Sunday, February 20, 2011
The flight to Amsterdam was quick, and rather uneventful. We got breakfast…if you want to call it that. A couple sandwiches (one with orange jam and the other with cheese) and a little something to drink – emphasis on the little.
It has been a very long time since I have gotten off an airplane on the tarmac, and never have taken a bus to a gate. We didn’t have much time in between when we landed and had to take off again to do much other than rush through the airport, get through passport check and to the next gate. I was getting a little hungry, so I made Mark go get me something to snack on while I was supposed to go into the gate…but they wouldn’t let me in because we were together – I should have told me I didn’t know him. :)
The flight from Amsterdam was long…9 hours. Mark ended up watching Red while I tried to rest…it’s kind of hard to sleep when the big guy next to you keeps laughing every 10 minutes and jiggling the seats. I gave up and read for a little while. Then I decided to watch a movie too. I first watched Unstoppable then watched Nanny McPhee Returns. I like the idea of getting to watch your own movie while you fly instead of having to watch the same thing everyone else is. You could play games too…he he he. Least to say, Mark and I had a good time on the flight home, but we didn’t get much sleep. I did finish reading Twilight though, which I just started last Friday on my flight to Italy. We landed, went through passport check, got our bags, tried to find the car, then headed home to Rochester.
We got a very warm welcome from the kids, including a couple “welcome home” pictures done by the kids. And it was super nice to come home to a clean house with all laundry and dishes done (I even think the bathroom was cleaned), dusting done, vacuuming etc. I love it when my mom watches the kids at our place. :)
What a trip! I loved being in my own bed, with my own pillows…and waking up to my kids in the other room. I didn’t care to wake up to all this white stuff falling from the sky though. What a rude awakening. We did head to church, which was not very full at all, for a good message from Pastor Paul…but more importantly, CHOIR WEEKEND! I love it when the choir sings. It is so uplifting, so inspiring. It feels so great to worship God with other believers, raising our voices to heaven to praise Him.
I thank the Lord for the days He gave me, the beautiful things I was blessed to see this past week in Italy. God Bless you all!
Our last day in Venice was nice. The sun finally decided to make it’s appearance in Venice, which made for a very pleasant day. We checked out, stored our luggage there, and headed to the Accadamia first for more art. There were supposedly no photos allowed in here, but it was not posted and tons of people were taking pictures in front of the attendants without being admonished. Mark took a few pictures, however we didn’t get them loaded into the computer last night. Again, it seemed more of the same few scenes painted in slightly different ways by a number of artists. I loved seeing the frescos, as they are an extremely difficult medium to master. As we were walking through, Mark asked if I would have come to Italy back in high school (at the peak of my artistic expression) if I would have followed that route more. I’d like to think that it would have definitely inspired me more, maybe would have kept me in the graphics design program longer. But when you are single and parenting, paints and canvases are not high on the list of things to buy.
After leaving the Accadamia, we headed for yet another art museum…the Peggy Guggenheim. It was slightly expensive, in comparison to the other places we have seen, at 12 euros a piece. But the art at this place is definitely different than anything in the other museums. It was like hitting a time warp and being transported from the 1500s to 1900s. Most of the painting and sculptures in the Guggenheim were Cubism and Surrealism…not much in common with the Sistine Chapel. :) It was nice to see something fresh. We came to a spot that had two paintings, and I had to laugh. One was of a red rectangle, with a darker red and orange rectangles around it. The other was orange of two different colors with bluish purple squares inside. I told Mark if I could have shown this to my dad, and told him that this was considered art (worth lots of money) he may have been slightly more supportive of my career choice in high school.
Leaving the museum, we headed toward our very last destination…the Rialto Bridge, for a little shopping, some photos, and a couple kisses. :) I was told I couldn’t shop inside the bridge, because it was too expensive…aw, shucks. But a couple free kisses, that I think I can handle.
It didn’t take us long to get back to the hotel to grab our bags and find out where in the world we needed to go in order to get to our next hotel on the mainland. By our very last day, Mark was pretty good at getting us around…I gave up caring. I took Rick Steves’ advice and just accepted that I was going to be lost most of the time. We hiked our way back through the maze of alleys and bridges to the buses in order to get to the mainland, and our Friday night hotel in Campalto. That was a trip! I’m just going to say we got off slightly too early, had to trek with backpacks and suitcases another kilometer, and then attempt to figure out where in the world the Feel Inn was. We were passing by a building when I happened to look up and see the name, and told Mark three times to look up. Yeah, we found the hotel…sort of. We next had to find the main door, which was not easy. And then panic set in when the door was locked tight and it was dark inside. Good news, after about 10 minutes (and Mark asking some old guy outside the bar) we rang the doorbell and were let in by the receptionist.
The rooms were upstairs, along with the receptionist. We were given three keys – one for the room itself, one for the door in the hallway, and one for the outside door that was locked. That was definitely odd. Our bed and the rooms continued to get progressively smaller, but the bathroom this time was the biggest. We got settled, relaxed for a little bit, then decided to head out for the bus tickets for the next morning and a grab some supper. Ha…people in Campalto speak less English than anywhere else we were. We barely understood the guy in the tabachi shop getting the bus tickets, and the guy at the restaurant didn’t speak a lick of English…and he wasn’t serving us for an hour and a half. So we headed back to the hotel room, sulking and hungry, and stopped at the little pizza shop at the corner. I love pan pizzas…but this was hands down the best pizza I have ever had. Brick oven, thin/traditional curst, pepperoni and mushroom, fresh mozzarella cheese. I had just finished my first piece, and Mark was eating his fourth piece. I had to take the rest of the pizza so I could get more.
With a full day of flying ahead, we are looking forward to seeing the kids again…and getting to sleep in our own bed. It’s been a great week, with lots of memories. I can’t wait to bring the kids here some day. Next time though, I’m definitely learning a bit more Italian before I come.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
We slept in a bit, as we were both somewhat tired. After a light breakfast of powdered croissant and orange juice, we ended up getting to the termini at 10:23 (the next train to Venice was at 10:30). Instead of rushing to find the right train (Mark’s idea) we caught the 11:30 (my idea) and decided to catch another little breakfast snack at the McDonald’s (sugared/frosted donut for me and blueberry muffin for Mark topped off with a small coke) before boarding the train. Mark had to sit by a grumpy little asian looking girl who did not look very pleased to be next to such a broad, arm-rest stealing American gentleman. But I insisted on the forward facing seat, and we were across from each other. Still, Dramamine is a blessing I count these days!
If you have ever been to Venice, you know (and understand with sympathy) the story that follows. Upon arriving in Venice Santa Lucia train station, we headed over the bridge and into the narrow streets and alleys of Venice. The rain was coming down pretty good (neither of us have waterproof jackets on or an umbrella at this point). We wandered around, getting lost in the maze of tiny streets that seem to go nowhere, surrounded by tall buildings, soaking wet. Why, do you ask? Because Mark thought it would be better to happen upon a hotel rather than attempt to actually book one and then try to find it. I’m not sure either option is better than the other, having gotten lost in this city with a map and an idea where we are actually going. So…carrying our backpacks and pulling our suitcases (that are not waterproof either) through the streets, carrying them over bridges that we happened upon, in many different directions, I finally lost my patience. Mark broke down and bought an umbrella, and after the third hotel that quoted no less then 100 euro a night, I nicely demanded he find a hotel quick before either walked off or beat him with the bags. Soon, we were able to happen upon a little place called Hotel Tivoli. It’s cute, and at 60 euro a night, Mark’s happy.
Since it was already getting late by the time we find the hotel and attempted to dry our jackets, my hair, and a few items from our bags, we headed out to the Frari church. We only had ½ hour so we quickly walked through as we listened to the Rick Steves’ audio tour I had downloaded on my ipod from itunes. This thing is really coming in handy! Mark’s favorite pieces here were this beautiful clock that was made of one single piece of wood and the painting above the main altar by Donetello. I happen to be much more of a painting person myself, but I really enjoyed seeing Donetello’s crypt and the ornate carvings.
Rain, rain, rain! We left the Frari before we could get kicked out as the place closes at 6pm. Armed with our umbrella, we figured we needed to find a place to eat soon, as my tummy was kind of grumbly. We passed a cute little restaurant, and as we were looking at the menu to see if I would want to eat anything on the menu the gentleman inside stepped out to tell us “no cook yet, half an hour.” Okay, then. We decided we really wanted to go to this place, so we walked around for a little while and stop in a couple shops. On our way out of one shop, I cut my finger on the umbrella when my glove got stuck (I still say the darn thing attacked me) and we ended up going back to the hotel for a bandaid. I know…I’m a total dork.
We luckily made our way back to the restaurant (no small feat for us at this point in our trip). We were the only customers sitting in the Antica Osteria at 6:45pm, which is still very odd for me. The idea that Italians eat so much later (and so much more) than most Americans, just doesn’t make sense to me.
Our dinner was wonderful though…and chalk full of more first. The antipasta (appetizer) Mark ordered was thinly sliced octopus (a first for me for sure) with peppers, celery, olive oil and some greens. He thought it was pretty good, and I even tried some, but the cold octopus was something neither one of us was really expecting. I ordered the spaghetti con promodoro again, and shared some with Mark, as my prima piatta. While it wasn’t as good as the one in Florence, it was still very delicious. Mark and I shared the secondi piatti pesce of grilled sea bass (don’t ask me the Italian name of it though, it was way too long). I have never had fished grilled and served with its skin on, so that was definitely different. But once you get past the “how do I eat this or take the skin off, hey its mouth is still open, and look at the slightly browned eyball” issues, the bass was scrumptious…the most tender I have ever had in my life. I love broiled walleye, but this was better! Mark ordered the mixed grilled vegetables for his side, and I ordered the French fries (go figure)…but no ketchup in site. As if this wasn’t enough, let’s order a dolce of Tirolese with layers of chocolate…hard brick on top with cake, cream, cake, cream and cake, surrounded by redi-whip puffs and all sprinkled with cocoa powder. Little too rich for me…okay WAY too rich for me. That and it tasted a day old and from a box. Oh, all the while, we had some naturale water to drink along with the best wine I have EVER had – Fior S’arancio Vino Spumante Dolce. I could definitely become a bit of a wine drinker if this is poured (or a drunkard if this is on tap)…yummy!
After finishing our wine and water, we headed back to the hotel to hit the sack for a fun filled day of site seeing. Least to say, when Thursday arrived and the alarm went off, we were still a bit too tired to actually get up. We finally got moving after 8, and hurried up with a shower to make our breakfast at 9am. Upon checking in, we were told breakfast was 8-9:30am (and she didn’t look like this was a fuzzy time of ending either).
We finally left the hotel close to 10:30, and headed back to the train station to catch a water bus (known as a vaporetto) down the Grand Canal and listen to the Rick Steves’ audio tour. Imagine bus stops and buses in a large city, now put that all on water and use a rope to connect the bus to the stop while people get on and off. It was a cold morning, which I was not completely prepared for. And putting that with being on a boat, I ended up buying a funny looking hat to keep my head/ears warm. Then I attempted to huddle behind my broad husband to stay warm. Mark took a few pictures while I listened to the audio guide and looked around. All I have to say is one set of headphones for the ipod just doesn’t work the greatest…definitely recommend the splitter so you can use two headphones! The 45 minute ride (actually I think our driver was going much faster and it only took 35 minutes) took us “slowly” down the canal to every stop as we took in lots of sites and hurried off at the San Zaccaria stop. I still feel like I’m on the boat!
We made our way back to the stop before by foot, St. Mark’s Square, and stopped first in Doge’s Palace. WOW…this place is huge. The armory, the halls, the prison – all the art and architecture were gorgeous, but by the 20th room I was cold and felt like we were never going to get out of this place. We finally made our way to the end, and stopped in the cafeteria where Mark had a small sandwich and I had a honey croissant and a hot chocolate apparently made the Italian way – which is more like eating hot chocolate pudding than drinking hot chocolate American style. At least the honey croissant was good!
We headed into the Basilica, with its beautiful mosaics. No photography is allowed in most of the places that we have been recently, so there are only a few pictures to put in here. We decided to head into the Treasury and pay the extra 3 euro per person to see some ancient artifacts that were brought to Venice when the city of Constantinople was sacked. Mark’s opinion was that it wasn’t worth the 6 euros…my response, “at least that didn’t get pickpocketed.” Since I failed to download the Basilica audio tour, we just wandered around and checked out the church. Even the floor was covered in mosaics.
With the church behind us, we headed to the Correr Museum (another non photo museum) which is made up of a lot of Venetian art as well as artifacts. We felt like we kept starring at the same painting…the virgin Mary with baby Jesus, with a variety of saints next to them, and in a variety of positions with the baby (which for the most part looked like a small version of an adult). It was interesting to see how different artists painted the same scene. Over all though, my favorite piece was something that looked like a large wood carving. It was in a glass case, which was not illuminated. But it looked very intricate. Once Mark found the light switch and turned it on, you could see the detail even more, and it was breath-taking. Oh…but there’s more. Next to it, Mark noticed there was a map of Venice, and thought the piece I was looking at must be a press. Sure enough! And that just made me even more amazed at this beautiful piece. Someone had to hand-carve all the details (down to the gulls in the air, and the waves) of this work.
Being almost 5pm, we were on our way out of the museum to wind our way through the “streets,” over bridges, around buildings, back tracking and finally finding the right direction to our hotel. I talked Mark into getting me a coke to go with my snack of Ritz and peanut butter we bought back in Florence. Then off he was for his daily snooze, and time for me to write.
We’ll be on our way soon for supper, now that it is after 8pm. He’s getting hungry, so off to feed the lion. Arrivederci!
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Valentine’s Day was AMAZING!! We had a long and fun walk through the streets of Rome to meet our tour guide for the Vatican tour. My original reaction to Mark’s inquiry of wanting to see the Vatican was “not really, I’m not Catholic anymore honey…that place doesn’t interest me that much.” Boy, am I glad that we went. We got to see a lot of art work in the museums, get a small sense of the magnitude of the Vatican Empire, and be amazed at the beauty of the Sistine Chapel. By the way…it apparently doesn’t matter what language you know, “no fotos” means no photos…but nobody really listens anyway. And it is quiet funny to be shushed by a bunch of Italian guards in the Sistine Chapel. :)
We stopped to have a little lunch before we headed to St. Peter’s Basilica. Um…this is what they call pizza. Mine was slightly plain, bread with mozzarella, mushrooms, and funny looking things Mark referred to as hot dogs (I didn’t eat them).
Then off we went to the Basilica. Yep…small ant like feeling inside would be the best way to describe it. It was absolutely beautiful, from the ornate floor with its vibrantly colored marble all the way to the mosaics at the very top of the dome. Yes, folks, we went all the way up on the spiraling, angled stairs. All 545 up (and I am not including the 4 that I took to go into the little nook to take a picture), and then back down again. The view from the top was incredible…seeing the entire city and all the other things we saw yesterday from a different view. The 10 euro workout was pretty good too…my calves still hurt.
Back to the hotel by taxi (now that was interesting, less horrifying than I thought it would be though) for a little rest before the adventure of trying to find a restaurant on Valentine’s Day. Mark managed a snooze while I worked on the computer (are you sensing the pattern). Then we got dressed up a little and headed out for a nice place. After about 30 different turns (only 6 of which I think were right), we finally found this cute little Taverna de Scalla. Mark insisted on sitting outside, under the heated umbrellas. It was a quant little eatery, with pretty decent food. We had the Valentine’s Day special, which is still way too much food than any human should ever eat let alone me. I ate a little of the antipasta fried vegetables (I can now say I have had eggplant), nothing of the prima piatta Ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, half of the secondi piatta veal with potatoes and mushrooms (I can now say I have had veal as well), and a couple tastes of the dolci of real chocolate cake with strawberries, whip cream, chocolate drizzle and sprinkled powdered sugar (can you RICH?). All this was served with a white wine right away and champagne with dessert, followed by an “Americano coffee” for me and a lemoncello for Mark. We finished a large bottle of natural water while we were there too! I felt like exploding, I was so full.
Exhausted, cold, and very stuffed, we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. We called the kids just after 11pm our time (4 pm in the States) to say hello and give our love. The little man was sleeping, but got to hear that everyone is doing great. We are so glad they are in good hands while we are gone. Thank you, Wally & Teresa and Nana, for taking such good care of them!
I just want to share one more thing…as I left the Basilica yesterday, I was just in awe of the wonders, the sites I had seen so far. The weather was beautiful, the art was magnificent. I left with a song in my heart and on my lips… “Holy, Holy, is the Lord Almighty.” While we were inside the Basilica, there are a couple areas that are roped off for prayer, one with curtains. There are no pictures allowed in those two areas, but you can go in and say a prayer. Mark asked me if I wanted to, and I told him I was very lucky to have an amazing faith that allowed be to pray anywhere…even on this side of the ropes. While at dinner, Mark asked if I thought people needed to go to these huge place to feel like God is bigger than they are. I told him I think people need a place to go to feel His presence, a place to put Him if you will to make Him more real. I don’t understand that, because I know He is always there, everywhere I go, whenever I need him. I don’t need a kneeling bench or an altar. I don’t even need a cross. And the Church is not a building, it is the people…the group of believers who gather in His name to do His work. While I see all these Things creating by others, most to magnify themselves or someone else, I see the beauty that God behold for each of us…as long as we are ready to love Him.
Mailing some postcards at the Vatican...I hear their postal service is one of the best in the World!
Got a good picture of Mark in the Basilica...
Going up the Dome...all 545 stairs!
Inside the top of the dome, the mosaics are beautiful!
Sunday, February 13, 2011
The Capitoline Hill was first on our list, and quiet breathtaking. Mark kept calling it Wedding Cake…Mark’s tour guide from Friday, Marco, said the Italians refer to it that way because of all the layers and “cake topper” of the horses. We enjoyed a self tour of the museum, and were able to get up to take pictures of many buildings around it, including the Colosseum. We did not go to the Musei Capitolini – the Vincent Van Gogh exhibit made the line way too long for my interest level. Don’t get me wrong, wonderful artist and all. But I have ALL of Rome sitting in front of me. Need I say more? Oh, and while we didn’t go in, I did get a picture of the Santa Maria in Aracoeli…glad I didn’t have to climb those stairs.
After trying to remember where all we were going to go today, we decided we should just head to the Colosseum for our next stop. We were discussing where to get a ticket, and having to backtrack to the Palatine Hill to get the ticket (so we didn’t have to wait in the horrendous line) when we were approached to take part in a tour. No, grazie. Then the wonderful conversation of “do you want to do a guided tour?”, “no, not really,” “why not?”, “because I don’t. Why do you?”, “Yeah, I think it would be fun” occurred before the next one could approach us (guess which one of us wanted to tour). So we say “Yes” and off we go to join a group for 32 euro.
That same 32 euro got us into the Palatine Hill and the Forum with a free guided tour. While we took lots of pictures, even a couple of our tour guides, and saw some amazing sites, the highlight of my day may just have been the conversation right after the one above with the person “hooking us up” with the tour. She asked us where we were from and Mark told her Minnesota, she said that she guessed he was American, but that if I had been walking alone she wouldn’t have approached me because I could pass for Italian. One of our previous conversations was that I was “in fashion” and he was not, and he was totally going to get made for an American while I could blend in. :) Ha ha ha…that chic made my DAY!
Lots of fun today…and lots of exercise. We must have walked at least 400 stairs today, each, and over 6 miles with all the to and fro inside the Forum and around the Colosseum. My calves are burning even though I am sitting on the bed with them up, relaxing while Mark takes a little snooze (priorities, I tell you…he sleeps, I blog). :)
It’s time to freshen up and go eat “supper”…at 8pm. I think this is crazy, by the way, for people to eat so late. But after all the walking, a light breakfast, a small snack with half a coke, three bites of a not so great chicken (or so the guy said) sandwich, and half another coke, I’m up for this. Besides, it’s lunch time back home.
Tomorrow will be a fun filled day of the Vatican tour and the Catacombs.
Ripa Hotel, in the "seedy" part of town