• parkinson's disease

    Honoring Grandma: Parkinson’s Disease Research Now

    When I was about nine or ten years old, my grandmother came to live with us. I had never met her before. For all this time she was a distant relative living with my uncle in Uzbekistan, where we had immigrated from several years before.

    It wasn’t easy for my parents, both working full-time, to take care of an elderly woman, plus two young kids in a small apartment in Queens. It’s a situation many immigrants and their children experience. I was so happy to meet my grandmother — to celebrate my birthday together and hold her hand — that I didn’t notice something more difficult was happening.

    parkinson's disease

    Our life with Parkinson’s Disease

    My maternal grandmother passed away last year after a long decline from Parkinson’s Disease. There were a few incidents with my grandmother’s health that scared me, but as a kid I thought it was just a part of getting old. The hand tremors would’ve been the most obvious sign that she had Parkinson’s, but I  was too excited about my grandma to notice.

    She suffered with the disease for almost 20 years. It’s a disease with no cure, though many treatments options exist with medication and surgery. My grandmother likely felt the first symptoms of PD in the early 90’s when she was living in Uzbekistan, a former state of the Soviet Union. By the time she immigrated to live with my family in the mid 90’s, we were seeing her symptoms and she had not received adequate treatment.

    Grandma early Parkinson's disease
    Our family, with grandma at the center, in December 2000.

    Parkinson’s degenerates cells in a person’s central nervous system (the brain and spine). Though tremors (shaking hands) are identifiable to most people due to the media attention it has received in recent years, the disease causes a severe reduction in quality of life. My grandmother went through bouts of depression both because of the disease, and anxiety from the process of finding the right medication. She ultimately was diagnosed with dementia. PD patients are six times more likely to have dementia than the average person. Some people suffer from psychosis (hallucinations) and decreased impulse control as well. There are other physical complications that result in a person being unable to care for themselves. This leaves family members and other caretakers in a difficult position. It’s also these people who don’t always get the proper recognition, not to mention the mental, emotional and financial support they deserve.

    Michael J. Fox Foundation infographic

    Though my grandmother lived with us for several years, my uncle took charge of her care upon his own immigration to the U.S. It’s for him, my mother , her home aides, and also for this country that I am grateful. She received 24 hour care for many years of her life and lived to the age of 91. Her aides became part of our family. We watched Russian t.v. channels together after school, gave grandma haircuts and sang songs that she once loved on her birthdays. Though it’s hard to talk about old age with an incurable disease, her life was truly the best it could be under the conditions.


    Research Matters

    I checked my phone on the morning of December 2, to find out that it was “Giving Tuesday.”  It was started by the 92nd St. Y and the United Nations Foundation in 2012 to encourage you to share causes you care about and have donated to with the hashtag “#GivingTuesday”. I had looked into the Michael J. Fox Foundation many times and decided to donate in my grandmother’s memory that morning.

    #GivingTuesday falls on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving (and after the notorious shopping craze that follows).

    parkinson's donation


    My donation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation is in honor of her, as well as our family and her caretakers. Every donation made on Giving Tuesday in 2014 was matched by MJFF in an effort to reach their fundraising goals. I hope that there is a future where no one has to suffer and struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, nor worrying about the prognosis of a diagnosed family member.

    The Michael J. Fox Foundation gives grants to labs researching a cure for Parkinson’s, and treatment and care for those affected. If you decide to donate toward Parkinson’s research, feel free to do so in honor of my grandmother, Zinaida Kogan, and my family. The MJFF spends 89 cents of every dollar raised directly on research, and only .06 cents are spent for bringing in one dollar of donations. They have an amazing score on Charity Navigator, almost perfect on accountability & transparency and financials. You can check out their ratings here*.

    If you’re interested in this foundation specifically, sign up for their newsletter, as there are many times during the year where donations are matched (sometimes doubled and tripled!).

    Other organizations

    There are so many charities and non-profits out there who ask for money. Charity Navigator is a good resource, as well as CharityWatch.Org and Give.Org, to check an organizations effectiveness, transparency and legitimacy. Even your local organizations should be registered as a non-profit or charity before accepting money. Please do your research.

    If you’re considering donating, here are some causes I’m interested in:

    Any of the highest-rated Alzheimer’s and dementia researchers —

    Alzheimer’s Foundation of America / Alzheimer’s Association

    Two national org’s that work for tolerance and civil liberties —

    American Civil Liberties Union / Southern Poverty Law Center (both are matching all donations until December 31)

    A new friend of mine is fundraising on behalf of ‘Embrace Kids’, which supports families of kids with cancer and blood disorders. Donate here.

    What cause are you passionate about? Leave a comment to share.

  • japan chopsticks

    Hello from Japan

    Here I am sitting on the famous Japanese bullet train (Shinkansen). Just a few weeks ago, I was at home thinking about what exciting things waited for me in this country. Tuesday will conclude two weeks of travel in Japan.

    japanese traditonal clothing
    Japan: A place for tradition
    japan chopsticks
    Japan: A place for chopsticks

    While some sights and customs turned out to be what I expected, there’s so much that did not — for better or for worse.

    Japan: A place for wishes
    Japan: A place for wishes
    japanese arcade
    Japan: A place for games

    I’ll be writing about two weeks worth of wonderfully Japanese things including fashion, traditional customs, and food, when I’m at home and can download photos from my camera. For two more days, I’ll be part of the hustle in Tokyo. Then back to the other East Coast!

    Meanwhile, you can see some updates from me on Instagram, @yevi_.

    I hope you’ll stay tuned for more! Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see or read about!

    Yours Truly in UTC+09,

    – Yev

  • robin williams rip

    ‘Words and ideas can change the world’ – R.I.P., Robin Williams

    R.I.P. robin williams

    “Twenty-six years ago, you played a game with a little boy down the street. A game with drums.” (Jumanji, 1995)

    I can remember watching Jumanji as a kid, and getting really into the “horrors” and surprises of the story. Floods! Stampedes! A man trapped in the jungle because of a game!

    Robin Williams didn’t stand out much to me at the time — I was only 5 when the movie was released and didn’t care about people in movies one way or another. What I did remember all those years ago, and even now, was his quirky smile and laugh. He voiced Genie in Aladdin, which was unforgettable. There was Mrs. Doubtfire — unforgettable in a totally different way. I remember him in Good Will Hunting, Flubber, Jack, Hook, Bicentennial Man, and many more. Williams was known as a comedian but he was also unforgettable in dramatic roles.

    Once I start thinking about everything he was in, I realize that not only was he an icon but also a big part of my life through movies. 

    “Our job is improving the quality of life, not just in delaying death.” (Patch Adams, 1998)

    This year I watched “Angriest Man in Brooklyn”, where he starred alongside Mila Kunis. There was also the “Crazy Ones” on CBS, which I was looking forward to watching again in the Fall. When I read the news on Twitter, my first thoughts went to this show. How could someone who was still relevant, still funny, still talented take his own life?

    I’m sure there will be a lot of speculation in the week ahead. As an audience, we don’t know Robin Williams’ mental state, his financial state, or his physical state at the time of his death. We know him as the actor, and I know it’s hard for me to separate him from his on-screen personalities. You may have heard that he had a history of drug addiction, and may have been bipolar. What I do know is that he brought laughter, wisdom and energy into the world of entertainment.

    Robin Williams’ movies will live on, and in that way so will he. Many more people will find joy in his work. He deserves that.

    I hope that this moment will also be a reminder that even relevant, funny and talented people can be depressed. They can need help and be lost when they don’t receive it. They can commit suicide.

    “It’s not your fault.”

    I hate to sound cliché but “in this day and age” a lot of us are only friends behind screens. It’s easy for us to believe that we are doing our best to make a connection with someone through social media. But if someone simply disappeared off Facebook, would you know how to reach them? Don’t leave any one who you believe is depressed or suicidal alone. Reach out to them. If you are talking to the person online you can try to find someone who knows them or in a worst-case scenario: call the police. Don’t be embarrassed to do something that could save their life.

    Dr. John Grohol, founder of PsychCentral.com, shared one of the most well-written posts regarding Williams and his mental health I’ve read so far. Similar to my own point, he writes this:

    Suicide is an insidious choice due to the lies that depression tells us. When a person is suffering from severe depression, as apparently Williams was, it can tell that person, “Hey, you’d be better off dead. Life isn’t going to get any better.”

    And sadly, sometimes people listen. Even brilliant, accomplished individuals such as Robin Williams.

    Let your friend know you’re listening. Listen without judging is difficult, but try to do it. Ask them what they might need help with. Don’t be afraid to ask if they’re considering suicide. A lot of people want help but don’t know how to ask for it.

    Tell them that it’s not their fault. What they’re feeling does not define them, and that there is help available. Mean what you say and be there for them.  They might tell you that they’re “ok” or that you’ll embarrass them, but think about what the other options are.

    Depression and other mental health issues are extremely stigmatized. Remember that. Depressed people may feel that their seemingly small problems are taking over, meanwhile their friends or their parents will not validate their pain and fears. This can drive them away from real help in order to seem “normal”. Encourage the people you know to seek professional help.

    It’s only fair to you and to them. There are plenty of free, confidential and easy ways to talk to someone.

    Here are some resources I hope will be helpful:

    http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/, or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)




  • summer fun bubbles

    Party outside for your health

    summer fun bubbles

    If you’ve lived through what feels like an endless winter haze (like we’ve seen here in the Northeast), the beginning of summer requires a celebration. Even on the sunniest days, it was just too hard to think that a new season was coming, but finally it’s July and the weather is fabulous.

    The Science of Summer

    Sunshine is actually good for you. Your body needs Vitamin D to encourage healthy growth in your bones and muscles. Generally, people who get less of it over their lifetimes are more likely to develop heart-related issues and osteoporosis. If you’re outside midday for just a few minutes (without sunscreen) your skin will convert UVB rays into just the right amount of Vitamin D. This is just an approximation, and depends on several things like where you’re located and the color of your skin. (Please talk to your doctor before skipping sunscreen or making any other sun-related changes!) A lack of sun during the winter months also brings out depression, anxiety and insomnia for some people. (It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder).

    Being inside all day isn’t just preventing you from getting a nice tan. Some studies have shown that the human brain will produce more serotonin — a chemical that increases confidence and happiness —when you’re exposed to the sun. It’s one of the chemicals produced by drugs such as LSD or the anti-depressant, Prozac. You can imagine (and probably feel) what happens in the absence of sunlight in your life. There isn’t a scientific consensus on how sunlight stimulates serotonin production during this season but what we feel is real.

    Of course this doesn’t mean you should skip your sunscreen and lay out in the sun. There are obvious and proven risks with doing that. What I’m sayin’ is simple.

    You need a break.

    You need some sun, and some food. And maybe a cold drink.

    Prescription to Party


    When the weather starts to warm up it’s no surprise that people jump at a chance to grill some food outside or just to put on a t-shirt and take a walk. My husband’s birthday is in the middle of the summer, and we always take advantage of that. This year, as several others before, we headed outside for a barbecue with our family and friends. Combining all of these things made for a great day.

    If you’re looking for something to do this summer that will bring together the people you love, this is what you need.

    Good weather

    lady gaga obviously

    It’s a given that the sun should be out and shining this month but sometimes Mother Nature does her own thing. We had intense lighting storms and threatening clouds over the July 4th weekend. This dissipated when our party came around, but it’s always wise to keep tabs on those clouds. It might be organic, but rain will NOT make your steak taste better.

    summer bbq party


    I’m always one to encourage people to mingle and get to know each other, but you still need something for them to do. This could be as simple as planning something at the beach. If you decide to go to a park or a similar location, you should think about bringing some things: soccer ball, baseball and gloves, frisbee, football. I’d also suggest a speaker to play music from your phone or other device. If you don’t have these things, ask your friends to bring what they have. We were lucky to have all of these things around and they were definitely useful.

    We also had a pinata for the birthday boy (er… man). Let me tell you, it stole the show. My sister-in-law had the great idea to get one for a party that would have more adults than children. She filled it with things like floss, soap, lotions, and Hot Wheels cars. Everyone was surprised, including myself. The kids reactions were priceless. Sorry guys, maybe next time!

    Location, location, location

    If you have a chance, scope out your location of choice to decide on the best spot to have your party. Look for things like walking distance to bathrooms, water fountains, and ability to get under the shade or trees. Parking space is important if your friends are driving. If they’re not, consider walking distance from public transportation. Bring a stand-up umbrella or ask your friends to do so if it’s going to be very hot. We had blankets and beach chairs, and again, asked people to bring their own. There were picnic benches at the park, but a lot of people chose to relax on something more comfortable.

    Food and drinks

    scooby doo food
    Bring a cooler, fill it with ice, juice, beer, and water bottles. Bring more water than will fit into your cooler. This is really important, especially if you’re going to be running around or constantly in the sun. We bought four large jugs of water, plus sodas and juices, but after several hours we started to run out. This happened right in the middle of a sweaty soccer game and people were happy to drink some of the warm water we had left.

    We had one regular cooler and one of these freezer packs. If I did it again, I’d get a second cooler with ice. First to bring more cold water, but also because the [ice pops] we had to put in the pack were mostly melted by the time we were done with the food. It was a great tragedy, in my opinion.  Don’t forget to keep any perishable foods out of the sun or in a cooler, especially dairy-based dips.

    About 30 people showed up. This included families with toddlers and some older kids. We bought about 15 pounds of chicken and beef (combined) for the grill. We also had veggies on skewers, dips, and a giant bowl of fruit salad. Considering my parents also brought some more food, I think everyone was satisfied. We probably had enough leftovers for about a week.

    Check out bbqplanner.com for an approximate estimate of how much food you should get.

    At the end of the day, my husband and I were very happy with how the day went. We’ll probably plan another when we have the time.

    How you plan a party depends on what you and your friends or family like. In the end it’s about enjoying the sunshine in good company!

  • What keeps a couple together for decades?

    For years and years and years, I kept saying that I would spend some time interviewing my grandparents. They have a tremendous history both in their lives together, and separately. I won’t get into all of it here, except to share a part of an interview with my grandfather. They spent 68 years together and I think my grandpa does a great job of communicating what went on between them. Unfortunately my grandmother isn’t part of this, as she passed away in 2018.

    This is a huge project with a lot of editing to go, and a totally new medium for me as well. Enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts or suggestions.

    A special shout out to my parents for checking my translation. And to my grandpa, who doesn’t use the Internet — you’re the best. Now everyone knows.

  • What’s it like in space?

    space2     space1

    When I discovered Chris Hadfield’s tweets last spring, I was obsessed. Seriously, I turned into a one woman fan club when I emailed new photos to my family, probably with the subject line: SO AWESOME.

    Hadfield, who was commander of the International Space Station at the time, gained popularity when he started sharing photos and videos from orbit straight into the Twitter-sphere. Though his mission was to study human biology in space, he had time to create a lip synced video to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. You know, the one about floating around in space and coming home. Apparently he only had rights to the song for one year and that ends today. Watch the video on YouTube before it’s gone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo.

    space3      space4

    space6      space5

    space7     space8

    What’s up there?

    Isn’t that the big question that makes humans want to propel into space — a less than favorable environment? I was always fascinated by the mysteries of life. And it felt like some of those mysteries were explained the time I got to high school. I was fascinated by flying. By the sky. The more I learned, the more I felt that I really knew nothing. Perhaps that’s what keeps me so interested. Even when I was studying the sciences, I never thought that could be me up anywhere near the stars. I belong on Earth, but I still want to know, both what the stars are made of and what compels someone to keep going up there to find out.

    Calvin and Hobbes stars
    Original here.

    What’s down here?

    What Cmdr. Hadfield gave the world is not only a view of the stars, but a look at ourselves. We love looking up, but we have to come back down eventually just like astronauts. I loved the fact that he was in space. It was mind-boggling, but these photos reminded me of just how much we have going on right here on Earth. There’s so much beauty to learn about and preserve. Even just on a global scale, looking at ice caps, deserts or city lights makes individual problems seem so much less pressing. Yes, it’s cliche, but I know I need a reminder once in a while. Feeling small doesn’t scare me. Even small things add up. I know people are important. Just look at what we can do on Earth and in orbit.

  • nyu graduation 2012

    Would you give back to your college?

    nyu graduation 2012The other night I picked up a phone call from a number that I’d been avoiding. I knew it was my former university calling for donations.

    A polite freshman introduced herself and asked me about my time there. What was memorable about my college experience? What was I doing now? Afterward she asked if I would be willing to donate toward the university’s freshman scholarship fund. She was sweet so I chatted with her for a few minutes. When I asked whether I could think about her request, and donate later (or online), her answer was vague and basically sounded like no.

    I don’t blame the girl for trying to pressure me with her response. I’m sure she was just following a script. It’s exactly what I expected when I ignored that call many times in the past few years.

    The fund I would be donating toward is solely for freshman, and funded exclusively by students and alumni. I remember getting emails before graduation and seeing the fund advertised with motivating reminders. Seniors received a pin if they donated a small amount and showed that they cared about incoming freshmen. The annual sums were relatively small compared to the large donations that are usually recognized. I always found it strange that they targeted students with loans, books to buy and probably, low-paying jobs.


    I wanted to consider the request again so I watched a video on the university website. But the sad, adopt-a-puppy music didn’t do it for me. Neither did reminder that a school’s rankings increase when alumni give back and participate.

    I have always been on the fence about donating to my university. I really value the fact that the fund goes directly to student scholarships. The reason I’m so hesitant is that I assume that a large university, which essentially runs like a business, could spare a couple thousand dollars in scholarships a year. There are personal reasons that are definitely less relevant. One is that I don’t feel that my school helped with my career path. Of course I’ve heard a million times that I shouldn’t have expected too much. I should’ve picked a better major or knocked on more doors. Universities are businesses after all.

    I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I’ll put off donating this year.

    What would you do?

  • April Fool’s Day online

    Last night I had this conversation with my husband:

    Him: “Virgin America is installing Nest [automated thermostats] into each of its seats.”

    Me: “That’s too much.”

    Him: “But still cool.”

    Today I see an update from Virgin’s founder, Richard Branson, announcing that they’re reinventing flying. “Virgin America is the first airline to introduce this feature, with every seat enjoying settings ranging from ‘Cancun Afternoon’ to ‘Chicago Polar Vortex’.” The other choices listed in their on-site quiz were: NYC Subway Sweaty, Texas BBQ, Pacific Northwest Drizzle, and Standard Day in Los Angeles. Well, that definitely tipped me off.

    I’ll be honest: I’m terrified of April Fool’s. I’ll go along with your prank, just in case you’re being serious. Also, I’m just gullible. Now I can also be fooled through the magic of the internet. Thanks, internet.

    Lots of companies have reputations for pulling April Fool’s Day jokes on their customers. Google always has something going on. Last year they “planned” to launch a phone that could smell. Just in case you felt incomplete before. Every year, companies try to do it bigger and better. (Side note: there are unfortunate April 1st announcements, such as Gmail, 10 years ago & Obamacare sign-ups hitting 7 million, today).

    Here a few jokes I’ve encountered today:

    Sephora on Facebook

    The makeup chain posted a “bro tip” during the day.

    sephora april fool's

     Even though it was obviously for April 1, they got some negative comments aimed at the tip itself. That made it funnier, but I don’t think they get any points for this. It would’ve been more effective if they redid their whole Facebook page, or even their homepage to feature some strange products. I can think of some crazy-sounding real ones.

    King’s College Choir on helium

    Though I had never heard of this choir, I watched the video and was pleasantly surprised. They get points for entertainment value.

    Netflix makes you hungry

    netflix april fool's

    A friend posted a video of what he found. Thanks, buddy, for letting me know to stay off Netflix today.

    Tumblr Pro

    tumblr pro april fool's

    In the sidebar, Tumblr advertised its “pro” version. The video that pops up when you click on it was the best part (although I’ll enjoy my internet top hat as long as I can). It features amazing quotes such as: “the human race began as an idea, [pause] and it will end with one.” The quiet piano melody paired with a calm narrator saying creepy things made it work so well! Sounds like Tumbr’s encouraging a world-wide takeover by gathering an army of its pro users. It’s just a wait-and-see kind of thing.

     Gmail “shelfie”

    An option to change my accounts theme to a photo of myself, or of someone else. Given the popularity of selfies, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just let you keep it after April 1. Did everyone have this pop up? Google also announced this new feature on their official blog. It’s logic is illustrated with this fancy graph.

    gmail shelfie
    via google blog

    Nice touch, Google.

    NSA offers to backup ALL of your data

    A few months ago I wrote a post about the NSA and changes to American privacy. So I was quite eager to read this article I found on Twitter.

    nsa april fool's


    “The fact is, even people who don’t think they’ve moved to the Cloud, actually have already moved to the Cloud – our Cloud. We put all their stuff into it years ago; and talk about a seamless transition! They didn’t even realise we’d done it…”

    It’s obviously a parody, but still so satisfying to read.

    Google Pokemon Master

    Google has mastered my favorite kind of April Fool’s creations. The ones that are slightly obvious or  fairly innocent. I heard about the new Google Maps Pokemon feature and tested it out on my phone. Imagine loading directions your next travel destination and discovering the area is full of Pokemon! They should keep this forever. Or until someone catches them all…

    The original Pokemon master via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
    The original Pokemon master via Flickr user Gage Skidmore

    Did you see any noteworthy tricks online? Did you get pranked at work or school today?

  • Do you call your parents?

    Apparently British people call their mothers at least once a week in the evening, according to a recent study cited by the Guardian. I found this article via Jezebel, and they asked whether this applies to the rest of us. I don’t know how legit this study is, so I’m going to put on my lab coat and break it down.

    This is real (link).

    You can look at how often I called my parents in two different life stages. The first, when I lived at home and called my parents to let them know I wasn’t dead while out in the world. Pretty simple. They asked me to check in and I tried most of the time (I’ll pay to cover those grey hairs, guys!) The second part is after I got married.

    Though I’m close with my own parents, I never had the habit of calling them up a certain number of times a week. Obviously it’s because I lived with them. Now, we live less than an hour from both sets of parents and make sure to see them at least once a week. Given that, I tend to feel that phone calls should be reserved for something urgent. A lot of things can happen over the course of the week, but aside from emergencies or random, super-awesome events, it’s not usually anything to call home about (literally).

    someecards.com - I hope the NSA is concerned about how often my mother calls me.

    I still talk to my parents & in-laws over the phone. Despite all of my logic and reasoning, it’s nice to know that they’re thinking about me when I get a call. I’m sure they feel the same.

    I don’t know if my relationships are outside of the norm. People seem to be surprised when I mention how often I see my parents, so I tend to think that they are. I guess if you see something as an obligation or a disruption of your day then you’re going to resist doing it. And even if you have a great relationship with someone, sometimes you just want to make your own plans.

    I’m an adult with my own life and my own home. It’s easy to get wrapped up in that. It’s accepted that children grow up to be independent from their parents. What I’ve learned over the past few years that there’s a fine balance at play. To find it means holding on to good relationships with the people who love you.

    To everyone who’s raising an eyebrow right now: Yes, sometimes I just want to stay home or not answer my phone. But then I remember something about these people who raised me. They’re people. Human. And they’ve had to put up with me for more than 20 years, and they love me whether I’m in a good or bad mood. Through everything they still love me and want to be around me. I don’t know about you but that beats the track record of basically everyone else I know in the world.

    What do you think?

    I want to know what other people feel about this. Let me know how often you call or visit your parents, or what they would expect from you (if you still live at home).

    Have a great weekend!

  • rome colosseum italy

    A week in Italy: Rome and Venice

    Find History and Romance Here

    Update— I have extra printed postcards from this trip, let me know if you’d like one.

    When we booked the trip, I did what I always do: looked for sample itineraries. I visited Italy once before when I was studying abroad, so I knew that it would be difficult to see a lot in such a short amount of time. Every website said it: You can’t see Italy in a week.

    Since we arrived at home, I can confirm that it’s true. There’s so much to see (and eat) all over Italy, and many cities have smaller towns surrounding them with rich histories and lifestyles to experience. What was originally supposed to be a two-city trip (Milan and Florence), quickly turned into three. We actually booked our hotel for Venice while we were in Rome (thanks wifi & cheap travel sites).

    Though our traveling-policy is usually to not overdo it, we set a very quick pace. We did manage to came back to our room to work or relax for an hour or so, but some days it was tough to stop (or to start back up again). For anyone looking to take this trip: it’s possible, but you’ll savor every moment not on your feet.

    rome motorcycles

    Religion and History in Rome

    The Eternal City is one shrouded in myths and stories, much different from other famous cities. There are two legends about the founding of Rome, though both agree on the year — 753 B.C.

    The first says that after escaping Troy, Aeneas of Virgil’s epic poems (Aeneid) went to the area and married the daughter of a king. His children eventually became Romans. The other is the myth of Romulus and Remus. These twins were born from a virgin, sent to a Moses-like death and saved by a variety of gods, animals or shepherds, depending on the version. Ultimately, the city is founded by and named after Romulus, who kills his brother.

    rome italy

    Many cities advertise their rich histories, but it’s only Rome that has the past literally standing at its center. I was in awe the first time I saw the Colosseum in the distance. The Roman ruins stand out even though the city doesn’t have the modern steel and glass skyline of New York.  I’ve never made it inside the Colosseum, but the entrance under its side is cold and dark. It’s really the only thing that reminded me that despite its impressive nature, this amphitheater saw thousands of deaths. Crowds watched both human and animal blood spilled here. It’s somber and strange when there are men dressed up in gladiator costumes for tourists.

    rome colosseum italy

    Read up on some history (or get a guidebook) beforehand and you’ll be able to spot all of the important buildings. Some require more imagination than others, such as Palatine Hill, which is still being excavated and doesn’t look like it’s been restored like some of the more prominent structures. Here are other places we visited:

    rome italy trevi

    roman forum italy

    italy unification monument
    This huge national monument was constructed for Victor Emmanuel II, who became the first king of a unified Italy in 1861.
    rome tourism italy
    A guy floats for tourists in Rome.

    The Vatican

    I said it about Florence, and I’ll say it again: You don’t need to be Christian to appreciate the Vatican and St. Peter’s church. It’s just huge! I highly recommend seeing the museum and the church itself.

    The official Vatican tour was also worth it. It’s about three hours long, though I was told to see the entire museum would take much longer. We skipped many rooms including the contemporary art (Picasso, Matisse), to get to the Sistine Chapel at the end. You get a thorough explanation of Michelangelo’s famous fresco, “The Last Judgement.” Afterward, you can go back into the rest of the museum. Again, I’d highly recommend to get some sort of a guide.

    There were lots of fun facts and jokes along the way. The most surprising was that the latest restoration of the fresco (1980 – 94) was funded by the Japanese Nippon Television Network Corporation with $4.2 million USD. Basically, this Japanese company owns the photography and film rights of the Sistine Chapel fresco. That explains why I don’t have any photos, but I’m sure a Google search will help you out.

    I’m a big fan of museums and art (just in case you couldn’t tell), and this one was really amazing.

    vatican italy
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    Rafael school of athens
    A part of Rafael’s ‘School of Athens’, which featured Greek & Roman philosophers, mathematicians and Rafael’s Renaissance contemporaries.

    rome italy water

    The Holy See’s Swiss guards.

    Venice on the Water

    While in Venice we learned that Veneto, one of Italy’s richest states, had a referendum for independence from the rest of the country. The famous city of Venice is its largest municipality. About 4.8 million people live in the area. Almost 90% of eligible residents voted for independence. (Ultimately this vote was just for show).

    We arrived into Venice’s S. Lucia train station and had a nice view of a city on the water (and covered in bridges). Of course we still had about 2 miles to walk to our hotel, after deciding that the water taxi was too expensive. Well, here’s our walk on Google Maps, with an estimated 34 minute travel time. Once we got onto the first bridge, we realized that it would actually be pretty exhausting to walk all the way there. Not to mention trying to run back a couple of days later to catch our train.

    venice google maps route
    Take note of every where water crosses the islands (a bridge) and all of the hard turns.

    Our first stop after the hotel was Saint Marco’s Square, with a basilica, tower and palace at the center. This view onto the Grand Canal was really just beautiful. We also stopped at Alfredo’s Fresh Pasta To Go for a late lunch around 3 pm. It’s wise to have lunch before then if you want to sit down at a nice place. This applies to the other cities we visited as well. We got delicious, fresh-made pasta in Chinese takeout-style box. The owner was really sweet too, even after I spilled soda on the floor.

    Venice is one of those places people dream of seeing and rightly so. Still, I don’t think you need to spend more than a day and a half there to take it all in. After a full day, we were scrambling for things to do. I’m curious if someone had a different experience.

    Enjoy the sights of Venice.

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    san marco basilica venice

    piazza san marco venice

    venice italy dogs

    venice birds

    venice pigeons

    venice italy canal

    Check out the first part of this trip in Florence, Italy.