Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Final Italy Post

Yes, we've FINALLY come to the end. Unfortunately I have only one picture for this post, but don't worry the next post will make up for it as it's basically going to be a picture show and tell. The last day in Venice we have a 4am wake up call. That's early. The water taxi picks us up at the hotel at 4:45am. It's rainy and icky out. I was kinda hoping (and simultaneously not hoping) to see a Venice rat, but we didn't. It turns out the airport is pretty far away, and we get on basically a water highway to get there. My dad is amazed.

We get to the airport. At the security area instead of having the rollers that you push your carry-ons over to go into the X-ray machine, the whole thing is a conveyor belt. My dad picks up a plastic tub and puts it on the conveyor. He turns away to take off his belt, and when he looks back down his tub has moved about a foot closer to the X-ray machine (as typically happens with moving conveyor belts). He gets extremely confused and looks around as if searching for some way to stop the conveyor. The tub keeps moving along. Just before the still empty tub enters the X-ray, he picks it up and has to move back in the line because everyone behind him (me and my mom) have figured out the moving conveyor thing and are ready to send our stuff through.

We board a KLM flight to Amsterdam (much better than Alitalia). I fall asleep on the flight, and when I wake up discover that the snack fairy has left two wrapped sandwiches on my tray table. I'm starving and open them up. The one is some sort of weirdo bologna looking meat and the other is egg salad. Mmmm....egg salad at 8am, sign me up! I eat it because like I said, I'm starving.

We get to the Amsterdam airport and have to go through passport control. We go up to the blond Dutch guy at the window and hand him our passports. He starts flicking through them and says "I don't see an entry stamp." (Flashback: Bitches in Rome waving anyone and everyone into the country without checking any documentation.) When we explain that that's because we don't have entry stamps we are escorted to an office. They ask if we have our boarding passes from when we flew to Europe or at least an itinerary. After frantically searching backpacks, we don't find any, but do have our bill from the hotel in Rome showing when we checked in. They take that and we get wonderful correction stamps in our passports.You want one. I know you do. As we are leaving the office, two other people without entry stamps who also flew into Rome come in. We still have about 2 hours till our flight leaves for Chicago, so we go to find food. My mom and I end up splitting a quarter pounder and fries at McDonald's. (Don't judge!) We have to go through more security just to get to the gate, and I get the most thorough pat down EVER. There is a large dutch woman who now knows me disturbingly intimately.

The KLM flight to Chicago is great. Good food: chicken curry, ice cream, pizza, warm coffee cake, probably some other food that I didn't write down and don't remember. We have individually controlled entertainment systems in the seat backs. I watch No Strings Attached, Burlesque, some episodes of CSI and NCIS and play some Tetris. I also tried to play Who Wants to Be A Millionaire until I discovered it was all British questions. Plus all the flight attendants are smiley and blonde.

We arrive in O'Hare. Pass through customs and passport control. No problem. My parents are speaking American like normal human beings and no longer saying things like "I think perhaps I might use the toilet before I dine." For some reason being in a foreign country makes you speak like English is your second language. I transfer to another terminal and check in for my flight to Atlanta, plus have to recheck my luggage. Security is slightly confused by the bubble wrapped vase in my purse, but after confirming that is not an explosive send me on my way. In Hartsfield airport, I discover the amazing and life changing Coke Freestyle Machine. Seriously, if you have one of these in your area, go use it. I had a Grape Fanta Zero...who knew Grape Fanta Zero was even possible. Fly to Greensboro. I'm exhausted. My friend Jason picks me up and drops me off at home...Glad to be back.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Venezia 4: Aimless Wandering

Last full day in Italy. We had seen everything that we pretty much wanted to in Venice but had a few random things that my mom wanted to see along with some random shopping. First we went to the open market. I've always found markets interesting as there are lots of fascinating fruits, veggies and of course, seafood.

After that my mom wanted to look for a letterbox. It would be our first international find. Admittedly, international letterboxing kinda frightens me as letterboxing is inherently suspicious looking. I'm fearful of getting dragged into a foreign police station and interrogated about my suspicious behavior, but it was fine. Then we went to see where gondolas are made and refurbished. We couldn't get too close to the workshop (or the sweaty, shirtless, brawny, tanned Italian gondola makers), but the workshop was located on the side of Venice that we hadn't seen yet, so it was an interesting walk. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped for creme caramel gelato and also shopped. My mom was looking for a little house knick knack, and I wanted a glass vase. Both were found. We went back to the hotel and packed for our early flight the next day. College lacrosse was on TV...oh boy!

We had dinner just beside the Grand Canal. I felt a lot of pressure as this was to be my last meal in Italy, and so felt the need for it to be delicious. It was. Caprese salad, red wine, tagliatelle alfredo con prosciutto. After dinner I bought two of those flavored licorice things.

That one is cola flavored. I also had a blue one that was blue raspberry. My dad discovered that he loved them as well and ate half of them himself. Since returning to the U.S., I have tried to find these everywhere on the Internet and have not been able to. This goes against my previous motto that ANYTHING can be found on the Internet.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Venezia 3: Murano e Burano

Now that my brain is officially fried from meeting with excessive amounts of professors (according to Andy a grouping of professors is called a "stupid" in analogy terms herd is to cattle as stupid is to professors), so I figured I would do something completely mindless aka blog.

The third day in Venice we took the water bus over to the islands of Murano and Burano. I had been waiting to do most of my Venetian souvenir shopping for Murano which specializes in all sorts of glass stuff. Burano has a lot of lace but very little of it is hand-laced (?) (I don't really know what is done to create lace. is it spun like wool?). Most of it is made on machines or shipped in from China, which is cheating. You actually have to be really careful not to buy Chinese knock off glass (unless you want Chinese knock off glass) in Murano as well.

We had lunch in Murano. Gnocchi al ragu and bread that actually tasted somewhat decent. We went to the Murano glass museum which was stupid and in Burano went to the lace museum which was even stupider. We shopped around all the little shops on both islands, and I was pretty exhausted by time we took the water bus back to Venice.

We went to a restaurant for dinner, and I had mystery meat cordon blue for dinner. It didn't say what type of meat it was on the menu. My parents couldn't believe I wasn't going to ask what it was, but I didn't really care. I'll eat anything. Still couldn't tell after I ate it. It was a little too gamey to be chicken, so I'm thinking either veal or pork, but who knows. It was pretty good, so who cares.. I also had a limoncello to drink. It was super sweet. Like a lemon lollipop with liquor. I got stracciatella gelato (the vanilla with shaved chocolate pieces) and then ate one of the treasure chests full of chocolate

that housekeeping leaves on our beds.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Venezia 2: I Need Some Salad STAT

Well, I'm in Winston-Salem (aka The Dash) briefly...well, like 2 days and then I'm off to PA, MN and then back to PA. I'm taking my laptop along, and I just saw that my hotel in Minnesota has complimentary wifi, so hopefully I'll be able to finish this, do a quick cruise photo blog and be all caught up.

I'm very excited when we go to breakfast at the Danieli that morning. There's hot food: pancakes, waffles, hash browns, bacon, etc. There's also carrot, bell pepper and celery sticks which I snatch up even though it's breakfast in order to fulfill my craving for veggies. I also see that there is a bottle of "Vertmont" maple syrup. Strange? I didn't think that's how Vermont was spelled. Upon closer inspection, I see that the syrup is made in Canada. Seems like our upstairs neighbors are taking advantage of Europeans who don't know how to spell Vermont.

We have tickets to the Doge's Palace secret itinerary tour. (Doge's Palace pictured at top). It's kinda cool because we get to see the torture chamber, the cells where Casanova was held and the Bridge of Sighs. The part I liked the most was looking at the ledges of the prison cell windows where the prisoners carved these ridiculously intricate pictures with whatever they had in jail. Amazing.

We apparently had pizza for lunch. I honestly don't remember this at all, but my trip notes say "pizza for lunch," so I guess I'll believe it. After lunch, we have an assigned time to go into St. Mark's Basilica. At this point, I'm going to talk about the dress code for all cathedrals (except apparently the Vatican where I saw quite a few people slutting it up.) Cathedrals, and churches in general in Italy, require that your shoulders and knees be covered. If they're not, the church will sell you this stylish lab coat/kimono hybrid that's made out of a material that I can't even describe. Sometimes these are sold in little kimono vending machines. Luckily, I knew this and stocked up on pious clothing before the trip. My dad apparently didn't listen to my mom and wore the same pants like 6 days because he brought a lot of shorts...gross.

In between these tours and shopping, we spent a lot of time watching people. Both my parents had come down with colds and didn't really want to do much walking around. We watched a bunch of gondoliers maneuver their boats in what was basically a gondola parking lot. I think I have the steering down and am ready for my own gondola. It can't be that tough. We also watched little kids chasing pigeons in San Marco. I've decided there's a certain age (around 7 or 8) in which chasing pigeons is no longer cute and just becomes somewhat malicious. I had my daily gelato. Pistachio.
Really green! Kinda tasted almondy. We go back to the hotel and my parents take naps...obviously sickly. For dinner, I feel pathetic admitting this, but we go to the Hard Rock Cafe (the gondola parking lot that I talked about previously is actually pictured on this link if you watch the 360 tour pictures change enough). We needed American food. We get nachos and a chicken Caesar salad...heavenly. We got back to the hotel and watch the Red Sox vs. Tigers game. I'm so excited to have a non-news channel in English that I could care less what game it is.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Venezia 1: AKA Venice

I've resigned myself to that fact that this trip will not be completely blogged before I leave for the cruise TOMORROW! But maybe that's actually better because all of you can get caught up on everything and then I'll dive back in.

Bright and early we head to the Florence Train Station. My dad is always like in a panic rushing around on days we are switching cities. For example, he had brought the toothpaste for the trip. I go into the bathroom this morning to find toothpaste already squirted onto my toothbrush because he HAD to pack the toothpaste. Then we of course get to the train station an hour and a half early and have nothing to do because we don't know what track the train is going to be on. We did have a little entertainment this time as there was a woman with a little, white, unnoteworthy dog. A little Indian girl came up and asked if she could pet it. The woman said sure. Next thing we know there's a whole group of people from India surrounding this dog, taking pictures, posing with it, videotaping, etc. It was like dog paparazzi.

We take the train to Venice. No Italian guy helping us and trying to get money this time though. We take a water taxi to our hotel. My dad didn't believe that there were actually canals all over Venice. Conversation with him and my mom:
Dad: Then we're taking a taxi to the hotel, right?
Mom: A Water taxi
Dad: What do you mean a water taxi?
Mom: There's not cars. It's all canals.
Dad: Really? I thought it was like Disney where there's just one canal that everyone rides around on for fun and the rest was normal.
Mom: Nope.
Dad: Crazy. Benny, did you know that Venice is all canals?
Me: Yep, that's kinda their thing.

We're staying at the Danieli which I've heard (multiple times from multiple people) is featured in the movie the Tourist. The Danieli is kinda decorated like a Paris bordello...or what I picture a Paris bordello as being like. It was all decorated in deep red, dark wood, and gold. Like this.
That was in the hallway, but pretty much everything was like that. We go and get a ham and cheese panini on the street beside the hotel that was supposedly known for good sandwiches. I wasn't impressed. It wasn't as toasty and melty as I had hoped plus the bread is still sucky. My dad calls it "host bread" cause it reminds him as communion wafers...not good. From there we just wander around Venice getting lost, which is easy because most of the time you're following signs like this:
Yes, that is an actual city sign. Helpful, huh? Apparently either way gets you to San Marco. Why am I skeptical? If those don't work there is also this: Sign graffiti or this:
the random piece of paper sign or my personal favorite: Yes, that appears to be in Sharpie. Wonderful representation of St. Mark. We have strawberry gelato and hear possibly the best quote of the entire trip. A girl is stopped at a shop trying on hats, her friend says "that hat looks great on you" and the girl responds "I think I'm too drunk to buy a hat." That's pretty drunk. Then we had dinner on the Grand Canal. It was a little chilly next to the water. I ordered Risotto di Mare. I was a little nervous because on one hand Venice is supposed to be known for its seafood on the other hand if this thing comes out with octopus tentacles on it, I can't handle that. It didn't, and it was ok, not great. I ordered an espresso because I was feeling tired and knew I had to stay awake because we had signed up for a ghost tour. This is how my espresso was brought to me.Great presentation! Still too strong for me, even with the whip cream. We wander around some more and find a small coconut macaroonish pie and a blue licorice stick thing (pictures of that on another day since we're overloaded with pictures right now). The ghost tour is fun and very interesting with lots of good information about the city. I've been on a lot of ghost tours, and it was one of the better ones. We saw the beautiful winding staircase pictured at the top which we never would've found on our own...there might be a body buried in the well beside it. Also, apparently Venice has a rat problem...could've done without that news. We arrive back to the hotel and find chocolates on our pillow. That night I have a dream about the biggest salad bar I've ever seen. I think my body is trying to tell me that I've had enough carbs and need some veggies.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Firenze 3: So over Florence

It's obvious that I was over Florence by this day because I have absolutely no pictures that I took that day. So you get a generic Italian picture that I actually took in Rome. It's cute though, right? An Italian flag made of flowers. Florence is nice, and I know a lot of people love it, I just felt like there was nothing to do since I was arted and churched out by that point. We slept in and had breakfast and then had tickets to the Uffizi Gallery (only because our hotel gave them to us free.)

My mom was hacking up a lung and so we stopped at a pharmacy for some cough syrup. (I've now been in pharmacies in 4 foreign countries...don't think that's something to brag about). Because we found the pharmacy so quickly, we got to the Uffizi before our appointed entrance time. To waste time we sat on a wall and watched all the street performers getting ready. And by street performers, I mean people who paint themselves like statues or a golden King Tut thing and stand really still...not sure if that can really be categorized as "performing."

In the Uffizi, I'm sure we saw really great and famous art, but seriously, I can't remember anything I saw other than Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, that picture that's been made into a stamp of an angel with a mandolin, and a front and back painting of a naked dwarf. I also can tell you I saw things from all the Ninja Turtles and A LOT of "Madonna e Bambino". Rennaissance painters also apparently thought it was ok to just put whatever saints in whatever period of time. No, St. Peter and John the Baptist were not at Jesus's birth at least not as grown up people. You could also always tell John the Baptist in any painting because he looked like a scruffy homeless person. And St. Sebastian always had arrows going through him.

After the gallery, gelato. I got mint chocolate chip. It was yummy. I was a little hesitant because my mom had previously gotten mint and it was like super minty. Like chewing on a mint leaf minty, but this kind was good. We then went to the Da Vinci Museum, which was kind of interesting, but no very big. I went back to the Piggy Market to buy some souvenirs and then it was nap time back at the hotel. All the go go go had finally gotten to me. For dinner I had tortellini bolognese at a restaurant with this crazy old waiter guy that kept giving us the wrong food because he thought it was funny. He also told me they only had cake for dessert...they didn't, I had tiramisu.

Firenze 2: Under The Tuscan Sun

Ok, ok, I know I know...I failed on my goal to do two posts a day. I ended up going out to dinner with my friend Jason last night...SORRY. It's kinda ironic though because on this day (in Italy) I also failed on my gelato goal. I did not eat gelato..I did however eat everything else in all of Italy....and even more ironic, on this day in Italy I listened to the song Ironic by Alanis Morissette, so mull that over in your little noggins. I'm debating whether to try to mash all the rest of this trip in or just give up and restart when I get back from the cruise. We'll see how it goes.

Again, I became bored with breakfast. I'm not a big breakfast person to start with, so eating breakfast is kind of a chore. I decided to make myself fantastic little ham and cheese sandwiches off of the meat and cheese platter and basket of breads and rolls. Quite tasty. I also decided to switch up my typical American coffee for a cappuccino. Also a delicious choice. The breakfast location at the hotel in Florence is not nearly as charming as the one in Rome in that this one is basically just on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, so there's all sorts of traffic and people noise. Also, I don't think I mentioned this but Rome smelled really good like a weird alternating melange (new favorite word by the way) of flowers, yummy food, and expensive stores. Florence does not smell yummy. It smells like leather and sewer, so eating breakfast on the sidewalk is not nearly as appetizing.

Today Riccardo, another random father work person, is taking us to some small towns in Tuscany. First we stopped at San Gimignano. (I love that I can butcher this in google, and it actually knows what the hell I'm talking about). We walked around and took pictures and shopped in little cute Tuscany-y shops. We hopped back in the car and drove to Siena. In Siena we had some pizza for lunch...nothing really note worthy about that and Riccardo told us about the Palio that Siena is famous for. It was really hot so we just kinda chilled at the restaurant looking at the bell tower and watching all the people in the plaza. Then my mom decides she wants to climb the 400 steps to the top of the bell tower. This is a ridiculously stupid idea (sorry, mom) for two reasons a) my mom has hip and back problems and was having issues just walking around Siena so 400 steps is going to be a piece of cake (sarcasm) and b) she's scared of heights. My dad says he wouldn't mind doing it either and then they look at me and I'm like I don't really want to, but if everyone else is going, I'm not just going to chill down here by myself. we go. Did I mention it's really hot too? The sign outside the bell tower entrance says the climb is not recommended for pregnant women or people with heart conditions or giddiness. What? Giddiness? I see that the French translation is "vertige" apparently they translated vertigo to mean giddiness. The steps are really winding and kind of big.

That was the stairs, if you couldn't tell. But we get to the excitement. After coming back down, I guzzle two giant Coke Lights like my life depends on it and try to forget the fact that I will now have dried sweat and stink on me for the rest of the day. We visit the Duomo in Siena (every city pretty much has a duomo). It's all black and white inside and kind of disorienting.

See? After the duomo, it's time for me, my dad and Riccardo to head off to Tuscan wine school. We drink a bunch of wine and learn all about the wine regions in Tuscany, the type of grapes, the Italian wine classification system, and the proper way to taste a wine. Very informative and tasty class. Riccardo is trying to flirt with Maria Louisa the teacher, so that's fun too. We meet back up with my mom who I had sent on a mission to find me an olive oil pourer. No olive oil thing for me, but she does have a present for Danielle...of course she does. We go back to the car, and Riccardo starts being very secretive just saying he is taking us to the "most beautiful place on earth." We start winding through the back hills of Tuscany, and I start wondering how well my dad really knows this guy or if we are being lured to our death. We eventually arrive at the Villa Belvedere which is apparently where Riccardo is staying. It's gorgeous (and where I took the picture at the top of the page.) He has wine, bread, and some prosciutto and salami laid out. It's now 7pm. On normal days we would've already eaten dinner by this time, so I'm pretty hungry and even though I don't really like either, I chow down on the deliciously unhealthy meat products.

After relaxing for probably a half hour and enjoying the view and the quiet, we get back in Riccardo's car and drive through the Tuscan country side apparently to dinner. I realize as I'm gazing out the window that I'm having my own little chick flick moment of reflection: mysterious suave Italian guy behind the wheel, sun setting over the hills of Tuscany, linen pants (because nothing says chick flick and Tuscany like a pair of linen pants. SN on linen pants: I bought this pair of light blue linen pants out of the VS catalog a couple years ago. I love them, but realize that I have no place to where them. Where does one where linen pants? Tuscany. That's where....Riccardo had on linen pants too.) Unfortunately my parents, and the Alanis that Riccardo has in his CD player interrupt my chick moment. Glad to know Jagged Little Pill is alive and well somewhere.

We turn onto what Italians call a "white road" which is basically white gravel and drive on that for about another 20 minutes into the middle of nowhere. In fact, I think we passed the middle of nowhere, dropped off the face of the Earth and then arrived at this restuarant. It is now 8:30 (normally close to my family's bedtime in Italy). We have a full Italian meal. Normally we've been ordering just one course or possibly two if I get a caprese salad. The Italian meal typically follows in this pattern: Some sort of appetizer or salad, pasta, and then a meat course of some type. For our appetizer we have Fettunta, which is this unbelievable grilled bread soaked in olive oil (no garlic on the one we got). Apparently they used the really good olive oil on it for us because Riccardo kept talking about how expensive the olive oil was. I then had ravioli for my pasta course. Pretty good. By this time, I'm tired (we've also been drinking a DOCG chianti classico) and full, so when the meat course arrives I can barely force any down. We get a huge platter of pork ribs with fennel, roasted potatoes and an artichoke salad. Delicious, but just too much food. They offer me dessert and as much as I would love to keep up my gelato a day habit, I just can't. We arrive back at the hotel at 11 to the sounds of a concert loudly going on on the piazza. Doesn't matter as I fall immediately asleep and dream about facebook and e-mail. Sickeningly serious. Probably one of my best days ever.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Firenze 1: Firenze = Florence

We woke up, and I had a caprese salad for breakfast. I learned that I could eat a caprese salad pretty much any time, any place. The hotel's breakfast buffet had these amazing, huge, fresh hunks of mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and bright red, juicy tomatoes. Then we cabbed it to the train station. I don't know if any of you have taken a train lately, but it's a little nerve racking for anyone that likes to plan ahead and be everywhere early like my dad. You have to stand and wait for them to post what track the train is going to be on which usually happens around 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time. My dad kept pacing back and forth and checking multiple boards just to make sure it wasn't posted in one place and not another.

So the track was posted, and we rushed over and basically had no clue what was going on: how to get our ticket validated, where our seats are, etc. Next thing we know some random Italian guy is grabbing our suitcases, looking at our tickets, and helping to load us on the train. Seemed pretty nice...until he demanded 15 Euro from us, which we didn't give him. Train ride was uneventful. They gave us drinks and cookies. We get to our hotel in Florence, The Hotel Savoy, and no naked torso sculptures, but instead, this:
How can I not love a hotel that is decorated with shoes? I'll overlook the no pool issue that it has. ALSO, across the street there is a Gelato Festival! Are you kidding me? I get Mango Gelato to break out of my vanilla slump. Delish!
We then just decide to wonder around Florence and see what we can see. We first go by the Duomo (which is a Cathedral). I think that it is possibly the ugliest church I have ever seen. (Pictured at the heading of this post). It's all green and red and icky. There was a huge line, so we didn't wait. We went to the Santa Croce Church instead. More art but also some tombs of important people like Galileo, Michelangelo and Dante, so that was interesting. I made my mom complete a survey for some psych grad students. I basically wouldn't let her leave until she finished it.

Then we went to do some shopping...window shopping at the Ponte Vecchio, The Leather Market and a place that I just referred to as the Piggy Market. The Piggy Market had a bunch of individual stalls mostly selling leather items (that's kinda Florence's thing) and had this statue.
You're supposed to rub the pig's nose for good luck or a return to Florence or whatever. Did it. For dinner, I seriously needed some protein. The carbo load needed to stop. I had Veal Parmigiana...don't get all "poor little vealies" on was yummy. When we got back to the hotel, we discover are room isn't turned out and my bed (the sofa bed) isn't made up yet. We call housekeeping and this maid rushes around a light speed to "turn down" the room. My dad telling her "take your time. it's fine." which seemed to only make her go faster. She laid out this little tray that had slippers and laundry info and A PILLOW MENU on it. There were 8 different types of pillows that you could choose from and order. I didn't though. I just kept the ones I had.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Roma 4: The Best Meal EVER

Ok, so I almost didn't write this tonight, but gotta keep up my pace. (And I just found myself doing everything to procrastinate writing this, but pulled my shit together to do it.) Last day in Rome.

My mom, the scheduler, had left the last day in Rome open in order to catch up on anything we had missed. We had actually done quite a bit during the first three days and so had very few things we needed to do. My mom thought we should do a hop on/hop off bus tour to get an overview of the city and be able to hop off near any of the sights we still needed to see. We had a little difficulty finding the bus stop and had to ask a woman working in the shop at a museum. She pointed us in the direction, and there was a actually a bus waiting there, so we immediately hopped on. We then found out (after purchasing tickets and being on our way) that it wasn't the tour that Rick Steves or whomever had recommended which my mom then reminded us of EVERY time we got on the bus. Not that it was a bad tour though my mom was convinced there was a better one.

So the first place that we hopped off was near the Bocca della Verita and Circus Maximus. The Circus is what the picture at the top is of. As you can see, it's just a big gravel circle. My dad is convinced that they should hold chariot races there again to attract tourists and make money off of the deal...always the capitalist. The Bocca was my choice to see because of it's place in the movie Roman that movie. I took some cute pictures of it having biting off my hand or whatever.

We hopped back onto the bus and got off at the Castel Sant'Angelo. Boring. But did have the best view from the top. (Why the crap did we hike up that hill yesterday? This was so much better). Art...blah blah blah...kinda Renaissance arted out after the Vatican. After that...gelato time...OBVIOUSLY. Cookie and cream gelato. Realized I was getting into a kind of vanilla-ish slump that will need to change.

Started to rain just as we were getting to our next stop. Apparently a daily thing in Rome. Not enough to cause any sort of issue though. Next hop off stop. The Capuchin Crypt. FREAKY, but yet, kinda wanted to go there. Let me explain. The Capuchins decorated their crypt with human bones and mummified bodies. Like this.

Stylish, right? Don't see this coming back into style anytime soon. I was kinda freaked out. a) The bones were over my head on the ceiling. There were spaces were some were obviously missing. In my mind this means they possibly fell off...if a human bone had hit me on the head, it would've been traumatic. b) there were creepy mummified bodies posed in the various rooms of the crypt. Somehow my mom failed to notice these until the third room. How do you miss a frozen leathery body? On the other hand, I was also kind of amused by the whole thing. I was picturing a Capuchin monk digging through a pile of bones and going "I just need a vertebrae about this big."

We walked back to the hotel and stopped for dinner. Formerly the phrase "Best Meal Ever" was reserved for a meal I had at BoneFish a year ago with Andy in celebration of being named Marketing Summit Co-Chair. Maybe that is still the best meal with all things considered: conversation, atmosphere and food. But this dinner in Rome was the best food I have ever eaten. The one thing I thought I wanted on the menu was Pennette alla vodka con speck....Speck translated onto the English menu as "speck"...hmmm...I asked my mom if she knew what speck was and she said "I think it's one of those gross British things." I was torn because on one hand I really wanted vodka sauce and am not a picky eater and will pick off anything that I don't like. But if speck is con gli occhi (with eyeballs), I might throw up. I then look at the French translation which is "bacon", so I consider myself safe and go for it. Turns out speck is this. Tastes like bacon. It was delicious. I wanted to lick the freakin plate. And then to follow that up I had Tiramisu. YUMMY! During dinner my dad asked my mom if she liked Rome and my mom's response was " was ok." HELLO? It's ROME!! Standard end of the day ritual...pool.
Roma 3: Il Vaticano

I already feel myself losing steam on this blogging stuff, but I'm losing steam on a lot of things. It might be because it's so freaking hot here right now I can't hear myself think. Also, I'm running out of pictures.

Day 3 we had a scheduled tour of Vatican City. I guess I wasn't sure what to expect. All of my Vatican City information comes from Angels and Demons and the Borgias. We had breakfast in the garden of the hotel. I had some wonderful pastries, fresh fruit, and coffee. (They steam the milk that they give you for in the coffee so it's all warm and that!) Then we walked (of course we did) over the Tibre river towards Vatican City. We met up with our tour guide and went in the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. We saw lots of art by Michelangelo and Raphael and possibly other Ninja Turtles. I'm not really an art person, but it was interesting to hear all the details about the Sistine Chapel like how halfway through the people painted get bigger because you originally couldn't see the people in the first three panels clearly from the floor or how there's controversy over the fact that Adam is painted with a belly button or that Michelangelo basically had one saint doing another saint in the ass until someone made it more P.C....crazy Michelangelo...don't you know St. Catherine preferred the Cowgirl position? omg...I am so going to hell. My little brain sensor guy must've stayed in Italy.

After we saw Vatican City, we walked to a little neighborhood nearby where my mom had mapped a gelato stand that was supposed to be one of the best in Rome. She mapped out the best gelato stands near all the attractions we were scheduled to see. My mom has always tried to help me reach all my goals...Gelato goal shouldn't be any different, should it? Wonder if she knew about my gondolier goal? First we decided to eat actual food (I'm sorry, gelato, for insinuating that you are not actual're better than actual food. you are). We ordered two pizzas (one pizza is supposed to serve one person, but they were HUGE). One of them was a white pizza with four cheeses, and the second was margarita pizza (tomato and mozzarella). Both delicious. At this point, my dad and I decided that Italy should just produce the food for the entire world. Then of course, there was gelato, crema gelato. We walked up to a church on a hill to have an overview of Rome. It was ok. I'm not big on the see things from up high thing. As we started walking back down this hill, it started drizzling a little bit and the sky got dark, so we decided to head back towards the hotel and just see things along the way. There was a church on the way (there's churches on the way everywhere in Rome) and by this time the sky was back to being blue and beautfiul so we sat on the steps outside the church for a while. We started to walk back towards the hotel again and suddenly the sky opened up, and there was a torrential downpour. We found a spot on the large porch of a Chinese import store and just hung out until the storm passed and watched street vendors trying to hawk umbrellas. Probably about a half hour.

Continuing the walk (wow, there is like a lot of walking going on in this post), we found a place to eat. In the restaurant beside our table was a giant TV showing Italian MTV. It was kinda weird. Most of the videos I had never seen before, but then JLo came on. Glad the US can contribute something to the world. I had gnocchi with 4 cheese sauce (wow, lots of cheeses today too). It was good, but really rich. We also decided that Italian bread sucks unless it is drenched in olive oil because it doesn't have any salt in it. We continued back to the hotel and went to the pool.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Roma 2: The Essentials

I'm subtitling this post "The Essentials" because there are certain things that you must see when you visit Rome. You can't go and not see the Colosseum. You just can't. On the 2nd day of our visit we saw everything that was essential to a Rome visit. We had a scheduled Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum Guided Walking Tour at 9:30, so we were planning on getting up at 8:15 in order to have breakfast and walk to the meeting place. We didn't ask for a wake up call because we went to bed at 8pm, so surely there would be no way we could sleep 12 hours. We were wrong. My dad panicked at 8:45am when he looked at the time on his blackberry. We threw on some clothes, chowed on some granola bars my mom had in her luggage and started the trek towards the Colosseum.

My mom had printed off walking directions on Mapquest to get us to where we were going to meet the guide. I'm going to be blunt here. Mapquest sucks! I'm sorry if you are personal friends with Mapquest or whatever, but he (because obviously nothing that wrong time and again could be female) screws me over all the time. I ended up just taking a map and planning my own way there (once I figured out where the hell mapquest had taken us). Luckily, McDonald's has locations near every major attraction and has wonderful signs like this
They are actually better than the official Rome tourist directional signs. We make it to our tour on time. I had heard the Colosseum was one of those places that's not as great in person as it is in photos, but I thought it was amazing. It's a 3 hour walking tour. It's great not to have to wait in line at the Colosseum or Palatine Hill, but it's hot and by hour 2, I'm so over it. One good thing about Rome is that there are fresh water fountains flowing everywhere, so you just need to carry a water bottle and refill it anywhere.

After the tour, we were starving and ready for lunch. My mom had found a place during her trip research that was near the Colosseum and supposed to have good food at a reasonable price. We go in, sit down, and after looking at the menu, my dad asks the waitress if they have any pasta. She says no. He looks like someone just stole his puppy. I have a very good chicken curry with couscous, not exactly what I was expecting to eat in Rome though.

We then go to 3-D Rewind, which is supposed to be a 3-D re-creation of what the Colosseum would've looked like back in its prime. It was ok, a little overpriced and a little kidsy for me. From there we headed to the Pantheon (which I repeatedly called the Parthenon, eventhough my mom repeatedly told me that the Parthenon was Greek...oops...really wish I had brushed up on my Roman history before I went). We sat on the steps of a fountain in front of the Pantheon a little while to rest and then headed toward the entrance only to then have barriers put up in front of us that blocked anyone from entering. No one had any idea what was going on, and there were bewildered tour guides with unhappy groups of tourists everywhere. We could see inside, but figured we'd probably catch it on another day. We headed to the Trevi Fountain. I wanted to do the whole throw a coin over your left shoulder for good luck or to return to Rome or whatever, but found it quite difficult because the crowds looked like this.
We found a good view about three levels up on the balcony and I was pretty sure I could throw a coin to the fountain from there; however, the over the left shoulder thing might be a problem. We were too far away for it to be a mere toss. I angled myself so that I could overhand throw the penny (cheaper than .02 mom insisted. Of course she did) with my right hand. The other thing that made this slightly complicated is that there were two police officers below me near the edge of the fountain, so I couldn't short the throw at all or would risk hitting one of them in the head....not a good thing I'm thinking. I made it. Actually overthrew and hit a rock in the middle of the fountain.

Next we headed towards the Spanish Steps which were also on the way towards our hotel. As we were taking pictures of the Spanish Steps it began to rain. We high tailed it back to the hotel only to ask for a good gelato stand and head back out in the rain (no umbrella still). Crazy Americans! Gelato today was stracciatella (think mint chocolate chip, but with vanilla instead of mint ice cream). Obviously we then went to the pool before going to bed.
I'm going to try to keep up my two blog a day pace...we'll see how this goes. I apologize if you are on vacation or otherwise indisposed at the moment and will return in a week to find a ton of catching up to do. My first day in Rome/Italy can be described as weird and wonderful. We take a cab to the Hotel de Russie and because it is only 9:30 am (Rome time), our room is not ready yet. Nothing like being jet lagged and not having anywhere to go. My mom finds a comfy leather chair in the lobby, curls up and falls asleep. My dad enjoys an 8 euro Coke Light (I still hate Coke Light by the way) in the hotel garden/bar. I decide to go explore the hotel. I find this.
(I stole this picture off of some website because every time I tried to take a picture myself there were people in the pool, and I just couldn't do it without feeling creepy). Little did I know at the time that this would turn out to be the best pool I have ever been in, but I'll talk about that later. About two hours later, our room is all set and we check in. If there was any doubt about the city we were in, this answered it.Nothing says "Welcome to Rome" like a naked male torso on your desk. Apologies if the nakedness offends's art. After changing out of our clothes that we just spent way too long in, Guillaume (a guy somehow business related to my dad) picks us up. We walk to a restaurant for lunch. The restaurant (sorry don't have the name...coming to realize that I didn't take very good notes of this trip) has marble sculptures everywhere. Too many marble sculptures. It's not like a sculpture museum. It's more like the storage room of a sculpture museum. This is both wonderful and weird (see the theme coming back). Wonderful in that there's beautiful sculptures to look at while we're waiting to get our food. Weird in that there's a 12 foot naked woman directly in front of me, and a little naked boy above her that I have to stare at while I'm eating. First meal in Italy: Pasta with tomato sauce and bacon (I didn't write down the official name)...delicious!
Guillaume then drives us to two separate catacombs: San Domitilla Catacombs and San Callisto Catacombs. You would think one catacomb tour would be enough, but my mom's pre-trip research said to go to Domitilla for an informative tour and San Callisto for pretty stuff (there's like frescoes, and statues and stuff in their catacombs). Catacombs are (everyone, all together) wonderful and weird for me. Wonderful in that I've kind of secretly always wanted to live in a tunnel. My friend Derek and I once tried to tunnel our way from my house to his house up the block when we were like 7. We started digging under my back porch. We didn't get very far. Weird in that...well...they put dead people there.

After the catacombs, Guillaume drove us (I got the feeling we were pretty much just using Guillaume for his car) to the Baths of Caracalla ruins. We got an audio guide which I would listen to and then summarize the basic points for my parents. Ancient ruins cliff's notes. Guillaume drives us around the city a little bit more and then drops us a short walk from the hotel. On the walk back we stop for gelato...coconut gelato. My first step towards completing my goal of having gelato every day in Italy. The gelato is just weird. My other goal is to make out with a gondolier...or at least a hot Italian guy...or maybe a moderately attractive Italian guy. We go back to the hotel, and my mom and I go to the pool to soothe our aching feet.

Why this pool is wonderful and weird: Wonderful in that it's not just an ordinary pool it has spa jets all throughout it and waterfalls and stuff like that. It's warm like bath water, so you can stay in for a while without getting too hot, but it's warm enough to be soothing. The pool is weird in that all the water features are operated by separate buttons that you basically have to figure out using trial and error. This weirdness is cancelled out by the fact that it is somewhat fun to watch people hit a wrong button and then act like that's what they wanted all along. I crawl into bed completely exhausted and not even caring that the sheets feel like burlap.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Getting There is Half the Battle
Ok, let's get this going. The original travel plan was slightly stupid, but not nearly as ridiculous as what actually ended up happening. Since I was going to be going to Italy with my parents, they wanted me to fly to South Bend the day before to meet up with them so that we could all leave out of Chicago together, and we wouldn't have to worry about flight delays screwing with us meeting up...or so we thought.

My flight was to leave Thursday from Greensboro at around 11:20 am, connect through O'Hare and get to South Bend at around 4:30pm. I tried to check in at around 8am, but discovered that my flight had been cancelled, and I was rescheduled on a flight for Friday morning. (I received a voicemail from United about 45 minutes later informing me that my flight was cancelled. Little late?) The Friday morning flight would not work since it would mean that I would then miss my Delta flight to Rome. I called United, and they rescheduled me on a flight that evening. Unfortunately it wouldn't get into South Bend until around midnight, but oh well...what were my options?

I call my parents to inform them of the change. My dad apparently finds it unacceptable because about an hour later (9am), his admin tells me that I'm on a flight at 10:15am...keep in mind that the Greensboro airport is about a half hour away. I immediately call Kathleen to come pick me up, we rush to GSO and I make my flight. Whew. Did I mention that not only do I now have to connect through O'Hare, but before that through Reagan in DC AND switch airlines? By some magical power, me and my luggage make it to South Bend. (SN: as I'm sitting on the plane waiting to take off from GSO, having just rushed to make it, all I can think is, holy crap, the DC metro area has the most incidence of near midair collisions. I just rushed to make it on a plane so that I can die in a fireball in the sky...though probably not the worst way to go...sometimes, I know too much about airlines.)

Get to South Bend. Have burgers at Roc's that I had been waiting for since September when we went and it was closed. We went back in January, but it was closed then too. Burgers were yummy. The next day we got boxed lunches at the Honey Baked Ham company (formerly known as--or still currently known as if you are my parents--Heavenly Ham.) We drive to O'Hare at around lunchtime and catch a Delta flight operated by Alitalia to Rome...possibly the worst service on an airline I have ever received. It was about a 7 hour flight (give or take). The airplane itself was somewhat broken down and old looking, but whatever no big deal. About an hour after take off, we're served roast beef and pasta for dinner...not bad, not great. That would be the last time we see the flight crew until they serve breakfast five hours later. The screens showing movies are all broken and wavy, not that it would matter since the sound on our seats doesn't work. We ring the flight attendants to see if there's something they can do about the sound, but no one answers the bell. Other people ring about things, and my mom rings later for a glass of water (since there was no other drink service or anything) still no one. We don't even see a flight attendant pass by that we can ask. Later we discover that there are some pretzels and water out in the galley area (is that what it's even called on a plane? I know a galley is on a ship, but isn't it on a plane too?) that people seem to be helping themselves to. These, of course, run out about an hour later...duh. The crew reappears about an hour before we land and serve breakfast (a warm roll, yogurt, and orange(?) juice)
Yes, it's not really orange. Tasted ok, not really like orange juice though. We land in Rome and are surprised when we are just shuffled through the passport station without having anything being checked or stamped or anything. Apparently, Italy doesn't really care who's entering the country. I'm kinda pissed because I want my Rome stamp, damn it!

Ok, enough for up ROME!!!
A Little Basic Italian

Well, folks, I'm back and I have a long trip to blog about (with pictures!) I hope you love pictures as much as I do. A big thanks to my bestest bud Danielle for covering for me while I was away (and for not posting pictures of the deer blood and hair on your car). I'm going to be blogging fast and furious to get Italy done before I leave for Kate's wedding cruise next Wednesday. This was originally going to be tight since I was planning on going to the gym like 6 times a day to work off the Italy weight before going on the cruise. However since I discovered this morning (and double checked) that I've actually returned 5 pounds lighter than I left, the gym plan has been scrapped. Sickening, I know. I honestly don't know how this happened since all nutritional guidelines went out the window, and I ate nothing but dairy based products, processed carbs, sugar, fatty meats, fried things and alcohol the entire trip.

Anyway, before I dive right into trip detail, I thought I'd start you off with a few basic Italian phrases. My mom had purchased a Rick Steves phrase books (Danielle and I love Rick Steves and his money belt) before the trip and when I discovered one of his helpful phrases in the food and restaurant section was "Nienti con gli occhi" which translates to "Nothing with eyeballs" I couldn't help but search further for other ridiculous phrases. So here's the format for this post. I'll give the heading that they were listed under. Then the Italian for each, English translation and my snide remarks in parens as usual.

Food and Restaurants:
E migliore di McDonald's? -- Is it better than McDonald's? (It better be. And I feel that by using this phrase you are doing a disservice to all Americans.)
Solo la testa, por favore--Just the head, please. (I am not eating just the head of anything.)
Da quanto tempo e morto questo --How long has this been dead (if you need to ask, you shouldn't eat it)
Mi sento ubriaca fradicia--I'm feeling wasted (Not sure this phrase would come to me at the moment that I need it).
Mangio solo insetti--I eat only insects (I wonder how many people are flipping through the phrase book do I tell them that I only eat insects?)
Posso mangiare il suo cibo--May I eat your food? (greedy, aren't we?)

Travel and transport:
Dove un bel capotreno? --where is a good looking conductor? (haven't we all really wanted a good looking man that knows how to handle a train?)
Mi vende il suo cappello--Can I buy your hat? (it tells you to use this if you get pulled over by the police. I'm not sure if this is a subtle way of asking him if he can be bribed or if Rick Steves is dicking with us.)
Sono caduta e non nesco ad alzarmi--I've fallen and I can't get up. (Ok, Rick Steves, you are dicking with us)
Abbiamo un problema con prostitute--We have a problem with prostitutes. (Meant for hotel situation use, but really so many usage occasions).
Ho peso il mio la fiducia nel prossimo--I've lost my faith in humanity. (A little dramatic, don't you think?)

Health and visiting the doctor
Puzzo--I have body odor (It would have to be some serious stank to be going to the doctor in another country)
Ho una malattia venerea--I have a venereal disease (probably very useful, but I have the humor of a 12 year old, so I think it's funny.)
Ho vermi--I have worms (I'm sorry)
Ho saltato il ciclo mestruale--I've missed a period. (Always good to know how to say in every language.)
Il ml di testicoli--My testicles hurt. (I swear to you all of these were in the book. I am not making this up.)

Relationships--My favorite section
Mettitelo nel culo--Shove it up your ass. (sounds so much nicer in Italian.)
Non essere un figlio di puttana --Don't be a son of a whore. (Already added to my vocab)
Fuma marijuana? --do you smoke pot? (Rick Steve's must be a pot head because there are like four phrases about weed)
Lei crede negli extraterrestri?--Do you believe in extraterrestrial life? (always a good conversation starter)
E allupato? --Are you horny? (Speaks for itself)
Sono avventuroso--I'm adventurous.
Non ho malattie--I have no diseases (this is followed by the phrase "Ho molte malattie"--"I have many diseases")
Faccio solo sesso sicuro--I have only safe sex (how conscientious of you, Rick)
Passiamo una notte di fucco--Let's have a wild and crazy night.
Ti piace questo--How does this feel (I swear the section on sex is bigger than the one on food.)
Questa e la mia prima volta--This is my first time
Lo fai spesso?--Do you do this often?
Fa solletico--It tickles.
Oh mio Dio--Oh my God (wow, I feel like I just went through an entire one night stand in Italian).

Hope you enjoyed, probably be back later today for another post on getting to Italy and maybe the first few days of Roma!