Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Italy part 3 - Florence (Firenze)

Tuesday morning we took a “taxi” (which was a boat) to the train station then headed to Florence! We loved seeing the Italian country once we got away from the water. So pretty!

We arrived in Florence in the afternoon, & after finding & checking into our hotel, we headed out to check out the city a little before dinner. (Tuesday was our two-year anniversary so we had planned on going to dinner on our own that night to celebrate.) Florence definitely felt different than Venice – cars on the still-narrow streets, less people, less touristy really. I immediately liked it.

We were walking & turned a corner & saw it – the Duomo (or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore). I had studied this building & knew it was huge, but my jaw dropped seeing it in person. AMAZING!! Huge & gorgeous & so ornate. My favorite building we saw in Italy, by far.

That night Josh & I went out to dinner at Harry’s Bar. Sounds American, but so not. Lots of locals gathered there, meeting friends for a 2-hour long dinner. The food was so good. Josh had a lobster fettucini, & I had veal with pasta & asparagus, & flambed crepe for dessert. YUM! Afterwards we walked around & stumbled upon another building I had studied, the Santa Maria Novella (architecturally famous for its façade). We ended the night with a cappuccino for me & gelato for Josh. Florence was THE best city to celebrate our anniversary!!

Wednesday morning we had a tour that took us through Florence, up to this spot of the best panoramic view of Florence, then to the museum that holds the David (& other Michelangelo pieces). After the tour we went inside the Duomo, then Josh & my dad decided to walk up almost 500 steps to the bell tower of the Duomo. I passed because of my knees, so my mom & I did some walking around & I bought a painting of Florence (that we just got framed, it looks great!) – I haggled the guy down from 20 Euros to 12; I was so proud of myself. J The rest of the day included walking around town, buying scarves at the market, hanging out in the Piazza della Repubblica, & going into the Basilica di Santa Croce.

Thursday, we headed out into the Tuscan countryside for a tour of two wineries! (I made Josh get up extra early that morning so I could go get one last look at the Duomo. Sigh.) Florence is a city within the region of Tuscany, & the two wineries we visited are in the Chianti zone, which is the only place Chianti can be made. Our tour guide was an American who had married a Tuscan woman in the US, but they ended up in Florence, so it was a great chance for us to ask him questions about the differences between Americans & Italians, since he knew both so well (this is when we found out about the whole no-line thing!).

(If you ever go to Tuscany, check out www.tuscantrails.com for the winery tours. We recommend it!)

The Tuscan countryside was AMAZINGLY beautiful. We loved it. We learned a lot about wine & olive oil, & bought some olive oil to bring back with us. We learned that to test if olive oil is of high quality, you drink some, then suck air into your mouth, & the good stuff will make your mouth get real hot & peppery. Not really something you’d want to do often, but it was fun to learn! After the tour, we headed back to grab our stuff & catch the train to Rome.

Summary of Florence: We absolutely loved it. It is a beautiful city, amongst beautiful rolling hills filled with lines of grapevines & olive trees. So many amazing buildings to see, lots of art, the best gelato in Italy (& therefore the WORLD)… what a great city. We really, really want to go back someday.

Side view of the Duomo - it's so big it's impossible to get it all in one picture from the ground

The dome from the top of the bell tower - look very closely to see the people on the top & get an idea of how huge it is!

Santa Maria Novella

Gorgeous view of Florence

Tuscany - picturesque!

Chianti Olive Oil & Wine

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Italy part 2 - Venice (Venezia)

(Pictures at the bottom. To see lots more pictures, leave me a comment & I can email you the link. Assuming I know you :-) .)

Okay, on to Venice. We arrived at the airport then took a boat the size of a small bus over to Venice. We dragged our luggage up & down stairs & through narrow streets for about 30 minutes searching out our hotel. At this point we had basically not slept in over 36 hours so we are all fairly irritable. But we had a yummy first dinner in Italy, then went straight to bed.

What struck me about Venice is that it is exactly the way you see in pictures. The houses on the water, bridges & gondolas, flower boxes & clothes drying on the side of homes… all of it was so pretty. I felt like that again in Tuscany too (but I’ll get to that later).

On the first day in each city, we had a tour in the morning. Our tour in Venice took us through St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) & through the Doge’s palace (Palazzo Ducale). I had studied the palace in my architectural history class (get ready to hear that a lot) so I LOVED seeing this building in person – it was my favorite in Venice. There is a bell tower in the square & twice a year four little people – Josh said it’s Mary & the 3 wise men but I don’t remember – they come out these doors & circle the clock, & that happened to be the first day we were there, & we saw it, while it was the first time our tour guide had ever seen it, & she lives in Venice, so that was cool.

The last part of the tour took us out on a boat to the island of Murano, which is famous for the hand-blown glass made out there. We sat & watched a man make a glass & a horse, & it was really neat to see how talented he was, & how quickly he made such pretty creations. After that Josh starting searching for a Murano glass to buy, but the prices in Venice were too high; he bought one later in Rome so he was a happy fellow.

Our dinner that night was so yummy – I had a thin breaded fish on top of pureed asparagus, with asparagus & goat cheese – oh it was so good! The food there is SO FRESH - it tasted like they had plucked the asparagus out of the ground right before serving it to me. Italians cook very simply – lots of olive oil, fresh foods, herbs, not a ton of fried foods, creams, etc. like we eat.

The second day, we viewed the inside of St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) where Mark’s relics are said to be (we didn’t see where they were, you had to pay to get in that part) – of course, since they lost his remains several times throughout the centuries, they’re not POSITIVE they are his, but they like to say so. J We then walked over to go inside the Ca’ D’Oro, another building I studied in my class, which was a very wealthy man’s home. It is really pretty too. We also toured the Ca’ Rezzonico, another rich person’s home that still has the original rooms intact & some of the original décor.

Here’s a funny story: so, in the Frankfurt airport, we went to this sandwich/coffee stand to get some food & caffeine. We stood waiting for our turn to order, & had a couple of people walk up & totally cut in front of us. Of course we are thinking that is slightly rude, but we are in a different country after all, so we blew it off. The first night we were in Venice, same thing happened as we tried to buy gelato – people walked in after us but walked right up & ordered as we waited. We later found out that Italians (& I guess Germans) don’t do the whole “line” thing – if they know what they want, they walk up & order. If you are standing there, not being assertive to order, they assume you don’t know what you want & get in front of you. Ha! After that we did pretty well at fitting in when ordering, since we knew what to do!

We spent the rest of that day wandering around Venice, which is easy to do with all the streets & bridges leading every which way. We went inside a few churches, ate some pizza & gelato (I had over 10 helpings of gelato the entire time, my mom had 18!), & walked a LOT. Getting away from the super-touristy center of Venice was nice; it was our first glimpse of real Italian life.

Summary of Venice: I liked it because it was our first experience in Italy. But it is a very touristy city, & I feel like going once was enough for us. If we ever made it back to Italy (which I would LOVE), we’d definitely want to go back to Florence. Which was our next stop!

(Click on the pictures to enlarge.)
A View of Venice

The Grand Canal

St. Mark's Basilica

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Italy - part 1 of 5 - the intro

Phew... I just finished writing about Italy! (I can finally check it off my to-do list, yay!). I will post each location separately so you are not too overwhelmed :-) along with pictures.

But first, an intro.


I loved Italy. I loved getting to know their culture, seeing things that were existing when Jesus walked the earth, eating yummy food & drinking SUPER yummy cappuccinos.

We spent a week total in Venice, Florence, & Rome. I think I’ll write about each city, then tell you about some things about Italy… I kept a little notebook with me so I could write down things I wanted to remember, so you’re gonna get it all… feel free to skim through; I don’t expect you to find it all interesting if you have not been there, but this will be our way to remember the trip as well, so I will be doing into fairly good detail. :-)

We flew out of San Antonio & met up with my parents & sister in Chicago, then flew to Frankfurt, Germany, then to Venice. I wrote some things down about Germany, since it was our first impression of Europe:

-German airports have very small bathrooms. Nothing like our twenty-stalled airport bathrooms in the US.
-I had a German cappuccino, & it was very strong! I wasn’t expecting it. (They are MUCH better in Italy.)
-German “calzones” have nothing to do with pizza, but they are flatbread sandwiches with meat & cheese, & a little salt – mine was really good. I definitely prefer German & Italian sandwiches to American… ours are so boring. They have saltier meats, like proscuitto (which is EVERYWHERE, but so expensive here… why?) lots of yummy bread.
-Instead of pretzels on the plane from Frankfurt to Venice, they gave us Milka chocolate! Yumm!
-During our flight I looked out the window & saw the ALPS! They were beautiful! We also flew over London on the way there, & Paris on the way back.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Free pastry next Tuesday at Starbucks... yum. (Click on the link to print the coupon.)

I'm so looking forward to this weekend. We don't have any plans except a wedding tomorrow night (& it's only about 30 minutes away so we can sleep in our own bed... yay for close weddings!). So tonight we are going to have a nice relaxing evening & watch Pink Panther 2. We loved the first one (dancing scene anyone?) so hopefully this one is good too!

I also love love love wedding cake. My mouth is watering now.

I should tell you we also loved Night at the Museum 2. I was not impressed with the storyline for the first bit of it, but the hilarious moments throughout the movie totally redeemed it. Plus, it was in DC so we had fun saying stuff like, "oh, remember that? wait, he would not have walked to the Lincoln Memorial on his way to another museum, duh!"

So, yay for sleeping in & relaxing this weekend. Zac & Cara are coming in next weekend & we are so excited!!! So we are anticipating that as well. :-)

I leave you with something I read in the devo I received today that just happened to come at the perfect time for me:

"You are never more valuable to God than the day you were born."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

the church

Sorry for the lack of posting lately. I think it's because the majority of anything significant going on in my life, anything worth talking about, is all that the Lord has been teaching me or doing in me... & most of the time it is not something I can put into words. He is literally transforming who I am. I find myself reacting to situations differently. More Christ-like. Yes, I am still very much imperfect, still act on emotions or feelings sometimes, but I can see how God is changing me. & I'm amazed.

I just started reading "Christ's Basic Bodies" by Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr. I'm not even done with the first chapter, but I am already loving it. The subtitle is "Embracing God's presence, power, & purposes in true biblical community." Basically, what the church should look like. But not organizationally - which is a point he makes in the first chapter. The church is not an organization. It's not a building, it's not a Sunday morning service, or even programs during the week. It is all believers living in community. Knowing each other in an intimate way, sharing with each other, praying for each other, holding each other accountable, enjoying fellowship together often.

"We must view life from God's perspective. That means rejecting the error that living the Christian life can be a self-centered activity. While Christ personally indwells "called-out ones" (ekklesia) among men, a fundamental act of the Holy Spirit is to sever us from our self-governing spirits & connect us to other members. This forms a body incarnated by Christ."
(Page 24, emphasis mine)

"[A church leader in China] said to his group, 'We have not seen anyone raised from the dead for five months! We must fast & pray!'"
(Page 27)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

mystery meat memories

I just got a McDonald's iced coffee. Nonfat vanilla latte to be specific. I have watched from afar as Mickey D's came out with coffee & marketed it with a vengeance. & surprisingly it stayed around. & I saw people walking around with McCafe cups. Hmm. It's really not that bad. To be critical, it could have less syrup in it, but who knows if that is always the case.

When I unwrapped the straw & saw the red & yellow lines down it, I had childhood memories of chicken McNuggets come to mind. My parents wouldn't let us have McD's often at all (& rightfully so), but when we went to visit my grandparents, we always got Happy Meals. I bet those ground chicken parts are still floating around inside me somewhere.

Josh put in a new sink last week! I am very excited about this. Our sink was NO FUN. It was divided, & the left side was very small & not deep & that was the side the disposal was on, so when we did the dishes water would go everywhere. Since we are now debt-free (we had a small amount of the 'Rolla financed & worked hard to pay it off fast), we are looking forward to investing in updates around the house, & the sink was the first. It is pretty & shiny & divided down the middle & very deep!! He also replaced the disposal, the pipes, & some other fangle-dangle stuff under there. It is very nice to be married to a handy-man. :-)

I bought a BPA-free water bottle today, & ice core inserts, & I am very excited about them. It's the little things, people.