Saturday, November 21, 2015


Getting sick of hearing about my travels yet? I'm actually a bit exhausted by the travel schedule myself - particularly in this past month and a half - but I'm so close to so many amazing things that I'd feel like a slug if I stayed home too often. (Not likely to find myself back in Europe for my third tour!)

This weekend, however is an exception. I'm home and had a wonderful, domestic goddess-type day. Laundry, baking cookies, hanging pictures... The most exciting thing I did was take a walk to get groceries. (Ok, ok, groceries and gelato.) It was lovely though - soft rain, leaves on the sidewalk, window shopping for Christmas... I really do love my neighborhood. Whoever assigned me to this housing made the perfect choice for me. It's quiet, convenient, no tourists and lots of stuff I can walk to. Thanks housing board!

But back to the topic I meant to talk about! Last week I traveled out of my beloved Rome again, this time to visit Taormina.

I guess Europeans all know this little Sicilian resort village, but I had never heard of it before I arrived. Then, when I decided to spend a week immersing myself in all things Italian I thought it sounded interesting and booked a visit. I'd highly recommend it, though there aren't many places in Italy that I wouldn't recommend visiting if we're being honest...

So - to get there you can fly from Rome to Catania (in Sicilia) then there are regular buses and somewhat less regular trains.
I went in the low season and there were still plenty of tourists, so I'd imagine it could be a bit unpleasantly crowded in the summer. Still, with views of Mt. Etna and the Mediterranean, cute cobblestone streets and lots to do it's a must see.

In no particular order, here are some photos from my trip.
Taormina is a coastal town in Sicilia. It looks out over the Mediterranean to the south and Etna to the west. And see that smoke? Etna is an active volcano so it was like that the whole time I was there. Sadly I didn't get to climb the mountain because it was out of season and no one would take me, but that just means I'll need to come back some day!

This is the piazza of the Duomo

One of several beaches - while pretty this one was unpleasantly rocky and I spent more time at the other.

Just pretty - this sign led the way to a winding path from Taormina down to one of the beaches. Theee were buses too, but I had to work off all that Sicilian food somehow!

Taormina is the site of some Roman ruins, including this temple which overlooks both Taormina and Mt. Etna with a perfect sunset view.

The public park was also lovely and not crowded at all. I think I visited at the perfect time of year.
This church overlooks Taormina on the path from Castelmola. 

The piazza/entry of Castelmola - guess I should explain that this is an even smaller town you can walk to from Taormina, with more views, restaurants, and cute streets.

Castelmola's Duomo and central piazza

I have a million more pictures but I think this set is enough of an appetizer, no? Speaking of appetizers, Happy Thanksgiving!


Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to Berlin for work and while I have to say that I haven't been that cold in a very long time, it was still a really excellent trip and I enjoyed the chance to get away and meet up with a number of colleagues posted to other countries in the region.

Mostly I was working and attending representational functions in the evening, but I stayed downtown and did get a chance to see quite a bit just in passing.

My overall impression was that Berlin is very modern - clean, organized, cosmopolitan - and of course, very cold. ;)

Here's the Brandenburg Gate, right next to the US Embassy.

A statue in the Tiergarten park - I loved this park and as my colleagues can attest I wanted to spend every free moment here, wandering around.

Side view if the brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag

A Berlin Wall exhibit

Potsdamer Platz

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Another view of the Memorial - while there were no informational plaques or anything the memorial alone was very moving.
Part of a mini Christmas market set up in Potsdamer Platz.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Hey from Rome!

The weather has finally settled down a bit here (good temps, little to no rain) and I've been settling in a bit myself.  In the past few weeks I've done some traveling and some local exploring, and I've spent way too much time obsessing over my apartment and how to make everything fit just right (shouldn't be hard since I don't have that much stuff, but as a style-impaired person, this move has been extra challenging).

My house isn't ready for any big-reveal, HGTV moment yet, so instead how about a few pictures from a walking tour I did last weekend?

First off, EUR - it's a neighborhood in southern Rome that is pretty far off the beaten tourist path. It was built by Mussolini for the 1942 world's fair that was cancelled because of WWII. An office-mate offered to show me around, but the timing didn't work out and I ended up going on my own. Luckily google led me to a walking-tour guide which was very manageable and mostly up to date.

The major draw in this neighborhood is the architecture. It's described in all the guidebooks as 'Fascist-style', but it's basically the same large-scale, clean-lined look that you'd associate with buildings like the Kennedy Center in DC (or the imagined world of The Incredibles). Mussolini's goal was to make a modern city that echoed the classical buildings from Rome's center. With that in mind, see if you can guess the inspiration behind the buildings below:

1) St Peter and Paul Basilica

2) Palazzo dei Congressi

3) Palazzo della Civilta Italiana - Fendi now owns the building - only fitting for such a slick place - and they've got a (free) exhibit on the ground floor showing the history of the neighborhood and it's development. I highly recommend it.

4) Obelisco de Marconi

The area is actually a nice break from the center of Rome that's perpetually filled with tourists, cars, and noise.  EUR, while certainly not empty, does give you a nice sense of breathing room. There's also a big park which I'm planning to come back and explore - and if it just so happens that this park is home to a truly fantastic gelateria, well, what a coincidence!

Also, this museum was on the walking tour and advertised as a hidden gem. Unfortunately it has been closed for some time and there doesn't appear to be a plan to reopen it any time soon.  But I enjoyed walking around - even more so this weekend when I recognized the building from the newest James Bond movie!

From the funeral scene.

So that's EUR - there are plenty of other interesting buildings in the area, which I did see but didn't include here. Consider a visit if you'll be in Rome and want to see something unusual.

The original plan - I don't think the amusement park ever got built. Too bad!

And for the answers to the mini quiz, these are the inspirations for the buildings above:
1) St. Peter's Basilica
2) the Pantheon
3) the Colosseum (the EUR version is actually known in Rome as the Square Colosseum)
4) Trajan's column