Traveling through.

Its been a week now since I’ve been back to reality in New York City from Italy. No matter how long you travel and where you go is always going to be a life changing experience. An experience that shapes your perspective and view about life and the world around you. Before I left for Italy, I was living a life that was set in routine. Not that anything was wrong with that but I really was busy during the past year, with working full time and going home to study for my two online classes every semester… and not to mention my ten year old son lived with me full time. I had so many responsibilities and juggling so many things at once, its a miracle I didn’t die from exhaustion! You live, you learn, you do what you need to– to survive.

Coming home was a bit stressful to say the least. I had an open ticket, a standby ticket through a companion pass that I purchased from a buddy of mine who works at an airlines. But it was still 70% cheaper than a normal ticket purchased from New York to Florence and so I was willing to gamble! I ended up visiting two other countries in Europe. First I flew from New York City to Dublin, Ireland– I had a very good friend of mine who now lives there and so I was offered a place to stay and was able to reconnect with my friend that I hadn’t seen in a long time. From there I flew from Dublin to Rome, then took a two hour train from Rome to Florence. So upon flying back home on my trip I ended up buying a train ticket from Florence to Frankfurt, Germany. My buddy had suggested this because I would have gotten stuck in Rome if I had tried to fly on Standby on one of the full flights. So on my last day in Florence I took a train at 10:00 am in the morning and switched through 3 different trains to Bologna to Munich and arriving at Frankfurt at 11:00 pm. Luckily I met a girl on the train who spoke English and German, who I sat next to and had the same exact tickets and destination as me! She was a real life angel that helped me navigate through the different trains, and I had made a good friend.

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This guy had the same idea as me sleeping at the airport.

You’re probably wondering, you could have saved yourself the trouble by making sure you had plans set. But I realized something, I just had to let go of control. Most of the time we all have a tendency to control the situation or the outcome that when things don’t go our way, we end up getting upset. Sometimes there is beauty in letting go. I have been planning everything the last few years of my life, planning six months before that to go on this trip of a lifetime and what was a little adventure anyway? Sometimes you have to gamble and take risks in life, and when I do– I open myself up to great and amazing things. I actually ended up making more friends at the airport than I realized, and there were two Starbucks employees that kept me company and talked my ear off the whole night! It impresses me how many languages they spoke, Dutch, English, French, and German. For a European, that is absolutely the norm to know at least 4 languages. Its pretty amazing. I also met and conversed with a Filipino lady that spoke German, Filipino, and English, she kept me up all night with her amazing stories of living in Germany. By the time we finished, it was 5am and I still had another hour to check into my flight at 8 am. I had stayed up all night at the airport and it was eye opening, an experience I always wanted to have. You can’t be afraid to do something you’ve never done before. You’d be surprised at how amazing the experience can be.

Being able to live in Florence, Italy for two months has been an unforgettable experience– I have changed mentally and emotionally from my busy go go go life in New York City to really enjoying each day living. I really started to appreciate the moment more and really having the time of my life! I’m not going to go into details– but I really enjoyed myself out there. The Italians especially have a much different outlook in lifestyle, they open and work their businesses in the morning and then advocate a siesta during the afternoons, then only to return in the evening when it cools down for dinner. Life in Italy is much more pleasurable as people really do bond over food and wine, they genuinely make an effort to connect with others in a more human way. It was also sort of a blessing that my internet connection both on my international mobile data plan and my wireless at my apartment didn’t work– because it forced me to really set plans with friends after class during the evenings and really call them on the phone instead of texting or emailing them online. I really bonded with my classmates in and out of class time. I think I was missing the connections I’ve had and made growing up and living in California. I hate to say it but New York doesn’t do this for me, as many friends as I have here and the great connections I’ve made– people are way too busy to meet up and hang out at times. I wish for a much more simpler lifestyle at times.

Living abroad really opened my mind up to so many new things. For one, not taking living in NYC for granted. Although I miss California dearly, there are also many great things that this city has to offer. So much history, culture, and the food is just amazing! One thing that I learned from living in NYC and will always take with me forever is the ambition and commitment to keeping a schedule! And learning to stay focused on goals and seeing projects through.

Life is full of self discovery, just when you think that you are done with learning all you can– it takes another turn and the universe shows you something brand new. There are so many different realities, so many ways of being and living life. We just have to see things outside of our own perspective– and when we do this we are offered a major opportunity for growth. We can live and experience many different places, in hopes of showing us that life is not about having a physical place to call home but learning that home is where your heart is. As cheesy as that sounds, it is a truth. No matter where we travel through in life, its never about the destination but the journey of discovering who we are on the inside.

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Last week Plein-air Painting in Florence, Italy.

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Me painting outdoors in Fiesole with curious little onlookers!

As my study abroad program winds down, I can’t believe its been exactly 7 weeks that I’ve been here in Italy. I’m truly grateful for this experience of being able to experience living and studying abroad for something that I love to do. It’s been “eye opening” and a whole lot of connecting back to my heart center. Painting, especially with oil paints has always intimidated me. And when I was in my early 20s I often found myself going back and forth, my patience was always rocked with oil painting. I didn’t have enough patience with myself back then, but now I have a deeper love and appreciation for painting.

After doing at least two paintings a day, four days a week for the last seven weeks has incredibly improved my technique and understanding of plein-air painting. Plein-air painting requires a person to think on their feet and improvise, composing a scene into a small 9×12 or 5×7 quick study allows the artist to narrow in and focus on the beauty of the environment, in regards to color temperature, weather climate, and composition. The most important thing with Plein-air painting is to do quick studies so you can relate what you see and the mood has to come across quickly, we aren’t painting masterpieces or finished work. From the outside studies you can go back to your studio environment and expand upon it to either make a larger and more finished painting from it.

Plein-air painting allows the “seer” to adjust to the environment and scenery, a moment that you feel present in the here and now. 

The impressionists started plein-air painting when tubes of paint were invented and it was easier to transport the paints for use outside. Monet was said to have gotten up at 5 am every morning to paint outside and as the light changed in the morning, he would do 2 or 3 all before noon.  The light tends to change every 2 hours and after noon or mid-day you have to stop because that’s when the light is the brightest and its unbearable to paint outdoors! It’s recommended to paint in the early morning to noon or 1 pm. Or pick up again when the light changes at sunset when there is dramatic lighting. The goal of plein-air painting is to pick a scene that looks like a painting, something simple is beautiful. We’re not painting for exactness. We also have to ask ourselves, what are we inspired by to paint? And the colors that we mix should convey the mood– we’re not always going to come out with the same color of the sky or the building that we are painting in, but to express it in a way that the viewer understands what we are trying to convey.

I am truly happy that I got to experience taking this class in the heart of Florence, it was a magical moment in my life. I have changed from what I’ve learned out here both academically and also learning about the rich history of the Italian people. I really did step outside of myself from being a quiet introvert in the comfort of my own home in NYC to really immersing myself in the culture and language of a different country. I really enjoyed myself out here and had the time of my life! You only live once, make it count. La Dolce Vita.

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Before I got a dark tan!

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Rome in 3 days, Part 3 The Colosseum.

Veni, Vidi, Vici. I came, I saw, I conquered.

Our third day in Rome concluded with a visit to the Colosseum and the ruins of the Roman Forum. The Colosseum is a symbol of Rome, more than 70,000 spectators have sat and been here in its hay day and was originally known as the Flavian Ampitheatre. It was said that on opening day in 80 A.D. that 5,000 wild beasts perished and food and entrance was always free to the public. This was a statement from the Roman government that they controlled the masses, a way for them to not rebel – because they can provide and take care of you, it was a way to set some ground rules. Gladiator combat and staged animal hunts ended by the 6th century and later during the Renaissance it served as a quarry. An interesting fact was that any slave could buy their freedom after 5 years of surviving the games, they were sponsored and medically taken care of by some of the wealthiest families of the time, but also they could die within that time. But no Gladiator took part in the games more than 2 or 3 times a year, they didn’t live in constant risk of death. They were also pardoned or saved by the magistrate, he could also be swayed by the crowd whether the Gladiator’s life should be spared.

Anyway, the whole experience of going to the Colosseum was very exhausting! As it was a very hot day close to the high 90s, it was unbearable heat! Even when we got there at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday, the lines were still pretty long and it was crowded. Luckily, we got a combo ticket for 12 euros that admitted us to the other sites like the Roman Forum and etc. It is advisable to buy your tickets before you get there or you can also pay a little bit extra to get a tour and the line is shorter and quicker. The ruins of Imperial Rome is definitely worth seeing as this is one of the most ancient sites.

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Inside the Colosseum.

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.

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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.

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Vatican City
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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.