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Christmas in Rome, Italy

15 Feb

This Christmas I was fortunate enough to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Rome, Italy.  My sister-in-law was awarded the Rome Prize this year, which means they had the opportunity to live at the American Academy of Rome for a year.  This is a spectacular villa located in the neighborhood of Trastevere, up on a hill overlooking all of Rome.  This villa, called The Villa Aurelia, was originally built around 1650 for Cardinal Girolamo Farnese.  The rest of the family stayed in an awesome Airbnb, located right outside the city walls.  Airbnb’s are really the cheapest, best option when traveling abroad, especially with larger groups.

Rome at Christmas can be chilly but is a great time to visit because there a fewer crowds at all the main sites.  One thing to be prepared for, which is always something to consider in Rome, is their holidays.  The shops and museums will generally be open with the exception of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the day after Christmas (Santo Stefano), New Years’ Day, and the Epiphany on January 6th.  On Christmas Eve many Roman families are at home enjoying their Feast of the Seven Seas rather than going out.  The Feast of the Seven Seas is a Roman Catholic tradition and in Rome, typically includes eel, anchovies, mussels, and other seafood.  We actually stopped off to pick up our own Christmas Eve fish dinner at the local Prati market.

Prati is a great neighborhood, which borders the Vatican City.  This would be a great place to stay in Rome because it’s a little outside of the city center and much less touristy. Christmas Day you should definitely book restaurants reservations for Christmas lunch beforehand because Romans traditionally go out for a big meal in the afternoon.

Some fun things to do in Rome leading up to Christmas include visiting the Vatican Museum, St. Peters Square on Christmas Day at noon where the Pope delivers his Urbi et Orbi speech, going to Piazza Navona (although the Christmas market was canceled this year),  and watch the symphony at Rome’s Auditorium,  where there is also a Christmas village and ice skating rink set up for the holiday season.  On the day after Christmas, called Santo Stefano, make sure to go to visit various churches to see the presepio, which are nativity scenes.  While the presepio are up all of December, on this day the baby Jesus is unveiled for the first time.

Now let’s talk food.  There’s nothing better than the food in Italy.  Traditional Roman pasta dishes include spaghetti cacio e pepe at Osteria del Sostengo, bucatini all’amatriciana at La Torricella, and spaghetti all carbonara at Antico Arco.

Aside from pasta, other notable food includes carciofi (either prepared Roman-style which is steamed or Jewish-style which is fried), puntarelle (bitter greens), and trippa all romana (tripe).

Other restaurant recommendations include Pianostrada for amazing sandwiches, Trapizzino for sandwiches and suppli, La Piazzetta for pizza and suppli, and Antica Birreria Peroni.



Greece: Athens, Mykonos, Delos, and Santorini

26 Aug

I traveled to Greece during the same trip as Turkey. These are actually two countries to easily combined into one trip. Lots of people doing the Greek Islands and Turkey go down to Ephesus and take a cruise ship or ferry over to the islands. Since I only went to Istanbul, I flew from Istanbul to Athens. Most people I had talked to about traveling to Greece say you barely need a day in Athens because you’ll hate it. I, however, really enjoyed Athens and was bummed not to have spent more than a day there.  To begin, it’s exhausting to try and see everything in one day.  Secondly, there is also a great vibe in the city of Athens.  There are cafes and people everywhere.  The city only begins to get crowded around 9pm, so having dinner at 11pm is completely acceptable.  I would suggest at least spending several days there if you don’t mind crowds and enjoy touring cities.

The Acropolis, especially at night, is absolutely stunning and the Parthenon is everything you expect and more.  IMG_1411To see these sites in person is surreal.  We spent about two hours walking around the IMG_0396Acropolis before walking to the new (although now it’s five years old) Acropolis Museum.  This museum was designed amazingly.  When you walk up to the entrance the walkways are glass so you are able to see below into the city ruins.  The top level of the museum was built to mimic the Parthenon and shows what it would have looked like during it’s time.  Next we went to the Ancient City of Athens but sadly due to the crisis it was closing at 3pm instead of it’s regular time.  I wish we would have been able to spend more time exploring.   We just got to the Temple of Hephaistos before we were kicked out.  This is one of the best preserved temples of its time.03270008

The shopping around the Acropolis and on the main shopping street consists of both what you expect to see in a touristy area and also some really need craft shops.  I bought a tapas platter made of olive wood thinking it was probably way over priced only to find it was actually a great deal compared to shopping on the islands.  We then ate of first Greek salad of the trip, which I would then proceed to have as an appetizer for every meal.  The food in Greece is spectacular.  Everything is amazingly fresh and feels so healthy.

IMG_1472To get to the islands, we took the subway (almost $35 Euros cheaper than a taxi and avoids the massive traffic jams) to the airport and took a 20 minute flight to Mykonos.  If you can afford it, the way to stay on the Greek Island is nice family owned hotels.  I was less impressed with Mykonos than I thought I would be, especially since at one point we were shooed out of a store because we didn’t look wealthy enough!   My Mom did flip him off on the way back home later that night, so either we got our revenge or looked even more trashy than before.  At least it made us feel better!  The islands are definitely pricey and it seemed as though the people were much less friendly.

Struggling to find activities, I decided we should try to catch a ferry to the island of Delos.  What a great idea.  Delos is about 30 minutes by ferry and is an ancient Greek and Roman city began around 3,000 years ago and IMG_1543seized to exist after around 1st century B.C.  The islands has amazing mosaic floors, temple ruins, and the HUGE base for a HUGE statute of Apollo.  You also can hike up to the highest point and see all sides of the island.  This is really worth the trip.

We then took a ferry to the island of Santorini.  I LOVE THIS ISLAND.  There is so much to do on this island and it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen with my own eyes.  We stayed at the Artemis Villas in Imerovigli.  This is a great location because you are walking IMG_0547distance (30 minutes) from Fira, the main town, and it’s a little more secluded.  The hotel had amazing views of the volcano and ocean, which made for breathtaking sunsets.  At sunset each night they provided you a treat.  The first night was cake and champagne, so you really might be in heaven.  I rented a car on the island because it’s big enough you’ll need one to get around.  First we visited the Ancient City of Thera.  My mom and I followed directions and parked our car at the bottom of a giant mountain.  The road (we thought) implied we couldn’t drive up the mountain and we saw some people hiking.  So we began the trek up this VERY steep mountain, the whole time going how do so many people manage this.  Well turns out as most things in Greece, of course you can drive to the top!!!  These are worth seeing and the hike is grueling but great exercise with ocean views the whole way.

Akrotiri is a must do.  These are ancient ruins from 2000 B.C. to 1500 B.C. that were buried under ash and pumiceIMG_1604 from a volcanic erruption.  It is an amazing sight and only show 1/30th of the orginal city.  The whoel site is under a new climate controlled building which is amazing in itself.  When we visited it had only been open 4 months.

Other fun things to do include wine tasting (we went to Gaia Winery located in an old tomato factory right on the ocean), beer tasting at the Santorini Brewery, hike from Oia to Fira (about 6 miles each way), catch an outdoor movie in English at the Kamari Open Air Cinema during the evening, and visit the caldera (the volcano).  If you visit the caldera, make sure to take the donkey ride back up to Fira from the dock.  It is a crazy experience.

Food, the most important.  Like I mentioned before, I had a Greek salad with every meal.  We also would eat by the water whenever possible and have fresh seafood.  In Oia (which is the fancier part of the island), it’s well worth taking the 300 stairs down to Amundi Bay to have dinner or lunch.  The restaurants both have an outdoor oven and freshly caught fish you can choose from.  Another restaurant that’s a must do in Santorini is Naoussa Tavern.  There’s no reservations and always a line but worth the wait.  Plus you can drink wine while you wait!

Overall, Greece is a must.  So much culture, history, and amazing food.  I can’t wait to go back.

Ai Weiwei comes to DC

30 Mar

This spring through next year, the Sculpture Garden-Smithsonian will exhibit a sculpture by Ai Weiwei. Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re going who is this guy? I would first direct you to my Copenhagen at Christmas posting, where I talk about seeing an exhibit for Ai Weiwei at the Louisiana MOMA in Denmark. Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist, who I mostly now know for his sculptures. Ai is currently being held prisoner by the Chinese government for speaking out. His work is definitely out there and outrageous at times, but well worth the visit.