Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Florence, Italy - Day 4 of 12

Well, it started in Rome. I woke up in the two twin beds pushed together with Court on hers, Roo on mine and myself in the middle towards the end. Roo had to bounce out of there and discovered his phone was missing. We looked all over the place, even in the trash can. It was no where to be found. I gave him our map and outlined where he lived as we rely on our phone so many things. As you or I would be, he was pretty upset and left without a farewell except a 'Later, ladies.' We felt terrible.

We had to catch a train to Florence that morning as well. We packed and had our continental breakfast. They served cake, pastries, toast, cheese and charcuterie, cereal, juice, tea, coffee and fresh fruit. I always had the fresh peaches. So good. I also had the succo which I believe was a blood orange but I'm not quite sure.

Unfortunately, Marco, the gent at the concierge wasn't there that Monday morning and we didn't get to say goodbye. We paid our hotel taxes which was 8 Euros per night and we were on our way with our almost 50-pound luggage. Thankfully we were a block from the train station.

I checked with the Italo club and they gave us the correct train number. We are also thankful for Roo's tip that people wait near the boards to see which train arrives at which platform. As soon as we saw ours, we had to race over there. It was at the other end of the terminal. We showed them our tickets and they let us in through security. We didn't have to go thru screenings or metal detectors. We were assigned to particular car and had seat numbers.

On the platform, people will blindly step in front of you as if you weren't waiting in line to board. Fine, whatever. People will also be smoking on the platform. I can't stand the smell. Thank goodness no smoking is allowed on the train.

We boarded finally and I was in no rush to get to my seat. There was no point. People had to find their seats, store their luggage and get comfy. My bag was too thick to be placed above us. Courtney and I tried to do it together. Her's was fine. She wins the luggage weight and now size challenge. I had to roll my bag to the opposite side of the car and just leave it next to the stroller. I was oversized.

I took my seat next to Courtney and we had already started moving. The motion made me nervous so I took a Dramamine. Before it kicked it and it made me fall asleep, a couple with a baby where in the next row and across from me. For some reason, the parents thought it was a brilliant idea to give the child a toy and have it repeatedly bang it on the metal tray. The father was in view and he was on his phone with a baby blanket in front of him. Why don't you put the blanket on top of the metal tray, Sir? I really wanted to ask instead I just kind of said 'What the fuck?' a few times because I could hear it through my headphones. Eventually I passed out but was awoken to show the agent our tickets with our passport. I thought it was a quick ride and that we would be off boarding soon. Nope, I had 40 more minutes to sleep. Thankfully the child was what I presume was asleep as well.

We headed into Florence and it looked familiar to me, in the way it looked to get to Pisa. I saw the top of a duomo but didn't know which one it was. We arrived, unloaded ourselves with our enormous luggage and headed out of the station. I was dopey from the Dramamine and didn't feel like talking. We got in line for a taxi and it was our first female driver. No flirting went on as the men did in Rome. It was pretty much a silent ride to our hotel which wasn't too far away.

We checked into our hotel and jumped in their narrow elevator to the second floor. We had an actual key attached to a metal hexagon shaped piece with a heavy weight wrapped around its end. Lugging our luggage, I was ecstatic about the extra weight.

I can't remember if we took a nap before we went out to explore but regardless, a nap was necessary every single day of this trip so far. We just wandered around, took wrong turns, used the wrong crosswalks, think we were on certain streets but wasn't. We eventually got the hang of it. Honestly, I was kinda crabby and tired from that pill so I probably wasn't the best company. I wasn't really talking and nothing excited me. I was just tired.

We randomly came across the Galleria dell'Accademia where the David was. Museums were closed on Mondays so we couldn't see him that day. We kept walking, saw leather shops, gelaterias, ristorantes and eventually saw the building Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and continued to move that direction. As more people were in our way, we knew we were approaching a busy piazza. We went into the cathedral and it was huge, beautiful and free. There was a way to light candles for your loved ones but in order to that you would have to blow out one and replace it with another. There just wasn't any candles left. I remember doing this at other churches while I was in Europe and prayed for those I love.

Still tired, I moved on with little enthusiasm until I was under the dome. The ceiling of the rotunda was painted and the inner circle made it look like the people were hanging off ledges. Like the Sistine Chapel, how did the do that? It must have been so dangerous and took years. It was beautiful.

You could climb to the top of the duomo and get a panoramic look at the city but 463 steps and paying to do so was not of interest for me. I was still sore from the Spanish Steps and my abs were sore from that workout.

We went out to the piazza and had pizza and a Coke outside. I read the a-frame board wrong and thought I was getting a deal on pizza and a soda. We selected the pepperoni pizza and the funghi pizza. They weighed each slice and then temporarily placed it in the oven. It came out to $16. The Coke alone was 3 Euros each. I guess it was decent. I thought I was getting it for 6 euros each. Oh well. The pizza was tasty. Of course I preferred the mushroom one and the Coke in Italy is less sweeter than the ones provided in America. The pepperoni was definitely spicy and a bit on the chewy side. I couldn't finish my pieces and I had to dab the pizza with a napkin to collect some of the excess oil. I could feel the potential heartburn coming on.

We continued to walk on and saw Prada, Gucci, Armani and more. Shopping? I'm doing that while in Milan. We passed a piazza with a carousel, many vendors with leather goods, jewelry and souvenirs and then we came across a little covered square with all the leather products you can ask for. Find belts, wallets, purses, backpacks, jackets and scarfs, pancho and more. Court bought herself a scarf. I will probably buy myself a leather jacket in Milan.

We continued on and found ourselves at the base of Ponte Vecchio. Cugino and I randomly found ourselves at the Rialto Bridge when we first arrived in Venice. We turned to our right and saw a bright elevated walkway. And that's how we found and realized we were on the Rialto Bridge. We were already on it. I didn't want to step on it until I saw it from afar. We walked a block west and was able to take some photos of the bridge. The water underneath it was brown and muddy.

Continuing on, one of my former bartenders and Sommelier, Thom, provided me some points of interest, including Santo Spirito. We eventually found it and it wasn't really happening. We walked in and walked out. Perhaps during the evening this would be like Rome's Piazza Nevona. With no real destination, we headed East and came across more ristorantes, gelaterias and museums. A banner flew about works of fashion and I was so unenthused. Poor Courtney. I was grumpy pants.

Passing another outdoor seating area, I pointed out the empty martini glasses that were sitting in front of a couple to Court. I presume the were once filled with an affogato. We found a little square with four restaurant options and picked one to sit at and have one. Our server was pretty and reminded me of Maria, a server I worked with while at Buon Appetito in Hayward. She had an accent, spoke English well and her makeup was perfect and eyelash extensions were on. No other server we have come across looked like her.

We sat next to an older couple. They were grumpy too. The wife was getting agitated that he couldn't read the servers writing for the wifi password. After letting her try to decipher the code herself, I passed her my menu that had the password in print on the first page. No point of getting angry over not being able to access the rest of the world. Trust me, I know! Wifi in our hotel rooms haven't been the greatest.

We had our affogatos and they were tasty. It takes me back to the cruise Cugino and I were on and I had one every day. I seriously gained weight so fast on that trip. Well, when it's all you can eat and drink! The gym was there but I was on vacation. These were good and it seemed like Court and I were in competition over who can finish it first. We were quiet and I could hear the spoons clinking on the glass and we both tilting the cup to make sure we got every drop.

I was beyond tired. I proposed going back to the room to nap. Court was game. We headed in the direction of the hotel but crossed over Ponte Vecchio. I was surprised to see that every single shop there was a jewelry shop. During my trip in 2012, I made it a point to get a piece of jewelry from every city that we visited. I was very much into selling Stella & Dot at that time.  Now that I think of it, I can't remember which piece of jewelry did I get from Pisa.

We made it to the hotel and we crashed. I woke up and was hungry. Surprise, surprise. I asked Court if she was hungry but she laid back down. I offered to bring her something back. I used my good ol' Yelp app to try to find what was open. I found one close by and headed that direction. When I arrived at where it should have been, the restaurant was not where I expected it to be. So I went in the other direction and headed to Perseus. I went inside and asked for a table for one. The restaurant went father than expected and there was meat everywhere! The decor had paintings on the wall, pots and pans hanging from the ceiling and the lighting was dim. I was sat at a table and I felt my Italian was escaping me that I felt like I failed when the waiter finally asked, "English?" Yeah. Damnit.

I looked over the menu and thought about what I could get that I can split with Court. I went with the pennette with carne which was steak, lamb with balsamic and grilled vegetables. I didn't eat all the pasta and was getting a little full. I pushed it away and asked if they had to go boxes. He said no and I didn't think he understood me so I pulled out my phone and used the Google translate app. I showed him what I meant and he said no again. I was puzzled. No to go boxes? What if I don't finish all this meat? Well, the pasta was taken away and the lamb was good but filling. On my grilled veggies platter I had red bell pepper, some thing that could have been endive, eggplant and a potato. The potato was wrapped in foil. A-ha! I could wrap up Court's meat in foil. The potato was good, the eggplant a bit tough and the bell pepper sweet. Also on my table was a huge bowl of raw veggies - celery, radishes, what looked like kale and carrots. I snacked on a few carrots in between my bites of lamb. I placed the piece of foil on my plate and started cutting up pieces to put in the foil. I then wrapped it up and placed it far to the side of me to where they would have to reach pretty far to get it off the table. I felt like I was hiding chewed up meat in a napkin so my mom wouldn't see and I could eventually going to throw it away in the trash without her even knowing. I paid and left holding my piece of foil. Is taking food home with you frowned upon? I have no idea.

The walk back was quiet and short. Court was still asleep so I left her dinner on the desk. I played on my phone, texted and ended up working until 1:30 AM. I had a hard time falling asleep. Something was on my mind and I hated it. I think I fell asleep at about 3:30 AM. I then get called via WhatsApp from work and them needing some financial docs that I could most likely find and send to them quicker than them trying to find it themselves. I got my laptop back out and sent them what they needed. Then I went back to sleep. This time until at least 9 AM.

Rome, Italy - Day 3 of 12

Day 3 of 12

It was our last full day in Rome and we had a 5-hour tour of the Colosseum, Palantine Hill and the Roman Forum scheduled starting at 11:30 AM. Court and I took a nap starting at 8 PM the night before and I woke up at 10 PM and started to write the previous posts. Court slept longer but was awake before I even realized. I was concentrating in the dark typing on my phone. I am now attempting to write this post with my laptop while now in Florence and a sleeping Courtney in the next bed over.

With ending up writing and texting home until 3:30 AM, it was best that I went to bed. We had a long day ahead and we were going to make the most of it. I slept for 5.5 more hours and did some abs on the floor with Court. I am definitely sore today that it hurts to cough or sneeze. Then we got ready to go for our walk which we thought was going to take awhile. It didn't. We were making great time and seeing the high walls and arches of the Colosseum was exciting but still not enough to wake me up. I needed some caffeine.

As soon as we got to the street that kept us from the Colesseum, the many runners for the hunger run was happening and polizia was doing their best keeping tourist out of their way. We probably stood there for about 10 minutes watching them pass until we saw a big gap and about 20 of us impatient tourists made a dash for it.

We made our way towards our meeting spot for our tour. Along the way, un oumo said I had a stain on my shirt. I was wearing my 49ers Faithful shirt because it was Sunday and we were playing the Buffalo Bills. I assumed he was a Bills fan. He said he was from New York and unfortunately pointed us in the wrong direction to use our voucher for our tours. I knew where we were supposed to go. We didn't let him waste our time.

We found our spot at the Palentine Hill entrance and I needed a snack. We had our continental breakfast at the hotel but this was going to be a 5-hour tour with a lunch break but who knows when that was going to take place. We walked towards the main street where our tour bus dropped Cugino and I off four years ago. We saw food vendors and trucks then. I remember getting a Ringo cookie packet. Thinking they would be there again, we walked to the far end with no trucks in sight. I didn't pack any snacks and I was concerned. We ended up walking around the other side of the Colosseum so I can get some grub. I ordered a macchiato, inquired if an omelette was going to take long and it did, but I also ordered 4 mini pizza like pockets to go as a snack. I asked for the omelette to go and I ate it as we speed walked to our meeting spot.

We found our group and got situated. A couple was there from Sacramento and the husband had a wandering eye. He would look somewhere else when he spoke to people. We had a lot of time standing around because someone left their bag in their driver's car and other people just showed up 15 minutes late.

We finally went in with our tour guide, John. He was friendly, spoke clearly and was a bit funny. We started out waiting another 15 minutes for people to use the restroom with all this time, John speaking in our ear through our headsets.

Palantine Hill was massive and truly fit for an emperor. It had gardens, a large open area for exercise where they also displayed statues and art, a hall, underground passageways for servants, deliveries, etc., his own army dormitory and of course a hall where he would sit upon a throne.

John took us to a lookout that showed us the Circus Maximus that was built before the Colosseum. It was a long track for chariot races. It held more people than Colosseum. Also from this look out, you can see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

It was a warm day and I was still sore from the squats from the Spanish Steps and being tired from the night before. Because we could hear John thru our headset wherever we wandered to within reason, I often tried to find some shade.Though wearing my Brooks, my feet were also sore.

We went to a lookout point where John explained the Roman Forum, how it was a gathering place for the government, announcements for the people, retail and more. There were places to make sacrifices to their Gods and there was a God for everything.

Then we had a break. We went off to a different direction from our group and dined across the street and didn't bother to wait for a table outside like we normally do. It was warm, there was a sign that said air-conditioning and I needed to get off my feet. We were sat inside and the AC was not as strong as I would have liked. We ordered food, wine and beer. I ordered the anitpasta seafood selection and Court had her caprese salad. My platter came with smoked salmon, a few slices of what seemed to be octopus bologna. It was interesting but tasty. I also had shrimp with shredded vegetables. My platter was perfect. It wasn't heavy, it was seafood and it went perfectly with my wine. We had to go meet our group for the Colosseum tour but first, we got gelato. It was warm and we walked a lot. We deserved it. I had Oreo, strawberry and accidentally said vanilla instead of coconut. It was still good though. I can't remember the last time I had a waffle cone.

After waiting for the stragglers and tardy tourists again, we headed to the Colosseum with gelato in hand. We entered in entrance number 49. I loved that, though we would lose that game to the Bills. It's a tough time to be a 49er fan right now.

I have been to the Colosseum before so there wasn't anything that I haven't seen before. Would I go back to The Vatican or the Colosseum again? Probably not unless we were able to go underground, but the underground tour isn't running around in the area in the center, it's just being under the stage/platform they had installed to show where the floor was. Some things John did mention that I didn't know was that they brought in elephants, alligators and rhinos to fight the gladiators or battle each other. John also mentioned that there have been reports that women versus women fights occured on a rare occasion. The Colosseum and the Circus Maximus and the like were the Emperor's way of keeping the people happy. Entertained community means an adored Emperor.

These places are incredible and it's amazing to imagine what they were like in prime condition, how they were even built with the lack of technology we have today and how they have been able to survive this long. You read about them in your textbooks but they become more real when you've walked on the same land, climb the same steps and gaze out in the distance from steeples still standing.

We left our group and tour guide, John, and headed to the Altare della Patria (alter for the familyhood). It is massive. At the gate, you will be stopped by security to make sure people can leave and then you may enter. Crazy that people have the courtesy to allow passageway. Climb the marble steps and see large beautiful statues of figures on horses and to the left and right of you. Reach one level and there are two gents in uniform guarding what is like the tomb of the unknown soldier in Washington DC with two torches ablaze to each side. Climb more steps on either side and enter inside for MORE stairs. Find yourself on the terrace for another view of this beautiful city. Pay 7 euros to take the elevator to the very top for another view. We declined and moved onto our next destination, the Pantheon.

On our way there, we stopped at a shop where a coat with a unique cut really caught my eye. I haven't bought any souvenirs yet and went inside. I love all the hats, coats and boots. I saw a military like jacket and had to try it on. I tried on the coat that caught my eye but I didn't like it on my. I found the military jacket and tried it in red and blue. I went with the red one. Can't wait to wear it at DW!

We continued on and found the Irish pub that Ivan, our cute cab driver from the night before was talking about. We didn't stop in. I could get whiskey at home and for nothing. Literally. We continued on and found the Pantheon. Unfortunately it closed 30 minutes before we had arrived. So... Wine?!? Yup! We headed in the direction of the Piazza Navona. We missed it the night before because we were so tired after dinner. We were headed in its direction but decided to pick up a taxi where we met Ivan instead. Before making it to the piazza, we picked up postcards to send home. I had to send one to Arya, Nate, Brent, Lola as proof that I went to church since she claims I haven't taken her since Easter, and to my Nikki B. who has inspired me to travel internationally once a year, whom I can practice my Spanish with and who has always been a supporter of everything that I do, plus my fitness aspirations. I had to send her a post card of the Spanish Steps and say how many squats and lunges we did on them.

We found our way to the middle of the piazza where there was a beautiful fountain and obelisk. We checked out the wine list at a few places and went around to find a spot that had crepes, gelato and wine. SOLD! We had a front row seat outside where we could hear music play and the sound of the fountain. We ordered a bottle of wine and I had a nutella crepe with fragolas e coconut gelato. Sooo good. We met Heather and Leo who were sitting right next to us. They were in Europe celebrating her 40th birthday. Who needs a big party? I too would also rather travel the world. They were a couple from Sacramento. Another one! We have met so many people that are either from Sacramento or have ties to Sacramento. Who knew! They were great and I gave them my card. Hopefully they connect with me and come by DW sometime. I invited them to come out and hang out with us that evening but they had other plans. They were doing a day trip to Florence the next day. And the way that night turned out, perhaps it was best.

And Heather & Leo did come out to Dirty Water in November!

Roo arrived and he had just come back from a day trip in Orvieto, which he loved. He ordered a bottle of wine and devoured pasta and it made me kind of hungry. But I decided not to indulge. As much as we're walking, I feel like I have put on so much weight. Damn you, carbs! Roo was leaving for home the next day and needed to be up at 7 AM. I convinced him to come out. He was talking about a place called Mr. Brown's across the Tiber River in the Trastevere area. He said that there were so many health infractions there that I would want to shut it down but he had a great time there and was given free shots. So we were game to walk about 15 minutes to this Mr. Brown's. We got there and it wasn't as lively as he described. We had drinks and I had my first cocktail there. Sapphire and tonic. Courtney wanted tequila and I said no. Bad things happen when Court and tequila happen and it's our last night in Rome. I don't want it to get too crazy.  We were feeling pretty good from the two bottles of wine. There was a stripper pole and Court got on it. Oh my! The bartender did a nice move. Well done, Man!

We then moved on and went to a bar called the G-Bar. Not really a great deal on drinks but it was still a good time. They sat inside while I sat on the other side of the table top on the outside. A group of guys came to sit next to us and were speaking Italian. It was all agreed upon that the one in the New York cap had the best body and was the best looking. Court and I have the same taste so I told her to go get her tequila and buy him one. She did and I asked the bello if he wanted one. He said no and that it was going to be an easy night for him. He spoke very good English which also means that he heard and understood every objectifying comment about him. No shame. Therefore, Court had two shots of tequila. I was not going to partake. Good thing I didn't. Read on.

We went back to Mr. Brown's and I had the same cocktail there. They continued to drink and we met a guy in a beanie named Sebastian. His friend Pietro eventually joined us but was tired and didn't really want to drink. Sebastian pulled out papers and tobacco. It's been a long time since I've attempted to roll a joint as I haven't smoked pot in possibly over 12 years. I have never rolled a cigarette before. Sebastian let me do it. I did and Sebastian said it was poorly done but doable. I had to take one drag from the cigarette I rolled. And done. I actually cannot stand cigarette or weed smoke and Italy is an ashtray. Beautiful city but everyone smokes.

I was hungry and there was a place called Toast next to Mr. Brown's. I basically ordered three different paninis to share and I knew Court needed to eat. She was getting hammered. Her eyes were slowly closing and she was slurring. Roo continued to try to get Pietro to drink. He wasn't having it. The paninis were OK. To me, their sandwiches lack flavor and they're rather dry and simple.

We eventually walked back across the bridge with no particular place to go. We parted ways with the boys and we grabbed a taxi to go back to Roo's. We were only a few blocks away and we could do that walk in the morning when he had to go. They were in the back and I was up front sitting and chatting with Enzo our cab driver. I was obviously tipsy but had the best time speaking to him in my broken Spanish and Italian. We were laughing and he wasn't irritated with my attempts at speaking his language but he understood. Roo passed out. Court kept saying she needed to go to the bathroom. Mother role in me had to firmly tell her to relax and that we'll be there in a bit. We eventually made it to Roo's and for some reason, he said he didn't live there. He didn't recognize the place. I knew exactly where we were and I wasn't going to get any info out of him. Perhaps he checked out already. Perhaps he was actually staying somewhere else because Vicente left that morning. I don't know, so I apologized to Enzo and had him take us to our hotel. I gave my card to Enzo. He was so great and fun to talk to! We made it to the hotel, there, the two crashed hard on the bed immediately and I had to sleep in the middle at 1:45 AM. What a fun, last night in Rome.