September 6, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Europe

When an email showed up in my inbox a few weeks ago from Robin asking if I’d be interested in meeting up in Italy, my answer was an emphatic “YES!” Jacob and I originally had plans to head to Northern Spain, but when the opportunity came up to go on an international double date with one of my best friends, that was just too good to pass up.

So we got online and pretty quickly settled on Florence. While I’d been before, I had told myself when I went years ago that I must return as I never had the chance to visit the famous Uffizi museum the first time around. Jacob had never been before, so he was of course on board.

We headed out to Florence almost immediately after Iris’s departure. We were exhausted, but eager to have three days of pasta, wine and relaxation. We arrived in Florence Sunday afternoon and met up with Robin and her boyfriend Karthik for dinner. Walking through the city, I found it to be even more charming than I had remembered. It’s like Rome but more quaint and less intimidating.

Dinner was of course amazing – each of us enjoying our different pasta dishes. What I continue to enjoy about Italy is how both the Italian and Spanish languages are doable – Jacob spent the dinner speaking to the waiter in Spanish, and the waiter in Italian, and as usual, all was understood (even by me….I’m thinking Italian might be my next language, especially with my extensive vocabulary of Italian food items, and now swear words – thanks Guido!).

The next day we met up with Robin and Karthik at their hotel at 10AM in order to be chauffeured through the Tuscan wine country. Little did we know the highlight of this journey would be our amazing driver Luigi – a charming, humorous man who made the most phenomenal tour guide.

Our first stop was the incredibly sweet little town of San Gimignano, followed by a stop in another little town for lunch (its name escapes me 🙁 ). After this we stopped in the city of Siena where we learned about the famous horse racing that happens in the main city plaza – the plaza was constructed such that the races could take place within the city walls. We also visited the cathedral in Siena as well.

And finally it was time for the wine tasting. We first stopped at small little tasting room along the side of a winding little road. There we tasted several different wines, from roses, to chiantis, to cabernet and sangiovese. All very good, but I have to admit, I prefer Spanish wines. I just don’t find the Italian wines to be quite as balanced. But hey, the world can keep on loving the Italian wines….I’m fine with prices of Spanish wines remaining nice and low.

This was followed by another stop at the Antinori winery, a wine that I’ve actually had in the States in Napa, ironically. We tasted three wines, all good of course, but still not quite Spanish :).

For dinner we went to a restaurant recommended to us by good ol’ Luigi, called Pandehohio, and oh my heaven! The pasta was stupidly, ridiculously, amazingly good, and all topped off by a darling “mama” who was constantly showering us with kisses and cute little comments like, “if you don’t like, you don’t eat it, I eat it!” If anyone heads to Florence, this place is a must.

The following day we made the long awaited trip to the Uffizi. It was a nice museum with lots and lots of Jesus paintings (which honestly, for me, grows quite old after a handful of them), but what I really wanted to see, what I always wanted to see since my high school Humanities class, were a couple of the paintings by Boticelli – The Primavera and The Birth of Venus. They totally didn’t disappoint. Both were so refreshing and beautiful. They were incredibly large, such that I could just stare at them forever, picking out all the details of each painting.

Later that day, Jacob and I headed to the Academia, to see the famous “David.” I had seen him the first time I came to Florence and remembered clearly that I had been blown away that first time I saw him. This time was no different – he was still breathtaking. To better explain, let’s take the Mona Lisa for example – you see it in books your whole life, to the point that she is actually larger than life….then you go to the Louvre, and the painting is like the size of a dictionary (I’m exaggerating), in a dark room, with people swarming around it. The David on the other hand, while you see him your whole life, I think we naturally assume he’s human-sized. But he’s not – nothing even close to the size of a human. He’s massive, and perfect, housed under spotlights at the end of a dimly lit, airy hallway, such that when you turn the corner, you see him at the end like some sort of god. You might think that I’m overstating it, but I’m not. Long story short, it was worth 10 euros to see the first time and the second as well, and I really hope I’ll have the opportunity again.

That night we headed out for our final dinner at a “steakhouse” recommended by a friend of Robin. This wasn’t any Outback though, but rather a small, kitchen-like restaurant, with casual communal tables. We ended up a table where English, Italian, French and Spanish were all be spoken. We ordered a mixture of pasta, veggies and steak. All delicious of course.

And so was our trip to Florence. Somehow those last minute trips are always the best. We truly had a spectacular time. It was a nice little preview for our trip to Venice coming up in October for my birthday :).

Next stop for me will be SF at the end of September. Can’t wait!

October 21, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Europe

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit one of the world’s most beautiful cities a second time, in one year! It was so great to return so soon as everything was still so fresh in my mind – I knew what to see, when to see it, and how to get there. This was all especially nice for Jacob who had never been there before.

What was so nice about this trip was that there was no sense of urgency to see things or take things in with the same mental intensity that I did the last time around. Instead I could just relax and enjoy seeing everything for a second time, which is especially valuable in a city like Rome that has so much to take in. The weather was amazing too – I literally had to go buy a dress (I know, don’t you hate that? I had to go shopping) because it was so warm, probably mid 70’s to 80. We stayed at a hotel south of the main city which also allowed me to see a different part of Rome – its tree lined streets were just gorgeous this time of year.

The food this time was insanely delicious! Last time it was good, but no grand departure from Italian food I’ve had before (and honestly, I had still maintained that the best Italian food I’d had was in Japan). This time, however, Jacob and I kept hitting the jackpot in the food department. It was one amazing dish after another – I think my phrase for the weekend was “what did they put in this????!!!!” I never knew soup could be so good. The things they do with mushrooms are just beyond me, all I know is that I’m obsessed.

I also appreciated that Jacob would speak Spanish with everyone in Rome as well. I tried to pull that trick last time and figured that they all just thought I was a stupid American who didn’t understand that Italian was spoken in Italy, not Spanish. But truly, it’s quite hilarious the exchange that goes on – Jacob spoke Spanish, they spoke Italian, and everyone was happy! The languages are similar enough that you can get by speaking only one of them.

I headed back Sunday night by myself while Jacob remained in Rome for his conference. Now I am trying to catch up on some rest after a very long couple of weeks. I think I should be staying in town (and by town, I mean country) for at least a month or so until I head off to Paris for a conference with work. And then I go home!!!!!

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April 25, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Europe

Gosh, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks! I arrived in Spain last Sunday and headed out for Rome early Tuesday morning. If I was looking for relaxation, I certainly wasn’t going to find it in Rome.

My mom and I arrived in Rome early Tuesday morning and quickly started to hit up the various tourist spots. On the first day we visited the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Piazza Venezia, the Spanish Steps and everywhere else in between. It was a little bit rainy so it definitely took some dedication. For dinner that night we went to a delicious restaurant, Nino’s (which came highly recommended by The Scribner Family), where we enjoyed our fair share of pasta and some delicious tiramisu.

The second day we headed to the south part of the city to visit Ancient Rome – the Imperial Forums, the Roman Forums, the Coliseum, Arch of Constantine, Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza del Campidoglio.

Finally, on our third and last day, we hopped on the metro to Vatican City and took a guided tour of the Vatican Museum (the Sistine Chapel) and St. Peter’s Basilica. On our way back to the hotel we saw Castel Sant’ Angelo, walked along a tree-lined street along the Tiber River and then visited Piazza del Popolo for a final glass of wine before heading to the airport.

Rome in three days is not for the lazy that’s for sure. I look forward to going back and spending a little bit more time at each place as it seems like we just barely skimmed the surface. The highlight was definitely the Imperial Forums – I have never seen anything so impressive and utterly mind blowing. It is hard to believe that the ruins have survived for 2,000+ plus years. Makes everything in the world today seem a little bit small and unimportant in the scheme of things!

Tomorrow we will be taking my mom to the charming town of Toledo, just south of Madrid. More to come….

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