Friday, February 25, 2011

O, Porto

Well, I finally made it to the mother country, or perhaps more accurately, my mother's country. Portugal welcomed me back with open arms, in which I tightly wrapped myself in an attempt to recover from a feverish bout with the flu, a state exacerbated by Italy's underdeveloped pharmaceutical industry in which no one drug is capable of curing more than just one symptom. The first night in Porto I slept 15 hours, dreaming of Nyquil and body temperatures under 100 degrees. Luckily, by the next day I was able to push through my remaining symptoms and begin enjoying my trip.

There were countless things in Porto that reminded me of my mom and the whole Portuguese side of the family. One was Sumol, a fruit soda. I had no idea there were so many flavors! Also, there were roosters ALL OVER the town, just like there are roosters ALL OVER my house. I felt right at home. We have a joke in the family that any wacky-colored house we see must be Portuguese, and believe you me, by this standard, all the houses in Porto are most certainly Portuguese. Perhaps more than anything, I loved eating so much bacalhau (cod), which we eat every Christmas in my family. In this town you can pay very little and eat like a queen. Fish sections on menus would literally consist of 4/5 bacalhau dishes. And how delicious everything was, usually very rich and oily, buried in potatoes and onions and veggies and some amazing sauce. Good thing I was sick and my appetite was curbed, because I might have gained 5 lbs on fish and potatoes alone!

We toured the Palacio da Bolsa, or Stock Exchange Palace, the highlight of which was the extravagant Arabian Room (I wasn't allowed to take pictures, but you just have to see it, so this one's from Google). Our tour guide was really sweet, a girl from Madeira, who attempted to understand my story, i.e. my odd combination of citizenships, languages, and friends. I felt like such a poser with a Portuguese passport and no linguistic skill to back it up!

The most beautiful neighborhood in the city was the Ribeira district along the river. There is a beautiful bridge modeled after the Eiffel Tower, lots of colorful houses, and on the opposite bank all the porteries (think wineries, only better).

At a colorful Portuguese restaurant called Chez Lapiz, I ate breaded cod:

A historic spot in the city is Cafe Majestic, where we stopped in for coffee and dessert. It was extravagantly decorated inside, and we felt as if we were dining inside the Titanic.

Porto also has what I have read to be some of Portugal's finest azulejos, or decorative hand-painted tiles, that usually depict some sort of folk tale. There are several churches whose exteriors are covered in them, and the São Bento Station has particularly descriptive scenes.

Here's a pic of Margot and me out at a place that had less-than-stellar port and the same level of service, but a toilet hanging on the wall, a cinque cento car in the foyer, and a DJ that was absolutely the evil Portuguese twin of my friend James.

Another cool historical joint was the Livraria Lello, with extraordinary detail and intriguing architecture. A highlight was the charming book trolley that's conveniently set on tracks that weave through the store.

One morning I pretended I had energy and opted to climb Clerigos Tower with the girls to find lovely views of the port:

I loved seeing this avó at the food market--she was so cute, tapping her feet together and watching the people pass by. The sanitary conditions at this market were frightful, but the fish still looked mouth-watering.

The best restaurant we ate at was called Ora Viva, right off the Ribeira. It was basically a hole in the wall, with exuberant decor and a very friendly family running the place.

I ordered Cataplana, a delightful seafood stew with monkfish whose broth was seasoned with curry and paprika:

On my way out, I waved into the cozinha and launched one last "obrigada" to the grandmother, who sweetly covered me with three more.

On our last day the sun finally graced us and we got to see Porto in its full kaleidoscopic glory.

We crossed the bridge into Vila Nova de Gaia to tour a couple porteries. We ended up seeing Taylor's and Croft, two of the 18 companies in Porto. Everyone was so friendly, the tours/tastings were free, and the views of Porto from that side of the river were spectacular!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cara Roma, ti voglio bene.

We just got back from our 3-day group Rome extravaganza. We saw more in 3 days than I though physically possible. In fact, by the third day I believe my body was beginning to give up on me-I felt nauseous from sheer exhaustion!

Yet despite our entry into always one-too-may churches and museums, we all had a fabulous time. There weren't any giant crises, so I could enjoy myself as well. I was psyched to get to see the city from an art-history perspective, as we were there with our art history professor.

Some of the highlights for me were seeing at least ten Caravaggios (two in their original location), the Bernini statues in the Villa Borghese, and most of all, having the opportunity to enter the Necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica. The Necropolis is not well known, as it is another floor below the Papal Tombs and only 150 people per day are permitted to enter. Basically, the Vatican was built on top of an above-ground cemetery from the 1st and 2nd centuries that had to be completely filled in so as to preserve the sanctity of the tombs. They did not know about these tombs until they began excavations in 1939, in an attempt to find the burial remains of St. Peter.

The tour was incredible in that two stories below the Vatican, I was walking along city streets with brick buildings, mosaics, and mausoleums. Also, the tour guide did an incredible job of building suspense, to that point that I got really overwhelmed by the whole experience, especially when at the climax of the tour we saw the bones of St. Peter, who died in 64 A.D.

View of several domes from Palatine Hill. The largest one to the left is St. Peter's.

Here follow a ton of photos of the forum, perhaps my favorite site in Rome. It's simply fascinating to imagine how the city was 2,000 years ago.


The Brotherhood and Kelly in Piazza Navona, after my dinner with the boys Friday night

St. Peter's Square

Important business with the Swiss Guard

One of the many incredible Caravaggios we saw in Rome

An endless hall in the Vatican Museum with an ornate ceiling and ancient maps lining the walls

St. Peter's at dusk
(yes, we were there ALL DAY)

Piazza del Popolo, where all the anti-Burlusconi women's protests were to happen the following day.

The cab driver that brought us here asked me to be his Valentine, but it was really more suggestive than sweet. I preferred the pizza guy at the Trevi Fountain who said he'd wait for me. I wonder just how long he meant?

Spanish Steps

Saturday evening was a blast because almost all of the students and myself met up at the Trevi Fountain. We hung out for hours, drinking champagne and laughing at couples making out and tourists taking silly photos. That night for dinner I returned to a Calabrese restaurant I had remembered going to with my family when they visited three years ago.

After that, I met up with Luigi, Enrico, and Guido, some southern friends that studied in Bologna and now work in Rome. We went out to a bar and played Pictionary. In Italian, at that. All in all a fabulous day, but I was away from the hotel from 9am until 3:00am. You can understand the exhaustion now!

Me with the Pictionary group. The three to the right of me are the Bo friends, the others are all new friends!

There's also a ton of things I don't have a pictures of, like all the churches we entered, Palazzo Barberini and the Villa Borghese, for instance. But you get the idea!

After Rome, I'm definitely on one of my highs, where I love my job and love living in Italy. My students were so together and followed my instructions, and we never ended up in the emergency room for anything! I'm lucky to have such a wonderful group of students. Now we'll wait and see when the next bout of homesickness kicks in...

My next adventure is coming up soon, as next week is spring break for the students and I get it off as well. I'm going to Porto with Azzurra! Finally a trip to Portugal, I can't wait!