Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 187 - Milan to Bologna

Took a train from Milan to Bologna and arrived in the city at around 2pm. I walked to my hostel to check in, only to find out that I am the only one who will be staying there tonight since it is low season and nobody else booked a bed in the dorms there. It was a small dorm, without a 24-hr reception, two rooms, and a total of 9 beds. I would have the entire place to myself, which I thought was pretty cool, but at the same time pretty creepy, especially at night. Good thing I didn't watch any horror Hostel movies or anything to freak me out.

I took a brief tour of the city with the help of the receptionist who was there to let me into the hostel. You could see right away that this was a college town, with university students flocking in every direction. I headed to the city center called the Piazza Maggiore, where there was the main library and students hanging out on the steps of the entrance way. Below the library there was an archaeological site dating from the 1st century B.C. The best thing about the library? Free bathrooms! (i might be kidding) but I've been having to spend a fortune in Italy just to pee!

After the tour, I headed to the main piazza, where the Basilica di San Petronio stood tall. The main church of Bologna, it is also the 5th largest church in the world. There was restoration work being done on the front facade of the church, and it was covered with scaffolding and posters. Seems like Italy is always under renovation, but it makes sense with so much history in the country, and more and more ruins being discovered every year when metro systems are being constructed.

I opted to skip going inside the church and instead, wandered some more through the city. I stopped by the Biblioteca Comunale dell'Archiginnasio, which is another public library with a lot of history. The most interesting place there was the Anatomy Theatre, which was built in 1637 and where copse dissections took place. The place is no longer used for classes, but for visitors to view. The room was made almost entirely of wood, and there are statues around the classroom of famous Bolognese physicians. The professors chair was placed high and is being supported by two skinless statues. Again, a little creepy to think what occurred in this room when class was in session, but I HAD to get a picture of myself lying on the slab of marble in the center of the room. I asked security if it would be alright to do so, and surprisingly, it was!

The last stop I took was at the Basilica di San Domenico, another church near the city center, before heading back to my lonely hostel. I made sure to get suggestions from the receptionist on where to go for dinner and she suggested a place where they had very good traditional bolognese food. I headed there for dinner, where I opted for their main traditional meat sauce platter. Pretty good stuff...

Fontana del Nettuno

The Library and the Archaeological Site Underground

Bbiblioteca Comunale Dell'Archiginnasio

Basilica di San Domenico

Traditional Bolognese Cusine

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 186 - Pixar Exhibition and Triennale Design Museum in Milan

I spent my last full day in Milan walking around the city and checking out some of the newer and more contemporary museum exhibitions.

Giulio told me of a couple of canals in the city that were designed by Leonardo Di Vinci, which I set off to explore and see. Although the city is flat, he was able to create the canals so that the current would flow in to the city through one canal, and flow out through the other. 

Afterwards, we both went to the Triennale Design Museum, which showcased some of the products designed by Italians in the 20th and 21st century. Most of it looked like an Ikea showroom, but of course, Ikea is the company that mass produces some of the smarter designed furniture created by intelligent designers from Italy and all over the world. There was an entire floor with some interesting, good, and awful furniture and gadgets from across the decades, and it was easy to pinpoint some of the things both Giulio and I either owned in the past, or currently own now. It was a quick exhibit to view, but definitely not worth the price of admission.

Pixar has a touring exhibition of all the artwork from its movies, and opening day in Milan happened to be today, so I made sure I would catch it before I left tomorrow. Now this definitely was worth the price of admission since it was so relatable for everyone, I'm sure. These movies have so much power to effect all of us and dig into our emotions, all through the use of animation, which painstakingly takes so much time and man power to get so technically precise. And then there are the story-tellers that make it more than just a technically beautiful moving picture. There were lithographs, computer designed drawings, cast models, pencil drawings, colorscripts, and even a huge Toy Story zoetrope for us to view. I couldn't help but have a big smile on my face when I saw some of the artwork. It used to be that animation was for the sole entertainment of children, but these days it's for everyone. The museum wasn't that large, but it took us until closing time, in about 2 hours just to see everything and admire it all..

The last thing to do was head out for happy hour in my last night here, or what the Italians call "Aperitivo" which is basically a discounted drink, and an appetizer buffet with some pretty decent snacks to nibble on. We went to a couple of these aperitivo hours before calling it a night.

A great ending to my time in Milan. Tomorrow, I head to Bologna, a place where many people say to visit for the food...especially the Bolognese Sauce (ragu), or meat sauce.

Triennale Design Museum


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 185 - Day Trip to Torino (Turin)

Torino was one of the "highlights" of Italy according to Loney Planet, so I decided to make a day trip out of it since it was close to Milan. Also, I had to rearrange my entire Italian leg of the trip since I would be meeting one of my friends from back home in early December in Rome. Initially, I wanted to tour all of Italy from the north in Venice all the way down to Sicily, but I decided I would spend more time focusing on the Northern Half of Italy over the next couple of weeks.

Torino is known for its Fiat car factories, along with its baroque and renaissance architecture. I arrived before noon from a train from Milan and took a tourist map from the tourist office along with me to explore whatever there was to see here. The main Plazas were called Piazza Castello and Piazza San Carlo, both easily reached by heading directly north from the train station. It'd be hard to miss. There were palaces and museums and churches around both plazas, with huge open space for people to congregate.

Visiting the two most popular plazas only took about 15 minutes, and I headed further north to see what else I could run into. The next stop was the Duomo di San Giovanni Battista, which is considered to be Torino's main catherdral. Here, they say that the church houses the linen cloth that was used to wrap Christ when he was crucified. Adjacent to it was the Royal Palace along with the palace park grounds which were open to the public. It still looked like autumn in Torino where the leaves were still slowly falling to the ground, and turning from green to brown.

The last stop on my Torino tour was the Mole Antonelliana, which houses the Museo Nazionale del Cinema. The Mole Antonelliana is a huge architectural masterpiece that towers over the city at 167m, and is on the 2 cent Italian Euro piece. I took a lift to the top where I saw some views of an overcast city.

The Cinema museum was the highlight I must say. It was an interactive museum that first showed the initial development of the uses of light to create different scenes (shadow puppets) to the development of illusions with light and lenses, to the creation of early film and animation (Zoetropes), and all the way to what we have now with all the technological advancements in movie-making magic. You could easily spend hours just going through each of the rooms and learning about the evolution of cinema. I would highly recommend it to anyone going to this city.

By the time I got back to Milano, Giulio was ready to cook us some dinner! I decided I would help make some dessert - an Argentinian Pancake dessert that I tried when I was in Istanbul. The dinner was excellent, some chicken breasts with a wine and mushroom sauce and bread. The dessert....was burnt and almost inedible...I really have to learn how to cook better. One word of advice for anyone who is going to start couchsurfing....LEARN TO COOK! At least learn one simple recipe from your own culture so you have something to share with others around the world!

View from the top of the Mole Antonelliana

Piazza San Carlo

Cathedral di San Giovanni Battista

Royal Palace Parkgrounds

Mole Antonelliana

Museo Nazionale del Cinema

Scrumptious Dinner

Destroyed Dessert

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 184 - Duomo, Museums, and Window Shopping

Today Giulio took me on a brief tour of Milano, stopping by some of the most famous sights and shopping areas.  There are easy-to-use metros around the city, but we decided to walk the entire way since most of the main sites were situated in the center and easily walkable.

We briefly stopped by the Castello Sfortesco, a castle that was once the Renaissance residence of the Sfortza family in the 15th century. I read in wikitravel about some of the tactics some of the souvenir sellers use to sell their merchandise. There are usually people with small bracelets that come up to you and either hand one to you, tie one around your wrist, or lay it on your shoulder. You assume it is free, but then they insist that you pay after they have tied one around your wrist. I stealthily avoided their tactics as they hovered around the entrance to the castle.

Afterwards, we headed to the Duomo Cathedral so I could see what it looks like in daylight and also catch a glimpse inside the gigantic church. Along the way, I saw banners advertising the next World Expo in 2015, which will be held in Milano. I remember going to the one in Japan in 2007. It will bring many changes in the development of Milan. Giulio says Italy in general is reluctant to make too many changes to the country since there is so much history and ancient architecture that they wish to leave unchanged.

The church was so large inside and bare, since there weren't any services at the time we arrived. We looked at some of the stained glass artwork and some of the statues of  some of the saints. One of the statues was particularly interesting, because it was of a saint who had all of his skin peeled off his body, and he wore the skin over his shoulders, his bare muscles and bones shown freely. It was very creepy.

We headed towards the shopping area surround the Duomo where you could find some of the same shops you'd find in the USA. We stopped by a couple shops that had a bunch of creative design merchandise. I wanted to buy EVERYTHING there... I know by the end of my trip in Italy, I want to get something made of Italian leather or a pair of eyeglasses...I've been eyeing some simple wallets and wooden eyeglass frames, but nothing has been perfect, or the right price..

There was the luxury block of stores just a short walk away from the Duomo, where we managed to walk by 5 Dolce and Gabbana stores within a 1/4 km radius. It was pretty ridiculous, but I guess big name brands all have their stores in Milano to showcase the merchandise. Giorgio Armani is particular big here, where people refer to him as "King George."

The last stop of the day was the Museo del Novocento, which is a modern art museum showcasing some of Italy's most prominent artists. There was an exhibit that showcased Umberto Boccioni's Futurist and Cubist artwork, along with some of Picasso's abstract art. There were also some more interactive exhibits, including labyrinths for visitors to go through. One of them similated the feelings of disorientation a person would feel if he was in something relating to an insane asylum, where intense lights flashed intermittently. I definitely had a hard time walking through as my brain tried to reorient me to the surrounds each time the light shown once more.

Definitely an action packed day here in Milano!

Galleria Vittorio Emanuale II

Bike Share in Milan

Inside Duomo Cathedral - Notice the Skin Wrapped Around his Body

Umberto Boccioni - States of Mind

Museo del Novocento

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 183 - Venice to Milan

Today my cousin would fly back to the USA, finishing her vacation with me in Prague, Rome, and Venice. It's always great to see someone like family or close friends who you have known for a while. It's a different experience than meeting someone and traveling with them for a short trip since you know them more on a personal level, and have history with them. I would be on my own again for the remainder of my trip, meeting new people again until I fly back to the USA.

I took the train in the afternoon from Venice to Milan - the famous city of Italy known for its luxury shopping and fashion, but also for the arts, design, and architecture. I think it's the lesser traveled city of all the main Italian cities, but one that people have recommended to me to visit for a short trip.

I arrived at night, since the ride was about 4 hours and headed directly to the Duomo Cathedral, which is one of the main tourist attractions in Milan (along with seeing the art piece, the Last Supper). It is the largest Gothic Cathedral, and 4th largest church in the world. Since it was dark already, seeing it out in the open square gave it a sort of eerie feel, as it towered over the city.

I met up with my CS host, Giulio (pronounced "Julio") for dinner at a great pizza and seafood restaurant, where it was recommended that I try the basic Napoli pizza, so I ordered the most basic of pizzas with cheese, tomato sauce, and basil. Never had I had a fresher tasting pizza. The cheese and tomato sauce tasted so fresh and natural, it actually felt like I was eating something healthy, unlike any other pizza you try in the USA. We spent the night chatting a little, where I got a little insight on the current economic situation in Italy, with the ouster of Burlesconi, who was replaced by Mario Monti, and the general feel of unemployment all over the country. I also had a brief language and pronunciation lesson in Italian so that I could be understood here more easily. (NOTE: the pronunciation of "CH" in an italian word, if followed by either an "E" or "I" is pronounced with a hard "C", the opposite of what you would traditional say in an english word. Bruschetta is pronounced with a HARD C!) If I'm not good at learning to speak another foreign language fluently, at least I could learn to pronounce things better!

Duomo Cathedral

Regional Trains at the Venezia Train Station

Napoli Pizza!

Duomo Cathedral

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 182 - More Wandering and the Biennale

I did some more wandering around the city today, this time going a different direction from the hotel and finding my way towards the Biennale exhibit just west of Piazza San Marco.

I stopped by Taiwan's exhibition room, that was separate from the main Biennale location, in a building close to the Grand Canal which featured a Sound Library/Bar, decorated in what would be something reminiscent of a Taiwanese Karaoke room. The exhibit featured music and video clips of Taiwanese Artists in the late 80s and 90s involved in social activism including a free speech movement and calls for democracy. There was some really cool folk, electronic, rap, and experimental music, all sung in either Taiwanese or Mandarin, which was rare for me to hear. It's usually Korean Pop or Japanese artists that I hear, or who somewhat breakthrough to the USA.

It was a very foggy day today, which again, made the city look lazy and mysterious, especially looking out into the sea, as gondolas and small boats rode through the mist. More charm added to this already charming city.  I wandered some more, stopping at a couple more small exhibits in churches. Since it was already late in the day, I decided not to enter the main Biennale exhibit area...maybe next time...

Taiwanese Sound Bar/Library

Piazza San Marco