Cooking for class: 3-course Lombardian meal

Food Class Final4For the final project for my Italian food and wine class, we were asked to cook a three course meal associated with a particular region of Italy. My friends Justin, Christian and I were assigned the region of Lombardia and were given a menu to whip up. We prepared a risotto with saffron to start, ossobuco for the main course and a sbrisolona cake for desert. Once the meal was completed, we collaborated with another group from our class to have a giant Italian feast in my living room.
Food Class Final2I was in charge of making the sbrisolona cake. Sbrisolona is a typical desert originating from Mantua, in the south of Lombardia. It was typically made with flour, lard and nuts in the form of a dry, crunchy cake with no filling. The traditional recipe dates back to the 17th century and was often a sweet made by peasants.

I decided to make a spin-off of the traditional recipe. Lombardia is actually the richest and most populous region of Italy, so I decided to create a decadent version of the peasant pie. I found a bunch of different recipes that included various fruits and nuts, so I decided to make a chocolate strawberry sbrisolona cake.

All of the recipes I could find measured the ingredients by weight, so I had to do a lot of conversions, a lot of guessing, and constantly hoping for the best. But my version of the recipe ended up turning out well! When in doubt, add a little more sugar and lots of chocolate and you’re guaranteed to make something pretty good.


  • 1 ½ lb all-purpose flour (about 4 ½ cups)
  • 1 ¼ lb butter (about 2 cups)
  • 1 lb granulated sugar (about 3½ cups — I used brown sugar)
  • 4 oz egg yolks (5 egg yolks)
  • ½ oz baking powder (1 tbsp)
  • 1 ¾ oz almonds (about 1/2 a cup)
  • (1 pack of strawberries)
  • (1 pack of chocolate chips)

    Mix together the flour, butter, sugar, egg and baking powder in either a large mixing bowl or on a clean flat surface. You can start by mixing with a spoon, but eventually you will need to blend it all together with your hands until it turns into a uniform dough. Add in the some of the chocolate chips (to your preference) and crushed up almonds. I put the almonds in a zip-bloc bag and smashed them to pieces with the bottom of a wine bottle.

Strawberry-chocolate-cakePut the majority of the dough in a buttered baking pan. Add fresh, sliced strawberries (or any fruit you want) and then add the rest of the dough on top to cover them up. Bake in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes checking on it continuously.

Once the cake has baked and cooled down for a little bit, add some more fresh strawberries. On your stove top melt down the rest of the chocolate chips with some butter in a sauce pan. Finish off the cake by drizzling the melted chocolate across the top.
Food Class Final1The main dish was ossobuco. It is a savory meat dish originating from Milan. The dish features a specialty cut steak of veal shanks that has a cross-section of bone with bone marrow. As a recent vegetarian, this seemed intense but it was actually delicious and incredibly flavorful.

Food Class Final3The steaks were lightly pan seared with butter and a little bit of flour. The meat was then slow-roasted over a small flame on the stove-top with vegetables, broth and white wine for several hours. It was paired with a Milanese risotto. The rice was cooked completely with meat broth instead of water. It is cooked with white wine and onions and the most important ingredient, the spice saffron.

Our meal was actually a success. There were moments during preparation where I had little faith. It seemed that something would be lost in translation as we scoured through the grocery story, with our recipes written in Italian in hand.

We pushed away the furniture in our living room, lined up all of our desks like a royal dining table(if the palace was fully furnished by IKEA of course) and set out the feast. The other group from our class brought over hand-made gnocchi in a marinara sauce and eggplant parmesan. We ate all of the delicious food and drank all of the cheap wine, and reveled in good conversation and our grand accomplishments.

Paint Party @ Arte Bottega Testaccio

PaintingWorkshop14Constantly being around so much art in Rome had me missing creating art of my own. I bring my camera with me nearly everywhere I go, so that fulfills some of my needs to express myself artistically, but it had been a long time since I got my hands dirty with some paint.

Yesterday, some friends and I went to Arte Bottega, an art studio, collective and gallery in Testaccio run by some incredible Italians. Giorgio Ferretti — a sweet old man who speaks barely a lick of English — manages the studio as a family affair, working closely with his nephew, Massimiliano, and a handful of other relatives and friends. The studio teamed up with the UC Center Rome program a few years back so students could have an immersive Italian experience and participate in some hands-on art. PaintingWorkshop21

We knew to not show up to any event hosted by Italians empty handed, so we grabbed a couple bottles of wine and headed to the studio. We received a warm welcome, introduced ourselves, and handed over the vino. The men returned the favor with stories, pie and even more wine.

It was fun to chat with all of the Italians and practice the language. They were all such characters. Even if I didn’t fully understand their stories I couldn’t help but smile from their gestures, inflections and jolly bellowing laughter.

They treated us as family from the moment we entered. They acted like we had been friends for years. They got us situated in front of some easels with art supplies and told us all about their workshop. In my best attempt at translating, the history of the studio is as follows: The Bottega’s (Italian for workshop) story begins in 1920 when Giorgio’s father moved to Rome from Abruzzo, where he eventually opened up a cobbler shop in Testaccio. His father married a talented and creative woman and the 2 of them began to make custom footwear. The duo had 9 children (Giorgio included), all with artistic tendencies. Almost a century later the bottega was revitalized by Giorgio and some relatives, with the intention of coming together with friends and family to promote creativity and art in all forms.

PaintingWorkshop19 PaintingWorkshop20The studio wants to engage people in order to exchange ideas and create. The workshop is used for people to come together to paint, draw, sculpt; write poetry and stories; perform theatrical acts or dancing and the space is frequently converted to a gallery. The perimeter of the studio had paintings and photos hung up from a recent exhibition. I was especially impressed by the paintings done by Italian artist, Alessia Meddi, shown above. The realism is impressive and the monochromatic color palette is captivating.

PaintingWorkshop15But today, we were here to paint. Giorgio and Massimiliano set us up with tables, easels and canvases and asked us what we wanted to paint. They asked our experience levels, what inspires us and gave us some books with paintings as references if we wanted them.
PaintingWorkshop17 PaintingWorkshop16 PaintingWorkshop13PaintingWorkshop10PaintingWorkshop8 PaintingWorkshop22It was an amazing time, painting, creating, laughing and exchanging stories. Our new Italian friends were so passionate — buzzing with energy — fulling engaged and ready to take in everything we had to share. They gave us tips and pointers and encouraged us as we went.
PaintingWorkshop25Giorgio stopped us a few hours in. He told us our masterpieces had to be put on hold in order to feast. He said we must come back and visit him next week and finish our paintings. We cleaned up our messes, put away the supplies and Giorgio set down a red table cloth. He left the main studio and entered back with a platter of cured meats, then a cheese plate, then some fresh bread, then he lined up bottle after bottle of wine. This was the proper way to host guests — the Italian way.

We spent the next hour or so talking and indulging. Georgio asked us if we wanted to drink red wine or white wine, and told us they should never be mixed during the same sitting. In the nicest way possible, he explained how much better the vino bianco he brought out was from the Pinot grigio we brought him. He said his white wine was fresh, organic and wasn’t pasteurized. I tried to tell him I only chose that Pinot grigio because of the label. But as a polite, gesture he only drank the Pinot. It was a gift, so of course he would drink it — the Italian way.

The whole experience was absolutely wonderful. I was not expecting to have so much fun and learn so much. It truly felt like an authentic Italian experience. Art — the Italian way.

Art everywhere you look

Sculpture Wall3 After spring break, I returned back to Rome with a fresh perspective. Before my travels, I had settled into a routine. I would walk the same path to school every day, get coffee at my favorite cafe, a sandwich from my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and it seemed I was less inclined to actively seek and wander like I used to.

When I was traveling through Ireland, Spain and France — for only about 4 days per city — I had a passionate urge to see and experience everything that I could in the short amount of time that I had. For a brief moment I seemed to have lost that drive in Rome. I could spend an entire lifetime exploring Rome and still not see it all. And I guess it took a few weeks away to remind me just how amazing this city is.

Sculpture Wall1The other day I decided to wander down some narrow streets, as I had done so many times before. Rather than looking at directions on how to get back to my apartment, I decided to aim in the direction and see where the wind would take me. I climbed up a thin road towards Pamphili park and stumbled upon some interesting art. It was a whole long brick wall that was full of sculptures. It was a collage of sorts, with hand-sculpted busts, pieces of ceramics and engravings. I am not sure of what lies behind the wall, but I appreciate what I had found. I tried to imagine who created each piece and looked for meaning in the combinations.

Rome feels like home now and I love it more and more every day. The streets emanate color and there is art everywhere you look. The important thing is, you just need to remember to look.Sculpture Wall2Sculpture Wall6 Sculpture Wall11 Sculpture Wall7 Sculpture Wall9 Sculpture Wall8 Sculpture Wall12

Vatican Views

Vatican 3Today, I was exposed to the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica once again on a tour with my Baroque Art class. One of the best parts about my UCEAP Rome program is its focus on on-site learning and lecturing; which is especially embodied with this Art History class. Rather than looking at slides and power-points in a classroom we go out and see the art, architecture and sculptures right before our eyes. Having a personal experience with the works — being exposed to the beauty in the flesh — is the best way to learn Art History. I find it hard to sense the true essence of a piece without seeing the details in person.

Rome is the center for Baroque Art so everywhere you look you can find examples. I feel so much more connected to the city and knowledgeable on its history after taking this class. I have a stronger understanding of the layout of the land since we go around to different churches and galleries for every lecture, and a deeper respect and appreciation for all of the public works I pass by every day.

My professor, Paolo Alei, is brilliant. I’m convinced he might be one of the most knowledgeable experts on Roman Baroque and Renaissance art in the world. He knows the material like the back of his hands and his lectures are pieces of art in themselves. He will take us into a gallery and talk about only 4 pieces of art for 3 hours, have every student captivated the entire time, and use the works in a specific order to take you on a conceptual journey that ends with a grand crescendo finale. This class has been a blessing because of everything I’ve learned and how actively I am able to use the knowledge every single day. I’ll pass by the facade of a building, notice 3 marble bees placed on a column, and know that it was commissioned by the papal Barbarini family as a form of political propaganda and that it’s a symbol of their coat of arms which alludes to the bees swarming at the founding of Rome after the Fall of Troy in Virgil’s The Aeneid.
Vatican 22In the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays we meet at a cathedral or piazza or gallery and spend the next 3 hours looking at art or buildings or sculptures while ferociously write down all of the gold our professor has to say. But this week was different. You are not allowed to (well, not supposed to) speak in St. Peter’s Basilica so for the first time we met in class on Tuesday so he could lecture us in preparation for our visit to the Vatican on Thursday. This was actually pretty awesome for a change, because it led to a much more relaxed experience. Since we had learned all of the information beforehand, we were able to just see and explore independently.
Vatican 8 Vatican 20Our professor took us up to the cupola which was very exciting. It is the 360 degree viewpoint around the top of the dome at St. Peter’s Basilica. I have been wanting to reach this vantage point for months now and it was one of the most breath-taking views I’ve ever seen. I am almost glad I waited to go to the cupola till this late in the semester, because it was so nice to know what a lot of the buildings and parks were that I saw. I had a moment of retrospective nostalgia as I thought about all of the memories associated to each of the places I could pick out.

Vatican 11Vatican 10 (use)After being blown away by the vista point, we went back down the hundreds of stairs incapsulated in narrow, slanted, disorienting stairwells back down to the main part of the basilica. I have been here before, but every time I am blown away. It is unbelievably massive and gorgeous. We then were sent free to explore the grounds on our own.

We are studying the architecture of the basilica as well as the piazza, the marble tile work, the wall and ceiling decoration and the sculptures. The architecture was a collaborative feat by the legendary Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Bernini. The height at the central part of the dome is almost 500 feet and its stature makes it hard to imagine the basilica was made by man, and even crazier in the 16th and early 17th century for that matter.

Vatican 13 Vatican 26Since Bernini is the Baroque master of sculpture, we payed particular attention to his embellishments to the basilica, the incredible bronze baldacchino, the throne of St. Peter and the massive statues in the pilasters of the dome that surround the main alter. I learned that Bernini began by designing the baldacchino, the massive canopy structure in the center of the basilica. It is almost 100 feet tall (believed to be one of the largest bronze statues in the world) and most of the bronze was stripped from the Pantheon. The alter and baldacchino are supposed to be directly above St. Peter’s grave in the necropolis below the basilica and create a very particular vertical access that moves from St. Peter’s remains, to the alter where the eucharist occurs and then continues on to the dove underneath the baldacchino, to the cross atop the canopy and then ultimately to the fresco of god who is painted at the top of the dome (representing god, the son and the holy spirit).

Vatican 25 Vatican 24I spent the next couple of hours taking in all of the art that surrounded me and recalled all of the information I obtained from the lecture before. I sauntered around the basilica, constantly in awe, until  I was eventually kicked out when the basilica closed. I was one of the last out of the glorious building and left feeling very satisfied. I always gain so much more appreciation for works once I learn about them.

Vatican 19

Carbonara a casa

CookingCarbonara 1Carbonara has always been one of my favorite Italian dishes, and ever since living in Rome, it has become one of the staples of my diet. During my first month in Italy, I learned how to make homemade Carbonara during a cooking class and now I whip this dish up almost every week. It is delicious and surprisingly easy to make.

CookingCarbonara 3Rigatoni alla Carbonara (4 person serving)

  • 1 pound of dry rigatoni
  • 1 table-spoon of olive oil
  • 1/3 pound of guanciale (Italian cured jowl bacon) -substitute pancetta or American bacon if needed
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup of pecorino romano cheese (or more if you love cheese like me)
  • fresh ground pepper
  • hot crushed red pepper (not traditional in Italy)

Cook time: about 20 minutes

Begin by boiling a large pot of water. It’s good to start with this because cooking the pasta takes the longest time. While you wait for the water to reach a boil and for the pasta to cook, you can finish all the other prep-work. Once the water is boiling, add a few pinches of salt and dump in the pasta. I like to use mezze maniche rigate (a shorter, stout rigatoni pasta) but you can use any pasta depending on personal preference. Timing is essential for making the carbonara cook properly, but eventually you will boil until the pasta is al dente after 8-10 minutes.


Cut up the guanciale into small cubes. If you are buying the jowl-bacon fresh, make sure to cut off the rough skin. Sometimes I like to buy vacuum-sealed packs of the bacon already cubed from the butcher at the local farmers market for convenience. Heat up a skillet and add a splash of olive oil (a little under a table-spoon) — the bacon will produce enough oils on its own — but the olive oil increases the amount of unhealthy fat that is released from the meat. Cook the guanciale over medium heat until it is crispy and the fat is translucent and rendered. When finished, the guanciale should look something like this U+2192.svg

While the meat is cooking, prepare the sauce. Timing is extremely important because the pasta needs to be ready and hot when it mixes with the sauce. The heat from the pasta cooks the sauce and if it timing is not correct it could not fully cook the raw eggs. CookingCarbonara 4

Separate 3 of the yolks and place just the yolks in a mixing bowl large enough to fit all of the pasta. Add 1 additional full egg (so 3 egg yolks + 1 full egg in total) and add in the cup of pecorino romano cheese and mix together until the sauce is smooth and consistent. Sprinkle in some fresh ground black pepper and some hot crushed red pepper.

Once the egg and cheese mixture is ready, drain the boiling water and quickly add the hot al dente pasta to the sauce. Save half a cup of the pasta water just in case you want to add a little more liquid to the sauce. Rapidly stir the steaming pasta evenly to cook the sauce. As the sauce thickens, add in the guanciale. Grade some fresh cheese on top, add any more of the spices if needed and then serve!CookingCarbonara 5

La mia città è bellissima // Spanish Steps sunset

Spanish Steps View 3 Normally I try to avoid the Spanish Steps area of Rome at all costs. It’s a tourist trap and extremely commercially focused. I’m always so surprised by how many people come all the way to this amazing city just to spend there time on an overcrowded street of designer stores. But the other afternoon, I had a change of heart.

It began when I was running a few minutes behind on my way to an on-site lecture at the Villa Borghese for my Baroque Art History class (as per usual). I was frustrated weaving through tourists and avoiding the men selling selfie-sticks and other useless crap. It was a beautiful day though and I was very excited to be going back to my favorite art gallery in Rome.

Spanish Steps View 1

I climbed the Spanish Steps and turned around just to take a brief glance at the view on my way towards the gardens. I was stopped dead in my tracks. The sun was setting and there were rays of light peaking through epic clouds. The lighting was perfect and made the bright colored buildings pop. I took a mental picture and continued onward.

Spanish Steps View 2

A few yards forward, I stopped again to take it all in. My professor is a stickler but I decided it was worth being late for this marvelous view. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen. The buildings were stacked layer upon layer of color all the way to the far distance. Now that I had spent several months here I was able to pick out some of my favorite landmarks. I thought to myself about the unbelievable amounts of history beneath the blazing sky. And how amazing it was that I was able to stand before it, right here, right now.

Spanish Steps View 4 (cropped)

Viterbo: a Room with a View

Viterbo4If you can believe it, I am taking a class on Italian food and wine. The class is incredible! Amongst other things we get to indulge our senses and taste delicious wines and delectable meals. This past weekend, we took a day trip to Viterbo, for a tour of a vineyard and a visit to my professor’s wife’s restaurant. Viterbo5 Viterbo3 (group shot)We took a bus from Rome to Viterbo early Friday morning. When we stepped off the bus at Tenute Olivieri vineyard, the sun was beaming hotter than it ever has since I got to Italy. It was beautiful with endless rows of grape vines surrounded by mountains and picturesque clouds. We met up with our professor’s friend who’s the owner of the vineyard. He explained the entire process: from little details like putting rose bushes every ten rows or so because they are a sensitive plant and show signs of infection before grapes do, to the complex distilling process, to eventually bottling. We even purchased the discounted wine that we would eventually be formally critiquing at lunch.Viterbo15After the tour, we took a scenic drive through the forrest right outside of the city of Viterbo to go for food tasting and wine pairing. Our professor’s wife, Claudia, owns a nice restaurant a part of a quaint property that has a natural swimming pool full of koi and frogs.Viterbo7She specializes in throwing elaborate events such a all day wedding recitals. Her English was broken so she spoke Italian in a theatrical way and our professor translated. She is a classically trained ballerina and says she treats cooking “like it’s a performance.” And boy, does she know how to cook!Viterbo8 (horizontal crop)We were treated to one of the best meals I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat! We began with a classic risotto with a spin. It was rice in a black-truffle butter sauce with parmesan, shallots and white wine. But the kicker was it was paired with a goat cheese gastronomic gelato. The flavor, texture and temperature combination was so unique and delicious! The savory gelato was like nothing I had ever tried before.
Viterbo9 Our next course was Pappardelle pasta in a wild boar sauce. Pappardelle is a flat and wide egg noodle, similar to a thick fettuccine. I was a little turned off by the idea of eating wild boar meat but it was actually very delicious. The sauce had boar, minced veil and pork sausage (my vegetarian self is rolling in his grave) that was sautéed in butter with garlic and a little tomato as a unifying ingredient. The dish was bold and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, crushed red chili pepper, rosemary, sage and bay. Strangely enough there was even a secret ingredient of bitter chocolate.
Viterbo10Then we had the best chicken I’ve ever had, called “Pollo Viterbo Style”. It was cooked with guanciale (cheek bacon), olives, garlic, rosemary, crispy potatoes and lots of butter. Tender, juicy and savory beyond belief! I imagined it was slow-roasted all day to be cooked to this perfection, but Claudia said it takes about 40 minutes. Lucky for me there was a whole extra plate of this dish that I got to enjoy. Viterbo13I thought my belly was at maximum capacity, but of course I had room for dessert. It was a custard covered in a rum reduction sauce with shaved almonds and crumble topping. A sweet way to end a wonderful lunch. If this meal was truly a performance, as Claudia had described, it deserved a standing ovation.Viterbo11I’ve always considered myself a major food fanatic. I’ve been cooking for myself for ages and always watched the Food Network since I was a little boy. So critiquing food is right up my alley. Critiquing wine, on the other hand, is a whole other story. We learned how to judge the various wines based on the professional parameters and some of the stuff seems ridiculous to me. I have trouble classifying the ‘brightness’ between ‘radiant’, ‘lustrous’, ‘luminous’, ‘vivid’, or ‘lively’ But I do know the wine was good, it was not a 1€ bottle, and it was a lot of fun playing the snobby part of a wine connoisseur.Viterbo26After the incredible meal our professor took us on a little tour of the medieval city. One of my roommates, Justin, and 2 of our friends in the program, Jane and Priyanka, decided to stay in Viterbo for the weekend. A friend of Jane’s, Alberto, lives in Viterbo so we met up with him after the tour. It turned out that his uncle owns a bed and breakfast on the property of his house. Little did we know, this was not just any property.

Alberto met us just outside the city walls. We asked if his home was nearby and he simply pointed to the lone house on the rolling hill right before our eyes. It was a glorious 4-story house surrounded by trees and a garden perched right smack in front of the medieval city. We all opened our mouths shocked and said, “are you serious?!”

We walked to the beginning of the property which had a grand entry-way. There was a round-about driveway with a huge staircase that had 2 orange trees on either side. Alberto led us to a sweeping lawn and said to wait here while he got his uncle.
Alberto introduced us to his uncle who was very kind. He gave us the keys to our rooms and showed us where they were. Once we were in the room I looked towards the window. It was covered with two layers of curtains, and the top fabric was tied together with a bow. I untied the bow like it was a Christmas present and drew back the curtains.Viterbo18The view from our window was absolutely breathtaking! I never could have imagined a window in my own room being so amazing. The perfect sight — straight ahead — of the medieval city. I was blown away and had to take a million photos, of course.

Although it was already dusk and rapidly turning to night time, Justin, Jane, Priyanka and I decide to go on an adventure. We knew Viterbo was well know of it’s thermal hot springs and Alberto told us there was free natural hot springs a 10 minute walk from his house. This “10 minute walk” turned out to be almost an hour but we eventually made it. Turns out the hot spring weren’t even hot at this time of the year and quite possibly only a hot-spot for mischief, but we still got some fresh air and had a nice walk.

A little later, a friend of Alberto’s came and picked us up a brought us to the city center. Alberto and some of his friends were cooking up a meal for us. We entered the apartment to see a group of Italians surrounding a giant pot of tomato sauce. This seemed very fitting. We were introduced to the group and met Alberto’s lady, Kelly.

We recognized Kelly had an American accent and asked where she was from. She’s from Santa Cruz and goes to school at San Diego State in my hometown. Just then, I received a message from my friend Olivia from back home that said: “Duuuuuude you’re in Viterbo?! My friend Kelly Edmonds lives there you should hit her up and she can show you around!” I looked back up at Kelly and asked hesitantly “…wait… are you Kelly Edmonds?” She looked at me like I was absolutely bonkers and cautiously said “yeeeeeeah, why?” I explained the crazy small-world situation and our mutual friend. Turns out Olivia is great friends with Kelly and Alberto and they are going to be roommates once Kelly returns back to America.


What are the chances that I have a close mutual friend with a random girl in a random apartment that I just entered across the world! And even wilder, to discover it like that! I love crazy situations like that, it sometimes makes me feel like things were meant to be. We took this photo and sent it to Olivia, who responded with “Ahhh I’m freaking out right now!”

Alberto, Kelly and their friends are incredibly nice and showed us a great time! They cooked us from scratch the best lasagna I’ve ever eaten and we has an awesome night on the town. We went from bar to bar down the main strip in the downtown area where all the young locals hang out. We ended the night dancing to live music and a place called book bar.Viterbo20The next morning I woke up, still stunned by our view. We had a nice little breakfast served by Alberto’s aunt and uncle. We decided to take a cab to hot springs a short drive away. We spent hours soaking in natural pools that washed away any grogginess from a late night out. We were living in luxury. Viterbo24 Viterbo21 Viterbo22 Viterbo23 Viterbo25 Afterwards, Alberto gave us a tour of his property. His house was built in 800AD and has been passed down through his family since the 1800’s. He showed us the original frescoes on the ceilings and a secret cave and tunnel system that runs underneath the house.

We walked through a garden and he showed us the Etruscan tombs on his property. I mean come on, who can say something casually like that. It was stunning up there with hundred-year-old+ olive trees (that they use to make olive oil), pomegranate and other fruit trees all framing that unreal view.

Twas an excellent weekend living like royalty in Viterbo! 

Nobile Collegio Chimico Farmaceutico

NobileCollegio1The UC Center Rome had the opportunity to tour the Nobile Collegio Chimico Farmaceutico (Noble College of Chemistry and Pharmaceuticals), located inside the Ancient Roman Forum. The Nobile Collegio is within The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina which was originally built by the Senate in 141 AD. Pope Martin V founded the college in 1429 and it has existed ever since. NobileCollegio3 NobileCollegio10The tour began inside the The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina which is not open to the public. We were told the story of the paintings in each chapel done by renowned artists, such as The Madonna with St. Philip and James (above) by the Baroque painter Domenichino. The back of the church has huge doors that open up to the ground floor of the Forum. It was a beautiful viewpoint through the temple’s ancient columns. I’ve seen this building before when I toured the Forum but I never expected I’d be able to go inside it.

Then we walked down to the basement of the temple where the was a showroom of old artifacts from the Nobile Collegio. There were old beakers and loads of toxic chemicals and even an Ancient Chinese elixirs. Most of the artifacts looked like medieval potions for witchcraft and wizardry.NobileCollegio25 NobileCollegio24 NobileCollegio23 NobileCollegio13 NobileCollegio16 NobileCollegio14 NobileCollegio22 NobileCollegio18

Living as a Londoner

London 1I decided to throw my inhibitions to the wind and buy a round-trip ticket to London for two days later. Most plan flights weeks in advanced, but I was feeling spontaneous. My Thursday class was canceled so the possibility for a 4-day adventure was too enticing. It’s an unbelievable feeling and privilege to be able to hop on the web, put in travel dates, and choose a European country to fly to. I never thought I would utter words like “…Should I go to Copenhagen this weekend? Nah I think I’ll go to London.”

A good friend of mine has lived in London her whole life and offered that I could stay at her flat whenever I came to visit. We discussed meeting up sometime since I was in Europe, but I had said I needed to settle in and figure out my schedule before we made any plans. It must have been a big surprise when Mollie received a message out of the blue saying “I think I’m comin’ to London this Thursday!!” Fortunately she was home that weekend and told me, “Absolutely come!” After finding out the details of where she lived and which airport I should fly into, I instantly booked the tickets!

IMG_2500Before I knew it, I was in the air. It’s exciting being able to leave the country so easily and I had never been to the UK before. Luckily I had the window seat because I knew I had some sights in store. It was a beautiful day in Rome and the clouds were epic as ever. It’s awesome being able to see ruins between rolling hills from an aerial perspective.

Eventually I fell asleep and sooner than I expected I was in London. Looking out the window, I enjoyed the memory of Italian blue skies and seas juxtaposed with the socked-in grey of London. The landscape and weather seemed rather fitting and I figured the grey was here to stay.

I landed at the Stansted airport and followed the crowd in hopes of finding the train. I took the Stansted Express to the Liverpool St. Station, where I was meeting Mollie. It was rush hour at the time, which meant people were making their commute home and the perfect opportunity for wonderful people watching. I’ve never been around such well-dressed, well-composed masses before. Everyone looked so wealthy and elegant and held their heads high with some sort of dignity.

After a few minutes of trying to figure out whether it was just a facade or if everyone really was that rich and classy, I met up with Mollie. It had been almost a year and it was excellent to see her! One of the first things she told me was: “Oh my god you sound so American!” This was the first time we had conversed outside of the states, so I guess on her own turf my Californian slang was a tad more startling.

We wandered the streets of London catching up. The city looked so pristine compared to Rome, the buildings almost looked fake. There wasn’t any graffiti in this area and everything was spotless. We headed towards the heart of Soho where we were meeting up with 2 of Mollie’s friends for a special dinner.IMG_2582She stopped in front of a sex-shop with no name. I was a little confused but figured this was just the spot we were meeting up with her friends. But then she went to open the door, which had me intrigued. We entered into a small room with red lighting and bizarre decor such as a smiling set of teeth coming out of the bell of a saxophone. There was a woman dressed in a racer-jumpsuit with enormous curly ginger hair who took our coats and escorted us down a narrow stairwell to the main part of the restaurant.

It was a hacienda-style mexican restaurant and tequila bar called, La Bodega Negra. It had aggressively dim lighting and chic furnishings, in what looked liked the basement of a military barrack. I spent a couple hours indulging and chatting with Mollie and my new London friends. We had delicious soft-shell crab tacos with a chipotle cream sauce, blue-tail tuna ceviche and Toronja Buenas. It was one of the hippest places I’ve ever been and apparently a hotspot for celebrities and young wealthy Brits. It was a tad pricey but had a killer atmosphere and well worth the experience.London 45After dinner we went to the opening night of SELF by English artist Antony Micallef at the Lazarides Rathbone. The cousin of one of Mollie’s friends is the curator of the gallery, so we were put on the list for the exclusive event. Lazarides is a gallery that exhibits unique contemporary artists that normally push the boundaries of categorization. It is considered the international market leader for “urban art.”London 47Antony Micallef is a prominent contemporary painter whose work sells for a pretty penny. This new body of work we saw, entitled SELF is a series of colorful abstract self-portraits. The paintings were beautiful and I was glad to have been able to see them in person. He slabs on layer after layer of oil paint, creating a topography of sorts. I never would have been able to see the intricate depths of the work through a 2 dimensional image. London 48 London 49 London 50Once the gallery opening ended, we got a private tour from the curator of the gallery that was converted from a four story town-house. Every wall contained art and each room was full of permanent works from well known artists who have exhibited in the past. It was awesome to see their office spaces and private galleries, and hear more about the behind the scenes of what goes into curating a show. I was blown away to get the inside scoop of the contemporary art scene in London and to find out how much the paintings from tonight were selling for.London 7After the gallery we met up with some more friends of miss Mollie’s at the legendary jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s. The event began with Brazilian Night in the top floor of the club, which entailed: two eccentric woman jamming out some samba tunes, 2 Amazonian showgirls whose colorful headdresses took up most of the dance floor and a conga line full of overzealous middle-aged folks. The people I was with claimed this was a curveball for the normally classy club but I had a great time and it was hilarious. This was sharply contrasted with the performance by a talented jazz quartet in a candle-lit red velvet piano bar with wine and cheese plates. Overall it was a fantastic night and a beautiful welcome to the UK!breakfast morning 1The following morning Mollie and I had a proper English breakfast in a trendy cafe called Barber & Parlour in Shoreditch. It’s a one-stop shop for all your culinary and grooming needs. Right to the side of people enjoying a cup of joe was an old-fashioned barber shop. Pick the wrong spot at  the cafe and you just might get a snip of hair in your omelette. London 30Mollie had class until the night so I had the whole day ahead of me. I was excited to wander around a new city with nothing but my camera and an abundance of inspiration. My journey started with the two pieces (above) by artist James Cochran (aka Jimmy C.). These energetic portraits displayed his talent and drip-painting style. They are on Whitby St. right in front of the cafe. From there — it was a domino-effect — moving piece by piece, enjoying all of the street art and cool shops in Shoreditch. London 21London 31London 23London 22London 25London 29 London 28 London 27I spent the morning wandering through Shoreditch and Brick Lane enjoying vintage shops, the Old Spitalfields Market and free local art galleries. Such as Beauty in Decay II by MEGGS (2 above) and Open Eye Signal (above), a 7 layer hand-cut stencil by artist duo SNIK all at StolenSpace Gallery. East London is chock-full of art everywhere you look.

Eventually I approached The River Thames that runs through southern England. I could see the London Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye in the distance. I continued down the bank and then from far away I could see the London Bridge. Although those landmarks are all glorious in their own right, today… I was tackling: Tate Modern London 4I spent the next 5 hours exploring every inch of Tate Modern. It is the most visited modern art gallery in the world, referenced countless times in my art classes at UC Berkeley and a place I always dreamed of visiting. I cannot believe what I was able see before my eyes. It is absolutely a different experience seeing these iconic works in person. 

Art breeds art. It is amazing to see what surrounding yourself with art can do to inspire creativity. Such as the young boy (above) who sketched Picasso’s The Three Dancers (1925). It is an infinite chain: Picasso expressed an abstraction of a love triangle, which inspired the boy to draw a unique replica which ultimately led me to capture the moment. The air was alive and I was excited to see everything that I could.London 10London 11London 12London 13London 15London 18I spent a lot of time looking at the work from two of my favorite painters, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. Tate Modern has a large collection of their work on the second floor, called Poetry and Dream. It was incredible to be able to see such detail up close! I found new things within work I’ve seen for years.

I met up with my friend, Justin (above), who is one of 6 of my friends from Berkeley studying in London. He is doing a fashion program at Central St. Martins, an arts university in London. We exchanged stories about our semesters so far. It was very interesting to hear about his experience and the prestigious program. London 20 bWe went through the new exhibit called Conflict/Time/Photography. I was intrigued by the title and Justin wanted to see it for inspiration for a shirt he is designing. It was a captivating display that moves chronologically from minutes—hours—days—weeks—months—years—decades after different traumatic war-related events. The work was stunning, but I was mentally and physically exhausted from my 5 hours in Tate. Which meant the perfect time for Justin and I to go to Chinatown for stir-fry for dinner. London 54The following night was the beloved V-day and Mollie’s flat had people over for drinks. I invited the Berkeley crew to come too. It was absolutely awesome to have a room mixed full of ol’ Berkeley friends and my new Brit buddies.

Mollie’s boyfriend, Jakob, is the manager of a jazz club called the Arch·Dead Dolls Club. So after the soiree we all went down to the club for some live music. Jakob is incredibly nice and welcoming and treated us all to free drinks.London 56 London 57 London 55Valentines Day is an interesting night to go out, but as soon as our group entered we livened the mood of the lonely hearts club. We danced wildly till the wee hours of the night. Mollie even managed to convince the normally stubborn jazz band to play 3 encores. I had the best time jamming with friends both old and new.London 3My final day in London, Jakob took me around some new parts of Hackney. Him and our friend Oska had insisted on showing me around, although due to some late night shenanigans, Oska was a no show. After breakfast we headed to the first stop: the Columbia Road Flower Market.London 32 London 33 London 35 London 34The colorful flower filled streets were pleasant and refreshing. The air was crisp and filled with a floral aroma. It was funny though, most of the vendors were bulky stern-looking men, bellowing out with thick cockney dialects the deals for their bouquets like they were used-car salesmen. I wondered how they got into the floral industry.London 36 London 37 London 38As we walked down the cold brick streets we ran into a small farm. I was not expecting to interact with a goat or a gaggle of geese in the center of the city. The Hackney City Farm was founded in the 80’s allow people of the borough to interact with animals and connect with some nature.London 61 London 65 London 64 London 60 London 39Jakob is originally from Sweden but moved to London 2 years ago. It’s bizarre though, he has a nearly indistinguishable British accent. We wandered the streets of Brick Lane looking at the graffiti covered walls, checking out art galleries and pondering life. We talked about the differences and similarities between Sweden, the UK and the US; about how our globally connected generation is so close to finally ‘getting it’ whilst at the brink of destroying the world as we know it; and the paradox of our rapidly progressive society as it simultaneously digresses. And how like-minded people have such a natural tendency to come together.London 2We ended our excursion in Dalston, the new up and coming hip area in London. Jakob explained that the center for young artsy people shifts around every few years after the old one has been gentrified and commercialized. First it was SoHo then Shoreditch and now Dalston. But basically as soon as an area is recognized as hip they start driving up rents and driving out locals.London 41Thanks so much to Mollie for being a wonderful person and such a gracious host! I absolutely fell in love with East London. You and your rad friends showed me the best time and you surely haven’t seen the last of me.

I may not have ridden the London Eye, been mesmerized by the Westminster Abbey, taken a selfie with a pissed off Queen’s gaurd in front of the Buckingham Palace and I may have only seen Big Ben from afar — but I did have 4 incredible days — living as a Londoner.

Ancient Roman Forum

Roman Forum 3On Sunday a group from my program and I explored the ancient Roman Forum. This past summer, Rome implemented a new initiative to provide free entrance to most state museums, parks and archaeological sites the first Sunday of the month. And just as any college student on a budget who hears of an opportunity that’s—free—we were all on board. We had a late Saturday night out but we all wanted to get to the Forum early to try and avoid the crowds, so the morning was a struggle. But once we entered the grounds none of that mattered. Our grogginess and pain was no match for the wonders of Roman ruins.

I walk by the Forum most days and am always blown away. It is the area I feel closest to the Ancient world. I like to look down onto the Forum and the Colosseum and imagine the broken columns and arches to be resurrected as the city was in its former grand, imposing glory.

But it’s a whole different story when you walk through the floor of the Forum. It was incredible to be inside the ruins, truly close to all the history. For centuries it was the center of Roman life: where trials were held, major speeches were given, gladiatorial matches took place and commercial activity transpired.

We spent the entire afternoon wandering around the property. It was nice to not have a guide or time-restraint, because we got to spend hours looking at our own pace. We got to see breathtaking views from the top of the Forum, get up close to the ruins and really get a sense of the importance of this eternal city.

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