Exploring new lands


Today we toured the Chianti region in central Italy. We stopped at a few little towns along the way and learned about their trades, practices, and traditions.

The hillsides seemed to resemble a quilt; complicated, cross-hatched patches of wineries covered the landscape. You could see grape vines and olive trees for miles.

The area in which we toured is renowned for their wine, olive oil, and pottery. Every gift shop boasted a vast array of kitchen wares and food, often all locally produced. The first town we stopped in had an open air market in their main square, where we were able to purchase anything from food to clothes to toiletries.

Seeing these humble little towns with their modest stone churches and cobblestone streets felt a bit nostalgic, as if I was walking through the pages of a history book. I was completely floored when I saw the view at lunch: a countryside so green and perfect and untouched that it looked eerily like the backdrop of a sound stage.

Ciao, Venezia! Ci incontriamo di nuovo.

Anybody who has met me knows one of my favorite cities in Europe is Venice. Today, for our free day, we took an early train to the beautiful city and spent the entire day taking in its sights, sounds, and smells.

The thing I love most about Venice is purposefully getting lost. The winding “streets” always branch out into new corridors which may suddenly become piazzas or fountains or bridges. The Murano glass which fills every shop window is enough to overwhelm you; Venetian masks inspire you; and gondoliers enchant you. Venice is a city unlike any other. You can get lost, but you can never walk in the wrong direction.

Nature in a metropolitan city

It is often difficult to connect with nature in a large city like Florence. People crowd the streets, pulling suitcases across cobblestones and talking loudly into their wireless headsets. We learn about the Popes, emperors, nobility, artists, and saints. But today I got a glimpse of Florence’s lesser-discussed residents.

We started the day off with a trip to Boboli Gardens, a regal garden with steep inclines and beautifully trimmed hedges, lined with majestic architecture and marble sculptures. I was in awe of the space and couldn’t stop looking up at the trees. It seemed amazing that a garden such as this could be in the heart of such a busy city like Florence.

But as soon as we found some flowers, I began to notice the creatures that lived there.

You would never realize they were there (except the pigeons, they’re really good at making their presence known) unless you paused for a moment and studied. Florence–or any metropolitan city for that matter–is such a big, busy place. The natural beauties can easily be overlooked.

Art is design is communication is universal

Many people ask me, “What is graphic design? Do you make graphs and posters?” To that I say, yes and no.

Art and design are almost synonymous in that their main purpose is communication. Fine art typically aims to communicate an expression, an event, or an idea. Graphic design as an enterprise communicates information and uses the same principles of fine art (heirarchy, composition, and how the human mind interacts with / translates imagery).

Graphic design–and fine art–is so much more than just pictures. It is a universal language that combines the human tendency to associate imagery with past experiences and the human mind’s innate organizational skills.

We visited the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia Gallery today. The Uffizi is a collection of Ancient Roman, Ancient Greek, Byzantine, and Renaissance art belonging to the most powerful aristocratic family of Italy, the Medici, who reigned before and during the Renaissance and subsequently sponsored the Renaissance movement as we know and love it. The Accademia Gallery is home to 6 of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures and David, an impressive giant of a statue who is known to all who have studied art at some point in their lives. (Live out your worst nightmares in the next room over, as hundreds of plaster cast busts and statues stare lifelessly at you from all corners of the room.)

But my favorite piece of art today is this street sign. At first, I thought it was a turtle (my contact lenses need to be upgraded). But then I noticed a clever little thing: a nude model. This homage to fine art made me chuckle as I thought of Ophelia and Venus, among other naked women lounging on settés and beds.

It’s nothing fancy, but I’m sure that anybody from any culture would have understood what it was. Maybe they would have laughed too. Maybe some little kid would think it’s gross. Maybe an art critic would over-analyze it, bringing the sign’s “do not enter” meaning into the equation.

It is the simple idea and irony of the image that makes the art so clever. It is the way artists think about such normal things and find a way to change them.

I challenge everyone reading this post to find an everyday item and alter it without changing its overall purpose. An envelope, a paperclip, a light bulb or a screwdriver. How can you add another association while also maintaining the simple function and familiarity of the item?

It’s harder than it looks.

I may love Florence, but my feet do not

Not many people can say they walked 1.8 km to ascend and descend over 400 stairs and take in a birds eye view of Florence, before 11am on a Tuesday. At least 8 Riverhawks can.

This is not my first time in Florence, nor hopefully will it be the last, but this was my first time climbing anything so exhausting. I thought my knees, feet, thighs, and breakfast would all cease to exist. My reward was a view unlike anything I have ever experienced, and the triumph of completing my 2nd European tower climb. (My first was St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, which I have completed twice.)

One of the greatest things I love about these cities is that you can walk everywhere. Europe in general puts a large emphasis on efficiency and conservation, so the majority of people here walk or bike to get places. It is quicker and easier to walk somewhere than to take a cab down the winding, narrow, tourist-filled streets.

My Fitbit is doing all it can to catch up to European Andréa, since American Andréa is so boring and idle. My 10,000 step goal is reached by noon almost every day here, when on a normal American day I barely reach 8,000. (Unfortunately, the exercise does not outdo the food–this is the land of carbs, after all.)