the iPad for reading research documents) works exceedingly well for dissertation writing.  In fact I turned in 60 pages to my advisor last week.   I doubt that it will ever replace my Macbook permanently, but the Chrome Book is definitely going to be my travel computer both on this and future trips.