Big Bear weekend away (part 1)

Andrew had a month off work this summer – that corresponds exactly with the month that I’m not allowed to take time off from my job. So there goes any vacation plans we might have had.

Instead, I resolved that we would do a little weekend getaway – we live in Southern California, after all. There are endless options for weekend vacations.

By the time Andrew knew for sure which weekend would work for him, it was already a couple weeks before. I had originally hoped we could have rented a beach-town condo or similar on the central coast and had Christian and Avalon come meet us. But of course, by the time I started looking everything was either WAY out of our price range or booked up.

Sad. So what are some other non-beach options? We eventually narrowed it down to Palm Springs and Big Bear. Since we had already been to Palm Springs (a couple years ago) and since it was bound to be 140 degrees or something equally ridiculous, we decided on Big Bear.

Andrew hadn’t ever been, and I hadn’t been since 1998 or so – with the high school group with my church. I should dig out those photos!

I had solicited ideas on Twitter and Facebook and several people recommended Big Bear, and one even provided a specific hotel recommendation. My friend Kam has been to Big Bear several times and gave me some more ideas….. But after a little bit of research, I was able to book a little studio private cabin basically right on the lake for less than a hotel room elsewhere.

Deal city!

So I made sure Andrew KNEW without a doubt which days I had booked us rooms for (he’s not great with dates), and then started daydreaming about how we would spend our weekend. I didn’t do a whole lot of research. It’s not as if Big Bear was high on my list of places to visit because of such and such. I just figured we’d hike or maybe do something a little more involved like kayaking or so. But no definite plans.

Which honestly was kind of nice. All of our past vacations I have WAY planned to the hour. And loved all of them (Italy, Scotland, etc). But this weekend-away was not necessarily going to be like that. It was just a weekend to be together away from home.

The night before we left, I was at work and Andrew did a little bit of research into any places around town that might be haunted. Because that is ALWAYS a fun touristy thing to do. He also looked at some other options – kayaking, horseback riding, fishing.

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We left home Saturday morning around 8a or so. As per our tradition, we treated ourselves to Starbucks on the way out of town. Big Bear is about 2.5 hours away, and we spent the morning listening to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.

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I had no idea that Big Bear was ON the mountain range. We got into the San Bernardino National Forest and started climbing the windy switch-back road up the mountain. Slowly, of course, and stopped once to take in the view from the shoulder. But just kept climbing and climbing. I guess I assumed Big Bear was in a valley on the other side of the mountain, but no. It was created actually as a reservoir with a dam at one end. So we climbed the mountain, rounded the corner and there it was.

From Wikipedia:

Big Bear Lake is a reservoir in the San Bernardino Mountains, in San Bernardino County, California, United States. At a surface elevation of 6,750 ft (2,060 m), it has an east-west length of approximately 7 miles (11.2 km) and is approximately 2.5 miles (4 km) at its widest measurement, though the lake’s width mostly averages a little more than 1 mile (1.6 km). These approximations are based on the lake having an optimum retainable water level. At dam’s end Big Bear measures its deepest water at 72 feet (22 m). It is a completely snow-fed lake, having no other means of tributary or mechanical replenishment.

We got to Big Bear around 11:30a or so, which was too early to check into the hotel, so we ‘Yelp’d’ some restaurants nearby.

When we got into town, we drove around the lake a little bit, just to see what there was to see and get our bearings in the area. We stopped by Vons to get some water bottles – since we both pretty much only drink water and especially if we were going to go on a hike.

I noticed several places to pull off and park, but they all required an “Adventure Pass”. We came across the Big Bear Discovery Center where we were able to pick up a couple maps of the area and an Adventure Pass for parking. We bought the Annual Pass, so now we need to go visit other National Parks so our $35 doesn’t go to waste!

I don’t know what it is about being in the outdoors or the mountains like that, but I was totally craving a burger. A nice, cheesy, home-style burger. We found a parking spot near Teddy Bear Restaurant and went there for lunch.

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Fun little sidenote: We were seated out on the patio for lunch, and the family at the table next to ours was debating politics and the validity of the Electoral College. And by “family” I mean parents and a 14-ish year old and an 11-ish year old. I LOVE that!

I got my burger – exactly what I wanted – and Andrew ordered tacos. He always orders tacos. If there are tacos on the menu he has to have them. I don’t really get it, but if he wants to have tacos I’m not going to stop him.

Turns out he should not have gotten the tacos. No cilantro, I think the meat was mixed with scrambled egg. Not really his thing at all.

But now I feel like I have to make a mini scrapbook about all the places Andrew has eaten tacos.

Next up: hiking and our hotel!

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Our last day in Italy – our last day in Rome.

We did another Angel Tours Rome tour …. this time of the Vatican Museum (and Sistine Chapel).

I’ve mentioned before how I love Angel Tours. Highly recommended. Love love them.

This particular tour they got more attendees than they expected. But to counter that, without even asking us, they refunded us all about 10% per ticket since the group was a bit larger than usual.

Awesome. Classy. Wonderful customer service.

I LOVE them.

Also, I LOOOOOVE our guide – Jimmy (I think). Irish. 20s. Angela describes him as having too much info in his head to get out and that leads him to talk really fast and excitedly. He certainly is animated! I LOVE him.

Seriously, Jimmy. If you read this, you can come visit us in L.A. ANYTIME.  xo


Remember that long line of people in St. Peter’s square? yea, we skipped all that.

Suckers.

We walked around to the other side completely and started with the Vatican museum. (Also, somehow I was at the front of the group talking to Jimmy as we walked. I wonder how that happened.)

Note: We did the Vatican museum which INCLUDES the Sistine Chapel, and then drops you off right at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica and you get to skip the line. True story.

This sculpture is one of a handful of REPLICAS of the original : Laocoon and His Sons. Time frame ranging from about 160 to about 20 BC.

True story: When the sculpture was originally discovered, the arm (the one that is up and holding the snake) was broken off at the elbow and missing. The ‘authorities’ brought in something like 9 or 10 sculptors to have them take a look and figure out how the broken piece should look. They all said the same thing, except Michelangelo.

Years later, when the broken piece was found it turns out they were all wrong. Except Michelangelo. The arm should bend at the elbow and come down – something Michelangelo knew from looking at the position of the muscles in the back and shoulder (learned from studying cadavers).

That’s how we know this is a replica. It was made before the missing piece was found.

Jimmy telling us about this sarcophagus (below)

And – the ORIGINAL Laocoon (and the correct arm). Check out the Wikipedia article for more details about the restoration (as late as mid 20th century)

P.S. Michelangelo was A) all over the place during this week and B) a genius

P.P.S. You can see the different color in the broken off part.

This sculpture below was believed to be what ‘The Thinker‘ was based on (notice the positioning of the torso)

Big (expensive) bathtub …. those emperors and their luxuries!

For Constantine’s mother and daughter … 2 HUGE sarcophagi made of red porphyry – a stone extremely rare and ridiculously expensive

That was just part 1 – and really only a tiny piece of everything we saw, which itself was only a tiny piece of the whole museum. I think we skipped over the Egpyt section of the museum all together ….

…. but the Vatican museum really has some unique pieces …. so amazing!

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The original plan was to visit the Cappuccin Crypt, then catch a taxi across town to the Vatican – where we were scheduled for a tour at 1p.

But, it turns out Rome is not *quite* as large as I thought, and we had enough time to just walk over. Which, as I mentioned, is a fantastic idea. (It still took us close to an hour or so, so don’t go thinking it’s a stroll)

We visited the Spanish Steps :

We came upon the top of the steps first (below image is looking down at the bottom of the steps).

From Wikipedia:

The Spanish Steps (Italian: Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti) are a set of steps in Rome, Italy, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the church of Trinità dei Monti. The Scalinata is the longest and widest staircase in Europe.[1]

The monumental stairway of 138 steps was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi, in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, today still located in Palazzo Monaldeschi in the piazza below, with the Trinità dei Montim the church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France, above.

In the photo below : see that guy IN the fountain letting the water run over his hands? He DRANK from this fountain. He washed his hands, and then cupped his hands full of water and drank from it.

But, considering the fountains in Rome are all powered by the same aqueduct that powers the fountain we drank out of, it’s not really all *that* weird.

But still kind of weird …..

From Rick Steves:

The Piazza di Spagna, with the very popular Spanish Steps, is named for the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican, which has been here for 300 years. It’s been the hangout of many Romantics over the years (Keats, Wagner, Openshaw, Goethe, and others). In the 1700s, British aristocrats on the ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe came here to ponder Rome’s decay. The British poet John Keats pondered his mortality, then died in the pink building on the right side of the steps. Fellow Romantic Lord Byron lived across the square at #66.

The Sinking Boat Fountain at the foot of the steps, built by Bernini or his father, Pietro, is powered by an aqueduct. All of Rome’s fountains are aqueduct-powered; their spurts are determined by the water pressure provided by various aqueducts.

More of our walk …. window shopping by ALL of the big Italian designer stores. Seriously. All the big designers. …. Slightly intimidating.

Below : an example of one of the BIG tour groups I never want to be a part of. Where you all where purple scarves to indicate you’re together, and follow the guide with the matching purple flag.

No thank you.

Just before we reached the Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square, we passed Hadrian’s Tomb or Castel Sant’Angelo

I wish we had had time to visit.

Next time, I guess.

Bottom left of this image is the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica:

Saxophone player I listened to for a bit ….

From Rick Steves:

Built as a tomb for the emperor, used through the Middle Ages as a castle, prison and place of last refuge for popes under attach, and today a museum, this giant pile of ancient bricks is packed with history.

Ancient Rome allowed no tombs within its walls – not even the emperor’s. So Emperor Hadrian grabbed the most commanding position just outside the walls and across the river and built a towering tomb (~ AD 139) well within view of the city. His mausoleum was a huge cylinder (210 by 70 feet) topped by a cypress grove and crowned by a huge statue of Hadrian himself riding a chariot. For nearly a hundred years, Roman emperors (from Hadrian to Caracalla, in AD 217) were buried here.

The bridge pictured below is the Ponte Sant’Angelo.

From Rick Steves:

The bridge leading to Castel Sant’Angelo was built by Hadrian for quick and regal access from downtown to his tomb. The three middle arches are actually Roman originals, and a fine example of the empire’s engineering expertise. The statues of angels (each bearing a symbol of the passion of Christ – nail, sponge, shroud and so on) are Bernini-designed and textbook Baroque. In the Middle Ages, this was the only bridge in the area that connected St. Peter’s and the Vatican with downtown Rome. Nearly all pilgrims passed this bridge to and from the church.

And now …. our walk into the Vatican City. St. Peter’s Basilica straight ahead (blog post next week):

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If you are just joining us, I’ve been taking my sweet time blogging all the pics from our week in Italy.

Here begins a series of posts about our FINAL day in the country – a very long day of touristing in Rome. And some of our favorite times …

We allowed ourselves to sleep in (much needed) since we didn’t have anywhere we HAD to be until 1p.

This was actually the ONLY morning we had breakfast at our bed and breakfast (Hotel Danilo). They served breakfast too late for us to have it Monday morning (before the Colosseum) or Saturday morning (before our flight home).

Cute little girlfriend of Danilo. From Milan. Served us breakfast in the tiny kitchen.

So cute.

We left all morning available for visiting the Capuchin Crypts. Monk Bones. One of Andrew’s #1 requests (post tomorrow).

Which means that we had all morning just to get there.

So we decided to walk. All the way across Rome.

And it was all kinds of awesome.

I highly recommend WALKING if you have the time. We saw all kinds of corners of the city that we wouldn’t have seen if we had taken a taxi or bus. ….

Um …. and randomly came across what is generally accepted to be the ugliest building in Rome: the Victor Emmanuel monument:

And right across the street from there ….

Trajan’s Forum

Trajan’s Column:

Trajan’s Market

And all of this ON OUR WAY to the intended destination!

Rome is amazing ….

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Florence, Italy – Floralia Bed & Breakfast

As we are finally leaving Florence, it is time for a slightly more intimate look at the bed & breakfast we stayed in for the 3 nights we were there.

I highly (highly) recommend staying at Floralia if you go to Florence. Not only is it extremely reasonably priced for the center of town (~80-90euros/double), but the owners are this super sweet Italian brother and sister team.

Sabino (doesn’t live there but) arrives when he knows guests are checking in or out to give them the tour, the keys, take the money, etc. Really friendly. Really generous. Hooked us up with a dinner reservation.

Silvia lives in the apartment and does all the cleaning, cooking, etc. She is sooo cute. Waiting until we leave and then vacuuming or washing sheets with her music on loudly. And so so sweet. Really made an effort to help Angela find a wedding dress.

For, yes, it is just an apartment.

I don’t understand the floor plan AT ALL. At least how it works with the neighboring apartment units. So I won’t try to explain it.

It’s up (I think) 2 floors. When you walk in there is a tiny tiny little entryway right ahead of you with a short hallway to the right. When you are standing in that hallway, the kitchen, dining area, living room, one bathroom and Silvia’s bedroom are to your left. The other (shared) bathroom and 4 bedrooms are to the right.

There are 3 double rooms available (one with a private bathroom) and 1 single room. When we stayed there, all the rooms were filled with wedding guests – so at least we were sharing the bathroom with people we know …

The decor is SUPER cheery. Yellows everywhere, flowers and happy happy bright colors.

Breakfast at 8a. Continental breakfast set up for us with hot water and coffee, cereal. Good good stuff.

KITCHEN:

P.S. The yogurts are labeled in Italian and it took a couple days for us to figure out what ‘Frutta di Bosco‘ was

The “living area” was I think just a futon and a desk with a computer. There was a TV in the kitchen/dining area (which we kind of half watched for the weather) … . and even though we had no real reason to, it was nice to be able to check our email at least once that week. Sometimes (especially on a whirlwind European vacation) you just need some downtime, right?

LIVING AREA:

Image below shooting from the kitchen, into the living room, and the dark area just past it is the hallway and laundry room (which actually opens up to the sky, I think).

As I mentioned, we shared the bathroom with other guests. We kind of had to schedule morning showers over a couple hours. …. which was totally fine and not at all inconvenient.

What was slightly odd is that the shower …. well, the tub was a full size tub (like any of you have in your bathroom), but the shower curtain only covered 1/2 the tub.

Weird.

You can see in the image below, how the shower curtain literally cut off half the tub space. It was just kind of unexpected.

The window opens into the laundry room (pictured above).

BATHROOM:

Angela booked our room – to make sure we all got in at the same b&b – and had to figure out which couple got the room with the 2 single beds.

Yup. Andrew and I did.

No matter. A bed is a bed is a bed.

Or so I thought.

When we got there, it was pretty obvious we were in the kids’ room! hahaha! The sheets had little cartoon animals on it, and the beds themselves weren’t even real twin beds. They were more like those roll-away beds you get from a hotel when you have an extra person.

Pretty funny!

BEDROOM:

The first night we were there, we left our window open … towards the street, and it was *incredibly* loud. So ridiculously loud between merchants moving furniture and people talking on the street (yes, after midnight) and then early early in the morning a cart going by on the cobblestone. We decided it must be a cart of broken glass. Bumping along on the uneven street. At 5am.

Absolutely absurd how loud it was.

But then, the 2nd and 3rd night we slept right through all that. We must have been pretty exhausted.

Again – I can’t tell you how great this b&b was if you don’t mind sharing a bathroom.

Less than a block from the Duomo. Fantastic proprietors.

Loved it!

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After visiting David, we had a bit of time before the train.

Lunch, San Lorenzo market, pick up our luggage and walk to the train station.

Lunchtime: We just wandered around town until we found something. I guess we chose this place based on it’s look entirely. It looked cute.

The food was not so great. Not terrible, but probably the worst meal we had all week. Just not good.

Forst. Write it down. Don’t go there when you’re in Florence.

While we were eating, one of the restaurants nearby was serenaded with street performers (who then walked by each table asking for money) …… It was, also, right next to Rossopomodoro where Andrew and Devo got their soup.

After lunch, we mozied on back to the bed and breakfast, through the San Lorenzo Market.

Context: San Lorenzo Market is in a square and neighboring streets about 1/2 block from our b&b. The Church of San Lorenzo on one side of the square is where Andrew and Devo sat and drank beer on the wedding night.

We wanted to bring back a few pashminas, and so stopped by the San Lorenzo Market on our way out of town.

Next time I’m there, I want to go earlier in the day, right after the merchants set up. And get lots of pictures of the colors and textures and products and all that are spilling out of the carts …

At one of the carts on the end, I found the 5euro, solid colored pashminas I really wanted. I picked out 7 or 8 pashminas, I think.  3 for myself and the rest for Christmas gifts. And a pink tie for Andrew. And the sweet couple running the cart threw in the tie for free. Sweet man handed me back change just for the pashminas, and told me the extra 3euros was “for coffee” … sweet.

Andrew’s going to wear (what we call) his “Italy tie” to Kaitlin’s wedding …. you’ll see it soon!

I wear my pashminas (a scarf) pretty much every day I leave the house. At least until it gets warmer.

That is the kind of travel souvenir that I just love!

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For those of you just joining us, I have been chronicling Andrew’s and my week in Italy …. Rome, Florence for a wedding, and then Rome again. ….   It was magic.

Our last morning in Florence (Thursday) we made time to visit the Basilica of Santa Croce (note: this is post 1 of 2 about the church).

This church was huge and ornate and so interesting. Granted, there are churches/basilicas EVERYWHERE in Italy. Everywhere. On every corner, in every nook.

But this was one of the bigger ones ….

The front – faces a a big empty square :

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(the tickets were pretty neat:)

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You pay for your tickets and enter the building from a side entrance …I’m sad for Miranda that she didn’t get a chance to go in … because it was …. overwhelming. Before we even left for Italy, I decided I really wanted to come to this church (if we had time) because of how many amazing people from history who are buried or memorialized here (like at Westmister Abbey in London). Soo so interesting.

From Rick Steves:

This 14th-century Franciscan church, decorated with centuries of precious art, holds the tombs of great Florentines. The loud, 19th-century Victorian Gothic facade faces a huge square ringed with tempting shops and littered with tired tourists. Escape into the church and admire its sheer height and spaciousness.

Seriously, so many tombs. So very many. And a bunch were even under scaffolding

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This is going to sound terrible – but I’ve already forgotten what many of these tombs/memorials are for. I knew when I was there – and I tried to take the photos that would help me remember. … but – in the image below for example – I can’t read what the tomb says, can you?

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Image below, there was a private service going on in one of the smaller chapels. I love that. I love that these huge, historic, touristy churches are still actually used as places of worship.

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(image below looks back towards the main entrance)

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(see? scaffolding)

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(look at the intricacy of those stained glass windows)

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(the tomb below was roped off : the carving made the floor uneven.)

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(roof)

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Below is (I’m pretty sure) the tomb of Galileo Galilei: Being condemned as a heretic in life, his remains were only allowed to return to the church long after his death.

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This image below, we weren’t entirely sure what had happened …. look at the image on the wall. Either that top part had been removed, and they had drawn in where it used to be …. or the top part was covered up, and it’s in the process of being restored. Unclear.

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Come back Thursday for the 2nd half of Santa Croce. Friday will be the leather school adjacent to the church.

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Florence, Italy – Wedding Night

I know, the title sounds kind of ooh-la-la, but it’s mostly a story about Devo and myself.  Oh, this is Andrew by the way, doing a mid-week post since this is my story and not Amy’s.

After the wedding and reception, Devo had rounded up cabs to take all the guests to their lodgings.  Amy, Angela, Devo and myself were the last ones at the hotel waiting for our cab to arrive and Devo asked if anyone would rather walk back to the B&B.  Maybe make a stop at Piazza di Michelangelo.  I figured both of the ladies were too worn out to walk back to town, but it was still pretty early and I was in Florence and it was only a handful of miles back to the hotel so what the heck.  Part of me just wanted to walk back to the hotel with the groom because it seemed like such an unlikely thing for a man just married to be up to on his wedding night.  So we made sure that the girls had enough cash for the taxi and we headed up the windy road to the Piazza in our suits and wedding attire.

It was a beautiful clear night, kind of chilly, but just gorgeous to be out and walking around Italy in dress clothes.  We bought some beer from an outdoor vendor and just drank and talked and chatted.  I didn’t really know Devo that well really, but it felt awesome to just hang out and share stories and have a married friend.  We took our time walking back, just roaming the streets drinking more beer, stopping to get gelato.  We finally made it back to the B&B and Amy and Angela were pretty hungry.  Devo and I still wanted to hang out some more so we offered to get the girls some food from the restaurant across the street.

We got down to the restaurant and placed the order for the food and had some wine at the bar while we waited.  After about 20 college age locals got in line to pay their bill right before us, we paid and took the food back to Amy & Angela.  Virginia was upstairs hanging out with the bride and wedding photographer and showed some interest in getting into some trouble.  I think it was at this point that Amy and Angela both said they were going to bed.  Angela and Devo went to their room and Amy & I went to ours.  I told Amy I didn’t really feel like going to bed, that I wanted to just walk the streets and hang out with Devo.  Amy responded that she didn’t mind, but I had to ask Angela’s permission if Devo could still hang out.  It was their wedding night after all.  So feeling a bit like I was in the ‘Burbs, I knocked on their bedroom door and sheepishly asked if Devo could come out and play. hahahahahahahahahahahaha

So Devo, Virginia and I basically just walked around Florence for an hour or so, bought some drinks and sat on the steps of some ancient and wonderful, beautiful building and talked the way tipsy people usually talk.  Once we got too cold we made our way back to the B&B and sat in kitchen.  It was then I found out that Devo has seen Nirvana in concert.  yes, it blew my mind.

That’s about it.  I wish I had some pictures or more details.  It’s hard to say what we talked about even.  I think we talked about their plans, moving to Italy, the beauty of Italy, how much we loved Italy, how cool it was to be able to drink on the streets of Italy, we talked about music…….seriously couldn’t have been a better night.

Currently Listening to:  Sonic Youth – SYR7 J’Accuse Ted Hughes (2008) LP

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The morning of the wedding I woke up and before I showered or got ready for the wedding I decided I wanted to climb Giotto’s Tower.  This 270-foot bell tower for Il Duomo has 50 fewer steps than Il Duomo (so that means 413 steps right? I’m too lazy this morning to check my facts) and offers a great veiw of Brunelleschi’s Dome.  It was a beautiful morning to spend some time alone and just try to blend in with the crowd, do some people watching and get some great exercise.  The stairs were about as treacherous as climbing the Dome, but this climb was less crowded since it was about 10am or so.

(view of Il Duomo as I’m climbing up the steps.  There were all these tall narrow cut-outs/windows with one vertical crossbar in them, allowing just enough light in to see where you’re going.)

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Back on the ground in front of the Dome

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The detail of the artistry and the colors of the marble are amazing.  So beautiful up close

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The green Pharmacia cross is on the corner of the street where our B&B was located.  Right across from Il Duomo.

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All these pictures were taken by me, that’s why quality control seems to have slipped so far down on Those crazy Schuberts this weekend.  oops.

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No blog this weekend, I’m sorry

I guess I’m just not feeling up to it this weekend.  but next weekend I will have a great Italy story to share.  And some photos of Giotto’s Tower that I took as I walked up all the stairs on a Wednesday morning in Firenza.

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Florence, Italy – Villa Gondi – Tuesday

The Tuesday of our week in Italy was for pre-wedding festivities with Angela, Devo and the rest of their guests.

The bride and groom booked us a full day excursion into Tuscany!

We got picked up about 930a in Florence by 2 guys/vans from Accidental Tourist. Steve (an American ex-patriot) and his born-in-Italy 20-something year old son Alessandro.

We all piled in and drove about 45 minutes out into the Tuscan countryside. Andrew and I rode with Alessandro, and he was so good about answering any questions we had about where we were, where we were going and Italy in general. Angela’s dad put him through a whole q&a on the police/law-enforcement system in Italy! cute.

If you check out the Accidental Tourist website, they offer several different options for Florence excursions. I highly (highly) recommend you check them out if you ever go to Florence. Angela and Devo have done the cooking class. We did the ‘Wine and Snooze’ tour ….

First stop of the tour ….. Villa Gondi – an estate in Tuscany where they make olive oil and wine (future posts on each).

The view!!!!

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First – Steve brought us to the front yard of this estate – Villa Gondi – and gave us a little bit of its history. He knows all the details. He’s a great storyteller.

by the way, this tour is EXACTLY why I need a video or audio recorder. Because there is no way I ca remember everything Steve told us about this estate.

And the website is in Italian.

There are some details available online – about the estate and the wine and the family – but if you want more, I found a video (at the end of this post) taken by a previous Accidental Tourist guest.

Enjoy the view ….

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View Larger Map

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Our last little bit of Monday in Rome ….

We finished out guided tour of Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum and Colosseum after about 2.5 or 3 hours … and then Andrew and I had just enough time to walk back to Trastevere, get lunch, pick up our luggage, and make it to the train station in time for our train to Florence.

Busy busy!

Walking away from the Colosseum (image below the Colosseum is behind me with the Palatine Hill on the right) …. we walked right under one of the Roman Aqueducts

From Rick Steves:

Rome’s mighty aqueducts kept water flowing into the thriving and thirsty ancient city of one million. They also eventually provided a handy Achilles’ heel for invading barbarians: Simply break an arch in the aqueduct, and life becomes very tough within the city walls.

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(to get an idea of the size:)

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So we walked back to Trastevere along Circus Maximus, again ….. Circus Maximus is pretty much just a big field.

From Rick Steves:

If the gladiator show at the Colosseum was sold out, you could always get a seat at the Circus Max. In an early version of today’s demolition derby, Ben-Hur and his fellow charioteers once raced recklessly around this oblong course.

The chariots circled around the cigar-shaped mound in the center (notice the lone cypress tree that now marks one end of the mound).  Bleachers (now grassy banks) originally surrounded the track.

The track was 1,300 feet long, while the whole stadium measured 2,130 feet by 720 feet and seated 250,000 people. The wooden bleachers once collapsed during a race, killing thousands.

The horses began at a starting gate at the west end, while the public entered at the other end. Races consisted of seven laps (about 3.5 miles total). In such small space, collisions and overturned chariots were common. The charioteers were usually poor lowborn people who used this dangerous sport to get rich and famous. Some succeeded. Most died.

The public was crazy about the races. There were 12 per day, 240 days a year. Four teams dominated the competition – Reds, Whites, Blues and Greens – and every citizen was fanatically devoted to one of them. Obviously, the emperors had the best seats in the house; built into the palace’s curved facade was a box overlooking the track. For their pleasure, emperors occasionally had the circus floor carpeted with designs in colored powders.

You can see the steps built into the slope below …. that’s a totally modern street (cars parked along) under the row of trees ….

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Just after I took the image above – the sky opened up and POURED water on us.

Poured.

And we had no umbrella. Or hood. Or even had a real jacket. Neither of us.

In the image below, on the left side is a long row of trees between the street and Circus Maximus.

That was our sole cover from torrential rain.

I wish I had an umbrella just to protect my camera so I could have taken a pic …

But, really, in spite of the lack of protection – these are the magic moments that make traveling such a memorable experience. And there isn’t anyone I’d rather be with than Andrew …. the next time I’m walking along the street adjacent to Circus Maximus in Rome and I get stuck in a rainstorm …

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evidence of the storm:

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We continued our walk back to Trastevere … through Rome, across the Tiber, past another fountain and temple and ruins which are EVERYWHERE in this city …

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As we walked through Trastevere, we just kept our eyes open for a little restaurant that would be open (not all the places open before 12:30) …. As we turned down Via Salumi (or ‘Street of Cold Cuts’) we came across this cute little restaurant front …

Called Sette Oche (Seven Eight), the chairs/tables basically create the edge of the road …

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The first table Andrew chose was already taken …. so we moved down to the next one …

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This is what my wet hair looked like after I took it out of the pony tail ….

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Lunchtime.

First of all …. Rick Steves encourages his readers to look for off-the-main-street restaurants, for places that don’t proclaim “We speak English!” and other touristy indications. The food tends to be more authentic and usually fresher (because they’re not holding/keeping a bunch of stuff just to please the tourists).

Andrew and I were pretty good at finding places to eat, for the most part.

This restaurant, in particular, was the only place we went to the whole week that didn’t have ANY English on the menu.

This was also one of 2 restaurants we went to the whole week that I didn’t care for.

So much for that rule.

We got Ravioli, some other kind of noodle in tomato sauce, and a tray of meat. …. photos below.

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Right across the street from the restaurant was this school ….

From Rick Steves:

This red-brown building (pretty ugly unless you’re a fascist) is a school from the Mussolini era. The fascist leader believed in the classical motto ‘mens sana in corpore sano‘ (‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’), and loved being seen fencing, boxing, swimming and riding. He endowed school buildings with lots of gyms.

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After lunch, it was just a short walk to our bed and breakfast to pick up our luggage and drop off our keys.

We ended up being a little early, but still not early enough to walk to the train station, so the plan was to take a cab ….

Andrew has blogged about driving in Rome …. it was truly unforgettable.

Roma Termini (images below) is the main, central, larger train station in Rome … This is where we caught our 3p train to Florence.

Man, oh man. I wish we had a better train system in America. I love (love) being able to travel somewhere without having to worry about driving. Not that I drive when Andrew and I travel somewhere. But still.

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We got some more rain on the train, speeding through the Italian country side …

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We arrived in Florence after dark …. photos and more to come!

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Monday morning – after our first sleep in Italy…

{sidenote: we stayed at the same hotel Fri night, so I’ll do a post on the place then}

We slept with the windows open … which was perfect weather-wise … not too cold but still nice and brisk and good to cuddle under the blankets …

Except there was some kind of bird – sounded like a seagull, but I think we were a bit too far inland for that. Scratch that. A whole flock of noisy noisy birds. Felt like they went on for hours. Which they probably didn’t, but you don’ t know that when you’re trying to sleep in a strange bed, in a new city, in a new country, after 24 hours of not sleeping, but still subconsciously know that you have to get up early.

Oh yeah. Did I forget to mention that?

Monday morning we had a tour scheduled for 9am. And we planned on walking there (vs public transportation), plus we had to ‘check out’ of the hotel and get breakfast. So we were waking up at 630a or so. Our first morning in Rome.

Travel: It’s not for wimps.

Anyway ….

Here we are, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed around 730a on a Monday morning in Rome …. Since our bed and breakfast didn’t start serving breakfast until 8a, we headed out to hopefully find a cafe or something, then back to the b&b to check out before heading to the Colosseum.

It was quite a morning.

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There was this little ‘gastronomia’ a little ways down the street …. Not a whole lot of Romans out when we were. I don’t know if was the neighborhood or the time …

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We got another lesson in Italian eating. Andrew ordered 2 cappucinos for us, and then the proprietor just …. ignored him? No. That’s not right. More like, made absolutely no effort to conclude the transaction. Andrew later went back to get a pastry, and waited to place his order …. then saw several Italians come in and just grab the pastry they wanted off the counter.

hmm…

That’s new.

So …. we learned as we went, I guess.

Andrew was AMAZING about taking care of me …. He handled the bulk of the speaking in Italian, paying in Italian, etc etc etc.

Andrew is the dang best.

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After breakfast – back to the b&b to ‘check out’ …

Although, ‘check out’ is a relative term, I guess.

Really, what we did was paid for the night but keep our keys, leave our bags in the room, lock the room, and left. We had train reservations for the afternoon and the b&b owner (Danilo) was perfectly willing to let us keep our bags there. And just leave the keys when we finally left for real. Super laid back.

In fact, so laid back that we were VERY close to being late for our tour.

Danilo was not prepared to think about math and paying and all that at 8am. He told Andrew he needed coffee first. Danilo took his time waking up and helping us …. was helping 2 other guests at the same time (including a couple who had one of their passports stolen their first day in town and a woman trying to get him to make reservations in Italian for her).

So, we did not end up leaving Trastevere until 830a. And we had to be at the Colosseum by 9a. And I only had a vague idea of where we were going ….

So we power-walked. Literally jogging by a group of high-school aged tourists.

I got pretty sweaty ….

But the walk was pretty.

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The other side of the street there (cars just driving past it, taking it for granted) – Circus Maximus and Palatine Hill

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We met our tour just across the street from the Colosseum …. walked up at 9:01a.

And pretty much everyone else was late.

More next week!

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***THIS IS A LONG ONE***

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After our rough version of Rick Steves’ Trastevere Walk, we were still at only about noon on our first day in town (on only a tiny tiny bit of sleep in 24+ hours). We crossed the Tiber (image above) and headed into Rome proper …

I mostly knew where we were going, and we kind of didn’t care which streets we used to get there … Heading into the heart of Rome to the Pantheon.

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We walked into the piazza where the Pantheon is located … and, wow. Just breath-taking. So amazing to turn the corner and have the space open up to this view:

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We held off going inside until after we had lunch. Rick Steves had several restaurant recommendations in the area, but we just kind of walked around … restaurants everywhere. All of them have tables outside, along with a menu. Difficult to chose a restaurant, just based on the menu. All places have basically the same dishes.

But we got lucky.

We just stopped by this small small little place – one couple already sitting/eating, with about 4 or 5 tables outside. The storefront was so small, there was only room for 2 tables right outside the front door, and the rest were across the ‘street’ (read: alley). So neat and so different from the U.S.

Our waitress was this cute 17-ish-year-old girl with very limited English. But she was soooo sweet. Andrew just asked for a recommendation (she didn’t know the word ‘recommendation’) and the waitress told him the steak (whatever the dish was called) was really good.

Take a look at the pics. The steak was bigger than his head. It was HUGE. HUGE HUGE. Served with roasted/ rosemary potatoes (on this amazing pan/tray thing that kept both hot throughout the meal) and a salad and we ordered bruschetta w/ prociutto and cheese (yum).

Andrew thought he was being made fun of. “Oh, you’re American? You must love steak.” … but it was REALLY good … and then (since we were sitting outside), people kept walking by and doing double take. At least one person stopped a waiter to point and ask what Andrew was eating. And I would bet that the 4 other tables that filled after we sat down were because they saw our awesome food.

Good good lunch. One of my favorite meals the whole week.

Note: The accordion player (along with 95% of the street performers we saw) was playing Dean Martin songs. Everywhere we went and heard music I kept thinking, I know that song!

Note #2 for those who have never been: When you order water, they will ask if you want ‘gas or no gas’ (still vs sparkling). And then bring it to you in this bottle. Good water. Great to be able to serve ourselves, really, and not have to wait for the server to come back. I wanted to steal this bottle. Someone find one just like it for me.

After lunch, to the Pantheon.

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From Rick Steves:

The 40-foot, single piece granite columns of the Pantheon’s entrance show the scale the ancient Romans built on. The columns support a triangular, Greek-style room with an inscription that says” M. Agrippa” built it. In fact, it was built (fecit) by Emperor Hadrian (AD 120), who gave credit to the builder of an earlier structure. This impressive entryway gives no clue that the greatest wonder of the building is inside – a domed room that inspired later domes, including Michaelangelo’s St. Peter’s and Brunelleschi’s Duomo.

Note: Hadrian is all over. More later for you non-European History students

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More from Rick Steves:

The Pantheon looks like a pretty typical temple from the outside, but this is perhaps the most influential building in art history. Its dome was the model for the Florence cathedral dome, which launched the Renaissance, and for Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s, which capped it all off. Even Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Building was inspired by this dome.

The 40-foot-high columns of the portico (entrance porch) are made form single pieces of red-gray granite (not the standard stacks of cylindrical pieces). They were taken from an Egyptian temple. The holes in the triangular pediment once held a huge bronze Roman eagle.

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Check out the size of the doorway (image below):

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Into the Pantheon. This time of day was pretty crowded. I understand early early in the morning and later at night it’s pretty empty. Just locals coming by, or kids playing. Would be amazing at, say, 6a? Next visit.

From Rick Steves:

The dome, which was the largest made until the Renaissance, is set on a circular base. The mathematical perfection of this dome-on-a-base design is a testament to Roman engineering. The dome is as high as it is wide – 142 feet from floor to rooftop and from side to side. To picture it, imagine a basketball set inside a wastebasket so that it just touches bottom.

The dome – newly cleaned and feeling loftier than ever – is made from concrete (a Roman invention) that gets lighter and thinner as it reaches the top. The base of the dome is 23 feet thick and made from heavy concrete mixed with travertine, while near the top, it’s less than five feet thick and made with a lighter volcanic rock (pumice) mixed in. Note the square indentations in the surface of the dome. This coffered ceiling reduces the weight of the dome without compromising strength. The walls are strengthened by blind arches built into the wall (visible outside).

At the top, the oculus, or eye-in-the-sky, is the building’s only light source and is almost 30 feet across. the 1800 year old floor has holes in it and slants toward the edges to let the rainwater drain. Though some of the floor’s marble has been replaced over the years, the design – alternating circles and squares – is original.

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Two of the tombs (images below) are of modern Italy’s first two kings (Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I).

From Rick Steves:

These tombs are hit with royalists. In fact, there is often a guard standing by a guestbook, where visitors can register their support for these two kings’ now-controversial family, the Savoys.

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A note on the obelisks from Rick Steves:

Rome has 13 obelisks, more than any other city in the world. In Egypt, they were connected with the sun god Ra (like stone sunrays) and the power of the pharaohs. The ancient Romans, keen on exotic novelty and sheer size, brought the obelisks here and set them up in key public places as evidence and celebration of their occupation of Egypt. Starting from the 1580s, Rome’s new rulers – the popes – relocated the obelisks, often topping them with Christian crosses so they came to acquire yet another significance that guaranteed their survival: the triumph of Christianity over all other religions.

The obelisks were carved out of single blocks of granite. Imagine the work, with only man- and horse-power, to first quarry them and set them up in Egypt, then – after the Romans came along – to roll them on logs to the river or the coast, sail (or row) them in special barges across the Mediterranean and up the Tiber, and finally hoist them up.

Romans weren’t above cheap imitations. A couple of the obelisks are ancient Roman copies. The one at the top of the Spanish Steps has spelling mistakes in the hieroglyphics.

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After the Pantheon, we were (finally) able to ‘check-in’ to our bed and breakfast … so, since Andrew literally was falling asleep inside the Pantheon, we headed back to the Trastevere neighborhood to get our lovely room and relax.

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Italy – Arrival in Rome – Sunday

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The first of many posts about Italy.

I want to post many (many) of the photos, so this will take awhile. … you are forewarned.

The wedding was on a Wednesday, so we planned our trip to basically be weekend to weekend and I only used 5 days of PTO.

But, that also means we really had to get an early start if we wanted to take in as much Italy as possible … so Friday night (10/9) I got off work at 10p, came home and still had to pack. Andrew and I weren’t really tired plus we were pretty excited, so we didn’t end up going to bed until almost 1a.

Then were up just after 4a for showering and getting ready to go. Yup 3 hours of sleep.

Andrew’s mom very graciously picked us up and we got to LAX in time for our 710a flight (read: EARLY). The first photo in this post is Andrew and I at about 7a just after boarding the plane.

5ish hour flight to New York’s JFK airport for our flight (image below). Maybe the longest flight Andrew had ever been on, and it was still only the first leg of our trip.

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The flight from New York to Rome was around 8 hours or so. American Airlines is just OK. No outlets for laptops or individual in-flight entertainment screens (like Continental has), but it wasn’t terrible. Andrew and I had one of the side aisles with only 2 seats, so we didn’t have to be that close to other people. We were fed, we attempted to sleep. Andrew ended up watching a couple of the really bad movies they were showing on the in-flight entertainment.

Not terrible, but my flight to England on Continental was better.

Our plane was scheduled to land in Italy a little bit after sunrise, so when we started getting close, I lifted up our window screen to look for our first glimpse of Italy.

Italy.

It’s so amazing and unbelievable and overwhelming trying to realize that you are now in another country across an ocean. Trying to realize that you are now physically in a place that you have only ever heard about or learned about before.

It’s a wonderful feeling.

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We landed, and really most airports are basically the same.

Follow the crowd of people, look for the ‘baggage claim’ signs. Lucky for us the signs were in Italian AND English … otherwise we would have been in no state to look up any Italian. Keep in mind by this time we had been up for about 24 hours almost. Not counting the little bit of napping I (not Andrew) had done on the plane.

Going through customs was a ridiculous breeze. I’m not sure if the guy helping me even looked at my photo in the passport. He pretty much opened it to a random page, stamped and I was done. Truly. No questions, nothing.

Then, after getting our baggage, I had to go find an ATM. We had some Euros but not a lot, and really wanted to find an ATM in a place where there was likely to be one.

Of course, the first ATM I found was out of cash …. walked down the total other direction, found 2 ATMs and only one of those giving cash.

Going outside to a taxi and we just kept remembering our Rick Steves advice: get in line at the taxi stand and ignore the people trying to hustle you into their non-sanctioned cab. Gypsies and scam artists who get tourists for a lot of $$.

You can see in the photo below how tired (and gross) we were.

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Andrew, feel free to comment on this all at any time …

We got a taxi ride into the city (40 Euro for up to 4 people and luggage), and the taxi driver had on an American music station (Madonna and Michael Jackson to start).

The drive into the city was maybe 15 or 20 min or so … through suburbs into the city … slightly easing our way into the trip …

graffiti and tiny Smart cars and signs in Italian and Andrew saying, “I feel so lost. None of this looks familiar.”

I’ll post more about our Bed and Breakfast later (Hotel Danilo) but for now … here’s a couple quick shots:

We arrived in Rome, gave the taxi driver the address and the first thing we have to figure out is how to get to this B&B that’s really just an apartment unit on the 3rd floor or so of this building ….

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We ended up leaving our luggage safely at the B&B and went out for a day or so of touristing ….

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