Rome in 3 days, Part 2 Villa Borghese and other sightseeing.

The second day of our Rome trip was exhausting! We saw and did too many things! The first thing we all did was a class field trip to Villa Borghese! Which by the way you have to make an appointment before you go there! This park is Rome’s largest, this villa was built for Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1615 for the purpose of showcasing his fabulous and amazing antiquities collection. Among them are Bernini’s famous sculptures of Apollo and Daphne, David, and the Rape of Proserpine. They also house some of Caravaggio’s paintings including his famous “David and Goliath” which was actually a present to the Pope of Rome begging him to pardon his exile for killing a man. Caravaggio was 37 when he passed away in exile, before the news could reach him that he was allowed to come back to Rome.

Other things we did and saw:

1) The Pantheon – One of Rome’s ancient buildings and best preserved monuments, it was built by Hadrian in 120 AD.

2) The Capuchin Crypt – beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione on the Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini. Be advised: You need to cover your shoulders and knees, dress code is enforced as it is considered a holy place.

3) Giolitti – By far the best Gelato I’ve tasted in all of Italy! Very famous indeed! I tried the Bailey’s Irish Cream flavor, so delicious.

4) Piazza de Barberini – The 17th century Palazzo Barberini is here and was the residence of Rome’s leading art patron, Pope Urban VIII. A great place for local art being displayed by artists, as well as some restaurants etc. The Fontana del Tritone is also located in this area.

5) Open Baladin – Where we ate for dinner, American style food and craft beer! I ordered the Chicken burger, a must try with their house beer!

6) Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna – Houses neoclassical and romantic paintings, their collection is worth seeing as there are tons of landscapes and cityscape paintings as well.

7) Fontana di Trevi – Famous fountain with sculptures of mythical sea creatures and cascades of splashing water. The fountain is the world’s most spectacular wishing well, make a wish for fun! I’d suggest going at night when it’s lit up, it’s kind of amazing! But be prepared for the hundreds of tourists also standing around near the area. Keep your belongings close to you!

Other noteworthy eats in Rome (list from one of our instructors who’ve visited Rome several times before.)

  • Sora Margherita – Jewish ghetto, great lunch, try the fried artichoke.
  • Ristaurante Vecchia Roma – Jewish ghetto, romantic dinner, great outdoor seating but expensive!
  • Bartaruga – Jewish ghetto, undiscovered wine bar, turns into a party spot in the late hours.
  • Trattoria Da Lucia – In Trastevere, cheap eats, try the spaghettie all gricia.
  • Bir and Fud – Trastevere, best mushroom pizza.
  • Piperno – Jewish ghetto, Highly recommended.
  • La Nova Cappanina – Restaurant near Pantheon in a quiet alley, great mom and pop restaurant for lunch.
  • II Portico restuarant – Near Piazza Della Cinque Scola, good spaghetti alla pecorino e pepper.
  • Sabatini – On piazza Santa Maria Trastevere, more expensive and fancy.

Other Places we didn’t get to see that are worth seeing:

The Spanish Steps, Sant’ Ignazio Church, Keats-Shelley Memorial House, Palazzo Doria Pamphili, Sant’ Andrea della Valle, San Clemente, Piazza della Republica.

Villa Borghese

Rome in 3 days, Part 1 Vatican City.

My class and I went on a three day trip to Rome last weekend. I have to say that I don’t think we had enough time to explore everything but we did end up seeing quite a bit of the main attractions that Rome has to offer. First off, no trip to Rome is ever complete without a visit to Vatican City. We stayed at a hotel called Residence Candia on Via Candia which is just a few blocks outside of the Vatican walls. We ended up touring the Vatican for three hours!  Vatican City is literally a tiny walled city inside of Rome, an independent city-state. That blows my mind.

The Vatican is ruled by the Popes, it is the seat of the world’s Catholicism. It has some of the greatest architectural achievements of the Renaissance. A word to the wise: You must wear appropriate clothing that covers the shoulders and knees upon entering, dresscode is strictly enforced. The Sistine chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica is considered a holy place. That means for ladies wear scarves and long skirts! But boy is it hot!

Main Attractions:

Basilica di San Pietro – The largest church of Christendom, it covers 18,000  square yards, extends 212 yards in length, and carries a dome that rises 435 feet and measures 138 feet across. Inside the chapel is Michaelangelo’s famous sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus after the crucifixion called the Pieta. Emperor Constantine built this church in AD 319 over the site of St. Peter’s tomb. (Shocked that I was getting good signal on my internet data plan on my phone inside the church! A friend made a joke about the cardinals and priests there being addicted to the their social media! Sure enough I tweeted a photo of Vatican City and a cardinal from Rome favorited it! Too funny)

The Grotte Vaticane – in the basilica contains the tombs of John Paul II and St. Peter’s. The Stanzi di Raffaelo – Rooms decorated with biblical scenes by Raphael.

Musei Vaticani – The Vatican palace is the papal residence since 1377, estimated at 1400 rooms, with chapels and galleries. The main attraction here is the Sistine Chapel and the ceiling was painted by Michaelangelo. He worked on the ceilings alone for 4 years, which he stood on scaffolding and painted up! The painted ceiling tell creation stories of Adam and Eve, the temptation and exclusion of paradise, and the stories of Noah and the arc. He was considered a special man during his time since he lived until he was 90 and in those days people died young. The frescoes are also a must see as Raphael’s famous frescoe “The School of Athens” was painted on one of the walls of the Vatican Palace, he was 26 when he painted this and died at 37. The Italians thought it was a miracle that all theses geniuses were born during this time.

Castel Sant’ Angelo – For hundreds of years this fortress guarded the Vatican. According to legend it got its name during the black plague in 590 when Pope Gregory had a vision of an angel sheathing its sword atop the stone ramparts. Originally this was built as a tomb for Emperor Hadrian in AD 135.

Vatican City
Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

Roadtrippin’ in Montepulciano and Paciano, Italy.

Montepulciano is about 2 hours away by car south of Florence. My painter friends and I decided to get away from the busy touristy city of Florence and explore the Italian countryside last weekend. Which of course included laying out by the infinity pool and wine tasting! We rented a tiny Volkswagen from Europcar, packed a backpack and set off to the Italian countryside for three days!

Montepulciano is a medieval and renaissance hill town, there is evidence that its been in existence since the 4th or 3rd Century B.C. Wrap your head around that for a second. Wow. Its definitely one of the most beautiful ones I’ve been to– I’d have to say this is my favorite! Its a really high hike though, you’ve been forewarned! But it is totally worth it, because once you get to the top the view is strikingly beautiful! If there’s anything important you need to know about this town is that it is known for the best food and wine in all of Italy. Its famous for its wine more than anything, noteably the Vino Nobile- a red wine that is absolutely tasty. I’m not sure if you can get this wine in the states but roughly it costs 20 euros a bottle, which is around 25 USD.

We also had lunch at the Osteria del Borgo restaurant at the very top of the hill, its quite delicious! A must try if you’re visiting Montepulciano!

Pics of  the villa we stayed at in Paciano. If you’re curious about staying here, you can find more info here through their facebook page. Click here.  There are about three different properties you can pick from and the owners were very lovely and accommodating. It was a very peaceful and relaxing time in the Italian countryside.

Cortona, Italy

Cortona, Italy was one of the very first hill towns we visited during my second week studying abroad here. I’ve been meaning to blog and write about each of the towns, but I have been busy being outdoors plein air painting! I get home after a long day of hiking and I am so tired that I’ve been taking naps in the afternoon and then going to the studio at 7-10 to work on my paintings at night! What a hard life! Haha. I wish this was my real life =( But reality awaits me in the next few weeks when I get back to New York and assume my position as a Designer/Marketing Manager.

Anyway, Cortona is a small but fascinating city in the province of Arezzo and its cyclopean walls reveal its Etruscan origins. The architecture is medieval with steep narrow streets as you can see from the photos I took below. What’s interesting is that there a few famous people that were born and lived in Cortona, among them was Brother Elias Coppi, the companion of St. Francis of Assisi. Also. Vicar-General of the Franciscan order- Cardinals Egidio Boni and Silvio Passerini. The painter Luca Signorelli and the architect and painter Pietro Berretini as well.  I was bummed out that my plein air painting group didn’t have much time to explore the city since we had brought our painting equipment and easels, so we spent most of the day painting landscapes just outside of the city walls.

But here is a list of the main sights that we got from our school:

1) Via Jannelli – Medieval houses on a short street are some of the oldest that survive Italy.

2) Museo Diocesano – This museum contains a few masterpieces and among them are Fra Angelico’s Annunciation and a roman sarcophagus featuring lapiths and centaurs which was much admired by Donatello and Brunelleschi.

3) Duomo – The cathedral was designed by Giuliano da Sangallo in the 16th century.

4) Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca – Contains a number of major Etruscan artifacts, including a unique bronze chandelier dating from the 4th century B.C. and a number of Egyptian objects.

5) Palazzo Comunale – Built in the 13th century and enlarged in the 16th century to to incorporate the distinctive tower.

6) San Francesco Church – Built in 1245 Brother Elias native of Cortona who succeeded St. Francis as leader of the Franciscan Order.

7) Piazza Garibaldi – Located at the edge of town, it offers superb views of the landscape and of the beautiful Renaissance church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinato.

8) Via Crucis and Santa Margherita – The Via Crucis is a long uphill lane with gardens on either side, leading to the 19th century church of Santa Margherita, was laid out as a war memorial in 1947.

9) Fortezza Medici del Girifalco – The fort was built by Gabrio Serbelloni, an excellent example of 16th century military architecture.

Plein-air Painting in Florence, Italy.

Plein-air painting is such a sport!

“Plein-air” is a French term that means quite simply “open air” or used to describe the act of painting outdoors.

Where do I even begin to talk about this? I’m taking a summer abroad program where we set up and paint our easels with the class in different locations around Florence. Florence has such beautiful sceneries to paint and there are always amazing things to paint. But, we are lugging around our heavy outdoor easels that weigh anywhere from 10-15 pounds along with our art supplies and hiking up and down Florence! I’ve literally been feeling hunger, feeling like I’m not satisfied by what I’m eating because I’m always walking and moving around!


Hey its me! No joke! I have to make sure I put on bug spray (I have Deet 100 from REI) and sunblock before I leave in the mornings. A hat is so necessary, we don’t know if we’re going to get a shady spot to paint, or sometimes the lighting changes significantly as the day goes. The easel is called Craftech Plein Air Easel which I bought online for  $101.99 through Madison Art Shop.  I also have oil paints and brushes, a thin board with a handle to carry the wet painting home– as well as all the necessary paint gear like turpenoid, linseed oil, and some 9×12 canvas paper, paper towels,  and I have a disposable palette that I just toss at the end of the day. We do about two paintings a day. Or we can sketch the second one. Its really a great experience being outdoors and drawing what you see.

Sometimes we’re at the Ponte Vecchio bridge, the Boboli Gardens, Piazzale Michaelangelo, or at different Piazzas around the city. Every thursday we go on a field trip to different cities and its optional to bring our easel or we can walk around to take photos and sketch. We’ve been to Fiesole, Cortona, San Gimignano, and will still go to Lucca and Siena in the next few weeks. Having the experience walking around the city everyday has given me a sense of space and dimension and I am starting to see things in a different perspective. You have to walk outside to really experience the details in the architecture and buildings, and also being able to tell the difference in lighting at different times of the day. For example in the mornings, the light is lower to the ground. But then after noon it peaks and is much higher and a bit brighter. I usually notice the difference when my shoulders start getting burned! And then at the point its time for lunch or a new afternoon location around the area!

My first week’s paintings weren’t too impressive, but now I’ve noticed I’m starting to compose my background paintings a bit better. There also simple rules and guidelines that we follow when composing a painting. I won’t go into depth but the basics are too have a foreground, middle ground, and background. Then having a focal point or area of interest where the light is and having a contrast between the values. The rule of thirds is also important because of the way you divide up the canvas, the horizon line can’t be too dead center– or it can become boring and uninteresting. Its either better to have a higher or lower horizon.

Here are a few that I was able to remember to photograph! I will need to scan the rest of them soon! But, none o f these pieces are too finished since we are working on a 9×12 sized canvas paper and the goal of plein air painting is to have loose sketch paintings to convey the mood and weather of the location.




Omg! I went to Venice with my school and classmates for the very first time last weekend. I’m sad we were only there for 3 days, but we did a lot of exploring and walking around. Shopping at San Marco, going to the Biennale and the Ca’Pesaro museum to see an original Klimt and Sorolla painting. And seeing Peggy Guggenheim’s amazing collection of paintings and sculptures. Wow. It is breathtakingly beautiful! And the city feels very peaceful and quiet without cars and vespas! Its a fairly small city that you can mainly get around by walking or taking a water bus or water taxi. Or a Gondola ride! It is their tradition passed down from generation to the next. But damn, imagine a city surrounded by water– it is absolutely calming. I’m still in awe, what a magical place. I hope you enjoy my photos!