Piazza Dei Signori

Piazza Dei Signori

Dearest Cali Grace. My beautiful niece. It’s your Uncle Dean here, or Zio Dean as they say in Italy. Since I love and miss you so much, I’m dedicating this Dean’s List blog post to you. 🙂

As grandma, grandpa and mom may have already told you, I took a month off from work and my life in sunny San Francisco and am living in a super cute town in Italy called Padova. I’m learning Italian for the entire month of June, which includes a class everyday from 9 – 1pm. I hope one day you, too, get to travel the world, see cities all across the globe and make time for learning about other cultures. I promise you’ll have nothing but great experiences, meet wonderful people and find interesting things to do and learn.

I arrived almost two weeks ago and immediately fell in love with the city. It’s on the smaller side for a city – about 200,000 people – and it’s about 25 miles east of Venice. In fact, Venice is only two train stops away. Padova (or Padua in English) is home to Italy’s second oldest university and played a major role in italy’s history against foreign invaders. Okay, I’ll stop it with the history lessons.

Class is great. My teacher is quite a character, resembling Donnatella Versace (ask mom who that is). She has bright orange skin, bleach blond hair and drinks about eight espressos a day. The town is filled with cute little squares and piazzas which hundreds of people just drinking coffee, having drinks or just lounging with friends.

My Italian is getting pretty good, but I definitely wouldn’t say your uncle Dean is fluent just yet! I’d probably need another few more months. In which case, I should think about staying… 😉

I’ll be back soon with posts on the town, my apartment and even the classic Spritz – the official drink of the Veneto! Love you!

 

View of Florence from Luca’s apartment

Italy, take two!

Surprise! I’m back in Italy. For those of you hearing about this for the first time, I’m on a 10-day vacation/excursion to one of my favorite countries in the world. Although this time I am visiting entirely new regions.

I arrived in Milano on Monday morning after a seven hour flight, took a bus into the city center, checked into my hostel and then immediately did the one thing I came to Italy to do: I ordered an espresso. Hey, screw Jetlag! I’m in Milan!!!!! About four shots of espresso later, I tied a fashionable scarf around my neck, buttoned my pair of tight skinny jeans, greased up my hair into a semi mohawk (it’s the trend here) and hit the town. For inquiring minds, please know, I really liked Milan. I was a bit surprised as you would imagine. We hear it constantly how Milan is just a big, industrial city with not much character. I disagree. It was very trendy, edgy, kind of dirty and gritty in a sexy urban kind of way, but I really liked it and can envision why it’s a pulsating European city.

Now the fun begins…

First off, have you ever been to a gay drag bar at 2 in the morning with nothing but loud Italians on every side of you? 🙂 Well, we all know how much I adore couchsurfing, so this time I decided to get an real authentic experience on my second night in Italy. I found a super charming couple around my age, that lives in a small town right outside of Milan, called Pavia. Their names are Giuseppe and Davide (pronounced “Da-vee-day) and they informed me right away how little English they speak. Oh well, I guess no time like the present to test my Italian language skills. And wait, apologies, they do know some English. Giuseppe knew how to say “sh#$, and f!$% and go f&^$ yourself and you’re a #%$, and you’re mother’s a b@%!&,” but other than that, Italian was the common language.

Let me tell YOU! After unpacking, strolling Pavia with Giuseppe, dinner and a few drinks, you would have thought I was an Italian translator!! 🙂 After a wonderful time in Pavia, I double kissed Giuseppe and Davide goodbye, of course promising to see them again in the world, and hopped a train to Florence. Yes yes, I’ve been to Florence before, but I’m actually on my way to couchsurf in a town called Ancona. But remember my Italian friend Luca I met in 2010? Well, I made a pitstop here in Florence for the night to catch up with him. He’s doing very well, living life and still hosting couchsurfers from time-to-time.

At the moment, I’m writing to you from his apartment. He just left for work and I’m killing a few hours before I catch a train to Ancona. Thanks for reading along and for sharing in my stories. I’ll try to post another blog in the coming days. Ciao!

My bed under the Florence sky in Luca’s loft living room

 

"Floralis Generica" is an emblem of the city (This one is for you Patti, since we talked about this!)

Buenos Aires is amazing! Every single person is so sweet and goes above and beyond to help Pam and me. When going to the Casa Rosada (Presidential house and sight of Evita’s balcony) the two of us got on the wrong side of the subway platform. Not only did two guys get the attendant’s attention to let her know we were confused, but the subway worker herself let us through and allowed us to easily access the other side of the platform without any questions asked – and with a smile. That’s just one example of how lovely everyone has been to us.

Once the subway situation was underway, next up: the Case Rosada or Pink House, which is basically the “white house” of Argentina. And YES YES, it’s also the balcony where Evita gave her famous speeches to her supporters and to the country’s working class. When Pam and I entered the house, we actually decided to take a tour with one of the provided guides. I was a little nervous since I don’t really understand Spanish conversations all that well – so unless the tour of the Casa Rosada was going to be about cervazas, I had a feeling we were going to be out of luck! 🙂

We waited online for the tour to start and after about 20 minutes, we were let in with the next batch of 40 or so folks. Our tour guide was this hysterical, adorable and funny local who began the tour by asking where everyone was from. Pam and I were the only two from North America – although he thought I was from Brazil for some reason! He translated the tour into English for us and he was fluent in four languages! Muchos Gracias! Overall, we learned some interested tidbits. For example, Buenos Aires is often called the “Paris of South America” because as Argentina was establishing itself as a country, residents would travel to Europe – Paris for instance – and bring back architecture and design ideas from major cities. Fountains, which were popular in Paris at the time, were established all over Buenos Aires.

On Evita's balcony!

Hola! All the way from Buenos Aires!

Pam (Staten Island’s quick-thinking nurse) and I arrived safely and soundly in Argentina’s capital early yesterday. The flight from JFK to Buenos Aires was pretty seamless and the two of us slept the entire time. Wait, I’m lying, I spent two hours watching “Something Borrowed” with Kate Hudson. I should have skipped the film and slept.

We touched down at around 10:00 am local time and not a second was wasted. The city is spectacular and the locals are extremely friendly. Instead of booking a hotel or hostel, we actually decided to rent a studio apartment for nine nights in the city’s Palermo district. The neighborhood is very chic, trendy and very SoHo-esque. We’re surrounded by a ton of shops, boutiques, cafes, bars and clubs.

And get this: our studio is on the 17th floor, overlooking the entire city! We’re off to see more of Buenos Aires, but please enjoy some photos.

Palermo's coastline

I have to be kidding myself if I think every single one of my friends and family are reading this blog of mine. And truly, no offense taken if you are not. But if you read at least one posting, READ this one!

Why? Because I made it to Sicily!!!! 🙂

Palermo is exactly how you would imagine it to be . It’s loud, big, chaotic, a little bit dirty… and I LOVE IT. It’s also charming, exotic, unique and gorgeous all at the same time. I arrived in Sicily’s capital a few days ago and right away I knew I was in love.  It’s a mixture of arabic, middle eastern, Italian and Spanish all rolled into one amazing city. It truly is a one-of-a-kind place. It’s modern, with noticeable touches of European influences all throughout the metropolis. As I was flying into Palermo from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport – a mere one-hour flight – landing into Sicily was breathtaking. It was as if I was arriving into a tropical paradise. I knew Sicily was in the mediterranean, but I forgot just how tropical it was going to be. It was surrounded by mountains and lush greenery from all angles… a city built into the mountains you can say.

One thing I did learn from this trip: I think I know why Italians talk so loud. EVERYWHERE in Italy is noisy. I mean never a moment of peace!! Whether its cars honking, babies crying, trucks, vespas screeching!!! It’s no wonder… everyone has to shout and use their hands to gesticulate to get their point across!!!!!

But my mom lives in NY.. what’s her excuse? 😉

Siracusa!!!!

However, my favorite Sicilian town thus far has got to be Siracuse, or “SIR-A-GOOZA” as I’ve been saying all week-long. (Picture it said with a New York accent and your fingers being pointed in the air like Tony Soprano). I know most of you are aware by now that even though my surname is “Rodgers” I’m actually half Italian. My mother, Lucy, is actually Lucia Izzo. And let’s be honest, if you’re mom’s Italian, then you’re ALL Italian, right!? Just kidding, dad! I’m also half English and Irish, too. But I try not to admit that in Italy. 🙂 Anyhow, I digress. So. My mom’s mom’s mom – my great-grandmother, was born in Siracusa. Being in Sicily and only a hop skip and a jump train ride away, I HAD to see the city where my people were from.

Is this a new world color?

WOW. Word to the wise. If you are planning on or thinking of going to Sicily one day in life, you have to, I mean HAVE TO go to Siracusa. It’s sooooo cute… so picturesque.  It’s small, non touristic, but plenty to see. And it’s filled with friendly locals. Although be aware, a little Italian-language skills help  a lot. (Maybe they just know I’m from Sircusa?). LOL. yeah right! 🙂

Well, enjoy!!!

A chapel in Sicily

Gelato, anyone?

Mi dispiace!

I’m so sorry I’ve been missing in action on the Dean’s List for a few weeks. I’ve been in Italy having a blast! Ever time I go to update my next blog entry I have a bottle of wine and just forget! Haha. 🙂

I’ll keep this posting quick, but I am absolutely in LOVE with Italy. I guess that’s amore! My Italian mother would be SPEECHLESS if she were here. Speechless? What I am I saying? (just kidding mom!)

From the top of Florence's Duomo!

In addition to the art and STUNNING museums, the city of Florence is just a museum in and of itself! It’s gorgeous! Breathtaking. I saw the Duomo, went into the Uffizi (waiting for three hours) and “couchsurfed” with my new Italian brother, Luca Solari.

The Duomo's ceiling. Can my next SF apartment have this?

In Rome… I laughed, I cried… I was a typical Italian! It was great and by the time I arrived in our Italian capital, my language was getting pretty good! In addition to asking directions and ordering food, I can even flirt and ask about the town gossip. 🙂

Guess where I made it to!

 

Phew! Good thing I'm there holding it up!

 

 

And please don’t laugh at the photo. You’d roll your eyes if I DIDN’T take the typical, “holding the tower up” snapshot.

Welcome to Pisa! It’s a town full of friendly people, delicious food and of course, wine all around!! 🙂

One thing I did learn: NEVER trust an architect from Pisa! Did you know there are not one, but TWO leaning towers? Who knew!?

A little history which you may find of interest: The Leaning Tower, or Torre Pendente, was built in the twelve century and began leaning right from the start when it reached only three stories. However, what’s most interesting is that the tower was actually leaning in the opposite direction than the current one we see today. Over the next 180 years, a series of Italian architects attempted to compensate for the angle, with the end result being how the main part of the tower is slight bent (notice how it is somewhat straight at the top).

I was way too young to remember, but do you recall back in 1990 when the tower had to be closed to the public because it was leaning too far? I somewhat vaguely remember that in the news for some while, but it was leaning some 4.5 meters from its upright position. A huge rescue operation was put into effect and the tower is now reopened for visitors to go in, BUT I learned something very fascinating.

I “couchsurfed” with my new Italian friend, Luca Veraldi, in Pisa and I learned a little bit about going (or not going) inside. Apparently local legend has it that if you go inside the tower, it’s considered bad luck! EEKS! Luca told me there are three universities in Pisa and students who have entered the tower have been known to have failed miserably on their final exams. I asked him if he’s ever been inside the Leaning Tower and he said, “Nope.” I hate to say it, and I’m not one for superstitions, but I do plan on going back to school one day… and I’m NOT taking any chances!!!

So I only enjoyed the view from afar! 🙂

 

Cinque Terra at its finest!

QUICK!!!!!

Someone call up my New York, Italian mother and tell Lucia Izzo that her baby boy made it all the way to Italy! Oh my gawd, she’s gonna die!!

I arrived in Italy, Genoa to be exact, a few days ago via the night train from Paris. So far, I think Italy just may be my favorite. To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive. I mean it’s an entire country FILLED with Italian mothers! The emotions, the loud talking, the Italian guilt… how could I spend the next month here!? Isn’t one Italian mother enough?

Okay. Really. I’m kidding!!! (Mom, I LOVE you, everyone should only be so lucky).

Much better than a cubicle, right?

Seriously. Italy is gorgeous. Stunning. Everything I imagined and more. Plus, I’m not sure how many of you may know this, but since the sixth grade, my second language study in school was Italian. I took three years in middle school, four in high school, and a few semesters in college. I’d say I’m… conversational? Intermediate, maybe? Not sure, but the language is slowly coming back to me and I’m having so much fun speaking it around every corner. I don’t think I’m doing so bad either. Although be careful with Italian!! “Pesce” is “fish” and “pesca” is “peach.” You DON”T want to mix those two up! 🙂

I know most of you read my Paris posting already and you’re probably thinking I’m either crazy or travel at the speed of lightning. Actually, to be honest, my little secret… sometimes my postings are public after I leave a city. I’ve actually been in Italy over a week.

My plan is this: Basically start in the north and work my way south to Sicily. So sit back and enjoy my postings over the next several weeks. Not to give any spoilers, but they’ll all be from Italy! 🙂

Paris!

As they said in the movie Casablanca, “We’ll always have Paris.”

I arrived in Paris’ du Nord train station mid-afternoon on Friday. The sun was shining, the temperature was mild and every single person was friendly. I swear, I think the universe knew Dean Gregory Rodgers was due in Paris that very weekend and made everything come together for this very quintessential European city.

Everyone was friendly, stylish and just so… so… “French.” Old men in J. Crew sweaters riding bicycles, women in sun dresses carrying a bouquet of flowers through the street. Does this really happen on a day-to-day here in Paris?

I was only in Paris for three days, but I made the most of it. I stayed with friends Fabrice and Kevin and their apartment was a stone’s throw away from Pere Lachaise – the cemetery where Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison (and many others) are buried. It really is a gorgeous cemetery to stroll through and enjoy. I recommend it for any Paris-goer.

And here she is!

I went to Louvre, saw Mona, Venus de Milo and enjoyed the rest of the Renaissance wing. Okay… please sit back and hear my diatribe on the Louvre. The museum truly is breathtaking! The glass pyramid, the history of the building itself and the countless, countless works of art in the museum truly are mind-blowing. To reveal my ignorance, I had no idea how large the Louvre actually is. Someone said if you stand for one second in front of each piece of art in the museum, you would be there for over a week. Whether it’s true or false, I’m not really sure, but there really is so much to see.

So of course I enter and what do I want to look at first… The Mona Lisa! How could I not, right? It’s like flying to Rome and saying, “I’ll skip the espresso and just have a Starbucks.” I enter the Museum and head straight for the wing. Basically, just follow the massive crowds, tour groups, little children and 50 languages you’re overhearing. Overwhelmed, party of one please!

It takes about 20 minutes just to get the wing, which holds the hall,  which holds the room, which holds what the modern world deems as the most famous painting. As I walk through the wing, it sounds cheesy, but I’m kind of nervous for myself. I don’t know why, but I’m thrilled and excited, sort of the feeling you have on a first date or right before you take an important test or something. I’ve seen replicas of the masterpiece for two and half decades – in school, college, on TV – and here I am a few moments away from witnessing the REAL THING.

I turn the corner into the room of the Mona Lisa and BAM!!! Lights, camera, flashes, crowds of people, INSANITY!!! Are Brad and Angelina here I said to myself? What is going on!? I knew it was going to be crazy, but wow, it was crazy! I elbow some German tourists, I skirt around some families and manage my way through the crowd. Hey, I’ve been waiting my entire life to enter the Louvre, I am NOT getting a back seat. Seriously, I was sweating, it was hot, and I was exhausted. And here SHE was, there the whole time watching over us. Laughing at me, laughing at all of us. Wouldn’t that be funny if that was the joke of the Mona Lisa? “La Joconde” as the French call it. Translating to “the Joke” or “Joker”  of course referring to her smile and the world-famous riddle of what she is laughing at.

To wrap this up, the painting was gorgeous. I knew what to expect, but it was much prettier than the replicas. It was more blue, serene, more calming than I thought it would appear. It was not as rusty or yellow as some duplicates make it out to be. I know this may sound ironic, but it was larger than I expected. People kept telling me how small it was going to be and how tiny the real painting was, that once I finally saw the real thing, I was well, pleasantly surprised!

And of course, since everyone was taking a photo, I had to take one. But of course I much more classy than everyone else for I turned my flash off! 🙂 I respect the world of art!!

Is there anything more beautiful?

STOP THE PRESSES!!! Seriously stop what you’re doing. Pamela Glennon and Megan Hydo, if you’re reading this, fly to Europe right this moment and experience this with me.

I just found… the best… cup… of coffee!!!

Blue Bottle, please turn away if you’re reading this. I know, I know, I still love you, your coffee is great and all, but I just found something so delicious, I might never leave The Netherlands.

So more about Amsterdam the city in a later posting, but Screaming Beans (the name of the coffeehouse here in Amsterdam) has the best tasting coffee I have ever had! I don’t even need to add sugar, more milk or anything. I actually stumbled upon the place by accident. I was in search of a loaf of bread to make lunch sandwiches and when I walked by Screaming Beans’ storefront I noticed it said, “Bread and Coffee.” I entered the store and instantly fell in love. It’s cute, the two folks who work there are Dutch but speak English and are too charming for words and the place rests on the most picturesque canal in the city. Since it was mid-afternoon I decided to spring for the latte instead of the drip coffee.

That is when my love affair began. I kept asking them how they make it or what ingredients they put into it, but they just kept insisting they use whole milk and nothing else besides espresso. They even let me come behind the bar and watch how they made it!! I think I enjoyed that more than seeing the Mona Lisa!

My recommendation: order a latte in a big white mug, pull out a classic novel and enjoy the day! Plus, the guy who makes the latte is easy on the eyes as well! 🙂