Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pompeii, Italy

On the way down the coast of Italy my tour group stopped in Pompeii to take a tour of the ancient city. Located at the base of Mt. Vesuvius the city is famous for how well it was preserved after the volcanoes eruption in AD 79 burried the city and most of its inhabitants. Today you can see the way ancient Romans lived by walking in to old storefronts, baths, homes and even brothels. The frescos on the walls have been well preserved and even plaster molds of bodies can be seen.

As is true with most touristy and well known places around Italy I found it rather underwhelming. The history of the city and how well it was preserved is fascinating but the surrounding area of Naples was filled with tourist hamburger shops and overall is the type of place I try to avoid while travelling. I would recommend it to visitors who have time to explore all of Italy but I would never suggest someone in a rush to see the south to take a day to stop in Pompeii.

Villa Lante

As a class, my entire abroad program visited Villa Lante with one of our landsape architecture professors from back at school who was in Italy for spring break. We toured the grounds and had a quick lecture outdoors in the gardens. Villa Lante is a "mannerist garden of surprise" in a small town about an hour north of Rome. Historians can't always agree about who designed the grounds but most attribute the design to Jacopo Barozzi di Vignola who was famous for his work with gravity fed fountains.

The grounds are organized in to three perfect squares that begin at the top of the hill and move downwards toward the Casini. Each garden becomes brighter and more open as they move down hill until the visitor is opened in to a vast formal garden drenched in sunlight. The experience was meant to represent Ovid's metamorphosis on the fall of man. I don't know enough about the mythology used for inspiration on the garden but I enjoyed them nonetheless and did a quick watercolor on site to try and show the darkness in the higher levels.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Le Cinque Terre, Italy

This past weekend I made a long four day trip to the Cinque Terre or "Five Lands" on the Italian Riviera. We took a quick train from Rome to La Spezia, one of Italy's largest commercial harbors and then took a short regional train ride to Riomaggiore. We stayed in an amazing bed and breakfast in the heart of the town with the first real beds we've found. We woke up the next morning after a great sleep and hiked from Riomaggiore, the southernmost town to Monterosso al Mare. Along the way we stopped in the small villages of Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza. The land in between the small villages is almost entirely national park with a few vineyards in between.

The region is known for their white wine and seafood. After each long day of hiking we stopped to have a long traditional Italian dinner. By ordering the local specialities I got the best seafood of my life. The first night I ordered a Grilled Sea Bass, and I got the whole thing. Head, eyeballs and everything! It was delicious and we finished the meal with a Nutella Tiramisu. The most amazing desert I've had and I am now committed to finding it in Rome. 

The best food we found was in Manarola, the next town over from where we stayed, and one of the only towns still open. Because of extreme flooding and mud slides this past October many of the other towns are partially closed. The town of Vernazza got the worst of the storm and many of the damage is still visible, including a crushed Fiat in the town harbor. Luckily, this didn't deplete from the beauty of the region and we were still able to see the amazing seaside architecture built into the valley walls along the coast. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Watercolor of Villa Giulia

I know that my last post was also about Villa Giulia but I just finished another watercolor of the building, but this time it is a front facade elevation. I inked over the watercolor with a very fine pen to clean it up a bit and make each line appear more defined. I've been doing a lot more watercolor in my sketch book recently and I've been improving with each try. I think I will try a perspective landscape next to move away from the technical style of an architectural elevation.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Villa Giulia

This morning my architecture class visited Villa Giulia which is located outside the original city walls. Built in the 1550s for Pope Julius III, the main villa and gardens are an incredible example of Mannerist architecture. We walked around the gardens and drew the properties layout and mapped out the proportions. I decided to demonstrate the proportions and layout using a cross cut axonometric drawing which I later water colored in my apartment. I really enjoyed the Villa and will try to visit some other similar buildings in the near future.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Venice, Italy

This weekend I traveled north to Venice with my roommate. We stayed in a great, and cheap, hotel which was centrally located making it easy to see the entire city by either foot or water bus. There are no cars in the city since most streets are only a few feet wide and constantly cross canals using narrow pedestrian bridges. Boats are the primary mode of transportation for visitors and locals alike. We mostly used the water buses to get around since water taxis were pricey and the famous gondolas are mainly reserved for romantic trips without a destination.

We saw many of the main tourist sites during our time in the city. We saw the main church, the Basilica di San Marco, the Doge's Palace next door and then we climbed to the top of the Campidoglio that looks down over the entire city of islands. However, the most impressive parts of Venice for me were the less touristy destinations that we accidentally discovered. Upon boarding the wrong water bus we ended up on a new island where we discovered and a deserted church in which we ascended the bell tower to look back at the city of Venice. The views were incredible and much more enjoyable than the over crowded Campidoglio.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Milan, Italy

On the way to Locarno we stopped in Milan for a few hours to see the sites. We took a take from the train station to the main square where we saw the Duomo di Milano and the main shopping Arcade. Both were very impressive. The Duomo di Milano, or Cathedral of Milan, was built over a course of six centuries. The first stone was layed in 1386 and was completed in 1812 by order of Napolean. The cathedral is one of the biggest cathedrals in the world and the most impressive in Italy.

The main shopping Arcade is a more modern building that connects two major thoroughfares. The gallery hosts stores such as Louis Vitton, Armani and even McDonald's. The center of the gallery is covered by a massive glass and steel framed dome while the main roads are covered by glass vaults that keep the shoppers warm and dry. It was very busy and seems to be a much more succesful arcade than the one I visited and sketched in Rome.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lake Maggiore

In addition to hiking mountains and attending Carnivale in Locarno we spent some time down by the water on Lake Maggiore. The water was crystal clear and reflected the snow capped mountains off in the distance perfectly. It looked pretty cold but I would love to return in the summer. People were rowing crew on the glass like lake surface while fisherman brought their catch into the city harbor. It seems unfair that one city would get the best of both worlds; a beautiful lake with palm trees beside amazing mountains that reach beyond the tree line. But besides the lake's beauty there isn't much to talk about so I'll let the photos do the rest.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Locarno, Switzerland

This past weekend I traveled to Locarno, Switzerland from Rome. On our journey we stopped for a few hours in Milan and saw the sites and then carried on to Lugano where we switched trains. Locarno is a picture perfect Swiss village at the foot of Mount Cimetta along the shores of Lake Maggiore. Our hotel was situated in the heart of the city in Piazza Grande and from there it was an easy walk to the shores of the Lake or to the tram that heads up the mountain.

Cimetta, which stands at 5,482 ft, has incredible panoramic views of the surrounding lakes and mountains. However, despite its elevation, it was surprisingly easy to get to. We took a mountain train to a tram from the village of Orselina to Cardada and then took a chairlift to the summit. From there, it was only a short hike to the observation deck. The views were incredible and the photos hardly do it justice.

Thursday, February 16, 2012's Blog of the Week

I've been in Rome for over a month now. I have seen almost all of Rome's major tourist attractions and have begun to understand the culture, people and way of life. My classes have picked up and I've been learning new things about Italian history and culture, including topics like Renaissance architecture and Neorealist cinema. I've been documenting many of my experiences and adventures on this blog for friends and family back in the United States.

Recently I was featured on Hobart and William Smith Colleges website as a student blogger and even more recently I heard about my selection as's blog of the week. A true honor. It is nice to know that other people are enjoying the blog as much as I am enjoying adding to it. At first it began as a way to learn about blogging and to force myself to document my travels. This blog has helped me look for things to discuss and photograph during daily trips and I've really enjoyed the process. It is nice now to share this with others. If anyone reading this blog has any suggestions on places that I have not visited already, like a museum or even a restaurant, it would be very much appreciated.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Galleria Colonna

Doing today's drawing assignment in a covered, and heated, arcade was a welcome change in pace. Rome's unusually cold winter has been brutal in the past few weeks but today we did our architecture work indoors. We studied the layout and proportions of the Galleria Colonna on Rome's main commercial boulevard, Via Del Corso. The gallery was built in 1914 and is the oldest arcade in Rome. The arcade of Galleria Colonna was modeled after another arcade in Milan, although even earlier versions existed in Paris and London. Today this gallery, and other early twentieth century arcades, functions as a shopping mall and hosts many high end designers.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola

This afternoon I spent an otherwise lazy Sunday in The Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola doing more proportion and drawing exercises. I went to the church after mass but it was still very busy. The building is very impressive and a good one to draw, as it is one of the best examples of Baroque churches in the city. My favorite part of the church, which I took a lot of photos of, are the frescoes on the ceiling painted by Andrea Pozzo in 1685. The church also has a rather unusual fresco of a dome painted on the location where the dome should be. Because they could not build a dome they painted one that looks realistic from the perspective located in the central Nave, a fancy trick that works less and less as you move towards the main Altar.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

There have been many things to see in Florence, but one of the most impressive is the Duomo of the Basilica di Santa Maria designed by Brunelleschi and completed in 1436. It looms above the city and can be seen from almost anywhere. So logically, the top of the Dome has the best views of the city. After walking around the exterior and looking inside the church itself I bought a ticket that allowed me to climb the stairs to the top of the Dome.

The top of the Dome was breathtaking and possibly the best thing I've done in Italy so far. The weather was perfect and I had an incredible view of all of Florence and the Tuscan countryside. The stairs to the top of the Dome also allow visitors to walk along a path inside the Dome that runs alongside the fresco painted by Vasari in 1572 titled "The Last Judgement." An amazing painting. I've included some awesome photos I took from the Dome over Florence, although a picture hardly does the view justice.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ponte Vecchio

Today I woke up early and took the train from Rome to Florence. Having never taken a train besides in a city I was pleasantly surprised. The trip was only an hour and a half and it was very comfortable. I arrived in Florence, and after walking around taking in the sites I discovered a medieval bridge with shops along both sides. Ponte Vecchio, or "old bridge," is a medieval bridge that spans the narrowest part of the Arno River within Florence's city limits.

The only surviving bridge from the Second World War, Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in the city of Florence and is built on the site of the first bridge in the city, constructed originally by the Romans. The shops along both sides of the bridge were originally butcher shops, but today they are filled with high end jewelry, gold, diamond and watch dealers.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

St. John Lateran's Basilica

This morning I headed out of Central Rome to do a drawing and proportion exercise in St. John Lateran's Basilica. The church, which is the head Cathedral for the Bishop of Rome, is an amazingly ornate structure with the central Nave lined by large sculptures of each of the twelve apostles. We spent class drawing the proportions of the arches that run between the Transepts and the main Nave.  The initial drawings that I used to find the proportions went well so I did a long axonometric drawing, which functions as a drawing the can be measured and lacks perspective. All in all, I think everything turned out better than I expected.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Hogre and Roman Graffiti Art

When people think of Italian art they often list names like Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Botticelli. But after living in Italy for a while you begin to notice other, and possibly just as well known, local artists. However, their paintings aren't in museums or high end galleries but on Rome's signs, subway cars and building walls. Despite popular belief, Graffiti did not begin in New York City but in Rome, and comes from the Italian verb "graffiare" which means "to scratch." Today, artists like Hogre can be found all over the city and I am lucky to have one of Hogre's most famous works on my street only two buildings down from my own. 

When walking around the streets of Rome, just as one would while touring a museum like the Uffizi, people stop to notice the graffiti on the walls. "Hey, there is a Hogre" tourists and locals alike exclaim as they recognize a stencil by the notorious artist. At home in the United States I've always thought that the existence of graffiti suggests a socioeconomic problem relating to urban decay. Here, I am able to think about graffiti as art. And who knows? One day Hogre could be the next Keith Haring.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Winter in Rome from the Janiculum

After waking up once again to falling snow I headed up to the top of the Janiculum Hill, or Gionicolo, to take photos of the rare blanket of snow over the city of Rome. Having been up the hill during nice weather, it was an interesting contrast to now find the dome of the Pantheon and the city landscape draped in white. Even the walk between my apartment and the hilltop park was an adventure. The Italians, having very little preparation for such weather, have been walking around with their cameras snapping photos like tourists new to the city. Today was a nice break because, for the first time in Rome, I got a chance to feel like the experienced local.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Snow in Rome

I was greeted this morning to snow falling out the windows of my apartment, a very rare site in Rome. Although it snows in Rome once every few years it is fairly uncommon; the last two occasions of snow occurred in 2010 and in 2005. However this storm seems to be different. People are saying that today's snow fall is even more uncommon and is quickly becoming the largest accumulation of snow that Rome has seen in almost 30 years, with the last snowfall of any significance happening in February 1986. Despite the irregularity of winter weather, the people of Rome seemed to handle the unusual weather surprisingly well although many drivers seemed to have difficulty navigating the narrow streets without snow plows or salt. I'm glad I had a chance to get a taste of winter since I thought I had missed it entirely after New England's uncommonly warm early winter.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The MAXXI Museum

This morning I visited the MAXXI Museum, Italy's National Museum of the 21st Century. The building was designed by Zaha Hadid who is a world renowned modern architect known best for her revolutionary sculptural building designs. Visiting the MAXXI reminded me alot of when I visited the ICA in Boston or the Guggenheim in New York City. The building is the exhibit, not the art that hides in the few galleries placed sporadically throughout the many floors. Even though the art was somewhat of a disappointment the building was so unique, modern, and out of place in the ancient city of Rome that it was quite an enjoyable experience.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cooking Like the Italians

Tonight I took a cooking class where we learned how to make our own handmade pasta and then we cooked vegetables and fresh bacon to add to it. The chef made it look incredibly easy, and while it wasn't as challenging as I expected, my noodles came out with a rather inconsistent thickness. But I figure it just proves how "homemade" it really is. I'm now looking forward trying my own recipes with things I can find in my local supermarket. It looks like my dinner cereal days are over!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens

In addition to visiting museums and the Dome in Florence I also visited the Palazzo Pitti and it's 11 acres of gardens. The gardens were beautiful but I haven't been out of an urban setting in weeks so probably anything would have seemed nice to me. The center of the garden, built for the Medici family in 1550, is one of the best examples of 16th century Italian gardens and rightfully so. The heart of the garden is a large Roman amphitheater located near the palace with a reflecting pool dedicated to Neptune behind it.

I wandered around the gardens for hours discovering fun architectural follies, hedge mazes, sculptured flower beds, and even a garden villa overlooking the Tuscan countryside. The views were amazing from the top of the garden. We could see the setting sun to the west and the entire city of Florence to the east behind the Palazzo. It was a great stop on the trip since I got a chance to draw some quick sketches of fountains, and take a brief break from city life.