Posts Tagged ‘train’

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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Rome Adventure

May 23rd, 2009

intimidated by the pickpocket stories ive recently heard about the rome trainstation. leaving in 2 hours for hour drive, 2 hr train to rome

What A Pitti

May 19th, 2009

May19th

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Today we are leaving to go to Montalcino.  However, we do not meet up with JeanE and Kathie till 5pm at the train station, so we have the whole day here in Florence.  However, due to my mom’s fall, she can barely move as her whole side is in pain.  So we decide to do very minimal today.  Nope, we will not be hitting the Pitti Palace or the gardens as intended.  I actually didn’t mind as I wasn’t really looking forward to that long hike again up the hill.  If I could have done something tourist this day though, I think I would have hit the Duomo museum (Mary Magdalene statue) or the Borgello museum (Donatello’s David and other sculptures).

After a great night of food and fun, and lots of wine, it was a slow moving morning.  We took our time eating breakfast, and then packed up our rooms and left our baggage with the front desk.  And then we just sat in the bar area.  We discussed things like bidet usage, we did work on the Internet and computer, and we looked at pictures.  My dad ran all over town looking for my moms cross necklace, chain, and angel pin.  He was successful on 2 of the 3, but quite sweaty after literally running around.

We ate lunch down the street at a pizza place, and we were approached by a lady about a charitable organization.

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We head thru the market one last time for shopping.  My mom bought more scarfs, probably, I don’t really remember.  But it was time for last minute shopping in Florence before we headed out.  We got towards the end of the market, and we sat my mom down, left her a couple bags, and my dad’s camera.  Then the 3 of us walked back to the hotel to grab all the luggage.

We got the luggage and then trekked it through the town.  Luggage is heavy when you are carrying multiple pieces for multiple blocks.  We have had to do these long walks usually when we first get to a city, and when we leave the city.  I didn’t want to get any hotels right near the train station, as that tends to be more of the seedy parts of town, as well as a little bit of distance from the city centers.

We made it back to my mom, and then trekked through the city some more until we arrived at the train station.  We were scheduled to meet our new travelers here, as they were coming in from Venice.

We waited about 20 minutes, protecting our bags from pick-pockets and crowds, and eventually JeanE and Kathie met up with us at the McDonald’s there.  We then walked to binari 2 and waited about 45 minutes for our train.

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We took the train, and the first stop was about 5 minutes away, it was a secondary Florence stop.  Then it seemed that everyone got on the train.  Meanwhile, my dad is asking my mom for the camera and she has no idea where she put it, or if she even had it.  I have visions right now of when my dad emptied the entire suitcase of clothing once, in the paris airport, looking for something that K.C had misplaced.  We have stacks of luggage now, all over the seats on top of each other, and there is no way he could possibly do that now.  Though, I am sure he wants to.  He is frustrated and agitated, as travelling with many people is not easy.  We try to calm him down by letting him know that at this point, its either in the bags, or its not, and there is nothing he can do.  But more than likely, it is somewhere in the bags and we will find it when we reach our destination.

It’s really crowded on the train right now, and we have our luggage taking up seats and people are irritated with us. This Italian guy sat down across from Lisa and  is breathing his bad breath in sighs of frustration on us.  I’m having a hard time concentrating on typing and its really hot and uncomfortable.  I think it must be train rush hour time.  Meanwhile, my dad is irritated because he thinks that he may have lost the camera or misplaced it somewhere in Florence.  Meanwhile, we have met up with 2 new travelers and so there is always transition time of getting used to people and group dynamics.  I am curious to see how this will all work out.

We sit on the train for about 20 minutes without it moving, when over the speaker in Italian, they announce that the train is having problems and we would need to exit and find a new train.  Brilliant.

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Downtown Buonconvento

We hop off the train, high-tail it to a different track, only to see the train that we really wanted, was just leaving a different track.  We hop on a new train.  Lisa runs down the track to ask the conductor if it is the train we want, and he says no.  We all quickly jump off the train with our luggage before it takes us to an unknown destination.  We eventually find the right track, after lugging the luggage up and down stairs.  At one point, I thought there was a nice citizen.  I was carrying multiple bags (mine, Lisa’s, Jeane’s…I don’t remember anymore), and taking my time up the stairs.  Someone came by and grabbed the side of one of the bags, and helped me carry it to the top.  How nice!  How kind and caring these Italians are.

Five minutes later, he came by begging for change.  I was set up.  The “norm of reciprocity” strikes again.  Eventually our train arrived, and it was the nicest train we had been on yet.  We enjoyed a 2 hour train ride through the country side.  We were covered with green hills.  It was beautiful.

We arrived at the Buonconvento train station and saw for the first time my parents new car.  While my dad was walking the couple blocks to pick it up, we rummaged through our bags and found his missing camera.  He will be so happy.  Because they have a convertible, we couldn’t fit everyone (this time) and our luggage so Lisa and I stayed behind to wait for trip #2.

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We walked thru the streets of Buonconvento, used the restroom, checked out the 7-11 type convenient store, and eventually sat outside the tiny train station at a little restaurant and ate a snack of pasta with bolognese sauce.

Dad came back and picked us up, and we drove the 10 minutes to Montalcino, with the stars above us, the top down, and my dad blasting Michael W. Smithmusic because its the song on his ipod that gets the most bass and he wanted me to experience the woofer in the back.  Very funny when a 1980’s Christian pop/worship music singer is your idea of heavy bass.  It was a beautiful drive.  One that I wish we could do again, over and over.  It was a very pleasant evening and it was nice with the wind in our hair.

We arrived in town, walked our bags up and down hills and made it to the cute little apartment with a fabulous view of the green country side.  There was pizza waiting, and jugs, yes, jugs of wine waiting.  We ate, we drank, we looked out through the peaceful valley, and we enjoyed catching up with everyone.

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Golden View, Open Bar

May 18th, 2009

May 18th

pharm_smWe did email for awhile this morning after breakfast and then left around 10:00 am to head to the market where my parents bought lots of scarfs.  We did some more shopping in the market, I love that place!  We made our way towards Santa Maria Novella train station as my Mom wanted to visit one of the oldest Pharmacies that is nearby it.  It took us some time to finally find that place, and along the way shopped some stores inside the train station, where my mom bought a cd of organ music as a souvenir, and I bought a live Radiohead cd as well as an Eels cd.  We finally found the pharmacy and it was room after room of history of herbs and remedies and even some fresco’s.  It is one of the oldest businesses to still exist with the same name, having started around the 1600’s.

We ate lunch next door at a curbside cafe and had a pizza.

3seg_smWe went back to have our 3 hour tour, via segway, of Florence.  I was really excited about this.  I have heard so much about them, and how much fun segways can be, plus I am a fan of Gob and his segway riding ways.  I thought this was going to be an awesome way to travel around from site to site and see the city.  Plus, with a tour guide, I was happy to perhaps be learning something new.

I love traveling to places I went back in 1997, because I learned so much before, and it is nice to share the little tidbits that I have learned, with those that I travel with now.  I really feel that the history, the cities, the architecture, and the overall travel experience comes to life when you know just a little bit more about a church, about a work of art, about a time of life.  When it isn’t just a painting anymore, but about a cultural struggle to find relevance and to survive harsh times.  And although I learn a little bit more on these trips, most times its just a rehashing, or a remembering of things I have already learned.  So I was really looking forward to the time with the tour guide.

debbiesegway_smThe segway tour did not start well though.  My Dad was the first one to get the little training session, and he was very shaky and hesitant at first.  He would push and tug on the segway and move really herky jerky like around in a little circle.  The tour guide stood next to him to make sure he didn’t get out of control at all.

So now that my Dad got it down, it was my Mom’s turn to step onto the segway.  She had noticed my dad’s hesitations, and decided to go balls out in learning.  She was much more convicted in her pursuit, and went for it.  However, the trainer did not stay near, and did not give her proper verbal instruction, and before we knew it, she was bailing off the back, twisting her body, falling on the hard cobblestone with a segway almost falling on top of her.  It was a very awkward fall with a twisting knee and body, and a painful thud on the stones that were laid in the street thousands of years earlier.

We lifted her and her bloody cut open knee of the cement, and my Dad walked her back to the hotel while the rest of us did our training.  My dad came back and we then took off for our tour.  There was another couple, then myself, Dad, and Lisa.  We started at the Duomo and the bapitstry doors.  The square was filled with people, and I thought to myself “I’ve had a hard enough time walking on two legs in this square, how am I supposed to control a segway.”  But I managed.  It’s really like Lisa told me.  She said that you just stand there and merely think about which direction you want to head, and the segway magically takes you in that direction.  We hit major stops, learning new things along the way.  Every new stop, my Dad would ask our tour guide a question.  Even though she corrected him every time, every time he would mis-pronounce her name.  And his question at every stop, was about jewelry stores, angel pins, and cross necklaces.

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We went by church’s, the river Arno, the ponte vecchio, the uffizi.  We were showed the flood lines when the city has flooded in the past.  Ironically, the last two major floods in the city, both occurred in November.  So don’t travel there in that month.

clowndebbie_smWe were shown the fashionable district, we passed the ferrari store where I took a picture for Juan (though, I don’t think I ever sent it to him).  I learned about the Strozzi family, and the opposition they had with the Medici’s.  Our tour guide showed us these “wine windows” that were about a foot or two off the ground, on some of these palaces.  Apparently, when the palace owners had had enough wine for themselves, they would stick the bottle out these little wine windows, where the peasant waiting there, the citizen waiting there, could then have some wine of their own.

I want a wine window.

We also learned, that the Piazza Republica began as the Jewish ghetto, and a flower and food market.  That it is the exact center of town.  And that the Arch building and the saying on it, is hated by most Florentines.

We learned that in the Piazza Signoria, that most of the statues are still, in fact, the originals.  Even though yesterday at the Accademia, we saw “the rape of the sabine woman,” that that one, inside the museum, was actually the copy.  The original still stood in the square.

We learned that at the top of the Santa Croce church, there is a star of david, and that the architect was jewish.

We also went by the little studio where Michelangelo carved his david statue.  By the way, on this trip I read the wikipedia entry on David, and learned a whole lot about it.  For instance, did you know that the 26 year old Michelangelo beat out Leonardo Da Vinci, to carve the statue?

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After our great tour (surprisingly, dad’s and my legs were rather sore), we went back to the hotel.  Our hotel was one of the stops along the tour.  Apparently they had renovated it and found that it used to be a look out tower, it used to be a roman bath, and it used to be a prison.  Part of it was now a museum and you could climb down the stairs to see it.  It was rather cool.  I liked this hotel a lot.   It was perfect location and had great service.  You can read my review of it…if I ever finish these journal entries and write my reviews.

openbarnight2_smWe changed and cleaned up for our dinner reservations.  We had made reservations for the open bar, golden view restaurant again, even though Lisa and I had eaten there 2 nights earlier.  The view was unbeatable, and the food was delicious, so we thought it would be a grand evening.  With live music starting at 9pm, we made reservations for 8pm.

We took our time walking there, taking pictures on the ponte vecchio, looking at jewelry stores for my mom, and enjoying each others company and the beauty around us.

We arrived at our reservation, and they had a window seat prepared for us, and glasses of champagne.  The windows were open and we were basically in a little open terrace, with the river and the bridge right next to us.  It was breathtaking.  We took many pictures, and got started on the first of what became three bottles of the vino della casa rossa.  Yum.

The meal and our time was very precious.  My mom would remark the next day that it would be one of the half dozen meals that she remembers for the rest of her life.  We laughed, we told stories, lisa told some great jokes (who tells jokes about organ musicians, and funnier yet that my mom would know it), and we drank and ate till we could eat and drink no more.

Black truffles were in season, and our waiter told us how they train dogs to retrieve truffles.  We decided to give them a try in our appetizers on top of crostini.  We also had a cheese plate with different melon, a pear and honey spreads.  Had a great and weird pasta noodle with bits of octopus.   I’m getting hungry again thinking about it.  I think I better wait to show the food till I do my food picture review post soon.

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We enjoyed all of our foods, including the steak florentine that my Dad had longed for.  We lingered.  We finished 3 bottles of wine, had desert, enjoyed the live jazz music.  It was a gorgeous night.  We lingered over 3 hours there, telling stories, getting to know our waiter, enjoying the food, the fun, and the company.

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Just Her Type

Afterwards, around 11:30 pm or so, we walked back to the area of our hotel.  We laughed.  We stumbled.  We fed a pig a coin.  We looked at the chalk drawings on the ground.

Lisa went back to bed (after our gelato stop), but Debbie, Steve and I found ourselves in a street, where a street performer was trying his trade.  However, the best part of his act was when a garbage man came down the street he was working.  Obscenities ensued.

We grabbed walked back to our hotel.  It was a beautiful night.

 

 

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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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Friends In Florence

May 15th, 2009

May 15th 

ilpirata_smWent to Il Pirata for breakfast and enjoyed a couple of delicious Sicilian pastries, and then we caught the train to La Spezia then Pisa and finally on to Florence, having to change trains at each station.  Carting luggage up and down stairways onto the wrong tracks and then finally to the correct Binari.

Arrived and exited the Firenze train station, but exited the wrong side of the station, and then started walking in the wrong direction away from the city of Florence.  Oops.  400 yards away, we asked for directions to the Duomo, and was told to go back the direction we came from.  

We found our way to the hotel, and it was a beautiful hotel in which part of it was a museum as it used to house a roman bath, a jail, and a lookout point.  It definitely was the 4 star hotel that it advertised itself as–at least compared to the other places we have stayed.

republica_smAfter checking in we took a little stroll to Piazza Republica and ate a pizza and some wine.  Following that, we headed towards the duomo, to check out its graceful, colorful beauty.

After our 7 hour hike yesterday, we were kind of interested in a massage, and so when we stumbled across a place that looked like one, we headed in to examine it.  But it was mainly a tanning and waxing place that was a little odd, and they had no openings for massage.

Spent some time on the Internet, and then walked towards the River Arno to find a restaurant.  We went down the street next to the Arno, but there wasn’t anything interesting there.  So we crossed the Ponte Vecchio to the other side, and guess who I saw at the base of the bridge?

I noticed the back of his hair and the side of his face first.  I’m less than a foot away from him, and I realize that it is a Wold brother.  Was it Josh?  Jeremy?  I don’t recollect the name at first.  I say “Josh Wold!” but didn’t get a response.  Then I said “Jeremy Wold” and didn’t get a response.  But then I realized that it was Josh, and said it even louder.  This time he turned around.  

Josh is the brother of one of my dearest friends, David Wold whom I met and lived with in college.  Josh was currently living in Holland, and was merely in Florence for the weekend.

pvech_smWe had a short conversation and then continued on our ways.  Why is it, when travelling on trips like this, that it is bound to happen that you run into someone that you know?  That has happened to me frequently.  When has it happened to you?  and with whom?

I took a picture of the Bibo restraunt where we all ate 11 years ago.  They weren’t quite open yet so we went to a nearby restaurant where our waiter Victor entertained us with his friendliness.

Now That’s Small

May 11th, 2009

May 11th

minicomp_smWoke up around 6am this morning after about 4 hours of sleep. I felt smokey, and grimy and sweaty. It was a gross night of sleep. Packed up our things, and then had some breakfast. Hotel complimentary breakfast’s sure do beat the continental breakfast’s in the US. We checked out of the hotel, and caught a cab to the train station. Got in line at 8:20 am to catch the 9:30 train to Venice. However there was one leaving at 8:35 so we got that instead. Pulled out our slick tiny computer and have been typing in notepad these journals, for website postings later. Its a great way to spend the 2.5 hour train ride. Too bad there isn’t wireless on this train in order to streamline the process. But I am grateful for the chance to catch up on some journals. I am caught up now,for now, and we just passed the Vicenza train station. We have approximately 30 minutes left of this train ride, and then a walk to our hotel in Venice.

San Siro-iously Cool

May 10th, 2009

May 10th

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We left for the game about 4 hours before game time. I wanted to make sure there wasn’t any hassle with the tickets, as well as to leave plenty of time to get there and to soak in the entire experience. The game started about 8:30pm and we arrived at the stadium approx 5:30 after a subway ride and then a 20 minute walk. The town reminded Lisa of Wrigleyville. We barely made it into the stadium as we were supposed to have a change of name form (every ticket has the original name on the ticket for security and for regulation of the resale market). Perhaps we had nice ticket attendants, or perhaps since there was a language barrier, they decided to let us in anyway. On the subway and outside the stadium it was a zoo of people, and this was about 3 hours before the game!

andyfield_smWe found our seats and they were awesome. We were just north of the penalty box. The stadium was much different and better than I ha expected. On TV, you see these glass walls and a lot of fencing behind the goals, but this was not bad in person. We had wondered if they had stadium food, and what it would be. Would it be hot dogs and cokes? Pizzas and pastas? It ended up being a lot of panini’s. Lisa was disappointed in the women’s bathrooms, as it was just a hole in the ground. I didn’t make it to the men’s to find out. We sat in our seats for 2 hours before the game. The stadium still had a ton of people in it, and they were all ready chanting away and lighting their flares, and loud booms of gunshot like noise filled the stadium. It was quite a spectacle. The stadium was filled with banners, and people wearing red and black. There was one section of Juve fans, behind glass walls, and when they would chant, fans would stand up swearing and cursing and flipping them off. You’ve gotta love European football.

milanfans_smEventually the players came out for warm ups, for announcements, and then the game began. I was saddened that Del Piero-one of my all time favorites-was not in the starting 11. As well as that Inzaghi was for Milan – not one I like. There were a few series of tricky passes in a row, but not a lot of opportunities. I was disappointed in Kaka’s play, but Beckham was delivering some nice balls. Milan easily could have been up if Inzahgi could finish. The score was 0-0 at halftime, and then all the fans around us started lighting up their cigs.

The second half was just as sloppy but eventually Milan scored by Seedorf on a deflection to him right in front of goal. But then, a few minutes later, Juve answered right back with a cross that was headed in by Iaquinta. More sloppiness ensued, and eventually Del Piero came on as a sub, and Beckham and Inzaghi were replaced by Pato and Ronaldinho.

 

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zi9lA3BuRcg

The game ended in a 1-1 draw and then it was a stampede to get out of the stadium. We got out of the stadium, but little did we know that we started our walk back to the train station in the wrong direction.

We got about 3 miles away in the wrong direction. When we tried to fix our direction, we only headed in a different wrong direction. 2 hours later we were still walking lost, asking every traffic cop for answers and getting confused looks.

Finally, we made it back to our train stop. However, by this time it was 12:15 am and the trains were closed.

So we hailed a cab, and 20 Euros later we were back at our hotel, exhausted and smelling like smoke. My legs were so sore and tired.

What a great experience and I am so thankful that it worked out. I have always wanted to go to a Europeansoccer match and have missed out on a few opportunities. To get this opportunity and it be with2 of the biggest clubs in the world, with some of the best players in the world, in one of the most famous stadiums–it was a dream come true. I can’t wait till next time now. At $200(US) per ticket, I got every dime’s worth. Maybe we can find a way to score some tickets to the Champions League Finals in Rome while we are there (very unlikely)!!

The Man With The Rubber Glove Was Surprisingly Gentle

May 8th, 2009

May 8th

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Met up with Lisa at the Saronno train station.  I was a little worried about meeting at a random trains top since we didn’t really know how big or small the station was.

As it ended up, she was waiting at one end of the train station for 90 minutes and I was at another end for 45 min before our paths crossed.  Though, it went surprisngly smooth.

wine_smWe took the train 40 minute’s to Lake Como.  Then we caught a boat that took us slowly town to town for 2 hours before we reached Bellagio.  The lake is really peaceful and beautiful.

We walked around all day, burnt our noses in the sun.

Then we had a really pleasant dinner on the waterfront:  a half bottle of Montepulciano wine, risotto with perch fillets, minestrone soup, beef filet and tagliatelle with meat sauce.  The risotto and the pasta were extremely delicious and the wine was very tasty.

A wonderful day.

This Week I'm Thinking About: Kelly Le