Thursday, April 30, 2015

When in 1

Our Hotel/B&B in Florence was so lovely, it was hard leaving the proprietors today. They genuinely care about all their guests. They gave us extra padding on the beds (mattresses in Italy are usually firm, like table firm), they made us cappuccinos whenever we wanted (for free), the older woman (who I think was partially deaf, but 100% sweet) gave us bottles of water before our tour to Cinque Terre (again for free) because "You might get thirsty". When we checked out today they where calling out their goodbyes as we got in the elevator to leave. And we called back, "Ciao! Goodbye!" I miss them.

We walked to the train station (15 minutes). On the way, we saw this (not unusual).

Then we were on our way to Rome. The train ride was short and sweet. The man sitting across from me helped put my luggage on the rack above our heads. People were nice. I didn't even need a travel calm pill. Oh happy day.

Once in Rome we walked to our hotel through a much bigger and busier train station than we'd experienced before. There were more street merchants (immigrants from Africa or the Middle East mostly) by the dozens selling selfie-sticks or scarves, toys or decorative wooden bowls or baskets from Africa. It felt a little overwhelming, but not aggressive. 

Our Hotel, "Home Sweet Hotel", is in a building with many other B&B's. It feels like an old office building was converted to hotels/B&B's. The hotel on the ground floor is "Hotel California". Ours is on the first and second floor. After checking in to a room with FIRM beds, we asked about softer beds, and went to lunch downstairs. When we got back, the concierge offered to show us a couple more rooms to test the beds, which proved to be successful. We happily switched rooms and went on a walk to Trevi Fountain and a Gelato place I learned about in Eat, Pray, Love (the book). Trevi Fountain is under construction with no water and a bunch of scaffolding, but I still got an idea of how impressive it would be. The gelato was right around the corner and DID impress me. I ate each bite with a smile and would've licked the cup if I wasn't on a busy street.

Honey and Banana for me!
Blurry Sarah is happy.
We then made our way back towards the Termini for dinner at a restaurant recommended by Kate's friend. On the way, we stopped for coffee. I ordered and espresso and they gave me a shot glass of water with it. I asked what it was for. The man said, "Drink the water first. It is plain. Then drink the coffee. It will make it flower. Taste better." I loved the way he said it and was totally on board, but now that I'm home much later in the day, I wonder if he meant "flavor" not "flower". Either way, he was right. The coffee was amazing.

And the coffee shop had great wallpaper downstairs
At dinner, I had my first Italian meal that wasn't Pizza or Pasta. I had Pollo Di Giorno - chicken of the day with roast potatoes. Amazing. Again. I'd like to say it's hard to have so many amazing meals, but it's pretty easy. I do get overwhelmed with so many amazing sights. It's somehow hard to take it all in and appreciate each structure. Beautiful thing after beautiful thing after incredible thing. It just all becomes too much at times. But I break it up with good food and it refreshes me to see the next incredible, miraculous sight.

Here's what we saw walking around Rome this afternoon. (p.s. this is a small sample).


While waiting for those pictures to load, we went out and picked up dessert and tea. Rough life.

p.s. Kate's fitbit said we walked 5.4 miles and 13 flights of stairs....we earned the food. Again.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The David

Today was full of surprises.

Last night after our big dinner out, we returned to the hotel to find out from Paulo that, "From 11pm to 4:30am, there will be no water. There is a problem and all of Florence will have the water turned off." Kate woke at 4am with a groggy series of thoughts. I will summarize here. 

The water is supposed to be off. It is raining outside. Oh, those poor plumbers who have to be out in the rain fixing the problem. Those Italian Plumbers. Mario and Luigi. 

Pretty funny stuff.

After breakfast at the hotel, we were in for our second and much better surprise. The Accademia Gallery of Florence that we had booked tickets to was 1 block away from our hotel. Yay! Super close.

We skipped the lines, wondering if it would be hard to find the main attraction of the gallery. We entered, turned into the first room on the left and there he was.

Michelangelo's David. I am a fan of sculptures, as you may remember from my blog about the Louvre, so I was in the zone with this one. 

First of all, The David is MUCH bigger than I was expecting. It is 4.3m (14.2ft) tall and that's without the base. The guy standing in front of the sculpture in my above photo was probably 6'4", so when you're looking up at The David, you are looking UP at it.

I took a very slow walk around David, taking pictures from every angle. I can't describe how much I loved it. So life like, Kate said when you stare at the ribs, you expect to see him take a breath.

I walked around the museum some, but ended up grabbing a seat and staring at every inch of the sculpture for something like 20 minutes. I was amazed by Michelangelo's ability to take a giant marble slab and turn it into this man. Fleshy and soft in spots, hard and bony in others. The musculature and veins, the curls in his hair. How delicate must the work have been for such a hard medium. I teared up at one point from the sheer magnificence of it. Here are pictures from every angle. 






After the Accademia Gallery, we had lunch at Trattoria Mario again. I ordered the Ravioli with Zucchini. Kate ordered the steak with potatoes (Fries). Both were incredible. If you ever come to Florence, go to Trattoria Mario. Get anything. It's all very good.

After lunch we went for a great long walk. The first thing we did was drop off some extraneous things at the hotel (sweaters, etc) and took off from there. So, we go to the end of our street in a direction we hadn't walked before, it was only two blocks and at the same time were stunned by what we found. The Florence Cathedral, aka The Florence Duomo.

Then we head to the Arno River and walked across Ponte Vecchio

The river
Ponte Vecchio
Our goal was to reach Piazzale Michelangelo. Up until this point, all of Florence was much smaller than expected. The Duomo was one block away, the river was like three more blocks, the bridge was close and then, once we crossed the bridge, the terrain changed. The streets became cobbled (hard on the calves, ankles, etc). Then there was a hill. When we made it to the top of the hill, we were rewarded with stairs. Long in length, short in height. Awkward to ascend. Then these stairs turned into regular stairs. To give you an idea, Kate's fitbit said she walked something like 22 flights of stairs today (and 5 miles). We worked and walked and swore and sweat and at the summit reaped our reward - a gorgeous view.

Panoramic view of Florence (photo by Kate)
And then we took a taxi back to the hotel. 

Handsome Italian Man Catches My Eye

Today, I met a man. He is perfect. For 20 minutes, I sat on a bench and stared at every inch of him. From his masculine shoulders and arms, to his hands, his legs, his feet, the intense look in his eyes. He is tall and strong. His abs as hard as a marble slab. The other girls were looking too, but he didn't seem interested. I walked towards him to get a better look. With his head turned, he didn't see me come up behind him sneaking a glance at his muscular back, his calves. Again, my gaze was drawn to his hands. Slowly, I circled him and snapped a picture. Here's a sneak peak.

Longer blog to come...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Italy: Cinque Terre

After getting to sleep at 2am, the alarm went off at 6. The day for our Cinque Terre tour had arrived! I was groggy for a good half hour. We grabbed some breakfast from the B&B and asked them to call us a taxi which arrived before we could make it downstairs. "To the train station." Three minutes later, we arrived, having been made aware just how close we were to the station.

Bleary eyed but looking forward to a long day with amazing sights, our tour group gathered together and were lead by Amadeus to the bus.  

Amadeus had a great style of delivery when giving directions or telling us the history of a location. He would state things simply and if he needed your attention he would say, "Listen to me" in his Italian/Spanish accent. We had some Spanish speaking tour mates, so Amadeus would say everything in English first and then Spanish (which made me feel like I was back in California). But when he would talk to the driver or the other tour guides with us (there were three of them), he would speak in a beautiful Italian. Honestly, I'd never heard Italian conversations before. Only a word here or there. I was entranced, enamoured with the language. The words felt like a surprise gooey chocolate center of a magnificent souffle. I wanted to eat the words that fell from their tongues. Of all the languages and accents I have ever heard, Italian is the one I would choose to hear for all eternity (if I had to pick just one). 

Our bus ride to Cinque Terre (pronounced Chinkwa Terra) took 2 hours. Cinque Terre means 5 Lands. There are five little villages with resident populations between 120 to 1,000 people. We visited three of them. Pictures can't do justice to how beautiful the area is.

We took a train between the towns and were warned to wear our backpacks and purses in front of us. That pick pockets are professional and will be unrecognisable. Amadeus said that that they could look like anyone, even a Priest. 

I would see cats occasionally in the streets. Because the villages were so small, the cats had no real threats and would confidently meander through the streets, occasionally being fed by a shop owner or tourist.

Off a narrow street, we found a tunnel/cave that lead to a beach. 

The waves here were intense and unpredictable. I kept my wary distance from the water. Back to the main street and at the end...this.


We found a beach on The Mediterranean. I skipped stones.

And after the tour, on the bus, I took a picture of the side of great big hills. That's not snow you see. It's white marble. There were huge slabs of it in businesses next to the highway.

The tour itself was great. Mostly a slow pace. There really wasn't a lot of walking, but there were a number of complainers. Mostly Americans. I won't say that all American travellers are obnoxious, but when you're in a group and someone stands out in a bad way, it's usually (always) and American. And for this I am embarrassed and upset. They complain loudly about small things, as if everything should be catered to them. They don't realise that sometimes you have to walk up a hill. You did come to a town built on a hill...what were you expecting. I did my best not to let it get to me, and did have friendly conversations with the worst of them, but when we were seated for lunch I told the tour guide to sit me with anyone but the Americans. She laughed knowingly and we sat with two French people our own age. It was a lovely lunch of pasta, fish and lemon flavored ice cream.

After the tour, back in Florence at nearly 8pm, Kate and I decided to have dinner and not hold back. We stopped at Ciro & Sons Ristorante. I ordered tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella to share, a 1/2 bottle of Bolgheri wine (mostly for Kate - though I did try some), spaghetti with lobster (tail and claw), chocolate souffle with hazelnut gelato and an espresso. And then I rolled back to the hotel where I immediately fell into a deep and restful sleep.

Another great day in Florence.