Monthly Archives: August 2011

1300 Miles

Thirteen hundred miles at an average of 65 miles per hour takes 20 hours.  Then add an extra hour because from Grand Junction, CO to Milwaukee, WI, we will pass through a time zone.  That would mean arriving 21 hours after departing.  And lucky for us, it takes slightly less, but not by much.  The time is filled with books on tape, music, podcasts, discussions of grand plans for our apartment in Boston, and some sleep (but not by the driver of course).

colorado rockies

We tap the Rockies, enjoy Nebraska and Iowa from the highway, and then almost get to Chicago when we head North to Milwaukee to meet up with Becky.  This is the same Becky that we traveled with in Sicily about a month ago.  We stay with Becky’s friend’s friend just outside Milwaukee.  We arrive late, but have the whole next day to recover starting immediately with pancakes and coffee in the morning.  We then head into the city of Milwaukee, enjoy a couple beers at Lakeshore brewery, followed up by a walk along the lake, and eventually end back at the house for swimming pool games.  Today is another great break from the other part of this adventure, which takes place mostly on the open road.

the house outside Milwaukee

Naturally Unnatural

The best national parks are those that seem naturally unnatural like Arches National Park in Utah.  And because today’s drive was a manageable six hours in the car, there is some time to explore Arches on the way to Grand Junction, Colorado.  Its sandstone arches and other fantastically unusual geographic formations that cover the Moab Desert are breathtaking.  We start our park exploration in the comfort of the Prius and are therefore oblivious to the rising temperatures outside.  At a temperature over 100 degrees, we step out of the car and quickly decide that the heat is not horrible, it being a dry heat.  About five minutes later, we change our minds.  It’s hot outside!  We take a hike to have an upclose view of a famous arch, and while walking in sandals, we start to feel that we are not entirely prepared for this adventure.  As we see others in their high-top hiking boots, we comment that the sand feels a little warm on our toes.  Nonetheless, we make it to the arch and back, grabbing a couple photos in the process.

Arches national park


In Grand Junction, we crash with my Aunt- and Uncle-In-Law in their place that overlooks the Colorado National Monument, which in the morning provides a tranquil and beautiful start to the day.

colorado national monument

Red, White, Blue, and Double-Yellow Lines

The road from Rome to Deer Valley is short in time, but not in distance–especially when covering most of California in the process.  My yet to be named Prius is waiting at home in La Canada, CA nine-ten-eleven, and although it has been driven in my absence, the odometer reads only a couple hundred miles more than it did 5 months ago.  Little does the unsuspecting Prius realize that it will gain almost 5,000 miles in the next couple weeks.

After unpacking, packing, online tutorials for school, a fabulous family reunion in Santa Barbara, and two days of friends in the Bay Area, I pick up Gabe in Redwood City, and we set Park City, Utah into the GPS.  In the ten days that I was “home” in California before setting off across the country, I had no time to experience jet lag, culture shock, or sleeping in.

Deer Valley, UT

That said, before I know it, Gabe and I are enjoying our last In-n-Out Burger for a while when we pass through Reno, and it is more accurate if I pluralize “burgers.”  For lunch, we share a regular fries and animals-style fries, which I devour along with a cheeseburger, an animal-style double-double, and a Coke.  In between long stretches of open road filled with good tunes including a tractor playlist, “This American Life”, and in depth discussions about the wikipedia article on Mormonism, we make a couple more bio-breaks to refill the Prius and empty our bladders before eventually arriving in Park City.  Staying with a friend from university, we wake up the next morning to a beautiful day.  Our friend has to go to work in the morning, but her two roommates are gearing up for a hike and we invite ourselves to tag along.  We quickly realize that we should have waited for them to fully gear up so that the spandex, hardcore shoes, and camelbaks could have provided us a hint of what we were about to do.  Hiking up and around Deer Valley to about 10,000 feet, we learn a lesson about lung capacity while we enjoy the stunning views that surround us.

After a full recovery day in Park City of hiking, eating, cooking, and exploring Main Street, we leave for the very reasonable drive to Grand Junction, Colorado.  I am not sure if the hardest activity of the day in Park City was the hike or kneading the homemade pasta dough, but whichever the case, we had a fun-filled stay in Utah.

Ratings by the Scoop

The rankings are in.  Gelato around Rome and around Italy have been tasted, felt, experienced, and seen, and here’s the results of all those sweet, refreshing efforts.  Each gelato was ranked on five categories weighted in the following manner: Taste (40%), Texture (25%), Color (15%), Ambiance (15%), and Price (5%)

gelato rankings 3

Gelato rankings 1

Gelato rankings 2

First Gelato

Roman Reservations

Roman meal with the fam

While in Rome, I am put in charge of making the dinner reservations for the family. Having had some practice navigating foreign cities and finding places to eat over the last many months, I feel ready for the task. In addition, in my previous visits to Rome, staying with two friends very involved in the Roman cooking scene (both having had worked at restaurants), I am prepared to accept all of their food recommendations.

Here is how the dinners played out in chronological order for our week in Rome.

Ristorante Nino
Via Borgognona 11 (by the Spanish Steps)
+39 06 679 5676

Casa Coppelle
Piazza dell Coppelle, 49 (near the Pantheon)
+39 06 6889 1707

Via dei Giubbonari, 21
+39 06 686 4045
(Only went for appetizers and pasta as we are still full from our cooking lesson at lunch.)

Taverna Trilussa
Via del Politeama 23 (in Trastevere)
+39 06 581 8918

La Pratolina
Via degli Scipioni 248 (semi-near the Vatican)
+39 06 3600 4409

Via dei Giubbonari, 21
+39 06 686 4045
(Returned with everyone to taste more of the menu)

Piazza Dè Ricci, 144
+39 06 686 8717
(Delicious Roman pizza)

Galleria Borghese

Our last day in Rome starts at the Galleria Borghese, a private collection of paintings, sculptures, and antiquities.  Although in these last five months, I have been to many a museum, I still do not consider myself a museum person.  That said, the Galleria Borghese is only two floors with about ten manageably sized rooms on both.  We make a reservation for a two hour slot to view the museum, we are allowed in right on time, and then shewed out after the two hours.  And although the museum may not be enormous, the quality of the art and the artists that are featured in the collection rival or exceed any of the larger exhibitions that I’ve visited.  With its entire room full of Caravaggios to Raphael’s “Entombment of Christ” to its many Bernini sculptures, every room provides an intimate experience with some of the world’s best works, and because the museum is entered on a reservation basis, no single room is ever over-crowded.  Picking a favorite work is a challenge, but I would probably choose Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne”.  This along with so many of the other statues were brought to life by the very well narrated audio tour, which clearly articulates how to appreciate each work.  The gallery’s manageable size, incredible art, and overall intimate feel makes for one of my favorite museum experiences of my trip.

The Meta Church

Rome is old
Rome is new
It’s tale’s fold
As times flew

By this time of the family vacation in Rome, there is a clear morning routine of showering, breakfast, commenting on how lucky we are about the perfectly cool weather, and so on.  For breakfast, Julie, I, sometimes George, and sometimes Mom would go to a nearby cafe for dopios and pastries.  The dopios we drink immediately and then we return to the apartment with the pastries soon after.

Roman Forum

After we figure out a way for all of us to get out of the apartment close to on time, we again meet up with Alessio to tour around ancient Rome.  The idea that these monuments are more than two millennia old takes a little time to register.  In California, if there is a building that is more than two centuries old, it is considered ancient; however that designation requires another order of magnitude of years in Rome.  The coliseum, the pantheon, and the forum are in such good condition despite their age, many still stand tall.  Because the factor of safety in those buildings’ columns is high, the main thing missing from them are materials that have now been “recycled” around Rome in palaces, homes, and the Vatican just to name a couple.

Ancient Rome

After a morning filled with Rome’s antiquities, we explore the Basilica of Saint Clement, which I have renamed Rome’s meta church because it is a church made of churches.  The structure is three-tiered with each tier serving as a religious building in its time.  The bottom tier was home to Roman nobleman with rooms set aside for worship.  The middle tier was a 4th century basilica.  And the top tier, built around the year 1100 is St. Clement’s Basilica.  This is the clearest demonstration that we see during our time of Rome that Rome is a city of layers that have been built on top of each other over the ages.

Palazzo Colonna and the Villa Medici

I have spent a fair amount of time in Rome over the last month, but it is not until today that I realize what I may have been passing on the street.  Behind closed windows and plain facades, some of these buildings house ornate rooms with invaluable art collections.

walking through Rome

Today, we tour the Palazzo Colonna and Villa Medici with Filippo, a fabulous guide introduced to me by Gabe.  The Palazzo Colonna is in central Rome and has belonged to the Colonna family for about 900 years.  In that long history, the Colonna family had a Pope (Martin V) as well as many distinguished family members.  Every generation, the family picks four individuals to reside in the house and monitor its upkeep, and to their credit, the current condition of the palace is immaculate.

We walk through the Colonna Art Gallery, which is a series of rooms that grow in grandness as the tour progresses.  The last room can only be described as overwhelming.  The art, the furniture, the marble statues, the frescoed ceilings, and the chandeliers all create this masterpiece that is the final room of the art gallery.  This gallery is considered one of the largest private art collections in Rome.

After a short walk through the streets of Rome, we arrive at Villa Medici.  The Villa Medici is now property of the French State and houses the French Academy in Rome, which is used as a home for winners of a prestigious art prize.  The villa’s gardens and especially the view they provide of Rome will be my lasting memory from this visit.  Standing literally on the edge of the city, all of Rome is presented before us and we start to piece together all the different sites we had thus far seen.  Not only is today’s tour beautiful in its own right, Filippo and the sites we walk through help provide a context for the rest of our adventures in this historied city.

I also cannot forget to at least quickly mention that Charlotte decided to join us for today’s adventures.  At the young age of only 10 months, she also seemed to enjoy herself when she wasn’t hungry or tired.  Italians love their bambinos (babies), and this was made obvious on several occasions by how the rest of us were treated when accompanied by our newest family member.  Navigating through the supermarket was easier, finding places to sit was easier, getting attention in almost every endeavor was easier.  Charlotte, after all, is pretty cute with all her waving, clapping, humming along cobblestones, and giggling.

Villa Medici

The Vatican

The Vatican

Although in my previous visits to Rome I had been staying just outside the walls of the Vatican, I did not previously venture inside knowing that I would be doing so with my family.  As per usual, I navigate the family to the meeting point with our guide, Alessio.  One big advantage of having a guide is that we get to hop into a much smaller and a much faster queue to enter the Vatican Museum.  Because it is the last week of July and therefore the peak of the tourist season, the regular museum queue stretches around the block, past the corner, and then through a piazza.

The Vatican Museum can easily be overwhelming as there are so many “important works” to see.  Even if one just wanted to see the highlights, there are so many pieces that can be considered highlights to make that an almost insurmountable task.  Initially, our guide indicates that we should skip the painting gallery and go straight to the sculptures.  However, my dad convinces Alessio to quickly run us through it and they compromise that Alessio will point out one, maybe two very beautiful, very influential paintings.  We enter the gallery, and only describing two paintings is impossible because part of the beauty of the paintings is understanding it in context and seeing what came before and what has come after.  Because it seems that many visitors skip the paintings, the family has quality one-on-one time with Raphael’s “Transfiguration”, possibly his last painting.  We will later see this same image in St. Peter’s Basilica except that there it is done as an intricately designed mosaic.  In fact, the mosaic is so intricate that it is only obvious it is not a painting from a foot away.

One unexpected highlight of the day for many of us is the Gallery of Maps.  The gallery includes topographical maps of all of Italy, and they were painted directly on the walls back in the 16th century.  The hall is still one of the world’s largest pictorial map collections.  We all are map people, a trait that is either genetically or environmentally acquired from our dad; therefore, this hall, which receives less recognition than the other exhibits, is a wonderful surprise.  In addition, I have to at least mention that the Sistine Chapel was breathtaking, the frescoes brilliant, and the marble and art exquisite throughout.

As with any guided tour, a big component to the success of the activity depends on the quality and character of the guide.  Alessio does a very good job, and we enjoy that he is also a real life caricature of a “suave” Italian.  He knows all the guards at the Vatican, which we later learn is because he was once a guard there himself.  He wears a nice yet very casual button down shirt with its sleeves rolled up and the two top buttons left undone.  He carries a brown leather messenger bag, rolls his own cigarettes on the go, and has a witty response to most questions.  In addition, he is knowledgeable about the art, the artists, and the sites and all of their significance.  His friendliness with the guards also pays dividends as he is able to give us a little extra time in areas to grab a group photo and he is able to convince a guard to keep a Sistine Chapel side door open long enough so that we can appreciate the private rooms located behind them.  By the end of the long morning, we all feel very satisfied about our Vatican Museum experience.

St. Peter's

The Map Room