Venice Day 2

Is it wrong that all I want to do is sit on the vaporetti and ride around the Grand Canal all day? It is so lovely. Every inch we move opens up a new Vista, a new snapshot of glorious Venice.
Today we went to mass at St. Marc’s for the morning choral service. Afterwards we wandered around, got dome sandwiches. We took the vaporetto to Giardini for a picnic. Wandered the park and then headed back for a siesta.

In the afternoon we wandered to Rialto Bridge and found amazing pizza before walking over the bridge. Took the vaporetti to Lido and back but it was really hot. The line for the Doge’s Palace was super short, so we took the sunset tour. Afterwards we took the elevator to the top of the campanile and surveyed Venice from above. A lot like the Empire State building but smaller and shorter. Same feel, though.

It is a good thing we are headed to Spain tonight as we are finally tired of pizza, pasta and deli sandwiches. So we had really good Chinese and called it a night about eleven.

Karen Couch Brier

Venice Day 1

Only three days here and we were pretty burned out from nonstop Italy. Spent most of yesterday at the beach in Lido. Rented a cabana, swam, dozed, read, ate and repeated until they kicked us off the beach. Picked up pizza and went to bed early.

Uffizi Gallery

We spent the morning recovering from our day and doing errands : food shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry. After lunch and a nap, we strolled down to the Arno and the museum. Fairly complicated to get in: reserve time slot and buy ticket online. Stand in line to obtain reserved ticket. Stand in line to enter museum. Stand in line for baggage check. Stand in line to scan ticket and enter the gallery. Luckily we did not bring backpacks or we would have added another line to check it!
I have to say, all that was pretty organized and only took 30 minutes. The people without reservations were waiting hours in hope of no shows. (Thank goodness because that is how I got my refund for the June tickets.)
Once in, it was not too crowded except around the biggies like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and the Da Vinci room. Footsore but happy, we made our way back to the apartment to make dinner.

Cinque Terre

The plan was crazy to start with, so the fact that the day turned out great (eventually) was something of a miracle. Originally, we were going to all 5 towns, then tour Pisa and climb the tower.

What was I thinking?

We picked up our rental car at 10pm on Sunday so we could get out early on Monday. Up at 5 and back in the car by 6am. Made it to Riomaggiore by 8:30 with stops for coffee and wrong turns and silly, crankiness induced arguments.

The beauty of the early start was hitting very little traffic. When we got to Town #1, the crowds had not yet descended. We bought our all day train and park tickets (The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and jumped on the next train to Town #2, Manarola.

This worked great as we got to walk through town, get some pics and back on the train before the tour groups arrived. But – it was rushed, and kind of a blur now. We did take time to find a new keychain for Jacob’s collection. (Managed to find one for each town!)

In town #3 Corniglia (pronounced Cornelia) the magic of cinque terre started to work and we slowed down. We had an early lunch (fabulous fresh pasta with pesto) in the town square, then hit a few shops. Found great hats to replace the ones we keep killing between swimming in them and crushing them while traveling. Should have brought the tilly hats, but I got that hat for my honeymoon and refuse to lose it. These are crocheted and crush-able and survived the day in the sea and sun, so we will see. Plus, teal – hello!

Town #4 Vernazza we finally agreed that the plan could go to straight hell. We swam and sat on the rocks in the tiny harbor. We sat in the square and shared a hamburger and I ate some fruit, then we drank about a gallon of water. We strolled through a tunnel in the mountain to a rocky beach and did a little rock hunting.

We considered staying all day and to hell with five towns. But. I was so CLOSE. I had to do it. Sigh.

Monterosso al Mare is a big, crowded resort town. The water was murky and full of storm trash and after a quick dip to cool off, we dozed and read on the beach under an (EXPENSIVE) umbrella for a couple of hours. Then we ate the rest of our packed snacks, found the last key chains and headed back to the train.

Romagiore was shadey as the sun was setting on the other side. We walked up to the harbour overlook and found dead a cafe. We sipped ice coffee in martini glasses and nibbled on brushcetta as the town emptied out and peace returned. Long climb up to our parking garage, but getting out of Cinque Terre was easier than getting in. 9 hours of parking was only 23 euros, so that was nice. Easy, pretty drive to Pisa. (Jacob is a great navigator when I listen!)

Got to Pisa just before sunset, walked around the Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) with the Tower (much more beautiful in person than expected) and the Cathedral and the Baptistery. Got some fun pictures, a bonus rainbow and a million offers on fake designer handbags, sunglasses and watches as we were part of such a small crowd. Tge only tour group we saw was on its way out. It was so late we got great parking and excellent service at dinner. Got to stare at the tower all evening, then caught some sunset shots as we walked back to our car.

Easy drive back to Florence, but pumping gas and finding rental car return is hell when you are tired. With the car empty and key returned, we took a taxi back to our flat, arriving just before midnight.

Long, long, LONG day, but overall, very good. Here’s what we will do next time:
Drive to La Spezia the afternoon before. Check into a hotel or B&B and have dinner, get to bed early. Fresh, early start and take 6am (okay- 7am) train to Riomaggiore. Hike the coastal path to Manarola. (1.2 km). Have a wander, then take the train all the way to Monterosse, have a walk around without the crowds. Take the train back to Vernazza and have a swim, lunch, another swim and (maybe check into hotel). Go to Corniglia for a walk and Gelato and shopping. Hit Riomaggiore again in the late evening for seafood, drinks and (reflected) sunset views after the crowds are gone.

Do not, repeat DO NOT, book tickets to climb Leaning Tower of Pisa 90km away. That would just be crazy. <smile>

Some pictures. More on WordPress sometime.

Florence day 1

We arrived after lunch on Friday and picked up the keys to our Florentine palace. Lovely one bedroom with fast Internet and air conditioning in ALL the rooms. WOOT!
The temptation to just eat and shop and sleep for the whole week is pretty overwhelming. But so far we’ve seen:
The Duomo, Basilica St. Laurentiis, the Arno, Ponte Vecchio and St. Marc’s square. Plus about a million other cool places from the outside as we got lost looking for San Spirito and ended up walking 10 miles on Friday.
Also discovered I booked tickets for the Uffizi and Galleria Academia for June 25th and 26th not July 25th and 26th. Fortunately there is someone there with a sense of humor and they let me rebook and will (eventually) refund the extra tickets. Thank you!
Booked a car for Monday so we can go to Pisa and…..wait for it….Cinque Terre! I wanted to walk the CT for my 50th but it didn’t work out. So we will do a little taste of it on Monday before heading to Pisa to see the Tower. If we don’t come back, I would look in town five for a very happy American woman and a ticked off teenager yelling, Mom! Let’s go, for Pete’s sake!
We have done a bit of shopping – a leather bag for each of us and wallet for Jacob. I also got a new phone case. If Fred wins the lottery this summer, I am coming back for a lot of stuff I loved but resisted.
Here are a couple of shots from our first day in Florence.
Duomo, Medici Chapel, the Arno, Mercator Centrale for food shopping and awesome lunch, selfies in front of Duomo and the courtyard of the Basilica St Laurentian


Last full day yesterday and still so much we wanted to see.

First two days were gloriously cool and Naples/Pompeii was even cooler. Everyone we spoke with told us hoe luckynwe were. We were convinced because the last few days have been super hot – near 100 degrees. We try to do outdoor stuff in mornings or evenings and inside stuff in the afternoons, but thank goodness for ice coffees (caffe latte freddo) and Gelato. It is amazing how one small (piccolo) cone can power you through to the next stop. Our favorite ice coffee so far is Dante’s bar near Piazza Venezia because they put chocolate syrup on the inside of the glass before filling it. Mmmmmmm.

We went to Mercato Trianfale on Tuesday and brought home meat, veggies, cheese, bread, etc so we have been cooking a lot and eating out only lunch and snacks/drinks. Budget for cold water is helped by the faucets of cold water on every street where we fill our bottles and wet down our bananas. (Also sometimes our shirts!)

Not enough Internet juice for pictures so far, so here is a brief verbal recap:

Friday arrival and after a tiny argument with our host about extra taxes (we didn’t pay) we walked over to St Peter’s square and then had a great pizza and pasta dinner before going back to do laundry and get organized.

Saturday we did a crazy thing that actually worked out really well. We walked over to Vatican early to buy advance tickets for another day (because we had no internet!) and alowed ourselves to br suckered into one of the skip the line tours. One of the first groups in at 8:30am, so not a ton of waiting (15 minutes compared to hours and hours). Our guide sucked so we ditched him and did our own tour which we loved though after all the research and pictures we have studied, the Sistine Chapel was underwhelming, if that makes sense. We got lost and ended up doing it twice and are glad we did it because the exhibits of Vatican art and treasures was terrific. The fast entry and shortcut for the guided tours into St. Peter’s was worth the $34 extra (each) we spent on the tour. St Peter’s is amazing and awe inspiring and spectacular and really there are not words enough. (Which is what I thought we would feel at Sistene.)

After Vatican we went to lunch (GREAT pizza) near Victor Emmanuel monument and then off to Colosseum. It was later in the afternoon and no line at Palantine so we bought our tickets there, admired the Arch of Constantine, then walked back over to the short line for colosseum. (Thank you, Rick Steves!) We loved it and keep spotting it during the week. Yesterday we walked over to the metro there just to say hello. (A mistake as it was a bloody hot walk and I whined. A lot.)

Sunday we went early to Palatine hill and Roman Forum. These are the type of ruins that needs research and imagination or a really good guide. (We had imagination!) The little museum was good. Still cool, so a pleasant morning.

After lunch we went to the Pantheon which was tremendous and awesome in the classical sense of that word. We got Gelato and wondered over to the Trevi Fountain what was mobbed so I climbed under the rail and slid down which amazed Jacob. Got our required selfie and tossed in our coins. Before fighting our way out, we wet down our bandanas and filled our bottles from the drinking fountain on the far right, thrn headed back to our apartment. Tried to walk the Spanish steps but they are closed for renovation. Got pictures through the fence. Stumbled into St Ignatius by fortuitous accident. Breathtaking.

Monday was Pompeii and Naples. Long day leaving at 6am and returning at 11pm. Should have booked a room there. I could have spent days at Pompeii. Overwhelming in size and scope, (next time I am going with a guide.) The plaster casts of the victims really make you feel the terror and pain and despair. The Museum in Naples has a spectacular Pompeii collection, but it is great to see some things on situ.

Tuesday we rested, shopped, went to Michelangelo’s St Maria dei Angeli which is spectacular (I keep using that word) and the Baths of Diocletion museum which is huge. Then the coin exhibit at National museum before we headed home to collapse again.

Wednesday we went to baths of Caracula which are very cool (not literally unfortunately as it was hot even early in the morning.) Then back to National museum for the rest of the collection, (Jacob went down to say hello to the coins again.) Lunch and the Doria Pamphily villa/gallery. This is a private home opened as a museum and the current owner gives the audio guide. Birthplace of nepotism and baroque, he claims (as do the Borgheses). More Gelato before the hot walk to the Colosseum Metro and home to make risotto for dinner.

Thursday’s plan was either the crypts or Capitoline Museums but instead we wandered, and shopped. (Jacob got better walking sandals and a bag. I got fabulous earrings.) We hung out at a cafe in the Borghese Gardens/park for a while, drinking ice coffee. Then we rented a buggy car and pedaled around Borghese Gardens for an hour. At 3, we took our 2 hours in the Borghese Gallery. I freaking loved it. Jacob likes Doria Pamphily more. Doria is more homey, I suppose, if a city block sized four storey villa can be considered homey. Borghese was designed to impress and it does. I was the first one I and one of the last to leave – so many treasures, so little time.

Friday and time to move on. Packing, cleaning and taking out the trash, then off to the train station for breakfast and to wait for our train to Firenze/Florence.

Ciao Roma!

Travel Thoughts

The past month has been a whirlwind. When planning, it seemed as if a week was a long time in each major city, but in reality, the time has always raced by as we tried to see as much as possible, while taking time to relax and get a feel for each city and country.
We have eaten out a lot more than planned, but have tried to shop and cook breakfast whenever we had a kitchen. Sometimes we are organized enough to make sandwiches for a picnic lunch, but more often we look for a cafe or snack bar to sit and eat and rest our feet. Some times we are lucky to find wifi and can get messages and upload a few pictures. We keep planning to find an internet café and upload all the pictures, but so far, this mythical day off has never arrived.

We still have chores and everyday things that we have to do. Right now we are lucky to have a washing machine so we have clean clothes drying on the rack by the window. We shop for sunscreen and toothpaste and soap when we run out unless we are lucky to find it in our hotel or b&b or airbnb rental. Jacob needs a haircut soon and I am trying to decide if I keep pushing my hair back or have my bangs trimmed.
Each morning we tidy up and make the beds and wash our breakfast dishes. We turn off the lights, unplug the appliances and shut off the air conditioner before we go out.

Everyday stuff.

Jacob and I have had some arguments – mainly over how much research I thought he should do and how much he thought he should do. I need to let that go and accept that I have a need/desire for more details than he does. It is silly to have the same argument once a week. (At this point it happens when he gets impatient with me for stopping to look something up in a guidebook.) Those who know me are laughing because I have always been the one to wander through a city, site, museum or whatever and just absorb it, then maybe read about it later. Of course, I missed a lot doing that and I don’t want Jacob to miss the good bits! (Or me!)
We miss home which to us means Fred and our friends and our dogs. Jacob manages to find a dog every day or so for his “fix”, but he still misses Brin.
Fred and I text most mornings and some evenings when I can stay awake. It reminds me of the emails we sent when we were first dating. He writes great messages. Very detailed with lots of emotions and gestures and body language coming across. I have always loved that.
We have been lucky health wise and except for some blisters and chaffing very healthy. Our feet and legs ache at the end of the day and the beds are (for the most part) like sleeping on stone.

Sometimes our lodging is great, mostly it is okay as we don’t spend much time there. Only once has it been terrible but it was only two nights and has made us appreciate the okay places more.

We find we. are not very picky about our food, so we are generally focused on how inexpensively we can go from hungry to not hungry. We have very low expectations because Fred is such a great cook that we almost never have food that is better than his. This means when we do have something great, we are pleasantly surprised.
Budget wise we are close to plan. Some cities seem to be more expensive than others. We are not skimping on sites or museums or other attractions, but do walk more and eat on the cheap, plus have booked cheapest travel and lodging available as long as it looked safe.
With the halfway point coming up, we are getting a routine for packing up and moving on, then arrival and moving in each time.
We don’t get much news unless someone is worried about us (Fred) when a tragedy like Nice occurs. We try to stay aware and safe, but life is good living, not hiding in fear. There have been a few stressful moments. But tthere have been more truly magical moments: showing Big Ben to my son. Sneaking him a sip of Guinness while listening to Irish music in a Dublin pub. Seeing the Acropolis bathed in afternoon sunlight. Walking the streets of Oia above the caldera. Floating in the teal waters of Crete. The Colosseum rearing up against a deep blue sky. The glory of a baroque church. The first taste of real gelato.

Life is good.