Sunday, June 17, 2012

Naples Another Day

Well, we were supposed to do a day trip to Naples today, but that didn't really come together as planned! First, we were looking at the train times last night and realized that the trip was going to be a little pricier than we had anticipated, which is never a fun surprise. Then, Janece had been feeling a little bit off yesterday afternoon/evening, and I started to feel not so great last night, leading to a pretty restless sleep. So when Janece's alarm went off at 6:30 and neither of us were feeling all that fantastic, we decided it would be better to just hang out in Rome just in case!

So, we went and explored the Trastevere area of Rome! The weather was really warm again, with a high of 91. We went to a pizzeria in the area since I had been planning on the Naples pizza, and it was so yummy! I chose a pizza with pesto, mozzarella, potatoes and salami. It was so big, and I definitely didn't think I would be able to finish it, but finish it I did! No problemo!

After that we just walked around the area, making our way from Ponte Sisto over to the Ponte Cestio and the Isola Tiberina, an island in the middle of the Tiber river which has historically been a place for medicine and the sick. During the plague, they put every infected person onto the island to try to isolate them from the rest of the population. My cousin Bo had given Janece some ginger lemon creme cookies, and we enjoyed eating them on the island, in an appropriate location seeing as he's studying medicine!

A little later I wasn't feeling too fantastic, so we headed back to the hotel and had some time for me to rest a bit and for Janece to get some packing in since she's leaving tomorrow morning. So sad!

Then we headed back to the area we now refer to as our "hood", near the Trevi Fountain where our other two favorite restaurants are. We opted to try a new place, and Janece had their Prosciutto and melon, while I had some grilled vegetables.

Then we walked back so Janece could tackle her packing, and watched American TV dubbed in Italian! I'm so sad that Janece is leaving seems way too soon for our Italian vacation to be over! But I guess all good things have to come to an end, and this has definitely been a good thing. We have made lots of good memories, eaten a lot of delicious food, and seen a lot of amazing art and history!

She leaves early in the morning, so I think I will probably just walk around and revisit the places I liked the most! Then I will be on my way home! I'm sad for this whole adventure to be coming to a close, but I am also so excited to be home again with family and friends!

But first, another day in Rome awaits!


Saturday, June 16, 2012

La Dolce Vita

Another fun day in Rome! We had a high of 90, and it was still 86 at 6 PM, which got a little bit warm at times, but no complaints! As Janece just said, much better than 50 degrees and raining!

On our itinerary today was a visit to some Roman baths and a crypt. We got kind of a later start because we took a well deserved morning to sleep in, so we headed to the baths at around 11:30. Turns out that the baths actually don't exist anymore, because a church was built on top of them! So that was a bit of a let down to me, because let's be honest, a church is a church is a church after a while, and especially after you've just been to St. Peter's Basilica! But it was still very pretty, and we got to listen to an organist playing wedding marches since a wedding ceremony had just finished when we got there!

After the church, we meandered back to a restaurant we had walked by on our first day for lunch. I tried risotto with ham, pecorino, and a mushroom sauce, and any guesses as to what Janece had? That's right! Prosciutto and melon! I don't think a day has passed that she hasn't eaten that for at least one meal! It's so funny!

We took a very long lunch to escape the heat, and then went back to the leather store where Janece had bought her little blue purse and got matching leather bracelets to remember our trip by! We had originally wanted the bracelets to say "L'Italia a piedi 2012", which means "Italy by foot 2012" or "Walking Italy 2012", but he said that was too long, so we just cut it down to "A piedi 2012". They're so adorable! And if they're special to us now, I know the bracelets are going to mean so much more in the future.

It's so funny that we got so turned around our first day here, because it turns out everything is actually relatively close to each other! So, a hop skip and a jump later we were enjoying our third granita outside the pantheon! They are really really incredible, and everyone has gotten the memo apparently, because it seems like every third person walking in the pantheon neighborhood has one in hand!

We took ours over to Piazza Navona and perused the street artists' work. I love all of the oil paintings, but there is really no room at all in my luggage to be able to get one home safely! They're also pretty pricey. Rightfully so, but still.

It was 5 PM by the time we were leaving the square, so we decided to take our time and just walk in the direction of the hotel (the correct way this time) and take a little break before dinner. So we were only walking around for about three hours today since we took a pretty long break for lunch! I think we're losing a little bit of steam here near the end, especially when the heat is added to the equation. Traveling is exhausting!

For dinner we went back to one of our favorite restaurants in Rome, Nana! Janece got a caprese salad, and I got filet mignon and amazing grilled vegetables with olive oil and garlic. Delicious! I had been majorly craving red meat for a while, so that really hit the spot.

Tomorrow we take a day trip to Naples! I'm excited to see the water, and besides trying Gusta pizza in Florence, we've been waiting to try the pizza in Napoli! I'm sure we'll have an awesome time!


Friday, June 15, 2012

Voyages To The Vatican

Today we went and visited the priests in Vatican City! We had an appointment for the Vatican Museum at 9:30, so were there by 8:30 to grab a cappuccino and make sure we were on time. Our hotel only does a croissant for breakfast, which is not enough protein for us, so we went on a hunt for something a little more substantial. It seems that Italians don't really do breakfast besides pastries, because every time we've been able to find something, it has been called "American breakfast". So, we searched high and low for something with eggs, and finally found an omelet and yogurt (which turned out to be frozen yogurt, much to my dismay) at a slightly sketchy place near the museum. Then we bypassed the long line (yay!) and within a few minutes were staring up at another of Michaelangelo's masterpieces - the Sistine Chapel. So beautiful. We read that when he was asked to paint it, he responded that he was a sculptor, not a painter, and in the end only did it because he was threatened! Regardless of how it came to be though, it's an amazing place. We sat for a few minutes, craning our necks to look at his interpretation of biblical events including the famous "Creation of Adam" painting, gazing to our right to reflect on his "Final Judgement", and dodging elbows from other visitors.

After the chapel, we walked around the block to St. Peter's Basilica. The line looked long but moved pretty fast, so we we had just enough time to stand in the sun and take in the awesome square. Then we were covering our shoulders again, passing the Swiss Guard, and were inside arguably the most incredible church in the world! This place is sensory overload! You go from incomprehensibly gorgeous place to incomprehensibly gorgeous place, separated only by incredible food! It's enough to exhaust you without all the walking in between!

The church is about two football fields long, excluding the nave, and about one football field high. Approximately huge. We stood where Charlemagne was crowned. We stood before St. Peter's supposed burial spot. And then my shirt slipped and I accidentally exposed myself for a few seconds in front of the alter of the most prestigious Catholic church. Major oops. But my shoulders and knees were covered the whole time! (Very important, as those of you who have visited Italy know).

After marveling at that wonderful place, we grabbed a cab back to the Pantheon neighborhood and grabbed some lunch (more prosciutto and melon for Janece and a salad with tuna, eggs and olives for me). It was so funny, when I asked Janece where the bathrooms were in the restaurant, she said "Take a left at the man in the black beret", completely serious. This led to another laughing fit, thankfully shorter than the one two days ago since our abs and smile muscles in our faces have not yet recovered from that experience. Our waiters were very entertained. Whether they thought we were really funny or really stupid we're not quite sure, but oh well. I'm pretty convinced we're hilarious. Lunch was followed by our favorite granitas from the cafe on the corner of the pantheon, which we enjoyed on the walk back to the hotel (or the first five minutes, let's be honest, those things don't last long!). Once we got home, we discussed how it wouldn't be very smart to take a nap, and within 15 minutes were both snoozing away. When we woke up it was 6:45 and time to eat again! So much eating!

We decided to try a place we had walked by the night before, because it has been totally packed full with Italians. When in Rome, do as the Romans right? Well they were there for a reason! I tried their orange ravioli, and it was so fantastic! Then we kind of just spent the evening strolling around, stopping for a piece of chocolate cake for me and a glass of wine for Janece, went over and sat at the Trevi Fountain...just enjoying Rome!

So we were out and about until around 11 PM, and I for one am ready for bed despite the nap! Tomorrow is another "Around Rome" day, so we're going to let it be a relaxing see what we see and take it easy day I think. Then the next day is a day trip to Naples, with Janece leaving on the 18th :( So I will have one more day in Rome, but then I'm on my way back too. It's still very mixed emotions. Scotland doesn't really feel like home would feel weird to go back there I think, but it also feels weird to think about going back to the US. Actually, I think going back to the US is a stranger concept than going back to Scotland. It just feels like a completely different life; in a way, it was! I'm still SO excited to see family and friends obviously, and I'm sure it will just take a few days and I'll be back to my regular routine. For now, there is a major disconnect.

But, I just looked out the window and saw the pizzeria across the street where locals are sipping glasses of wine, waving their hands expressively as they talk and laugh. I'm in Rome!

Catch Up: June 14, We Fought Through The Crowds Like Gladiators

Yesterday was the Colosseum and Roman Forum! Such cool stuff! We decided to join a tour group for a few euros more instead of standing in the three hour line outside, and within ten minutes were standing inside one of the most amazing pieces of real estate in the world. The Colosseum is so amazing. I'm always a little bit worried that I'll be underwhelmed by things I've heard so much about, but that certainly didn't happen here! We spent two hours just walking around and trying to take it all in. I'm still pinching myself, trying to realize where I'm standing!

The Roman Forum was next, which was a little bit less impressive just because it's really hard to picture what each set of ruins was. So even though we were standing in the center of the old Roman city, looking around you really wouldn't have known that. I really would like to see a recreation of the area, because I think that would bring to life all the pieces of stone.

Realizing that it was 4 PM and we hadn't eaten since breakfast at 9, we sat down to a very late lunch of caprese for Janece and gnocchi with tomato sauce for me (Italians make gnocchi on Thursdays, so that's the day they're the freshest!) The gnocchi were so much lighter than ones I've had in the US or Scotland. Even though I finished them, I still didn't feel full of weighted down by the meal. Awesome!

After lunch we went to see San Clemente church, which was really cool. You walk in off the street into a church which, like all other churches in Italy, is beautifully decorated with gorgeous mosaic floors, golden fixtures, and intricately painted walls and ceilings. But this is one of those places where there is definitely more than what meets the eye. If you follow the stairs down one level, you find yourself in a church from the 4th century. The "modern" (12th century, 1108) church at street level was built literally right on top of the older one! The Norman sack of Rome had left the old church badly damaged, and five meters below street level.

If you thought that was cool though, read on. There is another flight of stairs that take you down even further into the ground. There you will find the remnants of a FIRST CENTURY Roman house and first floor of an apartment building, separated by a narrow Roman street. Totally amazing! They were built after a big fire in 64 AD. Let that date sink in for a moment. 64 AD. And the structure is still standing. The church from the 12th century had been built on top of these buildings, and that's probably the only reason why they were able to be preserved. Beyond incredible. I have to say though, the lowest level really gave me the creeps. If ghosts exist, that would be a likely place. I was pretty jumpy until we were able to get back up in the sunlight!

Speaking of jumpy, on our way back to the hotel we had to cross the big busy street in front of the Colosseum. Getting across streets in Rome is quite the scary experience, let me tell you! Most of the intersections don't have crossing signals, so you kind of just have to launch yourself out there or no one will ever stop and you will be stuck forever. But, even though it's kind of terrifying, they stop. We were crossing the street behind this family of four, and the bus coming at us looked like it was just barely going to miss us. As I turned to watch it, a guy on a motorcycle came from behind the bus, passing it on the wrong side of the street. He obviously hadn't known that we were crossing the street since the bus hadn't bothered to slow down for us anyway, but that didn't seem to stop him since he sped up to pass the bus, coming so close to hitting us that Janece and I had to push the people in front of us to avoid getting hit. I can't really describe how close a call that was, but Janece and I both felt him pass. It was inches. Luckily that stupidity did not go unnoticed by the police who went zooming after him. I hope they got him good! I'm fairly certain that experience took at least a year off of my life! I'm still counting myself lucky though...we were so close to losing more than just a year! Drivers in Italy are crazy!!!

We opted to an early dinner since the next day was going to be an early morning in the Vatican, so we wandered through the streets of Rome until we came to the restaurant "Nana", recommended by our favorite hotel guy. Since it wasn't quite seven yet though, we poked our head into the nearby leather shop. And then magic happened. Janece has been picking up every blue purse since we got to Italy, but they just haven't been quite right, and in this little shop she found the perfect one! The old man who made all of the leather products had a little tool bench in the back of the store, and he and his wife ran this adorable place! He looked so proud that Janece loved his purse so much, and made her a leather charm to go on it with her initials stamped into it. We watched him work on the charm, and when she asked him to hold it up so she could take a picture, he said "I take my glasses off...I look younger". SO CUTE!!

I tried carbonara again for dinner, and was kind of disappointed again! I think carbonara must vary a lot depending on the region or something, because the recipe I have is completely different from the two I've tried in Italy, and Janece's recipe is completely different from the two I've had in Italy and mine. So I think I'll stick to making my own!

After dinner we walked back to our hotel and were in our room by 10 PM, a totally reasonable hour for an early morning the next day. The only problem was that we proceeded to talk for two hours, and weren't in bed until midnight. Oops!

Catch Up: June 13, From Florence With Love

I have to play some major catch up now! We have been going so fast since we got to Rome, there has seriously been NO time to catch our breath, let alone blog! But here goes!

On the 13th, we ate our breakfast in sight of the Duomo in Florence, and said a little goodbye to our charming city. Then it was on to the train to Roma! Getting on the train was a little stressful since we had such huge bags and the gypsies (I'm sorry if that's not a pc term) were really in our face. But soon we were on our way, watching the gorgeous Tuscan countryside pass us by. And then we were in Rome!

We wasted no time in exploring the city. The bags got dropped off at our hotel and then whoosh! We were off! After eating a yummy lunch of beet and Gorgonzola risotto for Janece and eggplant and tomato sauce for me, we were off to see Rome via one of Rick Steves' self-guided Rome walks. That was easy enough, and we saw the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, sat in the Pantheon, ate a delicious granita, walked around Piazza Novella, and got to Campo De Fiori where the walk ended. We had started around 3, and by the time we reached the end of the walk around 5:30. We were feeling almost ready for dinner, and decided that we should walk on side streets in the direction of our hotel to find a more authentic place for dinner. Well, it wasn't until four hours later that we finally sat down! The walk there, which is now referred to as "the death march", was us using a map where the pictures of the monuments are not drawn in the right direction, so we got so turned around so many times, and were BEYOND exhausted. What was supposed to be no more than a three hour walk had turned into six and a half! By the end it's safe to say that our walk began to resemble more of a crawl. But, by about 10 PM our dinner of caprese salad and chicken and arrived, much to our stomachs' relief! We also managed to find a relatively good place to eat and didn't have to resort to the "Rockadile Cafe", which at one point seemed like it might be our only option!

The combination of just a long day (we had been up and going at that point for 14 hours), our death march, and hunger resulted in us getting a little bit silly, and we were doubled over laughing all throughout the last half of our meal! I had been so hungry, and was searching my chicken's carcass for any last remnants of food when Janece looked up to say something. Just the humor of that scene and the whole day sent us into intense fits of laughter that didn't stop until about half an hour after we got back to the hour later.

So, overall, a pretty good day! We got in a LOT of walking, and an ab workout to boot!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Grazie Firenze!

Today has been another wonderful time in Florence!

We got an early start so we could hit the Central Market again, and were passing the Duomo when the clock struck 8 AM. Pretty good! Then we spent the next hour finding the market and then once there, trying to find the place we had been the day before. Then we stepped outside to look for a cafe for some breakfast, and were immediately DUMPED on! It was such an intense rain storm! We ran from cafe to cafe trying to find something that looked good, and finally found a place that had omelets on the menu! Yum! It was kind of funny because we had looked to see what Rick Steves recommended in the area, and he had mentioned a cafe za za, but said it opened at noon. Turns out their hours must have changed, because that's where we were for breakfast!

Then after our yummy omelets we found our favorite food stall within the market, and perused the rest of the market for scarves, purses, and other fun things. Unfortunately, the vendors are really awful! They don't even just accost you as you walk by, they are also extremely rude! Whenever you walk by their stalls, they always say something like "Hello, beautiful ladies, come look, I have a jacket for you" or whatever. So you just ignore them, because there's nothing else you can do! But we had people saying things to us like "Didn't you ever learn to say hello back when someone says hi to you? Didn't they teach you anything in school? Oh wait, I forgot, you never got to school". We just kept walking because responding was definitely not worth it, but I wanted to say "Right, because you obviously made it really far to be selling fake leather goods in a street market". Needless to say, we didn't look around too long because it was a really stressful and exhausting experience. Janece and I both felt like that was the only part of Italy so far that has really turned us off. But that's ok, we know just to avoid street markets in the future!

The Medici Chapels were nearby the market, so it was easy to just stick our heads in there after the market. We then spent about 20 minutes trying to find the bathroom. What an experience that was! The first lady we asked told us to go up the stairs and that it would be on our left, but we went up the stairs and didn't see anything. So we asked someone at the top of the stairs, and they told us the same place so we went to look again - nothing. I was starting to bounce, and we were getting so confused and frustrated! Then we finally found a man who walked us there, and guess what? It was a hidden door in the wall. Literally a hidden door. How in the world were we supposed to find that?? Kind of funny now though!

The next stop on our list was the Accademia, and first we consulted Rick to see what places he recommended for lunch in the area. We found what sounded best, then set off to find it. We didn't exactly find what we were looking for, but we liked what we came across! We discovered a little hole in the wall family-owned restaurant where Janece ordered a shrimp and fruit salad, and I ordered carbonara and then the most AMAZING chocolate souffle of my life for dessert. All served by extremely attractive men, I might add! We were already very pleased with this experience, but it was all made better when we got the bill! They had not charged Janece for her wine or me for my cappuccino, and when we asked about it, they said it was included in the meal price! Sweet!

So in high spirits, we walked down the cobble stone street to go see Michaelangelo's David. What an incredible experience that was! There is no way to describe how unbelievable that statue is! He stands 17 feet tall, and is so detailed! You can see the veins and tendons in his hands, and he is perfectly sculpted. He is so pleasing to the eye, it's crazy! I had never really given that statue much thought, but it is definitely one of my top favorites now! Michaelangelo believed that God used him as a tool to create divine images, and looking at this piece of art, it's hard to believe otherwise. I cannot describe it and photos can't do it justice. You truly have to see it to believe it.

After we had finished with David, we walked over to Ponte Vecchio to do some last night jewelry perusing. We found a cute little store that had really nice silver, so that was successful!

Then it was on to our favorite restaurant on Piazza Signiora for more melon and prosciutto for Janece, and a Nicoise salad for me, and soon we were back in the hotel trying to stuff all of our stuff into our luggage. How we'll get all that stuff to Rome let alone back to the US I have no idea!

Tomorrow we will be in Rome! This trip is going by way too fast!!

A Day Of Pure Italian Bliss

Wow. I thought that yesterday I loved Florence, but after today I love it even more! We did a cooking class today that was SO much fun, and such an awesome experience!

We had to be at the class at 9:45, so we went and had a breakfast of fruit and cappuccinos at a nearby café, and then the fun began! Our chefs names were Giovanni and Andrea, and they took us first to the central market in Florence. This was our first time looking around the market, and it was so amazing! There were so many amazing foods, and just the place was just humming with a fun energy. At the market we sampled foods from one food stall, and Janece and I both nearly fell into flavor induced comas! We tried pecorino romano, one served with pear jam, the second with truffle oil, and the third with sundried tomato. We tried three different types of olive oil, and three different types of balsamic vinegar. We tried delicious sundried tomato bruschetta. It was all so delicious! After making some completely necessary purchases, we made our way through the rest of the market and on to the cooking school!

 Over the next three hours, we made tiramisu, pasta from scratch, meat sauce, and ravioli from scratch served with a butter and sage sauce. It was such a cool experience to be able to take a cooking class in Italy! It was definitely worth the time and money, and I would recommend that anybody taking a trip to Italy considers this really memorable experience! The food was incredible of course, but mostly we just had a blast being there and hearing our chefs say “perfecto” over our shoulders. 

When we had finished with the cooking class, we ran over to the leather school at Santa Croce church before they closed for the day. That was another glorious experience! The quality of their products was out of the this world! The smell of leather was incredible, and the leather all felt like pure butter. I decided to go ahead and get myself a souvenir there J

Following our little shopping excursion, we went back to the Pitti Palace to be able to look around the Boboli Gardens. We lived on the wild side and decided to find our way there without looking at a map, and were successful! Yay! The gardens were gorgeous, but also huge, and we hardly even scratched the surface of that place! We were walking around, and tried to find where we were on one of the signs with a map there, and realized that we hadn’t even walked a third of the way up the middle of the gardens, let along all of the side paths. Since we got there a little later we didn’t have too much time, but we got to explore for about an hour which turned out to be probably a perfect amount of time.

After our hour walk, it was time for a dinner of yummy asparagus risotto! We had walked by an adorable place on our way to the market, so we found it again and ate on the terrace beside beautiful pink flowers. Then we went back to our favorite restaurant, which we now refer to as “our restaurant”, on palazzo de signitoria, where I ate a delicious chocolate hazelnut torte, and Janece drank Sambuca. Delicioso! We sat there and enjoyed people watching while Andrea Boccelli played in the background. Definitely a “pinch me, we’re in Italy” moment.

So, another wonderful day has come to a close. I’m so excited for all the fun we’ll have tomorrow, but at the same time I wish we could repeat today again! This place just keeps getting better and better!