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Monday, April 25, 2011

Time Lapse Video of the Milky Way

I know this has nothing to do with MY travels, but I think this is an absolutely beautiful video! I was Stumbling and I saw it. The photographer Terje Sorgjerd captured the Milky Way over a mountain in Spain called El Teide. Pretty crazy stuff.

Click Here! 

xoxo Erica

Friday, April 15, 2011

Wine and Pizza

      Last night, we were able to go to yet another wine tasting! The place we went, Trimani, is renowned for its vast wine selection, and named to be one of the best wine bars in all of Rome. It was short, but we were able to taste a Prosecco (sparkling white wine) from the Veneto region (northern Italy), a white wine from the Lazio region (central Italy, where Rome is located), and a red wine from the Friuli region (northern Italy). I thought that each were very good, and was able to understand what the wine connoisseur was talking about, thanks to my wine class! We also were given 2 mini quiches, drizzled with an asparagus puree. Very yummy!

Wine at Trimani!

The red wine.

The white wine.

Quiches... yummm...

Courtney, Erika, Krista and I at Trimani.


      After our wine tasting, we went to the renowned Dar Poeta pizza restaurant with 11 of the girls from my school. It was fun to sit with a whole bunch of us from school, since we haven't done that since the begining of the semester. We reminisced about the semester so far, and thought, to our horror, about how we only have 4-ish weeks left in Rome all together. Some are staying for a few weeks after the end of school, but some (like me) are leaving right after we are finished with the semester. SO sad, but SO fun at the same time! And I brought my camera, so here are pictures of the famous pizzas!

Pizza-stache! haha 

Mortadella, zucchini, tomatoes, sausage, mozzarella pizza.

Pesto, tomatoes, mozzarella, and potato pizza yummmmm. (what I got my first time at DP)

My Margherita pizza!

Half Pepperoni Pizza (Pepperoni=peppers in Italian) and half zucchini, sausage, mozzarella and tomato pizza!

xoxo Erica
"Anni e bicchieri di vino non si
contano mai."
 (Age and glasses of wine should never be counted.)

Weekend on the Coast.

      Last weekend, I went on the school trip down to Gragnano, Sorrento, Positano, and Amalfi in Southern Italy. We started early, taking a train to Naples (home of the best pizza ever), and took a bus to Gragnano. 
      Once in Gragnano, we took a tour of a pasta factory called Pastai Gragnanesi. I never realized how much work goes into making my fall-back dinner food. We learned that there used to be over 150 pasta factories on the main street in Gragnano, but now there are about 15. We saw where the pasta was mixed, dried, and packaged all within the same building. This particular factory produces over 50 types of pasta, and we got a sample of a few of their most popular pasta. Because it was a Saturday, we were unable to see everything being made, but it was very cool to see where it all begins.

Pasta in the drying rooms, just hangin'. (haha)

A picture of how pasta used to be dried, without the technology we have today.

      Next, we took a bus to Slow Foods farm, which is an environmentally friendly, family-run farm that produces fresh foods in small quantities. When we first arrived, we were starving, and immediately dug into the Focciacia bread that was covered in garlic and other seasonings that was fresh out of the outdoor wood-burning stove. Little did we know that we would be about to eat over 20 different Italian dishes for our 3 hour lunch... Our 3 hour lunch included the following food (try not to be too jealous): 
o   Mozzarella Cheese
o   Ricotta Cheese
o   Artichoke and Potatoes 
o   Artichoke Salad 
o   Artichoke Quiche
o   Mushroom at Prosciutto Quiche
o   Mixed green and Radicchio salad
o   Carrot and Fennel Salad
o   Foccacia Bread
o   Marinera and Pecorino Pizza
o   Mozzarella and Basil Pizza
o   Artichoke and Prosciutto Pizza
o   Pancetta
o   Fava Beans 
o   Artichokes with Garlic
o   Olive Cheese
o   Strawberries
o   Traditional Sorrento Lemon Cake 
o   Vanilla Gelato
o   Home-made Limoncello
o   Vino Frizzante Rosso 

Welcomed with Foccacia bread! (outdoor awesome stove in the background)

Our tables in the backyard of the family's house.

Artichokes smothered in garlic, grilling on the charcoals. 
Our feast.

Fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. 

My first plate.

Pizza #1: Margherita 

Pizza #2: Artichoke and mozzarella

Pizza #3: Tomato and Parmesan 

Artichoke pieces.

Vino Rosso Frizzante


Home-made Limoncello.


      After our feast, we sat out in the green grass under the sun... in food comas for a little bit before hopping on the bus again to depart for a Limoncello factory. It was like we were at a cooking show, as we were shown the steps to make delicious Limoncello. We learned the secret to making the best Limoncello is all in the lemons. Bad lemons makes bad Limoncello. The ingredients include lemon peels, pure alcohol, sugar, and water. You peel the lemons, and add them to the alcohol for ten days. After the ten days, you mix the sugar and water, and add that to the alcohol (after taking out the lemon peels), and there you have fresh Limoncello! We were given a taste of it also, which was 
strong but absolutely delicious!

Sitting in the sun with this as our view.

Lemon peels in the alcohol.

Pouring the sugar-water mixture into the lemon-y alcohol. 

      We then got on the bus to Sorrento, and I was amazed by the beautiful mountains and views from anywhere I looked. We dropped our things off in our room with a view in the hotel, and headed out to catch the fantastic sunset. After the colors faded, and the night began, we walked around central Sorrento, shopped, laughed, talked, and got delicious gelato. Me and two of my friends Krista and Courtney also got a bottle of wine, and sat out on the balcony of our room and 
talked and laughed until we were dead tired!

The amazing sunset in Sorrento.

Central Sorrento by night.

Strawberry yogurt gelato, and Limoncello gelato is absolutely yummy.

      We then got a bus tour ocean-side through the cliffs of Positano, and smaller towns on the Amalfi Coast. It was pretty foggy the whole ride, but it made it look beautiful and mysterious. We stopped a couple places on the road not to look at the view to the water, but to the rock walls next to the road, where mini towns were created up the walls, as a mirror to the towns below. Positano is the extremely expensive town where George Clooney owns a house. There is only one road to get into the city, and one to get out of it. Parking there is expensive, so cars lined the road above and while their owners waited for the bus to come take them below. We were also told that it costs 50 euro to rent a space on the beach, not including any food or drink you want to purchase, or even if you want to use the restroom (crazy!).
Me with Positano, Italy.

The coast.

Krista, Courtney and I with Positano!

      We finally made it to Amalfi, looked through the paper-making factory and the famous Amalfi Cathedral in the biggest piazza in Amalfi, both being absolutely amazing. Krista, Courtney and I found lunch at a little restaurant that was hidden away, and ate delicious pizza. While we were eating our pizza, we were complaining that it will be hard to go back home and it not to be the norm to eat an entire pizza in one sitting! The 2 American ladies sitting next to us barely finished half their pizzas, and we devoured our whole thing without a thought!

Paper made with real flowers on display and for sale at the paper factory. 

Amalfi Cathedral.

      After lunch, the sun decided to make an appearance! So we hit the beach with our gelato, and our cameras! We sat on the rocks by the beach and talked about how we have the most amazing life in Italy, and how truly spoiled we are! We were extremely sad to leave once it got to be that time, but were so happy to be back in Rome, the absolute best city in all of Italy, and Europe!

Coast of Amalfi, Italy.

Looks like Jurassic Park, we kept expecting to see pterodactyls flying down from the top of the mountains.

Courtney, me, and Krista with the coast of Amalfi. 

Il dolce di far niente.”(the sweetness of doing nothing) really describes our experiences here!

xoxo Erica

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Relaxation Time

      Not so much relaxation, but a great school field trip happened! We went to a wine bar for our Wine and Culture class, where we were able to try different types of wine, as well as some types of food that are great pairs with the wine. Also, it was a more comfortable and fun place to have class! We started off by tasting Prosecco, a type of sparkling white wine, as well as a different sparkling white wine, both paired with bruschetta (which is actually pronounced bru-sket-tah, the 'ch' combination in Italian makes a hard c, or k, sound). The wines tasted good, but the bruschetta was fantastic, making the wines so much less acidic. One had a sun-dried tomato on top, one had pesto, and the other was classic. I don't have pictures, surprisingly, but it was yummy. We also tried 2 red wines, one that had more of a traditional taste to it, and one that was more modern tasting. The traditional one tasted extremely of wood and seaweed, NOT a good combination. The other was better, but not fruity and light like I like, but more heavy and steel-y, with no fruity tastes. To pair with the red wines, we were given an assortment of five cheeses, and three different salamis. You may not have known, but it is so surprising how much food can change the taste of a wine. It was a great outing with our class, and we talked a few hours while sipping and eating!
      After that extremely rough three-day week, we decided to go to the beach on Thursday! There is a great beach about 45 minutes out of the center of Rome. It was the greatest feeling to lay in the warm sand, soaking up some sun after it being so cool here. We just hung out, and had a great relaxing day out in the sun. After we got back, we got a little dressed-up, and got the absolute BEST pizza ever. We went to Dar Poeta, and I got pizza with pesto, potatoes, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese. I'll make it when I get home, its the best taste ever. We also decided to get a dessert calzone, which was filled with Nutella and sweet ricotta cheese, topped with powdered sugar. the best thing in the world, I assure you. Next time I go, which might end up being this Thursday again, I will take pictures to share with you all! It was a great start to the weekend!
(Besides getting sunburned. Darn you, pale skin.)

xoxo Erica

My Short, Fattening Greek Vacation

      Greece! It was finally the weekend! We left my apartment at 3:30 AM, probably the earliest I have ever gotten up in my life, in order to make our 6:40am flight. Once we arrived in Athens, we were sad because it was raining, but the promise of what was to come was so exciting! We dropped our stuff at the hotel, and went to walk around the Plaka area, where our hotel was located. Everywhere we looked were shops, restaurants, and street vendors waiting for our business. We stopped at a cute cafe, and sat outside. I had been craving meat and GYROS, which is exactly what I ordered! It was deliciously hot pork, with extremely fresh tomatoes, onions and tzatziki sauce (cucumber and sour cream-type). Mom got a Greek salad, that was pale in comparison to my great food. I was extremely happy about this meal, and ready for the weekend to begin.

      After our great lunch, we went to the Acropolis! We got directions from our extremely helpful front desk attendant, and got there in no time. We ended up getting rushed through the tour because we got there only a half our before they closed the area, but we got a lot of great pictures, and helpful information from our overzealous tour guide. The Parthenon was huge, much bigger than I had ever imagined it to be. Oppositely, the Temple of Athena Nike was so much smaller than I had imagined! Everything surpassed my expectations.  After the tour, we went to the New Acropolis Museum. Years before, the British had been keeping many old pieces of the Parthenon, pottery, and other remains of the ancient Greek. This museum was recently built to show the British that the Greek people are willing to give these historically significant items a suitable place to  housed. So, after spending millions of dollars, this museum was erected. The architecture was extremely beautiful, and beautifully displayed the pieces from so long ago.
Overlooking Athens, dogs were everywhere. This one looks like he is watching over his domain.



New Acropolis Museum.

      After our Acropolis Experience, we wandered around and miraculously found our hotel! I think it was a mix between lack of sleep (which i probably got 3 the previous night), how excited I was, and hunger, and I thought our crazy discovery was hilarious! I laughed and laughed until I was tearing up. We then realized our great need to freshen up, eat something, and to get to bed!
      The other helpful front desk attendant told us about a great place around the corner, so we eagerly started on our way. It was a small, family-run restaurant, and we were ambitious with our ordering. We ordered stuffed cabbage that had a light lemon-y white sauce, grilled squid, saganaki, and PEPSI (which Mama was super happy about)! Everything was super delicious, especially the stuffed cabbage, much to my surprise. Yummmmm the most delicious food hides in Greece! We ate then found a little cafe, where we ate baklava and something delicious that was recommended by our waiter. As it turns out, our waiter wasn't Greek, but was from Albania. Once he found out that we were from the Chicago-area, he told us that he was soon moving to Elmhurst to live with his uncle and go to school in Chicago! What a small world. After filling ourselves up, we went back to the hotel and passed out!
      Friday was the most exciting of all! The previous day, we found a brochure for a One Day Cruise, which went from 7:30am to 8pm, and went around to 3 different islands in the Saronic Gulf. We met at the Hard Rock Cafe, and were bussed to the dock where the boat was all ready to take us away. We got a yummy breakfast of croissants and cappuccinos on the boat.  As it turned out, we were unable to go to the first and furthest island, Hydra because the water was too rough. Which meant that we were unable to ride the donkeys (sorry, U.P.). We were still super exhausted, so we took a nap in the lower deck area of the boat at one of the booth tables.
View off the top of the boat right after we left the port. 
Our tickets and boat!

      We finally arrived in Poros, a beautiful little island with a beautiful clock tower. We climbed the stairs all the way up to it, and marveled at the view from that high up. On our way down, we shopped, and walked through Poros' tiny streets. We came across a neat little bakery, where we got the absolute most delicious rice pudding, and an okay cinnamon brown oatmeal-type pudding dessert. We made our way back to the boat, where we were served a delicious lunch, and were serenaded by Stavros, the musician, who either knew 6 or 60 different languages, we couldn't tell which it was. Surprisingly, I got a tad sick, which was probably due to the INTENSE rocking of the boat forward and back, side to side, enough to think you were on a see-saw. I felt better once I was outside with the intense wind and napping.
First look at Poros.

Climbing the stairs to the clock tower, our friend waiting for us at the top.

Such a pretty clock tower. 

Back on the boat in the wind! So attractive...

      Then we made it to Aegina, the second largest island in the Sardonic Gulf. We took a panoramic tour, where we took a bus down the coast, and saw a modern Greek author's coast-side house. Driving away from the water, we learned that 365 chapels were built on a hill, one for each day of the year. Now all that remains are less than 15. We also were able to tour the Church of Saint Nectarios, which was dedicated to this recent healing saint of the Greek Orthodox Church. This church started to be built in 1971 and was finished in 1994. Off the main room of the church is a chapel dedicated to keeping St. Nectarios' right hand in a beautiful silver casket-type box. It was beautiful, and enjoyably different from the churches you would see throughout Italy. After a quick stop at the church, we went to a Pistachio farm! We were able to see the trees, the machines they use to dry and open the shells, and the packaging machines. We tasted some pistachios and coffee, and bought a few bags and some pistachio pastries before heading back to the boat.


Chapels on the hillside. 

Church of St. Nectarios.

Right hand is right in there.

Pistachios on the tree! (bad ones, though)

Mule out by the docks, pretty girl!

      Once back on the boat, the show started! We experienced amazing Greek music and dancing. At one point, they pulled Mama up to dance with some others as well, and I know she loved it and had so much fun. ME, on the other hand, had an interesting dancing experience. They pulled me up, and after watching others dance, the man pulled me up and we did a little Greek kick-line type dance, then what reminded me of the "washcloth", and after picked me up on his shoulder and spun me around. Fun?... right. But don't you worry, don't be sad you missed my Greek-dance debut, ask my mom for a look at the video, she got it all on her fancy iPhone.
Dancers dancing. I really wanted her twirl-y skirt!!

      After we got back to the port of Athens, we were about dead from hunger, so we got delicious dinner, including fresh bread, lamb chops, mouthwatering kebabs and wine. Also, we were given free shots of Uozo, the famous Greek liquor. Let me tell you, you're not missing anything if you haven't tried it yet. It tasted like straight black licorice, unappetizing. Mama liked it, but she's always liked it. After dinner we shopped around, got a few (or so...) prizes for ourselves and others, then off to bed.
      Saturday we were up later, and got breakfast at the hotel (which mom thought it was weird that we got fresh black olives), and saw the Theater of Dionysus, and went on the Athens double-decker tour bus and saw a lot. We saw ruins, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian's Arch, the Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, and a lot more. It was crazy cool to think how old all the buildings and ruins were, and who had stepped where we did. TOo cool. We got GIANT gyros for lunch, and then headed to the Parliament building to see the changing of the guard for the tomb of the unknown soldier, which was crazy different, and went to the National Park and mini zoo, with a pond full of turtles! After we literally shopped until we dropped. We ended up getting dinner and Greek music all in one, with our purchases piled on the chairs next to us, full of perfect lamb kebabs and lamb chops, and dessert of baklava and perfect rice pudding.

Hadrian's Arch

Temple of the Olympian Zeus. Used to have hundreds of columns, now it has less than 15.

Mama talking back to the goose at the farm in the National Gardens.

Changing of the Guard. 

Acropolis by night, from a window on the top floor of our hotel.

     The entire weekend was full of crappy weather, but we made the best of it. However, we walked out to our cab on Sunday to get to the airport, and there were no clouds and blue skies as far as you can see. What a shame. But, our short, fattening Greek vacation was so amazing. I had such a great time with my mama, and came back to Rome with some great memories!
Our weather on Sunday morning. Figures!

      Sunday we got back, toured Castel Sant'Angelo, which mama loved, mama packed up, grabbed some spaghetti and other pasta dinner, gelato, and we slept. Dropping mama off at the cab was so sad (she even cried a little, don't let her tell you otherwise), because we got used to seeing each other those 2 weeks, but I knew I'd be home in 5-ish weeks. Now, since I'm so late in posting, its 4 and a half weeks. Where did all the time go??

xoxo Erica