One Thought Too Many

Cinque Terre and Unexpected Detours

Posted in italy, musings, travels by onethoughttoomany on June 7, 2012

Confession: our beautiful day in Cinque Terre was tarnishes oh so slightly by a small development that threw me into a bit of a funk. The previous day, after arriving at our apartment in Monterosso, I realized I had forgotten my travel belt in our Firenze BnB, with our somewhat-flaky host Bred. My brain was somewhat focused on planning and scheming all through the morning, but it was ultimately it was a different type of circumstance on a much larger scale that ruled the day.

How’s that for a foreboding hook?

We started our morning in Cinque Terre at a respectable 9:30 AM, and we were awakened by a beautifully bright and warm day. After a brief breakfast on the main strip of Monterosso, we set forth to tackle the first of four seaside trails connecting the five villages of Cinque Terre: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Unfortunately, the two middle paths remain closed due to freak mudslides in 2011 that caused extensive damage to the entire area. Although much of the area has been restored, large barren gashes in the otherwise verdant mountainside hint at the scale of the catastrophe. Even on the Saturday of our hike, many buildings were still under construction and repair. The two outer paths and outer cities, it seems, have had their repairs prioritized, as they are the more tourist-oriented of the five villages.

The northernmost trail is considered the hardest (or so I’ve heard/read), and it is characterized by a fairly lengthy ascent followed by a similarly length descent. Most of the “trail” is actually paved, and much of it involves small stone steps cut into the side of the mountain. The path is fairly linear and narrow, but it does open up to provide pretty breathtaking vistas of what I just found out is called the Ligurian Sea, which runs into the Mediterranean, and both Monterosso and Vernazza. The elevation of the hike gave great views of the incredibly photogenic villages. The mountainous provides a natural silhouette that is quite pleasing, but it’s the bright pastel summer colors that give each village this quaint, fairy-tale , watercolor quality. Like this:

Vernazza

Most of the hike winds through the terraced fields and vineyards of the locals. Most of the population that I saw in the fields that morning seemed elderly, as if the kids have run off to the cities. I can’t imagine what it is like to work the soil in the Italian summer heat, let alone the additional strain of working a mountainside.

The hike was a sweaty, ninety-minute affair, but was definitely a welcome change of pace from all the city exploration we had been doing. It was nice to be rewarded with a view of natural landscapes after a stair climb rather than an aerial panorama of a city. Our trip took us into Vernazza, where we took some time to cool off in the water. We set our cramped, dusty feet free and soaked them in the refreshingly chilled sea waters.

After appreciating the power and serenity of the water, we looked to travel to Corniglia to grab lunch. We found ourselves waiting in Vernazza station for the local train where there was an unassuming sign in simple times new roman. I didn’t pay any specific attention to it, but Dan brought it to my attention when he asked me if the strike would apply to us. I stared at him blankly for a bit, and finally read the sign which informed us of a impending local train workers strike starting 9 pm later in the evening and lasting until Sunday evening at 9 pm. Our options were either leaving before the local strike or taking our chances finding non-train transportation back to somewhere like Florence, outside the impact area of the local strike. Hunger and an arriving train postponed that decision, and it was off to Corniglia.

Corniglia seemed much less trafficked than the other villages, as none of it’s adjacent seaside paths had been open in over a year. Be that as it may, I enjoyed the brief respite from the ever present tourists and indulged in the illusion that Corniglia was somehow more authentic than its tourist-laden neighbors. We asked the station attendant for a lunch recommendation and she informed us of a lunch prex fixe deal at one of the restaurants in the village’s lone square.

Information in hand, we set out to find the square, but Corniglia is a bit misleading in that the station is on the shore, but the village itself is set much higher along the mountain top. Several hundred stairs separate the two, although we ended up taking the more scenic route on the way up. Dan tried to catch some sort of small lizard, but it literally vanished as soon as he pointed it out. He would have more luck later with a view cats in the village. Did not know his animal affections also extended to felines!

Lunch was a mixed green salad followed by an ample heaping of pesto pasta finished with a simply prepared cut of grilled fish that tasted as fresh as can be. Dan used some to entice a rather smart feline lady who was napping in one of the restaurant’s potted trees (probably to lure tourists into feeding her). After being in the heat all day, we were looking for something to cool down with. Dan’s inclination was granita, and mine, of course, was gelato. Both desires were served by a small artisan shop around the corner. I didn’t have any sort of expectations, but I can say that the gelato from that small shop stood toe-to-toe with the top tier gelaterias in both Roma and Firenze. I know, I was speechless too!

After lunch, we took the stairs back down to the Corniglia station and hopped over to Manarola, which was honestly the least appealing of the five. Maybe it was the fact that we had just finished lunch, or maybe it was the singular road that seemed to lead up into increasingly residential areas. Regardless, we walked a bit up the main hill before returning to walk the Via dell’Amore to Riomaggiore.

Even taking into account the fact that I was walking with Dan and that it wasn’t sunset, I feel pretty safe saying the Via dell’Amore isn’t epic romantic. It was definitely nice, although a bit flat and surprisingly short. One cool tradition seemed to be the affixing of small locks to various fences or netting along the path to symbolize the permanence of the love between a couple. Dan and I theorized that the locks were probably cut annually to make room for next year’s tourists.

Riomaggiore was as tourist-oriented as Monterosso, which makes sense I suppose. We enjoyed some strawberries near the water and followed that up with some calamari and local white wine in one of the nearby restaurants. The wine was so delicious; like almost everything else we ate in Italy, it was perfectly balanced and had that fresh, local taste (ironic to use the word fresh to describe wine perhaps…).

As evening drew closer, we sought out the ferry which travels back and forth between all five villages. It provided us with a great, albeit rocky, vantage point of all 5 villages, and it really was surreal. If Roma encapsulated the spirit of the ancient cities, somehow Cinque Terre was the distilled essence of the ancient rural mystique–maybe that’s just my country-boy heart speaking. You’ll have to ask Dan for his thoughts to compare.

Upon arriving back in Monterosso, we decided to avoid the strike and head back to Firenze that same day. We were both a bit crestfallen to be losing a real, quality dinner in Cinque Terre, but the Italian train labor unions will be the Italian train labor unions. We ran home (literally), took lightning showers, packed up, and heading back to the station. We split up: Dan went to procure some focaccia bread for dinner while I tried to figure out if and how we would get to Firenze.

After fiddling around with the automated ticket dispensers (which were all out of printable tickets), I walked up to the window to find that the attendant had hung up a sign saying that he was off duty. I could see him through the window and he was shuffling around papers and looked like he was closing up shop. I tried to look sad and bewildered, and it must have worked (I’m sure wearing my giant pack didn’t hurt either). He finally reopened the window, on his own timeline, and let me purchase essentially the reverse ticket of the trip we made the previous day: Monterosso -> La Spezia -> Pisa -> Firenze.

Dan rendezvoused with me with a few minutes to spare and we actually managed to catch a slightly earlier first leg, which then propagated to allow us to make it to Firenze significantly earlier than planned, at 10 PM instead of 11:30 PM. We did have to purchase tickets for the faster, non-local train between Pisa and Firenze, and I will admit that the stress of last minute traveling was affecting me (although not Dan, not one bit).

However, we ended up in Firenze just fine. We tried to contact Bred, to see if we could stay with him one extra night, but he was unreachable. We even walked to his apartment and tried the bell, but alas. We tried a few hostels, but a few seemed to not exist anymore while another was full up for the night. Eventually we settled on a surprisingly nice and affordable hotel on the main strip of hotels, just of the Piazza del Duomo.

After unloading, we headed outside to the corner to decompress from a long and active day with some local Chianti red wine and some traditional Firenzi antipasti: meats, cheeses, and grilled vegetables. I’m not much of a wine aficionado, but the wine that evening made me regret every previous night that I had not taken advantage of the local offerings. You live and you learn, I suppose.

FFFFUUUUUUUUUUU

Posted in italy, musings, travels by onethoughttoomany on May 31, 2012

Wrote my entire Cinque Terre post. Clicked Publish and watched it completely disappear. Haven’t felt like this since college. I don’t know if I can stand rewriting it tomorrow. It might not get recreated until next week. In other news:

So many photos...That’s a whole lotta photos.

Firenze Frenzy and a Piece of Pisa – Part 2

Posted in italy, musings, travels by onethoughttoomany on May 16, 2012

As is the theme with the tail end of our trip, our morning starts late, at around 9:30. First things first, locking down our leather purchases. The alterations to Dan’s blazer are scheduled to finished at 1 pm, so we plan to try and leave soon thereafter, although it would be tight given our somewhat late start.

We made our way across Florence, hitting up a few more stops. I found a really nice reasonably sized/priced one, but it was an aggressive red that I don’t know if my brother could/would want to pull off. We ended our search in the San Croce area, since that was wear more of the less designer, but still artisinal leather goods were located.

There was an outlet store called Ceaser II that was listed in the guidebook. It looked exactly the kind of place I had envisioned purchasing leather goods in on my jaunt to Firenze. The lighting was fluorescent and poor, the store was unassuming, and salespeople aggressively spoke of the good quality and rock bottom prices.

They showed me a bomber in this ruddy burgandy, and it fit well, although not quite in the same league as San Croce. That being said, the price was much mote amenable. I was wrestling with whether I was willing to pay that extra marginal €100 for a slight bump in quality and fit when they brought out another design, less bomber and more driving jacket. It had a more matte finish in a mellow middle brown tone. It was baby lamb hide and the feel of it was phenomenal, as lambskin is. And it, pardon the saying, fit like a glove. They knocked a bit off the price, although in retrospect, I’m sure I could have shaved off a bit more if I had been a bit more on top of things. I was just too excited! Unfortunately, their wallet selection was abysmal, so we ended up taking a second trip to pick up the wallets and a gift for one of Dan’s sisters (I will leave the revelation of which sister and what the present is up to Dan!). This brought our total at San Croce €2 above the €155 VAT exemption requirement. The saleslady seemed surprised that we made it…guess she did not factor in our prodigious arithmetic skills.

With my missions in Firenze completed, we turned to the itinerary for the rest of the day. The original plan had been to drop by the artisan fair that Saskia was going to be in, grab lunch at the Gucci museum cafe, pick up Dan’s blazer, and then head out to Pisa.  Since we were a bit behind schedule, we decided to hit up the Gucci Museum first. For whatever reason, we decided to walk through the museum before eating lunch at the attached cafe. It was very well presented, and a beautiful piece of marketing as history. They was a slightly interactive component where they had a postcard-esque object for each section of the museum that visitors could collect and keep. (If anybody wants mine, just let me know.) I’m not particularly a Gucci fan, but it was hard not to get swept up in the mystique of a brand that has built itself up carefully and responsibly to have a long and rich history. I can see how people can get swept up in it.

Lunch was a light affair. We split a salad with grilled vegetables and cheese. Dan had an anchovy spaghetti dish that was spot on to fulfill a long-brewing craving and I had a pig cheek creame sauced rigatoni, which was perhaps the best balanced cream sauce I had yet.  I found out yet again that I really dislike olives, even the Italian ones that are presumably fresher and of higher quality. Prices were incredibly reasonable, considering the level of service and general ambiance of the place. They even gave us bag hooks for my camera bag and our shopping bag. Intense!

After lunch, we picked up Dan’s altered blazer and headed home to pack up. Since the artisinal fair was farther than the train station, but in the same direction, we decided to pack up and carry all our stuff with us to save us 45 minutes of walking time back and forth. The fair had an unanticipated entry fee, but was chock full of various craftsmen, working in a large variety of mediums. There were basketweavers and leather workers and frieze artists and the full host of artisinal foodmakers as well. The artisinal coffee was free and great, and the gelato wasn’t half bad either, although it was pretty melty because of the high heat. I felt like a lumbering elephant in a china shop, with my gigantic bag hanging off of me. Thank God we didn’t break some incredibly expensive item by turning to fast.

Dan managed to pick up a great present for his littlest sister. In the last pavilion we explored (of course), we found Saskia again, and finally got to see the full spectrum of her very expensive and very high quality handiwork. We informed them that we took every one of their Firenze recommendations and felt like we were meeting old friends again (even if we had just met them yesterday!). Dan asked a second flurry of question regarding shoes and their construction and after some rest in the shade with Saskia and her assistant, it was time to head out.

Getting to the station was a bit of a struggle, as neither of us had really been in this area of Firenze. Luckily, our respective spider senses kicked in before the mistake compounded and we found our way to the station to buy our local tickets to Pisa. A short 90 minute ride later and we were pulling up to Pisa station. By this time it was already mid-afternoon, so we quickly checked our bags at the Pisa station and started booking it north to the leaning tower. The freedom from backpacks propelled us!

The main strip of Pisa was very touristy, with nothing much notable. On the way to the tower, I picked up some postcards and a shot glass souvenir for my brother (a leaning shot glass!). The area with the leaning tower actually contains three distinct buildings, all of which are fairly impressive; the other two are quite well aligned. Dan and I took some time to execute our chosen novelty photos of the tower, which I hope I’ll be able to showcase when I start getting my photos in order. I will say that Dan’s photo was a bit interactive and that he was stopped by a very angry, only-Italian speaking policeman about being on the grass. Awkward!

On the hike back to the train station, we picked up a quick margarita pizza from the cheapest, most run down looking restaurant on the strip (it didn’t even have a name out front), and it was appropriately cheap and delicious. We hopped on another local train to La Spezia to catch one final train to Monterosso, where we would be staying for the night.

The ride was plodding, almost on the order of 2 hours. We got into Cinque Terre without a clear idea of where our apartment was, but after a bit of texting with our host and walking up and down the waterfront, we found our way to a decidedly different type of BnB lodging. It definitely had more of a coastal and rural feel. The host wasn’t actually around, but his mother greeted us and pantomimed instructions for potable water and using the kitchen. I wasn’t incredibly enthused with our lodging, as the breakfast portion seemed to be absent. I guess location + supply and demand is everything, as it ended up being the most expensive lodging we had all trip (expect for our final night together).

After unloading, we ventured back out to the main strip for a real dinner. Most places were in the process of closing, as it was past 10 PM. We found an open restaurant off the main road–as Cinque Terre is a huge tourist attraction, the waiter spoke fluent English, as did many of the patrons. Dan ordered another seafood pasta (even better!), while I ordered completely the wrong thing and got some sort of ravioli-esque pasta in a very bland cream-type sauce. It was definitely the most jealous I was of Dan’s dinner during the entire trip.

With three trains and three cities behind us, we were pooped and ready to sleep early. The soothing sounds of the ocean lulled us to sleep in beautiful Cinque Terre.

Firenze Frenzy and a Piece of Piza – Part 1

Posted in italy, musings, pictures, travels by onethoughttoomany on May 13, 2012

A whirlwind day and a half in Firenze–a veritable frenzy of stairs, food, and shopping! I will say that our time in Firenze was particularly fortuitous; God smiled on our travels (until the very end perhaps, more on that later).

Dan and I left Roma at a painful 6:45 am, which meant waking up around 6 am. No problems packing up and catching the train. The only addition of weight had been the shedding of our rainproof and warm layers and perhaps a few pounds of pasta underneath our belts. Our train was one of the express Frecciarosa trains, which cut our travel time in half. We got in and ate breakfast at a huge cafe called Gilli in one of the major Firenze squares. The cappuchino was good, but not quite good enough to take the top spot.

Our BnB host for Firenze contacted us shortly thereafter and we checked into our apartment for our brief one night stay. Fortuitously, there were a sampling of tourist guides available in our room, which helped inform much of our time there.

The morning was devoted to getting the cultural sights done and clear. First up was the Accademia, where Michelangelo’s David is kept. There are a few replicas around the city, but the real deal was worth waiting in life for. And it was a bit of a line! The rest of the museum was kind of meh, but worth a brief once-over (sorry art lovers).

What followed was a trip to and up the Duomo, which is still the largest masonry dome in the world. The height and diameter of the dome are a bit mind-pausing. Walking up was a grueling climb, especially after having climbed the Vatican the day before (full disclosure: we paid a bit extra to take the elevator halfway up the Vatican). There was no elevator here and the entrance and exit stairs merged a bit away from the top, which led to a pedestrian gridlock that made things tighter, slower, and more uncomfortable. The view from the top, however, was a great 360° view of all of Firenze. I’ll try to stitch together some panoramas from the photos I took, but, having never done such a thing, I have limited confidence in the outcome.

Lunch was a nearby restaurant with a great selection of homey pre-prepared foods. The bruschetta was particularly gargantuan. This was followed by a gelato visit to the then new, but ultimately temporary champion, Festivale del Gelato (Thanks Janice!). The smooth texture paired with spot on flavor managed to win it the top spot from Giolitti!

I had wanted to check out the store of the leather school attached to San Croce Church. They had been recommended to me by multiple sources, including our borrowed guidebook. Their styles are classical and prices a bargain for the quality. I saw both wallets for myself and my brother and a potential hit for my leather jacket purchase, although it was above the price range I arrived at Italy with. They had a wide range of USD sized wallets, which I would find out is relatively rare in Firenze (at least at a certain level of quality). I decided not to pull the trigger on either purchase. I wanted to see at least one more option for a jacket before pulling the trigger and I wanted to receive the VAT tax refund if I was to buy the wallets, which requires a minimum purchase of at least €155 at a single store.

After San Croce, we made a quick rest stop home and then shopping games began in earnest. As you can guess, Firenze is known for its leather goods particularly, so we prepared a list of stores and their locations and went at it. Most were largely fruitless, although even that fruitlessness was fortuitous.

Across the street from a ridiculously expensive designer store (€2500 leather jackets and the like) that was a total bust for me, Dan spotted a haberdasher that looked promising. A good portion of our time in Napoli had been spent in pursuit of the perfect blue blazer for Dan. Florentine craftsmanship was not just exceptional in leather, it turned out. If you are lucky, maybe you’ll get to see it in action. If not, I encourage you to throw upscale parties, perhaps with scotch. That should goad him into wearing it.

The other locale of note that we hit on the first day of shopping was this great artisinal shoemaker named Saskia. Her store was the furthest away and was actually closed when we arrived. We loitered foe a bit and peered in the windows when, fortuitously (see how this is working?), Saskia, namesake artisinal shoemaker, called out to us from up the street. She asked of we were looking for the owner of the store, which she was! They has been setting up for a local artisinal craftsmanship fair in Firenze and so had closed the shop a bit early to move supplies and samples. She seemed rather chagrined at the emptiness of her store, but Dan took the chance to ask her all his burning cobbler questions, like if she would ever put a metal plate in the toe or heel of a shoe to reinforce it, or if things like using plastic vs. cedar lasts matter. Ask Dan for the answers. She and her Japanese assistant were super friendly, and at the end of our Q and A session, gave us recommendations for dinner (Restoro di Cambi), gelato (Gelateria Al Carraira), and lunch the following day (the Gucci Museum Cafe).

We took that gelato recommendation rather immediately, and it became Dan’s #1 for his favorite flavor, Fior de Latte.  For me it tied Festivale de Gelato.  Both were exquisite desserts, but simply had different textural philosophies.  Festivale was smooth and the flavor was a bit sweeter. Gelateria Al Carraira was a bit more textured and nutty.  Both were perfectly balanced and I don’t know that I could choose between the two with any sense of finality.  I think it would depend mostly on my mood. If traveling with Dan, however, I suppose we would end up at Gelateria Al Carraira, so that gives it the edge!

We traveled far and wide to multiple stores, searching mostly for wallets for my brother and myself and a jacket for me. We were not very fruitful.  Things ended up being open-air markets with bargain prices and bargain quality or high end boutiques with astronomical tags.  There didn’t seem to be anything to compare the San Croce jacket to, which was kind of a bummer for me as a obsessive-compulsive-research-before-you-buy-er (don’t think that’s a word).

We planned our explorations to end on the southeast side of Florence, near the Piazza de Michaelangelo.  We had just enough time to squeeze it in before our reservation at Ristoro di Cambi. The trip up was no joke.  The third climb in nearly two days was a fairly steep grade hill with long, annoying steps interspersed. It is akin to the steps by the EC for you readers from Columbia, which are akin to the worst designed steps in the history of steps. Of course, all things are for a reason, and the payoff here was an expansive, top-down view of all of Firenze. Photos don’t really do justice to this type of panoramic, so you’ll have to take my word for it.  It was near sunset (of course), and the second copy of David shined a burnished green (I didn’t reveal where the first copy was, so props to whoever reveals it in the comments). It was immensely satisfying to look down over Firenze and see all the sights we had covered during the day, especially since we got in that morning! We could point to each tall thing and say proudly, “We went there.”–sort of a visual checklist.

After admiring the view for a short while, we hoofed it back to our restaurant, which was on the southwest side of Firenze, four bridges eastward. Moral of the story, befriend a local artisan in every city you go to and ask them for recommendations. The food was great, and very reasonably priced. Five words: papas pomodoro and bistecca florentine.  The papas pomodoro was this thick marinara-esque tomato/bread soup that had a spicy kick to it. We ate it atop bread and by itself, and it was amazingly hearty for something with perhaps only broth to help it. The bistecca florentine was a huge t-bone slab more than an inch thick. Dan and I barely finished it. It was beautifully rare and seasoned with much restraint. The beef flavor was really the star. A great steak to end a great night.

After dinner, I popped back into Gelateria Al Carraira for my nightcap gelato (Dan did not partake), and we found our way back home to pass out.

This post is getting too long. Split into two for your sake and mine!

Running Oh So Behind!

Posted in italy, musings, travels by onethoughttoomany on May 12, 2012

We’ve already spent a day and a half in Firenze (Florence), gone to Pisa, and ended up in Monterosso of Cinque Terre and there is nary a blog post about any of that.

Apologies, but batteries are running on low as we reach the last chapter of our Italia trip. We’re sleeping in a bit more and staying up a bit less-and apparently, writing a lot fewer blog posts.

We have a long train ride on Sunday back to Rome, so hopefully some updates will come out then. Sorry to my 8 regular readers! (That may be optimistic…)

Running Oh So Behind!

Posted in italy, musings, travels by onethoughttoomany on May 12, 2012

We’ve already spent a day and a half in Firenze (Florence), gone to Pisa, and ended up in Monterosso of Cinque Terre and there is nary a blog post about any of that.

Apologies, but batteries are running on low as we reach the last chapter of our Italia trip. We’re sleeping in a bit more and staying up a bit less-and apparently, writing a lot fewer blog posts.

We have a long train ride on Sunday back to Rome, so hopefully some updates will come out then. Sorry to my 8 regular readers! (That may be optimistic…)

Vatican’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Posted in italy, musings, pictures, travels by onethoughttoomany on May 10, 2012

Another early morning to get to the Vatican by 9. Although we had tickets for the audience, the seating is pretty much a free-for-all, although here is a section for special guests of the Pope and such. Thanks to a great hint from our fellow travelers from Argentina, we knew there was a set path that the pope would ride in his Popemobile. We seated ourselves accordingly and I got some great shots of the Pope! He passed within a good 6 feet of us.

The audience was a rather grueling affair. Dan observed that it felt rather like commencement, with each language’s representative cardinal presenting to the Pope all the groups that were attending from their respective areas. The Pope would then give that group a blessing I’m their own language, in this case, a blessing about bring freed like Paul was from prison. English was second, but was followed by 4 more. It was a bit of a slog, baking in the noontime sun. I’m glad I did it, but it is definitely not for everyone.

After clearing out post audience, we grabbed a quick sandwich from 200 degrees, recommended by Mr. Rick Steves, and got some gelato from the Old Bridge Gelateria. We headed back to the burning desert. We took some time to buy some stamps and send out some postcards. To those in the first batch, enjoy your Vatican postmark!! We booked it over to the museum entrance for our 1:30 reservation time. For some reason, it is a 15 minute walk to the entrance from St. Peter’s Square.

The museum was a whirlwind of sights, from an indigestible breadth of history. You would think that the subject matter would be largely thematic (Christ and such), but there was a good deal of other types of historical artifacts and art pieces.

There really were some amazing pieces in the Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel of course.  They said no photos, but people were blatantly disregarding that rule…AND USING FLASH!! I snapped a few smuggled illicit shots…

Anyways, what impressed me about 10x more than the museum was St. Peter’s Basilica itself. I mean I had read some stuff, and I had seen works that inspired it like the Pantheon, and nothing could prepare me. That thing is…indescribable. It’s not even a church, it is indulgent, overwhelming, awe-inspiring. Everyone needs to see it. It is the product of so much concerted and concentrated human effort. I don’t know if the modern era can create its analog.

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Dinner was at Taverna del Ghetto, which serves kosher Italian food. There I had my new favorite vegetable appetizer ever (although to be fair, I haven’t had that many). We ordered this great fried artichoke head, with crispy crispy leaves and this meaty center. The rest of the meal was okay, but not our best in Italia.

The night ended with a final trip to Giolitti (until Sunday at least). I returned to my pistachio hazelnut combo of the Gods, adding Oreo biscotti. Dan had sweet milk, egg cream and chocolate. We walked home, taking a small detour to find my favorite plaza in Rome, which we had accidentally stumbled upon on our first night in Rome, while lost. It tied our first leg up with a nice poeticness.

Tomorrow brings Florence (Firenze), and a whole new set of things to explore. High on the list are the Duomo, the David in the Academia and the plazas, and the leather artisans! We have a 6:46 am train that cannot be missed.

Note: this post is a day late and I am now in my bed in Firenze after a grueling day. I’ll do my best to catch up on the train to Pisa tomorrow afternoon.

Quick Day 3

Posted in italy, musings, travels by onethoughttoomany on May 9, 2012

Was too tired to post anything in depth last night. We were both out by 10:30 pm…Here’s our day in bullet point form.

– Went to the Borghese Gallery at 9. Saw the cream of the Bernini sculpture crop: David, Apollo and Daphne, and the Rape of Persephone.

– Had lunch in Campo di Fiori at a restaurant called Dittirambo. Started with a trio: duck breast with melon, beef tart are with hard cheese and black truffle, fried and stuffed zucchini flower. I had a pasta with a oil and cheese sauce with pig cheek and Dan had an oven poached fish in a bad. Very delicious.

– Explored the market in Campo di Fiori. Managed to buy some tiny strawberries (fraggolini) as the fruit stalls were packing up. Full size ones are better was the consensus.

– Walked to Piazza Navaro and sat at a cafe to have some cappuccinos and gelato. Wrote a good number of postcards and just took it oh so easy. The fatigue had definitely been building up.

– Tried to find a post office to mail out the postcards or to even figure out what appropriate postage is. Turned out to be an impossible task. Romans look even more defeated and full of suppressed anger at their post offices than Americans do. We left before someone went postal. The one we were at do not look particularly tourist friendly either…

– Walked across the city to pick up our Papal audience tickets from the Church of Santa Susanna. They are an English speaking parish in Rome. The priest was actually from New York. Small world.

– Tried to walk to this park and got pretty lost for the first time in Italy. Ended up in another different park.

– Arrive at 6:30, an hour before the restaurant opens. Italians do not believe in early bird specials. Head to a nearby Irish pub and cool down with a cold one. First beer in Italy!

– Walked across the city again to dinner, which was a pizzeria called Alle Carrette. A few people recommended this as one of the best pizzas in Rome (thanks Faith!). It was really good, but I think Da Michele has them beat. Had some wine.

– Impulsively decide to find our way home sans map. Do it with only one extra turn.

– Pass out.

Haphazardly Napoli

Posted in italy, musings, pictures, travels by onethoughttoomany on May 7, 2012

I’m trying guys, I really am. Cut me some slack for mental/physical exhaustion. I pretty much feel like this:

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But I’m doing my best to keep on the once a day update schedule, especially since I neglect this blog so much otherwise.

Last night we spent loosely planning our Monday. We didn’t really coalesce around Naples (Napoli) until relatively late in the evening. Research was much hindered by the lack of a functional computer screen. Although I brought Dan’s laptop, a screen issue resurfaced that made it completely unreadable. All three smart phones were put to the task and were linked to the BnB wireless. We went to sleep well past 1 am with a start time on Monday of 7:15 am for an 8:30 train.

Wake up proceeded without much hassle, but we arrived to find out our cheap local train had been delayed an hour. We decided to up ourselves one tier to get there at roughly the same time (just before lunch). First on the itinerary was Neapolitan style pizza at Da Michele, the people’s champ for best Italian pizza. It did not disappoint. 5 ingredients never tasted so good and so (I’ve used this word before, but continue to use it because it is so fitting) balanced. Dan and I both had medium pies, maybe a foot in diameter. It looked large to the sight, but it went down so easily. (The implication here is not that Dan and I are gluttons, but rather that the pizza is particularly light and delicious!)

After lunch, we made a beeline over to the Museo Cappella Sansevero to see the sculpture of the Veiled Christ. It was mind blowing. Photos were prohibited, but here’s one of a postcard we bought:

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After that, Dan took charge of our itinerary, in search of the Napoli haberdasheries. We did pretty well, although the walking was plentiful. The road conditions were not as bad as Rome, and the rain and overcast weather disappeared by early afternoon. The sun came out and it actually grew quite hot. I suddenly found myself bogged down by too much rainy gear and shed layers.

We visited a few famous (in certain circles) tie makers and a bunch of other stores near the Napoli shore. Dan was looking for a nice blue blazer, but the right one still eludes him. You would think his size would be easier to find in Italy than in the States, but that didn’t seem to be the case. He did get a nice tie and pocket square, though. Maybe if you catch him in a good mood and ask nicely, you can convince him to show you them. Alternatively, you could invite him to a swanky shindig. I can attest that he makes for great company (cue aww here).

I actually ended up making the purchase of the side trip.

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I’m not one go brag online, but do love doing so in person. I will say it is the most expensive (retail) clothing item I now own, but will leave it at that. If you can guess what it is, then you get a firm handshake and a pat on the back! I got an amazing deal and was in a buying-conducive environment. It felt just right, like I usually do when I know I’m making a purchase that will bring lasting satisfaction. Plus it was 50% off. Plus VAT. Booyah.

Disclaimer: My preference to not brag online apparently does not include talking about saving money.

By this time, it was time to back. Being about in a city with no map or set itinerary meant relying heavily on Dan’s iPhone for where we were, where we were going, and how we would get there. As you can imagine, the battery life fell pretty quickly. Even with a midday cafe/coffee break, the phone was pretty sucked dry by the time we had finished shopping. We even resorted to drawing a map of the last location in my Moleskine to save some extra battery.

After visiting the last few shops, we found ourselves quite close to where we had started our day, just two blocks or so from Da Michele. We were both ready to grab our second Neopolotan pizza meal of the day. For some reason, though, I had a premonition that we should check the train before heading over. My idea was inspired as we passed a cellphone store. Whoever was praying for my safety, thanks for having my back!

It was 8:06 and the last train was scheduled to leave at 8:33 pm. Well there was one more at 9ish or something, but it included a transfer and was 75 euros each! Our pizza plans were dashed and we cabbed it back to the station. Dan got McDonald’s for dinner while I got the tickets. He chose things that don’t exist in the US stores!

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We made the train, but it would have been quite easy for us to find ourselves stranded in Napoli for a night. Just one different decision!

Fortuitous find of the day: we passed this computer store in this random alley (note to readers, all of Naples is pretty much composed of random alley upon random alley), and they had VGA cables! Why so excited? We think this will allow us to use the computer, while in Rome at least, as there is a combo TV/monitor in our room. Sure this will help us plan, but the big deal is that I had been banking on being able to use the computer to stash my photos. I’m already down to under 100 photos of storage on my 16 GB SD card. The alternative might have been buying way more SD storage, after all, who can choose from amongst their children who to keep and share and who to delete forever?! Anyways, hopefully this solves the computer issue for the short term!

Full disclosure: I felt very uneasy (and hence borderline unwilling) about going to Naples on such short notice, with a relatively small amount of planning (especially given the equally rainy forecast as Rome). Dan really wanted to go, so we went. I’m glad we went, and Dan, I’m sorry I was a stick in the mud (although hopefully not too bad). He did call me out about being a baby regarding the rain, which maybe has an ounce of truth. It was completely different from our day and a half in Rome, in the best possible way. Tomorrow, onto the Borghese Gallery and its wealth of Bernini sculptures!!

Finally, this post is dedicated to my Moleskine, which was so incredibly valorous and useful today. He had locations and addresses written in him, maps drawn in him, and today he was left behind ignominiously in our Napoli cab. He was less than a 1/4 full, and like all his Kim-Moleskine ancestors before him, died an oh so early death. A moment of silence please.

Random thoughts about Naples:

The whole place is surprisingly and unapologetically…something. It defies words. Slummy gets you part way there, but you still need to add chaotic, full of life, and the faded memory of great and glamorous things. It is Naples.

Instead of piazzas, Naples has these enclosed areas off of the alleys that leas to these enclosed courtyards, sometimes with many outlets. It felt like almost the inverse of Rome in a way.

Naples pizza is the bomb diggity. Their frozen desserts, not to much. To be fairer, I only had sorbets. Here’s the best one of the day. Incredibly smooth, but almost a bit too acidic!

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Nothing has been as emotionally taxing as crossing the street in Naples for a long time.

Dan and I met a couple from Argentina at Da Michele. They travel every year for four weeks surrounding their anniversary (Macchu Pichu/Cuzco, Bora Bora/NZ/Australia, NYC, and now Italy for the curious). It was hard not to be intensely jealous. They were great people and we swapped travel advice, but no names were exchanged, let alone contact information or business cards. I’m still not sure what to make of the conversation, but I’m supremely satisfied with how that chance encounter went. Curious…

This is every pooper’s worst nightmare. I have now had the displeasure of running into one on two consecutive days.

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Okay, maybe “worst” is an exaggeration. There’s still Asia and Africa.

Rainy Rome

Posted in italy, musings, pictures, travels by onethoughttoomany on May 6, 2012

Woke up late this morning to the sound of pitter patter. The Colloseum opens at 9am on Sundays, but it didn’t seem like that was going to be doable given where Dan and I were on Saturday night (super sleepy that is). The 9:15 alarm woke up Dan and he said he “could sleep a little more” before promptly passing out again.

At 10 he reawoke with a start, going “Shoooot, what time is it?” A quick yogurt later and we were out the door into overcast Rome. We bought two sheisty umbrellas at the corner bodega and Dan used his bargaining skills to save us one euro. My umbrella didn’t even survive the day. Its underside was irreparably rusted and snapped at the first strong gust.

We spent our day outside in ancient Rome, seeing the Coliseum, the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Pantheon. The rain was off and on, but more annoying than debilitating. My socks were slightly damp, but luckily they were wool hiking socks, so they stayed warm. Dan was not as lucky since he was rocking canvas chucks with cotton socks. He gets the trooper award! By the end of the day, though, both of us had pretty fatigued feet, a combination of the damp conditions and the uneven cobblestones.

Foodwise, we relied largely on the great Rick Steves since we were around tourist sites all day. We had some paninis that were wonderfully balanced and just the right warmth to chase the rainy chill away. Mine was salami and mozzarella while Dan’s was ham and some kind of smoother Brie-like cheese. The afternoon consisted of many gelato visit (4 to be exact), and a delightful stop at a coffee shop (best cappuccino and tiramisu I’ve ever had). Giolitti is the popular favorite for good reason. None of the others we had today could really compete (although there was one yesterday that came pretty close).  Dinner was an intense Roman affair at this random island restaurant we stumbled upon yesterday between he Ghetto and Trestavere. The restaurant was chock full so we made a reservation for the next evening. Dinner: prosciutto and mozzarella to start, rigatoni with pig’s cheek to middle, and veal meatballs and bone-in lamb roast to end. Stuffed.

Tomorrow’s forecast is also rain. Planning a daytrip to Naples where the forecast is still pretty much rain. Monday brings closures of most everything inside a building in Rome (excluding the Vatican which is scheduled for Wednesday). Rain makes exploring the city a bit of a soggy proposition, so off to see other things in Naples! (Also birthplace of pizza…)

More random thoughts about Rome:

When in the ancient section of Rome, it is very hard to enjoy the vistas and sights of ancient Rome because if you take your eyes off of the ground, you will trip on a cobblestone and break your face.

Cappucchino + tiramisu is a syngeristic combination.

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I don’t think I could eat three meals a meal for every meal…

Riding a bus over cobblestones with a driver with a lead brake foot is just as bumpy as it sounds: literally and metaphorically.