Friday, November 27, 2009

Lost and Frustrated in Rome

This day was kind of a late start for us. Shaun, Mindy and I headed out for the day after a quickie breakfast. The weather was warmish and clear. We stopped by a courtyard but to this day I'm still not sure what it was called. Several headless statues were there, and of course there was a fountain, as those seem to be everywhere in Rome.

From there we headed towards the terminal to look at bus passes around the city. Mindy and I ended up getting a one day pass that would drop us anywhere along a certain route...and pick us up anywhere along the route as well. Also included with the pass was a tour of the Vatican museum and St. Peter's Basilica on Monday.

The three of us got on the bus with plans to catch another bus to the Catacombs. This all worked out well and we were dropped off not far from where we needed to be. What we didn't know was that the Catacombs were closed from 12-2, and we were just getting there at 12:15. I was incredibly frustrated for the time we had to wast to get there, and wait there, but it would have been more wasteful to leave without seeing it. Mindy and Shaun were good sports though, and we ended up enjoying our time, taking pictures of the little village that was there, and the beautiful landscapes.

The tombs were very maze like and disorienting, chilly and a bit musty smelling. No pictures were allowed here as well, but I don't think the lighting would have been that great anyway. By the time we flagged down a but to take us back to where we switched buses, it was too late to go into the Colosseum, and it was also raining quite heavily at times. Shaun headed to a film about Rome that he wanted to see, and Mindy and I got off of the bus a short time later, only to be turned around time and again.

We wandered in one direction for a while, and then, feeling like we were headed in the wrong direction, would turn around and head down a different street. Now is a great time to mention the streets of Rome. They are a bit wider than those in Florence, and have wider sidewalks for pedestrians, however, what always got us looking at the map was the fact that no streets in Rome last very long...after a few blocks, you end up in a little square and from there, the street we'd just been on ended, and several others branch off. I'm sure that was the main contributing factor of getting lost, as was the fact that it was pouring down rain in the dark. Once we found the Pantheon again, we had dinner at a nice little place with a view of the monument, again outside under a tent with heaters nearby.
We finally knew where we were, and after dinner were planning to head back to the hostel.

Planning...doesn't always work out the way you intend. Along the way, it started to rain again, and low and behold, there was an Irish bar. What was to be a quick stop for one beer turned into three pints for myself, and two for Mindy. We met a lot of real Romans there, an also and American who had been living in Rome for the past four years. From there, we did make it back to the hostel, where we opened another bottle of wine and hung out with our other two roommates.


Saturday night
We arrived in Rome on the Eurostar train in just over an hour and a half. Tickets were much more than the regional trains but saving time was invaluable, as we only had three days to be in Rome. Again, our hostel of choice was just a few blocks from the terminal so we made it there and were checked in by 3:30pm. This time, we were staying in a six bed m
ixed dorm. Also getting settled in was Shaun, whom had also just arrived from Florence on the same train. After a bit of chit chat, we realized that we had also been staying at the same hostel there as well. Around 4:15 the three of us headed out. The plan was to do a loop and see some of the sights lit up at night. On our agenda was the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, The Pantheon, Piazza Navona, The Palatino, and of course The Colosseum. Other side streets brought us to interesting areas as well, and a walk along the river proved to be cold and smelly. We took a break to warm up and fill our bellies and then we were off again. By the time we made it back to the hostel at 11pm, our feet were sore, our bodies frozen, and and our minds tired. Not too tired to enjoy two more bottles of wine though!
Trevi Fountain


Piazza Navona

Fiume Tevere



Sunday, November 22, 2009

More about Florence


Although the night before had been a late night, Mindy and I were both up by 8am. I headed down for breakfast while she got ready for the day with our two roommates, neither of which spoke very much English. At 10am we went with a group from the hostel on a walking tour. Most of this tour were places we had already been to, however, it was nice to hear the history behind the buildings, and the people who had commissioned and designed them.
After walking through the narrow streets and stopping at the usual landmarks, we took a gelato/espresso break at one of the oldest cafes in Florence. As I had just had a gelato the day before, and had not yet had my morning coffee, I decided to have an espresso (one is all I need).

After the tour, we headed to Chiesa di Santa Croce. This church is the resting place for the most famous Florentines, however, that does not include Dante, who died while in exile. Instead of having a tomb inside the church, there is a rather large statue of him in the square outside. Unfortunately, the main altar was being worked on, so what we could see was through scaffolding. What we could see was pretty neat. There was a courtyard with sculptures that I had seen before (again, from my studies in college), and in the museum section of the church was a very extravagant altar behind a very large gate.Up next was the Galleria degli Uffizi. The galleries are on the top two floors so up more stairs we went. By this time, both Mindy and I were starting to think that the Italians really like their stairs, and they like them steep! Yet again, no photos were allowed, but it was a nice break from looking at everything through a lens. About an hour into the museum, we had started to notice how tired our legs were. I couldn't help but think that sitting down would be nice.

After dinner and at least one bottle of wine we took it easy and hung out in the lounge area of the hostel for the evening.


We started this day with a run around Fortezza da Basso, which was a couple of blocks away from the hostel. We ran around it three times, which took almost 26 minutes, and was probably three miles total. It felt great running at such a low elevation, however, the car exhaust was horrible! My legs had been feeling very tight and I remember feeling much better after this run.

We headed out on that days tour after checking out and stowing our bags in the holding area again. This leg of the tour was the 'off the beaten path tour' and took us to areas we hadn't been to yet. While taking a break on Ponte S. Trinita, our guide told us about the Ponte Vecchio, which is where all of the jewelry stores are. This also turned into a great picture opportunity, and as we knew some of the people on the tour, I felt comfortable handing over my camera so that I could be in some photos.

Up next was another break at a cafe just off the bridge. This time, I did have a gelato and it was almost as good as the first one that I had had on our first day in Florence. After our indulgence, we headed to Chiesa di Santa Spirito. We were able to go inside here, and it was wonderful. No repairs were going on so we were able to see everything. It was a bit cold inside, and all of us were anxious to get outside and into the sun. This was a perfect day, with blue skies that were great for taking photographs.

With the conclusion of this tour, we said goodbye to our friends and picked up or packs. We were headed to Rome!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Florence, day one

Our first stop in Florence was the information office right across the street from the train station. We were pointed in the direction of a hostel a couple blocks away from the terminal and must have had the "wow" expression on our faces, as a gentleman who passed by us came back and asked us if we needed help finding something. We told him that we were looking for Ostello Archi Rossi. As luck would have it, he and his wife were staying there and informed us that it was right around the corner. While we walked with him he told us a bit more about the hostel; free breakfast and dinner, free internet on their computers, two different, and also free tours from the hostel, and nice people to boot! We got our room reserved and put our packs in the "holding" area, as we couldn't check in until 2:30pm. They assured us that our bags were safe and off we went.

Our first destination was the Piazza Duomo. Before we made it there, we stopped off at a shop and had the most amazing homemade gelato. Ah, heaven. It was delicious! As we continued toward the Duomo, I was surprised that it was right there, with shops and restaurants right next to it. But how spectacular it was!
We headed into the cathedral and it was startlingly huge. It seemed to go on forever. The highlight, of course, was looking up into the dome. Amazing frescoes cover all of it, and I was speechless. Since the weather was favorable, we decided that a trip to the top of the Dome should be done right away. If I remember correctly, it was 463 steps to the top. Not hard at all, and it was also nice because there were windows as we made our way to the top. Also nice was that in the off season, not very many people were on their way up, or down, and it wasn't hot. I couldn't imagine climbing to the top with high season tourists and hot weather.
Once at the top, it was hard to take it all in. What a beautiful city! I wanted to go everywhere. While I am a bit timid of heights, this didn't bother me at all...had I been able to, I would have stayed up there until nightfall. To see the city lit up would have been incredible, but it was still very wonderful to see it in the daylight.After that adventure, we headed to the Ponte Vecchio, where all of the shops on the bridge are jewelry shops! I was in my element there, however, I didn't find a piece that I just had to have. My plan was to find an authentic Italian piece of jewelry, a search that went on for the duration of the trip without success. A wonderful idea has hatched and now I just need the time to complete it (probably after the new year).

Right off of the 'jewelry strip' as I will forever call it, was a wonderful cafe that was displaying some very delicious looking pizza. Basil, tomato, and fresh mozzarella on a wonderful crust was almost hard to share with Mindy. It hit the spot, but I was wondering how to ask for honey, and if I would get strange looks as to why this silly American would want honey with her pizza.
After our pizza lunch, we headed to Galleria dell 'Accademia, the home of the original David. A bit disappointed that I couldn't take any pictures, I just took him in. I remember wondering what the big deal was about him while studying art in college, and I was very pleased to see what the big deal was in person. The scope of knowledge that Michelangelo would have required to sculpt this perfect person, at such a young age (I believe that he was 29) baffles me. I suppose without the distractions that we have now, it was a relatively easy task to find the time for study.

After some aimless strolling through the confusing streets of Florence, we made it back to our hostel and saw our room for the first time. We were sharing it with two other women, who were not there when we arrived. After making our beds and unpacking a few things, we headed down to the cafeteria for supper. I had a veggie pizza, while Mindy enjoyed spaghetti. There were a lot of people there and it did take about 20 minutes to get our meals. That was alright by us, as we had a bottle of wine to capture our attention. After dinner, we headed out for a nighttime stroll, with the soul purpose being to get more wine. Back to the common area we went, where we were looking over Lonely Planet Italy (which I strongly suggest anyone to get for foreign travels) to see what we should do the next day. A few tables down, there was a group of five young adults that were playing what was obviously a drinking game, and playing very loudly. They were having a great time and soon asked us to join them. Mary and Jon were from Quebec City, Daniel was from Australia, Olivier was from Northern Italy, and Martin was from Argentina. We stayed at the hostel for a couple of hours, and then headed out to find something more exciting. Almost all of us ended up at Rex Cafe. This place was packed! Hardly any room to move, and the place was under 1000 square feet, with people still streaming in. Late '90's American music was playing, and these Italians loved it. Everyone was singing along to tunes that we considered old news, dancing and talking all at once. I couldn't believe it...there were people here that couldn't speak a lick of English, yet, they knew all of the words, to every song. For the couple of hours that we were there, I don't recall ever hearing a song that wasn't American.

Finally arriving back at the hostel just after 3am, we were ready for bed.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


The flights weren't that bad...I had said that I was going to try and sleep on the long flight to avoid jet lag but that didn't so much happen. Turns out that the couple in front of us were in the mood for chit chat and drinking the free in flight wine. I happily joined them for most of the flight, while Mindy snoozed a bit and then rejoined us. This was my number one mistake. Our layover in Paris for about 4 hours was excruciating. I wanted to sleep, but felt horrible! I think that I got about an hour of sleep in a very uncomfortable green chair, and then about that much more on the flight to Pisa. Both of us feeling not well at all, and tired to boot, we still stayed active until about 8:30 pm when we'd both had enough.

Pisa...finally in Italy and it's raining, windy, and cold! A bit overwhelmed as we stepped out of the airport, we weren't really sure where we needed to go. So back in we went to speak with the bus ticket people. They hooked us up with a ticket to Piazza D. Manin, which is right next to Piazza dei Miracoli, where the Leaning Tower is. While it is kind of cool, it is not the most impressive thing in that area. To me, the Duomo and Baptistery far outshine it.
Inside the Cathedral, there are many wonderful works of art. As we walked up the center aisle, I couldn't help but exclaim "Wow, I drew that in college!" I had no idea that the lectern I had done a charcoal drawing of was in this church.

Also quite impressive was the main altar. Gold leaf on the paintings was going to be something that we saw a lot of in the coming days, all in churches...
After having found a hotel (the only hostel in Pisa was closed), and seen the main sights, we decided that we should both try to eat something. Off to a quaint little cafe, we had a small pizza and I had an Italian beer. The wind had died down so we decided to sit down out front and chill out a bit.
After dinner, it was to bed for us by 9, although, I had a hard time falling asleep. Go figure, I'm exhausted and can't sleep! The next morning we would be heading to Florence by train. We had had eight hours in Pisa, and that was enough.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A return to reality

I have just returned home from my travels to Italy. Leading up to my trip, the excitement was almost too much for me to handle. Now, the overwhelming task of writing it all down, and going through about 1200 photos is upon me. I am so glad that I kept a journal while I was gone, but am sure that I will forget some of the little things.

For now, I am getting resettled in reality. The reality that I must start running again, and that work awaits on Monday. More on Italy very soon.