Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Under the Tuscan Sun--Minus the Sun

As luck would have it, our beautiful and unexpected sunny weather has disappeared. We woke up this morning to sunny skies but by the time we hit Florence, the sun had turned to clouds and the clouds were filled with rain.

As we bid farewell to Rome, we headed to Termini Station expecting the worst. Crowded, dirty, confusing and full of pick-pockets. Well, as it turns out, not so much. Yes it was busy but it was as clean as any train station I've been in and it was perfectly safe. Cameras every 100 feet or so and crawling with Polizia. Clearly this place had a bad rep in the past, but those days seem far behind it now. Only 29 tracks, all on the same level, our fears of schlepping luggage up and down stairs were unrealized. The reader boards were easy to read and we boarded our train with ease.

The ride was smooth and quick. Averaging about 220 KM/hr there was not much opportunity to take pictures of the great Italian countryside.

Since we booked it, we were very curious about our hotel. Listed as a 16th century palace, the hotel has been part of the owner's family for generations. After a complete restoration in 2002 the palace has been hosting guests. Every one of their 12 rooms is a suite. We absolutely love this place. We are just on the other side of the Ponte alla Carraia, about 5 minutes from the more famous Ponte Vecchio. You can feel the history in this place and it's incredible to be housed in a place with such history. You can read more about it here.

After getting ourselves settled in, we headed out to explore Firenze. Since we are only here for a very short period of time, we wanted to see the Duomo. As it turns out, everyone else in Florence wanted to see it too and we didn't feel like waiting in line. We'll come back on Friday when we have a bit more patience.

(Speaking of Friday, I'm licking my lips at all of the great handbag and shoe stores in this town. I am ready to spend some money! I bought nothing in Rome and have been saving all of my money for Florence.)

A quick walk to Piazza San Lorenzo to see the Medici's yielded the same results. The line was not that long but they wanted 6 Euro each to get in so we opted to pass for now. After grabbing dinner we headed back to the hotel to unpack and get ready for tomorrow.


We have booked ourselves a tour of the Tuscan countryside for tomorrow. Yes, three cities in 12 hours, one of which is Pisa. If we had more time here then we would likely stay overnight in Siena and/or San Gimignano. HOWEVER-we are only here for TWO DAYS so our options are limited.

1812 "excellent" reviews on Trip Advisor can't be wrong. It is the #3 most popular thing to do in Florence after the Statue of David and a Cinque Terre Tour with the same company. If it weren't pouring down rain, we may have opted for Cinque Terre, but rain is definitely a deterrent.

Is it ideal? No, but it's what we've got to work with and it seems like this is our best option to see the most stuff. Pisa is the last stop in the day and from what I've read, not much time is spent here except to see the tower and do the goofy poses. We'll get a tour of a family owned winery and have a catered Tuscan style lunch as well. We are looking forward to it. I have faith in the 1800 reviews that say it is worth it. We'll let you know tomorrow!

Missing my puggies bunches. Hoping they miss us just a little bit too and they aren't driving their Oma too nutty.

Photo Stream is Updated

Ever since Google decided to Google+ everything, the photo albums are messed up. You can't keep your pictures in chronological order, or if you can, I can't figure it out. You'll have to sort through and pick out the ones that look new. Anyway, they are updated. Enjoy.

A Few Final Words About Rome

This city is incredible. The mix of old with the really old gives it such a unique character that you don't see in the States. We truly enjoyed our visit here. We were very lucky to have had three days of sunshine in a row, something that was not predicted. In hindsight, we should have swapped the Vatican Museum with the Colesseum, but it is what it is and overall we really enjoyed our stay here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Final days in Roma

Tiff had too much to drink tonight so this installment is brought to you by Jeffie.

The Church and The Park

Monday was Church day as we took our tour of the Vatican. We toured the Vatican Museum, St. Peter's Basilica, and St. Peter's Square. Tiff snuck a covert picture of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It's on her iPhone. She'll post it later. Bad Tiffany! Lots of cool artifacts and history including a real Egyptian mummy.

My best imitation of Augustus Caesar's "Addressing the troops" pose

Had dinner last night at one of the outdoor ristorantes down one of the alleyways from Piazza de Spagna. Spaghetti with meatballs for me and Lasagna for the Tiffany. Tiramisu for dessert. Washed it all down with some white wine.

Tiffany stares down a monkey statue at the Vatican Museum

Today, we decided to take a stroll down a different direction and wound up briefly checking out Piazza del Popolo and then on to the Borghese Gardens. Went for a leisurely stroll through this nice park, took some pictures of the views, and had a small lunch at a cafe in the park. Dinner was at another outdoor cafe. We both had the Fettuccine alla Bolognese with some white wine. Tiff followed this up with 2 shots of Limoncello, which were given to her for free.

Tiff at Borghese Gardens looking out over the city

Love the location of the hotel. Right at the top of the Spanish Steps, so it's convenient to just walk out into Rome. The downside is it's at the TOP of the Spanish Steps. Tiff barely made it to the top tonight. Of course the 1/4 liter of wine and 2 shots of Limoncello might have had something to do with that.

Tiff on her way back to the hotel after dinner, wine, and limoncello

Tomorrow it's off to Florence via train. We've decided to take a guided tour of Tuscany on Thursday. We'll go to Siena, St. Gimignano, and Pisa. Sounds like fun! Hopefully the rain will hold off for a little longer. Hope everyone on the other side of the rock is doing well.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Photos, photos and more photos.

Picassa photo stream.

Reason #14 Why We Could Never be on the Amazing Race

I almost died on the Spanish Steps yesterday. Seriously. After walking through the entire city of Rome the only thing keeping me from the comfort of my hotel room was this very cool, yet very annoying set of stairs.

We started our day at the Coleseum, or as they call it here: Coleseo. In a hurry and not willing to decipher the subway map, we took a cab. Six Euro and 10 minutes later we were there. Along with 10,000 other people. In the pouring rain.

This place is amazing. We've seen it on television and read about it in books but there is nothing like seeing it in person. The sheer manpower that went into building this thing is incredible. You can almost hear the roar of the crowds as the Ancient Roman version of the 1% cheered on the slaughter of the poor unfortunate souls forced to fight for their lives.

Our ticket to the Coleseum also bought us admission into the Roman Forum, or Foro Romano in Italian (not to be confused with the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace) and the Palatine, which is Italian for Palace and the home of many of Rome's emperors including Octavia Augustus. I'm not too smart with Roman history but Jeff assures me he was very important.

By now we are soaking wet and hungry and as most smart people would do, decided to walk back towards our hotel in the rain instead of take a cab. On the way we were talked into stopping for lunch at this little roadside pizzeria, which once again served mediocre food at not so cheap prices.

The decision to stop turned out to be a smart one as in the time it took us to eat, it finally stopped raining.

The walk back took us to some interesting and unexpected places. First was the Quirinale. At the time we stopped we had no clue why it was an important place. Jeff pointed out the Caribineri (Italian State Police) and the armed guard at the entrance. Scratching our head we made the assumption that something important must be behind those walls, but what? A quick Google search when we got back to the hotel revealed this to be the home of the Italian President, i.e. Berlusconi. Apparently something like 7 Popes lived here at one time or another and every Italian head of state, since forever.

Fun fact: Caribineri who serve at the Quirinale have to be 6'3" minimum height.

We spent most of the remaining afternoon getting lost, but it was fun since the rain had finally stopped.

We finally stumbled our way upon the Trevi Fountain which was swarming with people.

By now it had started to drizzle again so we decided to call it a day and head home. I'm pretty sure we walked the equivalent of a marathon (ok, maybe a 1/2 marathon) and by the time we hit the Spanish Steps, I was about to pass out. If I didn't have to pee so bad, I may have just called it quits and made camp on the stairs for the rest of the day. I think I will have amazing looking calf muscles by the time I return home.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Running Over a Priest in Your Taxi is Probably Bad Karma

A little more than 24 hours in Rome and we've already done three of the things the guidebooks tell you not to do.

The taxi ride. After a short debate over whether to take a cab or a shuttle we opted to cab it. They are about the same price and we don't have to share space with strangers. Our cab driver seemed harmless enough. She was a woman, plus she had a picture of a baby and a rosary in her cab. Someone who loves babies and Jesus can't be all that bad can they? We were under the impression it would be around 40 euro to the hotel in a metered cab because that is what the internet said.

After hopping in the cab and giving the driver our destination, we were off. When I noticed that she didn't turn on her meter that should have been sign #1. But I figured maybe I read the Internet wrong and it was a flat fee. After several near misses in terrible Rome traffic (sign #2), including almost mowing down a priest (sign #3), we arrive at a hotel. She then tells me the fare is 60 euro flat fee. Begrudgingly I pay her the money just because I am thankful we're alive. Upon leaving the cab we find out WE'RE AT THE WRONG HOTEL. Fortunately our hotel is one door down so it isn't that tragic. That will be the last time I take a cab in this city without double checking the price.

The nap. After arriving at the hotel we were exhausted and in desperate need of a nap. Despite knowing better we hit the sheets for a quick nap before dinner. Six hours later we woke up.

The meal. After our nap we were hungry but it was 11 p.m. and the hotel restaurant was closed. Not willing to pay room service prices we headed out in search of something that might still be open. Our hotel is at the top of the Spanish Steps so we took a walk to the bottom and we found an open restaurant. I think rule #1 of travel in Italy is never eat in the Piazza, but we were hungry and unwilling to walk very far so we did. The price was not too steep but the food was just mediocre.