Spring Break Part II: Learning the age of Michelangelo

We’ve just finished out first day in Florence after a lovely last day in Venice yesterday. The weather god’s answered our prayers and we were blessed with lovely blue skies and sun as we made our way through the island and continued with a blue skied day here in Florence.

Yesterday was a day of wandering, wrong turns and seeing what we could discover down random little alley ways. We walked through the Jewish Ghetto, which was of the more beautiful palazzos we had walked through in all of Venice. I still continue to be amazed by the whole concept of using boats for all transport but I guess it works for them. 20120415-214433.jpg

After another pizza for lunch, we found a gelato place that had celery ice cream. It was so delicious! You might think it would have no taste given that celery doesn’t really taste like anything, but I kid you not,it taste just how celery should taste if frozen form – deliciouso!

As for museum stops, we went to Ca d’Oro, which was a former palace right on the Grand Canal full of lots of renaissance artwork and sculptures. The marble architecture of the building was so beautiful. We also went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection which is a lovely little modern art collection that Peggy collected throughout her life. She lived in Venice until her death and donated the house as a gallery in her will. As expected, she was quite the socialite and was said to have had affairs with Samuel Becketti and Max Ernst. Like the Ca d’Oro, the house had an amazing view onto the Grand Canal. 20120415-214714.jpg

I would have to say that Venice was a wonderful and memorable way to start our trip. I loved getting to the north of the island, away from all the tourists and seeing what residential life is actually like on the island. I can’t really imagine living on the island full time, but I guess someone has to cater to all the tourists 😉

After only 8 hours in Florence, I feel like we’ve more than we will see this entire trip. Honestly, anything after the David seems almost sad in comparison. I think that the David has been one of the most impressive things I have seen since being in Europe. You see the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, etc… yet somehow the almost always manage to underwhelm. Not so with the David. It lived up to every expectation that I had and beyond. Truly a highlight. In addition, we learned that Michelangelo was a mere 26 years old when he carved this master piece – feel inadequate much? 20120415-220721.jpg

In addition to the David, we passed the Duomo, but didn’t go in yet as it was about to close. We also went inside the Basilica di Santa Croce, where Michelangelo and Galileo to name a few are buried. I’m still constantly impressed by the basilicas here which are so beautiful and so different from the cathedrals in France. 20120415-220714.jpg

20120415-220703.jpg

The day ended with some more strolling around and scoring some free wine at a restaurant that caters to students. It was really a wonderful first day in Florence and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.20120415-214748.jpg

Starting Spring Break: Venezia

Spring break time!!

Yes, I know, it’s the end of April already but for some reason NYU Paris seems to think that this is the perfect time for a two week break so that we can come back and have 10 days of school until the end of the semester. It’s pretty crazy in my opinion but I don’t have any say in the schedule making.

Anyway…it has been a long awaited spring break and at last this morning, my friend Jess and I touched down into rainy Italy. I have never been to Italy (unless you count one run down a ski slope on the border of Switzerland) so I’m really excited to be here officially for the first time. I figured I’d try to update the blog as we go along every few days or so instead of writing up some big posts at the end. Unfortunately the pictures will only be iPhone quality, but don’t you worry, I’ll have some better camera shots upon our return. 20120413-222909.jpg

Getting into Venice was easy as pie (or should I say pizza pie?) from the airport. Venice is composed of many islands with the main one beings famous for its snaking canals and gondola boats. We are staying right off the main island on Guidecci in an adorable little guest house. All we had to do was jump into the water ferry and we were here! Unfortunately it’s been pouring rain all day and there doesn’t appear to be any let up in the forecast, but we’re trying not to let that keep us down. 20120413-222701.jpg

Everything is Venice is accessible by boats, which is amazing!!! You just pop on and off the boats like you would a bus or metro. There are no cars allowed on the main island, so boats are really your only option in addition to walking. As cliche would have it, the gondolas are everywhere, with men standing on every street corner trying to get you to buy a ride. Somehow I don’t think we’re going to pony up the 50 euro, but they are fun to look at. I still don’t quite get how they move with such a tiny little oar. 20120413-222138.jpg

20120413-160536.jpg

We went to Basilica San Marco this afternoon, probably one of the most famous destinations in Venice. I’m still amazed by how different the architecture of cathedrals varies from country to country. From the gothic cathedrals in France to the grande churches in London, the Basilicas here are much more colorful, decorated with millions of tiles depicting different biblical scenes with lots and lots of gold! The marble used out front is just stunning. Standing in front of the Basilica San Marco, even with all the tourists milling about was amazing.

20120413-160340.jpg

20120413-160529.jpg

Of course what post would be complete without a food update. Keeping it light for lunch, we just had some sandwiches, but I had the most amazing gelato in the afternoon. It’s no joke the the Italians know what they are doing in that department. After an afternoon nap (we were up at 5 this morning) we did some more wandering before getting, yes, you guessed it some pizza!!!! And then even more gelato. I think I can say that Italian GROM puts my beloved upper west side GROM to shame.20120413-221917.jpg

20120413-222504.jpg

First impressions of Venice – beautiful and colorful, although PACKED with tourists! I heard French, German, Chinese, etc… I guess this is only to be expected in all european destinations, so I’m trying not to let it mar my experience and rather am accepting that I to am a raincoat wearing, camera toting, guidebook reading tourist myself.

A Walkabout in Londontown

After a trip that started with a customs officer accusing me of having a fake passport and witnessing just about every shade of weather that the UK has to offer, I’d say that my first trip to London was pretty successful. Yes, as I made my way through security at Gare du Nord on Friday morning, that officer was flipping through my passport and looked me straight in the eye and told me it was a fake. I was freaking out for a moment but realized that that was ridiculous because I knew for a fact that it wasn’t fake. All I could think in the moment was “dear god just let me go through,” but I realized two seconds later that this guy was clearly a nut case as how could I be an American with a French visa and make it through so many rounds of security with a fake passport? Anyway, after that little debacle, I made it safely on to the Eurostar and under the chunnel to grand old London town.

As soon as we arrived, we jumped into a taxi and went to Jess’s parents apartment in Kensington, right next to Kensington Palace, where William and Kate live 🙂 (I was hoping for a meet-and-greet, but alas, no luck). I think traveling with friends who have parents in the final destination is really the only way to go. It was so nice to come home each night to a home cooked meal and having people around who knew all the ins and outs of London so I was a lost tourist for one moment while I was there.Friday Jess and I took a tour bus around town, which was a wonderful way to see the whole city. Yes, I know you’re thinking that’s the biggest tourist trap in the book and I fully own up to making fun of people who do them in New York, but it was really really fun and a great way to see all the sites that I had never seen before. I was very confused when we got to the Tower Bridge and I discovered that it was painted blue. I kid you not that in all the years of seeing pictures of British landmarks, I had never noticed that it was blue. Jess assured me that, much as I thought it wasn’t true, it had in fact always been blue like that. Guess you learn something never everyday!

We stopped around Trefalger Square where we happened upon an epic rendition of a Passion Play just in time for Good Friday. Nothing quite like seeing a 50 foot projection of a bloody Jesus while walking past the National Gallery for the first time. We were blessed with beautiful weather on Friday, so we took the afternoon walking around downtown London and around Buckingham Palace. (No sighting of the Queen – sorry to disappoint ;))You can tell that this city is in full on preparation mode for the Olympics that are only a few months away as there were countless construction projects going on and many signs that were announcing that countdown to the start of the games. After a few trips on the tube, which was pretty packed, its hard to imagine how packed the city is going to be when the whole world descends upon it in July, but I’ll leave that to the city organizes to sort through.One of the best places that we visited was Bouroughs Market, a wonderful food market that was not to far from the Globe theater. They had so many different fresh fruits and veggies, along with cheese, bread, oils, spices, and tons of prepared foods as well. I got a bottle of the most amazing truffle honey and ate some delicious salted fudge. I would highly recommend Bouroughs Market to any food lover. As we watched Bridget Jones later that evening, it turned out her apartment in the film is right next to the market and we had actually walked past it earlier in the day. Who would have known! Our next stop was Camden Market, which is an eclectic indoor/outdoor market that has a St. Marks/Craft Fair/Flea Market type feel to it. It reminded me a lot of the Marche au Puces in Paris – hand crafted goods, alongside antiques, alongside awful Chinese import clothing. They did have the most amazing rave store where everything glowed in the dark and they had costumes that were straight out of the Jetsons. I was almost run over by some buses more than a few times as the whole concept of looking right first as opposed to left was still new to me. 

Sunday was our museum day. Well, it was actually Easter, so what better way to start the day than a stop in at St. Paul’s Cathedral for a mass? Most churches you have to pay to enter in London, but on Sunday, all are welcome to worship, and since this was Easter Sunday there was a huge mass going on. I don’t think I’ve really been into such a huge cathedral like that without actual services going on. As a little innocent Jew, it was fascinating to see. We tried to get into Westminster Abbey, but with the rain, the line and 16 pound price tag, we figured it wasn’t really worth. Something to look forward to next time! 

After our morning mass, we made our way across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern, where we were whisked right in thanks to Jess’s moms patron card. We saw a Damien Hirst exhibit and a Yayoi Kusama exhibit – both amazing and highly recommended. Hirst does some very interesting things that involve rooms full of butterflies, dead cows heads and sharks suspended in formaldehyde. Crazy to say the least. From the Tate, we made our way to the National Gallery, seeing some classic British, impressionist and Titan pieces. After our first day in Trefalger Square with the Passion Play going on, it was nice to walk around and see it a little less crowded.Monday morning, our last day in London, we went to the Royal Academy of Arts to see a David Hockney exhibit on its last day. Once again, thank god for Jess’s mom, who is dutiful patron of the arts and took us straight to the front of the long snaking line. I had never heard of David Hockney before but was utterly amazed by his work. He uses the most vivid and bright colors in his landscapes and has recently taken to doing almost all his artwork on his iPad. Quite cool, no?

I don’t think any visit to London would be complete without a trip to Harrods. Reminding me quite a bit of Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s, Jess and took our time pa-rousing the 1000 pound shoes and 2000 pound chihuahuahs. (No joke, they were selling dogs for over 2000 pounds). Needless to say, I bought a little pencil pound for 3,50 – likely the cheapest thing in the entire 5 story building. 

London was really a highlight of my semester. Staying with Jess’s family was wonderful. Having a home cooked meals (and seders) and an entire apartment to come back to at the end of the day can’t be beat. London reminds me a lot of New York, even more so than Paris. It’s full of people, full of activity, full of life all the time. The streets are constantly crowded, but it still felt manageable. Even with four days, I felt like I just saw the tiniest slice of what the city has to offer and I am eagerly anticipating a return trip soon!

Passover Treats

It’s that time of year again – out with the baguettes, the croissants, the pain au chocolat, in with the matzohs, brisket and macaroons. Somehow giving up these leavened confections seems to much more difficult here in France, but luckily for me I’m headed to London for the first 4 days of Pesach, so I won’t be tempted too much. 

I have never been to London before. Actually, I’ve never been anywhere in England, so when my friend Jess invited me to her home in London for seder, I was thrilled! London is one of those places that I’ve always assumed I would go to but never set my mind on going. Now that I’m finally headed across the channel, I’m really starting to get excited. While I won’t be able to do all my usual culinary samplings because of Passover, I’d say it’s fortunate I’m not coming to Paris for the first time, as missing out on all the boulangeries here would be just sinful.  

All London is straight out of a Harry Potter film, right? 

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorite Passover recipes. Hopefully I’ll be able to whip something up before I hop on the train Friday morning or maybe I’ll be able to make something when we arrive 🙂 I’m going to head down to the Marais in a little bit (the Jewish section of Paris) to see what treats they might have on sale now! And I’m sure I’ll have a full update on London next week!

My award winning macaroons 

An easy flourless chocolate torte

Lemon meringue pie

And probably my favorite recipe at all (that I never get around taking pictures of) Caramel Matzoh