Sunday, December 7, 2014

Florence, Italy

After a great couple of days in Rome we headed to Florence.  We arrived in Florence at 4:00 pm and walked about 15 minutes to our bed and breakfast.  Our bed and breakfast was right down the street from this place . . .
We dropped off our bags and then headed to the bell tower hoping to make it to the top before the sunset.  That was a good workout considering we had about 15 minutes!
 We made it!

Our next stop was dinner.  We found a great place with wonderful food.
We walked around a little bit before heading back for the night.  We walked across the Ponte Vecchio bridge which has lots of shops.  They were all closed but the bridge was still packed with people listening to live music.
 Ponte Vecchio at night.
  We walked through Jake's favorite square which has lots of sculptures including this replica of David.

 We had some great gelato!
The next morning we enjoyed a great breakfast.  Our bed and breakfast didn't have breakfast at the hotel but they had vouchers for breakfast at a nearby restaurant.  It was really good.  The chocolate cake I had that morning was AMAZING!

Jake's parents started their morning by going to Uffizi Gallery.  Here are a few of their pictures.

 We read about this before we went to Italy but a few of the paintings at the Uffizi have been turned into a relief sculpture, which is a sculpture of the painting so if you are visually impaired you can still enjoy the art.  I thought that was really neat.

We opted to skip the Uffizi since I had a feeling we might be a bit tired of museums and looking at art that we don't know anything about.  Instead of going to the art museum we went to an old pharmacy (or as Jake called it, a pharmacary). It turns out learning a new language sometimes makes you sound like an idiot in your first language.
We met up with Jake's parents and then walked through the Galileo Museum.  It was interesting.
The museum had Galileo's index finger, thumb and middle finger.  Why? I have no idea!  We did see lots of other things that were cool and a lot less creepy!
A few thermometers and Archimedes screw.
After the museum we stopped for lunch.  Jake and I had sandwiches and Jake's parents stopped at another cafe.
 Dried meat anyone?

We sat on the curb and enjoyed our sandwiches.  It was great!
After lunch Jake and I did some shopping while Janet and Ken did a little exploring on their own.  We met up again at 3:00 pm to see David at the Accademia Gallery.  I prepurchased tickets for both museums which was great because then we could just walk right in.  There wasn't much we wanted to see other than David at the museum but we found some other neat sculptures.

After the museum we grabbed some gelato at a place Lisa recommended.  She lived in Florence for a little while and let's just say, she knows her gelato!  It was great!
We did a little shopping at a leather market.  I bought a small purse I could carry my phone, camera and wallet in.  Jake had been carrying my phone in his pocket and I had been carrying the camera in the camera bag but I didn't like not having my phone.

We also stopped by Basilica di Santa Croce, where Michelangelo is buried.

We walked across a bridge and up a hill to get a view of Florence at night.  It was really pretty.

 After hanging out at the top of the hill we decided to go find some dinner.  It was dark enough as we were going down the hill that we were using our phones as flashlights. As we were walking down the hill we walked by this grotto.
We were talking and I said that I heard water coming from the left.  Janet said she thought it was coming from the right.  I said I was pretty sure it was the left as well and Jake decided he would go check it out.  The next thing that happened was the funniest part of our whole trip. The next thing we know we hear a big commotion and a splash.  Jake thought he was stepping over a curb onto cement to get closer to the grotto to see if he could hear or find some water.  Well, he found the water.
You can't really tell from the top picture but you can in the bottom picture.  He fell most of the way in.  The water wasn't very deep but he wasn't expecting his foot to go down so he lost his balance.  He was holding his phone in his right hand which was fortunate so he could try to keep it out of the water while he propped himself up with his left hand.  He was soaked.  He was also wearing our backpack for the first and only time on the trip but he didn't have my phone in his pocket.  Remember how I bought a new purse about two hours before this?  Even if I hate the purse it was worth it just to not have it get wet.
This picture helps you to see the situation a little better.  One reason he might not have noticed the water was because it was covered in green algae/moss.

Needless to say, Jake wanted to go back to the bed and breakfast to shower and change before heading to dinner.  I went with him.  We laughed the entire way back.  It was hilarious!  I still can't believe he fell in.  I knew I heard water :).

We made it back quickly and Jake was able to shower and change his clothes.  He was bummed though because he only had one pair of shoes and the shirt and jeans he wore were both clean.  Thankfully, he was able to borrow a pair of his dad's shoes and after he changed his clothes he was good to go.
After Jake was ready to go we found a place for dinner.  Dinners were hard because lots of places wanted you to make reservations but we never knew where we would be around dinner time.  We found a great place with a fun waiter and didn't have to wait too long for a table.

The colors aren't great on the food pictures because we were sitting outside and there were red heaters on but the food was great.  I had fettuccine alfredo which is my favorite pasta dish and my dessert was awesome as well.

The next morning was Jake's 30th birthday.  We had breakfast together and then did a little shopping at one of the leather markets.

 We walked around a market that was neat and would have been fun for lunch but we weren't hungry yet.  They did offer cooking classes which sounded like fun, maybe next time.

 We went back to Piazza del Signoria which was Jake's favorite piazza for lunch.  It has lots of different sculptures.

Jake's birthday dessert!
 We stopped by the Duomo.  I really liked this candle holder.

We picked up our bags and walked to the train station.  We left at 4:30 pm and arrived in Venice at 6:35 pm.  We felt like two days was the perfect amount of time in Florence.  We saw what we wanted to see and we walked around the city several times enjoying the shops and gelato.  Now on to Venice, the city I was most excited to visit!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When in Rome

I have always wanted to go to Italy.  It has been on my list of places to visit for years and when we moved to Stockholm it was a must visit before we moved home.  I mentioned earlier that we thought about visiting Italy on a cruise that also stopped in Croatia but then we decided we wanted to be able to have dinner and spend more time at each port so we split the cruise up into different trips and I'm so glad we did.

Jake worked a half day before we flew out on Tuesday, October 28th.  We flew from Stockholm to Munich and had a two hour layover before our flight to Rome.  The Munich airport was awesome.  We have flown through there before but it was our final destination so we didn't hang out there much.  They had nap boxes, which were rooms you could rent by the hour up to 12 hours to get some sleep, they had a free coffee station and the food we had had fresh picked herbs. (I watched her take the basil off the plant and put it on my pizza.)  Our second plane was about an hour late because they had to change a tire and then check the breaks.  We landed in Rome around 9:30 pm and took a train to our bed and breakfast.  On our way to our b&b we knowingly made a rookie traveling mistake, we didn't get cash before leaving the airport.  We almost did but the atm looked shady so we didn't and we thought we'd be fine.  Surely we would be able to pay by card at the metro station.  Nope, cash only.  So we asked someone where to find an atm, he asked where we were headed and then told us to just follow him through the gates to get on the metro.  I cheated.  I have been yelling (in my mind and sometimes under my breath) at cheaters on our metro who go in two at a time and then I went through with three of us on one ticket.  I felt bad but I was thankful because I did not want to walk around that neighborhood to find an ATM.
First pizza of the trip . . . but not the last.  We took a suburban train to a metro stop and then walked to our hotel.  Let's just say Rome isn't as clean as Stockholm.

We got off the metro and this was the first thing we saw.
Jake wanted to touch the Colosseum, maybe he didn't believe it was real.  It was beautiful at night.

The next morning we had breakfast before going to the Colosseum for a guided tour.  I booked a tour through a company, The Eyes of Rome, and they showed us around the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Forum.
 Look who we ran into in Rome, Jake's parents!  
About a month and a half before our Italy trip we were video chatting with Jake's dad and told him about our trip and he mentioned that he had always wanted to go to Italy so we invited them to join us.  Jake's mom wasn't so sure she wanted to go but after talking to a few friends she started getting pretty excited about the trip as well.

 The floor of the Colosseum was rebuilt on one side but rest of it is gone so you can see the ''basement."  There were several trap doors on the floor of the Colosseum so it was neat to see the paths under the floor where the animals and other gladiators would be held until they popped up through the trap door.

 After walking around the Colosseum we headed to Palatine Hill.

Our last stop was The Forum which was public square or marketplace.

 Our guide

Romulus and Remus
Our first Italian meal right behind the Pantheon.
 Jake was pretty pumped about seeing the Pantheon.  It is the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.

 Piazza Navona

This column has a story engraved in a spiral going down and there was a sign with the story unfolded nearby so we could read it..  
 Trevi Fountain, obviously under construction.
The Spanish Steps

I can't remember what I said but I got Ken to smile!
We had dinner at a restaurant by our bed and breakfast.  It was really good.  The pear and chocolate pie was awesome for dessert!
Our room at the bed and breakfast was great.  It had a separate sitting area between the bedroom and the bathroom.  There was also a loft area with an extra bed.  We stayed at this bed and breakfast for three nights which is the longest we've stayed so far while on a trip.  It was kind of nice to be able to "move in."

On our second full day in Rome we headed to The Vatican.  I made reservations for us to tour the Vatican Museums at 9:30 am.  There was a pretty long line outside when we arrived which made me even more thankful to have our reservations.  I cannot imagine what Rome would be like in the summer.  We thought it was still pretty busy while we were there.

There was a neat room full of maps.
The top left picture is of a city with a wall around it, which was neat because we've been to several cities now that had walls surrounding them.  The top right picture is of Venice, where we were heading in a few days and the bottom picture is of a mummy.  Jake got to touch an 800 year old mummy in Northern Ireland so he was excited to see this one.

We walked through the Sistine Chapel but you aren't allowed to take pictures in there anymore.  I found a few on Google so you could see what it looked like.
 *Photo credit
*Photo credit
It was really crowded and there were lots of people telling you to be quiet since it is a chapel you weren't supposed to be talking.  Jake and I listened to a Rick Steves audio guide about the Sistine Chapel while we were there which was neat.  After it was cleaned lots of people questioned the authenticity of the colors but there were two spots left uncleaned in the corners of the chapel so you could see how much dirt used to be covering the paintings.  Rick Steves also said Michelangelo didn't lie on his back to paint the ceiling like most people think he did, instead he just looked up.

After visiting the Sistine Chapel we found a museum dedicated to the Popemobiles.
We had lunch at a little cafe before going to St. Peter's Basilica.
We all had sandwiches.  Mine had bacon but it was pretty much raw, so I took it off.  The sandwich was still good but I prefer my meat cooked not raw.
The line getting into St. Peter's Basilica was really long but thankfully it didn't take too long to get in.

 La Pieta, Mary holding Jesus' body after he died.
 St. Peter's Basilica was huge and beautiful.

 The dome was really pretty.

 Jake's parents didn't want to climb to the top of the dome but we did.  The view was pretty awesome.  I love the shadow of the dome on the city.
 It was a pretty tight squeeze getting up to the top with some slanted parts but we made it.
All of those steps meant guilt free gelato!

We met up with Jake's parents again and walked around a little before dinner.

We had dinner at a restaurant at Campo de Fiori.  It was good and the atmosphere (and heaters) were great.  

Overall I would say picking lunch and dinner spots were the hardest part of the trip.  Jake and I both feel like eating food on trips is a big part of experiencing the culture so we feel extra pressure to make sure the meals are authentic and not touristy.  There is definitely a line between making sure the place has good atmosphere and the food is authentic and over analyzing each place when you are hungry trying to find the "perfect place."  There were several times on our trip when I was done figuring out where we were going to eat.  Since this was kind of my trip to plan I felt the responsibility to also plan the meals.  Jake and I rely on Trip Advisor a lot when we travel.  We mark spots ahead of time and then while we are walking around the city we use the app to see what places close to us had good ratings.  I wouldn't say we had a bad meal on our trip but I will say the meal times were stressful until we found a place but once we found one we were good to go.  There were several times Trip Advisor did save us.  We saw a place that looked good only to realize there were only 10 restaurants worse than it in the entire city.  I just wish there was a service that could find us restaurants in real time and make reservations for us so we wouldn't have to worry about it.  #firstworldproblem

We noticed in most squares there were people selling little trinkets, umbrellas when it was raining, or other random things.  Lots of people were selling little helicopters that you threw up in the air and then they glided down all while being lit up.  Other people walked around with roses and would shove them in your face or put them in your hand like you think it is free but then they ask for money.  It was annoying but I guess they have to try to make a living somehow.

The next morning we packed up to move to the next city.

I am an over packer by nature but with all the traveling we've done this year I've tried to only pack the necessities.  The longest trip I've ever been on while only packing in my backpack was 5 days.  This trip was 8 but I did it!  I will say I underestimated the low temperatures while we were in Italy.  It was only supposed to be a few degrees cooler than it was when we were in Croatia and at night I was fine with a cardigan and rain jacket but the sun went down earlier in Italy, around 5:00 pm every night in Italy, and it was cold.  Thankfully Janet brought a fleece and a down jacket and she let me borrow her fleece.  I'm still thankful I packed in a backpack, I just wish I would have brought a warmer coat.  #liveandlearn

Our bed and breakfast was on the top floor of this building.

I wanted to walk by the Colosseum one more time before we left.  It was just so beautiful.

The metro here is a little more colorful than the one in Stockholm.
Our train didn't leave Roma Termini until 14:30 (2:30 pm) so we had the morning to do a little exploring.  We stopped by Diocletian's baths.  Diocletian might ring a bell because we toured his palace in Split, Croatia about a month before this trip.
It was neat walking around looking at all the old stuff but I was struggling this morning.  I was pretty tired and I had a hard time getting excited about "old stuff" since we had seen so much of it the last few days.  It would have been neat to see the baths restored and it working order though :).

Lunch on the patio before our train ride.
I reserved our train tickets before our trip.  We took a train from Rome to Florence and it took about an hour and a half.  Our seats were reserved and really nice.

Our next stop was Florence which a lot of people told us before our trip was their favorite place in Italy.  Hopefully I'll post that blog soon!
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