Welcome to the Travel Journal of The Fasser Trip to Italy 2008. Click on the day to go to the journal entry and a link to the pictures for the day:
Day 1 – Arrival in Rome
Day 2 – Open Bus Ride Around Rome
Day 3 – Day at Villa Borghese Park
Day 4 – The Vatican Tour
Day 5 – From Rome to Rufina (Villa in Tuscany)
Day 6 – Michelle’s Birthday Day
Day 7 – Day if Florence with Stuart and Barb
Day 8 – Touring Tuscany & Wedding Day
Day 9 – Travel to Florence
Day 10 – Touring Ufizi and Ponte Vechio
Day 11 – Visiting Pisa on Way to Cinque Terra
Day 12 – A Full Day in Vernazza
Day 13 – A Day in Monterosso & Hiking Back to Vernazza
Day 14 – Rented a Boat to Cruise Coast
Day 15 – Hike to Corniglio, Mannerollo and Riomaggiore
Day 16 – Leaving Paradise to Return to Rome
Day 1 – June 20, 2008 – photos
We arrived this morning Delta flight 148 right on time from JFK at 8:00 a.m. What a relief it was to be in Rome! Our flight was nice enough and uneventful but we were happy to be out of our seats. Breezing right through customs we made our way to the baggage kiosk to retrieve our bags. The thought of a shower and clean clothes were hot in our minds. Alas, after the other passengers from that flight snatched the last bag our group sat near the turn belt with not one of our 5 bags in our position. Not discouraged entirely, I made my way to the customer service desk and began my 3-hour mission of locating our bags. It wasn’t as bad as one might think. The ladies at the counter were very nice though they had that typical cool European air to them and on the whole, showed very little sense of urgency.
After waiting for the 10:00 a.m. flight from New York to arrive with the hope that our bags would be on that flight (they unfortunately were not) we decided to head to the hotel and trust the airlines to find and deliver our bags at their earliest convenience.
Once we left the baggage area we swiftly made our way to the train platform that was to take us to Termini Station in Roma! The train was due almost immediately and there were throngs of people on the platform waiting to crowd their way onto the train. Scott & I gave a quick tutorial to the group on how to rudely crowd our way onto the train as that was going to be the only way were going to make it on. The train came and as predicted we were all nearly trampled but we made it on and split up in two different compartments for the 45 minute ride to the eternal city.
The train lurched forward and sped toward the Roma. It was so cool to travel so straight to our destination. Jackson, Lindsay, and mom all fell asleep on the train, which put us in dangerous territory for losing our audience. We still needed to walk to our hotel with our carry on bags and it was a scorching 80 degrees plus outside. Upon arrival we quickly assessed that we had lost the DVD player and the movies that were inside the bag. Crap, that was bad luck. Jackson finally gave up to fatigue the minute we got off the train and mom was not far behind him with Lindsay running a close third.
Ah, good luck, we found our way to the hotel easily but were so pooped when we arrived. The Concierge checked us in to our room and assured us that our luggage would arrive by late afternoon the following day. Shit, not what we wanted to hear! I had the idea that I could go buy us all a clean t-shirt to wear and we could make due until our luggage arrived. The group conceded, but only because no one had the energy to argue with me. Oh well, no bags, no clean clothes, we’ll make the best of it.
The best for mom & Jackson at that particular moment was to go right to bed. Neither of them slept well on the plane and mom’s hip was aching after sitting so long in an uncomfortable plane seat. No problem! The rest of us bleary eyed and dripping in sweat set off in search of food and promised to bring something delicious back.
With Jackson & mom happily tucked into bed the three of us made our way back out into the heat and made it about 25 feet when we found a nice little spot for some lunch. We went inside because it was too hot on the sidewalk. Perfecto! Cold antipasti of vegetables, melon with proscuito, margarita pizza and cold beer and white wine. It was delicious.
With our tummies full, we boxed up some of the food for Jackson & mom and sent Scott back to the hotel to take his turn in the shower. Lindsay & I went across the street and picked up some water and t-shirts.
We thought, if we have to wear dorky t-shirts, why not get them all the same. Then at least we could laugh about it, right? We imagined our group all-walking down the streets or Rome amongst the beautifully clad Italians and over dressed tourists and it would be hilarious, right? Well, yes, in fact it was hilarious.
After we had all had a long nap we woke up and put our brand new “Italia Roma” t-shirts on. They are gray with giant letters and when we saw ourselves in the mirror we dissolved into fits of giggles. We looked absolutely ridiculous. When we stepped out into the street however, we all felt like total losers. All except for Jackson who loved his cool new t-shirt. You can’t imagine the looks that we got from people as we walked down the street wearing the same touristy shirt. Embarrassing and hilarious all at the same time.
After laughing at ourselves for a while we found an adorable Sardinian restaurant that had air conditioning and we took a seat inside. We were all melting again and were promised a cool place to dine. We were asked by one of the waiters who barely spoke English when we came in if we were Canadians. What? Are you kidding? Nothing screams American more than dorky tourist t-shirts that boast the name of the city that you are still in! I tried to explain the hilarity of our wardrobe and he just looked at me like I was nuts.
Regardless of my presumed insanity, the waiters were amazing and recommended a white wine from Sardinia, which was perfect and yummy. Following the wine we were served a delicious meal of pasta and salads. Lindsay enjoyed the clam linguine, mom & I had heavenly lobster pasta scented with saffron, and Scott gobbled down a plate of boccachini pasta with a delectable meat sauce. Jackson trusted his mother to order him a plate of gnocchi, which she thought she had done. What arrived however was a plate of seashell pasta with a sausage sauce. Oops. My six year old just put his head down on the table and nearly cried. We all tried his pasta and thought it was amazing but it just wasn’t what he wanted darn it. So, he wouldn’t take a bite.
The waiter could see that the bambino was not eating and inquired with me. I tried to explain that I thought the dish would be the potato dumplings that we were familiar with. Oh, no problem! He told me that they make their gnocchi big, not small. Okay, we’ll try it. He brought two of them and if I was a religious woman I would swear that Jesus had made them himself! Jackson gobbled those down and ordered two more. Happy Jack was back!
After dinner we enjoyed gelato, tiramisu, and some strong red digestif called Marietta (sp?). Full of food and good wine we made our embarrassing trek back to the hotel. The t-shirts were funny at first but now everyone felt like a total idiot. That’s okay though because before we left for dinner, we were informed that the airlines were coming with our bags and they would be at the hotel by 9:00 p.m.
We went upstairs to our room and found our precious bags! Yippy! Then we started moving furniture around and began bedtime preparations. We were still giddy with wine and fatigue and were having an absolute blast. We pulled the bed out of the sofa for mom and Lindsay and when they went to lay down on it folded up on them. Shoot. We called down to the front desk and the Concierge moved them to their own room. Nice. They were delighted to be in a real bed.
And so comes the end of our first day in Rome. Tragedies avoided. Belly laughs all around. This is going to be a great trip.
Day 2 – June 21, 2008 photos
For those of you who know me, you will think that what I’m about to tell you would be nothing short of a nightmare. However, as luck would have it, I had already started to stir when Jackson woke up on our first morning at 6:15 a.m.
Thank go for cute little boys that snuggle in the morning. Jackson woke up hungry and we of course, had no food in our room. Scott was not ready to wake up so I got up, put on my running stuff and Jackson and I walked across the street to the “Snack Bar” which we all fondly refer to as the “Smoke Bar” because that is what everyone who hangs out there is doing. I ordered an Italian coffee and Jackson found a nutella croissant. I love Italy! We sat outside in the morning sun and just hung out. After our morning treat we went back to the hotel, I left Jackson to snuggle daddy and to watch Italian cartoons and I actually went for a run.
I took the metro to Villa Borghese because the Concierge insisted that there was no place else to run. I have to admit that I have not seen any runners in the neighborhood of the Hotel Torino. The metro took moments and I was so glad I went. At 7:30 the park was empty except for a handful of Americans with the same idea as me. The Italians must think we are so funny going for a run in the morning when we are slated to walk our asses off all day, on vacation. Huh?
The Villa Borghese is the most beautiful park I’ve ever been to. It is over 800 hectors (anyone’s guess on the conversion here, let’s just say it’s big). I went for a run and decided we HAD to come back and spend the day. This place is amazing.
When I got back to the hotel I was rewarded with the news that breakfast was served on the roof top patio of the hotel. Yeah! I went up with mom & Scott to find that the kids were on round 3 of fresh fruit and Italian pastries. The view from the rooftop was breath taking and totally wowed us. The breakfast was ample and yummy and the coffee was strong. The sun is completely out with out a cloud in the sky. It’s going to be hot today. Did I mention that I love Italy!
After breakfast and a shower we made our way down the street to catch a city tour. You can spend two weeks in Rome and never see all of it so we figured this would help us get our bearings and cross a few big sights off of our list. The tour was one of those that you can get on & off so we enjoyed the ride through ancient Rome and hopped off at the Pantheon. We walked in the wrong direction of the Pantheon, it happens (as a side comment Scott & I do not agree on who wanted to go that direction but I will say that it was him). Our first stop was to be a gelato place that Susan Grote said we had to visit. Well, we ended up at some other huge monument that came equipped with a fabulous bridge, but not before we found a tiny little leather shop with gorgeous handbags. Yoo-hoo! Mom & I will just pop in for a second. A father & daughter ran the shop. He hand made all of the leather items in the store and she worked the tiny shop. We immediately fell in love them and the gorgeous purses in the store. Just a few minutes and several hundred Euro later, we were making our way to what we hoped was the Pantheon with our two new handbags. As I mentioned previously, we were at some other monument that I don’t even remember the name of. I not only love Italy, but I love Italian purses.
Oh yes, detour for gelato. Café Nero is where we stop. Vintage MTV videos are playing which make us feel cool for being American. Double yum on the gelato. Oops, the unknown monument was not the Pantheon. We hear it’s just “over there”. Okay, walk forever in the scorching heat. Mood change is coming on. We are wet with sweat. It’s so hot. Where on earth is this giant landmark that we cannot for the life of us find? Walk, walk, and walk. Kids are complaining now and mom is ready to pass out. We find refuge in an air-conditioned bookstore and nearly get kicked out because mom is sitting on the books and the kids are lying on the floor. We advert conflict by being polite and ushering our melting family upstairs to the café. We hang out in the café and drink tea & lemonade, which isn’t cold enough and comes with no ice in tiny glasses and costs a fortune. We also contemplate taking a taxi to what we know is only 3 blocks away. Instead, we send Scott to scout out the route back to the bus tour. Forget the Pantheon. We’ll buy a post card and lie to everyone that we saw it.
Happily back on the bus we enjoy the rest of the tour and the bus breeze with a plan to jump off at the Trevi fountain. Early bird Jackson has now fallen asleep and is risking a broken neck because his head is bobbing back & forth so we skip the Trevi fountain stop (lie to him that we long had passed the stop) and head back to Hotel Torino. We are hungry and ready for a nap. We do a quick stop for lunch at a spot close to the hotel. Yummy Calizone for the grown ups, more cheep white wine for mom & I, cold beer for Scott and quatre formagi pizza for the kids. Oops, note to self. Quarto formagi pizza has not delectable tomato sauce and had Gorgonzola cheese. Okay, not a hit with the kids but we are still learning how to order.
After lunch we retire to the air-conditioned hotel and decide that this is paradise on earth. It is hot in Rome for us North Westerners. Oh, more good news. The hotel decided not to fix the pull out sofa bed and instead have given mom and Lindsay their own room right next to us for no extra charge. Yippy again!
So, showers all around and down for the nap, siesta good. Scott tells the desk to wake us up at 6:30 p.m. (we laid down at 3:30). The wake up call comes as scheduled but Scott goes back to sleep and we wake up at 7:45 p.m.! Yikes, we have to get up and eat again. We dress and take the metro to the Trevi fountain. What a zoo on a Saturday night. There were people everywhere. It was a pretty cool scene. The outdoor cafes were loaded with beautiful people from all over the world. You could hear every language being spoken while walking down the tiny streets. The famous fountain was lit up in a very hoochie sort of way. Neptune was in full regalia and we took many obligatory photos. You can’t imagine how crowded it was. They had the sound of the fountain amplified and it made you want to pee.
Finally, 10:00 p.m. time for all screwed up tourists to have dinner. We thought we were doing ourselves a favor buy walking away from the fountain several blocks. We saw a spot that looked good and were invited to take a seat. Once again, very attentive waiters are everywhere and the kids seem to be magnets that draw them right to us. The Italians love children and they are completely adored everywhere we go.
We order our dinner and wine. More vino bianco from Sardinia. I think mom & I are hooked on the delicious white wine and I contemplate giving up Chardonnay forever. In fact I’m lobbing to visit Sardinia at our earliest convenience so that we can enjoy more of this lovely beverage. Scott orders the gnocchi; I the veal with porcini mushroom, Lindsay is going to try the lasagna, mom the ravioli, and Jackson a pizza. Note to selves. When the tour books say do not eat near the monuments, take head. The food pretty much sucked but the people watching was world class and the service was fabulous. We also sat next to a group of adorable 20 something Greeks who were entertained by our stories of being in Greece nearly 20 years ago ourselves and how much fun we had in Athens & Mikinos with no money. Finally a little dolce (dessert) for the bambinos, a new dessert wine for the women (they didn’t have the Sardinian Marietta), and we wrap things up at midnight. We make our way through the still crowded streets, completely delighted, to the metro to find it closed. No problem, there is a posh hotel right across the street and we find the English speaking Marco and his micro taxi to take us home. The street traffic has subsided considerably at this hour but our taxi ride is still thrilling and unreasonably fast and now the kids want to ditch the metro entirely and spend all of our euros on taxis. I can’t say that I blame them. It was super fun!
Back inside the hotel Torino. Everyone is wound up. Mom wants to take the longest shower of her life. The kids want to draw, and Scott & I want to sit outside and pretend we do this every day. We separate and upon returning at 1:30 in the morning we find everyone wide-awake and very happy in Grandma & Lindsay’s room. Off to bed now, seriously. It has been another fabulous day in the eternal city.
Day 3 – June 22, 2008 photos
Today is Sunday and Jackson does not disappoint in being the family alarm clock. Up at 6:30, it’s daddy this time that wants to go for a run. Good news for mommy who is somehow uninterested completely. I look out the window to see our “Smoke Shop” closed. No Italian coffee, no mommy out of bed. Okay, it’s Sunday and the city is not awake yet.
We snuggle until 7 ish then go next door to mom’s room where the kids and I laugh our heads off at Bob the Builder in Italian and then we watch a couple more completely uncool cartoons until dad comes back from his run. We all boogie up stairs for the yummy hotel breakfast on the stunning rooftop. The sun is really hot today and we are completely in love with the sound of church bells in the distance. We think for about 30 seconds that we should attend a mass, and then ditch idea for more coffee instead.
I lobbied hard to the group that we all visit the Villa Borghese Park for the day. I was so impressed with the park when I was there yesterday. Everyone agreed that we could spend the day there so we loaded up on park paraphernalia and took the metro to the Flaminio station, just outside the park entrance.
Once out of the metro the walk is short but of course it’s up hill and it was so hot already, even in the shade. We went straight to the pond to rent row boats. Mom & I were so happy to sit in the shade and take photographs. There was no shortage of adorable babies everywhere and we had a blast cooing with them and talking with their parents and grandparents. Scott & the kids counted 22 turtles in the pond and when they returned we all notices nearly 20 more sunning themselves on the shore. The turtles were adorable.
The park also had some lovely, ultra attractive policemen on horseback that mom & I completely enjoyed. When our trio of boaters came back we went for, you guessed it, gelato! Then we strolled through the park with cones in hand. We saw tons of families out and about. Dogs and kids everywhere. There was a man with ponies for the babies to ride. It was a scene right out of a movie. As I mentioned earlier, the Villa Borghese is a huge park. It was gifted to the city of Rome in the 1990’s but before that was largely the private estate of the Broghese family. The property houses countless museums, fountains, sculptures, and café & restaurants. There are snack carts with Panini sandwiches, beverages and gelato. Several vendors rent mulit person pedal bikes (many electric). There are folks selling balloons and other kiddy treats. The trees are old and provide much needed shade in this roman heat. The place is picture perfect and we are delighted to be a part of it.
After walking for some time through the park we decided that it was yet again, time to eat. We headed to the very famous Museo Nationalle the “café” that we noticed on the map. Note to self. Café’s sell coffee. Not food. But beyond the café was an absolutely wonderful and very posh out door terrazzo restaurant where we were ushered in by a very handsome man in a suit to have lunch. Okay, this looks good.
The terrazzo was gorgeous. We ordered a fairly light lunch and a bottle of our beloved Sardinia vino bianco. We note the trend and I continue to lobby for the side trip to Sardinia. Fingers crossed everyone! We start with antipasti of Beorsola (cured red meat) with rocket & Parmesan Romano. Mom orders the cured ham with apples and pecorino and the kids order a carpatio of octopus. For our second coursed mom & I opt for a chicken salad because it is so darn hot, the kids share a linguini with pesto & clams, and Scott goes for a fettuccini with meat sauce (Scott’s entrée was unbelievably delicious). Lunch is a hit and we enjoy fabulous service from our waiter Gino. He is absolutely in love with Jackson. Jackson is getting all of the attention, which doesn’t go unnoticed by mom & I because Gino is a babe. We order one gelato for dessert, with the intention of the kids sharing it and Gino brings two huge scoops each, ignoring our request for just one. We leave refreshed and refueled and Jackson gives Gino a high five and a handshake on our way out. Lunch was fantastic, back to the garden we go.
Mom has made it perfectly clear that the bicycles that we have seen all over the park do not remotely interest her. However, the two people magazines in my bag do and she is happy to park herself by one of the many gorgeous fountains in the shade while we rent one of the bicycles to cruise the park.
We hit a spot to rent bikes and we try to get a huge one that 4 people can peddle. Scott & the kids are hot on this bike. The owner however is trying to tell us in his plainest Italian that we DO NOT WANT THE BIG BIKE. It’s too hard to peddle in his opinion and the kids are too small to be of any help. We convince Jackson that riding in the front basket of the smaller bike will be the coolest thing ever and that the rest of us will have to divvy up the peddling through the multiple hills and valleys of Borghese park while he sits back & relaxes. Let’s just say, we listened to the owner of the bikes, and thank God we did. Even the smaller bike was a tank to peddle up hills with no gears and lots of weight. We all wished for our God Son Mitch to magically appear and be our super nova peddler when navigating the hills. Instead we had to make due with Scott pushing the beast up hills while Lindsay and I peddled as hard as we could to help him, laughing our heads of and gasping for hot air as we did. As I write this tonight I can tell you that we worked very hard today as my bottom and legs are feeling every pedal.
The bike ride was an absolute highlight of our vacation thus far. We have NEVER all laughed so hard as we did today. When our time was up, we found mom cool in the shade near an ancient fountain, completely enjoying her solitude. She collected her things and we all hobbled back to the metro to go home to Hotel Torino. I say hobbled because we have now acquired major blisters on 3 of our 5 tourists in the group and nobody feels like walking anywhere right now. Jackson is begging Scott that we take a taxi and is trying to start a “TAXI, TAXI”, chant despite the fact that we are 50 feet from the Metro entrance. Jackson says that he can walk for one more minute and fortunately that is how long it takes to get to the escalator, which takes us deep underground to the metro.
Back to the hotel for showers and naps. Ahh, vacation. We sleep for several hours and when we wake up I am sore and tired. I’m thinking in my head of how to convince Scott that we should take a taxi wherever we go for dinner tonight and he has his own ideas. He announces that dinner should be cheap tonight. Okay, I think. And immediately it occurs to me that tonight is the Italian vs. Spain soccer match that we actually were going to try to catch. Lindsay comes over to our room and I send her back to mom with a message of, “how do you feel about a picnic in the room and not walking tonight?” Lindsay returns immediately with a, “thank you Jesus” from mom so I take that as a yes.
Scott & I dress and make our way to the hotel lobby where we finally check email. No emergencies from home, good news. We down load some pictures and I work on the blog. After a while, wouldn’t you know it? We’re hungry again! I go fetch the kids who have managed to fall back asleep in our absence. They begrudgedly come with me to the corner guy who sells fresh fruit and candy. The soccer match has started and we are excited by the energy on the street. EVERYONE has the game on. If there isn’t a television, it’s on the radio. The energy is contagious.
After the corner guy we run across the street to the “Smoke Shop” and order a couple of pizzas and some sandwiches. The kids go next door and buy candy and I have a draft beer at the counter and wait for our food. The game is on and the people in the Smoke Shop are really smoking now because their team is playing and it is intense! I grab other provisions for the room and head back with the kids. Our little excursion was a blast!
Back at the room mom is back in her pajamas and she is very happy. I follow suit and we enjoy our bounty. The grapes and pear that I found are perfect with our Tuscan white wine that I bought at the “Smoke Shop”. Nice but not as good as the stuff from Sardinia. We can’t even tell what is in the sandwiches that we are eating but we all agree that it tastes pretty good. We are all so happy to give our tired feet a rest tonight. As well as our wardrobe.
The soccer game is over now. Sadly Italy lost in a penalty shoot out to Spain and it is sure to be a sad day tomorrow in Rome. Had the Italians won we probably would not be able to sleep due to the noise of the celebrators down below in the streets.
As it is now, my legs are sore from that darn bike but it’s totally worth it. Jackson said to me tonight that this would have been the best day ever except that we still have so many more days to go! My boy couldn’t be more right.
Day 4 – June 23, 2008 photos
Our last day in Rome was today. We woke early again. This time, we did it without Jackson’s assistance. It’s sunny and we are excited that today we will visit the Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel.
After breakfast we took a taxi to the Vatican where the lines around the city walls were already forming. It was crowded and the temperatures were already very warm. We met the tour company that we had booked while still at home that was to ensure us entry into the Vatican Museum without waiting in the long line.
Our tour guide was Angelo. He was a super cool “artsy” kind of guy who spoke with a Richard Burton type voice in an Australian accent. He was also fluent in Italian as his father is Italian and he spent his whole life going back & forth from Australia & Italy. Lucky Angelo.
Upon entering the museum we were given great information from Angelo about the ancient collection. Apparently the collection we were about to see had been made available to the public in the 1930s due to the urging of Mussolini. He had convinced the pope at that time that if the public could see the treasures of the church, the papacy could collect the money from visitors. As it stands now the Vatican receives an average of 30,000.00 visitors a day! So, Mussolini was right and the papacy collects million and millions of Euros annually from travelers all over the world who come to see this amazing place.
Fist impression of the museum was that it was totally crowded and completely hot. We knew it was going to be a long day for the kids as the tour itself was scheduled to last 3 hours. The collection of the Vatican is so vast that it is said that if you were to see every single piece in the collection and give every one 30 seconds of your time, it would take you 12 years to see the entire collection. We, on the other hand were going to see it all in 2 ½ hours and Angelo was going to help us do that.
In order to keep the kids engaged we decided to count the penises in the museum to see how many we could find. There were rules of course. No animal penises (there were tons of those too), however, we did allow the half man/half beast penises, no broken ones, none that were covered by grape leaves (something that was done during the time of Pope Benedict who apparently was very conservative), and none that were draped.
This proved to be a very good idea! Our kids were totally engaged in the art that they were seeing. They were looking very carefully at every single sculpture, mosaic and painting. Jackson even inquired with Angelo on how to say penis in Italian. It is peni, for those of you who are interested.
We spent quite a bit of time in the Vatican garden where we saw incredible sculptures. One particular pineapple and a set of peacocks dated back to the second century and they would have looked lovely in any garden today. We also spent quite a bit of time talking about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and, of course the star of the show, Michael Angelo. It was a fascinating story to hear Angelo tell it and we couldn’t wait to get inside.
We went into room after room of incredibly ancient artwork. One of our favorite rooms was the room of maps. Most of the maps on the walls of this room were done in the 14 and 15th centuries by various explorers who navigated the world for the pope at that time and then documented in fresco painting what they had seen. The amazing thing about this is that these artists, it was later found, did so with 85% accuracy and that of course is without the help of modern technology. So, not only were the maps breathtakingly beautiful but they were indeed somewhat useful as well.
I won’t go on & on about the museum or Rafaela’s rooms. Let’s just say it was epic, informative, beautiful, and amazing. The guided tour was totally worth doing. After what seemed like forever we finally made our way into the Sistine Chapel. Even with a 1000 people standing in the middle of this thing you still can’t help but to feel the presence of Michael Angelo. His fresco paintings on the ceiling of that chapel are nothing short of heroic. We were absolutely humbled and impressed by what we saw. This was the best collection of art I have ever seen, anywhere. Perfecto!
After the chapel we decided to ditch the tour group and split. The kids had been great but they had tired of counting penises. In fact, we stopped counting after a couple hundred and the chapel just had way too many to even consider counting. The vagina was very under represented in the Vatican, just so you know.
Since we lost count of the penises we did some estimations over lunch. Jackson estimated that there were 1 billion penises in the Vatican. Lindsay guessed that there were several thousand. I think it’s somewhere in between but it is definitely a lot!
After the Vatican we walked several blocks until we were nice & close to the metro and found a wonderful restaurant with outdoor seating. More prosciuto & melon (can’t get enough of the stuff) and grilled vegetable antipasti for the first course. Lindsay and Scott enjoyed roasted chicken with the most delicious potatoes we have ever had and Jackson scored on the lasagna. I just picked pasta under pressure because I couldn’t decide and it was delicious. I think it was a tomato, ham, olive, and onion sauce. Yummy indeed.
Back to the hotel reasonably early today as apposed to our usual late afternoon return. Mom & I go to a shop we saw the other day and did a little shopping. Mom found some really cute stuff and I don’t think she realizes that she just spent about $500.00 US, but I didn’t say anything. Why ruin a good time right?
While we were out Scott went to find the American Express office for more cash which is dwindling in Rome, and to get our tickets to Florence while the kids enjoyed the Simpson’s in Italian on our in room television.
Naps were short today, not our usual 2-3 hour siesta. Perhaps we are finally getting used to the time a little bit.
We dressed and headed out to the Sardinian restaurant that we visited on the first night. The whole crew was there and they were happy to see us. Jackson ordered his beloved gnocchi and it was delicious. I ordered something that was the specialty of Sardinia and it was good but not as good as the quarto formagio risotto with a red wine sauce. It was hands down the best risotto that any of us have ever had! Unbelievable. Lots of food and a little Mirto (I misspelled the after dinner liquor in my previous blog). We love the stuff! It’s so good, and good for you too. Then we made our way back to the Hotel Torino for our final night in Roma.
Day 5 – June 24, 2008 photos
We left Rome after a lovely breakfast and headed without incident to the train station. Scott had purchased our tickets to Florence a head of time and we hopped right on the train and enjoyed the beautiful ride to the Tuscan region of Italy.
When people tell you that Tuscany is beautiful, they are absolutely right. Unfortunately, words and pictures can not entirely capture the beauty of this part of the country.
We arrived in Florence and hauled our luggage through the “caldo” streets to the car rental agency. We picked up the super sporty Alpha Romeo wagon and crammed our oversized bags in the back. Once inside with the air conditioner cranked up we drove easily out of the down town part of Florence and found a tiny restaurant in a quiet neigborhood just outside of the city.
This restaurant was full of locals and they all seemed to know perfectly well what was available to eat. We on the other hand, did not so we left it up to our non-English speaking waitress to guide us. She did so beautifully and we enjoyed light salads with mozerella & tuna and 3 plates of delicious gnocchi. Yummy!
Happily fed, again, we jumped right on the high way and headed to Rufina to find the villa, Castel d-‘Acone.
It took us a while and one puky kid to find the Via de Santa Maria which wound straight up a hill with many tight turns to the beautiful villa where we were expected to stay.
Way up on a hill top was the Castel d’Acone. This place was straight out of a movie. An old castle of a main house with several well appointed mini-villas surrounding it. We were met at the door by our blue eyed, sparkling smile, Sahna who said, “you don’t know me, but I know who you are!” in perfect American English.
Sahna is from Walnut Creek, California and has been living in Tuscany for the last 20 years. Greg & Lisa wisely hired her as our chef for the week. She welcomed our tired and car-sick family with a warm hug and a beautiful smile. She showed us the apartment that we would be staying in and then directed the kids to the pool. We told her that Lindsay had lost her lunch on the way up to the villa and she graciously invited her into the kitchen and made her a delicious salami sandwich.
Before hiting the pool we HAD to check out the villa. The main villa was ancient but had been remodeled in the last century and was relatively updated with nice bathrooms and lovely common areas. The rooms were surprisingly large and every area of the villa had a gigantic fireplace where one could roast several large animals at a time. The smell of soot was evident wherever there was a fireplace. Clearly, fires had been burning in these hearths for hundreds of years.
Once we saw the villa we made our way to the pool. Jumping into the pool was pure nirvana. It felt so good to be in that cold water! It didn’t hurt that we were surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, and well established gardens. Lavender the size of volkswagon bugs flanked the outdoor pool area and bees were buzzing everywhere as if to welcome us personally. It was silent on top of this great hillside and we were absolutely delighted to be in Tuscany!
We hung out at the pool for an hour or so and then, our hosts and part of the entorage arrived after visiting some of the local wineries. There were 17 in all. The Jarvis family, the Savorsky’s, and the Latimers, Tim & Beth, and Dara all clamored down to the pool with cold beers and vodka tonics in hand.
I immediately knew we were in good company. The Jarvis’ included Karen (mom), Steve (Greg’s boss & the dad), and then 10 year old Ben. The Savorsky’s were a lively bunch. Dad Greg (VP of Alaska Airlines), his fabulous and hilariously funny wife Deb, fraternal twins Mark & Jenny (age 22), and Bobby (age 12). The Latimers are the melded family of Groom Greg (kids Kala 11 & Liam 7), Bride Lisa (Tyler 18, and Hailey 12). Tim & Beth are friends of the bride & groom who came sans bambinos. Beth is one of Lisa dearest friends and Tim, her boyfriend is a fireman in Pierce County. Dara, my new best friend is a lovely woman who traveled without her husband for this trip and she has no children. She has a fascinating career selling airplanes for Boeing and she is clearing one of the Alaska Airlines family.
This group made me home sick for my crazy friends but we settled in right away. They kids, of course were playing in no time and the adults were submerged in the water with drinks in hand for what seemed like hours. It was perfect.
Suddenly it was time to go shower and get ready for dinner. After I had gotten ready I made my way to the kitchen to see if Sahna needed any help. Her assistant Francis had arrived and the three of us hung out in the kitchen and I helped to set the table. Francis has also been living in Tuscany for the last 20 years or so. She is Scotish and she was the cutest thing ever. She was Sahna had us set up outside on the terrace that led directly from the kitchen. The view of the Tuscan hillside was like a painting. The temperature had cooled considerably and we were all dressed up and sitting around the table like a family. Have I mentioned yet that this was heaven on earth.
After hanging in the kitchen a bit with Francis & Sahna I decided that what I wanted to do on my birthday was cook dinner for everyone. I didn’t want to go out and I didn’t want to go and visit wineries. Scott just laughed but he wasn’t surprised. I asked Sahna if she would hang out with me on my birthday and we would cook and she agreed, thank goodness.
So, dinner was so good that I can’t even remember what we had that first night. I remember some sauted vegetables that melted in your mouth. I think we may have had some pesto pasta. Perhaps I don’t remember the rest of the meal because I was too darn busy becoming best friends with Dara & Deb. I think we drank all the wine in the whole villa. Yikes! Just like home. I stayed up with those two crazy girls until 3:30 in the morning. When they walked me to my apartment (my mom said we came in laughing our heads off & hugging) I felt like I was finally ready for bed. I had no idea what time it was at that moment but I sure felt it the next morning!!
Note to self. Too much wine makes you feel like shit in the morning.
Day 6 – June 25, 2008 – Michelle’s Birthday! photos
Today is my 40th birthday. I wake up in our Tuscan villa and I can’t believe I’m here. I also can’t believe that I drank so much wine last night.
I don’t hear anyone but the Italian gardener outside but I assume that I must be the last one up. I make my way to the main house and fine the large dining room filled with folks who were in the same pathetic shape that I was. I cruised the Italian pastries and cereals that were being offered for breakfast but couldn’t do it. Sahna came out of the kitchen like an angel on earth and offered me cold meat & cheese and a Coca Cola light. Is this woman for real? Why yes, that is exactly what I would like to eat and I choke it down and head for the pool.
There is something unique about being hung over when you have a pool at your disposal. You get in the water, you feel fine. You get out of the water, you don’t feel fine. So that being what it is, I find a floaty and keep myself in the water.
My kids and everyone else’s are all in the pool now. As well as my hung over traveling companions. At least I’m in good company I think. The birthday wishes come my way all morning long and I am so happy to be here, right now, amongst all of these generous and completely fun strangers.
Angel on earth Sahna is down at the pool, a little too soon for me, to say, it’s time to go shopping for dinner. As many of you know if you don’t shop early in Italy, you don’t shop at all. I totally rallied and jumped in Sahna’s VW station wagon and sped down the windy hill that led to Rufina from our villa.
We get to the co-op, or grocery store with our massive list (we had prepared the menu the night before) and start shopping. I felt like the kid in high school who finally gets invited to a party at the popular girls house. Sahna glides through the store rattling off her perfect Italian and I take her orders and directions like a good little pupil. With our shopping complete and Sahna’s car full we boogie back up to the villa and I make a bee line for the quiche that Sahna had prepared for lunch that morning.
I took my lunch to the Taverna, which was a building on the property that was meant for parties and fabulous wine dinners. It’s deliciously cool and looks like an ancient cave inside. The quiche proves to be medicinal and I am now ready to bed down for the hottest part of the afternoon.
I wake a couple of hours later and I can hear that my new best friends are back at it at the pool and happy hour was well underway. I took a dip in the pool but refrained from being ensnared in Italian happy hour. It was still early in the day and I had food to cook. Sahna was in the pool and we hung out for a bit before heading up to the main house.
More people are arriving all the time. Jack & Amy are here now. Barb & Stewart have arrived, and Jackie & Scott are here too. Everyone is lovely. They are all so happy to be here and the mood is festive to be sure! The kids are inseparable. They are spending their time at the pool, playing badminton, and watching movies during the hottest part of the day. My kids beg to be exempt from any plans of excursions and I can’t say that I blame them.
Sahna & I prepare a meal of grilled garlic, rosemary, & lemon chicken, grilled pork ribs with just garlic & salt and pepper. We baked off the meat and Scott did a beautiful job finishing it all on the grill. I made a cannelli bean salad with cherry tomatoes and Italian parsley. I also made a watermelon salad with a sage pesto, feta cheese, and sweet red onion. Sahna made a delicious panzanella salad, which I will be making the minute I get home. Frances came around 5 and was a great addition to our little kitchen party. Mom came out of hiding (the weather is incredibly hot for her) and hung out with us in the kitchen, fanning our sweaty faces while we chopped and diced. It was lovely and I think my mom is going to steel Frances and bring her home with her. This will be a vaction high light for me to be sure.
Dara had brought a magnum of Chianti, which she opened for dinner. We moved to the terrace on the other side of the villa So now we had another amazing view, which overlooked cows grazing on the hillside and perfectly maintained vineyards beyond. Like I said, it looked like a movie set.
Dinner was fabulous. Everyone ate a ton. We drank lots of wine and made tons of heartfelt toasts. The love was in the air. Everyone had arrived safely so Lisa & Greg were relieved and delighted. The kids sat with us at the table but all at one end and it was like Lord of the Flies down there. They are such a happy bunch. This was the best idea ever to come here.
To my surprise Scott had gotten up early that morning and had driven to town to buy me a birthday cake. He came home with not one but 4 delicious desserts that we all devoured with glasses of local proseco that Barb & Stewart had picked up for the birthday party at a local winery. This group is so much fun and we have never felt like strangers among them for one moment.
After dinner, it’s time now to change into bathing suits and pursue a game of water polo. This game is fierce here at Castel d’Acone. The teams are split up in two. The over 40 group (team Geritol), and the under 40 group. There is no clear champion at press time but lets just say the games were not for wimps.
Ah, a great day in Tuscany comes to an end. I had a wonderful 40th birthday and I have everyone at this villa to thank.
Day 7 – June 26, 2008 photos
Today we wake up feeling great and wouldn’t you know it, it’s sunny again! Today we are going to Florence with Barb & Stewart. Another group is going as well in their big giant van.
Apparently last night got a little crazy at the lower swimming pool with a little jumping in with clothes on, then taking clothes off and doing a naked relay. Too bad we missed out on that activity. Some of our traveling companions, Jack in particular was scraped all over his butt from sliding about 10 feet under a bush during the relay.
After breakfast the children inform us that they are going nowhere near Florence and mom decides she also wants to stay behind and avoid the heat. We agree to leave them behind. Everyone is worried that mom isn’t having fun because they don’t see her much during the day. She assures me that she is and she is enjoying the relaxation time that she is getting. As soon as things cool off she does emerge fresh and ready to party and eat with the rest of us. I think she is enjoying the trip despite the raging temperatures.
We decided that we are driving and riding the train with Barb & Stewart. We get our foursome together and head to the train station in Rufina. It takes us a minute to figure out the bigliette machine but once we do we are on our way to Florence via Pontisieve. We arrive in Florence in about an hour and the temperatures are friggin hot. We part ways with Barb & Stewart with plans to meet back at the train station at 3:45. The bride & Groom have a big Italian barbeque planned for tonight and they want us all back and ready for dinner by 6.
Scott & I make our way to the famous Duomo. This example of Florentine architecture is unsurpassed in its beauty and attention to detail. The stones on the façade of the building are green, tan, cream, and white. Not a stitch of paint on the whole thing with the exception of the biblical pieces just above the 4 sets of doors. We are awestruck by this place and spend some time just staring at it and taking photos.
Next we make our way down the street to the Piazza della Signoria. If you want to see giant sculptures of naked dudes this piazza is for you. Despite the fact that I am totally finished looking at penises in this country I still appreciate the incredible work that was done centuries ago in giant slabs of marble. It’s just plain amazing.
From the Piazza della Singnoria we find some street vendors selling lovely leather bags and I have to purchase a cute brown one that speaks to me. Then we make our way to the American Express office.
I stand in line to see an American Express travel agent to discuss my dreams of going to Sardinia and while standing in line I start hating every American in the place. Scott walks outside to fall in love with some shoes. I wait a good half an hour only to learn that the travel agents lunch break is now and her boyfriend (the cute Italian in the chair) is waiting for her and I have to come back at 4 if I want travel services. Oh, forget it. Scott has found some shoes, we are out of here.
The shop with the shoes is great. The shoes are great too then we walk down the adorable street until we find a lovely restaurant with air conditioning inside. It is too hot to even eat outside today.
I order a lovely bruschetta caprese that comes grilled perfectly and open faced and Scott orders a mushroom pizza. We share more of the prosciutto & melon. The melon is so good here that we find ourselves eating it at every meal. The kids especially love the stuff.
After lunch we head to the San Lorenzo church and market. The church is beautiful. They give me some hoochie polyester, red scarf to put on my shoulders. It’s better than the paper ponchos that they are making other sleeveless patrons wear so I’m not complaining entirely. The rules are to be silent in the church, which I so appreciate. There are a handful of worshipers and otherwise is not too crowded with tourists. It’s nice and cool with in the dark walls of this place and we just enjoy the church relics and art like the rest of the crowd.
Once finished in the church I hand over my shitty shoulder wrap and we head into the San Lorenzo market. This is one of Italy’s most famous shopping markets. There is more leather in this market that I have ever seen in my life. I hate that the Euro and Dollar are so incompatible right now because the prices in Euros are not that bad and I wouldn’t mind coming home looking like Donatello Versace dressed head to toe in leather and fur. The stuff is just amazing but it’s hard to choke the exchange rate. So, I simply don’t.
It’s now time to head back to the train station. We clip along at a pretty good pace but we still manage to show up 3 minutes before the train is to leave and Barb & Stewart are mildly concerned. We jump in some seats and the train takes off back to Rufina.
After sweating our asses off in 3rd class we finally move up a couple of cars to the air-conditioned seats. Everything but our teeth is sweating. It’s kind of gross but at least your not alone. There is very little we can do about the heat.
This time it only takes us 30 minutes to get home. We race back to the villa, grab some cold beers (they are never cold enough) and head to the pool.
Our kids did not drown while we were gone which is good. My mom is napping and the usual suspects are down in the water with their “gin & sonic” beverages. Everyone had fun today. Some went off to Florence like we did and others stayed behind and nursed their hangovers. We are all super excited about the barbeque and are wondering what we will be eating.
After cooling off we all go and primp for dinner. Everyone emerges every evening for dinner looking beautiful and sun kissed. Even the kids get dolled up and it’s really fun. This time we are set up on yet another side of the villa where the lower swimming pool is located. This side of the villa has gorgeous views and a lovely garden with a sweet overlook of the Chianti Valley. The butchers chefs are here and they have on display a ton of huge roasts and they are stoking a giant grill to cook them on. They tell us that the cut of meat that we are going to eat is the thigh. Okay. What ever that is. It looks good to me.
The two adorable, young, chefs also have bruscetta with Chianti butter. One bite of this stuff and you think you have gone to heaven. I’m suspicious of how this feels on my tongue and I ask Sahna (who has joined us tonight for dinner) what it is. She said it is fresh pork fat, not rendered but seasoned. That’s it. Everyone is gobbling the stuff down until they find out what it is and then can’t seem to eat it any more. I thought it was delicious.
Also on the table were fresh olive oil cured olives from the Tuscan region. They were simple, just olive oil and orange peel and they melted in you mouth. Sahna had prepared a gorgeous potato salad that was just boiled potatoes on a bed of lettuce with a light vinegarette drizzled over the top. Doesn’t sound like much I know but it blew everyone’s socks off (or would have if we were wearing any). I have never tasted a more yummy potato.
The meat was grilled with perfection then sliced with precision with these giant machetes that these guys were sporting. Then the meat was seasoned with a sage sea salt and pepper. That’s it. It was perfect. After dinner yummy gelato all around. We are all so satiated and happy. The sun is setting behind the hillside and again, I feel like I’m in a movie. Looks like we’ll be sleeping well again tonight under the Tuscan sky.
Day 8 – June 27, 2008 photos
Today is our last full day at the villa and it is Greg & Lisa’s wedding day. It’s a tiny bit overcast today which seems to have cooled things down a bit. Everyone is excited about the wedding.
Lindsay is still sound a sleep because she has been staying up late every night with Hailey and Kala. The kids are having such a blast together we pretty much never see them. Jackson is ready to go swimming the minute he wakes up. God I love it here.
We decide to run to Rufina to see a travel agent regarding our plans to go to Sardinia. My mom is going to come so that she can get a phone card to call her sweetie. Lisa (our bride) is delegating tasks for all of us and the Fasser’s volunteer to pick up the wedding cake later this evening. Sahna is helping Lisa call everyone who is hired to come to take pictures and officiate the wedding so that she can move the time back. It’s considerably cooler around 8 p.m. and we are all super happy to have the wedding start a little later than previously planned.
Mom, Scott, & I run down to Rufina and find the travel agent easily. The girls are super nice. Neither of them speak English but we are able to communicate relatively well. Mom & Scott go searching for a place to buy a phone card.
The girls at the agency & I try to book the 5 of us on a ferry from Lavirno to Sardinia. I had no idea that the ferry ride was 8 hours nor did I anticipate that is would cost us $800.00 US to ride. Yikes. After many efforts we find a ferry time and date that will work. Before booking the boat I call Egi at the hotel where we are booked in Cinque Terre to see if we can cancel part of our reservation and he says, no way. Okay then, back to square one.
Looks like Sardinia is not going to happen on this trip. However, the girls recommend a few beach towns that are south west of Tuscany and they promise that they are beautiful beaches to visit. The drive to get there is about 3 hours and we have a car so, no problem. With our plan fairly solid we run back up to the villa to meet Barb & Stewart.
Barb & Stewart had driven to Ladro a couple of days before to visit some wineries and they found a cool restaurant called Roberta’a that over looked this lovely lake and water fall. We were able to talk mom into going with us today but the kids weren’t budging. We took the gorgeous drive to Ladro where we found the restaurant but alas, it was not open for lunch. That’s okay, they had another idea in Dominco that was just up the road that was recommended by someone from one of the wineries.
The drive to the next town was just precious. We found Roberto’s easily. When we entered it was just a long galley with a kitchen window at the end. No one spoke English but we could see by the plates that were coming out of the kitchen that everything here was going to be just fine. The food looked amazing!!!
Roberto was in the kitchen while his wife ran the front of the house. She was a pretty imposing mamma let me tell you. She didn’t so much as give us a grin when the 5 us walked into her restaurant but the water came quickly as did the cold beer and a nice jug of delicious white wine.
We ordered bresolao, the air cured beef and arugula that I love, grilled porchini mushrooms, melone & proscuito. All of our first courses were insanely delicious. Stewart had the pomodoro pasta, I had the pasta with a deer sauce, Scott has risotto with mushrooms and mom & Barb got the pasta with mushrooms. Every time angry mamma came to our table she was met with audible ooohs & ahhhs from the 5 of us. Everything was so fresh and so perfect! We shared all of our dishes then finished up with a couple of salads. We were so happy that we came to Roberto’s for lunch. Finally angry mamma was now giving us smiles. I think we cracked her up a little bit. I understood her Italian and was able to tell her where we were staying in Rufina and she was impressed that we were staying in a villa with a group for a wedding. “Tutta Bella Toscano” she said. Yes indeed, it’s all beautiful in Tuscany angry mamma. Very well said indeed. We practically kissed Roberto and angry mamma good bye and then we headed back to Ladro so we could see the beautiful lake.
The lake was angelic and surrounded by trees. We strolled lazily along the shore of the lake and marveled at the giant fish in the water that hung out right at the surface. We couldn’t believe the place wasn’t crawling with children & their fishing poles. We saw a mamma duck and her eight babies and we just hung out and watched her parent the brood around the shore and then across the lake. After our lovely walk it was time to go back to the villa. We gave Stewart the big A+ for taking us all on a wonderful adventure. It was enjoyed by us all.
Back to the villa, the happy hour had started with out us down at the pool. We are all discussing timing and what to do with our hair since the humidity is making us all look a bit bushy. Sounds like the girls are coming in shifts to our apartment to get a blow out and use the flattening iron, for what it’s worth.
This group of people have been so much fun to hang out with. There hasn’t been one squabble between the 9 children that are here. Everyone is laughing and sharing stories and cold beers from their refrigerators. It’s like one big happy family. I wish all of our friends was here to enjoy it all too because they would fit right in with this crowd.
Time to primp again. Deb, Dara, Jenny, and Karen all stop by and they leave looking gorgeous. We all meet around 7 on the terrace where we had my birthday dinner. The place is transformed with linen tables, candles, and tiki torches. Sahna has prepared gorgeous appetizers. Bresoloa with cheese rolled up and stuffed into a hard bread circle, pickled peppers stuffed with tuna and anchovies, caprese salad, and raw salmon slices thin as paper on a baguette slice with some kind of fresh mild cheese.
The photographer is available to take family pictures and like every night before tonight we are all parading around the court yard snapping photos of each other. We all pose for family shots. I call this time of the evening the parade of ponies. It’s so much fun. This is one good looking group I must say. Everyone is absolutely gorgeous and the girls all have on fabulous dresses and heals. As pretty as the group was however, no one compared to the bride.
Lisa was radiant in her beaded halter gown. It dragged on the floor just right and she looked like a princess. Her tan, jewelry, shoes, make-up, hair, everything! Just right. Greg is one lucky dude.
The wedding was about to begin and we were ushered into the tiny on site chapel that was probably built in the1500’s. Greg & Lisa’s children were their wedding party. It was just dreamy! After the officiate said a few words we all left the chapel but were asked to “warm” the rings on our way out to the wisteria covered pergola outside. This is where Lisa & Greg shared their emotional and heart felt wedding promises to one another. I believe that these two should absolutely be together decptie the difficult beginning that they had. All of us were weeping during their vows to one another. It was an amazing moment.
More pictures, more wine, more snacks, time for dinner.
We moved again to yet another terrace that was below this one where the linen tables were dresses with red roses and candle light. Sahna out did herself this time on the meal.
First course was delicious ravioli in a pomodoro sauce followed by a delicious green salad, and then finally a pork tenderloin roast that had been drizzled with the sage pesto that I had made, some kind of heavenly spinach thing, and roasted peppers. Dinner tasted incredible. The wedding cake was very traditional. Flaky pastry layered with chantilly cream. It doesn’t get any better than this. Oh, wait it does if you add a glass of chilled proseco which of course we did. Perfecto!
The toasts came from both of Greg & Lisa’s older children which was adorable. Scott gave a toast that brought the house down and made everyone cry. Steve Jarvis’ toast was also fantastic. This is one elequant group. Deb presented the lovely couple with a road sign that she found when she rolled 20 feet down a hill side on her first night at the villa. She had us all sign the thing. It was hilarious.
Day 9 – June 28, 2008 photos
We all wake this morning and half of the wedding group has left. Mom, Jackson, & I went to bed at a decent hour last night but it appears that Scott & Lindsay stayed up late and reveled with the rest of the wedding goers.
After the lovely dinner that Sahna had prepared, cake was enjoyed; the first dance complete, the bride & groom disappeared and returned in swimsuits to challenge everyone to one last game of water polo.
From our apartment I could hear everyone laughing their heads off playing a rousing game of water polo. From there I could hear what sounded like really bad karaoke. It turns out that there were skits and karaoke preformed by all. It was hilarious to listen to from the safety of my bed. What a fun group this is.
We have to be out of the villa by 10 and we miraculously do so but not without helping Sahna clear off the dining room table which was loaded down with gorgeous leftovers that she had prepared throughout the week. Man this woman can cook! There was roasted pork, some kind of fresh cheese with sun dried tomatoes and fresh herbs, a lovely rice salad, wedding cookies, fruit, and more. Those of us who had some time on the road planned loaded bags and helped Sahna get rid of and clean up the rest. Then is was sadly time to say goodbye.
To say good-bye to Sahna was like being 10 years old again, away at summer camp, and saying good-bye to my new best friend that I have only known for a week. I fell in love with this woman and wanted to stuff her in our car and take her with us. All of my friends would have loved her equally and would have hated to see her go. She not only nurtured us with her delicious meals while we stayed here but she gave us invaluable travel advise, Italian translations, made our birthday perfect, played water polo, laughed at our drunken jokes, and was just one ultra cool chick. She also selflessly assisted Lisa in nearly every detail of her wedding and without a doubt made it all just perfect for she, Greg, and their children. Lisa was also tearful when saying good-bye to Sahna. Sahna & I both cried when it was time to say good-bye. We hugged several times and laughed at the sadness we were both feeling. I am going to miss her terribly and I tear up now as I write about this. It just didn’t feel right leaving this woman in Italy even though we know she has a life here, children, a boyfriend, sister, and career. Who cares right? Surely she would be much happier in Seattle hanging out with my posse and me!
I’m going to miss her so much. I hope I get to see her again someday.
Okay, enough of that. We are in the Alpha and we are driving to Florence. Our plan is still a little iffy. We think we are driving to the beach. Scott wants to take the coast to the beach and the rest of us are saying, “what? Add more time to being in the car? How about if we just get there, dude?” Maybe it was just me saying that.
Note to self. Men in Italian cars, in Italy, want to drive fast on Italian roads. This wouldn’t normally be a problem except that the roads in Italy don’t go strait like our lovely highways and byways in the United States. Instead they twist & turn like serpents hugging cliff sides and everyone drives as fast as they want while dogging kids on Vespa scooters.
Needless to say Jackson was crying of carsickness before we even reached Florence (a 30 minute drive), mom was hungry, I was car sick, and Lindsay was not far behind. The thought of driving 3 hours to the beach was now sounding like a total drag. Before the group unraveled, we pulled over to re-group. Okay, what if we pull over and eat, look at a map and then decide? Or, what if we ditch the car and jump a train to the beach? Yeah, that sounds good.
I go to a tobacco store and look at the train schedule. We can take a train to the beach, that’s for sure. Okay, fine, let’s find the train station and eat, drop off the car, and go.
Finding the train station happened, and then we promptly lost the train station which means that we drove around Florence for about 45 minutes. Okay, back on track to the train station. We park illegally and decide it doesn’t matter because we won’t be there that long. We get out of the car and see a few options for lunch but looky here; right across the street there is a hotel.
I ask the group, hey guys, should we just check out that hotel and see if they have any rooms and we can just stay in Florence for one night and you guys can see the city. It’s just beautiful here….
Inside Hotel Cavalier and we find a bald, English speaking, Les Clefs d’Or Concierge. I love this place already!!!! I of course tell him that I used to be a Clefs d’Or concierge, which means that we are buddies right away. Yes, they have two rooms, and they are adorable. The air conditioning is feeling good to all of us and our Concierge, Andrea, recommends a nice place for lunch, just down the street, and of course he calls ahead for us.
Pepperocino is right down the street and our directions were perfect. The owner of the restaurant reminds me of a cheerful Carmine Smeraldo (of Il Terrazzo Carmine) and he claps his hands and demands music, which magically comes on. He then comes to our table with complimentary glasses of proseco! Love it!
Lunch is insanely delicious. Lot’s of our usual suspects, caprese, melon & prosciutto, yummy pasta, a green salad. It’s all unusually delicious and we decide that maybe a couple days in Florence would be nice for us.
Back to the hotel for a nap and yes, they have the rooms available for both nights. Yippy! Lovely naps in the air-conditioned paradise that is now home for the next 48 hours.
We did a little email action in the afternoon and took it easy. We left the hotel in mid-evening (early to the Italians) and we walk to the Piazza Santa Maria where we find the first Irish bar ever in Florence. We don’t go in but it makes us think of our good friend Declan back in Seattle. We walked down to the Duomo from the piazza, Florence’s famous cathedral that Scott & I had seen on our day trip to the city. Man, it does not fail to awe you every time you see it. The place is so incredible. Then we move over to another piazza (?) where there is a lovely carousel & some funny haricrishnas dancing and chanting in Italian.
From there we have dinner somewhere that was good but I can’t seem to remember what we ate that night or where it was. I need to write more frequently because I’m starting to forget details. It’s funny, you think at the time that you will remember every single detail because it’s all so amazing but you don’t. I just know again, that the food was great because we have only had one bad meal since we have been in this country.
Day 10 – June 29, 2008 photos
Our last full day in Florence. We all go to breakfast together. I forgot to mention that the breakfast at the Hotel Cavalier is interesting. The things that they think Americans eat cracks me up. Certainly there is cereal which is dead on, pastries (who doesn’t eat pastries), this hotel has scrambled eggs which is nice but they also have bacon which only Scott will eat because it is very al dante! Almost uncooked, basically disgusting, greasy, and flabby. But the best thing on the buffet hot-dogs of course! My mom took one thinking it might be sausage the first morning here but discovered right away that it was just your average hot dog. She was totally grossed out.
Anyway, we made a reservation to visit the Uffizi Museum today. The Uffizi Museum houses one of the largest collections of ancient art in all of Europe. It is largely religious in content and most of it belonged to the famous Medici family. But non the less extraordinary from any museum you have ever been to. The pieces we saw were incredible. Far fewer penises than the Vatican thank God. The Virgin Mother and her precious Baby Jesus were well represented at this museum. There was a lot of work on that evil Eve and her poor boyfriend Adam, giving up his rib and all. You almost feel sorry for the guy; the way artists in the day depicted her. The little trollop!
I had a couple of favorites at the Uffizi. The only Michelangelo canvas known to exist is in this museum. You sure don’t need to be an art expert to spot his work. Especially after visiting the Sistine Chapel. I also loved the “Birth of Venus”. Not the Botecheli version that we have all seen reproduces a million times but the one done from ______. This piece represents Venus in the way I see her. Curvy, voluptuous, and beautiful with a mischievous look on her face. Her cute little doggy (looks like a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) is rolled up napping at her feet on the bed (a sign in of loyalty in medieval & renaissance art) and in the background there are two young, fully clothed women, looking in a trunk, clearly trying to find something for her to wear. All along she is smiling at the artist, sharing something that only the two of them know. She also appears to be in no hurry to put her clothes on. Something I can appreciate given the temperature in this hot box of a museum.
After Uffizi we ate gelato. Our favorite thing to do. Then we went to the Ponte Vecchio. This is Florence’s oldest bridge and it has all of its medieval storefronts still intact. There are mostly jewelry vendors now but you can still get an ancient feel of this place. Absolutely worth visiting!
Oh, you don’t say. Back to the hotel to nap. If you say so!
Up again and a little Internet time in the lobby. It’s nice to be able to log on for a little bit in the evening. I’m having a hard time keeping up on my blog. I wish I could just talk into something and it would type it out for me.
Tonight we had dinner at Ristorante Martinique. Another recommendation from the hotel and they call ahead on our behalf. I notice another couple from our hotel and I’m a tiny bit skeptical but the menu looks pretty good.
We order more of our favorites as starters and we are starting to get a lot more savvy about ordering now. Just a couple of apps, a risotto with asparagus that rocked our world, veal saltimbocca, veal with an asparagus cream sauce and a steak. This sounds like a ton of food but it actually is a few bites of each thing for the five of us. This is a Florentine restaurant so we try some of the items that the waiter says are house specialities. Our favorite thing of all, being a t-bone steak that was seasoned and cooked to perfection (I NEVER order t-bone in America). It occurs to me that we haven’t had any red meat unless you count the bresoloa (which I don’t because it’s air cured) and this steak tastes amazing. We also have some Sea Bass tonight which is equally delicious. I help a table of Japanese Americans because they are bitching that the menu is not in English, only Italian. God it’s embarrassing when people do that. It does end up helping our waiting out because these guys are ass holes and he doesn’t have to talk to them as much now. They each order one thing, no wine, no pasta and leave. What a waste of a plane ticket if you ask me.
We all walk back to the hotel and on the way; we pass the Irish bar, which has the Europe Cup on TV. Spain vs. Germany. There is just a little bit of the game left and Spain is ahead 1-0. We take mom & the kids back to the hotel and then we race back only to arrive just as the game is over. Some guy from Belfast buys us beers because we are American and he is partying with some guys from Atlanta. He then serenades us some Johnny Cash songs and we think maybe Americans aren’t viewed so bad abroad after all. A trip of a lifetime. I don’t want it to end.
Day 11 – June 30, 2008 photos
Today we are leaving Florence. It has been really nice here but we are ready to get to the beach now and enjoy the sun the way we were meant to. Horizontal on a sandy beach, with water within a short walking distance.
We catch a train out of Florence and take it to Pisa. We leave our bags at a luggage storage, which costs a fortune, but we have too much with us to be lugging it around. We walk straight out of the station and easily find the bus, which takes us to the “Field of Miracles”. This is where the 3 monuments in Pisa are located which is wildly convenient.
Pisa is a pretty city but has its only tourist attractions in one place. This must be nice for the locals because they don’t have any tourists running around. This old dude who is telling us in Italian that we need to be careful of the pick pocketers lectures us on the bus. We have heard this repeatedly though we have not had any experience in the matter. The man was totally dissatisfied with the way my mom & I were carrying our purses and that my backpack needed to be facing front, not back. In order to shut him up we repositioned our bags and he was satisfied. Then he told us that we were at our stop and kicked us off the bus.
It was so hot in Pisa. Like it is everywhere right now, but we find shade on the most beautiful lawn in Italy right in the shadow of the Duomo of Pisa. We had packed the last of our picnic food from Sahna and it was delicious. We had the plane blankets in the kid’s backpacks so we just hung out for a while until the sun moved in on us.
We walked over to the tower, saw it was 15 Euro to climb up per person and decided that we were fine to see the outside and it was two darn hot anyway to climb all of those stairs. We instead walked to a gelateria and did a little people watching, which is great anywhere you go in Italy.
Back on the bus to the train station, grabbed our bags and on the train to Cinque Terre!
It takes a couple of hours to get to Cinque Terre. It’s beautiful coming in to the area. The train track hugs the rugged coastline and stops in each of the Cinque villages. It is stunning here and we can’t wait to get off the train!
We arrive in Vernazza and our Hotelier; Egi is waiting for us at the train terminal as promised. He’ s much younger than I had pictured him from our email correspondences but he seems really nice and his English is perfect.
We walk the 3 short blocks to his building and on the way we see his lovely wife Sonia. Sonia is beautiful and she is big time pregnant. Egi explains that they are having their first child, a girl, and she is due in September. When we arrive to Egi’s building and he opens the door we see approximately 40 narrow, marble steps that lead straight up to a closed door. Now, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, 3 of our five luggage pieces weigh about 100 pounds each and we are all sweating from head to toe and those stairs look daunting, even to Scott who has cheerfully been doing most of the heavy lifting on this trip.
Egi, however, saves the day and lugs all of our heavy bags up the stairs. He shows us how to use the door and then ushers us into our rooms. Mom & the kids will be residing in the red room, Scott & I in the blue room and we all share a bath in the hallway. When I say red room, I mean it. The walls, the bedspread, the decorations, and the curtains were all red. Same goes for the blue room. All perfectly coordinated in varying shades of blue & red. This place is very different from the beautiful hotels we have been staying in in Rome & Florence but it is absolutely charming.
Anyway, our rooms are hot as hell so we turn on the electric fans, hop into our bathing suits and head straight for the beach. We hung out at the beach, completely blissed out until about 6:30 when it was time to eat, again.
After showering for dinner we walked to the Restorante Bellaforte. It’s a castle kind of building and you have to walk up a bunch of stairs to get there. The place sits up on top of the main harbor and has a breathtaking view of the town of Vernazza and the cliff that it is built on.
Our waitress is an absolute sweetheart and she takes us to a table set for 5 that was reserved but the people canceled literally moments before we walked up. We ordered lots of local dishes like lemon anchovies (I love these so much), a octopus salad that had us all drooling, roasted mussels in some kind of yummy red sauce, a delicious pasta with prawns and zucchini which just knocked our socks off, and a whole baked sea-bass that was roasted with tomatoes and these absolutely delicious potatoes all of this was enjoyed with the local wine of Cinque Terre which has been produced her for thousands of years and goes with the sea-food dishes perfectly.
After we had finished the feast I dared everyone at the table to eat the fish eye that was apparently still stuck in the fish. I plucked it out and it was this tiny little white thing that was really hard. Upon further investigation, I realized that this eye was not real but rather decorative so I turned the fish over and found the real McCoy!
This fish eye was still very much intact and was the size of a marble. It was slimy and gooey, everything you could ever want in a fish eye and I told Lindsay I would pay her 10 Euro to eat it. It turned out I didn’t have 10 Euro and Scott wouldn’t give it to me so I instead offered her $10.00 to eat the fish eye. To my delight and everyone else dining around us Lindsay gobbled down that fish eye like it was candy! We all clapped and cheered at her bravery. It was awesome! Our first night in Cinque Terre was fantastic.
Day 12 – July 1, 2008 photos
Today mom, the kids, and I woke late. Around 10:30 to be honest. It felt so good to sleep late. It was wonderful. Scott of course had been up for sometime and had already been out into the world checking it out.
The harbor is the hub of Vernazza and Scott was hanging out there this morning reading and drinking coffee while the shopkeepers opened for business. He loves mornings like this when we travel. I always appreciate the stories of the locals that he sees while observing this quiet time in the morning.
Anyway, we wake; have some coffee and pastries at the coffee bar and mom & the kids head straight for the beach. Before doing that Scott & I walked up underneath the train station to see the upper part of the village. I wanted another coffee so we stopped at the Il Pirata café and this Sicilian guy introduces us and begins telling us that he is famous in Rick Steve’s book. He even goes on to show us how long his article is compared to everyone else’s in Rick Steves book on traveling in Italy. He also says repeatedly that he makes Italian slushy. “Nota with syrupa but with the fresha fruita!” He also goes on and on about how good his pastries are and then just like that, he slams one down in front of us as if challenging us to believe otherwise. We take one bite of his fresh ricotta filled pastry and think we have died and gone to heaven. If this wasn’t the best pasty I’ve ever had I don’t know what was. It was beyond delicious. After our snack we went back to the beach and lay out in the sun and played in the water all day long. We did take out pizza for lunch on the beach that was yummy and easy. In the late afternoon I hoofed it up to Il Pirata with the kids this time and met the morning guys twin brother who also went on and on about his fresh fruit slushy. We brought a strawberry one back to the beach for mom and she loved it. Lindsay had one make with black berries with cream on top and it tasted like a pie, which made me think of Beth and her love of Blackberry pie. It was such a nice day. We all love Vernazza to pieces!
Tonight we decided to go to Monterosso for dinner. It’s about a 4-minute train ride and some girls we met last night had been staying there. We had bought a funky little guidebook on the Cinque Terre earlier that day and it had several recommendations for dinner. We settled on Al Pozzo because the translated description cracked us up.
When you arrive in Monterosso you are immediately struck with how beautiful it is. Unlike Vernazza, it is much more developed and is the largest town of all of the Cinque Terra. There is a long beach but it is rocky and there are hundreds of lounge chairs available for rent all up and down the rocky shore. The water is beautiful and reminds me of the water you would see in the Caribbean.
We head left from the train station to the older part of Monterosso. The architecture is more interesting in this direction and this is where the guidebook has told us to go. The advice proves to be right on. We pass through this really cool tunnel and into the older part of the village. This place seems very international. Every language is heard as you walk down the street. This place is really cool.
We find the restaurant with almost no effort. It’s cute and we take a seat outside. The menu is predominately seafood. We order tonight some more specialties for our first course. Then we have lobster spaghetti that comes in this giant clay pot of which the pasta has been cooked in. This is a delicious item. We also have a black linguine with shrimp. Black linguine is made with squid ink and not only gives the pasta this beautiful , black color but it also lends a slight brininess to the flavor. Coupled with seafood this dish is fantastic and we all gobble it down, even the kids love the black linguine.
For our main course we have fillet of beef, which is cooked on the rare side, but they give it a little more heat for us and it’s amazing with these roasted porcini mushrooms that has come on the side. We also had swordfish steak, which my mom has claimed that she normally doesn’t like swordfish, but loved this. More of the local vino to wash it all down. We met a nice couple from Greece and we (I) end up talking to them until Jackson is ready to fall a sleep on my lap. We then walk back to the train, Scott carrying Jackson who must finally be gaining weight by now until we can bribe him to walk with a gelato cone. Now, back to the train and home to Egi’s place. Another day in paradise comes to a close.