Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Milan = WIN
Milan, the home of Italy's stock exchange and its financial capital, is seen as the fashion capital of the world - boasting names like Armani, Versace, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, etc. Thankfully, there is much more to Milan than designers and boutiques - Milan has Navigli (a little Venice), Da Vinci's The Last Supper, many architectural gems (like Duomo, above) and the city is home to two of the world's best soccer teams, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

Alright, dearest readers, get ready for another history lesson. Please see the highlights of the day below and click the links for more background information:
  • Castello Sforzesco
  • The Duomo
    • Milan's duomo (title picture, above) is my favorite church, hands down. It is absolutely gorgeous and has tons to see. It is the world's largest Gothic cathedral, featuring 135 spires & 3200 statues, and is the 3rd largest church in Europe, with seating for 40,000. 
    • Located in the bustling Piazza del Duomo (right - my view from the roof), it is flanked by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (see below). The logistics of transporting the vast stone slabs through the narrow city streets was solved by Da Vinci (what didn't he do?), whose canal lock mechanism raised water levels one section at a time, allowing their passage to the city center. It took 5 centuries to complete (1386-1812).
    • The biggest highlight was climbing to the roof of the cathedral, amongst the jungle of spires and statues. One a clear day, one can see as far as Switzerland - but I was happy with the gorgeous views of the piazza and city below.
  • Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
    • Recognized by its giant archway (right), the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (named after the first king of united Italy) is a showplace for modern Milan. The glass-roofed shopping mall is home to shops, boutiques and one of the world's two 7-star hotels.
    • Giuseppe Mengoni, the designer of the Galleria, tragically fell from the arch to his death just weeks before the completion of his 14 year-long work. Milanese tradition says you can avoid Mengoni's bad luck by grinding your heel into the testicles of the mosaic bull on the floor...
  • La Scala
    • Located on the other side of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan's renowned opera house was built in 1778, but destroyed in the war. However, it was restored in 1946 and has a gorgeous interior with gilded arches, chandeliers and beautiful fabrics.
  • Quadrilatero d'Oro (Golden Quad)
    • Milan's designer shopping precinct, the area was formed when Gucci moved its flagship store to the area as the fashion capital migrated from Florence to Milan in the early 1950's. Today, the quad's narrow streets are crammed with Italian designers and high-end boutiques. We did a lot of window shopping - you could see some of the prices tags from outside, and we knew that we shouldn't even bother to go in!
  • Via Brera
    • The former bohemian quarter is now Milan's artsy sector, with fancy galleries, like Pinacoteca di Brera, and art shops.
    • When in Milan, do as the Milanese the aperitivo thing(happy hour). The aperitivi scene on Via Brera was a good place for us grab dinner. For just 7 euro, we got any drink we wanted and an unlimited buffet of lighter courses (meats, cheeses, salads, pasta, breads, etc). Coupled with the talented jazz quartet performing in the street right outside our cafe, our dinner choice = complete win.
For more pictures of our road trip to Milan, Venice &Verona, please see the facebook album here.

On the roof of Milan's Duomo (above)
The Cavernous Interior of Milan's Duomo (below)

At Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (below left)
Statue Impressions at Castello Sforesco (below right)


Verona, Verona - Wherefore art thou Verona?
As we were checking out of our hotel in Venice, the man at the desk asked where we were headed next. We said we were driving to Milan, so he recommended Verona as a beautiful and quick stop on the way. So, we went - and we were glad we did.

However, as I've noted on earlier road trips through Italy, the roads can be a little confusing - direction signs after splits, signs with too much text to read going 170km/h, etc - and can prove challenging when you navigate without maps and rely on signs...

Needless to say, the crew and I (pictured with the our blue Fiat) had a bit of trouble finding the city center, accidentally climbing to the top of a hill and where we stumbled upon a gorgeous view of the countryside (title picture above). From there, we were able to navigate our way down to the old city center of Verona - the setting for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - nestled in the bend of a river (above).

A few highlights:
  • Piazza Bra - the central hub of Verona
    • Arena di Verona (above)
      • Built in 1st century AD, the pink marble amphitheater is the 3rd largest (surviving) Roman amphitheater in the world with seating for twenty-thousand-something. Today, it is used as an opera venue for big summer productions.
  • Verona's Duomo
  • Piazza dei Signori & Palazzo degli Scaligeri (Scraligeri Palace)
  • Piazza delle Erbe
    • Originally the site of a Roman forum, this piazza in the heart of Verona is still home to a market and is surrounded by many beautiful buildings (Palazzo Maffei, Torre del Gardello, Casa Mazzanti).
    • Piazza delle Erbe is separated from Piazza del Signori by the Arco della Costa, where a whale's rib is suspended. Legend says it will fall on the first "just" person to walk beneath it. In several centuries, it has never fallen, not even on the various popes (or me) who have paraded beneath it...
    • We were also begged by a nice Italian man to eat at his restaurant, telling us his life story and claiming he would cry if we didn't eat there...when he wasn't looking, we ducked away an got fresh fruit cups (right) from the market instead - I hope he wasn't too sad...
  • Casa di Guilietta (Juliet's house)
    • The entrance is plastered with love notes and grafitti, past which is the courtyard and balcony (pictured below) where the fictional Juliet was said to speak to Romeo below.
    • According to legend, rubbing the right breast of the bronze Juliet statue (below) is said to bring good luck in the love life...


Venice - An awesome maze of canals and alleys
Despite all the hype surrounding a visit to Venice, the city doesn't disappoint. Made for wandering, its seemingly endless web of canals and alleys show off grand buildings, beautiful Venetian masks (right) and glassworks, museums and restaurants. History abounds, showing off the many influences and riches brought to Venice as an important port. Even the crowds of tourists couldn't dampen the beauty of gondoliers gently rowing couples in (expensive!) gondolas down the quiet waterways and Grand Canal.

Central Venice is actually 118 islands, divided into six districts (sestieri). Our strategy for a day in Venice? Get lost.

Even the great artists and poets can't portray Venezia, so I won't even try - but here are a few highlights of what we saw:
For more pictures, please check out the facebook album here.

We ended the evening by dining along the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge (above), before heading back to our cozy hotel in the mainland area of Marghera.


Our video shoot in Frankfurt

When we headed to Frankfurt so Chris could renew his visa and return to America, we had no idea we would be making a music video so loved by millions. We arrived in Frankfurt around 9am after racing down the autobahn at 235km/h and dropped Chris off at the American consulate - he was very nervous about being able to return to the States.

We took the Audi (I want a German car!) and drove around, getting a feel for Frankfurt - the modern financial capital of Germany that still retains its old city center (right and below). Although half the city was destroyed during bombings in the war, there was still much to see - Frankfurt spends more per year on the arts than any other city in Europe and has a great range of museums and churches (left). On our way back to pick up Chris, I secretly filmed Ryan jamming out in the car to the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling"...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Home of the VanderSchool
Mannheim, the second largest city in the German state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg, is where (Vander)Chris attends school at Hochschule Mannheim. We spent a few hours in Mannheim, exploring campus, shopping and checking out the city (above & below)...


Germany's Most Famous University City

Heidelberg is home to Germany's oldest university and the city is set under the dominating Heidelberg Schloss high above on the steep hill (above). The city's charming cobblestone streets and platz, cool churches, student population and awesome castle immediately won me over.

The biggest highlight was exploring the Schloss - now one of my favorite castles. See the pictures below for the views over the city and the giant wine casks (the largest one held 228,000 liters...drunks.)

Visiting the VanderLander

A few nights in Club VanderChris
We left Kassel on Sunday morning (Oct. 11) and headed for Wiesloch, a small town in Central Germany near Heidelberg, to visit our friend Chris Gross (an exchange student at ISU) at his home (above).  He and his family were very hospitable and made our stay very enjoyable (especially the home cooked German meals!(left)) It was fun to hear of their recent experiences in the States and tell them of our travels (with Chris translating...)

The first two nights in Wiesloch, we headed to the town festivals (mini-Oktoberfests) in the nearby towns of Rouenburg and Sandhausen. Chris connected with old friends and Ryan & I made new ones in the streets (above) and beer tents (right), where we danced and sang German party songs (think Cha-Cha Slide type songs) - I just made up words... We also played a game asking each other questions and using the beer bottle caps which said Ja (Yes), Nein (No) or ? to answer it...needless to say, we asked some pretty ridiculous questions (We are immature college guys - you can use your imagination.)

During the daytime, Chris showed us around the surrounding area - Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Mannheim - each of which have a separate post. It was great to have a local showing us around and Chris was a great tour guide (and a good driver - driving on the autobahn at 235 km/h = 146 mph! (below)). I also drove a SmartCar for the first time (it's funny to see big Chris in such a tiny car) before saying goodbye to Chris' awesome parents, Monika (above) and Werner.


Crampton's return to the homeland
On Friday, October 9th, we caught the train to Pisa and hopped on a plane to Frankfurt, Germany. Because Ryanair usually flies into cities near the city listed, we arrived at Frankfurt Hahn airport and took a bus to Frankfurt, 1.5 hours away. But wait! There's more! We took a train from Frankfurt to Kassel! Phew. A lot of traveling you might say...

When we arrived to Kassel, it was evening, so we explored the modern city center - Kassel produced tanks during the war, therefore was a regular target for bombings. The next morning, we woke up and headed to the Herkules Monument (right, unfortunately under construction). Upon arriving, we marveled at the fog-filled valley (left) leading to the Schloss Wilhelmshohe (palace) and town below.

After exploring the area around the monument and taking in the beautiful views from above, we made our way down the hill through the paths in the forest. We were joined by our new companion - a cat (right) who followed us for a few hours whom we named "Herkules" (despite the fact that it was a female feline). It was a great time to reflect and enjoy the changing colors of fall (left), which was in full effect in Germany (it was around 80F in Florence when we left).

Part way to the bottom, we came to the picturesque Lowenburg Castle (below) - perhaps because it was a "fake" castle built in the 18th century made to look partially ruined. Regardless, we enjoyed the history lesson from the nice, but slightly akward, young man who gave us a tour through the rooms.

Finally reaching the bottom of the hill, we arrived at the Schloss Wilhelmhohe to a scene that looked strangely similar to scenes from Iowa State's central campus (Lake LaVerne, Alumni Hall, Curtiss Hall?)...