Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day Three in Italy!

Happy Early Thanksgiving Everyone!!! Since I'm in retail and I will be working 9 hour days all weekend, I am wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving now and I will not be posting again until Tuesday. Pray for me this weekend if you have the time. Retail is a hard job on a normal day, I can only imagine how difficult it will be with tired, cranky customers all out trying to get the best deal. UGH!

Anyhow, onto Day Three in Italy. After our 1 1/2 day rest to recover from jet lag, and the fact that this time we left the shutters to our windows open so we would awaken with the daylight, we were off to our first full day of sight-seeing. We took a city bus to the Centre of Florence. It was fun riding a foreign bus and seeing how the local citizens live their typical day.

Once we got off the main bus line and walked deeper into the city center, I started to get all chocked up and had to fight back tears as I walked the city streets. I just couldn't believe I was here! Me, in Florence, Italy! Everywhere I looked, the view was just amazing...the endless, endless, endless, archaic buildings never ended. And they were all so perfect...I just couldn't believe it was real. I felt I was walking in a movie set. The main attraction of the City Center of Florence is this grand cathedral called the S.Maria del Firoe. That's me in the picture below standing in front of just part of this majestic building. The Cathedral was probably the most beautiful church I've ever seen in my life. It looked just like the cathedral in the Disney animated film 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' fact the whole center looked that way. All the roads are paved in stone, and the colors, the beautiful Tuscan colors, made me just want to cry they just blended together so harmoniously. As we walked, every time I thought I could not possibly see anything more beautiful, I saw something more beautiful. I experienced walking in a market for the first time in my life. There were hundreds, and hundreds of tents filled with vendors all vying for my attention to buy food, leather goods, scarves, and other souvenirs. The merchants are all very nice to you because they want you to buy their goods, but the illegal merchants, the ones who do not rent space but steal things and then to to sell them, are very aggressive as you walk by. They practically beg you to buy their goods, they shake them in your face, and are so annoying. These merchants were all on a bridge above the Arno River.

Here are my friends Pam and Anny looking at some slippers for sale.

This is picture of the Piazza in Florence.

Here is an example of how narrow some of the city streets are. And yes, a car would drive down that street.

Isn't this a gorgeous piece of architecture? Anny told me at one time the entire city of Florence was surrounded by a wall. Today only pieces of that wall remain.

Isn't this amazing? I'm not exactly sure what it is, but it appears to be some type of guard tower the soldiers probably used to watch for enemies outside the city walls. I just can't believe how old these buildings are...and they are still intact!!! They don't build things like they used to that's for sure! LOL!

Another narrow road. Italy is sure a wonderful place for photographers to visit. The opportunity for great photographs is abundant! I took over 500 photographs during my visit to Italy and paid over $100.00 to get all the pictures developed. I was constantly stopping to shoot an interesting window, a mossy stone path, a couple holding hands, interesting architecture, etc. etc. etc. It was a photographer's dream!

This is a narrow gateway that leads to the bridge over the Arno River.

And here is the Arno River. The picture in my header is also of the Arno River. This was one of my favorite scenes to photograph, and a scene Florence is famous for. I only wish it wasn't such a dark, cloudy day on our visit, it kind of ruined al ot of my photographs.

This is the Medici Palace. I never got to go inside because the people I went with did not want to. Unfortunately when one travels with others, one has to compromise and do things they want to do and not be able to do things one wants to do. But it was probably the greatest disappointment of my trip that I did not see the inside of this palace. When I told my friends at work that I couldn't go inside (who both went to Florence, Italy themselves), they were shocked in disbelief. They said I really missed out. I feel sad about that.

Just to give you a sense of how grand this palace is, these are the stones at the base of the palace. Have you ever seen any stones this large before?

Here is another view of the beautiful Arno River, bridge, and city of Florence.

And finally, another gorgeous, narrow street to stroll on in Florence.

By the end of the day, we were exhausted from walking and headed back home. After we rested a bit we went to an authentic pizzeria for dinner. It was such a sweet place. Pam and I ordered a white pizza with mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. It had a super thin crust. I fell in love with it, and my love for Italian Pizza only grew as the week went on. LOL! We also ordered an appetizer of Brushetta. It was basically three pieces of Brushetta (a hard toast) each with a different topping. One had sauteed mushrooms, one had beans, and I think one had some type of tomato on it. It was all so delicious and wonderful. You will hear me talk a lot about the food I ate on my trip as the days go on, for Italy was quite the culinary experience.
Have a great Thanksgiving Weekend. Amy

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Digital Tuesday Challenge "Thank You"

It's Tuesday, and do you know what that means? Time for another DIGITAL TUESDAY CHALLENGE!!!! Since this is the week of Thankfulness, this week's challenge is to create a 'Thank You' card or project using at least one digital image. Our sponsor this week is Creations by Penny and she is giving away 5 DIGIS to one lucky randomly chosen winner!

To make my card, I used Penny's adorable cupcake image. Its hard to tell in the photograph, but I put crystal effects on the strawberry to make it shiny and I put pink glitter on the frosting. The cupcake and the green scalloped panel are both up on dimensionals. The paper is from DCWV 'The Sweet Stack". The sentiment is a stamp from Inkadinkado. If you'd like to play with us this week and send some thanks to someone you love during the holiday, simply click on the Digital Tuesday Challenge blinkie in my sidebar and it will take you directly to the challenge site with further instructions.

Have a great day! Amy

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day Two in Italy!

Hi! Welcome to day two of my adventures in Italy. First of all I'd like to apologize for not posting everyday like I originally said I would. I had a grueling work schedule this weekend, and because I'm in retail, my whole work schedule all week will be grueling, so I do not think I will be able to post everyday like I originally planned. But I will do 8 Italy posts: One post for everyday I spent in Italy.

Day Two in Italy did not work out as we planned. Remember when I told you about the shutters everyone has on their windows in Italy? Well, Pam (the friend I went to Italy with) and I shared a bedroom and she went to bed before I did. Unbeknown to me, Pam shut the shutters to the windows. I had a terrible time sleeping the first several nights because the bed was so hard, (it was a futon), and I was FREEZING!!!! Even though Italy is warmer than Wisconsin this time of the year, the people I stayed with didn't heat their house, plus there were only thin blankets on the bed. So, spoiled old me, who is use to her pillow top mattress and down comforter, slept miserably all night. I kept waking up, looked out the window, and saw it was pitch black. I thought "My goodness, will this miserable night ever come to an end? It seems like it is lasting forever'. There were also no clocks in the room, so I had no idea what time it was. Finally I heard a knock at the door. It was Anny saying that she hated to wake us but it was past 11:00 a.m., and she didn't want us to sleep any longer or we'd never get over our jet lag. I just about died! I had slept half the day away of my first day in Italy. I was so upset. I said 'But its pitch dark outside, how could it be 11:00 a.m.?" and Anny replied, 'The shutters to the window are closed and it completely blocks the light'. I just couldn't believe it. Even with the darkest shades in America, the light is never completely blocked out.

Anyway, November 12th was Pam's 40th birthday. In fact, the whole trip was taken to celebrate Pam's birthday in the first place. So Anny had a surprise birthday cake and some presents waiting for Pam when she woke up. The cake is so different than the type of cake we eat in the United States. It is very thin, and looks more like a big, round brownie than a cake. It is made with very little, if any flour. We in the states would call it a low-carb cake. We had the cake for breakfast, and then Pam opened her presents. The cake was very delicious, I could really taste the richness of the chocolate when there was no flour.

After breakfast we realized that there was not much we could do today, so we just hurried and got dressed and then headed back to the airport to pick up Pam's luggage that 'was lost'. She was so happy they found it and she finally had her hair products again to tame her curly hair. LOL!

On the way home from the airport we stopped at the Piazza Michelangelo. Its basically a scenic overlook of the city of Florence and has a fake 'David' statue in the middle of the Piazza. Its a breath-taking view, and it was a beautiful, warm sunny day so we were really able to get some good pictures. Here I am below enjoying this fabulous view.

Here is the fake 'David' by Michelangelo. The real statue is inside a art museum in Florence.
More breathtaking views of Florence. Don't you just love all the Terra-cotta roofs, and that gorgeous mountain backdrop?

This is a view of the Arno River which wraps around one end of the city.

Here is a close up of the cathedral in the center of Florence. I will have more pictures of this cathedral in my next post.

This is one of the gardens of the Medici Family...a very wealthy family that lived (and probably owned most of Florence) in Florence thousands of years ago.

Across the street from the Piazza Michelangelo, is another cathedral, with a fabulous old cemetery behind it, and some sort of fortress-type building attached to the church. It sits high on top of a hill and overlooks the city of Florence. Unfortunately, I did not get the name of this cathedral. We had to walk up a huge, gorgeous staircase that was covered in green moss. Here is the bottom part of the staircase. Don't you just love the tall arborvitaes they have in Italy?

Here is the fortress type building attached to the cathedral. Can't you just picture medieval guards standing there? Its so cool!

Here is the grand staircase leading up to the cathedral. It was quite the hike up those stairs! Great butt and thigh workout! LOL!

This is a close up of a painting on the front of the Cathedral. The cathedral was closed that day, so unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of the inside.

And finally, here is a close up of the fortress.

After we finished our little bit of sight seeing, we returned to the apartment. By now it was 5:00 p.m. and time to pick Francesco up at work. Since it was Pam's birthday, Francesco, who loves to cook, wanted to make Pam a special dinner. But since everyone eats fresh food in Italy, first we had to go grocery shopping. So Anny and Francesco took us to a large grocery store. Would you believe they park underground to go grocery shopping in Italy? Then they have escalators without steps so your shopping cart can go up. Once inside the grocery store I was in shock. First of all, I've never seen so much delicious, fresh food in my life! You would not believe their seafood and cheese/meat departments! They have every type of seafood you could imagine...even octopus...which Francesco said is a very popular dish in Italy. And the cheese! Oh, my goodness! It does not come in packages like it does in America, rather it is in huge round blocks and covered with natural products, not wax.... I could go on and on, but I will wait till another day when I will show actual pictures of some of the food and can then provide more details. Another shocker about the grocery store was how busy it was. For me, it was like Black Friday at Walmart. There were so many people, but no one was cranky, rather they seemed to move in and around each other with such ease and harmony. After seeing all those people grocery shopping, I will never complain about my crowded Walmart again!
After Francesco personally hand selected all the shrimp and other fresh ingredients he wanted for his meal, we went home and watched him cook it and listened to him explain to us all about Italian Cuisine I don't remember the name of the dish, but it was delicious. It was basically pasta with sauteed shrimp in pesto and Olive Oil. He also cut up a lot of vegetables I normally don't eat, like Fennel, Avocado, and Kohlari. We ate those raw dipped in Olive Oil. They sure do love their Olive Oil in Italy! But they do have a lot of Olive trees there. They were everywhere we went.
Once we finished dinner, I went back to my freezing, hard bed while Pam talked to her family back home on Skype. This time, we did not close the shutters, so we would be sure to awaken early so we would not miss another day in Italy.
Have a great day! Amy

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day One in Italy!

Our first day in Italy was already half over by the time we arrived in Florence, so we didn't do much. We just went to our friends Anny's apartment to freshen up and get a bite to eat and talk a bit. Anny's apartment is lovely, but very small. I was already aware of the tight quarters Europeans live in compared to Americans, but it took some time getting use to when I live in a 3000 square foot home with plenty of bathrooms. The outside of Anny's apartment building is ancient, like all the buildings in Florence, but inside it was quite modernized. I will not be posting pictures of her apartment because I didn't get her permission to do so. The apartment had two bedrooms (none of which had closets so they had open storage shelves everywhere), a small kitchen, a tiny bathroom, and a living area. There was a boudai in the bathroom (I know I'm not spelling it right, but I've done spell check, and checked the dictionary, and can't find the correct spelling anywhere. Does anyone know the correct spelling?) I never used it, but my friend Pam tried it and said it was quite the experience! Except one time, she let the water get a little too hot. It was quite funny. The bathroom shower was so small I could not even lift my arms to wash my hair. My arms are very long, and my elbows kept hitting the shower walls. Shaving, was next to impossible. I decided to go hairy for a week. It was a good thing I didn't bring any skirts or tank tops with me. LOL! The kitchen only had room for a dorm size refrigerator, which I was told is actually the norm in Italy for even the largest families. The floors were all covered in tile, and the walls were some type of stone or plaster that was very cold to the touch. All the windows were extremely tall and narrow, and had shutters that closed from the outside. Anny's apartment also had a small balcony where she would hang her clothes to dry (no one has dryers in Italy, and you wouldn't believe how small her washing machine was! I swear all you could fit in it was a pair of jeans and a sweater!) and grow herbs to cook with.

Anny made us our first Italian meal for lunch: A delicious pasta dish with broccoli, pine nuts, and herbs. It was wonderful! After we ate, we decided to take a walk around Anny's neighborhood. I was anxious to get some exercise after sitting in a plane for 24 hours! Below is a picture of a bridge we crossed. Below the bridge is a small stream of water where Pam and I saw our first, and hopefully our last, large sewer rats. Pam didn't even know what it was. It was so funny. She asked Francesco, Anny's boyfriend, "What type of animal that was down there. It is so big, and has such a strange long skinny tail". When Francesco replied with some degree of embarrassment "That's a sewer rat" I just about burst out laughing. I was completely amazed at how every single building looked like a picture out of a magazine. Everything was so old, and so beautiful. And I loved the colors of all the buildings....they all blended together so harmoniously.

Here is a picture of the outside of a business. Every single house or apartment building in Italy has shutters. No one has shades like we do in America to block out the light.

Here is a view of one of the streets we walked on. The sidewalks in Italy are so narrow, we had to walk single file. And the roads are so narrow too...yet somehow two cars still fit. Of course all the cars they have in Italy are so tiny compared to American cars.

Hanging laundry is one thing you constantly see in Italy since no one owns a dryer. I just love the way it looks! So old-fashioned.

Here is another view of a narrow street. Can you believe two cars fit on this narrow road? Plus, pedestrians and motor scooters! Of course, all their cars have dents and scratches on them from trying to squeeze in tight spaces all the time. Anny says no one cares about the way their car looks in Italy like we do in America. Its just a mode of transportation, not an item to take pride in. In fact, when an Italian does get a new car, they often give it a good kick themselves first, so they are the ones to put a new dent in, and not a stranger. Then they don't get so upset when it does actually happen. LOL!

Motorcycles and scooters are a popular way for Italians to get around in Italy. Except they don't follow the same motorcycle rules we do in America. They never stay in a lane, rather they weave in and out of the cars, often squeezing in between two cars to pass. Anny said there are many traffic deaths in Italy because of it.

Here is a large balcony that someone is using for some extra storage space too. Bicycles are also very popular in Italy as a mode of transportation, except their bikes aren't very nice looking. They are often rusted, dented and very old. People don't buy brand new bikes because they just get stolen anyway. Anny said she had two bikes stolen from her since living in Florence.

After our little walk we went home and had a delicious dinner of some type of orange lentil soup and a very hard, thick bread. Then Pam and I went to bed to get some much needed rest, while Anny and Francesco went off to Yoga class.
And that my friends, was our first day in Italy....uneventful, but fascinating at the same time.
Have a great day! Amy

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Home from Italy!

Hello Everyone! I'm Home! I arrived home from Italy around 2:00 a.m. in the morning. My dear husband and son had a bouquet of flowers and a computer designed sign that said 'Welcome Home! We missed you!'. It was the sweetest thing they've ever done. It took me 24 hours to get home with all the flight changes and time zone changes, and I only got about 3 hours of sleep during it all, and then about 5 hours of sleep last night, so I am feeling tired! I spent the day unpacking and doing laundry. Thankfully, my husband and son had a clean house for me to come home to, so I didn't have to worry about that.

Anyway, with the exception of the Digital Tuesday Challenge which I am required to post every Tuesday, for the next 10 days I intend to show you nothing but pictures of Italy and tell you all about my wonderful adventures there. So if your not interested in anything but paper crafting, you might want to ignore my blog for the next week and a half, but since my blog is about anything of creative interest to me...I will be talking about of the most beautiful places in the world and the place where some of the best artists in the world came from. After seeing the beauty of this country, I now know why so many artists came from it. What inspiration!

Believe it or not I left my house at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday the 10th, and did not arrive in Italy till about 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday the 11th (that's including the 6 hour time change). We had to change planes 3 times to get there, that's why it took so long. Our longest flight was 11 hours. I had no idea how big the Atlantic Ocean was before I took this trip. During the International Flight they have a video monitor constantly on showing the world globe and where the plane is, so you always know exactly where you are at all times. I don't know how many times I looked at that monitor after several hours passed only to see the plane move an eighth of an inch. It gave me a greater appreciation for the all the earlier settlers who traveled to America by boat!

Here is a picture of me as we begin our journey....all smiling, happy, and clean and pretty. If only I had someone take my picture AFTER the 24 hours of travel! I did not look like this! LOL! We boarded our first plane in Minneapolis, Minnesota and flew to Chicago. I was absolutely awestruck with the beauty of the O'Hare Airport. Here is a picture of the ceiling in one of the underground walkways. There was this beautiful electric light show above our heads as we stood on the automated walkways. It also played music, and the lights went on and off with the beat of the music. It was so cool.
After we boarded our plane to Chicago, we flew for 8 hours to Frankfurt, Germany. The plane was filled with people of many different cultures, it seemed everyone spoke a foreign language..mostly German, but I just thought it was cool being surrounded by so many different people from all over the world. The plane ride was torture for me. We flew coach, and we were right in the center of the plane with people on either side of us. The seats barely recline, so it was hard to sleep. I didn't have a neck pillow at that time (trust me though, I learned my lesson and bought one for the ride home!) and had nothing to lean on, so sleep was almost impossible. The worst part was my butt. Unlike most women, I do not have a lot of padding on my butt. I have always been heavier on top, and smaller on the bottom. So my tail bone was killing me having to sit for so long. I was so grateful for all the movies I could watch, it helped kill a lot of time.
Other than Canada, I have never been outside the U.S.A. before so I was kinda nervous going through Customs in Germany, but everything went smoothly so my fears were all for naught. Arriving back in America is whole other story....but I will tell you more about American Customs on Day 8! LOL!
On the way to Germany we took the HUGEST plane I have ever been on. There were 5 seats in the middle, and 2 aisles with 3 seats on each side. The speed of the plane felt like a rocket ship when we took off, and the air pressure pain in my ear was excruciating, especially when we landed. My ear pain was severe and sharp when coming down to land, I began to think something had to be seriously wrong with me. It took several hours after landing before I could even hear again. It was just awful.
From Germany we took a smaller commuter plane to Florence, Italy. This plane ride was only about 2 hours, and it was a good thing since we were both so tired and anxious to reach our destination.
We were almost to our destination when I looked out my window and saw this beautiful sight. I believe they are the Swiss Alps...correct me if I'm wrong, but Anny, the girl we stayed with, told me that's what they were. I was awestruck at the beauty. I live in Wisconsin, and I have never seen mountains like this before, and I have especially never seen mountains from above in a plane! It was so beautiful and awe-inspiring.

I was shocked at how easy it was to enter Florence, Italy. We didn't even have to go through customs. We just walked right off the plane, and there we were! Italy! It was a beautiful, warm sunny day, but unfortuneately my friend's luggage did not arrive so that put a damper on our arrival. But the airport officials did locate it, and we were able to pick it up the next day.
After a quick hug for our friend Anny, we were off in the car and headed for her apartment. I first had to get used to driving in a little, stick shift car. I get car sick easily, and I am also used to my large luxury car, so all the bouncing and jerking really did me in. My friend Pam and I were next shocked by all the traffic and how they drive in that country. They drive so fast, and no one, and I mean no one, obeys any traffic laws. Cars and scooters just weave in and out of traffic, no one stays in their own lane, its just unbelievable and at the same time miraculous to watch how skilled all these drivers are. I know we in America could never drive that way!
During our drive to the apartment Pam and I just kept 'oohing and aahing' over every little thing. Everything fascinated us, and we took lots of pictures from the car. Below are some pictures I took.
The architecture of Florence was just amazing to me. Every house looked like it just stepped out of a story book.

We briefly stopped the car and got out to take pictures of the City of Florence. The dome in the background is the city's main cathedral, S. Maria del Fiore.

Finally we arrived at Anny's Apartment. This is the view from her window.

That's all for today. Tomorrow I will write about how we spent the rest of Day One in Florence, Italy! Have a great day! Amy

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Digital Tuesday Challenge "Holiday Wishes"

Hello and welcome to another Digital Tuesday Challenge. This week's challenge is 'Holiday Wishes'. Simply make a card or gifts to get rolling on the holidays! Our sponsor this week is the fabulous Dustin Pike who has a lot of really fun images for Christmas, and just about anything else you could imagine.

My card today uses an unknown digital image that I picked up as a freebie last Christmas Season. If anyone knows the designer, please let me know so I can give them proper credit. I got the layout for this card from 'dancerriley' on Splitcoaststampers. She was the Featured Stamper a few weeks ago, and I picked a card of hers to case. The colorful Christmas papers are from Cosmo Cricket. I used a silver gel pen on the ornaments.

If you'd like to play along with us this week, simply click on the Digital Tuesday Challenge blinkie in my sidebar and it will take you to the challenge site with further instructions. One randomly chosen winner will receive 3 digis from Dustin Pike.
Well I'm off to ITALY tomorrow morning!!!!! I am so excited. Its my first trip overseas. I won't be blogging again till over a week, so please don't forget about me, or think I forgot about you because I haven't visited your blogs in a while. And if your a burglar who just might think he has an empty house to visit, you can forget about it. I'm going to Italy with a friend, all of my family will still be home, along with an angry German Shepherd, and lots of nosey neighbors with shotguns. LOL!
I'll be back with lots of pictures and stories of Italy to share! Have a great week! Amy

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Digital Tuesday Challenge "Flowers"

Hello! And welcome to another Digital Tuesday Challenge. This week's challenge is 'Flowers' kind of challenge since you all know how much I love flowers! Simply make a card or project with flowers on it and one digital image. Your flowers can be images, primas, flowered paper, fabric flowers....whatever your creative mind dreams up.

Our sponsor this week is 'Fred, she said' and the flowers I used on my card are from her digi set 'A Lovely Blossom and Butterfly'. I cut all the flowers and leaves our and sprinkled the flowers with glitter. It is so pretty in real life, but unfortunately I had to take the picture in the wee hours of the morning since I'm leaving for Chicago in just a few minutes, so I have the ugly 'morning blue' light and thus, a very bad photograph. Maybe when I get back, I can try to rephotograph it under better lighting conditions. Anyhow, the paper is DCWV 'The Luxury Stack' and the quote is from Crafty Secrets 'Cherish'. The inside of the card says 'Happy Anniversary'.
If you'd like to play along with us this week, simply click on the Digital Tuesday Challenge blinkie in my sidebar and it will take you directly to the challenge site with further instructions.
Have a great day! Amy