Posts Tagged ‘rick steeves’

John Denver Is Full Of

May 23rd, 2009

May 23

Went downstairs for a coffee and some internet time.  Hung out there awhile while Lisa wrote a post on her site about Montalcino.  Made it back upstairs and packed our bags and settled our things and wrote down some last minute information.  I am kinda intimidated today about Rome and the pick pocketers.  Ive seen them in action, and I’ve heard many stories, but recently I have heard more stories, and success stories (success of the pickpocketers) especially near the main train station in Rome.

I am worried and stressed, though I am sure it will all turn out ok.  What do I have to get stolen?  My watch?  The loads of cash I am carrying?  Passports?  This mini computer?  The bottle of wine?  The souvenir I bought Chaunce?

I am on the train right now trying to fight off the motion sickness from the hour curvy drive to this station, as well as catch up on some of the journal typing on this keyboard whose mouse in the middle is ultra sensitive and continues to throw my typing for loops.  It is really hot and I’ve already been lectured about having the window down.  The conductor assistant came by and put the window up and locked it.  Oops.  Its almost a two hour train ride to Rome, and we are about halfway done.

The train has been really hot, almost unbearable.  All of the windows say to keep them closed because the air-conditioning is on in that car.  Highly unlikely.  We had ours open for awhile, as did others.  When the aforementioned employee came back and scolded us, and locked all our windows.

Not only is it hot, but we are sitting near these two ladies.  One of them seems to be quite irritated with her travel partner, and also seems deathly ill.  Its getting really gross and rude how she keeps coughing and sneezing without covering her mouth.  Does she have the swine?  She looks really really sick.  And a few times I want to just tell her to cover her mouth and nose when she is gonna project her sneezes into the air.  I am THIS close to speaking up.

But I don’t.  But I do occasionally shoot a disapproving look her way when she does it.

Finally we arrive in Rome, and its really hot too!  We are ready for war with the pickpocketers at the station.  When we exit the train, we quickly come across a side exit of the station, and figure we might as well mad dash out here.    We make our way to a cab line that we see, and we get a quote on a ride from here to our rented apartment.  He either said 29 or 39 euros.  We accept and figure, whew, we are safe.  We arrive at our apartment, pay the man, and we are stoked that we made it past the pickpocketers at the station we were worried about.  However, in reading up on cab fares from the train station, we figure that we think we got taken.  In retrospect, we remember even that he didn’t even turn the meter on.  DOH!  (I would later email this information to my dad, to find out that they paid only approx 15 euros when they arrived in Rome a few days later).  A small price to pay for safety.

We arrived at our apartment that we are renting and there is a carabinieri parked and standing across the street with an automatic weapon.  We find the door for our address, but it is locked and we don’t know who to buzz to let us in.  We are standing outside this door for about 20 minutes, thinking our landlord will be here anytime.  Eventually someone exited the door and we were able to get ourselves into the courtyard area inside.

We are sitting here for about an hour, continually going out the front door to check the street to make sure he isn’t sitting out there.  Afterall, he did request we email him yesterday, our arrival time, and he did know that I would not have an available european working cell phone.

We eventually give up and decide to track down a place to try and call the number he had left of his girlfriend, in case there was a problem connecting.  I sent Lisa on the trail.  Approximately 20 minutes later she returned, frustrated with what she just experienced.

She found her way to a tabaccheria where she was rudely shushed out of the store.  She tried to offer a clerk 10 euros to make a local call for us.  She was ignored and treated very unkindly.  She found a calling card for the pay phones, and when she went to use it, she didn’t realize for some time that you have to rip off the corner of the card in order to activate it.  She reached the lady and the lady rudely says “youre there now?”  No kidding lady, we have been here for 2 hours, at the time we said we would.

10 minutes after Lisa returned, and about 2 hours after we arrived around 1:30 PM,  this young high school age man showed up with a grocery bag.  He was neither the guy I had rented the apartment from, nor the lady that he said would meet us at our arrival time.  He took us into the apartment, showed us around, took out a bottle of shampoo and 4 rolls of toilet from his grocery bag and left them with us, provided the keys, took our money and was on his way.

This place is tiny and not very clean.  Granted, it is in a brilliant location just a short walk from the Piazza Navona.  But it is much more cramped than I expected.  And although we had to pay an extra 40 euro as a “cleaning fee,”  it is obvious that it was not fully cleaned after the last visitor.  Beds are made, but there are museum receipts on the table, and hair on the bathroom floor, a gross shower mat, mildew in the shower, and a puddle of water (I hope) behind the bidet that has rusty fixtures.  There is an open bottle of travel shampoo still in the shower, and a topless can of hairspray on the shelf above the sink.   The bathroom and the room are tiny and “cozy.”  The downstairs beds/couches smelled like urine and I would later find yellow stains on the sheets.

I thought to myself that maybe this was all just stemming from the bad first impression that the landlord left on me by standing us up, so I let it go for now and we left the apartment to explore.

We walked around, trying to figure out our surroundings.  We came across an internet cafe and bought a card and surfed the net, left posts, twitters and checked email to holler back to my parents in Montalcino.  We walked to the Piazza Navona and it was much more crowded than I remembered it.

I know, I glorify my previous trip to Europe, and my new memories are shaded by the light and knowledge and experiences of that trip.  I am not saying that my new experiences are any less, I am saying that seeing certain things and places bring back memories and experiences of places.  What I recall of Piazza Navona was a cool “square” (oval in shape really) that had its cafe’s and its people, but was not overly crowded.  And it had this really cool fountain/statue that has become one of my all time favorites.

Well, most of those things still hold true, but now the square if overflowing with people, street performers (boring human statues), and art sellers.  It still is cool though.

We grabbed lunch on the corner where they had a pizza, bruscheta, soda special for 12 euros.  It was tasty.  It was more soupy than the pizza of the north.  Yet, it still is not the perfect pizza.  I tend to like to explore, or get lost, or some might say “wander aimlessly.”  I like to take in the sights, the smells, the people, the scenery.  I like to get a lay of the land and then figure out what to come back to.  Being that I don’t often have a plan per se, I think can be frustrating to Lisa.  I have been trying to be more vocal with what direction my mind is thinking.  We start to head towards the Pantheon, since its not very far from this piazza.

oculus_smThe Pantheon is crowded outside–its another really cool open square with cafe’s–but we make our way thru the people and enter into the building, which isn’t too crowded inside.  This is a really cool building with an oculus that lets in rays of sun, and in wet days, rain as well.  It holds the tomb of Raphael and is a really cool temperature which is welcoming on this hot and muggy day.  I think its one of my favorite things in Rome.  It has a ton of history too and is built with great geometric precision.  Its a building that has inspired many great buildings and domes around Europe.

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It seems that we are now hitting everything.  We walk towards the Trevi Fountian.  This too has become much different than I remembered it.  It must just be my memory of it, but I was completely dissappointed in it.  I remember it being right on the edge of the road, and less confined, and more at an angle.  I don’t know why I am so struck by this, but I’m really flabergasted.  “I always thought the Rockies would be a lot, rockier.”  Oh well, its still a beautiful statue that harbors many emotions for everyone that visits.

spsteps_smWe stayed their briefly, catching our glimpse, our pictures, and our dissappointments, and then followed the signs that led to the spanish steps.  Now I have never been to the spanish steps, so this will be brand new.  It was a long hot walk and my body is really feeling gross and sweaty.  The spanish steps aren’t very easy to find, even with a map–at least the first time.  After walking these crowded streets, we found these crowded steps and did the italian thing and lounged on them for about 10 minutes.  I could do this everyday.  Sit here and just people watch.  There are really hoards of people here.  It’s about 7:00 PM and its sunny, hot, sweaty and crowded.  It hasn’t been the most pleasant of days, but the things we have seen have been ridiculously amazing and fun.  What a day.

Now it was the best time of day, and also a frustrating time of day.  I have loved and looked forward to our dinners every day.  Meals have been my best and most enjoyable aspect of this day to day travelling.  Some nights we go off of a recommendation in the Rick Steeve’s book, and other times we just walk and check menu’s.  It seems that every few feet there is another restraunt.  The trick has been trying to find ones that do not look like tourist traps, serving microwaved food.  Sometimes we have been succesful at this, and other times we have not.

The frustrating aspect has been that I am often looking for, in a restraunt, the perfect balance between sights, food, price and atmosphere.  Too many times a restraunt is lacking one of those qualities, so I say we just continue walking and look for the next one.  The downside of this is that it leads to about an hour more of walking, getting lost, and getting tired.  Tonight is another occasion of that.

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Before These Crowded Streets

We settled on a place to eat, and sat down.  Now a couple days of ago when we went on that cool winery tour with Ceylan (Jay), she mentioned how she was coming to Rome, and we offered to meet up for dinner.  Well we didn’t ever connect after that and so we were on our own.  Now, tonight we are eating on this back alley of restraunts, dark, on the patio, and guess who walks by.  Yep, Jay.  In a big city like Rome, with all of the great resteraunts and locations, we happen to run into the one person that we know is going to be in the city.  We shared salutations and then she went on her way and we finished our meal.

With our belly’s refreshed, and some wine in our system, we decide to try and walk towards St. Peter’s so that we can see it all lit up at night.  It is late though.  And we have exhausted our patience, and our legs.  We got lost trying to get there, and decided to stop at one of the bridges to cross the river, but instead take a few long distance pictures and head home.  It has been a long day, full of difficult times, and exciting sites.

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These items that we are seeing are beyond belief.  Are we really here?  Sadly, is this trip almost over?  How remarkable is the check list of things we have seen and done today?

We find our way home, and I have to shower off all the grossness.  I am even more grossed out by the shower and bathroom here.  I must block it out and fall asleep.  It is really hot here.

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With A Stroke Of Gelato

May 17th, 2009

May 17th

My parents were set to arrive this morning by train, and we were scheduled to meet them at the doors of the baptistry.  We set a meeting place for the right doors, if facing the Duomo at 10:00 am.  This went off mostly without a hitch and we were reunited and all speaking Italian.  Ok, we threw in a couple Italian words, and said our hello’s and hugs.  But who are we kidding, our Italian is very minimal.  Every time my Dad tries to speak or say an Italian word, he starts saying words in Spanish.  My mom says “his Spanish has never been better.”  My mom will say “figlio” over and over, and her other one is “we’re andiamo-ing.”  Myself?  I have had impeccable Italian (tho, I may not be able to spell it).  Due adulti biglietie per favore.

Let me back track for a moment.  This will go down as one of my favorite memories, and something I will always smile and laugh at. Lisa has had some Italian experiences, being from an Italian family, and having lived in Italy for language school once.  So I had requested of her to write a paragraph of italian sentences for me, to greet my parents with to impress them with how much Italian I knew.  She kept asking me what I wanted to say, and I really didn’t care, mainly a salutation.

So last night, after we had been back from dinner for a little bit, and we were half asleep, she starts chattering.  She starts telling me “I know what you should say to your parents when they arrive:  Welcome to Firenze, with a stroke of gelato.”  It made zero sense, but cracked me up.  I think she was thinking “stroke of genius,” but said gelato instead.  I think she was either part asleep, or tipsy from wine,  or exhausted from all the walking we have been doing.  I know it doesn’t make much sense but it made me crack up so much, and will always make me smile.

httpvhd://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Efcx7Z_CtM

One of my dad’s desires was to get an Italian leather jacket.  For the price and quality, I knew that Florence would be the place for him to do this.  So after they arrived, we decided to go shop at the Florence central market.  I described the market briefly yesterday, and today it was time for more shopping.

Even though this market stretches for many many square blocks, my parents wanted to buy the first stand they came across.  I had to remind them that every 3rd stand was a wallet, or shirt, or knick-knack, or leather stand.  I also reminded them that this was a place that, you didn’t have to, but you could barter and haggle for a better price.  We shopped for scarves, wallets, belts, soccer jerseys, t-shirts, and of course my dad’s leather jacket.

We came across a stand, and he pointed out to me the style he wanted.  It was a two tone between dark brown and light brown.  I asked “are you a woman?”

We started browsing, and of course, the salesman calls him into the store directly behind his stand.  Now he is trying on jackets left and right, and getting himself sold.  He is already in too deep with this sales rep.  Once you give them an inch, they will take a yard.

My dad explained the style of jacket (two tone) that he wanted, and the sales person said “no, that is a ladies style.”  We ended up hearing many different sales lines as they started bartering for the jacket that he decided he wanted.

“This is the last one we have.”

“You won’t find a better deal.”

“This is the sort of deal I would only give my brother.”

And as soon as my dad said “no, I’ll think about it and come back,” the salesman started offering the jacket to the next person in the store and started saying “shame on you for not taking this deal, it is the best you will find.  Its the equivalent to two pizza’s and a bottle of wine.”

I felt that my dad had gone too deep into the bartering game, and had gotten too good of a price, to walk away now.  It was the jacket that he wanted, and a darn good price.  Eventually we convinced him that he should do it, instead of searching for 5 euros cheaper.  But this process will be one that I cherish and remember and laugh at about the trip.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=219nKUBecmY

We made  our way over near the Accademia to find a place that Rick Steeve’s recommended in his book, for lunch.  On our walk there, we ran into a lady and her daughter, that were currently living in Montalcino, that my parents had befriended.  We ate lunch, and then made our way over to the Accademia for our appointed time to see Michelangelo’s David, as well as some of his pieta’s and other pieces.

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My Dad's Illegal Picture Of David

There is one statue of David, and many many replica’s around the world.  Even here in Florence, there is a replica in the Piazza della Signoria–the original location of the statue.  Mark my words:  The replica’s are good an all, but they do not possess the grandeur of the original.  The original is far more powerful, angelic, graceful, and humble than any other of the many replicas.  My parents had previously taken a day trip to Florence and looked at the David replica and said:  “The copy of the statue of “David” by Michelangelo in the public square was good enough, rather than face more lines to see the original.”  I believe she would now say, after seeing the original, that she was very mistaken.

I remember back in 1997 (and I wrote about it recently), being literally blown away at the first site of the David.  I walked into this room, more like a long hallway, and my eyes were drawn to these half finished statues that Michelangelo had done, that lined the sides of the hall.  As soon as I took my eyes off the floor and the side statues, and looked up and down the hallway, I saw it, in its white brilliance, and fell backwards (not fall as in hit the floor, but fall as in had to take a few steps back to keep my balance).

I didn’t feel the same magnitude of awe, respect, and strength this time as I did my first, but I was still amazed and taken by its beauty and its determination.  Last time I was here, they allowed pictures, and you could walk right up to the David.  This time, no pictures were allowed, and they had a perimeter around the statue.  I was also reading on this time, of the statue being attacked by a man with a hammer back in 1991.  The pieces that broke off, eventually were studied, and the marble was found to be porous, which caused them to worry about cleaning with water that it undertook in 2003.

We sat and stared at his ass, his slingshot draping down his back, and the veins in his arms and legs for awhile, in sheer amazement.

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We then headed towards the Santa Croce Church, and the Pazzi Chapel.  Santa Croce is a large church that has a cool temperature inside, many naves lined with fresco art, and many tombs of famous Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile, Rossini, and Marconi.  Our tickets were designed with pictures of small snippets of the art inside the church.  We played a game of “try and find your snippet” that was a fun treasure hunt.

Connected to the Santa Croce, is the Pazzi Chapel.  I think this is a really beautiful chapel.  It is simple.  It is elegant.  It is small.  It has elegant simplicity.  It was designed by Brunelleschi and is a pattern of arches, circles and squares.  The walls are mostly bare except for a few areas of art.  I think I could sit in the chapel, alone, and meditate for hours.

We grabbed a gelato from the “famous” gelato shop that my dad had to try and then started our long walk to the Piazza Michelangelo.  Down the river, cross the bridge, up the hill, up the steep many stairs; this was a lot to ask of my mom and the status of her knees.  We finally reached the top and soaked in the view (with a trillion pictures) of the city of Florence and the river arno.  It was beautiful.  Then, my Mom decided she wanted to go further up.

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We hiked further up the road to San Miniato al Monte church.  There was a vespers going on and so we wandered the cold sanctuary while monks were chanting.  There is a great view up here as well, and afterwards we took a funny picture of Steve, Debbie, and Lisa all pretending to be statues.  Each of them had no idea what pose the other was going to do, yet they all ended up with a very similar pose.

It had been a long day of walking, and now my favorite part of the day:  dinner!  We went to one of the restaurants that Rick Steeve’s recommended and I must say, this one was a dud.  Although I enjoyed the family style atmosphere, the service and the food were very lacking.

Nothing a gelato couldn’t solve on the way home.  We stopped for a bit to enjoy the statues in Piazza Signoria.  What a day!  It was great to be here with family, and to experience so many awe inspiring things.

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This Week I'm Thinking About: Kelly Le