Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Italy, Switzerland, and How We Wound Up in Brooklyn

June 6

(I'm working on the pictures!)

We got up early today, showered in our open bathroom getting everything soaking wet, and ate our granola bars. We did not discover until later this week that our breakfast was included with our room. We then walked to an ATM, which we thought ate our card (thank goodness it did not) and then headed to the Galleria di Academia.

Luckily we already had reservations and were able to get into a much shorter line to get inside. Inside were many paintings and sculptures. Dave and I are not much into art and did not know that sculptures were first done in plaster and then finished in another medium like marble. Then we saw The David, which was our whole reason for going to Academia. It was amazing! Pictures don’t do it justice. It must have been 15 feet tall and every inch was fully detailed. This museum was well worth the trip just to see The David.

In the afternoon we had reservations at the Uffizi Museum but between reservations we had a little time so we went to the cathedral and climbed the stairs to the top of the bell tower. The staircase up the tower was very narrow. Whenever someone needed to pass, both parties needed to hug the wall to get by. The bell tower was so tall there were three levels to look out of before getting to the top. It made for good resting points. The view from the top was amazing. Check out the pictures.

Around noon we went to the Uffizi. Lucky again, we had reservations. There was a huge line for those who didn’t and those people who were waiting were waiting for reservations for the next day. The Uffizi was huge and took us almost three hours to get through. Most of the paintings were renaissance paintings, many from such painters as Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci, etc. My favorite was the “Birth of Venus”.

For dinner we went to Acqua Al 2, which, funny enough, also has a location in San Diego. I had a cheese and mushroom cannelloni and Dave had farfalline which is bowtie pasta with zucchini. Dinner is an all evening event in Italy. Most restaurants do not even open until 7:30 and if you do not go at that time, mostly likely you will need a reservation. The dinner starts with a bottle of wine, which is always presented and tasted before poured for everyone. Then it’s bread and/or appetizers. The primo dish is a pasta dish. The secando dish is usually a meat. And finally there is dessert. The serving staff will allow you to sit all night long and enjoy the atmosphere if you so choose. Otherwise you need to ask for your bill if you wish to leave. Tipping is sometimes included in your bill so make sure to check. There is also a service fee included which covers bread, etc. We saw many Americans frustrated with the speed of service or shall I say, lack there of. It’s important to remember to be patient and enjoy the experience. There’s nowhere else to go really. Everything else closes for dinner.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Italy, Switzerland, and How We Wound Up in Brooklyn

June 5

When we woke up from our comas in the morning, we discovered we had no electricity. If only I knew this was going to be the start of my electricity woes. We ate some granola bars we had packed and headed to the subway station. This was our first, and surprisingly only, run-in we had with gypsies or people trying to dupe us. A gypsy bought our subway tickets for us and did a little slide of hand and took some of our money too. Dave saw her do it and just figured it would go better as a tip than arguing over the money. She did ask us for a tip and Dave said he had tipped her already. We’ll just call her our travel agent.

We grabbed the subway and headed to the Duomo, or cathedral. It was outstanding! So ornate. We walked completely around the outside, through the inside, and then got tickets and climbed to the top of it. Check out the pictures.

We took the subway back after being harassed by some street vendors, got our complimentary breakfast, and checked out of our hotel. We had booked this hotel through AAA and our travel agent had done it incorrectly. She had booked us for only one person instead of two and we had to pay an additional 25 Euro for me. After checking out we went to the train station and took the train to Florence.

We arrived in Florence around 5:00pm and walked about a mile to our hotel. The streets were crowded with vendors and tourists. We stayed at the Hotel Balestri which was on the river closed to the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

The hotel room was unique, to say the least. The bed was only a mattress and it was as hard as a rock. The bathroom had a bathtub but it did not have a showerhead. Instead the showerhead was on one of the bathroom walls between the toilet and the bidet. So when we took our showers during the day, the entire bathroom got wet.

Our first afternoon/evening we watched a parade of Ferrari’s from our hotel room. I guess there was some swanky party going on that evening sponsored by Ferrari. Dinner was across the river at I Tarocchi, which was pizza and wine. There were some obnoxious college girls sitting behind us at dinner and were loudly talking about looking for a party, getting drunk, and making out with Italian guys. I thought they were pretty rude, but I’m sure that happens all the time in touristy European cities. We turned in around 11:00pm.

(More pictures to come!!)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Italy, Switzerland, and how we wound up in Brooklyn

June 3rd and 4th

We started our European adventure at the Columbus airport, our first airport of four for the day. The first flight was approximately two hours from Columbus to New York’s JFK airport.

Once at JFK we had to ride the AirTran from terminal 3 to terminal 7 and recheck in at Iberia Airlines. Iberia is the national airlines of Spain and our next stop would be Madrid. The weather in New York was not favorable as it was pouring down rain, which of course, caused long delays. We sat on the runway for two hours until we took off. Having already taken a Benadryl pre-flight, I was out.

Because of the delays in New York we had barely enough time to run through the terminals in Madrid, go through security for the third time, and get on our flight bound for Geneva, Switzerland.

Finally, we had made it to Switzerland. Next we got our Eurail passes validated and off we were to our train. I had never ridden a train before, but the experience (all the experiences) was favorable. First we had a cabin all to ourselves and I took the opportunity to take a nap. Before we exited from Switzerland to Italy we were joined by three French-speaking consultants who worked, and drank, and talked the remainder of the trip.

Arriving in Milan was a bit of a culture shock—much like we felt the first time we went to New York City. We clutched our bags like our lives depended on it. We walked with our heads down. We didn’t look anyone in the eyes. We looked at our map and headed straight for the hotel, which was only a block away from the train station. We checked into the Hotel Berna, took showers, and then asked for a restaurant recommendation, which was Pane e Tulipani. Dinner was exceptional. It started with a glass of champagne, and then moved onto water, bread, wine, and then pasta. I had a lasagna that was fantastic. After dinner we were given lemon liquor. Finally we turned in for the evening.

(See all pictures here, although it's not all there yet.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

And....we're back!

We're back from Europe with lots of stories to tell. I'm hoping to write an entry a day to match the days we were there. And there will be lots and lots of pictures.

But first, let's mourn the pink iPod which died on the trip.