The Last Week In Photos

My Last Figure Drawing (not satisfied with her face, but otherwise quite proud of the results):

day one

day two

day three

day four

day five

First Charcoal Portrait:

Gianluca

likenesses (my and Jaimie's work)

Last Gusta Pizza (I did promise):

nommmmmm

Other delicious things from this month’s adventures:

table wine (the good kind)

gnocchi with soft cheese and white truffle oil

homemade raspberry daiquiris

soon-to-be insalata caprese

Piemontese red

Bruschetta

olive oil

And The David:

to see his sheer size

I never said I was mature

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The last stop.

So, Italy.

“Well, here we are at the end.”

Life since I’ve been back in the states has been both invigorating and a bit like swimming through molasses. This is likely why I haven’t updated this blog in a month, although it may be in part because I haven’t wanted to acknowledge that my time abroad is actually over! In the time between leaving Europe and now, I have had my 21st birthday, have started work for the summer and participated in a national convention, have been to the beach, and have almost finalized a deal on a new (and my first) car. Turbo diesel. How European of me. So, it’s not like my life has become less exciting!

A tractor spreads fungicide in a vineyard near Treiso, Italy

But I think you all deserve to hear about my wonderful time in Italy, even though it feels like an age ago. It was a Saturday in late April when I, accompanied by my dear dad and Cathie, embarked on an intrepid adventure on the 28th of April. Traveling from Switzerland with my mom and her boyfriend, I met Dad and Cathie in Stresa. Stresa is a town in the Lake Country of Italy with a fairly sketchy train station but a steep hill that falls toward a deep blue lake. The roads are narrow, so driving parallel to the water reveals a pinstripe of blue between hundred-year-old houses every block. I had arrived fifteen minutes late in the train station because the ICE train had stopped after crossing the border and sat for about ten minutes. It has been explained to me that they have to do this because Switzerland is not a part of the European Union and therefore has different “union” laws, but I still like to think that the Italians DON’T want to be on time.

Stresa and Lake Maggiore

Dad drove us to the Piemonte (the foothills of the Alps) region where we would spend a week eating good food, imbibing fine wine and basking in our beautiful surroundings. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Along the autostrada I saw the landscape change – from leafy, craggy earth against blue water to vast farmlands and rolling hills. I discovered that there were family farms older than my country, that cemeteries are all above ground in mausoleums because of the type of earth in the area, and that risotto is actually grown in rice fields. Yes, rice fields. If you had already figured that out, I commend you, because I had never given it a second of thought.

Risotto fields

Our rental, called Il Ciliegio (the cherry tree), was located in the little town of Treiso near the larger towns of Asti and Alba, which have a centuries-old rivalry. The kind of rivalry where Alba likes to hold an annual donkey race to mock the horse racing that occurs in Asti. The area around these rival towns is best known for its truffles during the fall, but when we went, it was the season to celebrate of wine (and asparagus season, but not AS exciting as wine). The local wineries that grow nebbiolo, chardonnay and muscato grapes surround you from every soft-edged angle, and you eat locally and seasonally in every restaurant you find. The Piemonte is the region from where the “Slow Food” tradition came, so every restaurant you will find will likely serve the same dishes, if not similar. The goal is not to serve unique dishes, but to serve the best dishes, which of course means that guests to the region benefit quite a lot!

View from Osteria dell’Asilo

The first example of this was at our first dinner that Saturday, in Coazzollo. Osteria dell’Asilo is a half-hour from Il Ciliegio, so we drove a spindly little road that threaded through the vineyards and over steep hills. Upon our arrival, the restaurant staff served Brut of Cascina Galarin, a sparkling wine that belongs to Beppe and Fabiola Carosso, friends of my dad and Cathie. A glass and a cheese platter later I met them for the first time – Italians always arrive when wind settles, it seems – and was very pleased to meet them, too.

From left: Dad, Fabiola, Cathie and Beppe

Fabiola is a schoolteacher who can speak English rather well and her husband Beppe (Giuseppe) can only speak ten words of English and runs his family winery where they make chardonnay, rosé, barbaresco, and muscato (which I immediately fell in love with). We had a six course meal at the osteria! The dishes included: insalata Russo, fassone cruda (thin slices of cold beef with rosemary sauce), magliotta pasta (like ravioli without the filling), faraona (guinea hen), and assorted desserts! Beppe insisted that I pour his muscato over the strawberries I had ordered for dessert. What a delicious discovery!

Venezuelan “Christmas bread”, made by Fanny

The next day, we met with friends of Fabiola and Beppe at their home for an extravagant lunch! Sensing a theme here? What I learned from that lunch was that as well as serving the same dishes for the most part, almost all special meals involve at least three courses, one of which is ALWAYS pasta. We had plin with veal filling and fresh sage, which was rich and deadly – I mean – delightful.

View from Fanny and Frank’s property

After, even though Cathie, Dad and I were pretty tired, Beppe and Fabiola dragged us to several homes for sale in the area, because they are the type of people to take an idea and run with it. And they had. My dad had asked them for their opinion of a house in the area several months back, which they took to mean that Dad meant to buy a home immediately. Well, my dad is the type to explore and test out ideas and research in order to gather insight BEFORE he actually does whatever he’s thinking of doing. You can see why it might not be well-communicated when these two types get together, not even adding on the issue of language barriers and cultural differences, like America’s and Italy’s vast differences of opinion on the concept of time!

It was a pretty ridiculous second day in Italy, but we were all determined not to let stress get to us, because it certainly wasn’t getting to anyone else within a 100-mile radius!

The view from our rental on a relatively normal morning
The view from our rental on Monday morning

Monday was misty and rainy in parts, so I skipped out on another “house-hunting adventure” in the morning before we went to another fantastic lunch at La Contea in Neive. We shared gnochetti, which was flavored with sage and nettles! A wine-tasting followed in the afternoon at Albino Rocca, which was actually kinda fun! Yay for being legal in Europe!

Gnochetti (or gnudi) at La Contea

We drove to Torino the next morning to pick up my dad’s cousin, Charles, who has lived in Florence for the past 40 years. With just that in mind, we were anticipating a grand old time when we got to the city, but we found a lot of random, cool things happening already when we got there! The first stop, when we finally got past the traffic caused by the May Day protesters in town, was the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in the renovated Mole Antonelliana.

May Day protester

The museum takes you through the history of photography and cinema, from shadow puppetry to photography to projectors to modern film. It was really awesome to see how cinema used to be an act at a carnival, like a magic show, and was thought not to have any particular potential. If you’ve seen the movie Hugo, you’ve seen a film that showed in the museum – the first ever film shown to an audience. It is of a train arriving at a station, and it scared people so much that they dived out of their seats when they watched it, thinking the train would just ride right into the midst of the theatre. Cool stuff, huh?

Museo di Cinema’s glass elevator inside the dome

The main part of the museum was a giant atrium, where there were several interactive exhibits where you basically entered film genres, but there was a space in the middle where a glass elevator went straight through to the panoramic city view at the top of the dome. It floated up from a lower floor, through the large space, and up, like an acrobat on a trapeze!

The dome of Superga

For lunch we had pizza in the Piazza Carlo Albergo before picking up Charles in a torrential downpour. The afternoon was spent exploring unknown gems in the city in the pouring rain, such as Chiesa di San Lorenzo, the Shroud of Turin, and Superga, up on a hill across the river.

Me with my cioccolato calda

San Lorenzo was my ultimate favorite, and the site of one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.

Chiesa di San Lorenzo

That evening we met at Osteria dell’Oca Giuliva with Beppe and Fabiola for a wonderful dinner, Charles included. Charles always makes things infinitely more entertaining or at least eccentric.

One of my favorite vegetables

On Wednesday, we went to the local market in Bra and bought lots of delicious things, bought cheeses at Giolito’s famous cheese shop, and then took a tour of UNISG, a internationally renown university for the gastronomic sciences. Which was pretty darn cool. We cooked dinner at home that night, and we still managed to stuff ourselves silly! If you can believe it, I was actually tired of eating so much good food! It happens!

From left: Cathie, Dad, me, and Charles!

The following day, we visited Monforte d’Alba. Lunch was an improvised affair by the gracious owners of Albergo “da Felicin.” They were kind enough to fix us a four-course meal, even though they weren’t serving lunch. We ate in a lovely garden with an old olive tree and a pond full of turtles in the background.

That night, though, was the Fancy Meal.

The cheese cart at La Ciau
Dad and me on the terrace

We ate at a 2-star Michelin-rated restaurant. It was kind of fantastic. We went to La Ciau del Tornavento to celebrate a trifecta of birthdays: Charles’, Dad’s and mine! This of course meant that we were pampered with great service and fantastic food for four hours. The usual. The chef, Maurilio Garolao, came and welcomed us to the restaurant before we began our meals with a selection of wines and antipasti. One of the highlights of that evening was probably the palate-cleanser, funnily enough. It was a mysterious sorbet – made from grasses in the nearby foothills!

Probably 500 Euro worth of mushrooms. Ya know.
Cathie, Maurilio Garolao, and me!

Friday was our last full day in Italy, because we’d be flying back home from France (believe me, it was probably for the best). We had lunch at a small osteria with big portions and bigger taste. I had a salad with duck carpaccio, orange slices, blueberry and olive oil. IT WAS THE BEST THING!

My salad at Osteria Italia

That afternoon Cathie and I went shopping and I got an awesome white scarf with a turquoise detail, the one souvenir to bring back with me from Italy… besides maybe some wine to sneak through customs. SHH! Wandering around Alba was pretty cool, too. Cathie showed me another Chiesa di San Lorenzo, which had been recently excavated and renovated. Parts of the floors were made of grate instead of solid flooring, so we could see through to the remains of the old church foundations and baptismal fonts.

Chiesa di San Lorenzo

The last night, we went to a wine-tasting dinner as a part of the Barbaresco wine-makers celebration that would be taking place in the following week. Beppe and Fabiola got us in free of charge, although I think they just paid for us. They’re so nice! Ahh! The catering happened to be done by the same restaurant we’d gone to the night before, so we got to see our friend Maurilio again. And he recognized us. Crazy stuff!

Cathie and Dad at the Barbaresco Winemakers Association Dinner!

Sad to leave, we drove to Savona the following day for a final Italian meal of seafood at Restaurant Luna, before saying goodbye to Charles at the train station. The rest of the afternoon was spent driving to St-Paul-De-Vence, France, but not before passing by Monaco and other fantastic seaside places on the way. Upon arriving, we sat out on the deck at the Hôtel Le Hameau, and I tried out the hot tub, before we wandered into the town of Vence and found a restaurant in the old, walled city. Dinner was nice, but not Italian, of course. It was interesting to be back in a place where I could understand the language again! We reflected on our adventures while sipping rosé de Provence, and finished our meal with a nice crème brûlée.

Hôtel Le Hameau

On the plane from Nice the next morning, I missed the melodious hills of the Piemonte, but I also came to the realization that this very short part of my life was coming to an end. What an unforgettable experience. Now, I miss London most, but what I think I miss about it is the wonderful experience of being in a new place with new friends, and learning along the way. I look forward to getting back to school in the fall, to return to that sort of environment. I am so, so thankful and pleased as punch that I got to do this. And I recommend – to whomever gets the kind of opportunity I did – to take a trip like this by the reins, don’t take it for granted, and have all the fun you can.

Cathie at Nice Airport

Anyway, thanks for reading this lengthy post, and thanks for following my blog! I may return to it for my cross-country road trip/adventure in August, but it’s TTFN, ta-ta for now.

Until next time,
Ava

Lengthy update about travels with friends (or, Barthelona/Munich in 9 dishes)

Thought I’d give you a summary of how Barcelona and Munich were, and then prepare you for a lengthy story about Switzerland. My flight from Gatwick was delayed 1.5 hours because of the Virgin Atlantic debacle. However, I landed in BCN around 8:30, with an Adele song stuck in my head and a pink, sky-lit drive to Diagonal Zero Hotel. Checked in and took an hour long shower by 10:15, and in a celebratory if wistful mood as I posted my reflective chatter on this blog. Had a chat with Devan about the following week’s plans and then spent the next three hours searching for things to do and noms to eat, most of which we never got around to doing, but hey – that’s how travelling works.

Had a breakfast of cured meats, potato omelet, fruit, yoghurt, and OJ by myself as French, Indian, Swiss, and other American families ate around me. It was certainly an interesting experience. I checked out by 11 and took a taxi to Ciutat Vella, the old fisherman’s neighbourhood in Barcelona. The Ideal Youth Hostel looked a bit like a prison or a nightclub on the outside, but my spirits were high as I checked in and paid for the group. They wouldn’t let me into the room until 2pm, but I hung around and wrote some e-mails and met a Turkish girl named Trusza who was studying psychology in the Netherlands but was on a three day stint in Barcelona on her own. She was very nice, and gave me cookies when we’d run out of things to say.

Molly, Nate, Ian and Nick arrived around 3pm, and we went up to discover that the hostel room had a balcony, even if there were no bed sheets. The ceilings looked like rubber band balls and the beds were like Nantucket Nectar tops that pop every time you move. We got out of there and bought jamón sandwiches at a take-away place and headed to the beach. We hung out for a while until it got chilly – it was a bit windy, and a bit touristy for a public beach (lots of venders trying to sell us “massajes”). After wandering around the city, we took an hour or two in our hostel room before picking Mixtli up at the train station. Upon returning to La Rambla we got cheap tapas, paella, and sangria. It was a late night, but so much fun.

The next morning, we got chocolate con churros upon Molly’s request. Parc Güell was next, with a bit of off-road hiking à la Bear Grylls (in a miniskirt, because I’m awesome) and then we wandered into the city and bought sandwich meat, baguettes and manchego and had a delicious luncheon in a skate park before taking the metro to the Sagrada Familia. When we returned to the hostel in the late afternoon, the group took some time to plan the rest of their time in Europe and I looked up restaurants as faint guitar music floated up from the clutter of back yards beneath our balcony. It was a nice little moment. Molly and I, being the foodies and the ones who tend to give a damn, organized dinner at a place called La Champagneria. It ended in disaster, so the group split. So, Mixtli, Molly, Ian and I went to a restaurant in the marina. In the end, everyone was happy, and Molly and I shared patatas bravas, jamon iberico, avocado/shrimp salad, calamari, and bread and olive oil, while the boys and I shared 2 litres of sangria. Later, we met up with Nick and Nate and went and hung out in the square across La Rambla – because it was likely I wouldn’t find myself in Spain for a while yet, I ordered more chocolate from the same place as we’d eaten that morning. There was chatter. Good times were had.

Signs for the metro system in Münich

Nora picked me up from MUC with a handmade sign reading “Wilkommen in München Ava,” when I landed in Munich from my easy-going flight on Vueling Airlines the next day. We got to Studentenstadt on the U-Bahn and bus system and moved my stuff into Devan’s room before going to one of the student bars and getting a currywurst. It’s a typical dish that you’ll get in any urban center in Germany, apparently. It was weird, though. When Devan arrived from her orchestra practice, we planned my couple days in Munich by writing down all of the foods I needed to try. Thus began the Munich in 9 dishes and/or drinks quest. The next day, we embarked on that quest.

Not buttered pretzels, but braided ones at Frülingsfest.

The day began with 1) butterbrezn (buttered soft pretzel) right from the oven, and quickly followed with a trip on the U-Bahn into Munich proper. We wandered around and I got to go up in the Neues Rathaus (new city hall) and take pictures of the city from the tower. From there we could see the Alps as well as several of the churches the girls wanted to take me to so I could hear about the art history of the town. Frauenkirche, Theatinerkirche Asamkirche, among others. Each had its special story. We had 2) Indian food for lunch, with Devan and Nora’s mutual friend, Katy, beforehand, but afterward Nora and I bought a 3) mandelrolle each (pastry with almond paste and powdered sugar) at the discount bakery. There was much wandering and taking photos of whatever I found interesting: dogs, flowers, patterns in the street, colors of buildings, funny logos and signs, etc. We headed back in the afternoon, and Devan and I decided after a quick breather that we’d go see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the cinema that showed movies in English, before getting 4) pho at the nearest Pan-Asian restaurant, which luckily was serving until 11, closing at 11:30. We passed by a “Party bus” on the way home.

Alter in Asamkirche. Probably the creepiest church I’ve ever been to.
The dome in Theatinerkirche
Vaulted ceilings in Frauenkirche

Devan and I walked through the English Garden the following day, talking about our futures and what we had learned while abroad. This is where the trip took on a competing title of “Ava takes pictures of waterfowl” to combat “Munich in 9 Dishes.”

Cherry blossoms in the park!
Devan and I enjoying the sunshine…
Goslings eating with their parents

5) Milchreis was eaten soon enough, and then we went to the library and Universitätskirche before heading back to get Devan’s dirndl and go to Frülingsfest (spring festival, which is really a carnival with beer and a flea market)! We had 6) bratwurst before meeting up with a group of LC Germany kids who provided some beer, and then we headed back in for chocolate covered strawberries, photo-taking, 7) Dutch pancakes with nutella, and the swing ride! It was so much fun.

The local library
Universitätskirche
Detail of Devan’s dirndl – traditional dress of Germans. Yes, they do wear them all the time.
Frülingsfest!
BRATWURST!
Breakdancer ride.
Dutch pancakes with Nutella
Frülingsfest from the swing ride!

Next day we started with 8) döner for lunch and then trammed to Nymphenburg Palace where I met my mom’s new boyfriend and went through the ornate rooms that once belonged to Ludwig II. The King thought he was born 100 years too late, apparently and therefore wanted to be in the Baroque period, even though he was living in the 19th century. According to Devan, he was likely gay, had tea parties with people who weren’t there, and was found dead in a body of water with his doctor at a fairly young age. He led a sad life. The carriage museum attached to the palace was proof of his wish to be in another time. Afterward, Devan and Mom and Randy and I got a beer (Devan and I got radlers – beer/lemonade) before Devan and I headed off to a pub-equivalent and I got greißnorcklesuppe (sp?), which is basically matza ball soup, and 9) kaeser spaetzle. We came back and made an early night of it, as I would be packing in the morning while Devan had classes.

Nymphenburg ballroom
Largest carriage on display, that day

Packing was a bit less efficient than I had planned – as it always is – so of course I had to get in an episode of Glee and read a bit more of my book (A Game of Thrones) before cooking myself some eggs and bratwurst. Devan came back around 4, and by then I was sufficiently packed, so we went downstairs to visit Nora and ate some of hers and Katy’s delicious three-layer cake. We headed into town with my luggage, checked into my hotel room, and partied around the fancy room for half-an-hour before meeting my mom and Randy downstairs. We went Prinz Myshkin, a vegetarian restaurant near the Rathaus, and all had delicious meals. Among those were white asparagus cream soup, curry carrot cream soup, tomato basil soup, zucchini blossom tempura, pumpkin rotondi with sage butter, tomato-mozzarella ravioli with red sauce, and sansei (julienned vegetables with brown rice and marinated tofu). I also had a caipirinha (mixed drink) for fun. Devan and Nora and I watched an episode of Game of Thrones back at the hotel before saying our goodbyes with a good hug (as we do). Missing them already, I repacked and went to bed for an early morning train to Zürich.

Devan, me and Nora at Prinz Myshkin (spelling might be off)

Münich was a blast, for sure. It ended my time with my friends and began the portion with my family. It’s a trip I’ll remember for a long time.

Neue Rathaus at dusk

London Leisure

Mom's here!

I promised I’d chat about the last couple of weeks, but I figured the important stuff has happened more recently, and after a while, hearing about yet another play is probably not the most scintillating thing I could talk about! THEREFORE, I will talk about the break in programmage (meaning, stuff I did without my group) that occurred when my mom arrived a day after my last post! There will be an overlying theme of good food and good shopping, so be warned!

Cadogan Hall from my seat.

We started her stay with a delicious lunch at The Kensington Crêperie I happened upon with my high school friend and now fellow Londoner, Claire, the other week. Plans were made for the next couple of days over delicious crêpes and gelato! Then, later on, we dined in Sloane Square at a restaurant that served my mom a fishcake shaped like a bowling ball, in typical bad taste, before seeing the London Chamber Orchestra at Cadogan Hall. It was wonderful – starting with the “Crown Imperial” (which I can’t stop thinking of as the Imperial March – SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT), followed by Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy” (which was not really all that Scottish, as Bruch never even went to Scotland, but still beautiful with a violin soloist as young as I am. For what she lacked in subtlety due to inexperience, she made up for with enthusiasm and beautiful technique). The final piece was Vaughn Williams’ symphony, which was also lovely but unsurprising, as Vaughn Williams can’t escape Vaughn Williams – and I’m not sure he wanted to. I think the most compelling part of the performance was the sheer joy on many players’ faces in the orchestra. They were just having so much fun and had such energy that I’m sure the whole audience was in love by the first couple lines  of the Crown Imperial. Our group was seated on the sides right above the orchestra, lucky us.

You should see the rest of the store.

On Saturday  mom and I went to Gielgud Theatre’s Ladykillers in the evening, which was a constant laugh attack, after spending the day walking through Soho and having much success SHOPPING. We are nothing if not predictable when the two of us are abroad together. The highlight of my shopping day was probably a pair of red leather heels with silky, teal laces and houndstooth details! Honestly, they were the most sensible and subtle pair of shoes in the store, Irregular Choice.

Sunday was a day of museums and good food. We went to the Natural History Museum (right in my borough) in the afternoon and then went to an Indian restaurant, Zaika. It was full of deliciousness including my ridiculous cocktail, this “Classic Martinique,” rum and lime juice served in a martini glass. Mom continues to be astonished that I can drink, etc. and do it responsibly. She sent this picture of me to friends, saying I’ve been corrupted! Couldn’t decide whether I was offended or amused so I left it alone.

Polyester installation of a staircase, complete with railing and lightswitches, all from the same material.

Monday, I managed to get a purse that goes across-body, which I can say definitely makes life easier. I shoved mom onto an old double decker (see the first pic in this post), where we rode up top up front to Trafalgar Square. Having done the touristy thing, posing in front of monuments we have very little knowledge of, we pubbed it up at The Sherlock Holmes! Then it was across the Thames to the Tate Modern. Mom hated it; I loved it. My favorite part, however, was not the art, but this little boy who was watching a video of trash blowing about in the wind (oh, modern art). He was having the time of his life, laughing and squealing at the styrofoam take-away boxes and tin cans and newspaper. You could hear him throughout the gallery. I imagine he was enjoying himself much more than the artist could have ever anticipated. We caught the tube back to mom’s hotel where I got to take a shower that didn’t run cold after 5 minutes – and got gussied up (read: put on new red heels) to went to PÉTRUS, a very shmancy restaurant associated with Gordon Ramsey. I had sea scallops with black truffle shavings, butter-soft potato and duck confit (paired with white wine from Borgogne). For my main, I had venison, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, and other gloriousness, with a red wine (also delicious); and finished the night with a pistachio soufflé and a TOUR OF THE KITCHEN!!! All in all, it was a brilliant end to mom’s stay in London.

Normal life returned with class the next morning, and a political theatre play in the evening – a compelling subject matter with a promising script but horrid, horrid, horrid tech and an underfunded set (especially for the ridiculous crap they were doing with it – lots of unnecessary stuff and clumsy interpretation of script).  At one point, there were blow-up fish swimming around above the audience. At least Cate, my roommate, had figured out a nice pub to go to beforehand. The Dove, the oldest pub still right on the Thames, was a writing spot of Ernest Hemingway’s and now a spot where Cate, Molly and I drank and looked out over the dark river, over the houseboats and canal boats to the Hammersmith Bridge. It was great.

The view from The Dove

Now, for a recount of my weekend of Scottitude. But I’m not finished yet – we’re taking a day to Bath and Stonehenge on Tuesday. We’ve also got a visit to the Tower of London and Parliament on Friday, the day before spring break!

After my next post about Scotland (in a few minutes), I’ll be checking in in the middle of next week so as not to overwhelm you all (and myself) with ALL OF THE THINGS!