Sunday, October 30, 2016

Venice Biennial

Ok - so just briefly on the Venice Biennial since I was too distracted by most of the exhibits to take any photos - I really enjoyed it and you should totally go.  It's open until November 11 and it's in Venice, so there's that big draw too. 

This is a huge event, so it's probably best to just choose one part to focus on. I saw the architectural exhibit, but there's also art, cinema, dance, music and theater (they don't all run through November, so check the website for more info).  Using recycled materials, adapting to changing community needs - particularly with Europe's current refugee inflows - and honoring local traditions were big themes. 

One favorite picture to leave you with - this paper dollhouse that I would have happily swiped for myself if there weren't quite so many people watching.  It's actually even bigger than the photo shows.  Sadly I didn't bring my super awesome camera on this one - but if you squint maybe you can see the tiny houseplants, and tiny wall art and tiny tiny messes in the very tiny kitchens. *sigh*

Loved it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Oh, Venice.

I hate to be a walking cliché, but I loved, loved, loved Venice. A lot. 

For this leg of the trip I was accompanied by my lovely mother, my aunt, and a close family friend.  I took a side trip for much of Saturday to visit the Venice Biennial (I'll post on that separately).  Otherwise we mostly just walked, ate, got lost, rode water taxis and gondolas, shopped and ate some more.  It was as incredibly crowded as one would expect, but there are so many tiny corners that we were able to spend most of the visit away from the intense crowds and I wasn't as annoyed as I usually would be. I absolutely intend to go back someday - soon I hope.

I I wonder how they get them to wear the outfit?
The view from the Rialto bridge. 

Just because, one last picture of the human flood filling St. Mark's square. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Lake Como

Summer has finally turned to fall here and I'm already feeling nostalgic knowing that next fall I'll already have moved on to my next post (or training) and I won't be here walking the leafy streets and hiding from the rain in a bar with a tiny, tiny espresso and a cornetto (croissant) - cream-filled if possible. 


At least I'm making good progress seeing the sights in Italy and soaking up all the experiences on my bucket list.  I really do owe my readers a substantial, well-written post about my impressions of Italy now that I'm halfway through, but hey - life is busy.  And I still have piles and piles of vacation photos to post.  So, continuing where I left off last week(ish):


My parents and I drove up to Como from Rome during their September visit and we spent a too-short weekend exploring the lake and a few of the lovely towns along the shore.

My top tips:
  • Take the train to Milan - then rent a car from there.  Como is a very long way from Rome and the central Italian plains aren't quite so scenic as you might be picturing.
  • Have brunch at the Villa d'Este hotel. So much amazing.
  • Focus on the small towns - and consider skipping the big ones entirely. I really wasn't much impressed with Como or Bellagio, but the small towns we saw were lovely and relaxing and not too overrun with tourists.
  • Tour a few of the big villas.
  • Go in the summer. It was already kind of chilly in early September.
  • Plan to get out on the water - there seemed to be some fun sailing options on the eastern branch of the lake - and it'll save your wallet from the other main activity in Como - luxury store shopping.

Cernobbio - I loved this little town and recommend a stop - particularly as it's home to the Villa d'Este (see below)

Outside the Villa d'Este - a truly perfect brunch spot - and crazy expensive hotel.

The Villa del Balbianello (do you recognize the strangely shaped tree from the final scene in Casino Royale?).  You could tour this villa, or if you're short on time like we were you can just catch a glimpse on the ferry from Como to Bellagio.

This is the same estate - the loggia up top was used in a scene in Star Wars Episode II.

Sadly I couldn't ever capture the night view which was just astounding from our AirBnB.  You'll just have to imagine mountains and lake filling every inch of the view, and twinkling lights and stars....

It was a great stop on our grand tour de Italy and a welcome change of pace from my busy life back in the 'big city'.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


So, Pompeii.  We stopped by Pompeii for only a few hours on our way from the Amalfi coast to Rome (to Lake Como) so my memory of it will be colored by the very, very long hours of driving that sandwiched it  - in addition to my own near-certainty that we would be robbed of our passports and valuables based on my experience replacing stolen passports for a living.

Happily, we spent 3 hours at Pompeii and never got pickpocted at all! And we saw lots and lots ... and lots of ruins.  The town itself is so much bigger than people expect. I had been warned to take it easy, so we didn't have any expectation that we'd see it all, but we hit some highlights and had a good time regardless.

First off - get a map at the entrance. You'll need it.  Then go ahead and ask where the body casts are - you know that's what you came for, don't try to pretend like you're there for the frescos and the ancient plumbing systems.  There are a number right outside the Porta Anfiteatro entrance.

Once you've finished with the macabre stuff, put on your sunscreen and the widest brimmed hat you've got and fill up your water bottle before you hit the town.  It's notoriously hot and sunny.  To make things more manageable don't try to see it all.  Instead pick a few interesting sounding houses - ideally the better preserved ones - and spend a little longer in each one - reading up on the history of the specific building.  There are tons of guides available and that might be a good option if you're into guided tours.

It really is amazing how well-preserved some of the mosaics and frescos are and many of the buildings are in such good shape that you can walk all the way through.  As with all ancient Roman sites I really wish they'd just completely restore one or two buildings to aid the imagination a bit, but either way - a very cool site and worth a visit. If you plan to go I'd recommend a half-day and make sure you've got parking and eating sorted out ahead of time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Amalfi coast

First stop my recent tour-de-Italy was the amazing Amalfi coast.  I can tell you some stories about driving there (DON'T DO IT!) but it was so worth the visit. 

The views were incredible.  We only really saw Amalfi and the city above it - Ravello. Someday I'll have to make it back to see Capri and Positano - and to rent a little Vespa. With the lack of parking options in town that seems like the best way to go.

Below: random pictures of our weekend in Amalfi. Enjoy!
The Cala di Furore - a 5 minute walk from our AirBnB

Don't be fooled. There were very few sidewalks on the coast.

The lovely, lovely garden at the Villa Rufolo - a beautifully preserved estate in the town of Ravello.

Dawn from our AirBnB - can you believe we had this view (and a two-bedroom, two bathroom apartment with private swimming balcony right on the coast) for the same price as a dismal hotel room? May not be going back to real hotels again.

More view.

Our place is down there somewhere. I loved swimming of this coast. If I went back I would rent snorkeling gear to practice my super awesome snorkel skills in this crystal clear water.

The classic view of the Amalfi coast - taken from Villa Rufolo.

The Duomo in Amalfi. Amalfi was completely flooded with tourists which made it a bit unpleasant but the town itself was of course, stunning.

See? Stunning.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

I voted (absentee)

...and if you're a U.S. citizen so can you! 


While this is certainly the most civically-important thing I've done lately there's been a ton going on in my life in the past month. So much so that I'm still trying to rediscover my old routine (the one where I stay at home all the time and actually have to schedule things to fill up my weekends).

First off, I've had guests, lots of guests!

I had guests from Mexico, both my parents, my aunt and a family friend, and a family I knew from Lagos.  It's been great having so many familiar faces around and have someone to explore with.  It's been especially nice to have my family come.  I haven't seen my dad in person since last August and my mom since November and we did a ton of catching up while we roadtripped Italy.  And now that I've been here a full year I'm happy to be able to show off my favorite sights and restaurants and vast knowledge of the Roman bus system. September was a great month to be here too, great weather and (slightly) smaller crowds.

With all of these visitors in town I've been traveling a lot. Down to Amalfi and Pompeii, up to Lake Como and all the way to Venice.  I promise to post some pictures of those travels separately, you know, in all my copious spare time.

Then there's the work stuff - lots and lots of outreach events. Seriously, lots.   And a little thing called 'bidding' where we all have to try to get ourselves jobs for the next 2-3 years.  I don't know where to start with this so I'll just say it's a nervewracking and somewhat opaque process.  In addition to the challenge of trying to decide what city and job from the available list meets all of your job and personal goals - everything from schools, spousal employment and pet importation rules to language training, pay and danger/hardship  you also have to weigh how realistic these bids are - actually go out and actively convince the decision makers to pick you.  With consular of course it's a bit simpler than in other job cones - I work directly with the Bureau of Consular Affairs for all the jobs on my list, rather than lobbying individual posts directly. But whatever the process, it's difficult to predict how the timing, job needs and personal preferences are all going to balance out.  I hesitate to make any predictions at this point, particularly as I'm still adjusting my bids.  Handshakes (i.e. job offers) go out at the end of the month though. Til then wish me luck! When I know more, you'll know more!