Wednesday, October 3, 2012

To See or To Be

It's always a tough choice when going on vacations, especially when visiting places with so much to see.  When we were planning our trip, there were certainly things we wanted to the Colosseum, Eiffel Tower, The Vatican, etc.   That being said, we did not want to run around at 100mph seeing everything and not really experiencing the places we visit.   Our original plan was to schedule our mornings seeing the sites and spend the afternoons/evenings out in the neighborhoods...with an afternoon siesta in between.  We also left the last day in each city as a blank slate so that we could do whatever we wanted, whether it be seeing something new or going back to visit places we enjoyed the most.

We stuck to this plan pretty religiously in Rome.  Day one we visited the Colosseum and Forum in the morning, stopped for gelato and pizza on the way back to the hotel, took a nap, and then headed out to Piazza Navonna in the evening.  We continued this pattern throughout our first 4 days and then had our choice on day 5 on what to do.  We decided to go back to Piazza Popolo and do the walk down Via Del Corso.  We spent much of the day just walking, shopping, eating and generally just being.  It was my favorite day in Rome.

We learned a lot those first 5 days that affected our time the rest of the trip.  In Florence, we did not stick to our schedule at all.  We still saw all the things we wanted to see, but we spent more time just being.  Florence was a wonderful city for being.  It is pretty small and very walkable.  In fact we walked everywhere and only took a taxi once.  We loved our time just wandering around, finding a wonderful place to eat, talking and just watching the city go by.  It allowed us to experience life a bit more and relax a lot more...and I can tell you, boy did our feet need that relaxing time.  This down time also allowed us to be more in the moment when we actually saw the amazing sites like Michelangelo's David or the wonderful art at The Uffezi.

We continued this practice through Paris, spending more time in The Latin Quarter, St. Germain and Montmartre neighborhoods than we originally had planned.  We loved seeing the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, but we absolutely loved our last day relaxing, having a great lunch at a sidewalk cafe on St. Germain Blvd, reading in the Luxembourg Gardens and dinner out in The Latin Quarter.   

I know there is not right way and wrong way to see a city...just make sure you take the time to be.  I bet it will make your whole trip more enjoyable and memorable.  Remember, you can always go back and see more sites next time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sunset Over Florence

We'll have to go back to recount our visit to Florence. We didn't post much because we were too busy enjoying it. We absolutely fell in LOVE with Firenze. Everything about it. Except maybe the garbage collection schedule, but that's a whole post in and of itself complete with video.

I sit writing right now from our apartment in Paris. We arrived this afternoon after an incredibly brief visit to Pisa where we took the obligitory photos and headed to the airport. It is absolutely pouring down rain in Paris, so instead of heading out for a night time stroll to learn the ins and outs of our neighborhood I'm sitting at the kitchen table writing. Wait a minute....

I'm writing. In Paris.


Which brings me back to Florence (bear with me). 

Here is a video of our last night in Florence as we watched the sun set from Piazzale Michelangelo.  As a want-to-be photographer, this was a dream come true for me.

We made the pilgramage up to the Piazzale to watch this amazing site and quickly found a place that sold beer and prosseco making both of us very happy. I planted myself in a great spot and Dan took the opportunity to walk around and people watch. There were probably 120 people or so doing exactly what we were. We began chatting to the folks next to us and wouldn't you know it, they were from South San Francisco. It was a romantic, stunning way to spend our last evening in this jewel of a city. My heart was fluttering.

Earlier this same day, I found an art supply store that I had heard about and as soon as we walked in Dan said, "I'll go get some more money." He's a smart man, that one. I spent the next 15 mintues or so barely able to breath. I could feel the creative spirits so thick and alive in there. It was all I could do to not buy everything I saw. I restrained myself quite admirably and only ended up with a couple of paint brushes, a pad of paper made in Florence (the city is quite famous for their paper making), and some pastels and watercolor pencils. My heart was fluttering.

Fast forward again to sunset. Once the sun had set, we made our way down the hill on foot. Instead of going down the typical path taken by most, we happened along this little entrance to a rose garden that was leading down the same hill. What a wonderful way to make the journey.

Once down the hill, we walked along a street that parallelled the Arno and found a couple of trendy bars that were serving appertivos (free food during their "happy hour"). One of them was one we actually had on our list of places to go so were were thrilled to find it so easily. I can't say much for the cocktails, but the food in the second place was wonderful. I moved to ordering prosecco. You can't go wrong there.

We then made our way across the city and back to our apartment. We stopped for a while in front of the Duomo to take in the beauty one last time. A couple from Canada on their honeymoon had just arrived in Florence and we talked to them for quite a while giving them marriage and traveling advice. They had just been in Paris and so they gave us a tip on the best place for crepes. Meeting people from around the world has been one of the highlights of our trip.

And while many people would see our first night in Paris with the rain as a disappointment, I am basking in the opportunity to reflect and write in a city where so many amazing writers, philosophers, and artists have done just the same.

My heart is fluttering....again.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Thank You Roma.....Hello Firenze!!!!

This is our last morning in Rome as we need to catch a train in 4hrs to Florence.  I think I am going to leave this post open on our iPad and Kris and I can jump in and out with our throughts on Travel and Rome one last time before we head north.  So here goes:

1.  Yesterday was a wonderful day.  We decided that the Via Del Corso Walk from Piazza de Popolo through the Spanish Steps ending at the Trevi Fountain was what we wanted to do again on our last day.  We left our last day open on purpose so we would have the opportunity to do whatever we wanted with no schedule.  We left the camera and backpack in our hotel room.  We just wanted to be one with Rome.  We walked, shopped, ate and talked at our own pace with nowhere to be.  It was just a perfect way to spend our last day.  We ended with dinner at The Pantheon and drinks at
Campo de Fiori, the last Piazza we wanted to see before we left. It was a perfect finale to our 5 days in Rome.  (Dan)

2.  Eating in the Piazzas and famous places is definitely an expereince, but it is true the the food and drink is much more expensive and of far less quality.  It is fun to expereince that atmosphere every so often, but the trade off is real so make your choices wisely.   When eating in the Piazzas, I would go with something pretty pizza.  Once you venture into the more difficult sauces and pastas, you will go down hill fast.  You will also probably not want to drink the house wine as it is very aveage.  Pay a little more and get a good bottle and enjoy yourself.  Forget about how much it is costing and just enjoy the experience.  Just my 2 cents.  (Dan)

3.  If I see another man in capri pants, I'm going to have to pay for Stacy and Clinton to fly to Rome and take care of the situation. These are not Roman men who are wearing them. They are men from other lands. Roman men have too much fashion sense to commit this atrocity. (Kris)

4.  Don't worry so much about a dress code.  I read so much about everyone wearing long pants and that shorts are not ok.  Hogwash.  Locals are outnumbered by tourists and you are going to look like a tourist anyway.  Wear whatever you want.  Other than churches, there is nowhere I could not have gone wearing shorts anytime day or night.  Wish I would have brought another pair.  Absolutely loving my Keen Sandles....great for walking around Europe.  (Dan)

5.  Living in this city must be like living in a Museum.  Amazing ancient, baroque and renaissance architecture is around every corner.  We are not just talking the tourist sites but the embassys, churches, hotels and so so many other buildings and statues.  It is like going back in time.  Rome is something that must be experienced.  Pictures and movies just don't do it justice.   (Dan)

6.  Romans eat and walk slowly in direct contrast to their driving and speaking which are both done with a sense of urgency. (Kris)

7. Always bring a water bottle of some kind with you. There are public fountains everywhere that are spewing clean, cool water. Fill up whenever you can. That's what they are for. These are not modern inventions, these are part of the ancient infrastructure. Pretty smart, these Romans. (Kris)

8.  I know people told us a lot about pick-pockets and gypsies and I'm sure it happens. Our experience, however was quite different. We took all the prudent precautions...carying all of our cash and cards in money belts, putting little locks on the zippers of our backpacks/luggage, watching out for people who approach you, being extra careful and aware in crowded situations (train stations, airports etc). However, we did not see anyone even closely resembling a gypsy (sorry, Payton, I know you wanted a photo of a real live gypsy) and never had anyone approach us or bump into us or creating a diversion or anything. We also didn't see it happening to anyone else. Believe me, we were looking out for it. We were in plenty of crowded situations, but we never felt anything but safe and respected. Well done, people of Rome. (Kris)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Angels and Demons

Our third full day in Italy is the day we chose to see the Vatican. We bought our tickets via the internets before we left home and had a 9:00am reservation. The Vatican doesn't open any sooner than that so we were hoping to beat at least some of the crowds. As our taxi pulled up to the entrance, we were SO happy that we had purchased tickets before hand. The line for those who didn't was really long already (even thought the taxi driver was actually surprised at how short it was compared to what he usually sees). Because we had our printed reservation in hand, we simply walked right up to the gates and went in. We then went through "security." I say that in quotations because our experience with Italian security is that there really isn't any. We passed through a detector but even though it beeped the guards, who didn't stop the conversation they were having, waved us on.

We made our way to the area where we were supposed to exchange our printed reservation for actual tickets. The lines were long here, but luckily I had written down instructions that you could also go to an upstairs area to get tickets. We made our way to the next level where there was no line at all. A little research had saved us about an hour in line, at least, already this morning. We ducked into the little souvenier shop as I had a very important task at hand. I wanted to bring my grandmother a rosery from the Vatican. She is very Catholic (Irish Catholic) and I knew this would be something she would cherish. We found the perfect set. Mission accomplished.

Next stop....the Vatican Museum. So much to see here. It is, to say the very least, overwhelming. I can't even begin to describe it.

 Paintings, sculpture, artifacts and the building itself was unbelievable....

The next stop was the Sistine Chapel. Hoards of people fit into this place all at once. It's everything you think it would be. Dan, being the renagade that he is, decided to snap a photo with his iPhone even though it is explicitly forbiden. Glad he did.

We found the "secret door" where you can exit the chapel without having to then walk all the way back through the museum before going to St. Peter's (saving about a 20 minute walk). Thanks to Rick Steves for that one.

We walked into the basilica and were totally stunned at the size and grandure of the whole thing. YOu really do have to see it to believe it.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been 45 years since my last confession.

When we walked out of the building, we heard a bit of the Pope's address (from Germany I think) and then they were so kind as to ring the church bells for us.

And there it is. The Vatican. Back to our room to nap during the storm that was blowing in. I must say, napping in Rome during a rain storm is absolutely decadent.

Passegiatta in my Jimmy Choo's

Tuesday would turn out to be my favorite day in Rome so far but I didn't think it would be when it began.  Getting to bed at 3-4am was gonna make things a bit more difficult I imagined.  We had an 11am appointment at The Borgese Gallery and Gardens and that did leave a lot of time for sleeping or slowly waking up after a few too many Gin & Limon's.  The morning begins:
Kris:  What time is it?
Dan:  um.....hold on........11:30 am 
Kris:  OK
Kris and Dan:  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Our actual day began a few hours later with a third buzzing on our door.  Housekeeping really wants to clean our room badly and are not happy with our grunting responses when they try to come in.  We are now forced to get up and get our day going as they will wait no longer.
(at least that is how I remember it....could be totally wrong about that)

This afternoons plans call for a walk to the Spanish Steps to get us started.  Ok, time to guess:
1.  We walked straight there without getting lost 
2,  We get lost, it takes twice as long to get there and our feet are killing us.

What's your guess......................................?

HA HA.......WRONG!!!!!!!  We got there on-time without taking even 1 wrong turn.  I am really getting this Rome thing. 

We arrive at the top of the Spanish Steps and it sure is a beautiful site to see.  Massive marble steps that are great for stepping on or sitting on.  Why do they call them The Spanish Steps, I have no idea.  I think they were build for the Spanish or by the Spanish or have something to do with the  Spain and its people.  All I know is that they are huge, and you are supposed to sit on them and eat Gelato.  We sat on them and took pictures and enjoyed the throngs of people doing the same.  No Gelato for us yet as our stomaches were not quite ready for something that sweet.

Off for some shopping.  We cut down a little street and head toward the main drag, Via del Corso, on our way to Piazza de Popolo.  Again we arrive without getting lost and the Piazza is lovely.  Much different than Piazza Navona as there are just a couple restaurants and almost no vendors.  It seems a little more Italian and a little less touristy.  We find a seat on the steps of the main fountain and just relax.  People watching is excellent here as there are lots of young italians getting ready for their evening stroll and enough tourists getting snookered by the 10 middle eastern men giving out free Roses that turn out not be free as soon as they force them into your hands.  We read about this ahead of time and were very forceful in our NO's!!!!!!!

As the sun went down behind a large building we followed the throngs of young italian boys and girls on the Passeggiata (the art of taking a walk in the evening)  back down Via del Corso.  Joining us were throngs of tourists, italian lovers, those wanting to be italian lovers and men in capri pants.  More on that one later.  Via del Corso is the main shopping area in Rome.  It is kind of a cross between Rodeo Drive and Venice Beach.  Really the best kind of people watching.  We had a wonderful stroll dancing in and out of shops and churches and just watching life go by.

As the shopping district came and went, we decided to go back to The Pantheon again as it was so amazing the first time around.  It did not disappoint the second time.  We actually got inside and got to enjoy it for 15 minutes before it closed.  It is truly a spectacular place.  We will be heading back there for dinner tonight.

Piazza Navona for dinner here we come.  No getting lost this day.  I know exactly where it is...just a couple blocks that way.    Um turns out I haven't figured anything out.  I probably failed to mention that we didn't get lost earlier as we only had to turn once a block from our hotel and then walk 20 blocks straight to get to the Spanish Steps.  I had gotten cocky and Rome made me pay for it again by getting lost again.  Finally we arrive after many twists and turn and actually find the restaurant Cul De Sac on a small side street.  Cul De Sac came highly recommended by our friends Dean and Ally and since we hadn't found any restaurant we had looked for yet we were very excited to find this one.  After a short 10 minute wait we were seated and had a fantastic meal.  Amazing how this place was so crowded and the place next door was empty.  It was all about the food.  The meatballs melted in your mouth, the pasta was divine and the wine went down like a lead weight.  Pretty sure we were the problem on that  one.  Kris will blog more about food in another post so I wont go into much detail, but I will say I have had something different to eat at every dinner and am really enjoying the great pasta...especially at Cul De Sac.

No more walking, no more getting lost.  We catch a taxi and head home in what I am quite sure is not the quickest or fastest way as we saw half of Rome in our 1 mile trip back to our hotel.  To bed early tonight as we cannot miss our 9am Vatican appt in the morning.

This is a day I want to repeat over and over.  Despite it's slow start, only having to walk 7hrs instead of 12 made it much more enjoyable and the sites were fabulous.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dinner in Trestevere

Our second night was a trip to the Trestevere neighborhood which is on the Vatican side of the Tiber river. It has a more "local" vibe and in fact, there are people that live there that brag that they have never been to the "other side of the Tiber." While it was, in fact, a more quaint part of town, it still had its fair share of touristy shops and guys peddling little trinkets in the streets. We had a couple of places to eat in mind when we wandered over there, but alas, we couldn't find them (this is becoming a major theme for our trip). 

So we wandered about and finally landed at a cute little place with mostly outdoor seating called Osteria Romana. The view from our little table (tables are all little here, by the way) was of the Church of Santa Maria. Stunning. Do notice the laundry hanging in the upper right hand corner. About half way through our meal, the woman living there reached out of her window and brought in the dried clothing. Priceless.

We started with a caraf of the house white wine, which was good but not great. After we ordered we asked for the house red, but our waiter kind of shook his head and hurried off (in a very nice way). When he returned, he brought us a 1/2 bottle of a chianti that he said was much better at a similar price. He was dead on. SUPER fantastic wine and we had a couple of bottles (or maybe it was 3...).  Dan is seen here making the tough decision of what to eat. There were a lot of great choices.

And the food parade began. Dan and I both agreed that the star of the show was the lasagna. It wasn't  much to look at but, oh my....We also had a quatro fromagi pizza that was really good as well.

Some how, some way....we managed to save room for desert. I won't post all of the photos here as I want to do a post or two specifically about food. Let's just say, it was worth saving room for. We finished our dinner while conversing with a table of older Irish gentlemen. What an absolute treat!

The rest of the night is a bit of a blur as we found a little joint on the other side of the plaza that had cocktails for about 5 Euros. We talked a bit of football with the guys serving the drinks and then we began our walk home. A stop along the banks of the Tiber was a great way to wind up the night. Nothing like a good long talk with your loved one in a romantic setting. We then picked up a cab and headed home.

The food was as wonderful as the wine