Wednesday, December 31, 2008

should old acquaintance be forgot?

Kristin inspired me to make a list of my New Year's resolutions... so here they are:

(1) Get a job-- ughh this takes waaay to much effort, but it must be done! But it scares me, because WTF AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!

(2) Lose my Italia weight, plus a few more pounds. Which would require me to:
(a) Go to the gym regularly-- 2 times a week is realistic, but 3-4 is ideal.
(b) Eat more healthfully-- so, stop eating a wedge of brie every three days. 

(3) Get in shape-- some may think this is the same as losing weight, but it is soooo not.  I want to be able to make it through kickboxing classes without wanting to commit suicide, aaaand to hike Half Dome with the girls in the summer!

(4) Drink more water-- if I can't do the first three resolutions, at least this one is fairly easy. 

(5) Cook more often (at least once a week)-- it'll give my mom a break and I will spend less money... especially because she'll be buying! It will also help me eat more healthfully. 

(6) Drink less alcohol-- I mean, I haven't been drinking a lot, per se, but I definitely drink when I don't need to be drinking, especially beer, which has far too many calories. I should save my alcohol calories for having a glass or 2 of wine with dinner once in a while and special celebrations with friends..... or at least drink light beer. ;)

(7) Get a credit card-- this is kind of random, and it's weird that I don't already have one, but once I get a job, I need to start building my credit so that one day, I can move the f*ck out of Belmont!

(8) Oil paint with Kristin!

Does anyone have more good ideas?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


My blog needs one... but I am:

(a) technologically unsavvy.
(b) boring.
(c) lazy.

Friday, December 19, 2008

in transit....

So it's my last night in Florence... I'm sad to be leaving, but excited to spend the day in Rome and VERY excited to go home....

Here's some Michael to set the mood...

"Another summer day
Is come and gone away
In Paris and Rome
But I wanna go home

Maybe surrounded by
A million people I
Still feel all alone
I just wanna go home
Oh I miss you, you know

And I’ve been keeping all the letters that I wrote to you
Each one a line or two
“I’m fine baby, how are you?”
Well I would send them but I know that it’s just not enough
My words were cold and flat
And you deserve more than that

Another airplane
Another sunny place
I’m lucky I know
But I wanna go home
I’ve got to go home

Let me go home
I’m just too far from where you are
I wanna come home

And I feel just like I’m living someone else’s life
It’s like I just stepped outside
When everything was going right
And I know just why you could not
Come along with me
But this was not your dream
But you always believe in me

Another winter day has come
And gone away
And even Paris and Rome
And I wanna go home
Let me go home

And I’m surrounded by
A million people I
Still feel alone
Oh, let go home
Oh, I miss you, you know

Let me go home
I’ve had my run
Baby, I’m done
I gotta go home
Let me go home
It will all right
I’ll be home tonight
I’m coming back home."

Oh Michael, you know how to sing the sountrack of my life.

Monday, December 1, 2008

j'taime paris!

I am skipping some things, but since Paris is fresh in my mind, I will post about my Thanksgiving trip!

BLOGGER IS BEING A COMPLETE BITCH AND WON'T LET ME POST ANY PICTURES EXCEPT ONE. My blog is kind of lame without pictures, but I will keep trying. Plus, you can just look at them on Facebook! Anyway, I made notes where I will be placing pictures once blogger stops being an azz-hole. 

My friends Carlota and YuanQing were visiting Europe for two weeks, and in addition to going to Barcelona, we decided to go to Paris as well. And of course Val joined us, and so did my Florence roommate Gigi. We left Thursday night, which was Thanksgiving... and it actually kind of sucked spending Thanksgiving in the ghetto Pisa airport eating dried-out pizza, but then Paris definitely made up for it!

After our Thursday night of a flight delay, a mumbling/weird French taxi driver, no towels at our hostel, we had a great Friday in Paris. We started out the day walking around waiting for Val to fly in from Rome and we happened upon a gorgeous park.

Random pretty park and surrounding buildings.

Once Val arrived, we walked around the beautiful Marais district, which was where our hostel was in search for our first French meal. We ended up at this sort of pricey restaurant, but it was SOOO worth it. Unlike Italy, France gives you free bread and tap water... and the bread at this restaurant was amazing! It was from the bakery across the street and it was still warm when we got it! I ordered the French onion soup, which was the best one I have ever had in my life... on the top was crispy and perfectly-charred pieces of baguette smothered in gooey cheese, but it wasn't too rich or gummy. The broth inside was delicious and the onions were cooked to perfection. I was in heaven...

The waiter forgot that Val and I ordered a cheese plate, so we ordered creme brulee instead and I think that was a good choice because it was the only good creme brulee I had in Paris. I got it one other time and sampled another, and both of those creme brulees did not have the correct brulee top that you should be able to crack with the tap of your spoon. These not-so-good ones still had sugar granules on top. Unacceptable! Anyway, this first meal was the best one we had in Paris! 

After lunch, we made our way to Champs d'Elysees, which is a long street leading from the Arc de Triomphe to the huge ferris wheel. When we got off from the metro, we emerged into Christmas! Every tree lining the Champs d'Elysees was lit up with these beautiful light blue lights. I was so happy because they have been being assholes in Florence and not turning on the Christmas lights that they already strung along buildings.  

Arc de Triomphe

Later, we went to the Louvre because it is free for people under the age of 26 on Fridays after 6pm. It was really overwhelming, but I saw a lot of famous paintings and paintings I have studied in art history classes, so it was absolutely amazing to see them all.

(Photo of the Mona Lisa)

I kept thinking about The Da Vinci Code and how the "Holy Grail" (a.k.a. Mary Magdalene) is supposed to be there. It made me really want to read the book again!

(Photo of the Louvre)

After the art-gasm at the Louvre, we went to dinner by the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is all lit up at night, but I think it looks rather gaudy and I thought about how in the Sex and the City movie, The Russian's French daughter says something about how it is an eyesore, and I have to say that I kind of agree.

(Photo of the Eiffel Tower)

I think it would look better with white lights instead of blue, and maybe not so intense. 

On Saturday morning, we visited Notre Dame, but didn't have time to go inside because we were going to spend the day in Versailles. 

(Photo of Notre Dame)

After cafe-au-laits and croissants, we took the 45-minute train to Versailles. It was a 10-minute walk from the train station, and once we turned the corner, we saw the enormous palace. The golden gates were beautiful!

(Photo of Versailles)

We decided to pay a bit extra and get an audio tour and it was totally worth it because it gave you information about the history of the rooms and some of the objects and paintings in the rooms. We toured through the dauphin and dauphine's apartments and then on to the King and Queen's rooms. It was crazy to think that so much history has happened on this estate. In the Queen's bedroom (which was gorgeous and I want to live there), 17 royal children have been born! We also saw the door from which Marie Antoinette escaped. So crazy. 

(Photos of rooms at Versailles)

Then we walked around the vast estate grounds. Seriously, it was HUGE! We made it to the Grand Trianon, which was basically an extra huge estate for the Kings. Because it was getting dark and even more cold, we didn't make it to Petit Trianon, which was where Marie Antoinette lived most of the time, but we did get to see a lot of the grounds. 

(Photos of grounds)

Sunday, we woke up a bit early and checked out of our hostel and then made our way to the Musee d'Orsay, which has a vast collection of Impressionist paintings. I absolutely LOVED this museum... it had SO MANY paintings that I have studied in my previous art history classes by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Serat, Millet, Courbet, and more! It was much smaller and less overwhelming than the Louvre, so we were able to get it done in the late morning. The only thing that really SUCKED is that one of the most famous Manet paintings that I really like was on loan to another museum. Needless to say, I was pissed. 

After the museum, we grabbed a quick bite to eat before making our way to the Eiffel Tower. I finally had quiche, and even though it was just from a takeaway place, it was delicious! The crust was flakey and buttery and there was ham in it that was super good. 

We got to the Eiffel Tower, and there was a bit of a line, but the guy said that it would only take 30 minutes to get to the top... LIE. It was more like 45 just to get to the top, and then it took like 25 minutes to get down, because you have to wait in lines for the elevator at 2 different levels. Anyway, poor Val is way too afraid of heights, so she did not join us... I must say that it was sort of anti-climactic. Once we got to the top, the views were pretty cool, but we didn't really know what we were looking at. Plus, it felt like we were in a cloud because it was so cold and misty. 

(Photo of Eiffel and view)

After the Eiffel, we had to make our way back to the hostel and then to the airport because we sadly had to leave! I would have loved to spend a couple days more days in Paris not doing sight-seeing, but rather just walking around the little cute non-touristy districts and going into cafes and eating pastries. But, all in all, it was one of my favorite weekend trips, especially because I got to be with my friends! 


Monday, November 24, 2008

bohemia praha!

Finally, I am able to upload more than 2 pictures per post! Now for more, catch-up...

There's a tour group in Italy called Bus2Alps, which is geared towards students studying abroad in Florence and Rome. My roommate and I went to Greece with them and liked it, so along with a few of our neighbors, we decided to do the Prague trip. The bus ride was overnight, but I was actually able to sleep a little bit! After a little less than 12 hours on a bus, we arrived in Prague. I literally had no idea what to expect, but I was blown away! I fell in love with it the minute I walked into the city center. 

The word I have been using to describe Prague is enchanting. The architecture is absolutely gorgeous and the foggy weather along the river made it a quintessential Eastern European city. It also made me think a lot about Christmas!

We basically walked around all day and looked at the beautiful architecture and the gorgeous squares around town. 

The Tyn Cathedral in Old Town Square

The Astronomical Clock

The clock was pretty cool... it had a bunch of hands and it reminded me of the watch that Dumbledore has in the Harry Potter books. Every hour, the clock would chime and little doors would open to reveal puppet-like figures that seemed to be saints or some other religious figures. 

Horse-drawn carriages in Old Town Square.

We also went to STARBUCKS! I was so excited, even though I had it in Athens a week prior, but since it was cold in Prague it was perfect to stop in the warm cafe and rest with a hot latte or walk around with it warm in your hands. 

Enjoying my first Starbucks latte in Prague.

The tour group took us on a tour to the Prague castle, which was basically a big area with all sorts of buildings on top of a hill. 

View of Prague castle from the King Charles Bridge

View of Mala Strana from Prague castle.

After our tour through the cathedral at Prague castle, we broke away from the tour group and roamed about Mala Strana, which was a cute little area. We got some lunch, which of course included hot soup, since it was so cold! Then, once again... we went to Starbucks! To be fair, it was a different one.... and it had two floors!

In the cute streets of Mala Strana on a cold day.

Overall, I absolutely loved Prague! It has been my favorite non-Italian city that I have visited. It just has so much charm and everyone was nice there. We did a few American things like a bit of shopping in New Town Square and we also made several trips to Bohemia Bagel which had mostly American food, including an egg-bacon-cheddar cheese-bagel sandwich that was delicious! I wish they had a Bohemia Bagel in Firenze!


Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I can't even keep track of how long ago I went to Venice, but here's the post!

My roommate and I decided to go to Venice for a day trip when we didn't have much to do on a weekend. We took the train in the morning and after a slight delay on the train, we finally arrived in Venice at 12:30pm. 

My first impression of Venice was that it was amazing and SO picturesque! It's such a unique city and even though there were a lot of tourists, it still has a lot of charm and character. One of my favorite things to do was to look in the windows and look at all the beautiful Venetian masks for sale:

We basically just walked around and took pictures of all the beautiful bridges and canals.

We had lunch right by the Grand Canal, which was amazing! We had bellinis (peach puree and sparkling wine), which originated in Venice. I have had bellinis before, and these ones were by far the best ever. I had an amazing pasta with mussels, clams, and shrimp. It had been so long since I'd had good seafood, that I was really craving it. The pasta definitely hit the spot!

Unfortunately, we weren't able to go inside of the San Marco cathedral because the lines were too long and we only had until 7pm, but we did get to see all of the disgusting pigeons in Piazza San Marco.

We DID get to see a demonstration of Venetian glass blowing! It was AWESOME! Seriously one of the coolest things I have seen someone do. 

Venice is seriously the most unique place I have ever been to. There is not another place in this world that is anything like Venice and I feel so fortunate that I was able to spend a fabulous day there!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

firenze con la mia amica jen!

Still on "catch-up"mode...

Two weekends ago (the same weekend as the Pisa and Lucca trip), Jen came to visit me! She flew into Rome and spent the night there Friday night, and came to Florence Saturday night. We had SO MUCH fun together! It was so great having one of my friends from home here, especially because I have been missing them A LOT. 

So I basically just showed her around Florence and we had lovely dinner dates every night in which we would share various entrees, salad, bruschetta, tiramisu, and of course a bottle of wine! Our favorite meal was at Yellow Bar. Jen got a pasta dish with yellow and green linguine, tomato cream sauce, mushrooms, and ham. I tried a bite of it and it was delicious. I got a calzone (my first one in Italy!) with gorgonzola, mozzarella, and ham. SOOO GOOD. AND of course we shared bruschetta, an arugula and shaved parmesan salad, and a nice bottle of chianti. Everything was amazing!

Il Porcellino!

We took a lovely half-day trip to Greve in Chianti, which is a little town in the hills of Tuscany. After a breathtaking bus ride and confustion about where to get off, we absolutely fell in love with Greve. It had awesome views of the surrounding wineries and olive groves, cute little houses, beautiful foliage, and of course, plenty of wine!

Wine tasting in Greve

So... we basically want to live in Greve! We also went to Panzano, which was about 15 minutes from Greve, when Danielle came to visit. Panzano was great because we went to a gorgeous family-owned and run winery that had delicious wine and wonderful views: 

View from Le Fonti Winery

Then on Friday, we took the train to Rome to hang out with a few different friends. I saw the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's for the second time, and we also went to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.... Roman icons! I didn't feel like I needed to go to the Colosseum again, so Jen and Danielle did that after I left and before they went to Paris.

I was so glad I could have a good friend come visit me, especially after the emotionally trying time the previous few weeks. In late November, I am lucky that two more friends are visiting me! Well, they are also lucky ones to be coming to Italy! 

Next up: Venice!


Friday, October 17, 2008

the leaning tower of pizza

So that's really what I used to think it was called... 

My school program took us on a trip to Pisa and Lucca for the day. After confusion about where we were supposed to meet for the bus (totally my fault), we finally got on the bus and drove almost 2 hours to Pisa. Before taking a tour, we had to fuel up with a cappuccino... of course! The cathedral was beautiful and so was the cemetery, but the main reason for going there is to take a picture with the Leaning Tower:

Doing my part to help!

Honestly, Pisa was okay, but there isn't much to it besides the tower and the cathedral. We didn't go up the tower due to time constraints,  though my claustrophobia definitely wouldn't have allowed me to go up anyway. 

From Pisa, we went to Lucca, which was a very cute town that is famous for its intact Renaissance-era city walls. One of my roommates and I got lunch at this well-known restaurant called Buca di Sant'Antonio that has existed since 1782. We got a little adventurous with our meal choices: I got braised wild boar (very common in Tuscany) with polenta and my roommate got lamb chops with fried vegetables. The meal was very rich, so I was pretty much full for the rest of the day. After lunch, we walked around and saw a lot of the city. There was a bike tour around the city walls, but we decided to skip out on that because we didn't have very much energy that day. Instead, we ate more! We went to a lovely chocolate place with some of the best chocolate I have ever had in my life (sorry, Ghirardelli). There were also bakeries on every corner! Everything looked so delicious, but I had to regulate myself. 

Mmmm... baked goods in Lucca!

We also went on a walking tour where we went inside a few of the churches. They were definitely not as grand as the ones in Firenze or Roma, but they were still beautiful. It was also fun to look in all of the shops around town, because some of them were a bit different from the ones in Firenze, and it looked like the prices were cheaper, too! Once again, I restrained myself... I try to save money for trips rather than spending it on things... I have enough crap here and at home!

UGH the blogger things SUCKS at uploading pictures EVERY TIME. So I guess two per entry is all I get.

Coming soon: Jen's trip to Europe!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

le bellissime cinque terre

To continue on with my catch-up blogging, this post is about my trip to Cinque Terre, or "Five Lands," which was a few weekends ago. Cinque Terre is in the region of Ligura and it consists of five fishing villages on the coast: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. My roommates and I went with a tour group called Florence for Fun and we took a 3-hour train ride to Cinque Terre with a bunch of other young people form various programs in Florence. There must have been a faster train there, but I think they wanted o give us the cheapest option. Anyway, once we finally arrived we began our hike through the utterly gorgeous fishing towns. 

We followed the Via dell'Amore or "Lover's Path" from Riomaggiore to Manarola. It was originally built during the expansion of the railway lines in the 1920s and it earned its name when a journalist writing for an Italian newspaper came across a sign left by young lovers while following the path. The path was basically carved out of the hills, so the drop to the ocean from the path was a bit frightening, but the beautiful views made it worth it! The vegetation and the blueness of the water made some of the views look exactly like Hawaii... it was so crazy. I can't believe that two VERY different places could look so similar if you photographed it a certain way. 

Next, we hiked from Manarola to Corniglia and the hike got a just a bit more strenuous... we had to walk up a staircase that looked like Lombard Street in San Francisco that was 365 steps! It was tough, but we made it. 

View of Manarola

Our tour guide told us that the houses in these fishing villages are different colors so that when the fishermen are out at sea, they can look back at their houses and be able to pick out which one is theirs so that they can think about their families at home. 

The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza was much more strenuous... I felt like I was in Yosemite doing those hikes! Somehow my roommates and I ended up in the "fast" group, but that actually turned out to be better because we had more time to spend in Vernazza, which was my favorite city. Vernazza had a very intricate layout because it has caruggi or narrow lanes and steep stairways. 

View of Vernazza

By the time we got here we were STARVING because it was around 3pm and the last time I had eaten was an apple on the train at 11:30am. Plus we had been hiking, which makes me even hungrier! I definitely earned that meal! Cinque Terre is in the region of Liguria which is also the region that Genoa is in. Pesto originated in Genoa, so basically anywhere near that has amazing pesto. The four of us got a nice cold beer and my roommate GiGi and I shared a seafood pizza and trofie with pesto. Trofie is a short pasta that is made by rolling the pasta dough in your hand for a couple seconds and then dropping it. It was SO GOOD... hands down the best pesto I have ever had. The area must grow the best-tasting pine nuts and basil for the pesto to be so amazing...

Next, we took a ferry from Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare because the hike was supposed to be even more challenging. We didn't get to spend too much time there before catching the train back to Florence, but it was very beautiful. One day, I would love to go back and spend a couple days there and stay in a cute little bed and breakfast that overlooks the beauty of the sea. 

My next post will be about Pisa and Lucca.


Thursday, October 9, 2008


It's been quite a while since I updated last... mostly because I have been super busy. I have actually had some homework to do for my classes (shocking... I know) including two presentations and a paper. I have also been very busy on the weekends. Three weekends ago, I went to Bologna and Cinque Terre...AMAZING... I will talk about Bologna in this post. The next weekend, I went to Vinci for my daVinci class on Friday and on Saturday I went to Pisa and Lucca with my program... then Jen came to visit me and we went to Rome! Anyway, I will break up the trips in a few posts so it is not overwhelming for me to write or for you to read. 

So, to start with Bologna. First of all, our number one reason for going was the food. I had heard this before and we also learned it in our food and wine class that ragu/bolognese sauce, tortellini, ravioli, lasagne, and basically all the best pastas originated in Bologna. We were definitely eager to try these delicious dishes. Plus, it is only an hour away by train from Firenze, so it was a place that was easy for us to check out. 

We got there around 10:30am and basically walked around for a while until we were very very hungry for lunch. Once again (like in Munich), we did not bring a map because we are hard core travelers and we just know how to get places... haha.  I really liked the architecture and all the streets were lined with covered walkways, or portici, which were great because there was a chance of rain so we would have been saved by them. I wish that Firenze had the portici because once it starts raining, it's going to suck to have to walk everywhere! We went into the church of San Petronio, which I thought was soo beautiful inside! It was much larger than I was expecting, but I liked how it was decorated a bit simpler than some of the churches I went to in Roma. After walking around for a bit more, we found a restaurant that looked good. I decided to get the traditional ragu and it was soooo amazing. I also tried my friends' dishes and they had tortelloni and ravioli and they were very good too, but I liked mine the best! We also were so excited to have salted bread because we've been so used to Tuscan bread. We were lucky that we arrived when we did because they had just taken out a pan of the most delicious bread I have had in a while. It had a sort of biscuit quality where it was crunchy on the outside (with salt granules!) but warm and soft on the inside. We were in food heaven...

After lunch we walked around a bit more and then found the gelato place that my brother's girlfriend Yelena suggested because she used to study in Bologna. They had a lot of flavors and the gelato was truly amazing! They gave us much more generous portions there than they do in Firenze for the same price. So delicious!

We then did a bit of shopping (they had H&M!) and headed back to the train station. We wanted to get in early because all of us were exhausted and/or a bit sick from the previous week at Oktoberfest... and we had a big day ahead of us the next day because we are going to Cinque Terre.

More later! Again, the stupid picture uploader thing isn't working very well, so I can't post anymore photos... LAME!


Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I'm sorry for the delay in the blog post about Oktoberfest, but it has been a rough several days. Long story short, I found out when I got home from Munich on Sunday night that my grandfather from Oregon passed away over the weekend. It brings me comfort that it was a very peaceful passing and that most of the family was by his side when it happened, but it has been very difficult for me to be so far away from my family at a time like this. Talking to my mom through Skype (thank God for modern technology) and the supportive e-mails from all of my friends have been really helpful in the healing process. My grandpa lived a good, long life and I will really miss him... I am glad that I was able to talk to him through Skype last week so he knew I was thinking about him--and praying for him in God-knows-how-many churches all around Italy. I know he's no longer suffering, and he's in a better place now... I love you, Grandpa!

Well, in the spirit of living life to the fullest, let me talk about my weekend that was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My three roommates and I took the train Thursday night and arrived in Munich at 6:30AM. We stepped of the train into the freezing (well, probably about 45 degrees) cold and were greeted by one of the best sights ever..... STARBUCKS! It has been a month since my last one and while I absolutely adore Italian coffee and cappuccinos, Starbucks feels like home. It's also so much bigger and you can actually carry it around with you! We were so happy, we ordered Ventis to be sure to get our fix. 

My roommate has an American friend from her school that is working in Munich for several months, so it was really awesome having a contact there who could tell us where to go and show us around and provide us with free lodging! Friday, he had to work, so the four of us went sightseeing around Munich. We were totally hardcore and did it without a map, and surprisingly hit up some of the most important spots.

All of us were so taken aback by how clean Munich was, though it made sense after learning that about 50% of everyone's income goes to taxes (maybe the US should do that... j/k). After wandering around for a bit, we found the English Gardens that we had wanted to go to. They were absolutely gorgeous! It was more like a park than gardens though, but still amazing!

The English Gardens, or Englischer Garten:

After our lovely stroll through the park, we went on search for Hofbräuhaus, which is the oldest beer hall in Munich. Thirty minutes later, after asking several people, we found it and it was awesome! People of all ages and nationalities were there enjoying beer, food, music, and a general environment of merriment. The beer was amazing, especially the Hefeweizen I had. Best. Hefe. EVER

Afterward, we took a little rest on a grassy knoll near yet another Starbucks, which was nice because we could use the restroom facilities without anyone noticing. It was still quite cold out, but it was sunny so it was enjoyable. Later, we went to a bar, but we did not stay out too late because we had an early and long day of beer drinking ahead of us!

We planned on meeting our group at around 8AM the morning of Oktoberfest. My roommates and I went with the guy we were staying with, his co-workers, and some of their mutual friends. When we arrived at the festival, it was so cold and there were so many people around... and way too early for me. Anyway, after waiting for a while to get into the Spaten beer hall, we finally got our awesome table--right next to the band!  We got really hooked up for our Oktoberfest experience: one of the guys knew a guy who is very good friends with the waiter who waited our table. This means that we got a sweet table in the most legit beer hall in the festival, which would typically cost 1000 euro ($1500) and it has to be reserved one year in advance. Needless to say, we felt very lucky to be there! W Unfortunately, by this time it was 10AM and the first beer is not served until 12PM, so we idled away the time shivering and talking about how excited we were for the party to start. The beer hall was enormous. I don't know how many people were there, but there were A LOT. Once it was just before 12PM, the mayor of Munich came and gave a speech (though obviously I couldn't understand a word) and then he tapped the first keg of Oktoberfest!!!!! Drums were sounded to signal to the other beer tents in the area that they were allowed to start serving beer. Our first mass (the liter-sized mug) was served!

Enjoying my first mass. 

Hmm... for some strange reason the blog site won't let me post more pictures... like it just keeps loading without ever finishing. Very annoying! Well, I will try again another time. 

So our plan was to stay out all night and go out to bars afterward. However, we ended up getting back to the apartment we were staying at around 10PM and passing out by 11PM. So much for staying out all night! Whatever, we were exhausted. We got up the next morning to go to the train station, had our last Starbucks lattes in Munich, and departed on our 8 hour train ride back to Firenze. 

My roommates and I all have colds now because a girl in our train car on the way up to Munich was sick and we were breathing in her sick air for eight hours... that in conjunction with drinking and not sleeping very well all weekend made us feel like crap! Hopefully, we are better by this weekend because we are going hiking in Cinque Terre and that is not going to be fun if we are sick!

Anyway, I am very glad that I got to experience Oktoberfest. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially being able to get such a great table at the main beer hall of the festival. I feel so grateful that I am able to be over here and going to different countries while I am here, but obviously it comes with consequences like being so far away from my family during a saddening time like this. Well, I know for sure that my grandpa would have wanted me to have the best time here because he never got to visit Italy. I am hoping to visit in Bologna this weekend the church of San Giacomo, the Italian name for Saint James, which was his name. 


Saturday, September 13, 2008

una bella città

This week was pretty relaxed. I've been getting settled into my classes and they are going fairly well. The teachers are nice and the material is interesting, though it has definitely made me appreciate my past classes at Cal because the high quality of the teachers and the interaction with students of high work ethic is not something I would really get anywhere else except a top university. I guess it's okay in the sense that I won't have Berkeley-sized workloads, but I think it might also mean that I need to take my education into my own hands so that I can get out of it what I want. A lot of the people in my program (not all, thankfully) are much more interested in Long Island Iced Teas than Leonardo's Ginevra de'Benci, which would be fine if those people didn't come into class the next day and ask a million questions and have the professor repeat herself ten times because they are too hungover to absorb the information. I am happy that my roommates and my next-door neighbors are not some of those people, but rather they are mature and interested in academics. 

Anyway, I've been quite busy this week still getting settled and accustomed to going to classes after having a whole summer and couple of weeks in Italy doing nothing but having fun. Last Sunday, two of my roommates and I went to Mass at Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo). It was in Italian and there were actually a lot of people there even though it was an evening Mass. That cathedral is very beautiful and huge. It's not nearly as big as Saint Peter's (the Vatican), but my professor told me that it's the third or fourth largest in Europe. I am planning on going to the 10:30am Mass tomorrow because it's supposed to be in Latin and there will be Gregorian Monk chanting. I'm not quite sure what to expect, but I know I want to do it at least once while I am here and since I didn't do any traveling or partying this weekend, I figured tomorrow would be one of my only chances. 

On Thursday, my program took us on a boat tour of the Arno River. Unfortunately, I am an idiot and I forgot my camera, but I think I would have been too nervous to take pictures anyway... we were so close to the water, that I would have been scared that I would drop my camera in the disgusting swamp water. Anyway, we piled into a 100 year-old boat and I was sitting on the end of my row and I was freaking out for a bit since I was about 3 inches from the gross water. Thank God no one fell in! The views were beautiful because we were going along the river as the sun was setting and the lights in the city began to turn on. It was a good experience followed by a great pizza at a place suggested by a local who thinks it's one of the best pizza places in Firenze. 

Yesterday, I hiked up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo, where the other fake David is. At the top of that hill, there are also a couple churches, including San Salvatore and the beautiful San Miniato. The hike through the hills of the city across the Arno was kind of intense in the heat, but one of my travel books mapped out this cool path where I went the back way around the city walls. 

View of the Medieval city walls on my hike.

After about 45 minutes, I finally made it to the top of the hill and the view was amazing! It was totally worth looking like a hot sweaty mess:

Unfortunately, it was a rather overcast day, so it would look better on a nice day or at night, but it was still an amazing view. Luckily it wasn't raining because about 10 minutes after I got home it started POURING. Anyway, also on the hill near the Piazzale Michelangelo, there were two churches that I went into. The first, San Salvatore, was simple, small, and not overly-decorated. The second, San Miniato al Monte, was very beautiful and ornate inside. It was interesting because there were three accessible levels and two altars. Most churches I have been to have only had one accessible level and one altar. In this church, you could walk downstairs to a catacomb-like area and you could also walk upstairs to basically another church with it's own altar. Maybe that's where the rich people went to Mass.

San Miniato al Monte.

Building on the church began in the 11th century and the marble facade on the front was added in the 13th century. There was also a huge cemetery outside and apparently some of the sculptures out there were made by Michelangelo himself. It was a very beautiful church... and it's called "al Monte" for a reason: because it's up a freaking mountain! Haha... it was definitely worth it though. I would like to do the hike again at night and be able to see the whole city lit up from the hill. 

Today, it was all rainy and gross so I decided to cancel my solo trip to a garden outside Florence and instead I slept in and went to the Boboli Gardens again. When I went the first time with Valerie, it seems that we only went to about one-third of the whole gardens because they are so huge. Today I meandered around the places I hadn't explored and everything looked even more beautiful because of the rain and the left-over dew. Even though there were many people visiting, the property is so big that there were few people in my general vicinity, so it was nice to have some time alone in such a beautiful place. 

L'Isolotto (little island). 

Pretty trees.

There were these French girls petting a cat in the gardens, so I went to go pet it too and it was so sweet! She wasn't a gross feral cat, but a nice one that looked clean and normal. She followed me to a bench and jumped up on my lap and purred on my lap for about 20 minutes while I petted her. I named her Juliet and I wanted to take her home with me, but I'm pretty sure she belongs to someone who lives on the property. I saw three other cats that were friendly and wanted attention, but Juliet was my favorite. 

Juliet the kitty. I couldn't get a good one of her face... she's camera-shy.

Well, it's getting quite late and I think the people upstairs have finally stopped their dance party of the most RANDOM music I have ever heard. The played a mix of 90s and 70s including the YMCA, Men in Black, Mambo Number 5, and the Macarena. I don't know who these people are, but they should be fined. Now without Euro-pop or songs from my middle school days blaring into my window, I should go to sleep.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

this must be dante's "paradiso"

Now that our dear wireless network that we use illegally (grazie, "Francesco") is working once again, I will write about the utterly amazing meal that I had on Friday night. 

Included in the price of our program was a day trip to Siena and the Chianti countryside. We left in the early afternoon and took a chartered bus to Siena where we toured around for a few hours. We went into the Museo Civico where we viewed some of Siena's most prized works of art, including a beautiful altar piece by Duccio. 

Then we got back on the bus and drove an hour and twenty minutes into the gorgeous hills of Chianti. Literally every view of the surrounding area looked like a postcard:

When we finally reached our destination, Castello di Verrazzano, everyone was amazed by the beauty of the property and the surrounding area. Everyone was also very hungry and dying for some food and wine. Now for a bit of history: the Castello di Verrazzano is the oldest documented maker of Chianti. The castle was an Etruscan and then a Roman settlement before becoming the property of the Verrazzano family in the 7th century. They have been making wine here for approximately 1000 years. The wine itself is made in a very "green" way because of the cultivation and irrigation systems that are purely natural. They depend only on the rain to irrigate the grapes and they use no chemicals or pesticides. They also do not buy any grapes from other growers, but only use the grapes grown on the property.

So, basically, I want to live and/or get married here. The grounds were BEAUTIFUL. Everything was lush and green and they have lovely gardens and even a herd of wild boars that we got to taste later (eek!). There was a nice English lady giving us a tour of the grounds and the many many wine cellars that they have on the property. We also got to see where the proscuitto and the olive oil are aged. I was already in heaven, and the best part (the meal) hadn't even started yet.

A glimpse of the grounds before my camera died.

We were led into a reception room and began our "aperitivi" of a tasting of delicious sparkling wine and black olives soaked in oil and lemon. Already we were off to a great start! We then sat down at our tables and the lady gave us a short lesson about wine tasting (most of which I already knew, because I am such a connoisseur... just kidding... she gave me a couple tips I hadn't learned before). For each wine we got a good 1/3 of a glass to taste with because each table got a bottle and there were 8 per table, so it was actually a fair amount. And then began the courses that launched a thousand groans of delight:

First course: wild boar salame and prosciutto and garlic bread made with estate-made olive oil. The prosciutto was the most tender and best-flavored one I have had so far in Italy. 
Paired with: Rosso Minituscan table wine, 2006. Some of you would be interested to know that this is made up of 30% Malvasia grapes (yaaay, Blackstone!). 

Second course: penne pasta in marinara. They also gave us a bowl of fresh parmesan and another bowl of the most amazing dried herb mixture I have ever had in my life that made the pasta utterly to-die-for. It was a mixture of dried oregono, garlic, red pepper flakes, and who knows what else... maybe crack? The lady advised us to put a sprinkle of cheese, then a sprinkle of the herb mixture and then a few drops of olive oil. I cannot stop thinking and dreaming of this pasta. How could something so simple be so utterly amazing?
Paired with: Chianti Classico, 2006. I bought a bottle of this wine (as well as the previous two) and the lady said that it will be the best it can be in two years. I am looking forward to that! 

Third course: slices of rosemary-seasoned roast pork and salad tossed with estate-made red wine vinegar and olive oil. Hands down the best pork I have ever had in my life. 
Paired with: Chianti Reserve, 2004.

Fourth course: cheese course. First, a triangle of pecorino toscano cheese. I was actually able to identify it as pecorino thanks to my mom's many trips to A.G. Ferrari. Second, we each got a teaspoonful of 12-year aged balsamic vinegar (heh.. balls-matic) and a hunk of parmigiano reggiano. We were told to take a sip of the balsamic vinegar and then a bite of cheese. WOW. The balsamic was thick and sweet and not too bitter and the saltiness of the cheese contrasted very well.
Paired with: Sasello Supertuscan, 2005. This was the best wine by far... and of course it was the most expensive! It was 45 euro, which is approximately $70. A bit too expensive for me, especially because I wanted to buy a few different bottles.

Fifth course: (though, not really a course) almond biscotti.
Paired with: Vin Santo ("holy wine"). This golden-colored wine is a bit sweet and very strong. We were told to dip the biscotti into the wine (à la Oreos and milk) and then suck the wine from the biscotto. It was quite tasty and the wine was a little too strong to drink by itself. 

The finale to our meal was a taste of grappa, which is a kind of grape-based brandy. It was very very strong, though I guess it was better than vodka. I don't think I would ever drink any again, but it was nice to get a taste of it once in my life.  

The whole night felt like my dream come true... I was seriously in heaven. I think taking into account the tour of the gorgeous grounds and wine cellars, the ambiance of the reception room, the wine, and finally, the brilliant food, this was the best meal I have ever had in my life...


P.S. HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my wife ALEX!!!!!!!!!! I am so sad I had to miss your birthday celebration, but when I get back home we will have a real celebration.... Vegas, anyone?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

cin cin!

Ciao! I am drinking wine with my roommates and neighbors in my apartment and I am very excited to get internet for a couple hours! I thought I would make a post while we are preparing to go out dancing tonight. People go out super late here... it's considered very early if you go out at 11pm. Yikes! I need to be rested for my IKEA trip tomorrow. I am psyched because there is a free shuttle from the train station, which is only a 5 minute walk from my apartment! I need some basic stuff like hangers, another set of sheets, some kitchen towels, and a good paring knife (we only got a bread knife and a dull chef knife. LAME! Especially in Italy, the food capital of the world). 

The pizza Margherita with buffalo mozzarella I had the first day I was in Florence. 

I will post about my Siena and utterly AMAZING meal (one of the best meals/nights ever) on Monday when I have more reliable internet. 


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ciao firenze!

Now that I finally have internet, I can make a post about Florence…

Valerie and I arrived in Florence on Saturday afternoon after a confusing and stressful experience. It was our first time with taking the train in Italy, so we didn’t really know how things worked (I mean, we were used to BART). Basically, after enjoying a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin (blasphemy, I know, but it was our first non-Italian meal), we got on the wrong train at first and realized it when we were confused as to why people were sitting in our seat numbers. Thankfully, we were able to get on the correct train with time to spare (after running down the platform with all my luggage). We were drenched in sweat, but we made it. The train ride was fine… it was nice watching the Tuscan countryside out the window. Except for the Cyprus trees and the hilltop villas, it seriously looked close to Northern California.

Our hostel was nice, and very close to my apartment, which was useful when I had to move in so that I didn’t have to take a taxi and we could just walk one block up and one block over. The two days that Valerie was here, we crossed Ponte Vecchio and went to the Palazzo Pitti, where the Medici family used to live. There are beautiful gardens there called the Boboli Gardens that are terraced on a hill so that by the time you get to the top, you have a pretty good view of Firenze. We also toured the Medici apartments and saw some of the museums in the Palazzo Pitti. Though I never thought I would EVER say this, I was kind of tired of pasta and pizza (I mean, I had been eating one or both every day for the past 2 weeks!) and so was Valerie, so we found a nice Greek restaurant to eat dinner at after not being able to locate a Mexican place recommended by the Lonely Planet book. It was a nice change of pace.

Inside the Boboli Gardens at Palazzo Pitti & view of the Tuscan hills.

A view of Firenze.

As for my apartment… there is so much space! I would never have imagined that I would be living in an apartment this huge! Especially in Italy! We have an enormous living room, a dining room, a good-sized kitchen, two bathrooms, and two bedrooms that aren’t huge, but they are big enough and there is a whole wall of closet space! The only thing that really sucks about it is that it looks onto the street and there is SO MUCH noise ALL of the time. 

Here is my part of the room. The other bed is on the wall to the left. 

Monday and Tuesday we had orientation at 9am. Yikes! It sucked having to sit still for an extended period of time, especially because I have spent the last two weeks walking literally all day. I haven’t done very much sightseeing in Firenze because I have had so much stuff to do with my program and I’ve been trying to get my bearings, but since I have four months here, I am not too concerned that I won’t see everything. Plus, I will be taking trips to the museums for my art history classes.

The Arno River and Ponte Vecchio.

View of Firenze from the Boboli Gardens. 

I begin classes this afternoon. I only have one class on Mondays and Wednesdays from 12:30pm to 2pm, but Tuesdays and Thursdays I have class all day from 9am to 2pm (with two 15 minute breaks). Yikes! Fridays are free, but some of them will be used for class trips (like going to Vinci for my Leonardo daVinci class). This Friday, we are going on a day trip to Siena and having dinner a winery/medieval castle called Castello di Verrazzano. Sounds like my kind of thing, no? Well time for class to start!


Thursday, August 28, 2008

arrivederci roma!

Sadly, I am leaving Roma tomorrow morning, but happily, I am going to Firenze (plus, I will definitely be back to Roma a few times in the next 4 months). I am really excited to get to Firenze and finally unpack!!! 

Yesterday, Valerie, two of her roommates, and I went to the Vatican museums and saw the Sistine Chapel. Then they had to go to class and I got to tour St. Peter's Basilica. Not only that, I took a tour of the cupola (dome) and was able to get a birds-eye view of Roma. However, this was after a near panic attack because the way to the top of the dome is not too kind to people with claustrophobia. I managed to survive and make it to the top... and it was well worth it!
Here is the view from the top!
An "illegal" picture of the Sistine Chapel. 
Gnocchi, pasta, e Coca Cola Light!
Roman ruins.

Anyway, I am leaving for Firenze tomorrow and Valerie is coming with me to help me with all my crap and because she wants to see Firenze. Plus, I helped move her in, so I'm grateful that she can do the same for me! 


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

pictures, finally!

I was finally able to upload some of my pictures. I'll post the good ones and all of the other ones can be seen on my Facebook eventually. 

Me and Val at the Colosseum.

The Colosseum is so beautiful at night.

The Pantheon.

In Piazza Navona.

Our first gelati.

The Vatican.


Monday, August 25, 2008

roma: il buono ed il brutto

Things I like about Roma (il buono):

-water fountains everywhere that spout clean, cold water.
-walking everywhere.
-getting lost.
-espresso (un caffé, per favore!) and cappuccino.
-the bridges and churches and rooftop terraces. 
-HOBs (hella old buildings.. I'm talking like 2000 years-old). 
-naps after lunch.
-the Trevi Fountain.
-the Vatican at night.
-everything at night.

Things I don't like about Roma (il brutto):

-people who feed pigeons so they swarm.
-walking everywhere.
-getting lost.
-huge tour groups.
-mosquitos and their subsequent bites. 
-the fact that a lot of places are closed between 12 and 4pm every day and all day on Sundays. 


Sunday, August 24, 2008

ciao bella

Since my last post, I have done a lot of sightseeing in Roma. Yesterday, despite having a blister the size of a quarter on the ball of my left foot, I walked around the city and went to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. I absolutely loved the Trevi Fountain...and of course I threw a coin in! I also enjoyed the Spanish Steps, especially because I remembered that in the movie Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn, she gets her first gelato and eats it in front of the steps. So cool!

Yesterday I tagged along with Valerie's group because they got a guided tour through the Colosseum and the Forum by the professor of Ancient Roman Civilization. It was really helpful to have someone explain the ruins to us, considering when Valerie and I first saw them we said, 'Um.. there's one hella old building' and 'Here's some more old stuff.' Not very scholarly. Anyway, the Colosseum was amazing and since we went on a late tour, by the time we grabbed dinner afterward, it was dark outside so it looked even more beautiful.

I still haven't gone inside the Vatican, though practically every night Valerie and I have been sitting in front of it for a while because it's sort of in between her apartment and my hostel. It's really peaceful and beautiful at night. We were hoping to do the tour today, Sunday, but I guess the Vatican Museums {with the Sistine Chapel} are closed on Sundays. We'll have to do that another day then. Instead we are going to the Trastevere neighborhood, which is supposed to be really cute and my brother recommended a great pizza place around there.

Speaking of food, I had really good lasagne last night. It was so cheesy and creamy and the pasta tasted homemade and absolutely delicious! Yesterday was the first day I didn't have gelato... yikes! I have discovered a yogurt-flavored gelato that is like a really amazing and creamy version of Pinkberry. Obviously, it's way better and it almost has sort of a cheesecake-y quality about it.

Well, Val is supposed to be meeting me shortly, so I better run. Once I get my photos uploaded and I am not on the hostel's computer, I will definitely post some. I have so many already!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

ciao from roma!

Val and I arrived safely and soundly in Roma and spent most of the day yesterday sleeping. The flight was fine and so was the Rome airport. Today we got our cell phones and got Val's key to her apartment. Unfortunately, I don't think I am going to be able to stay with her because it seems as though they have a strict 'no guest' policy, but we can assess the situation once she is settled. I don't mind staying in the hostel we are at but it will cost some euro...

I had my first Italian pizza for lunch yesterday and while it was very good, I'm sure it was not the best in Italy. We did have some AMAZING gelato today. My tiramisu one had fudge and lady fingers in it! Sooo good and much better than Naia in Berkeley.

I do not know how frequently I will be able to post while I am in Rome because I have limited internet access, but I just thought I'd do a quick post while I was at a computer.

I do like Roma, but we have not been to any tourist areas and I would like to go to the Vatican and the Trevi Fountain (among other places) and I definitely have the time to do that before I get to Firenze! Roma is nice, but I feel like Firenze will be my home sweet home away from home.


P.S. My cell phone number is 3663661865 and Val's is 3387840570 and you have to dial 011-39 before those numbers.

Monday, August 18, 2008

andiamo a roma!

The time has finally come for Valerie and I to say "ciao" to the States and make our way across the Atlantic Ocean to Rome. Our flight is tomorrow at 9:00AM out of LAX and we arrive in Rome at 8:50AM on Tuesday, August 19th. Aaaack! I'm very nervous for the flight because I don't particularly enjoy flying.... hopefully everything will be okay. 

Here's the address where letters and envelopes can be sent to me (but not packages... I have to find out the deal with that): 

Lisa Marie Bayless
c/o CEA Florence GlobalCampus
Piazza della Repubblica, 6
50123 Firenze, Italia

(There you go, Michkie.)

Alright, time for packing/bed/freaking out. Hopefully I can post when I arrive at the hostel with free internet! 


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

leaving for LA tomorrow!

Wow... it's finally here! I am leaving for LA tomorrow afternoon and I am excited to see all my LA-area friends, some of whom I haven't seen since May! 

I am continuing to pack all my stuff. Finishing up today involves doing a bunch of laundry and then realizing that nothing more will fit. Yikes! Well as Tim Gunn (woo! PR is on tonight) says, I'll have to "make it work!" 

In other exciting news, I was finally able to pinpoint where exactly my family was from in Italy. I knew we were from Genova (Genoa), but I found that my great great grandparents were born in a village about 30 miles away called Terrarossa. These are parents of my father's mother's father (confusing?). Anyway, I thought that was cool. We don't know where exactly in Italy the blood-related family on my mom's side is from because she was adopted. I forget where my grandpa's family (not blood-related) is from in Italy... I'll have to call him and find out. Anyway, here's a map of Genova and Terrarossa... hopefully I can visit!

View Larger Map

I finally bought travel books, since I couldn't commit to one before. I ended up getting Florence Lonely Planet and Florence & Tuscany DK Travel Guide. I started to read them, but it's very overwhelming! I also bought a book to read on the plane called Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach. It has a pretty cover and it's about a woman who travels to Paris, Oxford, and Milan... very relevant to me! I hope it's good. That's pretty much the only book I am bringing right now, besides the 1st and 3rd Harry books which I am bringing in case I have a panic attack on my flight to Roma. Maybe I'll find some books at the airport... but I really need to get a book of crossword puzzles at Kepler's tonight. 

Well time for more laundry/packing! Let's see if I can fit everything or if i have to repack my entire wardrobe...


Friday, August 8, 2008

getting close: one week to go!

So I told myself that I was going to go to bed early tonight.... or at least I was going to read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for a good 3 hours and then go to bed, but neither of these scenarios transpired. Instead, I spent about 2.5 hours looking at all sorts of things.. a few of which were related to my trip..

First, I spent about 45 minutes on Google maps because I got the address of my apartment in Firenze. It is Via dei Banchi, 6, 50123. Below is a satellite view. If you zoom in, you will see that my apartment is only 2 blocks away from the Duomo! And I am close to the train station, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Boboli Gardens (which are supposed to be amazing). 

View Larger Map

Second, I was checking out hotels and hostels for both Roma and Firenze ("sidebar"--I have decided to name all of the Italian cities in their Italian names for the purpose of this blog). Valerie and I are going to be arriving a day before her program starts, which means she doesn't have housing until the following day. I was also thinking of getting to Firenze a day early because I have to meet someone at my apartment at 11:30AM to get my key, and it doesn't really sound appealing to take the train from Roma to Firenze at 8AM. 

Third, I was on my assorted "daily" sites such as Facebook, lolcatz, and Perez Hilton for a good long while.. not. very. stimulating.

In other news, I began to pack today and it actually wasn't as traumatizing as I thought it would be. I am bringing 2 normal-sized suitcases, 1 duffel, and a backpack. I found these compressor bags called "Space Bags" that you pack, zip, and push all the air out and they work much much better than I thought the would and they have made a lot of extra space. I had to laugh at myself, because I am a dork and I labeled each bag with what is inside. Honestly though, once you shove 4 black pieces of clothing in one bag, you don't know wtf is in there, so labeling it totally made sense. It was just very "Monica"/OCD of me to do it. 

Anyway, time for Harry & bed.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

the beginning: two weeks to go!

Welcome to my new blog about my semester in Florence. I figured it would be good to start my blog before I left so that my journey can be documented from start to finish. A blog seems much easier (and more aesthetically pleasing) than sending 3984775 e-mails to different groups of people. Plus, this way I can post my favorite pictures, so those not on Facebook can check them out. Naturally, there will me some--well--editing of certain aspects of my adventures, so those of you who are in my special group of confidants may be getting supplemental material in their inboxes. ;)

In two weeks (Thursday, August 14), I will be getting ready to fly from SFO to LAX to spend a bit of time in Southern California to see a few people that I have missed dearly this summer. Then, on Monday, August 18, Valerie and I will be flying to Rome. Until then, I will be preparing for my trip, shopping, babysitting, stressing out, reading, talking about Twilight, having mental breakdowns, watching "Entourage," and hanging out in the Bay Area. So much to do!