August 25th, Weekly Roundup

It's Friday! Last week was a little bleak, so I skipped a weekly roundup. Some of the links but be a little stale but still important.

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Here we go!

- CNN listed all the garbage news out of the White House for the past four weeks. It's mind boggling and a great reminder of how distorted time seems since January 20th. Also - I sincerely miss people bitching about Obama's tan suits and mustard habits. It's also from the third week in August so who knows what new horrors have popped between publishings. Editor's Note: Something dramatic that happened - that horrible, vile, totally insane speech in Phoenix, for one.

- The Vice documentary heard round the world. From Charlottesville.

- This news is a bit old but still sad, though not surprising, to see what the GOP is doing to my former home state.

- Colbert and WaPo seem to come to the same conclusion - time to admit Trump is just an old-fashioned racist. Until then, WaPo also wanders what an actual president might have said about Charlotesville.

- Wired confirms that the 'alt-left' is mostly a made-up boogeyman of conservative media.

- Rick and Morty has been excellent this season. Just as smart and witty as ever. Vulture takes a look at all the universes we've introduced so far. Spoiler - it's extensive.

- The trailer for the follow-up to The Lobster recently debuted and it has everything! So excited for this - looking forward to another odd, moody film I can't stop recommending or thinking about.

Okay, GoT time - can't believe the final episode is this week! A few week's old, but Gilly's ignored by Sam (but NOT the internet) revelation of Jon's parentage still had a great reaction.

Slate looks at what has gone wrong with the show. I think it was exemplified in the last episode. Those seven dudes north of the wall, bantering around Brienne and Tormund and teaching me how to pronounce whinging? That was prime Game of Thrones and I could have had an entire season of that. And here's the thing - we probably should have. In the rush for the finish line, there seems to be efficiency in the way of character development and just good storytelling.

Similarly, Vox points out all the questions coming out of the last episode. Because it was a dumb idea, guys. A really, really dumb idea...

Another thing that is really bugging me - the inconsistencies of the white walkers. Look, I'll buy dragons and ice zombies, but you gotta be consistent with your dragons and ice zombies.

When in Nuremberg

For this week's Travel Tuesday, Nuremberg!

First, the elephant in the room. Today, the name 'Nuremberg' doesn't conjure up some idyllic old German town but Nazi propaganda rallies and the most famous trials of the twentieth century. Of all the places I visited in Germany, Nuremberg might be the one that bands together all the juxtapositions of the country the most, especially the last century. My recommendation is to let go of whatever idea you have of Nuremberg and embrace the experience.

Nuremberg has always been high on my 'need to write this' Travel Tuesday list because it was one of my favorite places in Germany that I visited. (My current ranking is Berlin Hamburg Munich Nuremberg). Coincidentally, it's also the time we have people marching with swastikas and quoting Hitler here in America. I'll get to it later when we get to the Party Grounds, but I think Germany has done a really incredible job of being respectful of its recent past, honoring those who died, and acknowledging the horror of it all and the idea that it can never happen again. WWII was much more recent than the Civil War. The division of East and West Germany even more recent. And yet, from the perspective of this American engineer who briefly lived there, the Germans seem to have a better grasp on how to handle their ugly history than we do. Somewhere between sweeping it under the rug and wrapping yourself in the Confederate flag. And Nuremberg is probably the city that exemplifies this the most. I'll try to minimize the political soap boxing but you can't talk about Nuremberg without it.

Some logistics - I was living just a couple of hours away from Nuremberg. Twice last year, I took a bus and did a day trip to Nuremberg, three hours each direction. For my first trip, I booked a tour guide. He was impressed I was traveling so far for a day trip. But then I reminded him I was from America. And not just America, but the big states in the middle - distances have a different definition over there. For my second trip, I hit the sites I didn't have time for with the tour and, most importantly, saw one of the most famous Christmas markets in Europe. This entry includes items from both visits. Nuremberg suggestions - if you want to see the modern history and the older, you need at least two days. If you're just interested in one, you can probably manage in a day. My other recommendation is to go through a tour. There's just so much history and you're going to miss something otherwise.

Like this building! Built in the 1300's as a hospital, today it serves as a home for the elderly. It's a beautiful building in a lovely spot on the river, just around the corner from the old town and the site of the Christmas market. But don't adjust your retirement plans just yet. Only citizens of Nuremberg are eligible for residency.

The Hauptmarkt. This picture was taken when I first visited in the summer. There was a farmer's market going on at the time. A small sample of the total bananas circus that would be here a few months later for the Christmas market... The focal point of the square is the Fraeunkirche. At noon, the clock puts on its own little show. Our guide was a pro, timing our visit so we hit the square just at noon.

Not pictured is the Schoner Brunnen, or Beautiful Fountain. The 19-meter tall spectacle was under construction when I first visited and surrounded by tourists the second. It's an ornate fountain in the middle of the square. Legend has it that you touch the gold ring in the fountain's iron gate for luck. Even during construction, with the fountain itself hidden from view, the ring was made available for grabbing. Gotta appease the tourists.

Now for a totally different church, St. Sebaldus (we still have one more we'll get to later). It is a medieval church, one of the oldest in the city. In the back of the church, one of the sculpted gargoyles is actually a Judensau, because antisemitism wasn't anything the Nazis invented. Thanks for pointing that out, tour guide.

Statue of Nuremberg's favorite son, Albrecht Durer. An artist, he worked in a variety of mediums, including painting, woodcutting, and printmaking. His most famous pieces include Young Hare and Praying Hands.

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Durer's house is a museum today, if you are interested or have time. I'm 0 for 2 on both accounts.

Statue for Durer's Young Hare.

The symbol of Nuremberg: the Nuremberg castle. It's on a bit of an incline, with cobble streets. Wear walking shoes.

The view of Alt Stadt from the castle.

More castle.

This tower of the castle made me really happy and, as this bit of info wasn't in my guide book, made the tour totally worth it. This tower is the tallest, shortest, thinnest, and thickest of the towers in Nuremberg Castle. How, you ask?

The tower itself is the shortest, but it is seated on a higher point, so in regards to overall height, it's the tallest. The circumference of the tower itself is the smallest, but it has the thickest walls. The more you know!

St. Lorenz church. Built in the 1400's, the church was badly damaged during the war, as was much of Nuremberg. It has since been restored.

The interior of the church.

Let me set the scene. The tower marks the beginning of the old town. When taking this picture, I'm standing in old town. On the other side of the tower is the train station. So, if you have an hour in Nuremberg or just want to see the old parts of the city, it's right there, literally across the street from the train station.

The Hauptmarkt of the old town also has a Galeria. I don't know if I've mentioned them before but they are awesome and, to be honest, I kind of miss them. The Galeria is basically a department store on steroids. Each store (and they're everywhere) has at least four floors, including a restaurant, a cafe, a grocery department, an extensive wine and bakery section, school and office supplies, of all things, and the usuals - clothing, household goods, accessories. Etc. And open on Sundays! Both times I was in Nuremberg, I actually nipped into the Galeria to pick up snacks for the ride home, easier than the train station. Thanks, Galeria!

Now we're at the Nazi rally grounds, officially Reichsparteitagsgelande. If you've ever seen a black and white photo of Hitler speaking in front of a bunch of marching soldiers, it was probably filmed here. In the 1930's, the big party meetings were held in these grounds in Nuremberg. The rallies were a big part of the Nazi propaganda and the location of the film Triumph of the Will. Zeppelin Field is a series of grand stands, the main one pictured here, and the location of several Nazi speeches. To get here, you have to take a tram from the train station. You're dropped off at the Doku-Zentrum. Right behind the museum is what would have been the Congress Hall, if WWII didn't halt building plans, and across the lake from that is the stadium.

Hitler told his architect he wanted something reminiscent of ancient Greek and Roman structures. There were lots of pillars and a huge swastika that was blown up by Allied forces upon taking Nuremberg. Having visiting Rome and Nuremberg, I will echo my German tour guide - Nazis were good at killing people but that's about it; they really sucked at governing and, as evidenced here, building things.

Seriously, the actual Colosseum is in better shape. There's an interesting debate in Bavaria right now, semi-relevant to our hand-wringing over Confederate statues. This structure and the Congresshall need fixing, in the millions of Euros area, or they will become unsafe. So what to do? Spend the money that could go elsewhere on fixing up Nazi buildings? Or let the history of WWII slowly disappear? I can see both sides but all the sites in Nuremberg did was reinforce that Hitler had a serious ego problem and, again, sucked at building things. But I'm sure there is a very different reaction to someone who lost family members in the Holocaust and has to see this stuff on his/her way to work every day. In the 1980's, a series of columns were removed from the grandstand because they had become a safety hazard.

But to be clear, these are buildings used by the Nazi's during the war. It's not some statue of Goebbels, built twenty years later to ramp up anti-Jewish sentiments.

I'm standing in the spot where Hitler gave all his speeches. In this field, proud Germans could come and demonstrate their skills and soldiers could march and patriots could give speeches. This was also apparently a disaster every year, as the locals were not at all equipped to housing so many people. Like, soldiers were sleeping on hay. 

Another fun fact. Some of the party speeches and spectacles were held at night. The Germans didn't have enough spotlights, so they had virtually every spotlight in their power taken to Nuremberg to light up the sky, impressing the German soldiers but also the Allied who were watching. The secret was they didn't have anything else and were putting it all into this.

The view of Congresshall across the lake. Congresshall was modeled after the Colosseum in Rome and never finished. Missing are another row of columns along the top that would have doubled the structure's height and a self-supporting roof. However, modern architects believe this structure was not possible given the technology of the 1940s.

View from the inside. The Congresshall is also in serious need of repair. Again, Nazis were really bad at building things. Today, in addition to a reminder of what can never happen again, the hall serves as a location to store the Christmas market stalls

And now the Doku-Zentrum. It is right next to the Congresshall and is a museum documenting much of modern Germany history, from the end of WWI to the Potsdam Conference and the Nuremberg trials. I can't recommend this museum enough. It did an excellent job describing how antisemitism escalated, what life was like in Germany during this time period, and how the war was reported. I went there as soon as it opened. I do recommend coming early or an off day, as there are some interactive exhibits. And leave at least a few hours to spend here. The exhibits are extensive and there are several somewhat lengthy videos worth checking out.

In the museum, there's a platform that allows you to walk out and look over the interior of the Congresshall. Near that is this art piece, commemorating the lives lost at the concentration camps.

My Nuremberg experience was divided into three parts - Alt Stadt, Doku-Zentrum and Party Rally grounds, and the courtroom. Each area is distinctively unique and requires a separate tram. The courtroom is in a much more modern area of the city. The courtroom is is pictured here, distinguishable from the other buildings thanks to those three colorful flags in front.

This is it, Courtroom 600, still in use today. The trial room where the world-famous Nuremberg trials were held. The white TV monitor thing was showing video footage of the trails. Sitting in the room, I was struck by how small and compact it was. And, per videos and film, the place was packed with reporters, translators, lawyers, etc. It was surreal to be in a room where so much history happened and to be in the same place as some truly terrible, vile people. Evil was defended and sentenced here.

The exterior again. Allied flags. In addition to the courtroom, there's also an exhibit detailing the logistics of the trial, including selection of courtroom, various foreign governments involved, managing reporters, finding translators. Really interesting stuff.

That's enough of that. We're in Christmas territory now! The main Christmas Market for Nuremberg is in the Hauptmarkt. But it was like a tree. Or cancer. There's this huge mass in the main square, but the market had trendrils all over the place. Just walking around, I stumbled upon a mini Christmas market in another tiny square. This one had camels! There were several various animals here and they were friendly. After along day of WWII history, sometimes you just need to pet something fuzzy.

If you don't have mulled wine, did you really go to a Christmas market? It took me two Christmas markets (I went to Munich's the week prior) to figure out that you bought the wine, then drank it as you walked around the markets. You got these nice porcelain mugs and were given a Euro back when you returned it to the stall. If you did. The mulled wine was everywhere.

The Fraeunkirche, all lit up for Christmas. In all, I went to five Christmas markets while I was in Europe - Paris, Nuremberg, Munich, Mannheim, and Heidelberg. While they were all busy and crowded, the ones in Paris and Nuremberg were shocking. Not for anyone with a a fear of crowds. So many people. I honestly don't know how shopping was accomplished. I just walked around and tried not to murder anyone.

Real talk, I thought the Christmas markets were just okay. The one near me, never very crowded, was fun to get some of that Glutwein and to pick up a couple of Christmas presents. But the larger ones were just so crowded. And each one seemed to have the same stuff - ornaments and wood working and candles, paper artwork. There seemed to be maybe a dozen types of stalls and there were just repeated about a hundred times. At least there was wine and sausages.

But they were festive. And who doesn't wan that in December.

And now back home. Even the train station is a little bit magical for Christmas. Nuremberg was the only place I took a bus to (that I can remember). And honestly, the bus ride wasn't bad! The bus was made by the same people who make the Deutsche Bahn trains and were very similar. Two stories, I sat on the upper deck both times. It was honestly comfortable and in some ways preferable to a train. I recently took a bus to NYC and was expecting the same thing. Ha! America has not at all gotten there yet!

August 11th, Weekly Roundup

Friday.

There are all kinds of problems in Washington, from the man child in the White House to the looming debt ceiling crisis. And, you know, Korea. But here's something you may not be worried about! Really old politicians and all that implies. Spoiler alert - Reagan's Alzheimer's is just the beginning.

But seriously, the debt ceiling is a big deal. Speaker Ryan keeps reminding everyone the last time Republicans were this much in charge, it was the 1920's. Someone's history lesson must have ended with The Great Gatsby.

NYT has a leaked draft of several federal agencies' climate change report. Al Gore and most intelligent people were right, who knew. It's terrifying and worth a read. Maybe just as troubling and in a totally different way - NYT received the draft because the agencies were worried the White House would try to suppress it. We've bypassed party over country and are at coal industry over country, I guess.

A few months ago, Katy Tur was on The Daily Show and she said the moment she thought Trump might be able to win the election was in late 2015, when he shit all over McCain's war record. If anything, service is sacred, right? Nope.

Since I drafted this, he shit all over a totally new sector of public service - ambassadors and diplomatic teams, while trying his hardest to jerk off Putin from New Jersey. Also, he seriously doesn't understand how any of this works or what Putin's actual jurisdiction here is - this doesn't save us any money. And even if it did, it wouldn't make a dent in the money we've spent merely on his family's travel expenses. I miss politicians who did shady stuff and had the shame to at least try to hide it.

Okay so another thing I really don't get - the Trump hotel on DC, which is leased from the government and basically everything about it is illegal. And yet here we are! WaPo makes it an emblem.

DJT Jr is just a young man trying to help out his dad, Ryan Lochte is just a boy fooling around. Vox argues the problem might be more than just Trump.

But seriously, Atlantic asks the big question that I think we have to address before we make any progress - when the hell did America lose its mind?

Here's a funny ad someone at work sent me in response to the North Korea shenanigans this week. But seriously, we're six months in and I'm one more crisis away from finding a therapist or at least an anti-anxiety medication.

Okay, let's dramatically shift gears.

This week, r/askreddit posed the question: what would the differences be if Harry Potter was American? Pajiba rounds up the best but the thread in general is a good time-killer on a Friday afternoon.

A few years ago, I spent a weekend totally sucked into the world of Top of the Lake, an odd but great Australian miniseries. And series two is back, this time with more Brienne and the perfect amount of Nicole Kidman.

Taylor Swift's sexual harassment suit is ongoing this week and she took the stand. And let's pour one out for T Swift, educating the attorneys on where a woman's ass is located and refusing to be victim-shamed.

Look at what the film Hidden Figures is doing! We need more films about women in STEM, probably.

Let's end on a high note: a day camp for transgender kids! Also, I think that 'no transgender people in the military' atrocity is still stalled. We'll take silver linings where we can.

Italy: Naples, Pompeii, and Amalfi Coast

It's our last Italy post! In the past few weeks, we've been to Milan, Verona, Tuscany, Venice, and Rome. Italy is a beautiful country, with each region and even each city having its own vibe, color palette, and attitude. I had a great time and can't wait to go back. But first, my last round of spots - Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast!

After spending a week in Bologna to check out the northern cities, I traveled south to Naples. From Naples, I did a day tour of Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. For my last day in Italy, I spent some time exploring Naples itself.

The view of the bay from my Naples' Airbnb. I had one of my best Airbnb experiences here. The apartment was amazing. Like, if I could transplant this exact apartment to Boston or NYC and live there, I would. Lots of natural light and balconies, incredible views, perfect floor plan. My host was really helpful also. It was a great experience. I also had a nice time in Bologna. I just really recommend Airbnb for longer stays. You need a fridge and a living room, sometimes.

The other side of my Airbnb view! Seriously, I just could have hung out in this apartment for a day or so. Naples tangent now. A very nice lady I met on my Pompeii/Amalfi tour (I met up with her in London a few weeks later, yay for single serving friends) said that she had heard that Naples was not a safe city and she told me to watch out.

I didn't hear this beforehand, but after visiting the city and hearing from the guides, I totally buy it. Naples is one of the dirtiest cities I've been to in Europe. There were a lot of people begging for money. Usually I see homeless people or people doing random things for money, like the live sculptures or painted pigeons. In Naples, just people flat out begging for money. I never felt unsafe, but I was also staying just a couple blocks off a very busy road. And I'm not complaining about Naples. There are things to see in Naples and places to eat and the city has its charm and beauty, but it's also a departure from the northern Italy cities that I had just visited. Adjust expectations, is what I'm saying.

One major tip: always stay somewhere somewhat busy. For any city. It doesn't matter what you're doing, you're probably going to go back to the hotel late at night at least once. So make sure you're walking home within a crowd. I've never really felt unsafe while traveling around Europe. I usually travel alone but am always careful to stick to the more crowded areas. And don't advertise you're traveling alone. My boss recommends having a fake engagement ring or reference a boyfriend who's on his way. The feminist in me rolls me eyes, the realist nods and says 'yeah, that's a good idea.' So be smart. Stay cognizant. And check in with your mom or someone else each night when you get in.

Final Naples tangent: this really wasn't my favorite place. European cities I visit fall into one of two categories: 'Can't Wait to Come Back!' and 'Well, Checked That One Off My List!' Naples is definitely the latter. Again, there are places to see and there is a charm to the city but there were just other cities I preferred more. Well, I might come back for the pizza.

My aforementioned London friend came to Naples before heading off to Amalfi for one reason and one reason only - this museum. She even selected a hotel nearby so she didn't have to venture far. The National Archaeological Museum is among the most important classical archaeological museums in the world.

My favorite parts of the museum were its extensive sculpture collection, including a few massive pieces, and the mosaic collection. The latter, one instance of which is pictured, primarily features pieces from the ruins at Pompeii and other similar cities. If you go to Pompeii, I do recommend stopping by this museum if you can as so many pieces from Pompeii have found a home here.

Naples Cathedral. Generally, I've gotten used to these major Duomos being in the center of some major open square. Not so in Naples. I was at a modern museum in a busy urban street and turn the corner and there's the church! And it felt very urban, with shops across the narrow street and crowds on the church's short steps. There was a protest of some kind going on in front of the church. Both the interior and exterior are lovely. You should check it out for that but also because it's near everything and easily accessible so no excuses.

One thing about Naples - it was very hard to navigate. Except for the subway, which was great. In fact, side note, the subway was very colorful and eclectic and artistic. Each stop had some elaborate artistic theme going on. But Naples itself was tough. I was staying in the older part of the city, and the most touristy. The buildings are tall, the streets narrow, with the buildings towering over them. Everything is winding. I took a cab at one point and it was slightly terrifying, with very tiny one way streets with cars going both directions and bikes and pedestrians everywhere. Even the airport was tough to get to and figure out. But walking the streets, I kept getting lost. This church, I really struggled to find. And it was mere blocks from my Airbnb! And then once I did find it, I kept walking by it because the exterior does no justice to the interior.

Before you jump to the next picture and are gobsmacked by the difference between the interior and exterior, some history. Gesu Nuovo was originally built as a palace in 1470 and turned into a church just a century later. The square the church sits is home to several other historical sites, including another church and the spite of the Immaculate Virgin. But to be honest, this was the nicer church and the other one didn't allow pictures.

And now here is the interior! Pictured is the main nave but either side is no slacker, featuring a total of six different resplendent chapels. Beyond what was in my guidebook, I had no idea what I was in for when visiting this church and it was a pleasant surprise. After looking for the place for the better part of an hour, it was well worth the walk. And was also a nice place to sit and rest a bit.

Unfortunately, no pictures allowed inside here. Capella San Severo is a small church near the historic center of the city. It was originally a private family chapel. In part because of its small size, there is always a line. Tickets to the church are bought at a shop nearby and then you join the queue to enter the place itself. This wasn't readily apparent to me. Luckily, some Naples dude looking for money directed me to the shop, saving me wasted time in line without a ticket. I paid him. Naples, in a nutshell. So there is a wait - they can only let so many people in at at once. But it's worth it! The small space is crowded with exquisite examples of Baroque art. There's literally a map you have to pick up for a very tiny room so you don't miss any of the pieces. But the main one, pictured here in a sign just outside the chapel, and a not insignificant reason for the line, is the Veiled Christ. The piece was completed in 1753 by Giuseppe Sanmartino and is the undeniable piece de resistance of the chapel. Everyone in the room gave polite attention to the other pieces in the room before quickly directing their gaze to the monster in the room. The veil is so thin and delicate I was tempted to pull the thing off. Just a lovely and detailed piece. Some serious craftsman ship on display here.

The nice British lady I did the tour with also recommended stopping by Sorbillo for pizza. Trip Advisor confirmed, recommending getting there early to avoid a queue. So I added it to my list, arriving just a few minutes after it opened. And this is what I found: a huge crowd already. I put my name on the list and waited. For about forty minutes. For one person. 

And here's the pizza.

First, the experience. Waiting sucked - the sound system they announced the names on was not the best, the crowd was terrible. But once you get inside? Better. There weren't menus in English so I used my best guess. The service was hit and miss but the lovely ladies next to me teamed up with me and we took turns flagging down the waiter, making sure he visited both of us when he came by. I was sitting at a bar, facing the window and hungry tourists waiting for their turn. Eh, it was kind of fun. Once I ordered the pizza, it came really fast and was much larger than expected (spoiler alert - I still ate the whole damn thing). Plus, the bathrooms were nice, the ambiance a contrast to the crowd outside, and the pizzas were huge and cheap.

Finally, the food. OMG. I'm salivating thinking about it. Definitely among the best pizza I've ever had. So fresh, so tasty. There was a unique quality about it. It didn't taste like typical pizza. I definitely recommend checking it out. Just be prepared for a bit of a wait.

Ovo Castle. Supposedly there is an egg in its foundations, hence the name. It was a bit of a walk to make it to the castle from the historic center. But the walk itself was lovely, going through various piazzas and along the water. The castle itself is a labyrinth inside, with lots of pockets and balconies and stairs. A fun place to explore and get great shots of Naples itself.

Naples, from Ovo Castle. It was a bit of a walk to get to Ovo and I had been dragging myself around Italy for a week, so I may have just hung out here for awhile, enjoying the view.

Mt. Vesuvius! Also, Naples, stop showing off.

My final meal in Naples before I flew back to Germany! Honestly, it was just okay. But I love food and bread and wine, so not too bad, food-wise, for me. One suggestion on restaurants in Italy (and also I noticed this in Spain) - check the times. Several were open for lunch and dinner separately, closed in between. And the Italians eat much later than this American. I actually skipped my first choice of restaurant because it opened an hour later than this one and I was too hungry and tired to wait. So just plan and be prepared. And finally, I had a few meals in Naples and have to say - aside from the pizza, get seafood wherever you can!

And now, Pompeii. I knew I wanted to see Pompeii, though it did not match my mental model at all. Just to get the most out of the site and to make it as easy as possible, I did a day-long tour from Naples. There were several tour options. I went with one that spent half the day in Pompeii, half the day in a van driving around the Amalfi coast. Overall, it was a great day but it was a weird combination. If you want to keep the mood going, there were other tours that explored the nearby Herculaneum ruins.

First up in Pompeii, the Afiteatro. For gladiator battles.

Pictured is my tour guide. She was excellent. Knowledgeable but also friendly. She could read the crowd well, embellishing where she detected interest and skimming when our eyes glazed over and really balancing the 'give them time to explore' and 'earn your fee.' She also kept calling us family and she was just enjoyable to spend the morning with. One of our first stops was the home of a wealthy family. We were able to see their bath area, a living quarter, and an open garden in the middle of all of it. And then in one corner room, the remnanants of slaves who were unable to escape the blast.  Welcome to Pompeii!

Visiting Pompeii was surreal. The history is right there. You can walk the streets, enter the buildings. Ancient history is no more accessible than it is in Pompeii. I did a very small part of the expansive grounds and was still there several hours. A few things I remember. The streets were carefully designed to will away the water. And whatever else was in the streets. Old school cross walks - at various spots along the street, two large stones would protrude from the ground. Carefully placed to allow carriage wheels to pass through unscathed, these served as stepping stones so crowds could avoid whatever filth was in the street.

Another big spot for us, not pictured, was a brothel. There were paintings on the wall depicting the various acts on the menu. Additionally, depictions of penises could be found on nearby streets, pointing the way to this brothel. Some things never change.

Basically Pompeii's version of Times Square, Foro is the forum in the middle of the town. The mini museum exhibit pictured below is found in the forum.

I feel like this image should be paired with a trigger warning. Vesuvius erupted, everything in Pompeii was blanketed with layers of volcanic ash. And there the city and its inhabitants lay until its discovery over 1500 years later. In the 1860's, centuries after the initial discovery of the city, some genius figured out that the occasional pockets they were discovering while excavating the city were spaces where human remains had decomposed, creating these pockets. To preserve the individuals as they were at the time of the eruption, these cavities, as discovered, were filled with plaster. The site has a half dozen or so of these replications, including a young boy at a spa. Generally, the figures are hunched over, protecting themselves from the blast. Like walking the streets, seeing a recreation of a real person at that time minimizes the distance of time between us and makes it all so real.

Pictured is a dog.

And now for a totally abrupt change of pace... After a lovely lunch nearby, a small chunk of us got in a bus and headed on our Amalfi coast tour. We had two tour guides who were fun, a Middle Eastern couple, a Dutch family (I didn't quite get the combination but there were four adults of various ages), and me. And be nice to your tour mates - I saw the Dutch family the next day at Ovo Castle and then they were on my flight from Naples to Rome. They were friendly and lively and entertained by the quiet American, traveling on her own and listening to podcasts.

Back to the pictures! I really, really think this is Sorrento. We stopped here not long after leaving Pompeii, at some type of liquor place. We got a shot of something lemony, then headed to their balcony for this incredible view. As we drove around Sorrento, we were also able to get a great view of Mt. Vesuvius. The city has everything!

The other side of Sorrento maybe? Pro tip: don't travel in November and finally get around to blogging about in August.

This is another random town on the drive. We stopped here to take pictures. The hill the town is seated on is incredibly steep. Stairs are required to get from one street to another. Such a beautiful place. And funny story - on the Amalfi part of the tour, I was the only American. At one point right before we arrived at this spot, the guides asked me if I recognized a rock in the distance. Within a second, oh yeah, that's Abraham Lincoln! There was a rock just off the shore shaped like the head of our most famous President, instantly recognizable. Apparently the Italians think so too and refer to it as Lincoln rock. The non-Americans on my tour didn't recognize but fortunately, I was reading Team of Rivals on my Kindle and was able to show them Daniel Day-Lewis in his likeness. They agreed!

The Lincoln rock is just on the other side of the bend, I think. It was hard to take a bad picture of this place. As you can see, given the composition of this picture, I tried my best.

Our last stop in Amalfi before heading back to Naples was Positano, a colorful town hugging the coastline.

The city square of Positano. Here, I had some gelato and picked up a lovely set of artistic post cards to send home. One of them is is on my cube wall, a lovely distraction for when I'm buried in data models and state diagrams.

I'm going to end on a beautiful note. The bus piece of my tour was probably five hours. And this was the view most of the time. Terrible! Tragic! I've talked to so many people who just go to some hillside city in Amalfi for vacations and I have to say, I get it. One day, when my student loans are gone and I have months of vacation accrued, I'm there.

And that's the end of my Italy series! A beautiful and diverse country, steeped in history and scenic views. Come for the ancient Rome ruins, stay for the impeccable wine and incredible food.

August 4th, Weekly Roundup

It's August. Summer is almost over, go grab a spot on the beach and enjoy it while it lasts.

I'm going to be honest, Game of Thrones hasn't been perfect this season. But I don't care. There are only a handful of episodes left of the entire story and I'm really invested in Jon Snow and Arya Stark. Get ready for a lot of GoT-related shenanigans.

- In Olenna we trust. Welcome to the graveyard, in a much-deserved send-off. And anything to heighten the drama of eventually Tyrion/Jaime reunion/standoff. But first, a reminder of why we loved her in the first place.

- There have been plenty of think pieces lately about the women of GoT (side note: all of those women around Dany's war table are dead now, right?). But don't worry, the show has quality where it matters - Slate names Cersei the worst person in Westeros after last week.

- For some fun, the Cut looks at the series' biggest fuck boys (am I using that right?). Sure, whatever, this makes sense.

- For something else, I have a confession: I love Stephen King (the writer, not the shitty Congressman from Iowa). I'm pretty blind to his faults and am looking forward to the upcoming film adaptations with mild trepidation and excitement. To prepare, Vulture examines and ranks the Stephen King film adaptations and Jesus, some of my favorite books have made really shitty movies. But The Shining is where it should be, despite the author's own protests.

- Also in Stephen King land, the adaptation of The Dark Tower finally made it to the big screen. All accounts say it's a steaming ball of shit, but here's a glossary anyway. Personally, I really enjoyed the books and wouldn't mind seeing them adapted in a meaningful way, on the big screen or the small, with Idris or without.

- Twitter and Pajiba are here to remind you of the important of bro-speak and the sexism of clothing. Excuse me while I go mourn my pocketless pants.

- I recently saw The Great Comet on Broadway. It wasn't perfect but it was fun and just 2.5 hours of awesome escape. The cast was awesome, especially Oak, from Hamilton. Here is some drama over the casting. I hope the show can find its niche and stick around. Until then, I'll be listening to "Charming" on repeat. And this is from someone how loves Mandy Patinkin.

- The White House has been a spectacular shitshow lately but the recent claims of reverse racism and discrimination against white people are especially frustrating. Come the fuck on. How did the Kush get into Harvard again? To quote Bill Maher, his acceptance letter came with a receipt.

- But on a positive note, the months of activism and hard work paid off last week, when the Senate Obamacare repeal and replace failed spectacularly. I was up in the middle of the night (the time when all important legislation that impacts 1/5th the economy and millions of people is debated) to watch the vote, desperately refreshing Twitter. And John Fucking McCain came through, this one time, saving the key legislation of that guy who kicked his ass in 2008. Poetry! Here, Al Franken recounts the moment in the Senate chambers. Here is where I also note that I just finished Franken's Al Franken Giant of the Senate and can't recommend it enough. Funny, informative, and occasionally touching. Adding every one of his books to my to read list right now.

- Finally, it's Friday. Go get a drink and read these highlights from the Trump transcripts that were released this week. Maybe make your drink a double, because, jesus, we're in for a ride.

Italy: Rome

Italy, a detour.

Cheating here: I stopped by Rome in 2015, separately from my week around Italy, when I was living in Germany that other time. But I didn't have a blog, so let's revisit it along with those other Italian cities!

Important thing about this write-up: Rome has always been a Big Deal for me. In high school, I took four years of Latin, from one of the best teachers I've ever had. He was the closest I've ever gotten to Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society (or his character in Good Will Hunting, for that matter). He shared slides from his own visit to Rome in the 70's, on his honeymoon, with his students; Rome itself, both in modern state and throughout history, was a big part of his class. So visiting Rome was something I've wanted to do since I was fourteen, when it became this mythical place, more so than Paris. Therefore, my expectations were huge, I was visiting through rose-colored glasses, and now I've also gotten two years of time to add some nostalgia to the trip.

The Vatican. I went to Rome to see the Colosseum and the ruins. I tacked on the Vatican as an after thought. Do not do that. The Vatican is awesome.

Some ground rules: for a lot of the churches in Italy, including this one, your knees and shoulders must be covered. Really, Italy and Spain were the only places in Europe I encountered this and even then, not all churches are created equal. Recommendation: bring a scarf. These places can get hot. Wear your shorts and tank tops and wrap a scarf around you to cover up while visiting the holy spaces.

Also, for the Vatican specifically, get here early. Expect a line. The place inside is massive so it might not feel crowded once you're inside, but security takes awhile to get through. Also, you will have to go through security. This was true of several big churches in Spain and Italy but to an extreme at the Vatican. Which makes sense. It's the Vatican!

One more note, my very Catholic friend visited with her daughter a few years ago and actually got to sit in on some prayer service with the Pope himself. I'm not Catholic and have no idea what she was talking about, but hey, it happens!

I got here right when the church opened and this was the line. Again, it's security, not the attraction itself, that causes the lines. Once you get inside, there's plenty of room to wander.

While we're waiting in line, some facts. The Vatican is technically its own country, and the smallest one in the world. This is also the reason Milan can say it has the largest chapel in Italy - technicalities. It's been its own country since 1929.

While you wait in line, you are in St. Peter's square, built around the 1650's. Overall, the architect intended an impression of being embraced in the arms of the church. Okay, sure. It also provided shade, which was nice. Several tourists also picked umbrellas up for this reason. Something you're probably going to hear again from me in the next couple of paragraphs - Rome was hot!

The big guy, St. Peter's Basilica. Not pictured is the dome, which is just out of the frame. Sorry, this was my view from the line. The exterior is fine but the interior...

Inside the church. I'm glad the Vatican was at the end of my three months in Germany, because it seriously altered my expectations for churches. Damn. The interior is breathtaking and impressive in its size and scope. I felt like I kept finding a new alter, a new corner, or a new piece of the place while I was walking around. According to Wikipedia, it was built the in the 1500's and 1600's and has a gross volume of around 5 million cubic meters. So there's a reason it feels cavernous and massive.

Just some ornate marble sculpture by some giant of Italian Rennasance hanging out. Everywhere you turn, there's an alcove with a spectacular piece of art. At times it felt neverending.

The baldachin, built over the altar in the 1630's. In addition to tourists, the Vatican itself was very much alive. In the various corners and nooks of the place I stumbled upon nuns praying, choir practice, and some sermoning. When visiting, be sure to be respectful and quiet. Don't embarrass us other sunburned tourists. Also, caveat, I'm not a religious person, but when I was traveling around Europe in 2016 and seeing so many churches, I got in the habit of paying a Euro here or there to light a candle and leave it at some candle stand. I would say whatever the agnostic's version of a prayer is while lighting, feeling like I left a piece of me behind. Towards the end of 2016, I started including two people in my pseudo prayers - my cat Raygen and my candidate for President, Hillary Clinton. Raygen died, Hillary lost, I feel partially to blame. Sorry, guys. But hey, the Vatican is really great! And when in Rome, light a candle at the church. It's nice!

The view from St. Peter's Dome. It doesn't suck. Admittance to the church itself is free but you can buy a ticket to walk up the dome. Do it! You're at the Vatican! That being said, while the hike isn't arduous itself, it's not for the faint of heart. You first go up to the interior balcony of the dome (this might not be the right word). You can walk around the upper interior of the dome, looking down into the basilica. Then there's another level to go to the top of the Dome on the outside, where this picture was taken. And it gets tricky. Again, it's not an extremely strenuous hike but the stairs are curved around the dome. It's not for people uncomfortable in small spaces, usually stuck with random strangers. The place is old and was not designed for tourists. It's one of the more bizarre hikes to the top of a church I experience in Europe. And I got to check out quite a few. The number one spot still goes to a church in Freiburg that involved a very questionable ladder, a very tiny balcony, and some angry Australians.

Next up, the Vatican museums. These were super crowded. I mean, really, really crowded. The main attraction here is the Sistine Chapel, which is difficult to get to. And once you're inside the Sistine, be prepared to be packed into the small space like sardines. And no pictures allowed, or the angry, red-faced woman next to you will you at you. To be honest, the Sistine Chapel was not my favorite. It was small and cramped and smelled (I'll blame the angry, red-faced woman). Maybe I was just tired? Other parts of the museum dazzled me more. But regardless of what you see and where you go, it's gonna be busy. Pictured is not the Sistine Chapel but, hey, still a pretty ceiling.

To be honest, I didn't remember this bridge aside from being a pretty thing I took a picture of after leaving the Vatican. Luckily, Googling 'bridge near the Vatican' is super useful! And now here we have it, Ponte Sant'Angelo. According to Wikipedia, the bridge has been around a long damn time. And isn't it pretty.

And near the bridge is Castel Stan'Angelo itself, built in 134. Today, it's a museum and impressive structure. I only had four days in Rome. Priorities. But hey, I got a picture while walking from the Vatican to the next stop on my list.

And now we transition to modern Rome. Via del Croso is one of the few straight roads in Rome. And for me, it was a highlight. You have a thoroughly modern road, with lots of trendy and recognizable shops and eye-catching restaurants. But just a block or so off this lovely and straight and modern road are these ancient Piazza's, with fountains or steps but definitely picture worthy. In general, it's a great place for shopping, taking pictures, and finding restaurants. To me, this is the beginning of the Croso, Piazza del Popolo.

Another view of the Piazza del Popolo, from the top of a hill. The Vatican is visible in the distance.

Piazza di Spagna. The stairs lead to Villa Borghese, a nice city park packed with art museums. The stairs were built with French money in the 1700's and lead to a French church, but we call them the Spanish steps. This was a happening spot. I went through this area twice, once at peak times (pictured), where the place was crowded with tourists and all types of poses, and again in the early morning, when it was just me and some random model, getting professional pictures taken for some type of fashion venue. Mostly I was just impressed - she was wearing lots of clothes and looked cool as a cucumber, no sweat to be seen. Did I mention Rome was hot? Fun fact - just behind me, from the picture's perspective, is a store for Dolce and Gabanna, some modern Italian art for your perusual. 

Walking around Rome, I came across this cute French cafe and had champagne and macaroons, as one does. I just really like macaroons. Look how colorful and fluffy! Also, Rome was hot. I needed some air conditioning.

The most disappointing part of my trip! The Trevi Fountain. This fountain has been around for literally centuries, enduring ages of tourists throwing coins in for good luck. Unfortunately, the guy was under construction when I visited, so I could only take partially-blocked photos and keep my coins to myself.

Next up, in Rome's Historic Centre, the Pantheon. A 2000-year-old temple and one of Rome's best preserved ancient monuments. The original was built in 27 BC and the current construction was built over the original in AD 120. The dome was the largest in the world until the 1400's and is still the largest un-reinforced concrete dome ever built. The 8.7 m opening in the dome acts as a compression, letting in light and rain while also redistributing the dome's vast structural forces.

Let there be light. The picture might suck, but you can also see a glimpse of the interior. Much more ornate than the exterior would suggest. And that famous hole, obviously.

Next up, Piazza Navona. This square has it all - awesome sculptures, more street artists than you can shake a stick at, and all kinds of restaurants. I came here on a Saturday afternoon and had a nice market-side lunch, watching people haggle over the price of tomatoes and enjoying the ambiance. This picture is post-market, but still a nice place for people watching.

Real talk: I don't know what this is. It's been two years and Rome is full of ruins! Even Google has failed me here. But I do want to point this out. I was walking from the Pantheon to my next spot and literally stumbled upon this site. Ruins, ruins, everywhere.

This imposing wedding cake has several names - Il Vittoriano, Altare della Patria, etc. It's near Palantino and doesn't quite fit in. Built in the 1880's, it houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a museum to Italy's unification. More importantly, there's an elevator that takes you to the roof of the building for a breathtaking view of Rome (scroll down for that one). The view was thrilling but I was also really excited about the elevator.

Okay, now for the money, the Colosseum. I planned my visit around visiting the Colosseum, as one should if you're gonna go to Rome and really see the sights. First off, how pretty! But really, get a fucking tour guide. If you only get a tour guide for one spot in all of Europe for your big European tour, get it for the Colosseum and ancient ruins. Sure, there's Acropolis in Athens and the Tower in London. But this you need a tour for! I did a combo, three hours for the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. So worth it! Sure, there was skipping the lines but also just knowing what the hell I was looking at.

Inside. The partial floor to the left gives us a hint at what it looked like back in the day. The halls and rooms seen were covered by a floor and sand, to allow for animals and gladiators to move about. Inside the Colosseum, you get a hint as the to the massive size of the thing. It's colossal! You also have access to the interior of the walls. There are some museums.

Walking inside the Colosseum. It's been two years since I visited Rome and yet this has stuck with me, if nothing else - the original toilet system was designed here. Hey, where there's a crowd... We were able to see the remnants of ancient latrines. The more you know.

When used for gladiator sports, slaves fought to become celebrities and stars. But history is still history. In 1749, the Pope deemed the Colosseum a sacred site, as early Christians had been martyred there. This saved the Colosseum from ruin. At the same time, he installed this cross, though there is no historical record to support his claim. But hey, thanks for saving the Colosseum!

A cross section of the walls and facade. And some history. The structure was built in AD 72 and held around 50k people, organized by class. When in use, a giant canvas would cover the awning. In general, visiting the Colosseum was much more accessible than I imagined it would be. You really get close to some serious history. But seriously - get a guide. If not, do some internet research to avoid crazy queues.

And now the Roman Forum, once a marketplace, civic center, and religious complex. The space was first developed in 7th century BC; today it is a confusing pile of stuff. You really need a guide! Maybe he's just a good salesman, but our guide had a book he hawked. A quick Google search didn't find it but it's basically a small picture book of Rome. There are images of the various ruins today, with an artist's rendition of how it looked back in the day you can lay over today's image. It was interesting to see the comparison and also useful to orient yourself to where you were, physically. And a handy guide to remember the stuff I saw while in the city itself.

A green break, the Casa delle Vestali, the former home of the Vestal Virgins who kept the sacred flame alight. They couldn't have sex but at least they had a good spot in the Forum.

Another picture of ruins, to give you an impression how massive they were. After the tour, the guide left us here, with an hour left on our Forum tickets to wander around. And I did, for an hour. There were gardens (not pictured) and plenty of buildings, in various states of decay, to wonder at. The Colosseum and the Forum deserve at least a day. A startling piece of history, right here for you to walk all over.

Another perspective of the Forum. You can see Il Vittoriano in the background. There are modern apartment buildings to the left of this photo. Can you imagine this being the view from your living room? The rent alone... For the view! Truly one of a kind.

Just behind Il Vittoriano are more remnants, including foro di cesare. Walk ten feet in Rome, you'll fall over a ruin. The street between Il Vittoriano and the Colosseum/Roman Forum (behind me in this photo) must be observed at all times of the day. There's the lighting - gorgeous views of the ruins are offered throughout the day. Sunset at the Colosseum isn't the worst. But it's also quintessential Rome - modern cars and shops in this ancient place. And it's lively. People and street performers and artists everywhere. Don't miss it.

The Arch of Constantine, sitting between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. It was built in 312, dedicated in 315, to commemorate Constantine's victory over Maxentius. It is walled off, so you can't get too close, but you can still see the detailing in the artistry and appreciate the age and size of the thing. For a closer look, go to Paris.

Circus Maximus, an ancient chariot racing stadium. Today it's a public park. And it felt more like a public park than some ancient ruins. There were kids everywhere, wreaking some form of havoc. Places for walking, places for construction. It was a nice walk but I was also peak tired here and maybe didn't appreciate it as much as I might have if I had visited it the first day of the trip instead of the last.

The metro in Rome is not great. And there's a reason - every time they start a new dig site for a piece of the upcoming line (that has been in development for years), they discover some ruin and anthropologists come in and it's another year or two delayed. Therefore, every night, on my way back to the hotel, I had to go by the Colosseum metro stop. Seriously, there's a stop right by the Colosseum. So I basically stopped and had a mimosa by the Colosseum each night. The friggin' Colosseum! Enjoy my drink and chipped nail polish. 

I'm grateful for my time living in Germany and have not exhausted this well of experience in blog posts yet. But visiting Rome is something this girl from a small town in rural Illinois didn't think she'd ever really get to do. So nightly mimosas at the Colosseum on a long weekend? Not the worst!

Here is where I also note that this is my only food-adjacent image. I ate my way through Rome, trust me. My first night there, I had this decadent pasta thing in a nice restaurant that was decorated to make me feel like a character in a Jane Austen novel on a trip. I discovered a fantastic pizza place near my hotel that I fell in love with. I had lunch near the Spanish steps and gorged myself. I had the best gelato of my life, that place in Paris and Tuscany aside. So don't take the lack of pictures as meaning. The food in Rome was awesome. Sure, occasionally over-priced. But you're eating pizza and ravioli in Rome!

I visited in June and, damn, was it hot. Have I mentioned that? My more recent visit to Italy was in November. Still really friggin' hot. Luckily, Rome had an extensive free water system. Here is an example of such. They were all over the city. I highly recommend getting a bottle of water and then refilling it while you're in town. It's necessary. A few other European cities do this, offering free water via fountains throughout the city. Thanks, guys! I was in NYC last weekend and they had free charging ports for your phone, so America is getting there.

The view from Villa Borghese. The park was created in the 1600's and provides a welcome, shaded break from that Roman sun. I walked to this magestic view via the Spanish steps. Yes, the park is that close to the stuff the tourists care about. But a bit of a warning - the Spanish steps are just the beginning. There is much more of a hike to the top after that. I was sweaty and halfway through my water bottle by the time I got to the top (luckily, there were water fountains along the way). Also, I got lost. A lot. Get a map of the park if you can or be prepared for patience.

The Museo e Galleria Borghese is home to 'the queen of all private art collections', according to people who know. It includes works by Caravaggio, Botticelli, and Raphael. FYI, you'll need to book a time ahead of your visit. I did not know this. Like a true naive Americano, I showed up and balked at my lack of foresight. Or, you know, basic Googling. It's literally in my years-old guide book - you'll need to book ahead of time! Oh well, Villa Borghese was lovely and its namesake wasn't the only game in town.

When your second choice is a home to giants of the modern age, like Cezanne, Kandinsky, Klimt, and Pollock and housed in a friggin' palace. Sad.

So maybe I didn't get to see the museum I originally intended but I ran into these ladies at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Villa Borghese, that other art museum in the park. Here is where I note that, besides this museum and the museums at the Vatican, I didn't do a lot of museum-ing while I was in Rome. Mostly it was ruins. But they're out there and, according to my guide books, they're lovely, so pick your poison and allot time accordingly.

View of the Colosseum and Roman ruins from Il Vittoriano. The view from here can't be missed. And there's an elevator, so no excuses.

The Mouth of Truth, at the Piazza della Bocca della Verità. Historians aren't totally sure about the original purpose or effigy of the thing but hey, it's featured in a Hepburn movie and makes for a fun tourist spot. To be honest, I happened across this dude after a very long day. The line to actually put your hand in the mouth (for good luck!) was long and I was tired. Instead, I waited until it was between visitors and snapped a pic. Shortcuts are sometimes necessary.

And now, after all that traipsing around Rome, the spas. And you'll need a stop here because my long weekend can in part be summed up by: a hot, sweaty mess. The Terme di Caracalla are the ruins of a Roman spa/bath complex, built around AD 217. The place is massive and could hold up to 1600 people in its heyday, making it the second largest such structure in Rome. The complex was home to pools, gyms, shops, Today, in addition to a place to walk around, there is an area that hosts summer operas. It was nice to check out. You can walk around and get lost. I was impressed by how massive the place was.

And that's Rome.

July 28th, Weekly Roundup

I've been MIA lately following a visit from my mom (waves to Mom) and some business at work. This week's list will probably be a little light but back to real stuff next week.

The Cut's advice column was especially useful this go around, looking at an over analysis of Facebook/Instagram/etc. that I am all too guilty of.

- Admission: I didn't read a single Jane Austen novel until freshman year of college, when I took a Jane Austen course and read all of them. She had an anniversary last week and Vox takes a look at where each novel shines. Overall, my fave is probably Emma. Or Sense and Sensibility. But there is Pride and Prejudice and that Keira Knightely adaptation is definitely my favorite... Oh screw it, they're all great.

- Here are the biggest celebrity breakups from the year you were born. My year kind of sucks, to be honest, but I vividly remember the breakups of the last twenty years in a way that makes me feel very old.

- In general the news out of Washington this week was comprised solely of garbage fire. There was the terrible "Mooch" interview and the depraved healthcare vote, with John McCaind continuing to be totally made up of bullshit. But the thing that saddened me the most, besides millions of people potentially lose healthcare, were the terrible remarks from the President to a bunch of Boy Scouts. I feel bad for people who have to raise children in this era. I promise kiddos, this isn't what a President usually looks like! Check out this Obama clip on Youtube!

- Happy Anniversary, Mad Men, we really miss quality, dense television.

- To end on a happy note, here are some great pictures of Obama. Enjoy your weekend.

July 14th, Weekly Roundup

Well that escalated quickly.

I need to take more pictures of drinks.

I need to take more pictures of drinks.

First, the not-so-bad.

- PSA, Game of Thrones is starting up this weekend. So excited! Until then, here's Kit Harrington auditioning for every other character.

- As part of CNN's 90's celebration, NY Mag takes us back to Elaine, heroine of the feminist movement. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

- Famous ladies offer their favorite books, for your summer reading list.

- These are just cool - take a look at the pictures from the International Drone contest.

- More cool stuff - the San Francisco MOMA will respond to your tweets!

- The Fug Girls look at Christina Aguilera through the years, fashion-wise. And I am suddenly transported back to middle school. Hit me baby one more time! Or something like that.

- Confession: I love both wine and Sideways, so this is all for me. NPR looks at how the wine snob film has impacted the industry.

- Last week, I got really excited about the Amelia Earhart story. Well, maybe that was fake news.

- I wasn't sure if this went under 'not-so-bad' or 'terrible' but it's certainly art, so we'll leave it here - a photographer snaps Marines before, during, and after their duty.

Now, the terrible.

First up in terrible links, the G20 was this weekend. And we managed to be extra embarrassing. There was the time we briefly entered monarch territory (seriously, there wasn't a single Senate-approved official available?).

And all the Don Jr. news is baffling. He's new levels of stupid and incompetent, with a dash of greed and entitlement. If someone wrote this in a Hollywood screenplay, the editor response would be: too obvious, not believable. They really are that incompetent. Someone on Twitter said it best - it's House of Cards with the characters from Arrested Development. In general, the Bluthes are an apt reference. WaPo is here to let you know who's who in these new developments. It's also especially entertaining to revisit all the times Senior derided the Russian allegations. 

And a friendly reminder that our President cares more about his delicate ego than the country itself.

Happy Friday!

Italy: Tuscany

Next up for our Italian tour: Tuscany! I spent two days in Tuscany - one on a tour around the region and one in Florence itself. For my day tour, I went to a few cities, saw a leaning tower, and visited a farm/winery. To sum up, Tuscany is stupid gorgeous and has to be seen. A love of wine is beneficial but not required. That being said, an appreciation for great Italian food is totally necessary.

Here I am at a winery/farm in Tuscany. More on that later. The region was picturesque and everything that one Diane Lane movie would lead you to believe. Cypress trees and vines and rolling hills, green and yellow and orange everywhere.

First up, Florence! I have to say, each Italian city I visited was completely unique. With just one picture, you can easily identify which city you're looking at. Florence is no exception. The colors and tone of the city was all its own. This picture was taken along the Arno river, the brick bridge and yellow and orange buildings a perfect introduction to the Tuscan city.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence's oldest bridge. There are records of the bridge going back to the 900's. The shops along the bridge used to belong to butchers; today, they primarily house tourist vendors - jewelry and Italian leather handbags and cheeses. I went on a Wednesday night and the place was still packed, so beware.

Welcome to the Gelleria degli Uffizi, which can't be missed. If you only go to one museum in Florence, go to Accademia. But if you go to two, the Uffizi is next on the list. The Medici family's art collection was bequeathed to the city in 1743, on the condition it never leave Florence. The building, like most major European art galleries, is beautiful and ancient in American standards, built in the late 1500's to house government offices, a piece of art itself. Today, it houses the largest collection of Italian Renaissance art in the world. Annunciations for everyone! Personally, Italian Renaissance isn't my forte but with the extent and artistry on display, even this Impressionist-fan was gobsmacked.

The gallery is extensive, so put aside a couple of hours for a quick walk through for the high-lights or consider coming back over multiple days. I can't speak to the timing. I went right when it opened and it didn't seem too crowded - the place is large. However, if you want to get up close to The Birth of Venice, maybe come early. Speaking of which...

Arguably the most famous piece at the Uffizi, though there are da Vinci's and Michelangelo's to check out elsewhere in the museum, is Botticelli's The Birth of Venice. Painted probably in the 1480's, the piece depicts Venus arriving to the shore after her birth. Like all major works of art, it's breathtaking in person and there's a crowd, so act accordingly.

Just behind the Uffizi is the Piazza della Signoria. Pictured is the Loggia dei Lanzi, an open air sculpture garden with pieces from the 14th and 16th centuries. The square itself is lively, with tourists and street artists and vendors. The Palazzo Vecchio makes up one side of the square, Florence's town hall. Due to timing constraints, I wasn't able to check out the interior of the town hall. That being said, if you have a bit more time in Florence, check it out. It's on my 'just missed list.' For me, it was art over beautiful architecture in Florence, but if you have the time, give it a go.

Damn. I waited in line for maybe half an hour to see this guy and it was absolutely worth it. Sculpture fascinates me and this is no exception. And it was from a cast-off block of marble! The detail is incredible (the hands!). I was in awe. Go see it. There's other art in the museum, including a behind-the-scenes look at recreating sculptures, but you're here to see this guy and there's no other reason to go. Give yourself some time to admire the world's most famous sculpture from every angle. He's worth it.

David is housed in the Galleria dell'Accademia. You'll be able to spot the museum by the queues. You cannot go to Florence and not see this guy. What's the point?

I learned a lot about Catholic art on this trip! Apparently, this thing is called The Annunciation. It's when the angel visited Mary and told her she was carrying Christ. My casual Baptist upbringing did not prepare me for traveling in Italy. Pictured is the Annunciation from the convent of San Marco. The friar cells are decorated with religious, and sometimes terrifying, paintings by Fra Angelico and are shockingly sparse. It's near the Accademia and a contrast to the opulent home of David.

And now for Florence's piece de resistance, the Gothic Duomo. Officially the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the building's construction began in 1294 and was consecrated in 1436. The thing is lovely in person and can't be missed. I think I've said that about everything in Florence so far, right? But seriously, the green and white marble facade is unique and entrancing. You can climb up to the top of the Cupola. However, I recommend the walk to the top of the nearby bell tower, so you can see the famous red dome up close. Both are a bit of a hike, so unless you are really looking for a workout, I recommend picking one.

And now the bell tower, 82 meters tall and built in 1334 by Giotto. The climb to the top includes 414 steps. Real talk: it's not an easy walk. The stairs are extremely claustrophobic and sometimes crowded, though occasional bells offer a respite from the upward climb. And boy, the view is worth it. Just be prepared to be a sweaty and frustrated mess by the time you get to the top.

Google Image "Florence" and this picture will come up. This is the view of the Cupola from the bell tower. Seriously, you have to do this, unless you have mobility issues or a heart condition. And this is basically Tuscany - red tiles and rolling hills.

Here's the front of the Duomo. More green and white with pink accents and ornate sculptures. As for logistics, I didn't have a problem with queues or access to the church. The baptistery next door was a different story but the church was rather accessible.

This picture sucks and I apologize. The interior is lovely, with fancy stained glass ceilings and high ceilings. But you're really here for the exterior.


Okay, I have said this a lot, but you really have to see this! The Museo dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore is near the Duomo and houses treasures formerly displayed at the Duomo. It's awesome and very extensive. Pictured is the entry-way, which lists the artists featured in the museum itself. The original golden Baptistery doors are here, along with a Pieta by Michelangelo.

You can get combo tickets for the Baptistery, the bell tower, and the museum. I purchased mine at a ticket booth in the palazzo but they are available at a variety of establishments. And it's worth it. They all warrant visit - the church, the Baptistery (no pictures, but it's lovely and covered in gold), the view. and the museum. I'm not a religious person but the artistry and history on display here are necessary to see on a trip to Florence.

One more note about the museum - it was both confusing and overwhelming, so get a map and maybe prioritize what to see.

The Piazza della Repubblica is worth a stop (though it's the level below 'must be seen'; I'm giving you a break). It's been a little bit of everything in its long history in Florence, but today is the most modern area I saw (though I mostly stuck to the touristy bits). Nearby are shops and restaurants. It was a nice place to relax and people watch after a long day of walking around the city.

My last tourist stop of the day: Santa Maria Novella, just around the corner from the train station. First, a quick rant on the train station. It isn't great. There are a few stores - essentials, a book store, some McDonalds/cafe comb. I went through the Florence train station twice, once for the Tuscany tour and once for my day in Florence. And each time, I found it lacking and disappointing. And that's the end of that rant. As for the church itself, church is a misnomer. It's more a of a complex, with a church, cloister, and chapter house, all included in the price of admission. And it's a great last stop - close to the train station and extensive but willing what you have time or attention for. It is what you make of it. Or, across the street is a decent Irish pub if you just want to have a pint and wait for your train while your legs rest.

After checking out my last tourist attraction, I wandered back into the city, picked up dinner in the old town, and walked towards the train station along the Arno River. It's a totally different view at night. But no less beautiful. I also stopped by the Piazza della Signoria one last time. I recommend seeing it at night as well. The place comes alive in a whole new way.

For the record, this painting is in the Netherlands. But some artist was creating lovely works near the train station. It was a great end to my day in Florence.

And now on to my day tour of Tuscany. First, up Siena! The tour took off from Florence and then took us to Siena. A medieval town, we abandoned our bus and walked through tight alleyways and looping streets to get to the Piazza del Campo, the center of Siena for over 600 years. On a hill itself and full of Siena Gothic architecture. Twice a year, there is a horse race here in the square, with the various neighborhoods of the city sponsoring a horse. It's, like, a really big deal. The square is packed and you can spend a lot of money to rent rooms with a view for the event. The winners get to gloat and are the toast of the town until the next race. Both the different neighborhoods (or contrade) and the horse race are everywhere - emblems on doors and everything you can imagine in the tourist shops. Outside of the race, the square is sunny and an easy place to relax and people watch.

Near the Piazza is the Dumo, built in the 1200's. The exterior is looming but what's missing is that almost directly behind me is the wall of a large, plain building. Siena is not for the claustrophobic. Or those who don't like walking.


The interior of the Duomo. Siena was lovely. We were here about an hour and a half and, to be honest, that was about as much as I needed. It was just enough time to walk around the square, eyeball the church, and grab a gelato.

And now for that winery/farm in the middle of Tuscany somewhere. I just went wherever the tour took me. Honestly, it was nice to have the decision made for me. Tuscany was overwhelming. So many little towns and wineries, I didn't know where to begin. The tour was a nice introduction to the region as a whole. Also, the bus ride around the Tuscan countryside was lovely and a highlight. In general, I really enjoyed the tour itself. We had a great guide (she was from South America and had come to Tuscany after visiting the place while working for a vineyard) and I met some fun lonely travelers to chat with. And hey, a winery! That I didn't have to pick out!

Ugh, what a totally garbage view. This was basically what I saw outside the bus window the whole day.

Italian cows! The farm we visited was charming, with pettable cows and goats. And vines for days.

After a quick tour of the farm, we had lunch. Each course came with a different glass of wine, both food and wine local. There were many courses and it was all delicious and I could have been there all day. The bread alone! And the view wasn't bad either.

Next up: The Medieval Manhattan. San Gimignano is a tiny town in Tuscan countryside. Its nickname comes from the 11th century versions of skyscrapers. We only spent a few hours here but were treated with ancient buildings, lovely views, and...

My tour guide ensures me this is the best gelato in the world. Honestly, I had better in Rome. Come at me. The main square of the town is tightly packed. You can pick out the gelato place by the long line and yelling tourists.

The tower, it leans. Honestly, this was a bit of a let down. I didn't really care to see it (it was just part of the tour and I was worried about Bucket Lists) and didn't have high expectations. But it's a leaning tower, kind of in the middle of nowhere. Some history: The tower was built in the 1100's. The tower wasn't completed, because of the leaning. By 1990, the lean had reached 5.5 degrees. In 1998, measures were taken to ensure stability and prevent further leanage.

The view from the tower. Again, it's a leaning tower in the middle of nowhere... The tower is actually the bell tower to the Duomo of Pisa. As for visiting the tower, it's not incredibly tall but there is still a bit of a hike to get to the top. It is definitely not for the claustrophobic. Only a few people are allowed up at a time. I booked my tickets through the tour but it's something to look into before your visit. I also visited during the night, so it may be a totally different perspective during day time. There were minimal numbers of tourists making asses of themselves when I went. But sure, go, see, check off your Bucket List.

And that was my brief foray into Tuscany. Go forth, wine lovers and Italian food connoisseurs.