New Year’s Resolutions – 2013

Hi everyone!

I think we all know what tonight is, so I’ll just get right down to it.  Happy New Year’s Eve!  I wanted to take a little break in my posts on my trip to Europe to talk about my upcoming goals and projects for the new year.  This idea is thanks to Meg Waite Clayton over at 1st Books, who is hosting a blog hop on writing resolutions for 2013.  First off thank you to all the people who have liked my latest posts on my trip.  I see those in my inbox and it keeps me going.  I really appreciate the support.  I plan on updating my blog more regularily, so anyone following will have an easier time knowing what/when to expect updates and information.

I’m still very new to all of this, so thank you for bearing with me and thanks for reading!

What to expect in 2013:

1.  My biggest goal for 2013, besides getting in shape (like every year, I’m not alone in this right?) is to finish my book.  If you know me, you’ll know that I’ve been writing this novel for years now and I absolutely intend on its completion in the first half of 2013.  I will then have something in a final enough form for others to begin reading and critiquing and editing.  I do not have a title yet, but keep an eye out on the website for more information in the very near future.  What I can say is that it is a fantasy novel based in 1938 Istanbul with five main characters, all young adults, from all over the world.

2.  I want to get more of my previous short stories and work up on my website.  Some of it is in need of revising and I want to get it up to par so I have more examples of my stories out there for anyone to read.

3.  Once my main work is finished and in editing stages, I want to make progress on getting my other novel, Orange Myriad, in a complete enough format to be edited as well.  This is also a fantasy novel I wrote, but it is a stand alone work.  I may want to get it in good enough shape to give away for free during the latter part of this year.

4.  Continue to network and help other writers get where they need to go.  I found the best support network on She Writes and I’d like to join more.  We are all in this together, and I want to support other writers/artists and make some good friends in the process.

On to 2013!  May it be a fantastic and fruitful year for us all!

Journal Avatar to Link Back to Blog Hop

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Day 4 – Museums and McDonalds: Last Day in Rome

Day 4 –

So, I have to say, we woke on our last day in Rome to a very bad smell in our hotel room.  Not sure if it was bad plumbing or what, but we were happy to get up and get out of there!  Our plan was to hit at least two museums, to make the Roma pass worthwhile since we hadn’t used it once yet, and have lunch.  The best museum to visit we heard is the Galleria Borghese, but only a certain number of people are let in every day and we didn’t get reservations early enough.  So, we settled for the nearest museum to our hotel.  We ended up walking down the street to the Galleria Nazionale di Arte Antica di Palazzo Barberini which is a very large mansion just off the street that currently houses a small collection of paintings.  You can look it up for more details if you like, but mostly, Chris and I were interested in the house itself.  There really wasn’t enough in the museum to warrant a recommendation from me to visit it; it was quite boring actually, especially compared to the other things you can see in Rome.  However, the house itself was useful to us as a good model for the home of a very powerful character in my books.  So, to that end, I took a good amount of pictures.  There was a neat spiral staircase and the lower area where the bathrooms are located had this giant tub in the center of a room with bars on the windows, kinda neat, somewhat creepy, which if you knew the character I mean, you’d know that makes it perfect.

We jumped on the metro after this and took it up to the gardens around the Galleria Borghese museum.  There are actually lots of museums in this area around this big green park so we set off, tons more walking again.  Chris thought seeing the outside of the Borghese museum might be worthwhile since it is supposed to be so great, but we got turned around a whole bunch and ended up just hitting the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia or the Etruscan Museum.  You could not take pictures in this museum, so I have little to show, but it was a very interesting museum if you are into archeology and culture.  All the signs were in multiple languages, which was very helpful, otherwise you would have no idea what you are looking at, a problem Chris and I encountered at the Louvre on our honeymoon in Paris a few years ago.  A notable piece was the Sarcophagus of the Spouses, a giant terracotta sarcophagus depicting a married couple at a banquet.  The sign on it points out notable cultural features you can learn from by the dress of the couple, like their shoes, hands, and braided hair.

The courtyard of the Etruscan Museum

Afterwards, we tried unsuccessfully to eat in a little restaurant in a tiny three story apartment looking building.  There was very little room on each floor where tables were set up and it was crowded.  When we found a seat, we sat for a long time without anyone coming up to our table.  It was so strange, we ending up leaving.  I think we did something wrong, but I couldn’t tell you what it was.  They were clearly serving other people.  Oh well, instead, we did something I had wanted to try in Paris years ago and hadn’t had the chance, have McDonald’s in Europe.  There is a McDonald’s right off the Repubblica metro stop near our hotel so we ate there.  I was surprised to find that it mostly tasted the same as in the US except they have more exotic McFlurry flavors (green pistachio??) and a wider variety of food options like chicken wings.

We went back to our hotel to wait for our ride to the airport in the lobby where the front desk man tried to charge me for their wifi.  They nickel and dime you to death in Rome.  We had one last cafe latte across the street at this little convenience store/drink counter place and then headed to the airport.

Final thoughts on Rome:

Before I go on, I just want to say that I am going to be honest.  I don’t want to gripe, I just want to explain how I felt and then anyone traveling to Rome in the future can stumble upon my words and learn from my experiences.  I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting Rome.  I hope that my experiences will help anyone traveling there to be better prepared and to have the best trip possible; that is all.

I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed.  Everything is ridiculously expensive there and built up around their tourism.  None of the food we ate was even close to the best Italian food I’ve ever had; it was extremely expensive and sub par.  Away from the attractions themselves, everything felt like a tourist trap.

That being said, the things to see there are extraordinary, out of this world, amazing.  There is nothing like it here in the states, not that I’ve ever seen.  I heard once that someone saw the Statue of Liberty and was disappointed by how much smaller it was than they expected.  I have always kept that story in mind so that when I go to these places and see these sites that I won’t be disappointed by the scale.  This is not the case for what you come to see in Rome.  The Vatican, the Colosseum, the museums, the churches, they are grand.  The rest of the city grew up around this incredible splendor and just cannot compete.  It left me with the feeling that there is no “real” Rome away from the tourist attractions.  Besides the walk in Trastevere, we had no quiet, no calm.  It’s the strangest sort of unease we felt here.

On to Athens!  We flew out that evening…

Day 3 – The Colosseum and Trastevere

We rose as early as we could and took the metro back down to the Colosseum stop first thing in the morning.  By this time in our trip we were getting a little desperate.  While I wanted to make sure we saw all the major sites of the city, of which there are so many, I really wanted to scratch the surface of Rome and dig deeper into the culture.  I wanted an idea of how the city would have been during the time of my novel, the 1930s or even before.  Difficult, I know, but I was convinced we weren’t doing everything we could to really get a sense of the city.  This caused tension between us as Chris and I were quite stressed out and very tired by the third day.  Not to mention, we had to leave for Athens late the next day and I couldn’t help but feel like we still hadn’t done enough.

After the insanely expensive tour of the Vatican, 90 Euro, we were wary when another person approached us at the Colosseum offering a tour.  We did want a tour, I’ve been told it is much easier to see everything there is to see when you have a guide, but we didn’t want to get ripped off.  This group, I can’t remember exactly but they had a very generic name, fit the bill.  We joined the first group of the morning heading into the Colosseum and the price of the tour, this time much more reasonable around 30 Euro, included a later tour of Palatine hill.

A very educated and precise Italian man walked our small group around the Colosseum and talked about the diverse history of the awesome structure.  He explained how gladiators fought and straightened out some historical inaccuracies from Hollywood portrayals of these fighters.  For example, you might not know that the gladiators did not fight to the death.  It was far too expensive to train and develop a good gladiator.  They lost and won many fights during their careers and were allowed to retire after a certain amount of time.  The crowds would vote on the fate of a loser after a fight or the emperor would decide.  Also, a strict dress code was enforced for the visitors of the games.  The wealthy had to wear white and the poor at the top seats would wear black.  If a wealthy visitor came to sit down wearing the wrong color, they would direct them back outside to rent a white toga because they didn’t want the fighters distracted by a single person dressed in black in a sea of white.  The money they spent just bringing exotic animals in to slaughter in the arena alone was shocking, millions of dollars by today’s standards.  Needless to say, we took many pictures.

The entrance…

Not what you think…this is actually where a fountain used to stand, the markings in the wall only coincidentally look like a cross.

After the tour we walked around a bit and then joined the second part of our tour of the Palatine hill.  This is right across the street from the Colosseum and where Rome was first founded.  Lots of history, but in short, this is where all the extraordinary palaces for all the rulers of ancient Rome were built.  The area fell into disuse and became a swamp for a long time till Napoleon started to have it cleared.  Before this, people would dig it up to take the marbles and stone away for churches around Rome, mostly St. Peter’s, then just fill it back in.  Today, it is a lovely park where they are still excavating.  The guide pointed out to us where the marketplace of ancient Rome was at the center and down a hill in this park.  It has been so many years, it is very hard to picture, but if you try hard enough, the ruins can transform and you can get a feel for how it might have been so long ago.

We stopped by the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel during the day, but didn’t stay long.  I was quite hungry and we could not decide on where to eat.  We jumped in a cab to try Café Greco where many writers used to hang out and where I’d read about being quite good in my guide book.  The place is nice, near the Spanish Steps again, right smack in the middle of a huge shopping district with very high end stores, and quite pricey.  I used the facilities, which cost money, and we ordered some coffee to drink to say we’d been there.  The food wasn’t more than pastries anyway.  The service was horribly slow and none of the waiters paid any attention to anyone there, but all looked busy, it was strange.

We walked a little around the shops and stopped in a Gucci store.  Some back story here.  When we went to Paris for our honeymoon we stopped into a Gucci store on their Champs-Élysées, mostly to ask where the nearest restaurant would be.  The woman was horribly snobby and rude.  She told us that Paris had no food courts and there were no restaurants either and, even if there were, it wouldn’t be open at that time of day.  Of course, we walked a few more blocks and found a restaurant for lunch almost immediately.  So, in Rome, I wanted to see if they’d be rude too or if it was just a French/Gucci thing.  They were very nice, so it must have just been a French thing.

We took a cab back to our hotel and planned on eating (finally!) at the restaurant across the street.  Instead, Chris decided he wanted to try something different.  He was frustrated by lack of good eating places as well and insisted on dragged me away from there all the way back to a metro stop by their National Library.  We ended up in a cafeteria-type place where the food was cheap but horrible.  I cried.  It was probably just being tired from the day and hungry and the stress I was putting myself through mentally to find good places in Rome for the book.  Also, I was mad that Chris dragged me out to this place.  We fought on the way back but we made up.  Then we had a much needed nap.

When we woke later that evening, I was resigned to having found very little that would work for the book.  I was a little down and Chris wanted to cheer me up.  He looked up the best rated restaurant in a promising looking neighborhood called Trastevere.  It was called Antica Pesa.

We did not have reservations.  This was a long shot as this is a very nice restaurant, but we had to try.  I think Chris was convinced that we had to have some good luck after the bad luck earlier that day.  Turns out, we did have great luck because they seated us and we had a lovely meal.  It was the best meal during the whole Rome segment of our trip.  It must be a pretty famous place because the wall inside is covered with pictures of the owner posed with famous people.

The entrance way, you can see the walls of pictures behind me there

The hostess was kind enough to take our picture.

After, we walked around the neighborhood and finally relaxed.  This was where we should have gone all along!  There were narrow winding streets where normal people lived and people our age staying out late and having a great time.  There were little shops and cafes and bars and gelato stands (not the real gelato like we’d had the other day but it was good) and people just hanging out.  I took lots of pictures and Chris and I had a very nice walk around taking it in.  On this night, instead of walking back, we got a cab!  It was a quick ride back around midnight and then we packed our suitcases up to check out the next day, our mood considerably better.

Day 2 — Rome — continued – Pantheon and more

Day 2 in Rome continued –

When you come down the stairs you are immediately inside St. Peter’s Basilica which is a large, lovely church.  It is immense.  The size of it, the height of the ceiling, the stunning displays of statues and marble and gold gilding on every wall and surface is extraordinary.  Despite us both being very hungry and tired, we had a walk around this extraordinary place and took some pictures.  We learned later on that most of the splendor for this church was cannibalized from the ancient palaces on the Roman forum.  Chris commented that this would be a great place for a fight scene.  I wholeheartedly agree.  I must work in a trip to Rome for my characters and an epic battle in the Basilica!

What draws the most attention is the sheer size of this enormous fixture at the back center of the church.  While most of the space is wide open, statues and decorations along the walls, this piece stands out.  It is St. Peter’s baldachin, sculpted out of bronze by Bernini, it is 98 feet tall and sits at the center of the dome.

That’s me allll the way in the back there…

We left reluctantly, having not spent as much time as we wanted inside the Basilica church, but we were hungry and very thirsty.  We left the Vatican and ended up where we’d started that morning, in the front of the Vatican where all the white columns stand.  We grabbed a cab and, trying to be as efficient as possible with our small amount of time in Rome, headed for the Pantheon.

We had lunch at a restaurant in the courtyard in front of the Pantheon.  We sat outside and ate peacefully just staring at this building built in 126 AD.  It is stunning, really.  All these people mill around it, you can touch it, this huge ancient building just sitting there – it is unreal.

We headed over after we ate and walked right in, no pass or ticket needed.  The crowds weren’t too bad and we walked around and took pictures.  The inside is much smaller than the Basilica, it is really just a very large room with the dome at the center of the ceiling.  It is very pretty.  Along the walls are statues of saints.  This did not take very long to see.

From there, we headed over to San Crispino Gelato for real Gelato ice cream, passing the Trevi Fountain again on the way.  Oh, the gelato there was well worth the special trip.  It was extremely tasty.  We enjoyed the gelato, but not the service.  After handing over our money, the woman asked for a very large tip and tried to give us back no change.  If I remember correctly, she wanted the 5 Euros in change to keep, which is insane.  She got very nasty when I asked for my change back.  Then I felt bad and left her a Euro anyway, which I had intended to do all along.  I looked back on it afterward and thought that I probably shouldn’t have left anything when she was so nasty.

It was warm out and so lots and lots of people were on the streets.  The Trevi Fountain was much more crowded than it had been the evening before.  We walked around for a bit.  There were artists and craft stalls all along the streets and I bought some little painted pictures of the major sites of Rome for souvenirs.  We also stopped in this charming little wine shop and did our best to speak with the proprietor about which wine to get when he only spoke Italian.  He was very nice and we came away quite happy with a bottle of Italian red wine.  We also stopped in a cheese shop and purchased some strong parmesan cheese that the nice man vacuumed sealed for us to take home.  Back at the Pantheon, we found a cab and took it back to the hotel, extremely tired from the day.

That evening, we were told the metro would run for a little while to get people home from work.  This is a very odd way of striking, but it gave us a chance to use the line and head down to the area where the Colosseum is to have dinner.  Quick note on the metro, it is very easy to use and understand.  The only issue someone might find is that it gets very very full, but you just crowd right in and watch your purse.

We had dinner and walked around a LOT more.  I didn’t think I had it in me.  We ate near the Colosseum after it got dark and then walked down the street along the Palatine, which we could see very little of at night, towards this giant hill with this big, pure white, lit up museum at the top.  We found out later it is the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel.  It is all white marble and extremely impressive looking.  It holds their tomb of the unknown soldier, but when we asked about it later the locals don’t seem very impressed or happy with it.

This is one of the many times where we should have grabbed a cab because at this point it was quite late and we’d been going and going and going all day long!  I can’t remember now how Christopher convinced me to continue walking, but walk we did…all the way back to our hotel.  That is from the Colosseum all the way across Rome back to our hotel near the National Library, the Crosti Hotel on Via Castelfidardo.  For those following along at home, that is just under 5 miles.  I got some good night pictures, though.  We promptly went to sleep.

Day 2 – Rome – 10/1: The Vatican

Day 2 – Part 1 – 10/1:  The Vatican

This morning we got up early and had breakfast downstairs at the hotel before setting off to The Vatican.  We heard that getting a guided tour is the best way to experience it and assigned a full half day to go there.  We took a cab across the river because the metro was on strike that day, so it was kind of funny we got a roma pass.  We were let out at the front, which is not the entrance, the entrance is very far away from where the cab dropped us off, but we took a couple pictures and then walked around till a tour person found us and we went with them, Tickets4Less.  Not the best, certainly not the most affordable group, but we didn’t know any better.

The front of the Vatican

Quick note on the cabs in Rome – out of the three cities we visited, Rome’s cabs were the most honest and affordable.  We even had some really friendly drivers who spoke to us in Italian about all the things we were driving past and we couldn’t understand anything, lol.  Most often, it was easy to explain to them where we wanted to go and all the ones we had went off the meter and we never had any trouble with any scams.

We waited while our tour group gathered as many people as they could, which was more than the stated maximum for the tour and our guide was knowledgeable but the information she gave seemed a little canned.  When you go in, they give you radios and an ear bud so you can hear your tour guide in all the crazy crowded rooms of the Vatican museum.  It can get really crowded in all the little rooms, so sticking with your group is key.

You start out in this very modern lobby and go up a big staircase and out into a courtyard where you can see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.  I took pictures of all the people standing at the top and wondered if Chris and I would make it to the top.

The Lobby of the Vatican

First courtyard into the Vatican

Close up of the top of St. Peter’s Basilica

From there, you move into the pine cone courtyard where a large golden globe with a rip in the middle stands revolving.  The artist meant for the sculpture to represent Catholicism bringing the world together, but it looked darker to me.  I don’t know, what do you think?

Pine Cone Courtyard

Pine Cone Courtyard

The Globe of Catholicism

We moved through the rooms of the Vatican museum taking lots of pictures.  We saw Hadrian’s lover’s statue and a whole room full of all kinds of different crazy animal statues and a hall of beautiful geographically accurate maps of Italy from way back and a tub made of this incredibly valuable red marble and so many other things I can’t even remember them all.  You could spend years in these museums and not see everything there.  The whole trip through built up to the grand finale, the Sistine Chapel where our tour ended.  You aren’t supposed to talk or take pictures, but everyone does both.  It is so crowded and huge that no one can really tell you are doing it.

Almost there…

The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel, front wall

Wow

A close up of a ceiling panel in the Chapel

Recognize this?

The Chapel was breathtaking, but not what I expected, of course.  It really is one very very large room with the most amazing painted ceiling.  I suppose I thought it would look more like a little church room than a huge, well lit, empty space.

When you leave the Sistine Chapel you are outside and dumped right in front of the line to climb St. Peter’s Basilica.  You pay extra to go up, but it is worth it.  Bring water!  I’ve never been so thirsty in my life.  I didn’t have water that whole morning and then didn’t think the climb would take too long.  Also, I was afraid of having to go to the bathroom at inconvenient times.  Halfway up the more than 500 stairs there is a resting point with a bathroom and fountains and a nice place to sit and get some air so I really should have drank some water!

This is not even halfway up!

Danyelle and Chris climbing St. Peter’s Basilica

View from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica

Chris taking in the view

Danyelle taking in the view

At the top!

Really amazing view round and round the top you go!

As you can see, the view from the top is well worth the climb up the claustrophobic stairs.

Day 1: Arriving in Rome – 9/30/2012

Day 1: Arriving in Rome – 9/30/2012

We arrived in Rome on September 30th after a very long overnight flight from NYC.  We were supposed to have a seven hour layover in New York, long enough to leave the airport, but our flight was delayed from Denver just long enough that we couldn’t risk leaving the airport and missing our flight to Rome so we had a lovely dinner in the JFK airport and tried to sleep on the plane to Rome.

Now, I had some thoughts about how Rome would be before we arrived and I was anxious to get to know the city and see which of my theories about my impressions would pan out.  Back in high school, I went to Australia and New Zealand on a month-long trip that took up all the money I had been saving for a car.  When I was there, I kept getting struck with the notion that a group of people could be put into a fake plane, “flown” to a destination, and then be driving around say, California, and we wouldn’t even know it – Truman Show style.  Silly, I know, but I couldn’t get it out of my head.  On the drive in from the airport, Rome felt a little like California and I feared that the city would seem familiar to me.   Then we drove to its heart and the colossal ruins jutting out casually from the concrete, glimpsing around street corners, winking in the warm afternoon light, as real as stone and structure can be, made me believe that I was far from home.  The flat faced buildings with molding detail painted a canary yellow or a pinkish beige with green plants spilling out over balconies overlooking  the narrow cobble stoned streets, the sweet smell of rain on the air, all combined with the magnificence of the statues and fountains and ruins of the city to give me a feeling of excitement and adventure.  We had made it to Rome!

Our first venture was to eat because we were starving!  After checking into the hotel, we sat down at a nice chain restaurant La Famiglia and had some good pasta.  I’m not going to lie, we’ve had better.  Rome’s cuisine was not terribly impressive during our stay.  Perhaps that is our fault, but as you’ll see, we really really tried to get off the beaten path in this city.  The trouble is, when every area has a noteworthy attraction “off the beaten path” becomes extremely difficult to maneuver.

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The rest of our first night in Rome was characterized by a whole lot of rain.  We didn’t want to waste a minute of our trip, so we borrowed an umbrella from our hotel and set out.  The rain was unlike any other rain I’ve ever been in in my whole life.  It never let up, it was steady and warm and rather like standing in a bathroom shower.  It was light enough that if you weren’t getting soaked in it you wouldn’t really notice it.  But we got pretty soaked sharing an umbrella as we were.  Not that smart of us!

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We bought our Roma pass and used the metro to get to the Spanish steps.  From there, we stopped at Babington’s Tea Rooms and had some tea and cake.  We were not that hungry, but I wanted to check the place out as it has been there since 1893 and I was in raptures at anything my characters from the book might have experienced in their time.

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The Spanish steps are pretty, but besides walking up and down them, there wasn’t much else to do.  We took some pictures and headed off.  We walked from there to the Trevi Fountain and saw a wedding party taking pictures.  We took some lovely rainy night pictures ourselves and walked around a LOT because we got lost several times.  We ended up walking all the way back to the Spanish steps area (probably several times as it was very hard to tell our way around in the dark and the rain) and headed back to our hotel fairly late.  That was the whole goal, though, and we avoided jet lag the whole rest of the trip.

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I’m Back!

Well, what a crazy, amazing, fantastic, stupendous, insert all great adjective here, trip I just took!  Truly, the trip of a lifetime, but I hope to have many more.  Chris and I had just the best time over the past two weeks running all over Rome, Athens, and, finally, Istanbul.  I say finally in more than one way there because we have been trying to get to Istanbul for 5 years now.  My book is based in Istanbul and the cities surrounding that area, so it was inspiring to get to finally see meet these cities in person.  

Inspiring and exhausting.  This was not really a vacation, this was a research trip.  We never wasted a minute of time, we walked hours and hours every day, making the most of our time in each city.  

We met some amazing people on our trip and had some great times.  We landed last Friday evening after traveling on a few planes for over 24 hours and promptly fell unconscious.  Sunday night I flew to Vegas for work and had a conference for the past three days.  So, I am finally grabbing a minute to post on here about our extraordinary trip.  

I made notes every day I was on travel and took tons of pictures.  I thought it would be fun if I posted my travel thoughts in order on blog posts, one for each day, over the next few weeks with the best pictures from the day.  As soon as I get home this weekend I will start getting it together and posting stories from every day of travel so you can follow along as if you were there for every lovely, tiring, Chris-why-didn’t-you-let-us-just-get-a-cab minute of the experience!  Stay tuned 🙂