Ravenna’s mosaics

The Elon art history class took a trip to Ravenna today. Though I am not in the art history course, I still wanted to tag along on their adventure (hey, a free bus ride + museum admittance is good with me!). Ravenna is a little city on the eastern coast of Italy, about a 2.5 hour drive away from Florence. It’s famous for being one of the capitals of the Byzantine Empire, and therefore gained the mosaics popularized by the Byzantines. So our bus left from the train station early this morning and we got into town about 10am. Our first stop was the little town of Classe (just outside of Ravenna) to visit the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe which is built where Ravenna’s patron saint is buried. But before going into the church, we made a pit stop at a bar (café) for some cappuccinos. I had a delicious café shakerato (espresso + sugar shaken until foamy). Once we were sufficiently caffeinated (waking up at 6am is tough), we walked into the church and were greeted with the sight of an absolutely beautifully decorated interior.  The mosaics glittered with gold and all sorts of bright colors and created a scene of the apostles and the patron saint. My favorite part of this church were the sheep done completely in mosaics. They were just so fun! Oh also, pretty much all of the windows in the churches today were made not from glass but from the stone alabaster (a nickname my mom calls me)!

After the basilica in Classe, we made our way to the city center of Ravenna and to the Basilica di San Vitale. This church was purposefully rather plain on the outside, but the inside was absolutely covered with a combination of marble work, frescos, and (of course) mosaics. My favorite part of this church: peacocks (symbolizing passion) hidden amongst other forest animals in the ceiling.

Right after this basilica, we entered the Masoleo di galla Placidia. This great little building is kept very dark inside and houses the oldest mosaics in Ravenna.

A little walk through the city later and we found ourselves at the Neonanino Baptistry. It’s a great octagonal building where we found mosaics depicting the baptism of Jesus. Pretty cool!

Dante’s tomb

Our last official stop was to Dante’s tomb before parting for lunch. Dante, as you all should know, was a famous author and credited for being the father of the Italian language as we know it. Apparently, Florentines of the past have tried to steal Dante’s body from Ravenna many times, and now Florence pays to always keep the lantern burning in his tomb as an act of penance.

Then we had free time for lunch. My group invited our professor to join us, and I’m so glad we did! She showed us to a great restaurant that served region specific food. We chowed down on antipasto platters with different kinds of prosciutto and salami to put on warm pita slices. There was a fig sauce and some sort of mozzarella spread. Different but delish! For my main dish, I ordered potato gnocchi that was filled with gorgonzola cheese and topped with some sort of white sauce and crispy prosciutto. It was so filling that I couldn’t even eat it all! Lunch was super fun, and it was really nice getting to hear stories from our professor. She’s really pretty awesome.

After lunch, we made our way over to the Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra. This is a site underneath a little church where they found leftovers from a 6th century house. All that was left were floors (decorated with mosaics, of course) and bits and pieces of the foundation. It was really interesting to be able to see how the actual rooms were laid out.

It was really a lovely day in a beautiful city.

Mosaic flowers

Florence at sunset

Tonight I did as the locals do. A friend and I bought dinner, complete with mini bottles of wine, at a local bakery and took our dishes up the mountain to San Miniato al Mare to watch the sunset. The climb up to our spot was pretty steep, but the views were absolutely worth it. We steaked out spots along the wall next to the church, directly above a cemetery, and started eating! I ate a delicious helping of lasagna, while my friend Sam enjoyed a couple slices of pork and risotto. My lasagna was wild. there were probably around 10 layers of pasta making up the dish! Crazy good! The scenery made the food even better. The sunset was beautiful, and the church was a perfect place from which to watch it. Our surroundings were quiet and calm as the sun ducked down below the Tuscan hills.

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Also, please enjoy the all of the new headers (pictures at the very top of the page)! There are quite a few, and you should get a new one just about every time you come back to this page. All the pictures are taken from various places I’ve visited so far in Italy.

Through the good and bad times

I am pleased to announce that my calendar is exploding with fun things to do just about every weekend until I leave Europe! Ravenna, Montepulciano, Pienza, Munich, Salzburg, Hohenschwangau, Oberammergau, Perugia, Venice, and Rome are all in the works! If you’ve been to any of those cities and have any tips, feel free to email me or leave me comments below!

The blue dome is the synagogue

So anyway, I had planned on basing my blog for today around a little field trip the Elon group was taking with our advisor today, but it was kind of a bust. The Jewish holidays are starting soon with Rosh Hashanah tomorrow, our professor thought it would be a good idea to take us to the synagogue in Florence. There’s only one, but it’s really pretty. You can see it from the Piazzale Michelangelo peeking up through the red rooftops. We walked over to the synagogue from our classroom (our professor is going back to the USA this weekend for a presentation of some sort, and he wanted to tell us to be safe while he’s gone so we were gathered together there). He said he had walked over there earlier in the day. But of course we still get lost. So after a few minutes of aimlessly wandering, we find the synagogue. However, since it’s “the Jewish version of Christmas Eve” (according to our professor) we were not allowed in, or even in the gates leading to the front yard area. We kind of just stood outside with frowny faces as our professor tried to point out the Byzantine architectural aspects of the building. Can’t win them all.

Gates = no entry 😦
At least it looks pretty

Mini (by American standards) stuffed shells

Slow day = blog about food!

Stuffed shells

My Italian class took a field trip to the San Lorenzo market on Thursday to practice our language skills. We were given a scavenger hunt with a list of items to identify and questions to ask the bakers, butchers, and produce people. Along the way, I saw some jumbo pasta shells and was inspired to make baked stuffed shells. So yesterday I went out to the grocery store to find the ingredients to make stuffed shells, but to my dismay, there were no jumbo shells. I guess they’re just an American adaptation on conchigliette (see how the word “conch” is in there?) pasta. Anyway, I was determined to use the ricotta already plopped in my shopping basket, so I made a miniaturized version of stuffed shells!


A bag of conchigliette (I had a lot left over)

A container of ricotta

An egg

Pasta sauce (I used a Barilla tomato with ricotta jarred sauce)

Mozzarella and parmesan to top

white pepper

Cook up your pasta shells and rinse them with cool water to get them cool down quickly. Put a layer of pasta sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Mine was smaller than a 9×12. I don’t know what size it was. They don’t do the whole “inches” thing here… Metric system… Mix a beaten egg with your ricotta and add some white pepper (you could use black pepper, but why ruin the beauty of the white ricotta??) and some parmesan (freshly grated, if you can). Then painstakingly fill each little shell with the delicious mixture, and layer neatly in the dish. Yes. This process takes a long time. It took me an hour. SIXTY MINUTES (For the fortunate people out there who can find the jumbo shells, they’re not quite Italian, but they’ll cut your preparation time down significantly). But just keep stuffing your baby shells until you run out of ricotta, reminding yourself how glorious this will taste when you’re done. Once your little guys have been sufficiently stuffed, add the rest of your jar of pasta sauce. On the top, slice some fresh mozzarella and scatter about (I guess shredded mozzarella would work too, for those of you in the good ol’ USA). Then add some more grated parmesan (all while reminding yourself that Florence beat Parma in soccer 3-0). Stick that sucker in an oven heated to 175°C (350°F) for 40 minutes. By then your kitchen will be smelling so good and you’ll be itching to tear that thing out of the oven. After letting it sit for a few minutes, plop a glob on your plate, top with some more parmesan and chow down!

Loggia dei Lanzi

On a different note:

My public speaking class did speeches again today, this time based on the book The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Burckhardt. Yea, it’s a pretty popular book, and you’ve probably heard about it. Our professor took us out to the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria to give our speeches. It’s essentially an open-air sculpture gallery. The speeches went lovely until we were heckled by a quartet of German teenage boys…

Also if you’re curious, here’s an article written about my class’s meeting with the author of the last book. http://www.elon.edu/e-net/Note.aspx?id=955079 I’m in the picture, all the way on the left!

Milan – Fashion Week

View from the bus

Fashion Week in Milan. We’ve all heard about it, but who ever thought they’d actually go? Well this morning at 8am I set out for this incredible event. I went with a student tour group based in Florence. We pulled out in a double decker coach bus (lots of people wanted to see Milan this particular weekend) and were on our way! It was a little less than a 4 hour ride north through the beautiful Apennine Mountains. The trek was dotted with little hilltop towns (and 4 different Ikea stores).

Milan's Duomo

Upon finally arriving in Milan and hopping off the bus, we were greeted with the gold Madonnina perched atop the giant gothic Duomo. Our tour guide gave us some free time to wander around inside the Duomo. This building took 5 centuries to complete. Thats FIVE HUNDRED years. I had read that earlier when I was doing some background investigation on Milan and didn’t really think it was possible to keep working on one building for that long – and then I went inside. This thing is huge.

Room for 40,000

My research led me to discover that this Duomo was built to hold 40,000 people (the entire population of Milan at the time its construction first started). Our guide kept telling us that it is famous for its stained glass windows. Inside, the windows depict such intricate works of art themselves – and they’re just pieces of cut up glass! Absolutely wild.

Just me and some gothic spires

After lunch (which I will describe shortly), my friend Sam and I decided to climb the steps leading to the top of the building. Let me just say, that was a 6 euros well spent! We were face to face with the beautiful sculptures all around the cathedral. What looks like just a drippy sand castle from the ground transforms into thousands (yes, thousands) of sculptures and spires carved out of marble. It was absolutely incredible. Along the way, I befriended a little Italian man, who I’m assuming was some sort of Duomo historian. He won my heart when he asked me if I was German (and not American). I told him I was German and American (with my limited Italian vocabulary) and then he pointed out some hidden pieces of architecture like a sun and moon located amongst a sea of magnolias. Anyway, this place was magical. Sam and I decided that this is what Paris’s Notre Dame must be like, but probably even prettier (5 centuries!!).

Panchetta e mozzarella panzerotti

So because this is my blog, I must include a snippet on food.  Sam and I were hungry for some lunch. We ended up standing in a really long line for something weird, panzerotti. The line was filled with Milanese people, so we assumed this place was good. It was also populated with young people, so we assume this place was cheap. Luini’s Panzerotti is the Italian’s equivalent of fast-food and is TO DIE FOR. Oh my goodness. I ordered 2 panzerotti that were very different from each other, but both amazingly wonderful. My panchetta and mozzarella panzerotti ended up being a fried bread piece with stretchy mozzarella covering a serving of panchetta. YUM!

Pera e cioccolato

My other panzerotti was a sweet one with a chocolate and pear filling. It was more like a cookie (biscuit) with a weird pear filling, but it hit the spot! We sat down on a curb beside the restaurant (where lots of Milanese people were also sitting) and munched on our lunches. The whole rest of the day we found the Italians with these panzerotti in their hands. So fun! Travel tip – if the line is long, the restaurant probably has some good stuff inside!


After our bellies were full, my tour group marched through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, “a glass covered double-arcade” shopping center filled with fancy names such as Prada and Louis Vuitton.

Spinning on the bull mosaic in the galleria for good luck

The trip through this important galleria was to get to a fashion show we were invited to attend! We got real seats along the catwalk and everything! I just could not believe it! I was at FASHION WEEK IN MILAN and sitting at a fashion show! We saw the Spring/Summer 2012 line for the designer Nenette who is known for beautifully lady-like pieces. Her show, of course, was awesome and an absolute treat.

Sam and I getting our seats for the fashion show

To continue the spirit of high fashion, our group made our way through the fashion district for some serious window shopping. Giorgio Armani. Valentino Garavani. Mario Prada. Dolce and Gabbana. Sound familiar? Thought so. They’re all famous Milanese designers and we got to see their HQ’s.

Nenette's beautiful new line - Spring/Summer 2012

I can’t believe the day I just had. Incredible.

Missoni's store
Prada had the most fun windows

Italian omelette

My roommates are all out of town for the weekend, which allows me to be a little bit more adventurous in the kitchen. Today I decided to attempt to make a version of an Italian omelette!

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I found some beautiful little farm fresh eggs in the grocery store the other day. It’s the weirdest thing because they weren’t refrigerated in the store. No worries, I promptly stuck them in there when I brought them home.

This morning, I filled the silent apartment with sounds from the Italian version of VH1 and went to work!

I cooked up a little pasta (this is also a great opportunity for using up leftover pasta). I used fusilli (cork screws) and added it to a small pot of boiling water, probably just a large handfull of pasta, and added some salt to the water. Nine minutes later, I drained the pasta and plopped it in a small frying pan heated with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. After getting a little splattered with hot oil, I added a glob of pesto and mixed it all together until the pasta stopped cooperating. Once you get to that point, it’s time to add the eggs. I beat together 2 eggs, a glug of milk, and a dash of salt then stuck that in the pan with the pasta which I managed to get to lay flat. This whole process goes very fast. I was not quite prepared. Anyway, I cooked it sort of like a regular omelette. Once it looked good and done, I cut up some mozzarella and stuck it on one half and then attempted to fold over the other half. Then i kept the burner on as low as it would go for the mozzarella to get a little melty. I was kind of surprised how well the thing turned out! It was rather tasty! I recommend it for a brunch, served with a red chianti (though I expertly paired it with a glass of milk). If you cook up this version of the omelette, you’ll be left with a very satisfied belly and a sink full of dishes. Enjoy!


Obligatory photo of the actual game. Florence - violet, Parma - yellow (cheese)

I went to my very first European soccer game tonight, and it was wild! The team is called Fiorentina and their color is viola. Of course, I didn’t bring anything violet to wear, so I had to go shopping for some today. I bought a light scarf that has little purple flowers on it. I wore that over a plain white t-shirt. I also got an official Fiorentina scarf that people hold up and wave during the games. So I was pretty set clothing-wise. We all bought our tickets the day before, right after class, and we got seats in the Fiesole section after the saleswoman asked if we wanted to be in the quiet or crazy area. We chose the crazy Fiesole side known for singing and chanting their way through the game. Hey, we wanted a true cultural experience. Tonight, after braving a bus ride, we were moved along from stadium gate to stadium gate in search of our section, until it became blazingly apparent we were in the right place. Our gate was already crazy. To get through to even the entrance was a series of pushing, squeezing, and praying we’d get to the other side. It made me miss the orderliness of American baseball games. Additionally, we are assigned seats in our section, but no one really goes by them. So we were supposed to be in section 5, but ended up 2 sections over. Even though we were already a half hour early to the game, pretty much all of the Fiesole section was occupied, so we moved to the outskirts. Section 7 of Fiesole ended up be much better for us. I guess it was where the slightly older crowd goes when they become too mature of the craziness, but it certainly was still a fun group of people to be around. The game was Florence vs. Parma (yes, as in parmesan cheese), and Florence ended up winning 3-0! I was happy enough that they scored, much less won the whole thing! What an exciting night!

It’s clear in this video that I can’t figure out what’s more interesting, the actual soccer players or the crowd!

This video is a mini clip of the fans singing the “Fiorentina” song. I guess it’s their equivalent of a fight song? Maybe?

In case you’re wondering, I do actually learn some things here. Today my public speaking class went to an exhibition at a museum chronicling the connection between art and money, vividly portrayed by the Medici family in Florence pretty much buying the start of the renaissance period. Anyway, my class read the book Medici Money who’s author was also the curator of the exhibition. Consequentially, the author was in town and, after some coercion from our professor, agreed to meet with my class, answer some of our questions, and sign our books!

Grocery shopping

Going to the grocery store is always an adventure here in Italy.

First problem: everything is labeled in Italian. Luckily, most items have pictures on the containers, so it’s not a terribly huge problem with most products.

Second problem: all of the good stuff is behind a counter. Therefore to get the delicious cannoli, I have to scrounge around my brain for the words to speak to the girl behind the bakery counter. This is the reason why I have never bought lunch meat because the deli guys are way more intimidating than the bakery ladies.

Third problem: the check out line is always super long and you get rushed through like none other. The cashiers get annoyed when you don’t have exact change and when you take longer than a minute to bag your groceries.

Which leads me to problem four: paying for bags and then having to bag your own groceries. I have gotten around the paying for bags thing by bringing reusable bags, but it’s just so inconvenient carrying those things around!

Fifth problem: groceries here don’t really have preservatives so I have to go to the grocery store just about every other day!

As much of a pain in the butt grocery shopping here is, there is always good food to be had. Even the fresh cooked pizzas hidden behind the bakery counter are absolutely wonderful. Mozzarella is abundant and tasty, no matter what kind you get. And chocolate bars are European (need I say more with that one??).