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Tuscany Kim's Family Extravaganza - An extended family travels together to Rome, Venice and Tuscany


10+ Posts
By Kim from New Jersey, Summer 2002
9-Person Family Vacation

This trip report was originally published on slowtrav.com.

Opinions and Observations​

Well, I finally finished writing my trip report for our trip last June. I'm going to start by posting some general opinions/observations below and follow with a post for each day. I warn you all - it's pretty long. Anyway here it goes...

Oh, one note, while we were there the exchange rate was almost even. It started at 94 cents to the Euro and by the time we left was 99 cents to the Euro. For the purpose of my trip report, I’m giving prices in USD – you can read Euro if you like but for me, they’re close enough.

Hotel Del Senato
We loved this hotel and I would not hesitate to recommend it. Nicer than the four stars we stayed at on a previous trip (Visconti Palace in Rome, Croce Di Malta in Florence and Gabrielli Sandwirth in Venice), you cannot beat this hotels location. Walk outside the front door and you are in the Piazza della Rotunda, the side of the Pantheon directly in front of you.

If the location doesn’t float your boat, try the roof top garden open to hotel guests only. About eight tables populate the patio with incredible vistas of Roma. Rarely filled with other guests we enjoyed pre-dinner and sometimes post dinner drinks in this locale. Michele, the bartender, a real sweetie, serves a great drink and will run down to the supermercato himself if they run out of snacks (e.g., cherries, olives, nuts and Pringles for our girls).

If you don’t go for location and the terrace, our quad room had ample space for the four of us. Yes, it was only one big room but we had plenty of room to move around. It contained a large bed (king size and not two twins pushed together if I recall), and two chairs that opened into single beds. The large bathroom contained duel sinks, large Jacuzzi tub (there’s a story here), toilet and bidet.

My in-laws double was a bit cramped but still very nice all though Aunt Ann’s single did seem small. She also had some problems with the a/c, which were fixed our first day. This actually became a running joke, so I’m not sure if Ann’s a/c problems were due to a busted system or Ann’s misunderstanding of how to operate the thermostat. Note though, our room was always cool and comfortable.

Finally, we found the staff to be helpful and friendly, from the breakfast room, to the front desk to afore mentioned, Michele.

I’d stay at the Del Senato again in a heartbeat.

Pensione Accademia
I’m torn on this hotel. First, let me tell you we loved the location. We didn’t find it inconvenient to be in Dorsoduro and rather enjoyed being away from the crowds around San Marco.

Our room, on the ground floor across the courtyard from the reception area was lovely. It’s probably a suite for someone else but for us it served as two rooms with a bathroom – perfect for us and the kids. It does not have a room number. They call it the fountain room (la Fontana).

You enter in what would be the living room area but for us the couch opened into a bed for the girls. The room contained a large armoire, desk, refrigerator and television, which by the way played Cartoon Network in English with Italian commercials – the girls were happy.

At the back of this room was a door to the large bathroom w/ tub, single sink, toilet and bidet. To the left of the room was the door to our large room (yes our own room)! Our room contained a bed, desk, armoire and our own television too.

In front of our room, we had our own patio w/ table and two chairs – very nice. The courtyard was good for the kids and it had a bench swing on which Sammi did not waste an opportunity to sit.

The breakfast at the Accademia was plentiful, eggs, cereal, fruit, croissants, salame, cheese, juice, milk, and cappuccino or espresso for the asking.

Now for the torn part. The Accademia does not accept credit cards for deposit. So in August, they sent me an e-mail explaining they would need a personal check for deposit for the first night’s stay. They gave me the room rates in US dollars – actually I believe the wording was, about this in US dollars. So I sent them a check for $600 USD for the three rooms. When I get home, I’ll get the exact information.

They sent me an e-mail that they received and cashed the check and told me it’s worth in Lira. I SHOULD HAVE PAID ATTENTION TO THIS E-MAIL BUT I DIDN’T. Yes my fault on that part.

But here’s what they (or the bank) did. They took my $600, USD and converted it to Euro by converting it to Lira first at the pegged rate of 1910 Lira to the dollar (not the rate of 21xx on that August date). Then they converted it to Euro coming up w/ 594 Euro. Well, either a direct conversion to USD to Euro on that date would have yielded or a direct conversion of USD to Lira on that date would have yielded more Euro's. Either way, we lose.

So when we checked out and expected our first night to already have been covered, we found we were shorted. Yes, I know you’re saying I should have paid more attention to the earlier e-mail. But, the we did the same thing for the Hotel Hermitage, and when we checked out there, our first night was covered by my previous check (as we’d assumed it would be), no dicking around with the exchange rate. Not only that, but the attitude of the clerk at the Accademia was a patronizing and insulting.

So that’s the story. I’m torn on recommending the Accademia because a large part of me feels they acted unscrupulously with my cash deposit, given ten months in advance. If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.

Hotel Hermitage
Of the three hotels (I don’t count the Rome Airport Hilton in the mix because a Hilton is a Hilton is a Hilton), this was the "shabbiest" of the three but not necessarily shabby overall. It’s pretty much what I expected of a three star. Yes our room could have used a painting but the common areas were done nicely.

The hotel has a great location, as you approach the Ponte Vechio to go towards the Oltrarno, you’ll see a road to your left and a small alley off the road. It’s at that alley.

Our quad room (two separate rooms (tight squeeze on both)) and a bathroom (small) was on the second floor. It’s fine for walking up from the street but can get noisy at night. None of our rooms (two doubles, a single and the quad) had a refrigerator and the hotel did not have newspapers in the lobby (uneventful story here).

The reception area for the hotel is on the fifth floor and thus, this is the only hotel that I’ve stayed at in Italy that requires you to take your keys with you when you leave the hotel. You need the keys in order to enter the hotel after midnight (no one mans the reception desk). You also need a special code to call the tiny slow elevator to the ground floor.

Of the three hotels, the a/c worked the least here with mandatory shutdowns from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM and from 8:00 PM to 8:30 PM. Actually, the a/c worked fine but what would happen is after the shutdowns, it had to be manually started and if you weren’t in the room, when you returned several hours later it could be warm.

The Hermitage does have same day laundry, which we used; two pairs of Chris’s pants and one of Becky’s outfits, plus a shirt was about $20 bucks.

The hotel does have a rooftop garden from which I forgot to take some pictures (bummer); trust me, it’s beautiful. You can have drinks or breakfast on the rooftop. Just stop at the reception area and ask them to send the server/waiter up to get your order.

Breakfast was minimal, juice, basket of croissant, crackers, cereal and espresso or cappuccino. You could order other things like eggs for about 3 bucks extra.

I’d stay at the Hermitage again for location/garden but I’m not sure for the price that I wouldn’t just return to the Liana and bare the extra walk. Tough call.

Traveling with a Large Group
I’ve discovered something. Traveling with a large group of family or friends is like traveling on a tour. You will always be waiting for the lone straggler. Spontaneity? What’s spontaneity? I think you can best compare traveling with a large group to something like driving a Mac Truck. It will take a long time to get the truck moving to cruising speed and a long time to get it to stop. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this but for warned is for armed.

Next time, I will have a better set of ground rules for my traveling companions or at the very least, be a bit more selective of those companions (oh did I mention that my traveling companions were my in-laws - get the picture ?

Traveling with Children
What was I worried about? It amazes me how well they adapted. Sure they had their cranky moments (Becky in particular had a daily meltdown about 8:00 pm but would be fine by 9:00). Yet, they were such troopers. Armed with sketchpads, color pencils, Mad Libs, coloring books, a few puzzle books and some Pollypocket dolls, they managed to entertain themselves for 18 days. Who needs all those expensive toys?

Oh, and there’s nothing that can’t be cured with Gelato, cold water, a fountain or some Coca Cola. Sometimes we had gelato three times in a day (late morning, late afternoon and post dinner) and you just have to say what the heck.

Jet Lag
I’ll admit it - scream and yell, call me a bad mother if you like, but I gave my kids some Dimetap on the plane to Italy. I tell myself to help with the congestion but if it helped them sleep a bit (and it did – about 4 hours), then all the better.

Myself, after the dinner service I took two sleepytimes (aka Tylenol PM w/o the pain reliever). That combined with the two glasses of red wine, and I slept great. Next time, I won’t even wait until after the dinner service, I’ll conk myself out right from the beginning.

Anyway, when we arrived the kids still got zonked and napped for 2 – 3 hours (from about 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM) but after that, no issues.

On the return, we stayed awake for the entire trip home (except for Sammi who napped for 2 hours). As soon as we walked in the door, we threw our bags into the foyer, changed into our bathing suits and went to the swim club. We kept the kids outside until about 6:00 PM. Everyone in the family was asleep by 9:00 PM. I awoke at 4:00 AM. The girls woke around 5:00 AM. The next day, we pushed ourselves to stay awake a bit more and that was it. We returned Sunday and by Tuesday, I’d say we were all adjusted.

Can’t complain. Two good flights. Two good flight crews. Decent meals (see trip report). Decent movies. I’d fly them again.

I found Italy (in general) to be more crowded than my November 2001 trip but I don’t think/feel it to be nearly as crowded as our Oct/Nov 1999 trip. I’m not sure if tourism is still off (although according to some we talked to it is) or if my memory of that first trip fails me. But, for example, in November 1999, we could not get into Santa Maria Della Fiore w/o waiting in a long line late in the day. On this trip, around 4:00 or 4:30, we walked right in.

Speaking Italian
I used my Italian a lot on this trip. I think we visited more places where it was required but I also believe that when I approached someone and spoke in Italian, they responded in Italian, even after it became apparent (3 seconds into the conversation), that I spoke at a 4-year old level. Many times, I think they would have spoken English if I needed but I’d like to believe that everyone appreciated my efforts.

Slow Travel vs Fast Travel
Originally, for this trip I planned to rent an apartment for one week in Rome and rent a house for one week in Tuscany. Part of me wishes I’d stuck to that plan.

I know there are many "hummingbirds" out there that like to flit from place to place but it’s just not for me. I realized that each "travel day" caused me anxiety, another chance to encounter a strike, another chance for erroneous paperwork, another chance for a missed connection. Yes, I know it’s silly to worry about these things but when you’re Julie McCoy herding six other inexperienced travelers around (Chris is more experienced than I), it wears on you.

From my own personal experience, I prefer to stay rooted somewhere. To develop a relationship with the man behind the counter at the Enotecca or woman who makes my cappuccino each morning. I think the kids too, preferred to stay rooted – for as much as they enjoyed the train rides, I think the packing, unpacking, and moving was hard on them too.

So, next time I plan a trip, you must all remind me of these things.

June 12 - Day 1​

Yousef, the driver Chris uses for airport runs picks us up at 1:00 sharp on Wednesday, June 12. All our bags loaded, and the kids and I firmly buckled into the back seat, we drive off.

Can you say butterflies? Yep they were a flying. Of course, Becky, my 9 year-old, did her best to distract me with her rendition of The Littlest Worm, all the way to the airport. Yikes, eight hours on a plane with her.

Check-in is long, three people behind the counter process dozens of us and several large parties. I couldn’t believe the number of children traveling. Guess I’m not the only crazy one.

Chris’s parents (Angie and George) and his Aunt (Ann) arrived earlier and finish their check-in before us. We told them we’d meet them at the gate and continue to wait in line.

Thirty minutes later, we head to the gate only to be stopped at security - they weren’t opening until 3:00. Huh? So we stand and wait for fifty minutes for security to open before we proceed to the gate. What’s the point of arriving three hours before your flight (in our case, 3 hours and 20 minutes before) if you can’t at least sit and relax at the bar by the gate?

First stop, the bar for hot dogs. I wanted the kids to have something akin to dinner before we board. After two hot dogs for the girls, and a club soda for me we join the others to wait and wait.

A thunderstorm sweeps through. It seems pretty fierce but we still manage to board on time. There’s no order to the boarding. They try to board by rows but it ends up as a mass conglomeration of people filtering through the narrow doorway to the plane.

We sit window and aisle in three rows, Angie and George, Chris and Sammi (my 6 year-old - girl btw), Becky and I. Ann sits in the middle seats across the aisle from me. We haven’t taken off and Becky has to make a bathroom run. By the end of the trip she had made at least four bathroom runs (some during cart service - yikes). When I razz her about this she replies, "Mom, I’m not a camel."

We have an all male flight crew. Well at least in coach it was all male. The women served first class. Ann and I didn’t mind though, watching the eye candy was half the fun. It didn’t take Ann long to appreciate the merits of Italian men.

Oh, and those men were sweet too. One, who looked like my brother in-law’s best friend, with pale brown hair, tan skin and deep brown eyes asked Becky to draw him a picture when he saw her with her sketch pad. She does a pretty good portrait of him and he makes a fuss. He shows it to his co-workers and they all exclaim, "Una bella pictora!" Can I take one of them home with me?

Our dinner for the evening is a choice of turkey or fish. Becky actually tries the turkey and eats some. When she orders an aranciata to drink, she wins the approving smile of our cutie flight attendant. Sammi I ply with pop tarts.

As I said in my general observations under Jet Lag, I pop two sleeping pills, drink one of those bottles of wine, put in earplugs and don a silly eye mask, and sleep across the Atlantic. Becky sleeps for about 4 hours, Sammi longer. Chris and Ann sleep for two hours. Angie and George don’t sleep at all. Chris said the movie, The Majestic, was pretty good - I’ll catch it on HBO.

Becky wakes me for breakfast service by poking my earplug until it pops out. Breakfast consists of cornetti, yogurt, fruit, café and orange juice. Becky eats her cornetti, her yogurt and part of my yogurt. She started a precedent of eating good right from the start.

Sammi wakes near the end of the breakfast service but doesn’t want the breakfast our cutie flight attendant left. She downs another pop tart.

We land in Roma a bit early and boy did we land. It felt as if we fell out of the sky. Thud. Then we stop short. Everyone applauds when we finally slow to taxi speed to approach the gate.

Overall, I’ll give Alitalia a thumb’s up. This was the best flight I’ve had since our first class trip on Continental two and a half years ago. Chris would rather fly Continental because he likes the equipment better (a 777 where everyone has a private viewer versus the Alitalia 767) although he agrees the service on Alitalia was pretty good.

We deplane and go through immigration. I get stamped! Yeah. It’s the first time I get stamped going to Italy. Then, on the way to the luggage claim, we stop at the cash machine for our first Euro. We also give instructions to Ann and George on how to use a cash machine. Hey, didn’t we tell them to practice with the MAC machines at home before the trip? You bet we did. Deaf ears.

The wait for luggage is long. I mean thirty minutes long. Well, I guess Alitalia isn’t the best at getting our luggage off the plane.

When we depart the luggage claim, we see hoards of limo drivers with signs but no cute Italian with a sign Kim, no Sandro (from Roma Limo). Bummer. Sandro's making a special trip to the airport to get us b/c he's working like a dog on a UN job, shuttling diplomats about. We wait a couple of minutes then my impatient husband asks me to call him.

I dig out the cell phone we brought with us, turn it on and dial but the volume is low and the noise high and I can’t hear the recording I receive.

I scan the wait area and decided to purchase a phone card and try my luck with the pay phones. As I return to the group camped out by the door, Becky says, "There he is." Sure enough, Sandro walks by holding his sign that says "Mrs. Kim." Good thing we brought the eagle-eyed girl.

We herd the group towards his Mercedes Van as he piles luggage into the back. He’s a smart man and suggests we sit inside rather than have three other adults and one child (namely Becky) tell him how to load the luggage .

Well, it’s official. We brought too much stuff (one bag and one carry-on per person, except for the girls who shared a bag). We have to pile some of it on the last seat in the back and Sammi must sit on Chris’s lap. Then we’re off.

Sandro is a sweetie. He gives us his tour as we drive and get acquainted. We drive through the EUR, and he points out his office at the Sheraton, the Swiss cheese building which he called Gruyere with an Italian accent and a church who’s name now escapes me - hold on - Okay I believe it was Santi Pietro e Paolo.

An aside here. I remember the first time we arrived in Rome. I felt overwhelmed by the noise, the vespas, the numerous television antennas on the buildings and the graffiti. This time I had no such issues, it felt as if I was returning home, as if I could almost know what to expect around the next turn. Maybe because I had more sleep, maybe because I did know what to expect or maybe because in some strange way a part of me felt as if it were returning home.

Okay, enough of the transcendental crap ... on to the show.

As we drive, I hear a mumble from the middle row of seats, "When I drive, there’s no way I’m getting in the left lane." Obviously, George got his fill of Italian drivers and I’m not sure he likes what he sees.

Next we drive past Lunear Park. Sammi’s eyes light up. "Momma, momma," (Yes she calls me Momma - go figure), "Can we go there?"

Lucky for us, Sandro misunderstands and thinks she wants to stop there now. "Sorry, it’s closed. It opens later in the day."

She didn’t hear him say it opens later and we were spared the whine, "Momma, I want to go to the rides," for the remainder of our trip.

Don’t get me wrong, if it were just the four of us, and if Chris and I hadn’t planned a night alone on one of our nights, I probably would have taken them there just for the fun. It didn’t look near as bad as I imagined. I’d say kind of like the Ocean City Boardwalk amusement area without the ocean and without the boardwalk.

We drive through the Aventine Hill area - very pretty - seemed residential (mental note, perhaps a good place some day to spend a day).

Sandro stops at the Giardino degli Aranci. We pile out to Sammi’s best "Daddy, I want to go to Florida," whine. Only this time she’s saying, "Can’t we go to the hotel?" Ugh. She stops within moments of spotting her first cat. Did I mention Sammi has a thing for cats? Considering I’m a dog person, it figures.

Both girls are disappointed they can’t pet the cats but they love spying them and the huge oranges that dot the ground. We walk to the edge of the garden and are treated to one of the most incredible views of Roma I’ve seen. I try the stitch feature on our digital camera and I must say, it came out pretty good, a great shot going from the dome of St. Peters to the wedding cake. BTW - I’ve upload my pictures to Snapfish.Com and if you’re interested in seeing them, send me an e-mail. I can set you up for viewing.

We pile back into the van with Becky now on Chris’s lap and Sammi sitting in the middle row. Sandro drives a short distance, and we stop again.

"Can’t we go to the hotel?" Sammi moans.

"Come, this is a special surprise." Sandro promises.

"Kim (which sounds like Keem - I like it), come look through here." He points to the door.

Oh no, can it be? Yep! The famous keyhole I’ve heard of which others have spoken. It’s located in the garden of the Knights of Malta (weren’t they in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and it perfectly frames the dome of St. Peter’s. Amazing. I’ll wager, in this country someone would have erected a building to block that view a long time ago.

Everyone files past and we lift the kids for a peek too. Then we pile back into the van and head to the Hotel Del Senato.

I’m going to stop here for now - just to get you guys going on this and because it feels like a good breaking point.

June 13 - A Pearl of a Day​

Where were we? Ah yes, Sandro navigating the windy streets of Rome to bring us to our destination.

I know we pass some other spots as we drive but I never jotted them down and unfortunately, can’t remember - perhaps the Circus Maximus, perhaps the Palatine Hill - sorry I just can’t remember.

Sandro did point out to me where to get an amazing cold coffee drink "café granita" perhaps with whip cream and iced coffee but the one day I had time and would have thoroughly enjoyed that drink, they were closed. Alas, another glass of red wine for me.

We pull in front of the Del Senato and man can I pick a location. As I climb out of the Mercedes Van, the Del Senato sits to my right, the Pantheon to my left! Yipee - you’ve read about my experience with the Del Senato in Opinions/Observations - needless to say, I don’t hesitate to recommend this hotel.

Our rooms though are not ready. We leave our bags and Sandro leads us across the piazza to Bar/Café Riserve (I think). We’re doing this the Italian way with Sandro, standing at the bar.

Obviously though my travel companions did not read their caffe etiquette that I printed from the Slow Travelers website because the idea of standing and drinking our coffee seems completely foreign to them. I also experience my first schizophrenic episode.

Schizophrenic episode - now you’re really wondering about me. Simply explained, it’s where I hear voices, multiple voices ranging in ages from 6 to 67 (I think that’s George and Anna’s age although today is her birthday). These voices don’t tell me to do things they just ask question after question ... yikes, someone save me!

Sandro nudges a cappuccino in my direction. Ah ... the voices recede as I enjoy my first cappuccino of many on this trip.

Okay "another aside" I could be very happy spending my time in Italy drifting from one meal to another, one cappuccino to espresso, one glass of prosseco to one glass of red wine. What does that mean? It means Chris and I don’t make great travel companions because he likes to keep moving while I’ve learned to temper that inclination in myself.

What else does it mean? Other than their proclivity for shopping, the girls and I make fantastic travel companions because they could drift through their days from one meal to another, one aqua fizzante to another, one coca cola to another.

Back to our story...

Sammi’s not happy - tough. Becky’s not happy either but she finds joy in a Bombalino (and then a second). Chris’s hesitates when she asks for another but we’re in Italy ... let her enjoy. I have a cornetto con crema and cappuccini for the entire crew.

Sammi persists, "Is our room ready yet?" She won’t entertain the possibility of a doughnut, and I fear the length of our trip.

Sandro bids us arrivederci "smart man" and gives us his card in case we need anything. I am sorry we didn’t get to spend more time with him but Sandro.

After our brief respite, we head to the Pantheon. Sammi likes this. Go figure that a two thousand year old temple/church would remove her from her doldrums. I do my best, after we tear Angie and Becky from the chotchkey stand in the front, to give everyone my best imitation of Peter Kilby describing the Pantheon.

We spend a bit of time there, then head into the piazza, which by the way is still empty. One of my fondest memories (in a trip filled with fond memories) is enjoying this piazza in the early morning before the crowds. By the way, when did they open a McDonalds in the piazza? Yuck.

We find the spigot on the side of the fountain opposite the Pantheon and the girls love drinking from it. Sammi can’t manage getting the water to squirt from the top and gets soaked trying but it’s all good. After the girls, Chris and I finish refreshing, two dogs trot over and partake. Lucky dogs.

Angie and George seemed shocked that we let the girls drink, but we explain how the fountains work and how good the water tastes. Later on, they’ll also fill their water bottles there and take part.

Chris wants to walk to Pasquale’s (his favorite pizza place) to make sure he knows the way. Along the route, actually near the end of the Piazza, I find an optical store.

I’ve needed new sunglasses for months and have held off because for some strange reason, I wanted to buy them in Italy. I guess I like to buy everyday items when I’m on vacation. Then, when I use them daily, I have a reminder of my trip.

Sammi wants glasses too and joins me in the store. The saleswoman and man both help and first bring out a box of glasses for children. Sammi quickly picks out powder blue framed glasses that come with a pink case shaped like a bus. They give her some soft cloth for cleaning them and then I ask the woman to pick out something for me. Some black Armani sunglasses - perfect. Another case, hard this time, a cleaning cloth and, I nice little bag and we’re off.

We both don our glasses outside. Chris says, "You look very Italian." Big grin on my part.

We find Pasquale’s easy enough although the landmark store Condomania no longer sits across the street nor does Pasquale have the Hakkor Pschor sign out front. After, we head towards the Trevi but the kids and our other companions seem tired, so we make a quick right and head back towards the hotel.

Angie and George’s room as well as Ann’s are ready. We stay in the lobby as they retreat to their spaces to unpack and freshen up. The girls commandeer one of the couches and play with their Polly Pocket dolls. I brought only the dolls, none of the accessories. As Grinisa says, do you want to be searching for those tiny accessories every time you leave some place? Nah ah.

Within ten minutes, we invade Angie and George’s room. Ten minutes should be enough alone time for them, right ;D?

Within ten minutes of that, Chris and Becky have passed out, lying across Angie and George’s bed. Now what?

Sammi and I return to the lobby, "Is our room ready yet?" She implores. Afraid not, around noon they tell her.

Sammi decides she wants to return to the Pantheon. She wants to see the Queen’s tomb. The what? A queen’s tomb? I don’t remember a queen’s tomb. How does she know about it?

Sure enough we head back to the Pantheon, Sammi leads me to the left and we see the tomb of Regina Margherita di Savoia, the first queen of Italy. Maybe one of the adults noticed it on our first viewing of the Pantheon earlier that morning and mentioned it to her but I don’t know. Sammi’s always scaring us (more like freaking us out) with these types of things as you’ll see further on.

As we leave the Pantheon, Sammi notices the horse and carriage rides. Uh oh. "Momma, can we ride the horsey?" I’m still in shock over the queen thing and mumble, "Sure, we’ll do that before we leave." Mistake. I ask one of the carriage men and he gives me a reasonable quote - something like 75 Euro. I figure we’ll be able to talk him down and tell him we’ll return when the rest of the crew wakes. I should have gotten his name, as you’ll see later on.

Our room still isn’t ready but Sammi decides it’s time to try Gelato. Sure it’s the morning, but what the heck?

At first I think we’ll go in search of one of the many gelato places people have told us about (e.g., San Crispino, the place with the Pinochio out front) or maybe we’ll hit the one Chris and I enjoyed on our last trip (don’t ask me for a name but I can give you a location), but we’re both exhausted, so we settle for one at the opposite end of the piazza from the Pantheon.

We share a Melone not the best but still better than the cone I bought near the Uffizi in November. Actually, I think, try as I might, I’m just not a melone person. I don’t think Sammi is either but that doesn’t stop us from finishing the cone.

We return to the lobby to wait for our room. Sammi falls asleep on the couch with her head in my lap. I doze too - I can feel my head rubberneck back and forth. Finally, about 12:15 our room is ready.

I carry Sammi to the elevator to the oohs and ahs of the Italian businessmen in the lobby who scramble to get the elevator and hold the door for me. She wakes in the elevator and manages to walk to our room where she collapses in her turned down bed.

I think I described our room in the Opinions/Observations so I won’t be redundant. Although, I do think I forgot the high ceilings (at least twelve feet) that were beautifully decorated.

Also, I’m not sure I mentioned the feature that all of the hotel rooms had, you slide your key into a slot in the room in order to activate the lights. This forces the lights off when you depart the room - smart. Wish I could get that for my house - the money I could save on our energy bill alone might finance another trip.

I rest my eyes and set my alarm for 12:35 PM, but I can’t sleep. I wake and fiddle with the phone we brought, trying to load on more time with a phone card that expires in two weeks. No luck - the message I receive is in Italian and too quick to understand. I turn it off and rest again.

Chris arrives rested and yapping from his two plus hour nap in his parent’s room. Becky still sleeps there. Since he can’t stop talking (get the hint, I’m trying to nap), I rouse myself again and send him back to his parent’s room to fetch Becky.

We’re supposed to meet Peter Kilby in twenty-five minutes at Pasquale’s. He returns with Becky’s who’s in no mood to be woken and lays her on her bed. I decide to send him along with the rest of the crew while I hang with the kids.

About 2:00, I wake them and trust me, this was no easy matter. I convince Becky to shower with me but Sammi will have no part. After the shower, and re-dressing we both feel better.

Chris returns at 2:30 and we join him, Peter, and AAG (short for Ann, Angie and George) for the tour. It’s good to see Peter. He looks the same.

Though I e-mailed Peter with a request to see the Palatine Hill, Coliseum and San Clemente today, he’s decided better to take the crew to Santa Maria Sopra Minvera and the Forum. "Kim and Chris, I know some of this will be repetitive for you but tough - they should see these things." Okay, we’ll defer to his judgment.

I can tell you about SMSM but it’ll pretty much mimic my previous trip report (on AOL see Nov/Dec 1999 or I guess I could post that too ... nah) only not as much detail. That was the thing about this trip, we’d see some cool things but with the kids along, not nearly as in as much detail.

One thing the kids did learn to do was light candles in the churches. Yes, we’re not Catholic, but what can it hurt to light a candle and say a prayer (in our case we prayed for cooler weather).

Along our route we stop in almost every bar, filled with people, to get an update on Italy’s World Cup match.

We realize about 30 minutes into our walk that the kids (especially Becky) and I haven’t had lunch. Although I’m not that hungry, they are. Peter takes us to a gelato place (don’t ask me where) on the way to the Forum.

Everyone enjoys some Straciatella (well except me – I just want a lot of water) and Chris, who if he got any flavor (can’t remember) it was lemon.

We approach the Piazza del Campidoglio. For the first time I notice the stairs to Santa Maria in Aracoeli. We tease George that we’re going to climb those stairs. His face pales.

Through our walk toward the forum Peter and I talk. I explain to him that I just finished I Claudius and can’t wait to start the First Man in Rome series. He seems impressed with some of the knowledge I’ve obtained and states, "I’ll have to stay on my toes." I beam.

We climb the Cordonata. It’s about here we’re first informed of Ann’s bad knees. Uh duh, didn’t all the talk prior to our trip about walking and comfortable shoes, give a clue as to what would be required? Nope. Oh well, she’s a tough lady and for these stairs and many others, she grinned and stuck it out. You have to be impressed with her resolve.

I eye the Castor and Pollux statues not recalling their funny cone heads. Peter explained the belief that the ancients believed the gods hatched from eggs and the cones were what was left of their shells. Cool, I snap a picture.

Becky snaps some pictures of the naked men. Like mother like daughter.

We head to the overlook of the Forum. On the way I eye the enormous pieces of statues through the entrance to the museums. Another trip.

As we approach the overlook, we hear some horns honking and stop to talk to two Cabineri. They’re both from Sicily, which makes an instant connection with A and A, who’s parents are from Bronte and Forze d’ Agro. They tell us Italy just advanced to the second round of the World Cup. Forza Italia.

We head down into the Forum, pulling Becky and Angie away from the Chotchkey stands (Chotchkey = useless souvenirs such as toys - my kids became familiar with my version of the definition and used it throughout the trip) as we go.

The Forum’s empty and I spy one of those free group tours as we approach the Curia. They offer for us to join their tour. I glance at Peter as he respectfully declines.

On a side note about the free tours: My mother’s travel agent, R, just returned from a trip to Italy with her son and his family. They joined one of these tours and enjoyed it immensely then signed up for the company’s tour of the Vatican Museum, which they also enjoyed. She didn’t remember the name of the company when I spoke to her but promised to get it for me - I’ll post it when she does.

Peter gives the group the schpiel about the Curia as my daughters, relatively uninterested, play among the ruins of the Forum. There’s something, I don’t know, endearing, no that’s not the right word ... anyway basically cool about watching the kids play among the ruins. Do you think Roman children played here too two thousand years ago?

Halfway through the Forum, Becky the Uncamel, requires another bathroom break. I take both kids, and we find the bathroom by the main entrance just before the temple of Antonius and Faustina as you head towards the Basilica of Constantine. We wait in a bit of a line but we manage. This bathroom is nowhere near as bad as the one in the Lucca train station.

Next we visit San Giuseppe dei Falegnami to see the Mamertine prison. After the kids get a good feel for the cramped conditions, I explain that they’re thinking of reopening the prison to hold whiny children. "Yeah, right Mom," is the response I get.

We head to the Coliseum, finally something I haven’t seen before. We sit outside and are approached by a handful of those merchants selling all sorts of things, jewelry, scarves, squishy stress toys – go figure. No grazie, niente, scram. They’re persistent buggers.

After getting our lesson from Peter while we sit on the outside, we approach the ticket window, which doesn’t have a line, just a mass of people, jockeying for position. We send Chris and Peter into the fray as we find a cool spot in which to relax. About ten minutes later they return with our tickets.

Chris isn’t happy, eight bucks for admission and no break for non-EU kids. This won’t be the last time we pay a pretty penny (or Euro) for admission to a site with no break for non-EU kids. I think Chris wants to start a trade war. Suck it up I say and let’s check it out.

We head in. Pretty darn cool – not something I feel compelled to revisit but something I’m glad we’ve seen. I love that you can walk across the bridge over the floor. When I am in the center and I look up and hear the screams of all my adoring fans , I experience something akin to vertigo.

We take the elevator to the top and check out the view from the mediocre seats (we can’t get to the nosebleeds). Amazing, and we think our stadiums are marvels.

Ah shoot - see there’s something I wanted to mention before and I forgot.

I mentioned Sammi’s affinity for cats. Well, we allowed each child to bring one stuffed animal. Becky brought her Cheetah, Chichi (although we later found out that her baby cheetah, Sneaky - good name, stowed away in her knapsack for our trip). Sammi brought her little cat, Pinky.

Well, while Chichi and Sneaky were content to wait in our hotel rooms, Pinky insisted on venturing with us almost each and every day. Pinky had many adventures and we have pictures to prove it. For now though, we snap our obligatory picture of Pinky at the Coliseum (we’d taken one earlier of Pinky at the Pantheon) and head across the street to the bus/metro station.

The kids can’t walk anymore, so Peter and I get in line to buy some bus tickets. They sell us the old tickets. Did you know Rome’s in the middle of changing over the bus tickets and all the stamper machines? When we board the bus, Peter shows me which machine to use for each ticket.

Remembering Mary’s affair (from the AOL Boards - she was dragged to the Police station for not having a stamped ticket), I have everyone pass down their tickets and I stamp them and pass them back. The bus lets us off on the Via Del Corso and we hoof it back to the hotel.

We invite Peter to join us for a drink at the roof top garden. Chris and Peter head up there while I take the kids back to the room for a quick pit stop (for the non-camel) and to drop our bags. AAG don’t join us.

We arrive on the roof and all I can say is Bellisima! What an incredible view, what a friendly bartender, no crowd. We overlook all of Rome from here! You can see the Wedding Cake in one direction, the top of the Pantheon dome right in front of you, past that the church, who’s name escapes me, with the spiral roof, and further on, St. Peter’s.

The kids grab their own table and the bartender, Michele, brings them Pringles and due coca cola (or would that be due coca cole?). The men have some beer and I have some Prosecco. We marvel at the view and catch up on the past two years – a great way to unwind from the day.

Eventually, Peter departs, and I take the girls downstairs to shower and change for dinner. We meet in the lobby about 7:40 and head for our early (8:00) reservation at Ristorante Abruzzi.

Pauline Priore recommended Ristorante Abruzzi to us and all I can say to you is if Pauline recommends a place, go. We tried several of her recommendations on this trip and not one disappointed.

When we arrive, a waiter escorts us inside, I ask him, in Italian, if we can sit outside. Unfortunately, they can’t fit a table for seven outside - oh well. Now either, our waiter doesn’t speak English or he enjoys listening to me speak Italian as a four year-old would (btw, Sandro said I had a pretty good accent. I continue with him in Italian for the rest of the meal, and I love it!

Now, what did everyone have? I must admit; I didn’t keep as good a track on what we ordered during this trip as I have on previous trips. Sorry.

First, we order a round of the house red and bottles of fizzante for the table.

I start with Fettucine Ragu, cooked perfectly of course and not gloppy with gravy but properly dressed. For my secondi I order the Veal Abbruzzi, which is veal with Prosciutto and peas – the veal’s tender and flavorful - very good.

Chris orders a plate of prosciutto to start (although he enjoys stealing forkfuls of mine) and veal with mushrooms for his secondi. He claims it to be the best veal’s he’s had.

AAG all had the veal with mushrooms too, which they enjoyed but they also order salad, which they say is a bit bland. Sammi orders spaghetti with cheese and I swear it was more like Sammi ordered cheese with a side of spaghetti. Every strand she eats is coated with tiny flakes of the stuff.

Finally Becky, ah Becky, Becky orders spaghetti con vongole but only eats the vongole. The child doesn’t like spaghetti - go figure. She’ll eat pasta in other forms. It’s the strands of spaghetti she doesn’t like. After she picks the clams from her dish, and proclaims that she’s still hungry, I asked the waiter if we could have another order, ma non spaghetti, vongole solo. He grins and bobs his head and soon brings a heaping bowl of clams for the child. She dives in and exclaims she bit on something hard. She maneuvers her tongue around her mouth and soon produces...(drum roll please)... a tiny pearl! Go figure, it’s not like the ones you see in the stores, but it’s smooth like a pearl. Lucky kid. She’s kept it since and I hope she never loses it.

For dessert, Ann has nociolo gelato, Becky and Angie have a chocolate cake (very good), I have those baby strawberries I love and Sammi has a different type of cake, not sure what it is but she likes it. They place a bottle of complimentary sambuca (it’s green) and amaro on the table. Within a little while, we leave 140 Euros lighter but quite satisfied.

On the way back to the hotel, the kids stop to drink from another fountain. I’ve already lost track of how many they’ve tried. This one is different though b/c it’s a spout from a wall.

When we return, Ann, Chris the kids and I head to the garden for a post dinner drink. Chris has Sambuca, while Ann and I enjoy some Frangelica. I don’t remember if the girls have arranciata or coca cola. They return to the room on their own before us, while we sit and talk with the bartender.

I finish my drink and head downstairs. The kids are still up and wired. We wash and climb into bed by the time Chris returns. After a bit of CNN it’s off to sleep.

June 14 - Sink your teeth into this​

I’m up early today. I wash yesterday’s clothes in the sink and hang them using the intertwined clothing line I purchased from the Rand McNally travel store on-line. It lets you hang clothes without pins. It works pretty well for our lighter shirts and for the kids’ clothes but under the weight of some of our heavier items, later in the trip, it sags and drops them.

After I finish the laundry, I leave the girls and Chris snoozing in the room, while I head downstairs for breakfast. The Del Senato serves a nice continental breakfast with cereals, prunes, mixed fruit, canned peaches, cornetti, filled cornetti, cheese, ham, salami, sponge cake, milk and OJ.

I help myself to a cornetto with chocolate and a cappuccino. Within a few moments Ann joins me. I order her a cappuccino too, which see seems to enjoy.

At nine fifteen we call Chris and George to wake them. Peter Kilby will be at the hotel at ten and I want the girls to have time for breakfast. I return to the room and dress the kids.

While they have a quick bite (Becky is immediately fond of the cornetto with chocolate and Sammi loves the rice krispies that seem to me to be frosted), I speak with Peter. I tell him about the problems I’m having loading time onto my phone.

He dials the number and listens to the message. Then he dials another number and speaks rapidly in Italian. I catch about every fifth word.

It turns out that the phone company wants owner information for the phone I borrowed from my friend, and they seem reluctant to accept the fact that we’re not Italian citizens and therefore can only provide passport info. They tell Peter he needs to go to a store to register the phone. He offers to register the phone under his name, and I accept.

While the others eat, we decide to head to the Via Del Corso and find a telephone store that Peter knows. We pass a building along the way which into it’s side it has incorporated some ancient Roman columns. The area’s fenced off and you can look down to see ancient Roman street-level. I can’t remember the name of the building now nor the ancient building it used to be (perhaps Tempo Adriano)? Yet, it amazes me how massive their structures were based upon our street level and even more so based upon the fact that their street level was about fifteen to twenty feet lower.

We spend too much time explaining our needs to the two men who work at the store, neither of which seems particularly keen to help. Finally, the first one we had approached, who pointed us to the second, returns to aid us and supposedly enters our information.

We take a bit of a different route on our return and pass the fountain in the wall from which the girls drank the previous night. I tell Peter how the girls love this fountain. He says they have good taste because the myth is Michelangelo designed this fountain as a favor to some businessman.

When we return to the hotel, everyone’s ready to move out. We meander down some streets and arrive on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Peter’s begins to talk about Puccini and I immediately exclaim, "Ah the church from Tosca (S. Andrea del Valle)."

He eyes me sideways and asks, "You know opera?"

I tell him I haven’t been but have been listening and reading. I also remember someone else mentioning it (Grinisa perhaps). After yesterday, he’s really on guard. I’m feeling pretty good about myself ;D.

We cross some more streets and wind our way when we pass a restaurant, Da Pallaro.

"Kim, this place is pretty good. Momma cooks in the kitchen and you get what she makes." Peter says.

I grin. "I know - I’ve heard about it. We have reservations here this evening."

He acts frustrated. "Oh you’re really going to make me work."

We continue into an open area with a curved building on our left. "Kim," Peter calls but before he can quiz me I exclaim, "Oh the Teatro di Pompei!" He throws his hands up in defeat. "I’m walking with George."

Don’t ask me how I knew. I just did. I think it’s from reading all of those previous trip reports and all of those guidebooks - it just popped into my head if I had returned to an old neighborhood I hadn’t visited in years.

We continue onto the Campo De Fiore where we stop in another phone store to see if the update to our phone had taken place. It hadn’t. So we go through the shpiel again, Peter and I, only this time they talk slower and I understand more of the conversation and actually participate. The two saleswomen are most helpful and offer to re-enter the information for Peter and his wife. Big grin.

I glance outside and notice Chris not looking too happy. He doesn’t understand why I want the phone and I think he thinks this is a poor use of Peter’s time. I tell Peter and he poo poos the idea. "My services include these types of things too." Well, after a few minutes we’re done and now my friend’s phone is listed under Peter’s name - hope she doesn’t mind.

The girls (all of them, Becky, Sammi, Ann and Angie) want to buy postcards, so we head to another store. We need bus tickets too and Peter figures we’ll kill two birds with one stone (see I’m not a great shopper and all these stops and starts at chotchkey stands and "tourist" shops have already grated on me).

Of course, they don’t have the bus tickets. Apparently, later in the day, Chris and Peter try to buy tickets at three other tobacchi and contrary to the popular advice they end up riding the bus without tickets. Peter doesn’t care. He says he’s aiming for a fight. "How can they expect you to ride with a ticket when they don’t provide the stores with them to sell." It’s easy for Peter to ride like that, he has a monthly pass.

Anyway, at this point we decide to split up. The girls are worn from yesterday’s incredibly long day and I had promised them some shopping. I send Chris along with his parents, Ann and Peter to the Vatican Museum while the girls and I decide to spend some time bumming around.

I can’t provide you with much, if any detail from Chris’s day. He’s not good at providing that information. I know they spent minimal time at St. Peters - the entire square was set up for the canonization of Padre Pio that Sunday. Chris said touring the museum with Peter was great. He said you don’t see as much but what you see you see in great detail. The Sistine chapel was packed - even worse than when we were there 2 ½ years ago and Ann bought some rosary beads. Oh, they also stopped at Pasquale’s again for lunch. That, unfortunately, is all I know of their day.

Now on to mine...

Peter pointed out a nice café across from the tabacchi so the girls and I headed in that direction. Inside, I ordered an espresso and due coca cola’s. I also asked if we could sit outside. "Si, si."

Outside, we enjoy the shade, the quiet piazza and our drinks. We all take time to write in our journals, watch people fill their water bottles in the fountain in the piazza, and watch some dogs pull their owners by their leashes.

Then it’s off to the Hello Kitty store. After all, I promised the girls some shopping.

Sammi’s my kind of shopper. She scans the store from a vantage point, zeros in and picks something out. She purchases some sort of diary/friendship book. Not being into "girly" things I’m not really sure which, but she seems happy with her choice.

Now Becky, she’s the kind of shopper that drives me crazy. She examines everything. I mean everything. She picks up every pad, every doll, every pen, and every book. She turns them over, she checks the price and she puts them back down. She would have spent an hour in that store if I had let her. As is, we’re there for a while and all she buys are two pencils - go figure.

After Hello Kitty, we return to the Tabbacchi because the girls would like some more postcards. As I wait to pay, the storeowner talks with another customer. She glances at me and tells him I am an American. I smile, and she knows I understand. She says, in Italian, "But your parents are Italian." I realize she means Angie and George and I reply that my husband’s parents are Italian but he doesn’t speak any Italian, I do. She replies, "Veramente?" I say, Veramente," and they both laugh. I love this!

After the tabacchi, we return to the market and Becky’s at it again. She examines every stall and when she spies a fruit that seems unfamiliar the man at the stand offers to let her try it. I think, if I understood him, it’s some kind of cherry. She likes it but says it has too many tiny seeds and we pass on.

I try to convince the kids to walk to the Vatican with me to at least see the beautiful church of St. Peters. Sammi replies, "Can we go back to the hotel now?" Uh oh.

Instead I opt for hanging in the campo for a bit. My professional shopper has eyed every booth pretty well and I bought some balloons for later play, when we decide it’s time to head somewhere else.

Then I spy the sign that says forno at the corner of via Capellari. Now I remember Alan Epstein talked about a forno where they make great, plain pizza. I also am sure I remember others mention a forno near the campo, so I figure I need to check this out.

I ask the kids to wait outside while I go in – it’s crowded. It occurs to me, I’d never let them out of my sight on the streets of NYC yet here - I don’t know - is it a false sense of security or real security?

Anyway, as I said the forno is crowded. There doesn’t seem to be a line nor do they have a little number ticket dispenser. I remember reading about this in several trip reports and books and pick out a man who’s near the back with me. I figure I can try to go after him. Well, as I eye all the delicious "pizzas", I didn’t realize that one of the girls behind the counter has addressed me. A woman to my sides gets my attention, "Signora," ah it’s my turn. Somehow the clerks and other customers managed to note my place in the pecking order. I get some Pizza Bianca, my receipt and turn to pay the cashier.

The girls must have entered during my distraction and sit huddled on the floor near the cashier as she and several customers smile at them. I love this. I pay for our pizza and we head outside where the girls dig in.

It’s not like anything they or I have had before, plain focaccio type bread with olive oil and salt it seems but it’s good. The girls are nonchalant when I ask if they like it but they each gobble a piece, and we begin to walk when I hear, "Uh oh, my tooth."

The pizza bianca did in Becky’s tooth. It’s connected by a thread but actually wedged at a funny angle behind another tooth. We head to a different bar, and I struggle in Italian to explain that she’s losing a tooth and ask if I can take some napkins. They nod toward the tables where I see dispensers.

I grab two and with one, I yank that puppy out and the other I use to wedge in there to stop the bleeding. In the meantime, Sammi’s spotted some Kinder Eggs - ah Buena idea. We buy two, gobble the chocolate, and use the plastic inside that holds the toys to store Becky’s tooth. With our corrective surgery done, we head towards the Piazza Navona.

By the way, have I mentioned the heat? While we were in Italy they experienced an incredible heat wave the likes of which don’t normally occur until August. Everyone apologized to us throughout our trip for the unbearable heat, as if they could control it.

Don’t get me wrong; I lived in the humidity capital of the US, St. Louis. I also live in NJ where we can hit 95 - 100 along with the best of them but this just seemed worse because the sun felt so much stronger and stayed in the sky so much longer. Anyway, this was only the second day of the heat, and in retrospect it probably didn’t get higher than eighty-six degrees but in that sun, watch out.

By the time we arrive in the Piazza Navona, we’re baking. The kids see that first fountain, run around it, but don’t find a spigot. Oh well. They ask though if they can play in/by it. Some college age kids had just finished wetting their hair in it, so I didn’t see the harm.

I plopped myself down on one of the benches and just watch the kids splash a bit of water on themselves then break out the Polly Pocket dolls. Within a moment they remember their kinder toys and decided to put them together. Appropriately, Becky gets a ship, which she immediately tests in the water. Sammi builds a smurf.

I’m not sure how long they played there with those toys but it was a while because I could feel the sun bake the back of my neck (darn dear, I could be a true redneck now). I know, some people may roll their eyes at an entire day "wasted" playing, not "seeing" anything. Heck, a year ago, I might have agreed but I loved that day. I loved just hanging with them and I loved that they loved it.

After a while, one of those strolling vendors approaches us, selling bubble guns. You dip the nozzle of the gun in bubble solution, pull the trigger and it shoots bubbles. Of course they want them, but I’m always leery of those things. I fear we’ll buy them, they won’t work and the guy would have disappeared.

He wants dieci euro for each. I say, "Tropo caro."

He asks how much. I offer him five for each and we compromise on fifteen for two with batteries included. I tell the girls, if they work it will come out of my money. If they don’t work, it comes out of theirs. They agree.

Ooops another aside - the girls had set aside some of their birthday money and tooth fair money for the past year to buy chotckies on this trip without the judgment of their mother interfering. This way I didn’t freak at every purchase, and hopefully, they started to learn the value of a Euro.

I load the batteries and we try to get them to work. No luck. No bubbles form and the liquid dribbles out. I’m about to launch into my best "Told you so speech," when our vendor runs over and shows us how to pour the bubble solution into the cap and dip the gun nozzle into the cap - then they work. Ah, molto inteligente. Grazi mile.

About this time it occurs to me what I wrote to Mary in my e-mail the next day, "I’m not having the trip I planned. I’m having the trip I wanted." I can’t help but smile.

Well, the kids are filthy, Becky especially. That child walks out of the hotel and gets dirty. She’s hiked her capris above her knees so they look like shorts. The butt of them is black with dirt and she’s soaked. I better not go here but it reminds me I should have included a section on Laundry in my opinions/observations.

They blow bubbles at everyone who passes by and laugh. It’s great fun until Sammi erroneously drops her gun into the fountain. Oops - batteries and water don’t mix and it stops making the funky gun shooting sound. I open it and let it dry in the sun and heat and within ten minutes, it works again.

After some time, I decide it’s time to expose the girls to some culture. I move them away from "our fountain" and we head towards Bernini’s fountain of the Four Rivers. The girls run the circumference looking for a spigot - no luck. Finally, they stand still and I tell them a bit of the story behind the fountain.

Another discovery - the girls, especially Sammi, love to hear the "stories." They’ll stand still for a while and stare at a sculpture or picture if I can regal them with a tale. Makes me wish I learned more stories (e.g., of saints and/or Jesus) before we left.

After we spend a few moments admiring the fountain, we head for some gelato. Along the way, the girls, especially Becky eye the artists both the ones doing portraits and the water colors. After gelato (due straciatelle), Becky asks if we can have one of the portraits done.

"Are you sure?" I ask, "It means sitting still in the hot sun for a while."

She nods her head emphatically.

Okay, we approach the only artist doing "serious" portraits as opposed to caricatures. I already have a caricature of the two of them. I ask him how much for a portrait. He says thirty bucks. That seems reasonable to me and I ask him to do them together.

It takes a while and he does one at a time, alternating between the two of them, until he finishes. During the process I run to a Tabachi for some water to combat the brutal heat, and Sammi and I have a riveting game of Simon Sez.

When he finishes, I have a beautiful charcoal drawing of my daughters that I can’t wait to frame and hang in my office. Although, he charges me sixty dollars - ah thirty dollars per subject - oh well, I’ll no better next time to ask.

It’s late, and we’re tired and hot, so we decide to head back to the hotel for a bit of relaxation. Unfortunately, the maid opened our window, which must have shut off the a/c because the room is quite warm. We shut the window and it cools off nicely.

After forty minutes of CNN and a round of Mad Libs, I realize I am starved. I start to ready the girls for a trek to Pasquales for some pizza, since none of us had a chance to partake in it the previous day, when Chris returns.

They also had lunch at Pasquales but I manage to convince Chris to return with us. The girls spy a few gelato stands on the way, but we convince them to wait until after "lunch". Remember, it’s about 3:30 or 4:00 now.

I order the pizza with fresh tomatoes and some fried olives (which Chris tries) - delicious. The girls have pizza margherita (aka plain pizza) and of course, coca colas. After we finish, we head to our favorite gelato store and honestly, I don’t remember getting any. I think I was too full from lunch.

Becky goes for the Straciatella again and Sammi discovers a new flavor, Snowflake. It reminds me of Duncan Hines vanilla frosting.

Before we enter the hotel, Sammi spies the horse and carriage ride that we forgot to do yesterday. "Momma, you promised."

We head over to the carriages; two men talk in the shade next to a horse and a third sleeps in one of the carriages. Chris asks how much and he’s told one hundred twenty five Euro. Sammi we love you but no way. Armed with the assurance that we will get her a horsey ride but probably in the morning, when the Campo’s not so crowded and the carriages are more willing to negotiate, she agrees to return to our room.

We enjoy another brief rest from the heat when, after about an hour, we realize Pinky is missing. Chris, Becky and I franticly search for the stuffed cat but Sammi remains surprisingly non-pulsed. Though, once she realizes Pinky’s truly not with us, her bottom lip begins to quiver.

"C’mon, we’ll go look," I say.

Chris doing his best "I told you so" as in I told you not to let her bring that silly cat with us everywhere refuses to go.

Sammi, Becky and I head downstairs, check with the men at the front desk who seem quite amused at our question, "Has anyone found a stuffed cat?" They shake their heads with a smile, and we head outside.

First stop the carriages parked in the shade of the Pantheon, where by the way, the driver who we approached begins to pull away with a couple on board. Nope - no pinky.

Next, the spigot on the other side of the fountain, where the girls drank and refilled our water bottles before we returned to the room. Nope - no pinky.

On to the gelato store, where we find Pinky, sitting comfortably on the floor under the bench. We scoop her up and return to the hotel to flaunt our find in Chris’s face ;D.

That tragedy averted, it’s time to head to the roof top garden for our pre-dinner drinks. I’m telling you, you can’t beat the scenery or the service and we sit and relax there, eventually joined by AAG until it’s time to leave for our reservation for Da Pallaro.

As we walk, I spy the store Mary spoke of Feltrinellis. I also spy the four temples at Largo Argentina and my memory tickles me with regard to a cat sanctuary in the area but I don’t remember the exact location nor do I have my notes. Another trip.

We arrive at Da Pallaro and are seated outside. No sooner do we order some aqua fizzante than do they arrive with house white wine and the antipasti. The antipasti consists of different plates of beans, tomatoes, olives, a huge platter of prosciutto, something (aka vegetable) fried, actually two different kinds I think - we don’t know what but we devour everything.

I order some coca cola for the kids and also due piatte of pasta con formaggio.

For our pasta dish, we receive Rigatoni in gravy, very tomatoey, very cheesey, very good. After the pasta, we’re brought roast beef, chips (aka great potatoes sliced thin and roasted), and salad. Dessert is some sort of tort and baby strawberries - delicious.

Some people at neighboring tables seem amused as we play Guess the Famous Person with the kids as the dinner winds down. Usually reserved for long car rides, the kids get a kick out of playing although Sammi usually picks the Little Mermaid or Cinderella, which makes our guessing easy.

Now something unusual happens - something I’ve honestly never seen at a restaurant in Italy. There’s a line to get in. As we eat our main course and our dessert, people wait in the piazza for a table. They’re not turned away. And, during our main course, the restaurant actually turns over a table next to us and immediately fills it.

I’m not saying we felt rushed but one thing I had looked forward to trying during/at the end of the meal was the fruit nectars everyone else talks about. They’re never brought. Bummer. I’m not too upset though because the girls are fidgety and I’m not sure they could stand to sit much longer; we’d been there for two hours.

We stroll home through the Piazza Navona and AAG enjoy the nighttime vibrancy of the place. When we return, we head to the rooftop garden for some cigars and some after dinner drinks.

AAG found a tabachi off a side street that led to the Piazza della Rotunda earlier in the day. They enjoyed their conversations with the owner, and she hooked them up with some killer Cubans. I think they ended up visiting her each day of our trip.

We try to convince the girls to go downstairs on their own and go to sleep but after a while they sneak back up because they’re scared. You see, we kept the key with us, so all the lights went off in the room. Duh, it never occurs to us to get a second key.

Chris returns to the room with the girls while I hang with AAG. Michele brings me a Frangelica, although I never ordered one. Grazie. As we sit and talk, fireworks explode, not too far in the distance, probably over the Tiber. Can it get any better? Now, I wish I let the kids stay awake.

About 11:45 we close the bar and head downstairs. After the Italian tooth fairy visits Becky and leaves her a 2 Euro coin, I get into bed and go to sleep.

June 15 - Hairy Things Don't Scare Her​

I’m up early this Saturday morning. You know it’s early when you’ve done a round of laundry in the sink and gone downstairs for an espresso to find the hotel doesn’t serve breakfast yet (i.e., that is not until 7:00).

So it’s off into the empty piazza I go. It amazes me how empty the place is. To sit on the steps of the Pantheon, write in my journal and not see another soul in the Piazza Della Rotunda, does it get any better? Well, yeah, it does, when you do it later in the day and enjoy a glass of wine .

Anyway I write and watch the piazza waken. The number 116 bus zips by empty of tourists. I wonder where it goes. I hear the gulls squawk overhead and I’m reminded of an observation Angie made the night before. These gulls fly at night. We can see and hear them as we enjoy our drinks on the rooftop garden. At home, the Jersey gulls seem to disappear in the evening. I can’t ever remember hearing or seeing them once the sun sets.

A sporadic stream of gentlemen and women, who, judging by their attire, are on their way to work, visit the ATM machine. I forgot Italians work on Saturday mornings. Even two Cabineri stop by the machine to get money for their morning espressos (or is it espressi?).

I notice another of the Del Senato’s guests on her patio wrapped in the bedspread from her room, lucky woman to have a private balcony. I also note, for as hot as the days get, the mornings feel cool and comfortable.

Eventually, I hear the clop clop of the first horse as it arrives and assumes a place alone in the shade in front of the Pantheon. The horse and carriages follow the shade throughout the day.

Then, the waitress from the breakfast room strides by. She smiles at me and I return it, in a way that suggests we both know each other from somewhere but at that moment can’t remember where.

Around 7:30, I return to the hotel and the breakfast room for my standard cappuccino and chocolate cornetto. Ann joins me and has discovered "American" coffee. Oh well, you can lead a horse to water ...

About 8:30 we rouse the others. Peter arrives at 9:10 and joins us while everyone finishes their breakfasts. I had sent Peter an e-mail before we departed asking to visit some churches this morning, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (which we did on Thursday), San Pietro in Vincoli, Santa Maria della Vittoria, and Santa Maria Della Concezione, the one with the Capuchin crypts.

Well, after yesterday, Peter would have none of it. He wants me stumped and goes off the board and off my radar. I am a bit disappointed. I really wanted to see Bernini’s St. Teresa in Ecstasy and Becky wanted to see some skeletons, but I trust Peter.

We hike over to the bus depot at San Silvestro. The three men hanging in the booth there won’t sell us tickets and Peter’s annoyed. He explains to them the problems they had yesterday getting tickets but these men just shrug. Then, Chris and I spy the automated ticket machines.

"Peter, do these work?"

"I guess so, but Italians have an aversion to these machines - they rarely use them."

Well, Chris and I don’t have an aversion to the machines. We do have an aversion to facing a fine for riding un-ticketed or tramping around looking for another tabachi that may or may not have tickets.

We stick our money in and seven daily tickets later, we’re ready to ride. I believe the dailies were about $3 each, which wasn’t bad considering a single ride is around $1.50.

We’re off to Santa Prassede. Santa Prassede? What’s that? As Peter tells us, and if I remember correctly, I believe it’s one of the only Romanesque churches left in Rome. Strangely, apartment buildings butt up against it on all sides; you must have space to live.

Peter tells the story of the two sisters (Praxedes and Pudentiana) who cleaned the blood of some Christian Martyrs on this spot by using a sponge. I’m sure I’m getting part of this story wrong and will check to see if my Blue Book has further details. I believe the Romans later slaughtered one if not both of the sisters too. Ah according to the Blue Guide these sisters are also the daughters of Pudens, "in whose house St. Peter is traditionally supposed to have first found hospitality at Rome."

The church contains some amazing mosaics from the eight and nine hundreds. Becky’s impressed and loves turning on the lights. Sammi, less so, once she’s heard the story and she doesn’t quite understand why all these people were murdered, she plops on a bench and rests. Everyone tries to drag her around as we view the different chapels/areas but personally, I’m in the let her sit category. After all, what’s the big deal? Eventually, the others acquiesce to my superior judgment and we let her rest as we enjoy the church.

One tidbit I learned from this church deals with the halos around the heads of the saints. Apparently, if the person who later was to become a saint (how did they know) was still living when the mosaic was done his halo was square, while the other dead (and bona-fide?) saints’ halos were round.

Next, we head towards Santa Maria Maggiore, also not on my radar although it’s one of the four patriarchal basilicas. Along the way, Peter explains about the August snowfall that fell on the spot and in a pattern where the church would later be built to conform to that pattern.

There we view the "other" Sistene chapel (to make up for the one Becky missed the previous day) and then watch a wedding take place in the Borghese Chapel (aka Pauline Chapel). I ask Becky if she wants me to book one of these chapels for her wedding to which I receive the typical, "Mom." Of course, her sounds more like, "Mo-om" with the accent on the first syllable. Becky can turn the word "no" into a two-syllable word.

After the church, the girls begin to wilt like basil in the New Jersey summer heat. It’s time for a break and Peter promises us one a few blocks further on. Along the way, Chris spies a store he’s been looking for, one that sells Italia World Cup Soccer Jerseys. We’re not crazy about the baby blue one so instead, Chris opts for a white one with dark blue piping on the collar and armband. I’m not sure if it’s official, but he looks good in it.

Further up the block, we plop into a café. A round of espresso and fresh squeezed orange juice for Chris and I, and Straciatella for everyone else and we’re on our way again.

A side note here, somewhere along the route, Peter points out a store that sells the famous Porchetta sandwiches. I can’t remember if he said it’s the only place in Rome that makes them or the best place but now I’m sorry I didn’t stop for one. Even after a week in Tuscany, I still haven’t tried this delicacy - ah another reason to return.

We trek towards our next target, the Baths of Diocletian, completely off my radar. Along the way, Peter points out a building to us and tells me to remember its location. He also informs us that the Romanian mafia operates from a store in the basement. Hmmm-Wouldn’t that be like the Russian mafia operating out of Little Italy?

Anyway, we walk a bit farther and come to the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli converted from a part of the baths into the church by Michaelangelo. If I had realized how close we were to Santa Maria della Vittoria, I would have insisted on another stop but it would not be.

We viewed the church then walk a bit further on to the Octagonal Hall along the via Parigi. Inside, Peter shows us one of his favorite statues, The Boxer Resting. It’s an amazing statue, considering it’s age (from the first century BCE). The indentations filled with copper (?), that make it appear as if he’s bleeding, the gnarled nose, from being broken so many times, the tired pensive look on his face - incredible. I understand why Peter loves it. Sammi stares at the boxer’s penis. Poor Chris, I don’t think he fully understands what he’s in for in eight or nine more years.

At this point, after Peter relays a funny story of another little girl he knows and how she reacted (or I should say what she did) to a statue with an erect penis (still laugh thinking about it), he reminds us of the building we saw earlier where the Romanian mafia resides. That, he tells us, was the corner of the baths of Diocletian. Wow - that’s huge. Peter says the pool alone, could hold three thousand people. Amazing.

Well, it’s time to return to the hotel. Peter’s meeting another group at the Pantheon around 2:30 pm. We catch a bus back to the del Corso and walk back to the hotel. By the way, we pass the Cesari and the Regno several times when we take this route; they seem to me to be very well located.

Before we part, Peter convinces us to take a bit of a detour on our return route to Rome in two weeks. We had planned to take the A1 from Florence all the way back to the GRA then onto the airport. In Becky’s sketchpad, Peter draws a map for us to follow to Pienza where he says he’ll make a reservation at his friend’s restaurant, Latte dei Luna. Sure we’re game. We say our good-bye’s and hope to see Peter again on our next trip in 2003.

Everyone makes a quick pit stop in their rooms then we’re on our way to the Borghese. I had made a 3:00 reservation there before we left the States and we need to pick up our tickets by 2:30.

I could swear the 116 bus that I saw chug around the piazza earlier in the morning goes that way but I can’t be sure. Earlier in the morning, we made a quick stop at a tourist center to get a bus map but they didn’t have them. I made a note to buy one at a newsstand. Even if I don’t use it on this trip, it should help on our next.

Peter told us what bus to catch from the del Corso and we hoof back in that direction. We’re pretty good with this route by now.

After a long while (I mean long), a bus finally comes. Other buses came in the interim but not the one we wanted. We climb on board and don’t have to worry about stamping tickets because we bought those daily passes earlier in the day.

While we waited, Chris and I both noted the stops that the bus makes. This works much better than last time, as we count down the number of stops till ours at the Borghese - although it would be hard to miss.

We climb off and as we do so we notice that Angie’s picked up another person for our group. Angie does that often, starts conversations with people and sort of adopts them. Tamra (or Tamara can’t remember which), isn’t sure which way to go to the Borghese Gallery and I tell her we’re going there too. She walks with us to the Borghese (I feel like Robert, from AOL, giving directions).

We chat a bit. She’s meeting her husband in Rome later in the day after a business trip she took. They’re staying on the Aventine hill. I comment that it seems like a nice quiet area that I’d like to explore on another trip. After Rome, they’re renting a car and driving into Tuscany for a few days.

When we arrive at the museum, we pay for our tickets and are told we must check our bags downstairs before we’re allowed in; we must check everything. I’m a bit leery but what the heck. We have some time to kill, so Angie and George head to the café for some panini while we take the girls outside in search of some playground equipment or a nice shady spot.

We rest near a fountain under some trees as the girls pull their bubble guns out of their backpacks and begin to play. Unfortunately, after several drops, Sammi’s gun no longer works. We perform two or three operations, removing the casing and batteries but to no avail. It’s a gonner. She amuses herself now by chasing the bubbles Becky blows with her gun.

At about 2:50 we return to the Borghese, and I enjoy another schizophrenic episode as we check all our bags (even our hats) and wait in line. "Yes, George, you must check everything." "Yes Ann, you must check everything." "Yes Chris, you must check everything!" Get the picture ?

Tamara joins us as we enter the gallery. Bet she’s glad she’s on her own.

It’s not as big as I expected but still I’m impressed. We make a b-line for the Apollo and Daphne statue since I’d read the story to the girls before the trip. Becky’s into it but Sammi wilts quickly and Chris is forced outside with her to wait while we stroll through the museum.

Becky begins to wilt too - uh oh. Then she discovers the cards at the entrance to each room. They’re in different languages so she runs ahead of others to snag an English one so we can each read the stories together.

I love this technique of placing these cards in each room in several languages. I was in the Met last week and noticed that the museum only provides English descriptions next to the paintings in each room. I hope that visitors from other countries can obtain translations at the information desk else I fear we’re being totally inconsiderate to our foreign tourists.

Becky checks out the statues as well as the paintings. We check out the Rape of Proserpina, another story we had read. She gets a kick out of the Sleeping Hermaphrodite especially when I tell her what a Hermaphrodite is. Then she discovers the Caravaggios.

Becky’s drawn to the picture of David with the head of Goliath. Surprisingly, she’s learned a lot of stories from the first 5 books (Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses) but she hasn’t learned the story of David yet. So I tell her about David and his sling and point out the indentation in Goliath’s head. "Gross!"

She spies another painting, I think a Caravaggio and asks the story behind it. Unfortunately, I don’t know it; I’m not sure what it’s a picture of, so being on the ancient kings of Israel kick, I recall one that sort of fits the picture. Someone’s holding a baby, so I tell her the story of King Soloman and the two women who fought over the same baby.

When I finish she says, "It was a test, right?"

"Yep," I reply for both of us.

I’m still not sure about the painting or the painter and I can’t find it in the indices of Borghese paintings I’ve seen on the web. So if any of you would like to enlighten me, feel free.

We’re on a roll and check out the painting of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife by Cigoli. She know the story of Joseph but never understood why he ended up in prison. Another story later, we revisit some of the other rooms that we glossed over when we did not know about the English language cards.

Forty-five minutes later, Becky’s unfortunately had enough. I could have stayed longer and would have liked to make it to the second floor - ah next trip (noticing a theme here?).

On our way out we stop to eye the statue of Pan then hit the gift shop for more post cards and some magnets for the fridge.

Chris and Sammi are out front, Sammi splashing her hands in the fountain as Chris watches. I feel bad that he didn’t get to spend more time inside but later, he tells me that he had a great time hanging outside with Sammi watching her laugh at the pigeons as they splashed in the fountain. I know that feeling.

Since we’re in the park, we decide to head down to the "rides" or perhaps rent a surrey bike with the kids. AAG want no part of that. I think I pushed them too far with the tour this morning and the museum in the afternoon, so they grab a cab and head back to the hotel.

I’ll tell you though, by the time we meander down to the bike rentals in the heat, we all feel completely zapped. We stop by the rides but the girls are definitely too big and there doesn’t seem to be anyone in attendance.

We hoof it towards the bus stop where we run into Tamara again. We talk with her for a while as we wait and wait and wait for our bus. In that heat, direct sun, no shade, I thought I’d burn up. A 116 bus goes by several times but we didn’t want to chance getting lost with the kids on the verge of crankiness. So we wait some more. Finally, our bus comes.

The girls grab two seats, opposite each other, and each next to an Italian Signora. We stand next to them. As we approach our stop on the Del Corso, Chris and I turn to the girls.

"Do you have your backpacks?"

"Yes," They reply.

"Do you have Pinky?"

Sammi grins around the thumb stuck in her mouth and holds the cat up by the tail.

The bus stops ten seconds later and we climb off. When I hear, "Signora, Signora!"

I turn in time to see Pinky fly through the doors just before they close.

The Italian Signore smile and I wave and shout, "Grazie."

It will be a miracle if Pinky makes it back to the US.

We stop for some more gelato on the way back to the hotel, when it occurs to me, I’ve been in Rome for three days and have yet to have my own gelato! Can you believe it?

So it’s Sammi’s new favorite, Snowflake for her, Straciatella for Becky and honestly I’m not sure what I had. I can tell you over the course of our trip I did enjoy, Bacio, Nocciola, Banana, Melone, Limone, Mango, Tiramissu and hmm…well I know there’s another flavor that I’m missing.

When we return to the room, the kids want to take a bath. Sure, why not. We fill the tub and they turn the jets on. Of course, we forget to warn them not to put bubbles in the tub when you use the jets. I made this mistake the first night in our new home in St. Louis. Those bubbles were everywhere. Luckily, Chris steps in to check on them and sees them pour the bubbles and stops the jets in time.

After the bath (oh, and let me tell you how gross it was at the bottom with all their dirt washed off - yuck!), Chris tries to remove the stopper from the bottom of the tub. He can’t. I try, I can’t. Becky tries, she can’t. Finally, Chris gives up and calls the front desk. They say they’ll send someone up right away.

Chris got soaked when he tried to remove the stopper. Now, without thinking he starts to take his pants off in the bedroom, to put some dry clothes on before the "janitor" arrives. Of course, Chris had been dressing in the bathroom away from the prying eyes of our little girls, and I guess in the rush it just slipped his mind. It didn’t slip my mind.

"Chris, not here."

Chris blushes. "Oops, I forgot."

He quickly pulls up his pants but not before Becky chimes in. "Dad, it’s not as if we didn’t see a lot of penises today."

I laugh and Chris smiles when he says, "But none as big."

That’s when little Sammi pipes up, "None as hairy."

Gotta tell you, I still laugh at the thought of that.

The porter arrives a moment later with a plunger, and ten seconds after that the stopper is free. I guess this happens often.

After we’re all showered and changed for dinner, it’s up to the rooftop garden. Michele tells us the view at sunset is magnificent and tonight’s our night to watch it. Chris and I are on our own and our reservation at Il Convivio isn’t until 9:00.

AAG join us upstairs for a drink, or two, then around 7:30 they take the kids to Pasquales for dinner while Chris and I enjoy another round with the sunset before we head to dinner ourselves.

Now if anyone remembers our last trip to Rome, you may remember that we had a bit of a problem locating Il Convivio. The restaurant had moved from the time we obtained the address (from a guide book) to the time we arrived. Tonight wouldn’t be much different if only because the updated address listed the restaurant on via di Soldati when it’s actually on Vicolo di Soldati. It didn’t cause us more than ten seconds of consternation though.

I like Il Convivio, but it’s not for people who like a lot of food for a little price. Nor would I characterize it as "typical Italian" if there is such a thing or even typical of any specific region. The term nouveau comes to mind (oh and expensive)! But Chris finished a major project for his company last spring and as a thank-you they gave us some American Express Gift Checks, which we saved for this splurge.

They start us with an amuse bouche (sp) of fried tiny baby octopus. Yes I ate it and actually enjoyed. I also started with a glass of spumante (no prosecco). I can’t remember if Chris started with a martini or not.

Then the splurge started with a bottle of the Antinori Tignanello, which Chris had tasted before but I haven’t. A nice wine.

For my primi, I order ravioli stuffed with New Guinea hen and asparagus while Chris orders some sort of Tortellini - all I remember about his is on the menu it says, "this is a typical Roman soup." It’s good but not what he expected, the tortellini comes in a broth which has a fish flavor too it. My ravioli are delish though.

For our secondi Chris orders Pork with Mustard and Apples and I get Lamp Chops but again, I can’t remember the preparation. I do remember thinking, not as good as the Lamp Chops I had in 1999 but still good.

Finally, for "dessert" we do something we’ve never done before. We both order the cheese course, which is amazing. We both have a thirteen-year-old Parmigiano-Regiano and a Gorgonzola type cheese from Sardinia. I can’t remember the other two or three cheeses we try but they were all fantastic.

We end the meal with a selection of tiny cookies the Captain places on our table and due espressi.

On the way home, Chris believes he can lead us and like a dodo I let him try. Well, when we finally end up near the Sacra di Largo Argentina (totally off course), I take over and guide us home.

Sammi’s still awake and wired but Becky’s asleep. We say goodnight to Ann and George as they head back to their rooms, babysitting duty now complete and turn in for the night.

June 16 - Just One More Mint​

Sunday would be a slow day. The original plan, as outlined in the pre-trip twenty-one-page itinerary, called for a trip to Ostia Antica. Call me crazy, but the idea of walking around those ruins in 95+ heat without shade didn’t appeal to me. So on Saturday afternoon, I made an executive decision and bagged the trip.

We woke relatively late this morning, around eight or so. Well, late for me but the norm for everyone else. After our normal breakfast of chocolate cornetto and cappuccino for Becky and I, frosted Rice Krispies for Sam, and well, whatever Chris ate for him. We split up for a while.

Chris and AAG head to church. I had done my pre-trip research and determined there were two English masses on Sunday, one at San Silvestro and the other at Santa Susanna. San Silvestro was closer, and with Chris and George’s propensity to get lost (did I mention the previous night George got lost a dozen times trying to navigate from Pasquales to the Piazza Navona with the girls? Finally, Becky navigated him back to the Piazza della Rotunda and they called it a night), anyway I decided San Silvestro would be the better choice.

The good Catholics in the group head off, and the Jews hang around the Piazza della Rotunda for a while. We play in the fountain, we draw pictures, and the younger ones convince the older one to buy them two of those mechanical cats that meow and walk. Well, I guess, since it came out of their money they bought the cats themselves. Playing with those cats, took up the remainder of the time while we wait for our pious travel mates.

When they return, Chris informs me that San Silvestro is an English mass as in England the country. Hey, I’m a Jew. How am I supposed to know there’s a difference?

I made another executive decision while they were gone, this morning, we’d rush over to San Clemente to see the dig underneath the church. Becky really wanted to go, and I wanted to appease her. They close at twelve (or was it twelve-thirty), so no time to change; we head over to del Corso to hail some taxis.

Chris waves one down going in the other direction and the driver does a u-e on a relatively empty Corso. Chris, Angie and George hop in and take off. Hey, how did that happen that I’m left with both kids?

Okay, how do you hail a cab in Rome? I have no idea but I give it my best NYC try and within a few moments and another u-turn later, we’re in.

Our driver speaks very little English, and either I’m not clear on our destination or he’s taking advantage of us but I doubt the latter. Either way I don’t mind though because I’m speaking Italian with him and I think he understands me for the most part and it’s fun. It’s also here where we discover Ann and I make a good team.

Ann’s mother and father were from Sicily but she was born in Joisey. Growing up, she didn’t learn to speak English until she went to school at the age of six. Although she can’t speak Italian any more, she understands it.

Our driver speaks fast, and I can’t catch what he says all the time but Ann translates, then I answer, a good combination.

Eventually, he drops us off at a church, which didn’t look familiar to me but I thought, maybe a side entrance?

It didn’t take five seconds after he drove away that we realized this wasn’t the place. I think he thought we wanted to go to a mass at a church near San Clemente.

Anyway, my sense of direction tells me we can’t be far off though but which way? We walk down the street and look around but I’m not sure. We walk back to the church just as a mass lets out.

Three Italian Signore vechie strolled outside and I ask them, "Dove San Clemente?"

They converse (i.e., argue) among themselves for a moment then, give us directions - end of the block then right, all in Italian, with Ann translating and me answering.

We hoof it down the street and make a right on the Via Labicana for a few blocks in the beating sun and there we are with Chris and AG standing outside waiting. Well, so much for our quick start.

We head inside, and get behind a large group of American tourists as they figure out how many tickets they need for admission. Hey, we know how many we need may we go first? Nope.

Finally, we purchase our tickets and head downstairs. I do my best Peter Kilby impression and drag everyone down to the lowest level so we can work our way up through time. San Clemente is a great example of how Rome is built atop itself with the treasures of the ancient world being used as no more than landfill for the Medieval world, sad but true.

The girls love it and immediately start an impromptu game of hide and go seek or tag among the ruins. AAG actually seem impressed too. Me, at this point, I’m enjoying the cool air of the subterranean environment.

San Clemente is definitely more crowded than the last time we visited. Then, we were the only ones in the church, and I honestly don’t remember paying to enter the ruins (not a lot, I think $3). This time, a good two-dozen people mull around downstairs, and I am struck with a thought for the second time on this trip. You cannot recreate the memories of the past.

We must leave after exploring the downstairs as the church is closing. We head outside and Chris hails another taxi on Via Labacana for our return to Piazza Della Rotunda. George says they can get back on their own, and I ride with Chris and the girls.

When we return to the Piazza, Sammi reminds us of her promised horsey ride. Chris begins the negotiations with a driver parked in the shade in front of the Pantheon. The piazza’s not yet crowded, so we’re hopeful.

He wants $150. Yikes, "No grazie."

We depart but he calls Chris back and explains the tour - it’s actually nice. They take you past the Trevi, through the Piazza Navona and all the way up to the Spanish Steps. It’s not a bad tour but we don’t want to spend $150 bucks. All we want is to satisfy the promise I made Sammi in the cheapest way possible.

Chris explains this to him and says, we really only want a fifteen minute ride. He thanks him again and we head towards the hotel with Sammi’s lower lip blubbering.

He calls back, "How much do you want to pay?"

We’re in. We tell him sixty euro, and he consents.

We climb aboard, Chris, Becky, Sammi, Pinky and I. Sammi has a grin around the thumb that seems perpetually stuck in her mouth. Here’s one of the many moments that although we took around 200 pictures, I regret I did not capture.

He drives us down towards Area Sacra Argentina, down Vittorio Emanualle, up towards the Piazza Navona, and back to the Pantheon. All the while, he gives us little tidbits of information and Sammi beams.

When we return to the Piazza, we run into AAG. It took them over thirty minutes to get a cab. They ended up walking towards the taxi stand at the Coliseum, bummer.

We head to Pasquale’s for lunch while AAG, change and rest. There, I finally get to try the artichoke pizza Chris had been raving about since the first day. We order downstairs while the kids run upstairs to snag a table. We split, the artichoke pizza, a sausage and mushroom, and a potato. Within a minute or two, as we wait for our pizza, Sammi runs downstairs yelling, "Peter’s here." She’s got a big smile on her face like she ran into a long lost friend.

He’s just wrapping up another tour before he heads back to Montepulciano. He tells us we’re set for our lunch in two weeks at Latte dei Luna in Pienza and also to call him if we need any help with anything while we’re there. We say our good-byes again and head upstairs to devour our pizzas. Chris was right, that Artichoke pizza didn’t stink.

After lunch and more gelato, Chris returns to the hotel room to nap while the kids play. I use the facilities then head back outside in search of an Internet café. I ask in the lobby and they tell me there’s one around the corner from Santa Maria Sopra Minverva but it may not be open.

I head in that direction and find it almost caddy corner (sp) to the Hotel Grand Minvera. The owner/manager tells me he’s not open yet but will be in quindici minuti. I wait.

After thirty minutes on-line, checking e-mail and 2.80 later, I head back to the Piazza. I spy Angie and George at one of the outdoor cafes enjoying a tramezzini and some wine. I join them for a while as they order some gelato to share. Eventually, they depart, leaving me with the crowds, the table, and my journal (but not the bill).

I sit there, sipping my wine and watch the world go by. See it can be better than the early morning hours alone in the piazza but not by much.

I watch the man dressed as Egyptian statue. The kids love putting money in his box and watching him bow. Earlier, we’d seen him strip the costume off before he soaked his head in the fountain. Sort of ruined the mystique. A woman puts money in the box, and walks away, her back to him and doesn’t even see her bow. What a waste.

Around 5:00 I head upstairs and gather the troops to head to the Trevi Fountain. It’s time to throw in our coins.

We march back towards the Corso on one of our now familiar routes. Along the way, the kids want more gelato. You’ve got to be kidding. I finally draw the line - not until you have something nutritious first. They spy one of those newspaper stands that also sell fruit and each devours an apple before another round of gelato.

I can’t believe how crowded it is at the fountain. The last time we visited they were cleaning the fountain for the Jubilee and it was empty. Now, I’m sorry I didn’t take advantage of my early risings and head here in the wee dawn hours.

We nudge our way down to the lower level and sit on the edge when some people vacate their spots. The girls and then the adults toss their coins over their shoulders. We sit for a bit longer absorbing the ambiance and watching Sammi dip in her feet. Then we’re off. I figure we might as well do the "full tour", and we head to the Spanish Steps. We wind through some back streets and end up following several tours in different languages towards the steps. It’s tourist central and we’re right in the middle of the throng.

The kids, of course, love the fountain in front of the steps and take turns drinking from both ends. Chris fills our bottles then we decide to climb to the top while Ann waits below.

The kids get up there pretty quick and Sammi takes off for the church behind the steps, Santissima Trinia dei Spagnoli. She thinks the steps of the church are a continuation of the steps we just climbed. We call her back and peruse the different watercolors exhibited by the artists who hang at the top of the steps. Each girl wants to purchase one. Now this is a souvenir I can get behind.

We head back to the hotel via the Via Condotti. Those are some amazing stores and I’m thinking, when I finish dropping this weight and keep it off for a year, I’m coming here to do some shopping.

Becky, who’s checked out almost every store we’ve passed doesn’t truly appreciate the status of the stores we now pass. I tease her that she should have Grandma Diane take her shopping on this street instead of Old Navy. I get the two-syllable mom for a reply.

We return to the hotel, shower, pack our bags for our morning departure and head back out for dinner. Dinner tonight is at another Pauline Priore recommended restaurant, L’Orso Ottanta (phone 06 686 4904) on via del Orso. I have one word for this place. Go.

When we arrive the restaurant is empty and a waiter leads us to the back of the restaurant, past the kitchen with smiles. In the back, rows of long empty tables fill the room, and we seat ourselves around one.

No sooner do our butts hit the seats than they bring out a flat bread I’ve never seen before. I’d equate it to a thin crust pizza without any toppings - definitely done in some sort of brick oven.

We start to pass the bread around when some bowls of marinated eggplant and marinated zucchini arrive. Wow, pretty neat. Yet, we’re not done. A plate of slice tomatoes in some olive oil arrives followed by Buffalo Mozzarella. Mind you, we haven’t ordered anything yet, nor have we seen a menu.

Before this third waiter departs we ask for some of the house red wine, which he smiles and grabs off the wall. Two bottles I believe followed by some aqua fizzante

Now we’re passing these plates around, moving things around on the table to make space when some marinated mushrooms, prosciutto, sliced melon, and beans arrive. Oh my.

We order some plain pasta con formaggio for Sammi and I ask if they have vongole. Our "main" waiter nods, and I ask for a large plate for mia figlia. He nods, "con spaghetti?" Nope, "Solo vongole." He nods and leaves as some more waiters appear with suppli, fried eggplant, fried zucchini, some sort of pasta, and some sort of meatballs.

Needless to say, we chow down.

We’re passing plates back and forth, trying to coax the kids into eating something while they wait for their food. They devour the melon, which is sweet as can be.

Eventually, a waiter arrives with a bowl of spaghetti for Sammi. That’s when I notice our waiter leave the kitchen with a heaping platter of clams for Becky.

"Oh my gawd, Becky," I say.

Chris turns to see what’s made me bug-eye. "Oh my god, Becky," he says.

The waiter places the heaping platter in front of Becky and she says, "Oh my god, Becky." We laugh, and she goes to town on those poor defenseless clams. They didn’t stand a chance.

Time goes by and we’re feeling pretty satiated on this huge assortment of antipasti when our waiter hands us some menus. Oh my, we need to order dinner?

None of us can bear to eat a dinner now and I’m not too sure the waiters actually expected us to, but we decide to get some dishes and share. We order some grilled prawns and grilled fish to share among five adults. Not too bad, Becky actually likes the prawns once we cut their heads off.

We top off this food orgy with some chocolate gelato for those that eat chocolate (i.e., Angie and Ann) and some baby strawberries in lemon for me.

Can you believe we stopped for gelato on the way home? I feel like that incredibly fat man in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life just before he explodes when the waiter says, "Just one more mint, it’s wafer thin."

Yet, how can you say no to gelato? We get straciattella for the girls, limone for Chris and a combo of bacio and banana for me.

As we leave the Piazza Navona towards our Hotel, we hear some explosions and turn to the night sky to see fireworks. I don’t think any of us want to leave Rome tomorrow.

June 17 - Planes, Trains, Boats and Automobiles​

Monday ends up being another "slow" day only by virtue of the fact that it’s a travel day. We wake around eight and head down to our last breakfast at the Del Senato. The kids don’t want to leave Rome but I’m hoping they’ll love Venice too, especially the boats. I’m also hoping it will be cooler in Venice.

We return to our room and do one more sweep to make sure we’ve packed everything. It seems okay. It finally occurs to me to snap some pictures of the room, which I do. But duh, wish I’d thought of that when we arrived and the room looked much neater.

The Del Senato stores our bags downstairs and Chris and I head across the piazza to the Salumeria next to the ATM machine. AAG take the girls and our empty water bottles to the fountain to refill them for the train ride.

A woman works behind a register on the left and an older gentleman stands behind the meat counter at the back of the store. I’m not sure of the protocol, and after some mangled Italian I convey to the woman what we’d like and she directs me to the man. By the way, what is the word for sandwich in Italian ?

I order five sandwiches of prosciutto and salame. The man points to the front of the store. Hey, I told the woman already. Oh, he’s directing me to the rolls. He shows them to me, picks out five, and I nod my consent. He returns to the back and begins to assemble our sandwiches.

I feel bad b/c he’s busy making my sandwiches when a few businessmen enter. They all wait patiently as he handles my order. I’m not sure I’d receive the same reaction around here. Oh, let’s be honest. If I were one of those men, I’d probably give my standard arms crossed, foot tapping response.

While he makes the sandwiches, I grab some bananas for the kids. I know they won’t eat the sandwiches, and I also purchase a large wedge of Parmigiano Regiano, which Chris thinks is excessive, but I know my kids. Sixteen Euro later, we leave the store. Not a bad deal if you ask me.

We take our two bags of groceries, now filled with water bottles too and head back to the hotel, where they call two taxis. We’re not convinced two taxis can fit the nine of us with our luggage but the desk manager seems pretty sure.

He’s right. After some amazing organizational skills (these drivers should be great at Tetris), we’re in the cabs and arrive at Termini about 10:30.

Termini is a zoo. Probably, no different than Penn station at the end of the morning rush, but still a bit daunting keeping track of my "five" children , and which train we need to board. We hang in the main area, where I see a bar that sells some foodstuffs in addition to espresso/cappuccino. Believe it or not, they have Ritz crackers (a favorite of the kids). I buy some for them to nibble on the train. Now, I wish I’d saved that box. Oh well.

When they announce our train, the 10:55 Eurostar to Venezia, a mass of people stampede towards the binnario. We join in, me doing my best commuter impersonation, weaving in and out of the oncoming traffic to reach the track. Becky manages to stay right at my heels. She’ll make a fine commuter some day. We have to stop and wait three times for the rest of the gang though.

As someone mentioned on either the Slow Traveler Board or AOL, I check the train on the outside for our car number. Boy, does this work better than last time when we moved through the narrow aisle of the train with our baggage. When we arrive at Car 4, we move to the second, and least crowded entrance and begin to haul our bags onto the train and into the luggage racks.

BTW, before our trip I had asked about locking our bags on the train. I received various opinions with the pros and cons of each. In the end, we didn’t lock the bags. At each stop, either George or Chris would check the bags and it worked fine. We kept any valuables with us in our carryon bags though.

This train wasn’t like the one we took on our trip two+ years ago. That train had compartments of six seats. This train had groups of four seats (two facing the other two) on one side of an aisle, and two seats on the other (one facing the other), with a console table in the middle. Does that make sense?

Ah, back to the luggage. As we’re hauling those heavy bags onto the train, a man begins to help us store them. He seems like a train employee but I don’t see a uniform or an ID. I’m not crazy about it but the men seem grateful for the help.

After he helps us store the luggage, he asks for our seat assignments. Now I have the tickets and I know we’re not together, four were at one end of the car and three were at the other. Sally Watkins made the arrangements for us and she told me we’d probably be able to change seats when we arrived at the train so we could sit near each other. Though, at this point in the trip, I was quite content to be separated from the in-laws by a train car. I am a firm believer, that even in group travel with the most loving of extended families, alone time is a necessity.

Our faux employee glances at the first ticket in my hand, which is the group of four and leads us all towards that area. I tell him in my garbled Italian, "Non insieme," which I hope he understands as we’re not together. I’m telling AAG to stay back near their seats but George is listening to the man and following. I’m telling Chris and the girls to come with me to our seats but they can’t get past AAG. Urgh.

I tell him, again in garbled Italian, the three seats are at one end and the four at the other. He takes the tickets from my hand, which I’m not comfortable with, and continues to lead AAG. I’m going, "No." He’s telling Chris to stay put and he is. Okay - can everyone please listen to me!

After much going back and forth, and to the obvious frustration of everyone else on the train trying to get past us, we finally get everyone settled and get our tickets back. Then he asks me for a tip. Yai!

I can’t help but laugh. Our little helper smiles at me, I can’t remember what I said to him, but basically we both get the gist of the "game" he shang-haid us into. I reach into my pocket and realize I don’t have any cash. I tell him to get it from mio marito and he smiles larger. I think Chris gave him a few euro; hey he did help with the bags.

Nobody takes the two seats next to us, facing each other, so the kids move over there. After the train departs, some "train attendants" come around with a drink cart and some snacks. They do this after each stop, but will only serve you after your initial entry to the train. How do they keep track?

It’s a beautiful train ride, some nice countryside. I spend the time reading Aurelio Zen, A Long Finish, my favorite of his books so far. Chris takes out the digital camera and learns how to use it. The girls listen to their CDs and play with their polly pockets. About halfway through, we break out the sandwiches, better than any train food. The girls delight in the wedge of parmegiano I bought, and so do the adults. Chris and George get beer from the dining court. All in all, a very pleasant ride.

We pull into Santa Lucia about 3:45 PM. I love that approach to the city. We leave the train after most of the masses, and walk down the binnario to the main area, careful to stay in the shady side.

Well, I got my wish. I get to see Venice in the sun. Our last trip, it had been cloudy everyday. Only now, we had too much sun, and temperatures that are hotter than Rome. Yikes.

We leave the station and navigate the steps down. I know we talk about traveling for the disabled and here’s another note for someone to remember/ask? I don’t recall seeing any ramps as opposed to those steps; do they exist?

Masses of people wait for the Vaporetto as the sun beats down. Everyone in my little group looks to me for guidance. "Wait in the line I tell them but keep an eye on me." I walk past the Vaporetto line and find the taxis sans line. Forget that vaporetto s***. I wave to Chris and he herds the group towards the taxi where a man says it will cost us cinquantacinque (55 Euro) to go to the Pensione Accademia. Sold.

We climb on board. Ann, Chris, the girls and I stand in the back. George stands up front with the driver and Angie sits in the cabin. We try to convince her to come in the back with us but she won’t. They load our luggage and we’re off.

What a fantastic ride down the Grand Canal. I love this. The taxi takes us right to the Pensione Accademia and we depart and head inside while Chris pays the driver and helps with the luggage.

We’re whisked to our room, through the rear doors of the lobby, across the courtyard and right at the fountain. There’s a nice patio in front with a table and two chairs. I described the room in a previous post so I won’t repeat myself here.

After we quickly unpack, it’s time for us to head out in search of dinner and gelato. Chris is worn and opts to hang in the room. Actually, by this point in the trip I think we’re all getting a little "worn."

We ask the clerk in the lobby where is the nearest gelataria and get easy directions. He’s also going to try to contact a restaurant for me, to see if we can get a reservation that night. We had reservations for Tuesday and Wednesday night but nothing for Monday night, and this, being Venice, it seems like many restaurants are closed on Mondays.

We leave the Accademia, cross a bridge and walk along the Rio San Trovaso past another bridge where we come to a corner gelato store where some kids (i.e., teenagers) are hanging around. I think one of their group works behind the counter and they come to visit him because we see them here often.

I’m not impressed with this stores selection but the price more than makes up for that - 85 cents for a nice size cone, wow. They don’t have snowflake but they have fior de latte, which is the same color. Sammi thinks it’s the same flavor and orders it. She’s happy although I do detect a different taste, not as much vanilla. I get mango, which is good and Becky tries Crema but she didn’t like it. I’m getting annoyed b/c she wants another cone and why like an idiot am I telling her no when they’re only 85 cents.

We "discuss" and leave without her getting another cone but within a few minutes I feel bad and promise a return trip later in addition to letting her have some of my cone.

On the way back up the canal, I spy an enoteca with cichetti in the display case. I don’t know how I missed these establishments on our last trip but one of my promises for this trip was to not pass it by. I make a mental note of the location to return later.

We cross the bridge again and head down Calle della Toletta to Fondamenta Toletta. The name worries me, as this is the only place/time in Venice where I experience that much argued smell. Please, believe me. It is there, if only for an instant. Please, believe me, if we were in NYC and it was 95+ degrees outside, it would be much worse.

We end up in Campo San Barnaba, after stopping at several stores my kids ogled along the way. Not to mention, more gelato places – not the cone kind but ones that sell our equivalent of good humor.

I’ve overshot my mark. I’m in search of a restaurant I heard of on the Slow Traveler Message Board. It’s called Osteria Vini Padovani on Calle dei Cerchieri. You see, originally we thought we’d dine at Posta Vechie tonight but then decided it was too expensive. So while the desk clerk at the Accademia tried to get us a reservation at another establishment (I think Da Sandro), I thought I’d check into this Osteria.

It’s supposed to be a small place that caters mostly to a Venetian lunch clientele and the menu is a blackboard posted at the front of the store.

I remember Dale from the Slow Traveler board mentioning construction, so we back track a bit and find the appropriate path. I check the menu and think we’ll all be able to find something appealing and we head back towards the hotel to tell the others.

Of course, though, I stop first at this tiny enoteca I found. I stand at the counter and order the girls due coca-cola, which they take outside to enjoy while sitting on the steps of one of the bridges. There’s a small black dog they’re trying to entice to play with them, besides it’s awfully hot in the wine bar.

I order a glass of white wine, which the "bartender" (what would be the appropriate term?), pours me from an un-labeled bottle. Oh, is that good and refreshing. It goes down way too quick.

Wines from all over Italy cover the wall opposite the wine bar. I search the bottles looking for some of our favorites and find them high up. My smiling bartender returns his attention to me from the solo Japanese tourist to my right and the Venetians to my left and asks if I’d like another glass of wine.

"Si, si, si e prendo delle cichetti, per favore."

He smiles, and I point to some I’d like to try. He nods and throws a few of his own favorites on the plate too - sure I’ll trust his judgment. I end up with a plate brimming with little snacks, two different kinds of bacala on crostini, anchovy draped over a tiny cipoline, some sort of beef dish, artichoke, salame - yum. As I’m about to dive into my snack, Chris arrives. He’s tracked me down .

I’m feeling pretty good about this place, thinking, Ah, I finally stumbled on a cool place all on my own without the help of a guidebook, newspaper, the boards or magazine. Then our bartender and I talk some more in my broken Italian, and he pulls out a copy of Gourmet magazine and shows us an article about the wine bar. Oh well, I smile and tell him he’s famosa.

It’s called Enoteca Cantinone Gia Schiavi on San Trovaso (just down the canal from the restaurant San Trovaso) and apparently it’s on the radar of many people, so much for my find .

We nibble away on our cichetti and enjoy another glass of wine. Chris snags a bottle of Allegrini, which we hadn’t heard of before from the wall and our bartender recommends another bottle. We buy both to enjoy on our patio later after we find out that the Enotecca closes at 10:00 (I think that was the time).

We finish up and tell our "man" we’ll see him a domani and head back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. There’s not much point in freshening up, with the heat outside but we give it our best shot. I do some laundry and the kids watch cartoon network, which they love (English cartoons with Italian commercials).

I check with the clerk and he’s unable to get anyone on the phone at Da Sandro. Later, I check my guidebook and realize they’re closed for the month of June. Well, it looks like it’s the Osteria tonight.

Around 8:00 we meet in the lobby for dinner and head to Osteria Vini Padovani. The kids pull us past our turn-off to show Chris a store they found earlier that has tiny glass animals. It’s located at the corner of Campo San Barnaba and it’s really only a Tabacchi. I’m not even sure those animals are glass but the kids love them. We promise to return and head onto the restaurant.

We’re the only ones there and they push two tables together. Really, this Osteria is more like another enoteca with a few tables. As Amy from Slow Traveler said, "The two guys who run the place are delightful, and the only English they speak is OK. Works for me." Works for me too.

I order spaghetti Bolognese, Chris has black spaghetti w/ cuttlefish, Sammi plain spaghetti and Becky orders spaghetti con vongole. Sorry can’t remember about AAG. Everything’s delicious except for Becky’s spaghetti con vongole. The clams are not in the shells and she’s not into picking them out of the pasta nor is she into the spaghetti.

Now, you have to know Becky. She doesn’t throw tantrums. When she was about nine months old, she tried to throw a tantrum and I held her off the ground, looked into her eyes and said, "Listen babe, the only person in this family who gets to throw tantrums is me. So cut it out!" I can remember only one other tantrum she threw in her life but that’s it.

Instead, she sits in her seat with a major sour puss on her face that drives me just as crazy. We get into another row. Basically, the heat and being the only "decision maker" of the bunch has worn me down, and I’d site this moment as my low point of the trip (well, this and about 30 minutes after we returned to the hotel after picking up our rental cars in Florence but at least then I kept it to myself).

Oh and those two poor sweet men who run the Osteria, they try to think of every dish they could bring to her that she might like but she’s beyond appeasement. I tell them she likes gambieri but they don’t have any and the more Becky sulks the angrier I get. We all feel bad.

However, within a few minutes and a chug of wine later, I feel a bit calmer and remember I’m supposed to be the "adult" in this relationship. I spy some biscotti in a jar on the counter at the front of the store and ask our guys to skip dinner for my eldest and bring on her dessert, which they gladly do. Becky quietly and eventually happily nibbles away at her biscotti while the rest of us enjoy our pasta. Another crisis solved.

Our pasta dishes are very filling and the heat dulls my appetite (not to mention the cicheti earlier) but they have bacalla prepared 3 ways with polenta on the "menu". I enjoyed the bacalla earlier at want to try it, so Chris and I both order it. It’s good but I’m overstuffed and cannot finish. George orders some sort of grilled fish and Ann and Angie skip a secondi.

We finish and as we leave, our two friends tell us to come back the next night and they promise to have gambieri for Becky. We didn’t return because the next night we had reservations for Corte Sconta but I’ll tell you, not returning was one of the bigger "Wish I Had" moments of the trip. I know they would have had the shrimp and I know they would have made us feel completely at home.

After dinner, it’s back to our gelato place for another round. Becky plays it safe with straciatella and Chris of course has limone. Later on, he would pronounce this limone the best of the trip.

When we return to our rooms, we get the kids comfy in bed with the cartoon network on then retire to our porch with Ann and George. There we open the bottle of red the bartender from the Enoteca recommended earlier and enjoy the quiet of Venice, some wine and cigars before turning in around midnight.

June 18 - Alfred Hitchcock's Got Nothing On Us​

I need to backtrack here for a moment. I’m not sure if I mentioned the fact that we borrowed an Italian cell phone from a friend before we departed. We intended to buy a second phone when we arrived in case our group wanted to split up and we needed to communicate but it quickly became apparent that wouldn’t happen.

Anyway, while in Rome I called Venice to make our dinner reservations for tonight and Wednesday night. Chris sat next to me on the bed of our hotel as I handled the reservations in Italian and seemed extremely impressed. I felt pretty smug because until that moment Chris couldn’t understand my insistence for bringing a cell phone but from then on he didn’t question the convenience of it.

Let me also offer one more point here simply because I can’t remember if I mentioned it before. I am quite sure that I did not need to speak Italian in many of my situations. I chose to do so because I’d spent so much time learning even my remedial level. I felt grateful and excited when people answered me in Italian and encouraged my use. I guess my point is; I hope no one is reading this and feeling as if they can’t travel to Italy or handle arrangements on their own because they don’t speak the language.

Now on with our regularly scheduled programming.

I wake on Tuesday morning around eight and spend an hour doing laundry before the others rise. Everyone’s still asleep so I head to breakfast on my own. It’s a nice breakfast with eggs, cereal, fruit, croissants (cornetti), salami, and cheese.

While I sit there and enjoy the ambiance of the garden along the canal, admire the tenacity of the pigeons as they peck out the food left behind by other diners and sweat from the early morning heat, I glance at the itinerary I created prior to our departure.

Uh oh, I thought we’d do the Secret Itinerary Tour this morning and while I was so busy handling our dinner reservations from Rome, I totally forgot to make our reservations for this tour, so much for smugness.

Eventually, everyone meanders out to the patio for breakfast. I think we’re all getting "toured" out but I’m determined to push on. We decide to head over to Piazza San Marco via the vaporetto. The girls aren’t crazy about that idea. At this point, they’d much rather stay in our cool air-conditioned room with the Cartoon Network, but I pry them with the boat ride.

We walk to the Accademia stop and purchase two 24-hour family passes - one for a family of four, which is 30 euro and the other for a family of 3 at 24 euro. I’m not sure if this ends up being a deal or not but it’s definitely convenient not having to buy and stamp a ticket each time we ride.

The girl in the booth asks if we intend to use the tickets right away, to which we answer, "Si." She validates them and hands them to us. "Grazie."

We head to the platform and wait for the boat to take us to San Zacharia. It’s not a long wait and we climb on board a pretty crowded boat. We’re on for no more than a few minutes when we spy a dragon boat filled with children. Chris quickly snaps a picture but I’m afraid it didn’t come out great - still glad we saw it though.

We depart at San Zacharia and the kids and Angie’s eyes immediately light up. All those chotchkey stands! They’re in heaven, and I am in hell.

Well, at least the kids first stop to look at the watercolor paintings, an acceptable souvenir . They each purchase one. Then Becky decides to purchase a blue visor with Venezia printed across it, to keep the sun from her eyes. Okay, that’s acceptable too.

After we tear the crew from the vendors we’re off to the piazza. It’s pretty darn crowded in this area, more so than I remember from our trip in Nov 1999. Of course the girls spy the pigeons and the man selling food and of course they want to feed them.

I’m not crazy about the idea since I come from the school that pigeons are rats with wings. But, then again, I’ve been partial to certain rodents (AKA guinea pigs). Ah, what can it hurt? We buy two bags of food for two bucks. They gingerly toss the food into crowds of pigeons, daintily moving to avoid stepping on any of them. I’m not sure what came over me but I decide to get into the act.

I hold one of the bags of food and place a few kernels in my hand. I’m not swarmed but a bird lands on my arm and pecks gently at the food. He even lets me pet him. Yeah, I know most of you are going "Gro-oss" in your Becky imitation with two syllables but it really wasn’t so bad.

After seeing me, the kids get into the act and it’s not long before both girls have birds perched on their heads, shoulders and arms. They’re professionals.

We run out of food and the kids want to do it again. Okay sure, other than gelato eating times this is the happiest we’ve seen them in this unbearable heat and for only two bucks it’s worth it. We convince Angie and George to do it and that’s a laugh riot. Meanwhile, Chris shoots away with the camera and I notice other people snap pictures of us too. I imagine we’re in a few photo albums around the world right now.

As we finish, some teenage boys walk by and one of them kicks a bird, sending his feathers flying. It turns my stomach. It infuriates the old man who sold us the food. He screams at the kid, who keeps walking. Then, he chases him down, grabs him by the collar, spins him around, and scolds the sixteen year-old in Italian. I sure hope that kid understood. When the old man returns, he apologizes to us. "Capisco." I tell him. Yes, we all joke about pigeons being rats with wings but nothing deserves the treatment that kid dealt.

When we finish with the birds, I pull the kids to the side. Sure I let them cavort with the rodents of the bird world but now it was time to clean. I pull out some Purell from my healthy back bag and we all apply it liberally to our hands and arms. That’s when I notice those stinkin’ birds pulled my new coolmax shirt. Oh well.

Okay, are we ready to leave? Hey, where’s Ann? Uh oh, the allure of the chotckey stands overwhelmed her, and she followed their call like the children following the pied piper. We wait in the shade of the Doges Palace for a few minutes for her return and then move onto the Basilica.

A line? There’s a line at the Basilica. Ah, the disadvantage of a June morning compared to a November afternoon. The line’s length isn’t bad but its location stinks. The line stretches down the piazza in the blazing sun. I’m sorry - I love all of you but there’s no way I’m waiting with the girls in that line. I’m making an executive decision. We’re skipping this tour destination.

We head across the piazza and decide to visit the top of the campanile. The age challenged in our group balk, but when I explain it’s an elevator ride, they agree. We wait for a few minutes in line before we cram into the elevator and head to the top.

Wow, what a view. When I first told the kids what we were doing, they weren’t thrilled but the view and those view finder gizmos won them over. If you have kids, make sure you bring 1 Euro coins with you, so you can let them look through the view finders. I’m bummed though; we missed the noon bells, by 5 minutes. That definitely would have freaked everyone out.

We spend some time there, taking pictures, enjoying a slight breeze for the first time in days and then head back down. I offer to take the kids to a café and wait if AAG would like to wait in line to see the Basilica but they turn me down. Okay, you can’t say I ran roughshod over them.

We decide to meander through the back calle towards the Accademia and do some window-shopping along the way. We stop in a few stores to admire some glass pieces and masks. Ann buys the girls some earrings. The girls each buy a glass animal, Becky a swan and Sammi a dolphin.

By the time we reach Campo San Stefano we’re tired and hungry. We spy a restaurant serving incredibly large and incredibly thin pizzas in one corner of the campo. We plant ourselves down, at three small umbrella covered tables, all of us huddling towards one side in order to be in the shade.

I order a diavoli, Chris gets quattro formagio, the girls share a margherita and so do AAG. We also order some aqua minerale, aqua fizzante, due coca-cola (for guess who) and what we think will be a pitcher of beer. What it turns out to be is an incredibly large mug (like a ½ gallon worth) of beer. It becomes a "communal" mug as George, Chris and I pass it around.

The girls are fidgety so I let them run around the campo to play while we wait for our food. The other generation questions the wisdom of this. How can I explain to them that they’re probably far safer here in this campo then they are playing in our front yard at home?

The pizzas are good and hit the spot. After they finish devouring theirs, the girls return to the campo where they strike up a conversation with one of the vendors that line the exit towards the Accademia Bridge. He gives them each a cheap bracelet and they’re ecstatic.

While we eat, the Italy World Cup match starts and we hear Vieri score a goal. The entire restaurant cheers as word passes from table to table.

After lunch, we climb over the Accademia and decide rather than return to the pensione we’ll hop on the Vaporetto and head to the ghetto. I missed the ghetto tour on our last trip and I wanted to hit it on this one. Everyone agrees, their reasoning, as George puts it, "You’ve seen plenty of churches with us. We can see some synagogues with you." Mixed marriages are definitely an adventure for everyone affected.

We hop on a Vaporetto and I ask the lineman, "Fermata San Marcuola?" He nods, and we settle in as we meander down the Grand Canal.

Once we depart, we wander back through the calle to the ghetto. I like this area of Venice. It’s quiet. Residential. There’s a hardware store I spy I believe on the corner of Rio Terra San Leonardo and I wish it weren’t closed for siesta. I spy some things in the window I’d like to check out.

We arrive at the museum and learn the next tour is in about 20 - 30 minutes. We buy our tickets and head outside in search of some refreshment for the kids.

There’s a café diagonally from the museum to the left and we sit at a table, order some gelato (the good humor kind), some wine and some more water. Never in my life have I drunk so much water and peed so little.

As we enjoy the shade of the café, we listen to the soccer match and the girls run and play in the campo. Again I’m questioned on the prudence of letting them run free and again I’m stymied as to what danger they think could befall them in this nearly deserted campo.

Oh no. South Korea ties the game at 1 to 1. Now it’s time for our tour to start and we won’t hear the remainder of the game.

The tour takes us to two ashkanazi (i.e., Jews from Eastern Europe/Russia are referred to ashkanazi), and one Italian (aka Sephardic. Jews from Mediteranean countries are referred to as sephardic - - believe it or not there are differences in the organization of the synagogue, dietary laws and means of worship) synagogue. There’s another synagogue we do not see because it is the one currently in use.

The Jews of Venice rotate through their synagogues based upon season and holiday. One Synagogue is used for the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), one for Sukkot and Simchat Torah, one for the winter and one for the summer.

In the category of you learn something new everyday - the synagogue’s are on the top floors of some of the tallest buildings in Venice because nothing can be between you and god while you pray. In practicality, it means we have to climb several flights of steps to reach our destination in this smoldering heat. The synagogues we visit are not air-conditioned. I hope the summer synagogue is.

The ghetto holds some of the tallest buildings because the Jews were confined to this tiny island and were forced to build up since they could not build out.

Another tidbit I learned from our tour - the term Ghetto comes from the Venetian term for forge. The new Ghetto is the first or oldest ghetto and it derived its name because it was built where the new forges were located. The old ghetto is the younger of the two ghettos but was built where the old forges were once located. Makes perfect sense to me.

While in the second synagogue we hear some screaming outside. My first thought isn’t good. My second is that perhaps something happened with the world cup.

On our way from the New Ghetto to the Old Ghetto a man stops our guide and whispers something in her ear. She continues the tour, then pauses for a moment and touches her fingers to her lips as if trying to stifle a sob. She continues, "You’ll have to excuse me, but I just found out Italy lost their World Cup match."

No! We exclaim. They were robbed! It doesn’t take long for you to catch Italy fever here. After a moment of commiseration, we continue on.

Becky’s interested in the tour having just completed her first year of "real" religious school. Sammi could care less and opts to wait with Ann on the first floor of the last synagogue we visit.

I offer to book the Ashkanazi synagogue for Becky for her Bat Mitzvah. She replies by rolling her eyes and giving me the two-syllable form of mom.

After the tour, and some post card purchases for the kids (they want to send them to their religious school principal), we return to the vaporetto stop. Hmm, how should I say this, a bum sleeps curled in the corner. When we board the vaporetto, Sammi asks, "Momma, was he sleeping or was he dead?"

My daughter does have a way with words. I tell her he was sleeping and she wonders why he does that. I have no answer for her but I wonder; are there homeless shelters in Italy?

On our way back to our stop, we sit in different areas of the boat. The girls and I manage to snag some seats outside while Chris and his parents are inside. For the first time, some inspectors board the boat and one asks me for our tickets. I tell them in Italian that my husband has them and nod with my chin towards him inside. He nods and leaves us. Later in our trip, I witness them as they snag an American couple that didn’t validate their tickets. They don’t fine them but tell them to get off at the next stop and validate the tickets. Remember, people, punch those tickets before you board.

We leave the vaporetto at our stop and the girls are ready for another gelato. They’ve settled back into their flavors, fior di latte, and straciatella. Next stop, our enoteca where we enjoy some more cicchetti while the girls lick their ice cream cones as they sit on the bridge.

The black dog lays inside today and tempted as I am to pet him, I decide not to disturb his slumber. Ann joins us as we partake in a few glasses of wine and relax. At some point the girls come in confused because apparently a man approached them and wanted to show them something. At home, this is a major warning sign for "stranger danger."

I head outside with them for a moment and the man’s still there with some friends. From their clothes, I’d say they’re workmen from the area. In a combination of Italian and English he explains a boat passed by with a funny animal in it. He wanted to show the girls the animal. If I understood him, I’d say it was something akin to a ferret. Again I’m reminded of how sad we live here where we can trust no one with our children and overtures of friendliness from strangers must be viewed as threats. I hope Italy never experiences this change. I explain to the girls that it’s all right, and they seem content again to sit on the stairs next to the workmen and enjoy their ice cream as I return to my wine inside.

After we finish our snack, we return to the pensione to shower and change. About 7:00 we meet in the lobby to head to San Zacharia. Tonight, we’re trying for a gondola ride before our dinner at Corte Sconta.

We hop on the vaporetto and make the trip without incident. When we arrive we approach the gondoliers in front of the Danielli and the negotiations begin. In Italian I ask how much and the gondolier replies. The number he gives me is over 100 dollars. I’m not a quick listen, especially with numbers so I only understood the cento part. I tell him, "e troppo caro," and we start to leave.

He asks how much and I tell him we could have paid ottanta (80) to the gondolier by the Accademia. He replies that there’s more to see around San Zacharia. I give him that point but tell him no thank you. We start to leave and he drops his price to 100. We banter some more and then I realize the trip will take sessanta minuti, which will cut into our dinner reservation. I apologize for wasting his time and tell him we won’t be able to. He apologizes too and insists it’s his part to apologize not mine. We walk away again and he stops us one more time and offers us a 45-minute ride for 90 dollars. He says that will give us plenty of time to make our reservation and we agree. With his help, we cram in (we’re 7 people and normally the limit is 6). Sammi sits wedged between Chris and I but this is fine.

We pull out just before sunset and Ann smiles brightly. "I’ve always wanted to do this." She beams and I’m glad we paid - for that it would have been worth the original price of over 100 dollars.

It’s a nice tour he gives but unfortunately, I can’t remember the exact route he took. I’m sure it’s pretty standard. He takes our picture with San Giorgio Maggiore in the background - a nice picture. We pay him (I think Chris ended up giving him 100 anyway) and head to Corte Sconta.

It’s a longer walk than I remember and the younger kids love running ahead over each bridge. The older kids drag behind. On the water, it had seemed a breeze kicked up that might cool off the evening but by the time we arrive at the restaurant it’s hot hot hot again and Corte Sconta has no air conditioning.

Rita, the owner and the menu, seats us in the courtyard, which normally would be very nice but the heat oppresses us. It makes dining uncomfortable, and I’m afraid we didn’t enjoy the evening as much as we hoped we would. (Which is why I wish we’d returned to the restaurant from the previous evening).

Anyway, we order the seafood antipasti for four people (a seven course feast) and an extra order of ginger clams for Becky. Becky devours her clams and horns in on ours. They’re as good as I remember them. Sammi gets tagliatelli but she’s not crazy about it. Luckily, she’s content to play with her connect-the-dot book and wait patiently for dessert.

Next we order a round of primi piatti but no secondi. AAG and I order gnocchi with a crab sauce and Chris orders black spaghetti with speppia. We follow with dessert, two tiramisu, one gelato, one sambucca, and one zabaione. Everything’s good but not as good as I remembered - it could be the heat though. We ask for il conto and wait and wait and wait for the check. Our discomfort grows. Eventually, Anna takes the girls "outside" the restaurant as we wait a bit longer. Finally, the check arrives, we pay and head back to the vaporetto.

It does not take long for a boat to arrive and the girls and I snag some seats in the back. At the next stop, a man boards and eyes our seats. I fear he believes we shouldn’t be entitled to them and hovers near us. We arrive at our stop and no sooner do we stand than he sits.

Chris and George decide to enjoy another evening cigar on our porch but I’m tired. I settle the girls in, finish my Aurellio Zen and turn out the lights.

June 19 - You Know Your Guide is Good When...​

I’m up and out to breakfast first followed by the girls, Chris, Ann, Angie and George. The birds are aggressive this morning, before the others arrive, I leave my food outside to run back into the breakfast area for a fork, and I lose a cornetto with jam to them. It amazes me how they swarm to abandoned food quicker than my dog ever did.

At this point in the trip, I’m ready to have some down time with my family. I think the night before, at Corte Sconta, I hit my high point in frustration that came with leading a large group of people although I feel better now; I still want a few more hours of decompression. We decide to split for the morning and meet back at the pensione around eleven to head to the San Marco area for our lunch reservation at Da Remigio.

Chris and I take the girls and meander towards the Campo Santa Margherita. The kids love this time because we allow them to shop, as I had promised, to their hearts content. They purchase more glass animals (cheap ones from a tobacchi near Campo San Barnaba) - entire sets of cat, dog and swan families. They even get some for their friend Allison (who by the way will be joining us on our next trip less than 10 months from now with her parents). Then we spy some mask stores and the girls each buy a different cat mask. I want to find the mask store that Boleskine speaks so highly of but it’s hot and we’re tired. To give you an idea of how hot it is, our shirts that I laundered the previous day were still wet when we put them on in the morning but dried within 20 minutes.

We sit in the corner of the campo and enjoy some drinks, espresso for Chris and I and you guessed it, coca cola for the girls. Becky sketches some of the buildings in the campo while Sammi draws a gondola. Chris and I share the IHT. He’s distracted, upset, anxious and short-fused.

The girls run off as we talk a bit and I learn he’s hitting the pinnacle of his own frustration level. I don’t feel so bad that I felt bad about being tour director to his parents when I realize he has similar feelings. You could say misery loves company or you could say I found a gauge that told me my feelings weren’t so abnormal. It’s hard herding a group of three generations to any desired goal, especially if the older generation has never traveled. Previously, I think I equated it to a Mac Truck, hard to get going and hard to stop. We agree to be more supportive of each other and to not let the frustration ruin our trip.

As we finish our discussion, Angie and George stroll by doing their own bit of exploration and relaxation. And we realize, this will all work out.

We stroll around the campo with the girls. It’s much larger than I expected from what I’ve read but I can see why it’s the favorite of so many people. We window-shop and debate purchasing an early morning gelato but in the end pass. We have that lunch reservation after all.

Eventually, we return to the pensione, gather the rest of our gang and catch the vaporetto towards San Marco (after purchasing another round of daily passes). This time, due to the crowds on the vaporetto, we decide to depart San Marco calle Vallaresso rather than San Zaccaria. We have time and the girls want to feed the pigeons again - yikes.

As we stroll along Fondamenta delle Farine I spy a bookstore with a prominent display of Donna Leon books. E carro (10 Euro each) but I buy two anyway - A Sea of Troubles and a Venetian Reckoning. I’m tempted to buy more but think I’ll be able to purchase them at the airport if I still need reading material for our flight home. I don’t know what order the books are in but I don’t care. I started Death at La Fenice that morning and I love it, so I imagine I’ll love these too.

We move along to the Piazza San Marco where we feed the pigeons again. Now though, I’m reminded of a quote from one of those Donna Leon books about the tourists feeding the pigeons and I feel a bit guilty, as if Venice has so much more to offer than just feeding these pigeons and we’re not seeing that. I know that but I can’t help indulging my kids.

We’re off now to Da Remigio for lunch. As we wait for them to open, the girls and I check out a perfume store across the calle. Remember the heat I mentioned? Well, eight days into our trip, I’m feeling pretty stinky and decide it’s time to cover that up . I purchase something for myself and the woman who helps me gives me four or five free samples, one specifically a scent appropriate for a young girl (AKA Becky). She’s thrilled. Grazi Mile. So many shopkeepers have been so nice to the children.

We return to Da Remigio as they open the door for the small crowd that now waits outside. Normally, for lunch we grab pizza or panini, rarely doing a full sit down affair. But Chris loves Da Remigio, and they’re closed on Monday for dinner and all day Tuesday, so Wednesday is the only day we can eat there. To appease my darling husband, I made both lunch and dinner reservations at this restaurant.

Within fifteen minutes, the restaurant fills every table. We order a bottle of the Lungarotti Torre di Giana that our waiter here introduced to us two years ago and which we can’t find in the States. We search for him to say hello but he’s not there.

Becky orders a heaping bowl of vongole, Sammi, her usual pasta, I order prosciutto e melone and fritti scampi, Chris gets spaghetti and mushrooms and AAG order veal with wine sauce. It's a big lunch but good.

Afterwards we head back to the pensione via the San Zacharia stop. We can’t walk today because we’re meeting our guide Franca at 3:00. We stop for an afternoon gelato and for the first time I order my own limone. Okay, all of those of you who have laughed at Chris and his insistence to only eat limone I have to tell you, when it’s 90+ degrees outside, limone is an excellent and refreshing choice (Chris do you feel vindicated now? ).

We return to our room to use the facilities but find that the girls don’t want to face another tour. Ann graciously offers to remain with them at the pensione while Chris, George, Angie and I go. Personally, I think Ann didn’t want to face any more bridges. Honestly, I can’t blame her. I imagine her knees are screaming. So, Becky and Sammi stay in the air-conditioned room and watch cartoon network while Ann sits in the shade of our patio as we depart.

Pauline Priore recommended Dottoressa Franca Scoria Zanchi to us before we departed, and we arranged the tour via fax about two months prior. Originally, we’d planned to spend some time in Cannaregio visiting some churches and some private gardens. We confer though in the lobby and decide it is way too hot outside to expose everyone to the open sun of the gardens. We decide to stay in Dosoduro instead and visit some churches. I mention that I’d love to see San Sebastiano, and Franca formulates a plan of attack.

We start with the church of San Trovaso, which she explains is unusual because this church unlike others has two facades. She also points out a number of her favorite paintings within the church and provides a brief history. Please, don’t expect me to regurgitate the information here it’s too much but very interesting. At least now when I go back to read the Blue Guide I can nod my head in recognition.

As we depart the church, we stop in the piazza in front of the second façade (the one that doesn’t face the canal) and after we ask, Franca explains the cisterns we’ve seen all over Venice and how the water collection system worked prior to fresh water coming from the mainland. This fascinates Chris who’s into all things related to science and engineering. Amazing, she knows her art, her engineering and as we walk she provides a history of Venice too but she displays her real worth, when she plots our route based upon we’re she knows we’ll be able to walk in the shade as opposed to the searing sunlight. Now that’s a fantastic guide !

We stroll to San Sebastiano next where she tells us the story of Mordecchio (aka Mordechai). I love the story of Esther and Mordechio and how they saved the Jews in Persia from the plotting of the evil Hamen. It amazes me that a church in Venice contains these paintings by Veronese. Franco explains that the Venetians love things of beauty and the story of how Esther’s beauty won the heart of a king appeals to them. I wish Becky were here because like me, she loves the story of Esther too. Ah - next trip.

By the way, Franca asked the attendant to turn the light on in the sanctuary for us, which makes viewing the painting much easier. She points out Veronese’s tomb to us and his bust and we’re off to our next stop, Santa Maria dei Carmini. Another aside, there’s a $2 fee for entry to this church; I felt it well worth it.

Angie loves Santa Maria dei Carmini for her middle name (and Anna’s too) is Carmela. I know we spent some time here, and I know we viewed some paintings and spoke of the Carmelite order but forgive me because my notes are lacking and I cannot remember all that we learned.

After Santa Maria dei Carmini, we head to the Frari via Campo Santa Margherita. It’s wonderful when you realize you’re familiar with routes through Venice.

I love the Frari and will return to this church again to spend more time viewing some of the artwork. On the day we visit though, the church smells like oranges, from the poison they’re using to remove worms from some of the amazing woodwork that fills the church. Again, I’m reminded of the Donna Leon book I just finished, Aqua Alta, where we find that worms infected Brunetti’s kitchen table, and he must inject poison into the holes to kill them.

Titian’s Assumption, framed by the arch of the choir amazes us, as does the triptych of the Madonna and Child by Bellini. Finally, I noted another Titian, the Madonna di Ca’Pesaro, but as I read my Blue Guide I’m reminded that many wonderful works of art fill this church and I cannot wait to return.

After spending much time in the Frari, Franca leads us back to our Pensione, when we enter the Campo San Barnaba I comment that I know where I am, and she asks if we would mind finding our own way from there since she’s close to her home. Of course we don’t mind, we settle up and say our thank-yous and good-byes. By the way, if I’m not mistaken, the Campo San Barnaba is the location where Katherine Hepburn falls into the canal in the movie Summertime?

We return to the pensione, gather the children and head to our favorite wine bar (well it’s the only wine bar we’ve been to ). We get a round of cicchetti, crostini with baccala and parsley, anchovy with cipolline, Ricotta w/ pomegranate and some other sort of baccala – all delicious.

When we finish, it’s time to say our good-byes. Of all the things in Venice, I think I’m going to miss this place the most. Chris picks out two bottles of Allegrini Il Pogio to take with us and our wine man insists we try their dessert wine, Fragollini. I’ve never heard of it before and I’m not much of a fan of dessert wines but I try it. Gotta tell you, I love this wine. Served slightly chilled, he explains it tastes similar to strawberries.

He tries to convince us to buy three bottles but in my broken Italian I explain we can’t bring that many bottles back to the States (I know we’ll be buying more wines in Tuscany) and we settle for two bottles. I’m thinking I can enjoy one of these bottles at our house near Lucca next week. Another wish I had moment - I should have listened to the man and bought three!

We return to our room and pack for our departure the next morning. Then it’s off to Da Remigio again via the Vaporetto. We depart at San Zacharia and the girls love running ahead and leading the way to the restaurant. They did a good job too with only one wrong turn.

We order the Torre di Giana again, but they’re out and they offer to bring us a nice Pinot Grigio instead. Funny, they bring the Santa Margherita which we’ve been drinking at home (well, when my parents pay for the bottle ) for years. I spy the next table as they bring them an order of seafood risotto and I’m reminded of our first dinner at Da Remigio in 1999 when the waiter insisted it would be forty minutes for an order of risotto, and I wasn’t sure then if he was trying to convince me not to order it or setting my expectations. It’s actually one of our fondest memories of that trip and every time I make risotto now, Chris still exclaims, "It will be four-oh minutes."

Of course, Ann and I order it and very funny, he says forty minutes. We laugh, and then he too spies the next table that just received theirs and asks us to wait a minute as he runs into the kitchen. He returns with two orders of risotto. I know from our last experience when they make a batch, it’s usually more than two orders and often they’ll bring the table that ordered it the extra orders - tonight we got theirs .

Becky starts with a bowl of vongole again but she tried my fritti scampi at lunch and loved it so she also orders that for her secondi. Sam does spaghetti again; Chris orders his fritto misto that he’s dreamed about for 2 years, Ann and I get the fritti scampi too and Angie and George order veal Marsala. We also share a salad di pomodoro. After dinner, we return via vaporetto and head to our gelato place for one last taste before we turn into bed for our early rising in the morning.

June 20th - He's Got a Nice Butt​

We’re up early this morning to catch an 8:30 Eurostar to Florence. I do a final check on the room as Chris goes to the lobby to check out. I won’t repeat the minor fiasco to check out except to say you can read about it my opinions and observations and to say, I must be feeling pretty good because it doesn’t bother me. I chalk it up to "this is Italy and everything will work out in the end."

We prepare to board the water taxi when Sammi runs back inside for a moment. She returns with a big grin and a cornetto - they’d just started the breakfast buffet. Hungrily we eye her but don’t begrudge her for her ingenuity or quick thinking. The ride to the station is uneventful and somewhat depressing. You arrive, by riding down the Grand Canal, full of glorious sights and expectations. You leave, already missing the city.

Becky is proving to be a marvelous traveler. As we stare at the staircase leading to the station and try to decide our best course to haul up the luggage (we didn’t know about the ramp), Becky grabs her bag and drags it up - boom she’s done. She’s pretty much taken responsibility for her rolling Pullman filled with hers and Sammi’s clothes and it’s great. The rest of us follow her lead and soon we’re inside searching for our track.

The train hasn’t arrived yet, so we stop at the bar inside for brioche (not cornetto but they look the same to me) and cappuccino for me, espresso for Chris. Becky partakes in a cornetto con chocolate but called pane dolce by the bar sign.

Soon they announce our train and we head to the track. As we walk, I remind everyone that I know what I’m doing and not to listen to any strangers trying to tell them where to sit. Boarding this time goes much smoother and it’s not long before we’re on our way.

It’s an uneventful ride. The kids play; Sammi listens to her tape; they play War and I read Death at La Fenice.

When we arrive at Santa Maria Novella, we must wait in the sun, in an incredibly long line for a taxi. Boy, if I thought it was hot in Venice, I didn’t know from hot. Eventually, we load in to two cabs, Chris the girls and I in one and AAG in another. The cab driver tells us they’re very busy. There’s a male model convention in town. "Bene per me." I grin.

We continue to speak, Chris the driver and I, in a cross between English and Italian. Eventually he drops us at the Hermitage and we pay him $7 for the privilege, well worth it.

I’ve also spoken about the Hermitage before, so I won’t go into too many details here.

Ann, George and I ride up the tiny elevator to check in, leaving Chris, Angie and the girls with the porter and our bags. Eventually, everyone joins us as the porter brings our bags to our rooms. We’re on three separate floors and I’m sorry to say I forgot to check out Ann and Angie’s rooms. Although Ann’s happy because her a/c works.

I forgot to mention that in the Venice report, but just like the Del Senato, Ann’s a/c didn’t seem to work at the Accademia. Two in a row, we began to blame Ann for any problems as opposed to the hotels. .

We meet upstairs after everyone unpacks and then head downstairs to start our day. The Hermitage location is great, just off the Ponte Vechio. We head to the Nuevo Mercato where everyone takes a turn rubbing the boar’s nose. The kids, Ann’s, and Angie’s eyes light up at all the stands. Perhaps this was a mistake.

The girls want to buy hats to shade their eyes from the sun. I can’t blame them, and we try on hat after hat. Unfortunately, all are troppo grande except for one, which they don’t like. As we wrap up, we drag the older generation away from the stalls and try to find a place for some lunch.

We end up at a place, ristorante something, del Vin Santo. Sorry I can’t remember the name although we ended up eating lunch there three days in a row. Today, we sit at two separate tables right next to each other. We’re at the table next to the pizza oven and the girls like watching the pizza maker make our pizzas.

The girls order 2 margheritas, I get a Fiorentina (Tuscan sausage and peppers) and Chris gets his usual Quatro Formaggio (Chris is nothing if not constant ). I’m not sure what AAG ordered but it looked good. We also order 2 beers, which went down way too fast and 2 coca cola’s. Those pies hit the spot.

With our new fortification, we head towards the Duomo but first we stop at Perche No (via tavolini) for gelato. It was closed for renovation when I visited last November and I wanted to give it a try. The usual flavors for everyone although I can’t remember now what I ordered (Becky and Angie had Straciatella, Sammi had fior di latte and Chris limone). I’d still rate this third, I think after Carabe and Vivolis.

Wow, the Duomo - there’s nothing like turning a corner and seeing that hulking mass. Everyone’s impressed but men painting watercolors catch the girl’s eyes. We stop for them each to purchase one and this time I get in the act too. I buy a nice painting of Tuscan landscape filled with sunflowers. It’s small but perfect for a wall in our dining room, where it now resides.

We stroll around the Duomo and I give them as much information as I remember from Bruneleschi’s Dome by Ross King. We also admire the "fake" Baptistery doors. As we leave, we notice people leaving the church wearing shorts. We’re all in shorts today - sorry but eventually it gets too hot to do otherwise and we hadn’t planned on visiting any churches. Since we see that they’re letting those with shorts in, we decide to stop by again on our return trip. For now we’re off to the Accademia.

When we arrive, a huge line snakes from the building and it starts at a doorway with a sign that says, "reservations." This can’t be! Now even the reservations line is huge? I tell the others to get in line to be safe and manage to attract the attention of a young woman guarding the door. I tell her we have a 3:00 reservation, and she takes down the barrier and brings our crew to the reservations desk where we pay and then enter. Phew.

We check out the first room of paintings until I’m exhausted of stories to tell the girls about them. Then we head into the corridor that leads to David. As we pass the prisoners (slaves - which is it?), I explain to the kids how each of these statues was carved/chiseled out of a solid piece of stone. The prisoners are a great example.

As we come to the Pieta, Sammi looks to me and asks, "Why is she holding him?" Yikes, that’s a great story to tell my six year-old but we manage in her terms.

Finally, we move on to David. Again, Sammi stares at him for a moment then turns to me, "Why does he look so sad?" Sammi’s nothing if not perceptive.

We snag some seats behind David and enjoy the cool breeze that comes from a vent in the floor otherwise the museum is unbearable. I’m thinking these major works of art should be in a climate-controlled environment.

After we go over the story of David for Sammi’s benefit, Becky pulls out her sketchpad and asks me to sketch his butt. LOL - well of course I did - any good mom would. . So there I sit, among the art students, who concentrate on a leg or an arm, and I’m drawing the man’s butt. Some other tourists laugh as they go by.

I want to do an aside here. Sometimes people have wondered about us taking the girls to Italy - basically arguing they won’t remember or appreciate much if anything. I have to totally disagree. Sure there are points where they whine and we have to cut touring short but that doesn’t mean they’re not absorbing or appreciating the things we see and do.

Since we’ve been back, I’ve had multiple experiences, with each of my daughters that I know proves they absorbed and appreciated this trip. Last month, when we decided to take our next trip to Italy with some friends and their daughter (aka Becky’s best friend Allison), I heard Becky talking to Allison on the phone. She went into great detail about the David, explaining to Al, how this is one of the only David’s that’s not standing on Goliath’s head and that the tree stump part of the statue is required for balance. C’mon, how many nine year-olds know that? I’ll save the other story for my next edition since it relates to the things we saw/did that day.

Okay, off my soapbox and back to my regularly scheduled programming.

Where was I? Oh yes, drawing David’s butt. After we finished with our "art time," we checked out a few more rooms of paintings, bought some postcards and hit the road.

I’m still pretty stuffed from lunch and gelato but how can I walk by Carabe without a taste? We go for another round and this time I try melone. Should have stuck with the noccio. It’s at this point that I realize I’m just not a big melone fan. I’m too full to finish anyway but the girls have no trouble downing theirs nor does Chris have a problem finishing his limone. Although, he’s p***** me off a bit. He insists the limone in Venice was better than either Perche No or Carabe. I tell him he doesn’t know good gelato.

We return to the Duomo and head inside. No one stops us, in our shorts and the girls’ sun dresses but once we walk inside, I notice people wearing paper robes (think doctor’s office) to cover their outfits. Granted, our shorts were long and the girls’ sundresses had thick straps over their shoulders not spaghetti straps, but other than that I couldn’t understand the discernment.

I always find the outside of the Duomo striking but other than the cupola, the inside always leaves me feeling a bit bland. The girls want to light candles again and of course we let them, asking them to pray for cooler weather. I do notice that the dome seems much brighter today than on our previous visit. Then I realize it’s because the sun beats down on it today as opposed to November, when it had already set by the time we entered the church.

We stroll around and marvel at the frescoes (?) in the Cupola. The girls want to climb to the top of the Dome but we put them off until tomorrow. (Another regret; we should have just done it then).

We head downstairs to check out the excavations but opt not to pay. (Another regret; I would have liked to see Bruneleschi’s grave).

Off to our next stop - the Verrazzano wine bar. Robert and Kathie (from AOL) note that the advantage to traveling in the summer is the extra hours of daylight you have for touring. On the flip side, the advantage to traveling in the winter is you can hit the wine bar at 4:30 in the afternoon and don’t have to feel like you’re "missing something" by doing that.

We snag a table in the back corner on the bakery side, not the wine side and order some cinghiale salame for the adults, a cheesecake and chocolate torte for the kids. Where are we putting it all? We also share a bottle of Chianti Classico. After a few sips, Ann knocks over a glass and breaks it. I forgot to mention that the day before, Sammi broke a glass at Da Remigio, so we’re two for two. I think in total, we ended up breaking four glasses on this trip; I fear restaurants may close when they see us coming.

After our snack, Chris and AAG decide to head back to the room to shower and rest before dinner, but I’ve received a burst of energy and decide to walk to Gianini Guilio e Figlio to purchase the journals that I love so much. Okay, it’s my only motivation for being in Florence, to tell the truth . The girls want to join me and we head off.

We snap some great pictures of the girls and Pinky on the Ponte Vechio, and all of their eye’s light up at the sight of those gold stores. Again, I enjoy this time alone with the girls exploring more than most others. Honestly, if not for the fact that eventually I’d miss adult conversation, I think I could travel with just the two of them alone. Ideally though, I think it would be great fun to travel with each of them separately, one-on-one to give them some undivided attention.

We stroll up via de Guicciardini and pass the glass store where I’d purchased some limoncello glasses the previous November. The husband and wife who were in the store then are not there; I suspect the mother or mother in-law tends the store now. I notice they have a new set of glasses, with a lemon sticking out the side as almost a handle. I make a note to return with Chris and grab the girls, who waited outside as we head to the paper store.

The girls love Giannini Guilio too and each wants to purchase a journal. Becky wants to purchase a fountain pen, the kind you dip, too. Don’t ask me where they get these ideas. I squash the fountain pen idea and tell them they can each have one of my journals, if they start to write in the ones they already own. Of course they’re enthusiastic for that idea but I feel pretty safe in the belief that they won’t stick to their end of the agreement.

The shop owner and I speak a bit and I tell her how I returned to Florence only to purchase her journals. She laughs and hands me a business card with their website and says they’ll ship them to the States. "But now you’ve spoiled my reason to visit Florence each year," I respond. She laughs again. Hmmm - somehow since, I’ve lost that card.

The girls pick out some pencils that seem to be "wrapped" in Florentine paper and I buy five journals. Then we head back to the hotel for a shower before dinner.

The gang meets downstairs and head off to Trattoria Marione on della Spada. As we’re walking, I notice a lost couple and I actually give them directions. Impressed the heck out of my crowd - heck, impressed the hell out of me .

They seat us downstairs (nella buca I say to them and smile). Do you think the other restaurants have warned them about us because there’s no one else in the room? It’s all fine though b/c now we don’t have to worry so much about the kids behavior, not that they’ve ever been terribly misbehaved in the past.

We order some crostini Toscana, which isn’t crisp but still tasty and some Toscana salame and salada pomodori. We also get a huge bottle of the house red. Of course we have no trouble finishing that through the evening.

For my primi I order Tagliatelle with mushrooms. I’d so looked forward to some Ribollita but it’s way too hot for that. The Tagliatelle is delicious and I end up recommending it to another large party they eventually seated at the other table in the bucca. For my secondi, I’ve had an awful craving for roast chicken, so that’s what I order with some roasted potatoes. Like everything else, chicken tastes better in Italy, more flavor.

The kids order their usual pasta and I can’t remember what everyone else orders, mostly primi I think. I’m the only piggy that orders a secondi. The bill comes to $85 for all of us with soda and water too. Gotta love the prices and food at Marione.

After dinner, we stop for one more gelato near the foot of the Ponte Vechio and a bottle of cold water, before turning in. Unfortunately, the Hermitage is the only hotel that doesn’t have refrigerators in the room and my water warms through the night.

June 21 - Yeah, Mommy's Here!​

The squawking of several birds wakes me early this morning. Once again, I’m reminded of Mary’s gulls. By 7:30, I’m outside in search of a newspaper and perhaps a cappuccino. Imagine my surprise when I realize that unlike NYC, Florence does not rise with the sun. I’m reminded of my days commuting when by 7:30, thousands of people would stream from the Port Authority and the lines at the deli for coffee would be ten deep. Now, as I wander the streets to the Piazza della Signore, I’m alone with the delivery men dropping crates of bottled water and aranciata at the local cafes. I decide to return to the Hermitage and enjoy my first cappuccino as I lounge and write on the rooftop garden, sans newspaper.

Have I mentioned the incredible view from this rooftop garden? While I’m not crazy about our room in this hotel, this view makes that all go away. Although this morning, though early, it’s too hot to sit in the sun, so I opt for a nice corner in the shade. I enjoy my cappuccino and cornetto, brought by a young lady from the dining room downstairs.

At 8:40, I rouse the troops because we are scheduled to meet Pauline Priore at 9:30. Funny story about meeting Pauline, about 9:00 our phone rings and it’s Pauline, confirming the time. I think nothing of it until later when she tells me, for all of our planning, and trust me, this planning had been going on for sixteen months, we both forgot to confirm with the other where our gang was staying in Florence. Pauline had called three other hotels first, before this one, to find us.

We meet in the lobby on the fifth floor. It’s good to see her, as always she looks great. I introduce her to the crew, and we depart for our morning.

First we head to the Hospital of the Innocents (Ospedale degli Innocenti). Along the way though we make 3 stops.

The first, a map store on Via Condotta (www.maps-store.com). Here we purchase an Italian Touring Club map, which I’ve heard are the best for navigating around the countryside. Chris also purchases a tube in which we store the sketch of Becky and Sammi done in the Piazza Navona. It’s already gotten a bit crushed in our luggage but now should be protected nicely.

Next, we stop at a cigar store. George and Chris need to replenish their stock, totally taking advantage of the novelty of buying Cuban cigars without issue. Normally, Chris will smoke a cigar two, maybe three times a year (okay, I join him sometimes in this). But I can’t begrudge him these post dinner cigars and bonding moments with his father on this trip.

Finally, we stop at a bar for Becky to make a "pit stop." I haven’t mentioned this but with Becky, the non-camel along, I’ve enjoyed numerous espressi in numerous bars around Italy. And Becky’s become a pro at asking, "Dove il bano?" She’s even getting pretty good at understanding sinestra and adestra.

At last we’re off.

When we arrive at the ospedale, Pauline points out where the wheel rested on which people could leave their unwanted babies that would then be cared for by the orphanage (thus the name innocenti), no questions asked. The orphanage, founded in the fourteen hundreds, was the first institution of its kind. Of course, I can’t let this opportunity pass without commenting about leaving whining children behind.

Along the portico of the building are medallions of babies wrapped in blankets created by Andrea della Robia. I think Pauline’s a big fan of della Robia because we’ve had other discussions about him. The more time I spend with her the more I too appreciate his work.

Next, we view the frescoes in the courtyard of the church, Santissima Annunziata. Pauline does her best to explain the works of art at the kids’ level. I’m thinking she’s captured Becky about 50% of the time and Sammi less than that. Of course, after we arrive home, they both prove me wrong.

Last month, while eating dinner, Becky tells me Mr. C. (their art teacher), showed them some of the pictures we’d seen in Italy. Specifically, she talked about some of the cherubs we’d seen in a church in Rome. Then Sammi chimed in. "Yeah, and do you remember that picture with the eyes. It’s like the ones that lady showed us." Sammi speaks in her own short hand, so I pressed, "What picture with eyes? What lady?"

"You know, your friend in Italy. She showed us how some paintings have a person who’s always looking at you no matter where you go."

She blew me away because in that courtyard, one of the things Pauline taught them was that in Renaissance paintings, there’s usually someone who looks out from the action in the painting, to those people viewing the painting. Mr. C. had shown them a picture of Mona Lisa, and had commented how her eyes follow you, and Sammi went right to that moment in Florence. At that second, I knew I was going to travel as much as possible with the girls. They’re too cool.

After the church, we head to the Centro Mercato. Can you believe I missed this wonderful market on two previous trips? I can’t, but I can tell you I’ll never miss it again. As we stroll through the market admiring the foodstuffs and the produce, we stop to buy some strawberries and raspberries, which the girls devour. We continue strolling, the girls proud of their red smudged mouths and fingers. We decide to return the next day before our drive to Lucca.

By now though, we’re all fading. As we walk towards Santa Maria Novella, Chris spots a wine store with good prices. He wants to return later and Pauline makes a mental note of the address. Actually, now that I think about it, she may have taken him to a different store, which she said had better prices. Anyway, we walk past the church, deciding to bypass it for now since we’re hitting cranky time for both the kids and the adults. You know, I love seeing the sun in Italy but I’ll take touring in cool November days to this heat any time.

Anyway, past the church, we head to Pauline’s next surprise - the Santa Maria Novella Farmacia. It’s not my speed, but my children, all girl, love this place. First though, let me say, you can’t walk into this establishment without feeling decadent. It’s a feast for the senses. We stroll around inside as Pauline educates us on the history of the order and the building then it’s time for our purchases. We buy body lotion, in a child appropriate scent for each child. Thirty-two dollars later we depart. For the rest of our trip, the scent of that lotion fills their rooms. At home though, it’s great because it reminds me of our trip whenever they use it.

After the Farmacia, we head back towards the wine store, stopping along the way for gelato. It’s about noon, so I don’t have a problem with this. Chris continues on the street as I stop with the kids, then we catch up when our first gelato disaster of our ten days occurs. Sammi’s cone breaks and the gelato plops on the ground. Tears well in her eyes, her lip blubbers, and she cries. I love how Pauline comforts her, "Don’t cry, cara."

I tell her we’ll get another and when I look up, I realize her cone broke right in front of another gelato store. Chris returns with his wine and heads into the store to get Sammi another Fior de Latte and a lemon for himself. Eureka, not only does Sammi smile, Chris finds a lemon gelato in Florence that he loves. As it turns out, Chris prefers the lemon gelato that’s creamy. Apparently, Perche No and Carabe serve lemon gelato that’s icier.

We head back to the hotel and say good-bye to Pauline. We’ll see her on Monday though, at Verrazzano winery. She’ll be joining us for our tour and lunch.

After she departs, we return to our rooms for a brief rest, meeting again at 1:30 to grab some lunch. Due to our own laziness and for lack of another alternative, we return to the same restaurant we enjoyed the day before, Casa di Vin Santo.

We order one margherita for the kids to share, a Quattro stagione (ham, olive, mushroom and artichoke) for me, and Chris, as usual, gets his Quattro formaggio. Three coca-cola’s and a beer later, and we feel a bit refreshed.

We escort AAG to the Uffizi for their 3:00 reservation. Can you believe, on a Friday in June at 3:00 in the afternoon the Uffizi has no line? Still, I highly recommend getting reservations. Pauline told us that morning that business has been off for her but it’s not just her, it’s everywhere. In November 1999, at 3:00 in the afternoon, the Uffizi had a two-hour wait.

We leave AAG but not before I remind them to ask someone for the elevator to the gallery because there’s no way Ann’s knees will survive the climb. We stop in the courtyard and rest on a bench in the shade as we plot our next course of action. I want to do the scavenger hunt in one of the books Mary so kindly bought for us during her March trip, Becky wants to climb the Duomo and Sammi wants to go to a park. It doesn’t matter though, because rather than splitting up or compromising, the heat’s gotten to us and we’re all cranky. No one wants to give. We decide mommy and daddy need a drink and return to Verrazzano cantina. Of course, as we leave our bench in the shade, a woman calls to us, "Signora, signora." I turn to see Sammi ran off, leaving poor Pinky behind. It will be a miracle if that cat makes it home. We snap a picture of Pinky and her saviour before chasing after the girls.

We stop in the courtyard when the girls spot something I’ve never seen before. There are paintings lining a wall with holes cut out in the face. A sign says, feel free to sit in the provided chair and take a picture of yourself if you would kindly leave a "donation" in the box. It’s too hot for even the "street people" to sit outside to earn a living.

The girls want their pictures taken. How can we say no. Becky poses with her face as a cherub, Sammi poses as Minni Mouse, and we pose Pinky as the head to the statue of Bachus on a turtle (you can see a copy of this in the Boboli Gardens). I think Pinky’s picture is my all time favorite.

At the wine bar, Chris and I enjoy two glasses of one of their white wines, which is good and refreshing on this hot day. I’m sorry now I didn’t note the name. The girls enjoy some water and two cheesecakes that look yummy.

After our snack, we decide to hike over to the glass store in the Oltrarno that I visited with the girls the previous day to purchase the limoncello glasses. Chris, at first comes in with me, to see the glasses then goes outside because the girls are knocking on the glass, trying to get his attention. It turns out, there’s a pewter horse in the window Becky would like to buy but they’re under strict orders not to enter (I can’t even imagine the damage they could cause).

As Chris gets Becky’s order I talk to the proprietor who I remember from my November trip. I tell her how I purchased some limoncello glasses from her last November and she asks if those are my daughters and all the while I’m holding my own in Italian and loving it. As we conclude our transaction, she asks me to wait and pulls out two necklaces with glass beads. She hands them to me and tells me they’re for my daughters. Grazie Mile. I remember she has a son and wish I could leave something for him. Next time I travel, I’m doing what those PTO Moms did and packing some small tokens in my bag that I can give as gifts to people who show us kindness throughout our trip. I think it’s a great gesture.

We return to our room to cool off but within thirty minutes, the kids and Chris are bored. I’m reading Donna Leon and loving it so I decide to pass when they venture out for another round of gelato. Instead, I head to the roof to relax and read. Chris returns eventually complaining that the gelato cost $2.00 a cone. He’s used to the 85-cent gelato we had in Venice but I wouldn’t expect anything different when you buy a cone at the foot of the Ponte Vecchio.

Eventually, we shower and return to the roof for a drink. My excitement grows as I wait for my parents to arrive. My parents had been on a Tauck tour of Eastern Europe (Warsaw, Krakow, Vienna, Budapest and Prague) and they are due to fly in from Prague this evening. Their flight is scheduled to land around six, so I expect them any moment. It’s not long before I hear Becky and Sammi scream "Grandma!" and I know they’ve arrived.

Their room is on the top floor right off the rooftop garden, small but incredible views. We catch up for a while as my Mom digs presents out of her case for the girls, a beautiful Jewish Star dotted with garnets and some funky earrings for each. She also purchased some porcelain dolls for them, but she saves those gifts for later (fear of breakage). I’m the recipient of some dried Hungarian mushrooms and paprika - she’s a good shopper.

We leave them to shower and change but it’s not long before they join us for a drink.

I must say, there’s nothing like having your Mommy around as a balm for a weary soul.

My parents loved their tour in that all the arrangements were handled, and they didn’t have to worry about hauling luggage. Yet, they wished for more time in some of the cities (e.g., Prague and Vienna). Dad says it’s a great way to get introductions to countries to get an idea where you’d like to return for longer stays. He also says it’s great if you don’t want to or can’t deal with your bags or making arrangements.

Eventually, we decide it’s time to head to dinner and Chris goes to the lobby to call us some cabs. That’s when my parents tell us there’s a bus strike (hey they just arrived, how do they know)! They said they were late in getting to the hotel because they had to wait 20 minutes for a cab at the airport. Most of them are tied up due to the strike. After waiting, ten minutes ourselves, we decide to hoof it to Pandemonio in the Oltrearno.

The walk is about five minutes too long for us and George must comment, "This better be worth it." I’m tired, hot, hungry and in no mood, "If you don’t want to continue, turn back." It’s the only time I snap outright during our trip and I consider that pretty good.

We’re seated in the back and the girls are alternated between my parents. It’s wonderful! Throughout the meal, my parents entertain them with Madlibs and Tic Tac Dough, relief at last!

After we’re seated, they serve us a glass of prosecco - yum, a nice way to start a meal. I have mine and Mom’s; she’s not a big bubbly wine drinker.

We start with an assortment of antipasti, bruschetta, meats, cheeses but all I remember are the good anchovies. No one else likes them but my Mom, so I get a lion’s share. You can’t get anchovies here like you can in Italy - they’re fabulous.

Tonight we drink Isola e Olena chianti, which we thoroughly enjoy. It reminds us of the Antinori Tignanello at about a quarter of the price.

To start, Mom and I share the risotto di scampi, which is as good as I remembered, lick your plate good. Dad has prosciutto e melone. He’s like Chris; he has his favorites and he sticks to them. Chris has the tagliatelle with zucchini flowers - very good, and Becky has a big bowl of vongole. I’m not sure what they ordered at the other end of the table.

For our secondi, I order scampi and restrain myself from eating them with my fingers and sucking out the meat. Later, when they bring me a bowl of water to clean my hands, I realize I could have eaten with abandon and would have enjoyed them more - bummer. Mom orders the chicken caccitore, which isn’t anything like the version she used to make. Shh-it’s much better . Dad gets a bowl of pasta with meat sauce (remember what I said about his favorites? He always gets this). Becky’s still hungry after her vongole and orders a plate of pasta; so does Sammi. Chris gets a steak with wild mushrooms. Ann and Angie order some veal dish and George orders some chicken dish. It’s all good.

After dinner they place a bottle of limoncello and grappa on the table. I’m too stuffed for either but the men try the grappa. We’re all exhausted and the kids are getting fidgety, after all, it’s after 11:00. It takes a while, but we finally get the check. $455 - yikes! Definitely the most expensive meal of our trip (of course we had two or three bottles of wine and all that food but still ;D). The restaurant calls some taxis for us but as before it takes time. While we wait, Becky, Chris and George decide to walk home. Mom, Sammi, Angie and Ann hop in the first taxi and Dad and I into the second.

As we approach the Hermitage the road is packed with Saturday night revelers and we hop out shy of the Ponte Vecchio to walk the rest of the way. I head to the lobby to purchase a bottle of water for the room. By the time I return and get Sammi ready for bed, Chris and Becky arrive. We all climb into bed exhausted.

June 22 - Shangri-La​

I’m up early this morning because a nightmare woke Sammi. I decide though to rollover and go back to sleep. Finally, at 7:30, I head to the roof for breakfast and to write. Our server this morning is not nearly as attentive as the previous day. It takes forever to receive my cappuccino.

I watch as the people at the next table depart. The remnants of their breakfast, a basket of cornetti and crackers, proves great targets for the birds. Those pigeons, that I thought not so bad in Venice, rape that table. I’m back to thinking of them as rats with wings. It’s gross to watch them swarm the table and fight over the bits of food.

Meanwhile, it occurs to me, if you know people are eating on the roof, shouldn’t you check it occasionally to make sure this doesn’t happen. It’s one thing for a bird to swoop in, snag a cornetto and fly off but quite another to have them strutting all over the furniture.

I call downstairs twice to request my own basket of rolls before the waiter finally brings mine and clears the next table. Eventually, my parents, Chris and the kids join me while AAG opt to dine downstairs. I think they want to give us some time to catch up with my parents. It’s not necessary. After all, we’ll have an entire week together.

I’m not in a good mood this morning. I’m nervous about the car rentals and driving to the house. I know I’ve said this before, but I suffer a good amount of anxiety before performing any new task. I used to try to pretend I don’t, but I think now I’m going to cut that out. It only adds to the stress. Instead, I’ll accept it and move on.

About ten o’clock, we finish packing and check out. The hotel stores our luggage in the now closed breakfast room. Chris, George and I head over to the rental car place on the Borgo Ognissanti, while my parents take the girls shopping. My Mom and the girls seem delighted at this prospect while Dad just seems resigned to it. I believe Angie and Ann join them.

Okay, I know I’ve talked about the heat but I’m going to stress it again. And I don’t want you thinking I’m a heat wimp. I’m not. I lived in Missouri for six years and this heat beat that by a mile. Livenwell knows of which I speak. Figure high nineties, lots of humidity and the strongest darn sun this side of Cancun.

When we arrive at the Europcar rental office, the line barely pops onto the sidewalk. I’d say four other "transactions" are in front of us. We wait, and wait and wait, thinking we’ll be grateful once we’re inside - wrong! No air-conditioning there either. I think it’s worse.

It takes about thirty minutes with two processors working, before it’s our turn. It takes another thirty minutes to finish our paperwork as our attendant hunts and pecks his way around the keyboard; a nice enough man, I just wish someone taught him how to type.

As we sit and wait, filling out the paperwork for one car and then the other, a droplet of water falls on to the counter. I glance at Chris; it’s sweat coming from his brow. Not an image I call to mind before we’re going to be intimate .

George, who hadn’t checked out when the rest of us did, realizes we’re quickly approaching the noon deadline; we get his paperwork done first and he heads back on his own. I’m a bit nervous about this since he has a tendency to get lost, and we don’t have a map for him, but he ends up fine. Chris and I wait for the cars.

Before the trip, Sally Watkins made our rental car arrangements. We decided to rent a nine-passenger van and an intermediate size car. While we knew the van would accommodate us for our daily treks we feared, correctly, there wouldn’t be enough room in the van for us and our luggage thus the addition of the car. We rented the car with a stick and the van as an automatic, so anyone could drive it.

Our original plan for this day was to fill out the paperwork and hopefully leave the cars in the garage to pick up later. We couldn’t get into our rental home until five and we thought we’d spend the day in Florence, possibly at the Pitti Palace.

When I ask the attendant, if we can pick up the cars later, he says no. They close in an hour (at 1:00), but we can pull down the street to another garage and park the cars there until we’re ready to leave. That sounds like a plan.

Next, I ask him for directions from Florence to the A11. He tells us to go down the Borgo Ognissanti until we come to a tower. Make a right, and then follow signs for the airport. Normally, I like to get detailed directions. You know, make a right at the Hess station onto Main street type of directions. But I figure this guy does this for a living, so these should work.

We return to the street (and the sun) to await the cars. My car (AKA the monster) comes out first for pick-up. I climb in, do my best to adjust the mirrors manually, and the seat, then drive down the street for a block and a half until I see the big parking sign. I pull in.

The attendant walks over to my van, I roll down the window and he asks in Italian when I’m leaving. I tell him in three hours. He shakes his head. No, only overnight parking. No hourly. Uh oh. I ask him where I can go, and he tells me by the train station. No way - I’m not navigating there. We go back and forth in my broken Italian because he speaks no English, finally he gives in and lets me park. He directs me to a tight spot but I don’t care, it’s a spot. Then I tell him my husband is coming too with another car. He looks exasperated but agrees again.

When Chris pulls in and they start to tell him no, I run over and yell, mio marito. They nod and point to an even tighter spot for Chris. He starts to complain. I tell him to shut up, pull in, and I’ll explain later.

We hike back to the hotel, I’m hot, tired and cranky but at least one hurdle is cleared. Plus, I have to admit; I enjoyed my banter with the parking attendant.

When we return to the hotel, everyone’s waiting in the lobby. It’s almost one o’clock and the kids are hungry. Originally, we planned to visit the Mercato Centrale to pick some things up for the house, but I can’t face even that walk. I’m worn.

Chris, after talking to the desk clerk, joins us in the sitting area and tells me the desk clerk gave him different directions for leaving Florence. She drew them on a map, and they involve crossing the Arno, riding to the A1 and taking that to the A11. He wants to take them because the route’s been clearly marked on the map, as opposed to ours, which seem simplistic at best. I look at him, and in my best don’t mess with me voice, say, "We’re using the directions the rental car guy gave us." I guess he sees the weariness in my eyes and for the first time in our marriage agrees easily.

Instead of the Mercato Centrale, we head to the Salumeria across from the Verrazzano Cantina on Via Tavolini and purchase some sausage, cheese and other things. Then we return to our usual lunch place where everyone orders pizza. I’m done with pizza and order some tagliattele con ragu - pretty darn good.

After our fortifications, I announce that I don’t care if we get to the house early; we’re heading out of Florence. We get our bags and take taxis to the parking garage, via the Oltrarno. The cab driver explains because of the street directions, we need to take this route. I don’t care; it’s not an expensive ride and I’m not doing the driving so it’s all great to me.

We load the monster and Chris’s car with the luggage and pile in. Chris gets AAG and I get Mom, Dad and the girls. After comparing notes at the end of the trip, I think I got the better bargain .

We pull out of the garage and we’re not driving for more than twenty seconds when Becky and Sammi start to pepper me with questions. Mom’s a godsend. "Girls, your Mommy’s trying to drive in an unfamiliar area with signs in a foreign language. You need to leave her alone for now." Hey, it works better than my, "Shut up."

My Dad sits in the front row of the bus. It has three rows of three seats each. He navigates me and within ten or fifteen minutes we’re on the A11 out of Florence. That rental car guy is a god! I’m breathing easier with each kilometer we pass.

Mom digs out my Aretha Franklin tape for me but unfortunately a tape from the previous renter is jammed in the slot. We entertain ourselves with talk and silence to admire the views.

Driving the monster bus takes some adjustment. First it doesn’t stop quickly like my little car at home. Second, you have to make sure there’s more space between you and other cars when passing. By the time we reach the Montacatini Terme exit, I’m used to it.

I do between 115 and 120 kilometers a mile most of the way there. All the while thinking that I’m doing about 65 miles an hour. It’s not until later, when we’re having drinks and George explains how fast I drove, that my Dad points out the flaw in my math. Still, I never broke the speed limit and fifty-five would be fast to George. I think to myself, we can’t let him drive this trip. We’ll never get anywhere.

I don’t mind driving the Autostrada. Everyone seems to obey the law of keep right, pass left, which is my number one pet peeve about driving in this country. I can’t stand when people (AKA George and Chris) drive in the left lane without passing.

It’s not long before we reach the Lucca exit. We pay $3.10 for the pleasure of driving the Autostrada and Dad navigates us past the city and into the country where our home for the next week, Al Bastini is located.

When we reach the "white road" at which I know we need to turn, I realize I forgot the second half of the directions at home. Oh well, how many houses could there be?

We wind up this gravel, sometimes paved, road, through one hairpin turn then another, barely wide enough to accommodate the monster. No sound accompanies us except for the occasional gasp of my mother, as I come within inches of the side of the mountain or centimeters of the edge of the road. We come to house, under construction, with a sign that says Villa Bastini, not Al Bastini. Plus the house doesn’t look at all familiar.

We park, and I get out and look around but no one’s there and the house, in the middle of a reconstruction, is not at all habitable. Now I remember Les Woodruff, the owner of Al Bastini, telling me that another house is along the road but for some reason I kept thinking that house was above Al Bastini. So I’m thinking we passed our destination.

We pile back into the cars, and pull back down the mountain to the gasps of my mom. I tell her to stop - just do what I’m doing. She says, "What are you doing?" I smile and say, "Closing my eyes." Later, she appreciates that bit of humor from the driver.

As we pull down the mountain, I slightly bank into the side of the mountain. Good thing we have that no deductive complete coverage insurance.

Well we’re down again and still nothing but the house of an Italian family at the bottom of the road with the kids playing soccer in the yard. I turn and head back up, hoping Chris just waits at the bottom but he doesn’t. Again, nothing. Finally, we return to the house at the bottom, and I approach two Italian ladies sitting at a picnic table outside.

No English spoken here, and they’re trying to tell me where the house is. I’m getting bits of it, something about where the black top ends but it still doesn’t make sense. She calls her son over, who speaks Kindergarten English to go along with my four year-old Italian and I understand now, but I tell her I don’t see the house.

She holds up her hand, telling me to stop and these two ladies hop into they’re tiny blue Punto and climb the hill in front of us. She stops at Villa Bastini, gets out of the car and sweeps her arms to indicate this is the house. I smile but tell her it doesn’t look familiar. Ah, she nods and points to a dirt path that runs behind the house. It requires us to make a sharp left and climb higher. Oh and believe me when I tell you this path is no more than a foot from the back of the house.

I nod feverishly, "Grazi Mile, grazi mile!" We call as we turn our cars sharply and head up the path. I pray the monster doesn’t scrape the side of the beautiful home. Another round of hairpin turns and we see the carport about 80 yards from the house. We pull in next to Les’s Range Rover, and that’s when I finally remember that day climbing this rain-shrouded mountain with him that he said, "You’ll pass one other house before ours."

Les is outside doing some yard work and greets us exuberantly. He doesn’t seem at all distressed that we’ve arrived an hour early even after I point this out with my apology. No problem. He shows me around the house, giving me a brief education. It’s even more beautiful than I remember. The others wait outside soaking in the incredible view (think West Virginia not Tuscany). My Dad takes the girls to check out the swimming pool.

As we talk to him, telling him our story of climbing the mountain, Chris informs me of his own ordeal. You see while I’m driving the monster, at least it’s an automatic, poor Chris had to navigate behind me (and my sudden starts and stops), in a stick, in a stick, with his mother and father driving from the backseat. I think we should all take a moment in homage to Chris .

After the tour, Les loads a bunch of our bags in the back of the Land Rover. They only fall out once as he drives them to the house. He confirms with us that Renata will be cooking for us on Monday evening. Renata is the Italian woman that comes to the house Monday through Friday morning, to straighten, make the beds and about every other day, change the towels. For a charge of twenty-five dollars a person, paid directly to her, she’ll return in the evening to cook dinner too. Les suggests a menu of some pasta, veal roast and home made tiramisu; it all sounds good and we tell him that would be great. He says his good-byes and heads down the hill.

Al Bastini is his home but when he rents it, he moves into an apartment inside the walls of Lucca. Someday, Chris and I would like to rent an apartment there.

We divvy up the rooms, with the downstairs being cooler but the upstairs having better views. Angie and George and my parents take the two double rooms downstairs with Sammi getting the single and Chris and I get the Master Bedroom upstairs, Ann in the other double and Becky getting the single. Later that evening, Sammi and Becky switch rooms.

After we divvy the rooms, Chris and I decide to head to the Supermercato. Another great service Les provides at Al Bastini, is shopping. He gives you a basic shopping list before you arrive and you fill out what you’d like. When you get to the house, it’s stocked. I believe he charges about forty bucks for this and it’s great. Yet, even with plenty of juice, cookies, cheese, fruit, water, soda, and toilet paper we still needed to get some things for dinner and breakfast. Plus, I want my first glimpse of an Italian market.

Going back down the hill, with Chris driving the little car, didn’t seem nearly as bad. With only two wrong turns, we found the market about 10 - 15 minutes away. Closer than the market I go to at home.

I love the market. Sure Italy has great museums, great churches and beautiful scenery but the markets! Chris says my eyes glaze over at a good market in the states but here forget it. I’m in heaven.

First we hit the produce section and thanks to shopping tips on Slow Traveler, I’m prepared. I know to weigh my produce, press the picture or enter the number that corresponds to it on the scale, and get the price sticker. I like this system; it means you don’t have to wait for the cashier to look up the correct produce code if they don’t recognize it. As we pick out some berries and melons, a man bumps into me. He looks at me, says, "scuzzi," then returns to his wife where he says something to her in American (as opposed to English with an accent ). Chris laughs and says, "He thinks you’re Italian." That’s the best compliment I’ve received yet.

Another great thing about shopping in the market - I think you learn something about the priorities of the people. What does it say about us that in our markets the cereal aisle is huge, with floor to ceiling cereals and our olive oil sections are maybe two - three feet wide. While in Italy, the olive oil extends for half an aisle long and the cereal aisle is three feet wide? Not to mention the incredible selection of wine and liqueur.

I make Chris walk up and down every aisle as we fill our cart with more water, coca cola, wine, watermelon, cherries, strawberries, frosted flakes, cookies, yogurt, cornetti, prepared tortellini, plain pasta for the kids and lighter fluid.

As we check out, the girl asks me how many bags we have - ah something I didn’t realize. They charge you for the bags. Next time, I’ll pack tighter.

We hop back into the car, drive home, and unpack. The kids are in the pool with my Dad and my Mom snuck her first load of laundry in. I cook some pasta for the kids and slice some strawberries for their dinner. After standing in that hot kitchen, I’m done. I want a swim but the thought of pulling a bathing suit on my sweaty body doesn’t appeal to me at all - you gals know what I mean.

As the adults sit on the patio admiring the view and the girls devour their dinner, I walk past and tell them not to come to the pool; I’m going in. They see I’m still in my shorts and they get my meaning.

I strip down to my birthday suit, and jump in. I’ve never skinny dipped before but I highly recommend it . This house is so secluded - another one sits about 1/4 mile away as the crow flies and the rest are across the valley and atop the other mountains. I don’t care if they see. When I’m done and I’ve changed into some dry clothes, I hang my pool towel next to the others on the railing to dry and it reminds me of the beach.

Afterwards, I throw some laundry in the machine and we put out some cheese, bread, sausage, melon and grapes for the adults. We sit, sipping wine and unwinding. About nine o’clock we realize the time and that we forgot to cook dinner but everyone seems content with our snacks.

We hear a party start on the next mountain, watch the bats come out, admire the moon as it rises and sip our limoncello with our cigars. About midnight, we turn in. I feel completely human, the grime of ten days of travel completely washed away.

June 23 - And On The Twelfth Day, She Rested​

Last night we all went to sleep with our windows wide open and the VAPE (is that the correct name), plugged into our outlets. I know it’s chemicals that burn in the room while we sleep, but it seemed to keep the multitude of mosquitoes away.

On the down side of sleeping with the windows wide open, the early rising sun penetrates and brightens our room before even the roosters recognize its existence. I don’t mind rising early though, and I head outside to hang my laundry.

Mom used the dryer that’s located on the second floor (or bottom floor) of the house, but I fear shrinkage (it’s hard enough getting into my clothes without that - well at least then it was ), so I opt for the air-dried affect.

As I hang the clothes marveling at how cool the morning air feels, I’m dive-bombed by bees. These are huge bees reminiscent of those suckers we saw in Taormina. You hear them coming way before you see them, but they’re not interested in me as much as the beautiful blooms that surround the house.

I’m going to stop here - I’m not sure if I mentioned in my very first installment of Opinions and Observations how incredible Al Bastini is. In case I didn’t, you can check out my review here.

I sit outside, alone and write in my journal as I wait for the sun to actually crest above the mountain. This doesn’t happen until eight and it’s a magnificent site. Of course, the dueling roosters herald its arrival. I don’t think I ever believed that roosters really crow when the sun rises until just that moment. I also realize that it’s not the brightening of the sky for which they crow but the actual appearance of the sun. What do they do on cloudy days?

The chairs on our patio are damp from the night’s dew. I don’t mind though as it seeps through my pajama bottoms. As I enjoy my solitude, I spy my mother sweeping the kitchen floor. You can take the girl out of... Well you know. If my Mom stayed in a shack on a beach, she’d still clean.

I head inside to wish her good morning and together we gather supplies for breakfast. Les, the owner of Al Bastini, has an American style coffee pot (ala Mr. Coffee) as well as stovetop espresso pots. Though the American style coffee pot seems to take its sweet time brewing. Later, Chris comments that probably has something to do with the currents. I’m not kidding when I tell you it took about 30 - 40 minutes to brew a pot of coffee. Everyone enjoys the coffee though, but I brew espresso for Chris and I.

Mom and I put the cornetti we purchased yesterday on the counter with a couple of boxes of cereal and some sliced melon and berries. We leave the plates and forks out and let everyone help themselves, as they creep out of their respective bedrooms.

We enjoy our meal on the covered patio just off the kitchen. It becomes our morning meal location as opposed to the uncovered patio on the way to the pool where we enjoy our dinners.

After breakfast, Chris takes the girls swimming. While the rest of us sit and talk. Amazing that after twelve days on the road, we still have things to talk about; mostly though I guess we catch each other up on our respective trips. The nice thing about the digital cameras Mom and I brought, we each take turns giving previews of our pictures.

Eventually, our stomachs growl again and I decide it’s time for lunch. No one seems interested in dressing to go to a restaurant so we decide to throw some things together from what we have in the kitchen.

I soak half of the dried mushrooms Mom brought from Hungary and separately, soak some of the left over bread. Eventually, we end up with a wild mushroom and gorgonzola frittata, panzanella and some olive and eggplant salad left over from the salumeria we stopped at in Florence yesterday.

After lunch, Mom teaches Sammi Monopoly. It’s a British version with pounds instead of dollars and properties like Trafalgar Square and Picadilly Circus, very funny.

We are so lazy today and it feels good. Throughout the day, people come and go from the pool. I can’t believe that Angie and Ann didn’t pack bathing suits so my father begins to tease them they’ll have to go in nude, ala Kim. Well, that’s a sight I can live without .

We have some excitement when a car drives to the house next to ours (as in about ¼ mile away). We see some people get out and walk around and we hear a dog bark but other than that, not much goes on.

We take turns using our borrowed cell phone to call home to check messages and talk to the family we left behind. Mom calls her sister, my aunt, and George calls his other son, waking him early in the morning.

I wouldn’t mind going out to explore a little in the afternoon, but I can’t convince anyone (AKA Chris) to go with me. I’m not taking the Monster out myself.

It’s too hot and everyone’s tired. Ann and Angie break down and dangle their feet in the cool water. We all cheer if the slightest breeze blows our wind chimes, an exciting day.

Eventually, we realize it’s time for dinner. Becky wants more pasta and Sammi wants Italian Frosted Flakes with milk. That’s easy enough.

Chris puts together another cheese plate for the adults to nimble while we enjoy some wine. He serves what’s left of our Parmegiano Regiano, a brie like cheese, salame Toscana and cinghiale. Later, we put a pot of water to boil, and toss a salad together. Dinner that night consists of spinach ricotta tortellini tossed with some pesto and porcini mushroom ravioli with a bit of olive oil. For a contorno, Chris also grills some eggplant.

After dinner, we sit out for a while sipping limoncello and one of the bottles of fragolino we purchased in Venice. We turn in early as we have an early start tomorrow.

As we climb into bed, Chris decides he wants one more dip in the pool and races there as I read my Donna Leon. My head starts to bob, and I turn out the light as Chris returns.

June 24 - Poor Chris​

I’m up early again as this will prove my modus operandi for the rest of the week. Really, it’s the best time of the day. The morning air feels cool and no one stirs but me, and sometimes Mom or Ann. It’s a great time to write, think, be.

Again, we serve breakfast buffet style with the leftover cornetti, fruit and cereal. Everyone wakes early as we’ve designated a 9:00 AM departure for the Verazzano winery.

We hike down to the carport and everyone waits anxiously as Chris backs the Monster from its spot. Dad, George and I man each corner giving directions like an airline’s ground crew. All we need are those silly orange sticks.

Once safely out of the spot and facing the correct direction, we pile in. Dad and the girls take the last row, AAG in the middle and Mom and I are up front with Chris.

Chris navigates us down the windy trail of a road. As Mom and I gasp, and call intermittently, "Move to the right." "Slow down." "Move to the left!" Once we’re at the bottom everyone breathes easier as Mom and I explain to Chris driving the Monster isn’t like driving a car. He doesn’t seem to appreciate our tips . Poor Chris.

We reverse the directions we used Saturday and find the A11 easily. We take the A11 to the A1 all the while Mom and I admonish Chris to slow down. Poor Chris.

From the A1 we take the S222, a beautiful winding road through beautiful country. It’s a change from our scenery more like everyone expected Tuscany to be, rolling hills, dotted with tiny villages, plains of grass and vineyards. We drive mostly in silence except for the occasional, "Slow down!" Poor Chris.

As we close in on our destination, I hear from the back, "I don’t feel so good." Uh oh, Becky gets motion sickness. I’m reminded of Anita’s words of advice about the barf bags and quickly dig through my bag for one. Shoot - I forgot to grab them from the plane.

Luckily, we’re not far from Castello di Verrazzano and Becky manages to hold out. I make a mental note to put her in the middle seat of the middle row for our return trip and to keep some food in the car. From personal experience, I find I don’t get as carsick (or any motion sickness) if I have a full stomach and can look out the front window.

We arrive at Castello di Verrazzano at 10:50. We’re supposed to meet Pauline at 10:45 but I don’t see her around. I find Gino and re-introduce myself. He hasn’t seen Pauline either but I’m sure she’ll show. Just to make sure she hasn’t run into any trouble, I call her cell phone just as the tour starts at 11:00. I love having the cell phone along. She’s just turning into the driveway and will catch up to us. She hit some major traffic leaving Florence.

Sammi balks at the tour, and Dad opts to stay with her in the cantina area. He doesn’t mind. It’s air-conditioned and has an incredible view. Dad’s not a big tour person either, so this arrangement works for everyone.

Chris and I have done the tour before so not much of it is new to me, but I still enjoy it. When we visited in 1999, we saw grapes drying for Vin Santo. This time, we see those grapes in wooden caskets. Chris tries to get a picture, so he can do a before and after shot, but it doesn’t come out.

Gino takes us to where you can sometimes see their wild boar. Becky wants a glimpse but unfortunately none are insight. Gino explains that they just slaughtered some of the boars so those that remain are hiding for their lives. I think this thought unnerves Becky but only until later when she tries and loves the prosciutto made from the slaughtered boars of previous years.

We continue the tour, as Gino points out the three stones mounted on the wall of the winery. They come from the footing of the Verrazzano Narrows bridge, which holds some significance for Mom and I as she grew up not far from there, and I traveled across it every week as a child when we visited my grandparents. Mom wishes Dad could see this and Pauline rushes back to get him, offering to stay with Sammi but Dad seems quite content at the Cantina so Pauline returns without him.

Gino tells us that stones from the Castello are at the base of the bridge now, on the Staten Island side. One of these days, I’m going to track those stones down.

Throughout the tour, Pauline does a great job of entertaining Becky when her attention wanders. From talking to her about other things, to finding her a drink of water, so that the rest of us can enjoy the experience. She’s a godsend.

We head down to the cellars where Gino explains how the large caskets work. Becky guesses that each casket holds about 2800 bottles of wine, and Gino seems impressed. He tells her she’s not off by much; each holds about 2500 bottles. Now Gino asks her, if you drink a bottle a day, how many years will it take to finish a casket?

Becky grabs her sketchpad and feverishly scrambles to solve this gigantic problem. Math’s not her best subject but she comes up with an answer that seems pretty close to the mark, especially when she tells him it depends how many leap years occur. He laughs.

Next we head to the room where they store their balsamic vinegar. You can smell it in the air. Becky’s eyes light up. She loves the stuff. This child loves lobster, aged balsamic vinegar and imported Parmigiano Regiano. We’re afraid to introduce her to caviar.

After the tour, we split into two groups. One group heads for a tasting only. The other group, us and about six other people, head into the cantina area for a tasting and lunch.

Throughout the meal, Gino teaches us about tasting wine. How to appraise its color, smell and feel it in your mouth. To this day, we can’t open a bottle, without my father doing a Gino impersonation. Very funny but very interesting too. Gino’s main point, one that I think Chris finally understands, isn’t that you should drink wines by the number (ala Robert Parker or Wine Spectator). You should drink wine you like. Wine you know, that has meaning to you. And you should drink it with good food and people you care about. Bravo Gino!

The four wines we taste this afternoon are the Rosso, 2000 Chianti Classico, the 1999 Reserve and the 1999 Particulare. I’m not crazy about the first two - not enough taste or character but I love the last two. It’s a free pour throughout, which is a nice change from some of the wine tasting I’ve done here.

With lunch they serve plate after plate of prosciutto and melon, salame, pecorino Toscana with olive oil and pepper and crostini, served simply with a rub of garlic, a touch of salt and a drizzle of Verrazano olive oil. It’s delicious.

Throughout the wine tasting though, people come in, "from off the street", to sample some wines at the bar before they move onto their next winery. Very Napaesque and call me a snob, but I think it ruins some of the ambience.

Our meal ends with wedges of Parmigiano Reggiano drizzled with balsamic vinegar. The girls go nuts, stealing my piece and my Mom’s. Gino and the waiter laugh and bring out a small bowl of the nuggets drizzled with gold just for them.

For dessert, they serve simply biscotti (but the other name - is it cartucci?) with some Vin Santo. Amazing how much better a good Vin Santo tastes than a cheap Vin Santo.

As we prepare to leave, it’s time to make some purchases to enjoy the rest of the week at our home away from home, and some purchases to bring back to the States. We end up with three of the ’99 reserve and three of the 2000 chianti classico for the house. I would rather have had all 6 be the ’99 reserve but Chris is too cheap .

For ourselves, we purchase two particulare, two sassello, some olive oil (which we’re about ¾ through now), and another balsamic vinegar. Becky wants her own bottle of balsamic vinegar because Daddy’s stingy sharing his , and my Mom, being the soft touch that she is, purchases a bottle for her and Sammi to share.

My parents buy two bottles of Sassello, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and I think a ’99 reserve much to my Father’s chagrin. He knows he’ll be the one carrying it home. Angie and George buy something along those lines too.

About three o’clock, we finish up with our afternoon. As we say our good-byes, Gino stops us. He hands Chris a double magnum of the ’96 Chianti Classico Reserve with instructions to enjoy it during the rest of our stay, not to take it home. Graze Mile Gino - another fantastic afternoon at Verrazzano!

We pile into the van and Pauline’s car, as our next stop is Greve. Chris and I want to visit the butcher there and stroll about the town a bit before we head back. It’s not far, five minutes before we pile out again.

We stroll around town, visiting a linen shop, a tabacchi, where the owner promises us that cooler weather is on the way, and the olive wood store. The butcher is still closed for siesta. The grandpas take the girls for some gelato and beer for themselves as we continue to stroll and shop.

I purchase some of the large metal cars for my nephews, who will arrive in New Jersey the day after we arrive home. For the older, I buy a red Ferrari and for the younger, an Italian Police Car (a fiat). They collect these cars, so I figure it’s a good gift.

We join the men and kids at the café and grab some gelato for ourselves, and some cookies for Becky to nibble in the car on the way home. Eventually, the butcher opens, but before we enter the shop, the girls have finally found a store that sells straw hats that not only fit them but that they like. They each purchase one. Becky gets one with her trademark blue ribbon and Sammi with her pink. They’re nice and only about seven dollars each.

In the butcher, I buy two salames to have during our cocktail hour and some cheese. I’m shocked at the amount of English I hear from all of the other customers and have to remind myself, we’re in Italy not on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Well, it’s time to go, and we pile back into the Monster. Pauline laughs at us as we struggle to determine who will sit where. It’s such an ordeal and I think Ray Romano has nothing on this group. Pauline calls, it could be a new reality series, "Can you survive with three generations of your family in a foreign country for two weeks?" I laugh and eventually we’re off.

Our ride home is thankfully uneventful, except for the fact the men have noticed a McDonalds right at the Lucca exit of the A11, which will cause an issue later in the week and that we stopped at the market to purchase more soda, water, breakfast items and fruit.

As we pull into the carport, our sweaty girls ask if they can jump into the pool with their clothes on. Sure! Angie and Ann tsk tsk, but I say what the heck. If you ask them about their favorite moments now, they’ll tell you jumping into the pool with their clothes on. Another regret though, I forgot to get a picture of them doing it.

Chris watches them while my Dad goes with us to the house to put his suit on. The girls have strict orders not to go into the pool unless Chris, Dad or I are watching them (we’re the only ones that know how to swim).

We drag ourselves into the house and are greeted by the wonderful aromas of Renata cooking. She’s there with her daughter and has a feast simmering all around. I give that woman a multitude of credit for cooking in that hot kitchen.

I run into my bedroom, throw on my suit, and join the others at the pool. There’s something completely decadent about enjoying a long swim while someone else prepares your dinner.

We sit by the pool and Becky tries to teach me how to dive. I’m a good swimmer but I could never dive. I belly flop every time and now it’s still no different. The girls get a good laugh out of it though.

About seven, the barn swallows that inhabit this area begin to dive bomb the pool. We realize they’re aiming for the bugs and encourage them. It’s pretty funny to watch though some of them actually get wet.

After swimming, Chris tries to open the wax seal around our double magnum but can’t. He claims he may need to get some special tools (Chris always finds excuses to get "special tools") and we open some other bottles of wine to have in the mean time with dinner.

At 8:00, Renata’s daughter serves wonderful meal on the terrace. She set the table beautifully with linens and nice plates as good if not better than most restaurants. For our pasta course, she serves a tagliatelle with fresh herbs and fresh plum tomatoes and fusili with wild mushroom sauce - both delicious. Next, she brings out roast veal in wine sauce, some beans with sage and the most incredible roasted potatoes with rosemary I’ve ever had in my entire life, crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside. For dessert, a homemade Tiramisu that is to die for. I salivate just thinking about it. For the girls, she serves rigatoni with olive oil and plenty of cheese. They still wish Renata could come to the States to cook for them.

She speaks no English though and her daughter very little but we manage to convey our appreciation with a standing ovation and a plea to return on Thursday and Friday night this week. You see the crew overruled me. No one wants to drive up the hill at night after several bottles of wine, so it seems they decided all dinners would be at the house. Since Renata’s an incredible cook, they don’t have a problem with her preparing as many meals as possible for us. Okay - I can give on this point.

Renata agrees to return and departs about 9:20 - it seems she doesn’t want to descend the hill once it’s fully dark either. Her daughter tells us to leave dishes next to the sink; her mom will clean them in the morning. Of course, egged on by my Mom, we load the dishwasher and run it, and eventually empty it, leaving only the linens for Renata.

As we sit in the after glow of great food, Ann comments on the freshness of the ingredients and notes how she saw Renata in the flower beds behind the terrace. I check them out and realize Les has basil, rosemary, sage, strawberries and a bunch of other herbs I couldn’t recognize growing there. Very cool.

No after dinner drinks tonight. We climb into bed early and sleep great.
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June 25 - It’s Cheesy But You Have To Climb It​

Mom and I are both up early again. I write as Mom works on the double magnum we received from Gino. She chips and chips at the wax, finally breaking the seal so we’ll be able to drink the wine that night with dinner. She beams with pride especially since Chris couldn’t open it last night.

We make coffee and set up the usual breakfast buffet. Most everyone joins us by 8:30 because we want an early start today for our trip to Pisa. We schedule an EDT of 9:15 then begin the search for the girls’ shoes and study the map to determine our course. Chris and I decide a right turn just after the Ponte San Pietro should put us on a road that runs into the S12, which will take us to Pisa.

We pile into the van and pull out only to be stopped at Villa Bastini by a work truck that blocks the dirt path past the house. Chris gives a light tap of the horn and the workmen emerge to move the van. We give them a wave and smile as we pull past and continue down the mountain.

Once on the blacktop road again, we remember we need to stop to drop our trash. When you rent in Italy, houses don’t have garbage pick-up. It’s your responsibility to take the trash and recycles to dumpsters along the road (Another nod to Slow Travelers for this information). We pass two that don’t have good pull-off areas and Chris grows annoyed. I tell him to pull over at the next one and not to worry - the drivers will stop and wait for you. And they do, as we dump our bag of trash and two bags of recycles.

We continue on our route, missing the right turn past the Ponte San Pietro. I’m in my best screech, telling Chris he missed the turn but he insists he knows what he’s doing. I’m not too sure; Chris doesn’t have the best sense of direction, and we begin a small spat as he continues to drive further and further away from our designated turn towards the market we visited the other day. There he points out a sign for the S12 and we’re back on course.

"I remembered I saw a sign for it the other day and figured we could get it here," he says.

"Oh, well you could have said something before." I do apologize though for snapping at him.

It’s an easy ride to Pisa and doesn’t take us longer than 30 minutes. We drive along the walls of the city past the tower and cathedral to a parking area outside the walls. It’s not full and we pull into the back, taking a token along the way.

You can see the tower from the parking garage and boy does it lean. We follow the other tourists past the dozens upon dozens of chotckey stands to the campo.

I have to tell you, the area around the campo must be the cheesiest place in all of Italy maybe all the world. I wish I could give you an American destination for comparison, just to give you a frame of reference. At first I thought maybe Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco but that doesn’t cut it. Then I thought Seaside Park along the Joisey shore but that’s not good either and at least you can get good zeppoles there. I’ve never been to South of the Border but from what I’ve heard, I’d wager this comes the closest. Livinwell tells me Branson gives Pisa a run for its money. I believe her.

First things first, I want to get us our tickets to the tower. Climbing the tower is the kids top priority and honestly I know the waits back up and I don’t want to get stuck hanging around that campo any longer than I have to, waiting to accomplish that goal.

We stop at the first ticket office we find, but they don’t sell the tower tickets. We need to go to the Museo dell Opera. We hike down that way, taking some obligatory pictures of us holding up the tower along the way.

When we arrive at the office, the line’s four people deep. It’s not long before our turn though. I tell the man we need four tickets and in my stupidity I tell him, two adults and two children. He asks how old are the children. In a further bout of stupidity I tell him 9 and 6. Sorry, no go for the six year-old. She’s too young. Children must be eight. Bummer, if I’d known I would have lied. Sammi’s tall and she could have passed. Now we have a problem. I buy three tickets (no one else wanted to climb the tower) and forty-five dollars later; I walk away. Yes you read that correctly, it’s $15 per person. Ouch.

Sammi’s not a happy camper and I feel a tantrum brewing. Quick, with what can we distract her from her misfortune? Chotchkey stands!

We let her buy an extra "souvenier" since she can’t climb the tower and she goes to town. Next we formulate a plan for what we’re going to do until our entrance time. We bought our tickets at 10:25 AM and just missed the 11:15 entry so now we have to wait until 11:50.

We decide to purchase combo tickets for the cathedral and Baptistery and Sammi would like to visit the Museo Dell’Opera. Apparently, she spied some models of the campo while we bought our tower tickets but she couldn’t get into to view them in depth and she wants to. Hey, whatever works. So the grandparents buy the combo cathedral, museum and Baptistery tickets to entertain Sammi while we climb the tower.

I visited the campo last November in the afternoon and found it to be crowded but nothing like the thousands upon thousands of people who mill about today. I’m not much on crowds, so this isn’t my favorite destination.

We head to the Cathedral first. You hear so much about the tower but little about the rest of the campo and I think this is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve seen. The Cathedral is huge, and I think beautiful, but there’s little information on it in my Cadogan. The girls put one Euro coins into these phone machines within the church and listen to the voice tell them about what they’re seeing. They’re not very good at relaying this information to the rest of us though.

After oohing and awing, we enter the Baptistery, and I decide to listen to the phone machine myself. Don’t ask me what the machine said, I’m afraid I’m not much better at relaying that info then my girls. I do remember though thinking the Baptistery’s not what I thought it would be. Don’t ask me what I thought it would be. I don’t know. Hmm - guess I just expected more artwork or something. Anyway...

After the Baptistery, our group splits up. Becky didn’t get to do any chotchkey shopping earlier when Sammi purchased her extra item because she needed to make a bathroom stop, so Chris and I take her now on the way to the tower. The rest of our group takes Sammi for some gelato and then to the museum. We decided to meet at the base of the tower around 12:15.

Becky buys a statue of the tower that turns color with the humidity. Later, Pauline tells us it will turn pink when it’s going to rain. We pray for some pink. I buy two cheap t-shirts for the girls, a Bart Simpson and the tower for Becky and a Snoopy and the tower for Sammi. They sleep in them now.

After our chotckey shopping, we head to the tower. The guard informs me I’ll have to check my bags and we head to the tourist office to put the stuff in the self-serve lockers. They give you a key and you lock it away yourself.

We head back to the tower and wait for our entrance time in the shade. Apparently, you’re supposed to gather at the tourist office and head over together but the guard doesn’t mind us waiting by the tower. Eventually, we enter and begin our climb.

Thank god I brought two bottles of water with us. We empty both by the time we reach the top. It’s not arduous except the worn marble steps don’t provide the best footing. They’re curved in different areas from years of use. Not to mention, you walk up tilted. I lean against the wall the entire trip.

I climb as high as the second to last level, where the bells are before my vertigo kicks in. Chris and Becky though climb all the way to the exposed top. My heart is in my mouth the entire time Becky’s out of my sight though, my fear of heights gets the best of me. They take some great pictures up there and return. We climb down - we’re the first but really how much time can you spend up there admiring the fantastic view? I will say one thing though besides the great view you get a nice breeze at that height.

We return to the tourist office to get our bags and I feel as if I’m walking slanted now that we’re on flat ground. We run into my parents along the way and make another pit stop before we head towards the car. We snap some more pictures, get a gelato for Becky and purchase a few more bottles of water before we return to the parking lot.

We place our token in the pay machine at the entrance, pay the $4.90, and grab the token as the machine spits it back out. After we pile in the monster, Chris realizes he can’t back the monster out of the almost now full lot, and after he wiggles it back and forth a bit he ends up pulling forward. We head back to the exit, we return the token for the second and last time to a different machine that opens the gate.

We wind our way back the way we came and decide to stop for lunch somewhere along the return route. Les Woodruff provides a list of recommended restaurants in the area all around Al Bastini, including surrounding towns and that morning I copied the name and number of a place in San Giuliano Terme in case we decided to stop. I call them from the van using our borrowed cell phone and in awful Italian ask if they can accommodate the nine of us in about ten minutes. Si si. Now Chris loves the cell phone.

We wind back along the road, realizing we’re on a different S12 (yes there are two) than the one we took down but both seem to straddle SGT so it’s okay. We pass a turn for the street we want and have to turn around and backtrack, but it’s not more than a two-minute detour before we find a parking space and walk through the town.

It seems that market day has just ended - would have been nice to see that - oh well. I ask a gentleman outside a bar, "Dove Salustri" and he gives us some directions but his companion doesn’t like his answer and tells me not to listen. He then tells us, "diretto, sinestra e sinestra." Okay, I can follow that and we’re off.

Salustri is located along the river that cuts through the town. They’re waiting for us and sit us at a long table along the river under a white tent. Very nice, very homey.

Dad orders prosciutto e melon and spaghetti ragu. Dad is nothing if not consistent. Mom and I have a mixed salad and macheroni with lobster sauce. Chris gets frito misto; Becky orders spaghetti with vongole and something else we don’t recognize the word. Sammi orders a pizza margherita, although I’m not sure that’s the greatest choice and AAG order salad and Braciole - only they order it with their Sicilian accent and the waitress doesn’t understand. It’s actually funny to again realize one nation, divided by language .

Chris proclaims his frito misto the best ever. My pasta is delish and we find out the unknown item with Becky’s spaghetti con vongole are mussels. Becky’s not crazy about mussels and I'm not either, but I try them. These have to be the best mussels I’ve ever tried, big but tender like butter not tough. Sammi’s pizza seems like frozen that they reheated but she’s happy and although the Braciole isn’t prepared in the fashion AAG expect they still say it’s good. We enjoy that with two pitchers of the house white, 4 beers and 2 coca-colas. The bill came to $105. Nice and relaxing - later Chris proclaims one of the more memorable meals of our trip (in a trip filled with memorable meals, that’s saying a lot). I think it has as much to do with the friendliness of the staff and the location as with the food.

Eventually, we hit the road again, winding through the mountains in a more picturesque route than our morning one. We close in on Lucca and sort of have an idea where we are but miss the left turn we need to make. As we prepare to do a u-e, we spy an Esselunga and decide to stop there to pick up some things for dinner.

The Esselunga is huge, much bigger than the little market we previously frequented and it’s deliciously air-conditioned. I could spend hours in here and would have if my mother didn’t remind me everyone else waited outside in the hot van.

We pick up some pre-made spedini for dinner, more orange juice, which we have trouble finding because it’s not in the refrigerated section like home, but in the juice section, tomatoes, bananas, melons, toilet paper, a mixed berry and a lemon tart for dessert and milk. Back in the van, we head home.

The kids jump in the pool yet again with their clothes on. They think this is the bomb. Chris, Dad, George and I take turns putting our suits on and join them. It’s great to tour during the day and have this to come home to.

We actually grow cool in the pool and get out. Sammi wants to play Monopoly. Becky joins us. Four hours later, Becky decides she’s had enough. Thank god too. She’d already bankrupted poor Sammi and would have finished me off too, if we’d continued. The kids head off to the pool for a much anticipated night swim with their father.

While the girls and I played, the other adults put out a mixed bag of items, the leftovers from Renata’s delicious meal the night before, the cinghiale sausage and cheese we bought at Greve yesterday, then the tart for dessert. The spedini would wait until Wednesday. Through the entire evening, Chris stomps around telling everyone to drink more wine (he wouldn’t let the grandfather’s have their opening round of scotch or vodka) and we kick that double magnum pretty easily by dessert.

After their swim, Chris and George enjoy some post-dinner cigars as Ann and I partake in limoncello and fragolina respectively. We wait for the orange moon to rise, then head to bed. Everyone sleeps well.

June 26 - Out and About Lucca​

I sleep in this morning, waking at 6:40 instead of 5:30. It’s cloudy and cool and the prospect that the weather finally broke excites me. Mom awoke before me, and we check the weather forecast on CNN World. Yeah it will only be in the upper 80’s today! Surprisingly though, given the daily heat, we’re all able to sleep comfortably without air-conditioning.

Mom and I make coffee, put together a fruit salad with the leftover watermelon, strawberries and cantaloupe, put that on the counter with some cereal and two remaining cornetti and breakfast is served.

At 9:30, Pauline Priore calls. She’s at the bottom of our hill, having arrived from Florence on time. We offer to come down to the bottom to get her, but she says she’ll brave the ride up. We give her a standing ovation when she arrives and gets out of her car.

Becky gives Pauline the complete tour of our home, including her secret hiding spot, two lounge chairs off a path on a terrace above our patio. Pauline gives us her seal of approval, and we’re off.

We pile into the van and Pauline’s car; Ann, the girls and I opt to travel with Pauline. Pauline leads our caravan down the hill as we tell her Chris must stop for gas and garbage. She pulls over at the first dumpster, and Chris pulls in behind her. He drops the trash just as a garbage truck pulls up. It’s a sight to see. The truck lifts the entire dumpster onto it’s flat bed. Then lifts an empty dumpster off it’s flatbed and places it where the full receptacle sat. I guess the truck then takes the full dumpster back to the dump, empties it there and takes it out again to replace another full dumpster. Now that’s one way to keep unemployment down.

We stop for gas too then Pauline leads us towards Lucca, past the walls, and around the other side. Our first stop is Villa Camigliano built in 1500 but owned by the same family since 1636. It serves as their summer home away from Lucca (about 15 minutes away). In 1967 they opened the ground floor and the grounds to the public (one way to keep costs down), but they still use the home’s upper levels.

The gates are closed when we arrive but we wait for the tour guide to come and unlock them. Around us are old buildings, which at one time housed a complete community of workmen (e.g., blacksmith) for the villa.

We walk the grounds and gardens, which are immense and beautiful. Pauline points out one "room" in the garden walls that she refers to as the air-conditioning room. Filled with statues in niches and once home to fountains and running water, this room must be ten degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler than the air outside. Literally, this room and other like it were built as cool refuges for the family to retreat to during hot summer days.

As we walk the gardens, then the immense lawn in the back, the girls stumble upon an enormous pinecone and begin to kick it back and forth. During this trip, my kids have entertained themselves with a few Polly Pockets, some Mad Libs, books on tape, a sketchpad and now a pinecone. Makes me wonder why we buy them all of those toys.

We congregate on the back porch of the Villa, in the shade, and as Pauline, Ann and I enjoy the view of rolling hills and vineyards, the others make a dash for the bathroom before the tour starts.

Our tour guide appears and our group along with a few others begins the tour. The guide’s friendly, has a bubbly personality and knowledgeable. She takes us from room to room, pointing out interesting facts and tidbits as she goes. In the dining room she gives examples of some of the 40 - 50 courses they may have served during a dinner. My stomach growls.

In the bedrooms, she points to some beautiful needlework done by the great grandfather of the current owner and laments how sunlight destroyed much of the fabric on the windows and the beds. By the way, most of the rooms are dark because they now keep the curtains closed.

We see clothing from the different periods of the past 400 years, notice how short the beds are to which she explains it’s because years ago, people would sleep sitting up and therefore, did not need beds to be long (I should remind my Dad that the next time he requests hotels with king size beds), and see portraits of various owners.

This villa is decorated richly and ornately. I turn to Mom, smile and tell her she needs to spruce up her beach house. She laughs and tells me to save my ideas for my own house.

If you’re into seeing how the rich lived three - four hundred years ago (and I guess even now since they still use it), you’ll enjoy the villa.

After touring the Villa, we walk over to the chapel. Yes the family had their own chapel on the grounds for prayer. Like Orthodox Jews, men and women sat separate in this chapel and curious Sammi wonders why. Hmm...good question. Anyone know?

When we’re done admiring the home, we pile back into our cars and head back to Lucca. We park in a lot just inside the wall, and head to a place for lunch past Piazza di Palazzo di Pinto.

We sit outside, in an alley across from the restaurant. We cannot get two tables together and opt to break up into two groups of five. Pauline and Chris sit with AAG while I sit with my girls and my parents. The girls order a pizza margherita; Mom and I share two pizzas, a funghi and a Neopolitana (with capers and anchovies) and Dad gets salame picante (think pepperoni). Chris orders his standard Gorgonzola, but I’m not sure about the rest. Beer and coke all around.

Becky makes her obligatory rest stop. She’s a pro at asking in Italian, "Where’s the bathroom?" Then the couple at the next table, trying to feed a pigeon, entertain the kids while we wait for our food. The pigeon hesitates and seems scared whenever the woman tries to feed it a crumb of crust. Sammi comments that the pigeons are not near as friendly as Venice. Thank god, or they’d be swarming our table.

The pizzas are delish and after we’re fortified we begin our tour of Lucca. We head over to St. Michele in Foro. In my confusion I kept thinking it was in Forno not Foro and wondered what ovens had to do with the church. Pauline explains the difference and that the old Roman Forum once stood in this spot. I’d forgotten that Lucca once stood as a Roman town. The kids and AAG pick up some postcards then we head towards San Freddiano to see the beautiful mosaic that adorns the outer wall of the church then the Roman Amphitheatre.

As you walk in the empty piazza that was the amphitheatre and survey the buildings around you in a circular pattern it’s hard to imagine a Roman Amphitheatre once stood on this spot. But when you leave the circle and look at it from the outside, you realize that the buildings (aka apartments) were built inside the ancient walls of the amphitheatre and you can get a good feel for how it stood (at least from the outside).

Pauline tells us that an apartment in this area of Lucca sells for $400 - $500 thousand dollars. Doubt I’ll ever afford one (unless I win the Big Game), but I’d love to rent one for a week or two and call Lucca home.

After the amphitheatre, we head to the Duomo, San Martins. The church has a non-symmetrical entrance, which disturbs and attracts my sense of proportion and fairness. On the right wall, as you enter the church, a picture of a maze lays carved in rock. Becky tries to solve the maze and after a few unsuccessful attempts, Chris lifts Sammi up to try her luck. Without hesitation Sammi leaves a trail from the outskirts of the maze to its center in less than ten seconds. Over her head, Chris and I smile and shake our heads. Sammi scares us sometimes.

Inside the church, Becky lights Tintoretto’s Last Supper as Pauline tells them the story. Sammi’s fascinated by the story of Jesus. Not to be outdone now, Sammi wants to light a picture too, so we choose the Presentation of Mary at the Temple. I cannot remember the artist. I do remember a book in the painting had Hebrew letters on it but it was strange because the letters had vowels. Becky tried to read it but we couldn’t translate it.

In one of the church’s we visited and now, I can’t remember which, we also saw the mummified remains of the body of a saint in a glass coffin. I told Becky that’s what happens when Prince Charming forgets to kiss Snow White. Yes, I received the two-syllable Mom and the eye-roll as my response.

For our next stop, we visit the Palazzo Ducale. Pauline wants to show the girls the sculptured flowers in the ceiling of the entranceway. No two are alike. While the girls stare at them, trying to prove her wrong, Dad sneaks off to get a beer at a sidewalk café. The heat begins to get to all of us and we purchase some bottles of water in the café while he chugs his drink down.

The girls begin to fade and we ply them with a visit to a chocolate factory and shop. Unfortunately, once we arrive, we find that they aren’t making any chocolates due to the heat. The bare shelves taunt the girls but we satisfy them with the purchase of three different types of cookies and some chocolate-hazelnut spread (not Nutello but this store’s own concoction), for Sammi’s teacher.

We walk to the ramparts. The day grows late and Pauline wants to show us Palazzo Pfanner where much of Portrait of a Lady was filmed. From the ramparts the girls spy a playground and want to go there instead. We decide to check it out, with the plan being the grandpas can stay with them there while the rest visit the Palazzo but once we’re down from the ramparts, the girls change their minds again. It’s late afternoon at this point and I realize they’re done for the day.

We want to make two more stops though so we split up to save time. Dad and George want to get some luggage locks and Mom and I want to visit some ceramic stores. Chris takes the girls for some gelato and we all meet in the piazza that’s home to a statue of Puccini.

Pauline accompanies us back to the house where she takes our now empty double magnum of Verrazzano Chianti. She’s going to ship it home for us. After she signs her CD for me, we say our good-byes and the kids jump into the pool with my father.

I try to get on-line using Les’s computer but can’t get a connection. As I’m about to give up Les and Erlana arrive to treat the pool. Les gets a new phone cord for the computer and sets me up. It’s a slow connection. I’m spoiled by DSL, but I check my e-mail while Les shows Chris how to treat the pool later, so the girls can continue to swim.

After, Les and Erlana join us for some pre-dinner drinks with a little snack of some cheese and bread. Les tells us the story of the house’s renovation and it makes for a nice evening. He keeps albums in the family room with pictures of all phases of the construction - very interesting. About 8:00 though, they must depart. Erlana requires different eyeglasses for night driving, and since they each drove their own motorbike, they must depart before the sunset.

For dinner, Chris grills the spedini. We have several different kinds and they were all good. I also chop some tomatoes for bruschetta and we put out the leftover fruit salad to complete our meal. For dessert, we have Mozart’s balls. My Dad loves saying that name; basically they’re a chocolate truffle type snack Mom picked up in Vienna.

We enjoy more limoncello and fragolini, waiting for the moon to rise. As we wait we have a special visitor, a black cat joins us seeking caresses and purring at the slightest touch. Chris promptly names him Limoncello and we all wonder where he calls home since we so no other occupied dwellings. Limoncello leaves us after some time and we too grow tired of waiting for the moon to rise and head to bed. As I read a chapter of Donna Leon, I see the moon appear in our window, turn out the light and fall asleep.

June 27 - Once More Unto The Beach​

Today’s a day of relative quiet. Originally, we planned to drive to Siena for the day and lunch in Monteriggioni but no one, except Chris, felt compelled to spend 2 ½ hours in the Monster each way. Being beach people, we decide instead to have a leisurely morning then head to Viarregio to see what an Italian beach resort looks like.

After a breakfast of cornetti we picked up the previous day in Lucca, we hit the road about 10:50. Chris opts for the A11 instead of taking the single lane Via Sarzanese all the way.

When we get on the A11, we do not receive a ticket, which leads to some confusion on our part. Now I can’t remember if we paid when we left the autostrada a standard fee of $1.90 or if we paid instead when we got on - sorry I thought I noted this but didn’t. Anyway...

It’s a beautiful drive but hilly with lots of bridges. I have a fear of bridges and spend most of the ride clutching my door handle. We depart the autostrada and end up in Lido di Camaiore, which looks good. We park along the street and pay the meter then put the ticket back in the windshield of our car. We have until four o’clock. It’s a short walk to the beach, maybe four blocks.

There’s a public beach, sandwiched between two of the private beaches where many people lie on beach towels they brought but no one has lugged their own sand chairs like we do at home. Each private beach has chairs, tents, umbrellas and cabanas for rent.

Chris, Dad and the girls brought their bathing suits, so we decide to stay on the beach. They all look the same to us and we pick one with red and white striped umbrellas. I enter the office and speak with the manager (owner?), who only speaks Italian. I love this - as she explains to me the costs and what it includes. We decide on a tent with three chairs, a tanning table and a regular table, and an umbrella with two recliners across from each other in the neat rows that line the way from the promenade to the beach. Our position near the rear of the beach means a long walk to the water but she explains that monthly or seasonal renters have reserved the closer locals.

She charges me $50 instead of the $53 on the price list. Maybe she enjoyed my struggling Italian as much as I did or maybe she has no change. After we choose a location on a map she keeps in her office of all the different "place settings" she comes outside to meet my family and show us the actual spot.

Some of you may be bucking at the $50 cost. We’re from NJ though where you pay to get on the beach, so a bit more than $5.00 a person does not seem outrageous to us. Especially when you consider this includes chairs, tents, umbrellas and a cabana, which you’d pay a lot more for in Joisey.

The girls, Chris and my Dad each take turns changing in the cabana, then settle in while AAG decide to stroll along the promenade that goes the length of the town of Lido di Camaiore and all the way into Viareggio. It’s filled with stores and restaurants.

I didn’t bring my suit that day, since I had woman issues and neither did my Mom. So after hanging with Chris, Dad and the girls for a bit, we decide to do some strolling along the promenade too.

Lido di Camaiore seems like a nice seaside town - reminiscent of some towns along the Jersey shore about 20 - 30 years ago. We see tons of restaurants, stores and hotels and both agree it could be nice spending a few days (2 - 3) here after a touring vacation, to unwind. We do wonder though if the hotels have air-conditioning until we see some have signs advertising it.

We cut up a block and walk through the town too - tons of restaurants, more per square foot than I’ve seen anywhere else. It’s still quiet though since we haven’t hit the official start of summer, July, and also because it’s mid-week. We stop at an ATM, buy a newspaper and some other trinkets then return to the beach.

Now each of these private beaches has their own restaurants or snack bars. Here’s where we made a bit of a mistake, if only for the fact that the beach we chose has a tiny snack bar without table service while others have a bit more upscale establishments. Mom and I could have gotten into a "fancier" lunch, but we all settle for some panini, chips, and melon. When the kids finally join us (they’ve divided their time between the water and the playground), they opt for some pasta.

After lunch, the kids continue to swim and I snap some pictures of them in the Mediterranean with Chris. I also snap some pictures of some mountains in the distance, which appear to be snow covered in this heat but I believe, are actually marble covered.

We pass the afternoon this way, reading, swimming talking until about three o’clock when we drag the kids from the water, shower them up and get dressed. We stop for some gelato and a bit of chotchkey shopping before we pile in the van and head back home.

On the way we stop at the market to get more water and some breakfast items to carry us through until Saturday. Once home, the kids jump back into the pool just before Renata arrives to prepare our dinner - yippee!

We sit on the patio, enjoying our drinks, while the scents of Renata’s cooking drift our way. Her daughter again sets a beautiful table and we’re treated to ravioli for our first course followed by roast chicken, braised peppers and salad. For dessert, panna cota in a delicious strawberry sauce (Sammi licks her plate).

We enjoy cigars and fragolini as we finished the limoncello. Limoncello, the cat, joins us for a brief visit before we’re off to bed.

June 28 - We're Cooking With Crisco Now​

As usual, I’m up early, writing, hanging laundry and straightening up. Mom and I put out the breakfast stuff but this morning the men have a different idea. Remember that McDonalds at the Lucca exit on the A11 I mentioned earlier? Well, it seems the guys have a bad egg McMuffin craving. I try to explain to them that they may not serve breakfast at McDonalds here but they poo poo my suggestion and decide to give it a go.

Now, Chris’s had parked his little car near the house earlier in the week. This morning, as he went to back out of his spot, he realizes how tight it is and with George giving him one set of directions and my father giving him another, he gets himself jammed in a precarious situation between a wall and the edge of the hill. Mom, Becky and I stand on the terrace above hooting and hollering at the scene. Finally, he stops listing to both his co-pilots and navigates the car from the spot with no damage. He didn’t appreciate the humor of his predicament but we all got a good laugh.

Once they leave, we help ourselves to breakfast then straighten the kitchen. Originally, the plan for today, included a cooking class for Becky and I in Florence while my Mom and AA toured with Pauline. Unfortunately, Pauline told us on Monday that the gentleman leading the class fell off his scooter and broke his leg. Instead, she arranged for another woman to join us at the villa and conduct the class here. As we wait for her arrival the girls and I worked on a jigsaw puzzle we found among the games.

Barbara arrives about ten o’clock - shortly before the men return, defeated because the McDonalds had been closed - more chuckles from us. We give them each a cornetti, no coffee because we were getting ready to cook and sent them on their way.

Barbara brought everything we needed with her. Today, we would learn to make pasta we could use to make tagliatelle and tortellini as well as gnocchi. It was a full day of mixing, kneading, rolling and shaping but in the end we served three delicious dishes for lunch: tagliatelli with a veal ragu sauce, tortellini, stuffed with mortadella, parma ham and cheese, served with a pesto sauce and gnocchi (made the Lucchesse way with egg), in a gorgonzola sauce. Yummy - we impressed ourselves.

The girls love shaping the gnocchi and tortellini. As a matter of fact, now Becky helps me make gnocchi at home and loves it. Yet, they lose interest at other points, so it works out well that they were able to come and go from the kitchen as they pleased.

After we serve up lunch, Barbara cleans the kitchen (now that’s cool) and departs. It’s pricey having her come to us to teach us but I thoroughly enjoyed learning the techniques and now I’m not intimidated by them at home. Barbara will come to any villa/rental house in the area to prepare meals and she also runs some sort of tourist agency. Unfortunately, I can’t find her contact information but if anyone’s interested, let me know and I’m sure I can obtain it for you.

After our filling lunch, we enjoyed the afternoon relaxing by the pool, doing laundry and packing for our morning departure the next day.

Renata who had been watching us cook and offering her advice earlier in the day, returns in the evening for our last dinner. Tonight she prepares pasta with fresh pesto sauce to start, followed by a lamb roast, grilled eggplant and by our request more of those delicious roasted potatoes and her homemade tiramisu for dessert.

We finish the meal, as usual, with cigars, a replenished bottle of limoncello and some fragolino. Limoncello, the cat, returns one last time, to say good-bye and this time brings a shy friend that stays on the edge of the patio. After soaking up as much of our last night as we could we turned in for bed.

June 29 - All Roads Lead to Grosetto​

Depression, nervousness and excitement set in. Sad to be leaving, nervous about our drive to Rome and excited to go home, all in the same breath.

Again, up early and set out a bunch of leftovers for breakfast. Becky actually ate the last piece of Renata’s Tiramisu for breakfast. I wish we had a cooler in which we could have stored more things for our road trip but instead, we left everything in the refrigerator (e.g., the limoncello), or on the counters for either the next tenants or Renata to take home.

We load up the Monster and the car with our stuff and our trash and creep down the mountain, one last time, about 9:45. As we reach the bottom, Renata pulls in to do her cleaning. We wave good-bye and roll down the windows to yell ciao and grazie before we turn onto the road to head towards the A11. We dump the trash then miss the turn for the A11 but a quick u-e later and we’re on our way.

Our original plan for the day had been to drive straight through to the Hilton Hotel at Fuimincino, drop the cars and luggage and take the train back into Roma for one last afternoon/evening and a late reservation at the Borghese Gallery for my parents.

Instead, we follow Peter’s suggestion from two weeks earlier to have lunch at Latte de Luna in Pienza.

We take the A11 to the A1 to the Superstrada between Florence and Siena. I like the Superstrada from a scenery perspective. As we drive, I point out San Gimignano and Monteriggioni to my mom. Then we see the most unusual of Italian sites, two police officers along the side of the road with a radar gun, shooting at random cars. Trust me, in the Monster, on that curvy road I’m not going faster than the 90 kilometers per hour posted.

As we approach Siena trouble breaks out. We need to get from the Superstrada to some road, N02. When we near the end of the SS we made a wrong turn or a wrong exit or something towards Siena Nord. We pull into a gas station and after waiting in line behind the paying customers, I show the manager my map and point to the N02 "Dove?"

The manager tells me we should go back toward the main road and follow the sign for Arezzo Grossetto. We do this for the first split but then three choices face us, Arezzo, Grossetto, and Siena/Firenze - none of which seem like a good choice to me to get to the N02, south of Siena.

Now remember, I’m driving the Monster and Chris is following me in the car. Dad is navigating and none of us have a clue. I choose Arezzo but after a few minutes, I’m convinced this is wrong. I pull over, Chris leaves his car, comes to mine, we converse, ogle the map and decide to try a different route. As we’re driving we see tons of signs for Grosetto but nothing else.

We return to the three-way split and select Grosetto, drive a bit but it feels wrong to me again. Without pulling over I do a u-e in the middle of this road - much to Chris’s dismay, and go back to the three-way split. At this time, Mom comments, "All roads don’t lead to Rome, they lead to Grosetto."

I return to the three-way split again, and take the third choice, Siena/Firenze. We skirt south of the city (we can see it on a hill to our left) in an easterly direction and eventually realize we’re on the N02. Yipee.

The N02 is a winding road through some beautiful country - other than getting lost about Siena, we find the entire drive lovely. At San Quircio, we make a left and continue to follow the directions we first wrote out before leaving Al Bastini in the morning. Eventually, we arrive in Pienza at 12:55 - perfect for our one o’clock reservation.

As we drive on the road that skirts the "old town", someone sees a sign for Latte de Luna on a post with other restaurant signs. We follow the blue P and park in a half-empty lot, leaving all of our stuff in the car. There’s an attendant in the lot, sitting on a chair as we exit and he collects money from us. Someone in our party comments, "For all we know parking is free and he’s just sitting there collecting money from unsuspecting tourists." Oh well - everyone has to earn a living.

We stroll through the town, and find the restaurant without problem. Peter made a reservation for us two weeks prior and they sit us at a large table inside. If it weren’t so hot outside, we would have preferred that but this works fine.

We start with two orders of bruschetta sans pomedori, a bottle of Anvignonesi Montepulciano de Nobile and a bottle of house white wine. For our first courses, everyone but Chris and the girls order the pici; Dad gets his with ragu (what else?), so do Angie and George. Mom and Ann order it with tomato and mushroom, and I get it with a spicy tomato sauce. Chris orders the tagliatelle con tartufo and the girls order gnocchi. They’re not crazy about the gnocchi, preferring the stuff we made with Barbara on Friday, so Sammi finally tries someone’s left over pici con ragu and loves it. Of course, we haven’t been able to get her to eat a meat sauce since. All our dishes are wonderful.

For a second course, five of us order the roast baby pig, which is served family style and we all help ourselves. My mom orders the roast duck and Angie gets a dish akin to roast beef. Again, everything’s delicious and we thoroughly stuff ourselves. For dessert, we enjoy homemade gelato while the kids get the Italian version of the King Cone. Some espressi for the now sleepy drivers and we head out. A delicious meal - definitely worth the side trip.

We stroll about Pienza a bit, wishing we could spend more time there but return to the now full lot and hit the road about 3:30 or so. We wind our way along snaking roads, with me leading a caravan of drivers, since I fear toppling over if I move the monster more than 50 K in an hour. I do try to pull over when I can to let those in faster, sportier cars pass me but it’s not often. Let me say that I hate when I get stuck behind a slow driver on the single lane back road we take to the beach and now I find I am that driver in Italy. I’d like to take this time to apologize to any drivers out there that may have been stuck behind a large silver van winding its way between Pienza and the A1 on the late Saturday afternoon of June 29, 2002.

We drive through Chianciamo Terme, noting its size before we finally hit the A1. We drive south on the autostrada, not hitting any traffic and again, admiring the views where present. At one point, the autostrada even has 3 lanes - what easy driving. During construction, it goes down to two but still, no traffic and not a problem. South of Orvieto, I spy a town atop a rock, a shear escarpment and wonder what town it must be but determine to find out - I’d like to visit someday. Later, in the hotel, Chris comments on the same town and we’ve since found it; it’s Orte. We’ll return in November for a look around.

From the A1 we get on the GRA. This is a lousy road. No one seems to follow the axiom of keep right, pass left, surprising for Italy. Yet while many drive incredibly fast, others seem to drive incredibly slow; it frustrates me like driving on the Garden State Parkway in the summer at home.

We pull off about exit 33 for gas and a bathroom stop, since the girls cannot wait until we reach the hotel. By the way, thanks again to Pauline Kenny and Slow Travelers, for noting where to pull off for gas before reaching the Rome airport.

We’re back on the road again and find the Hilton easily. We decided to stay here because my parents have a six am flight to Frankfurt and feel more comfortable being close to the airport. Also, being Hilton Honors members, which costs nothing to join, we were able to obtain a weekend excursion rate of $175 a night - cheaper than staying at the Del Senato again in Rome.

We unload the cars, Chris and I check-in, then we return the rental cars while everyone else checks-in and keeps an eye on the girls. From the Hilton, I cannot follow the directions on Slow Traveler to the rental car place, but by the time we realize this, we’re stuck in a bit of a traffic jam around a parking deck that we shouldn’t be in to begin with. We manage to pull out, with me running over a curb, and loop around the parking area again, so we can now follow the perfect directions from the Slow Traveler website.

We climb up the parking deck to the fourth floor. Oh, and those directions are correct yet again, those are some narrow turns, especially in the Monster. When we get to the rental return place, Chris insists on noting the damage to the attendants that was present when we picked up the cars but didn’t originally notice (i.e., broken rear windshield wiper and stuck tape). I roll my eyes. Finally, the woman says to him, "Sir, you have complete coverage, why worry." Which of course, is what we’ve been telling him since we arrived in Lucca a week earlier, but Chris has to have something to worry about.

As we walk back through the covered walkway to the Hilton, we offer to help another couple with their luggage; they didn’t think to drop it first at the Hilton before returning the rental car. I think the wife silently blames the husband for this mistake as we tell them that we did that.

Of course, we’re not so smart, at least I’m not, as soon as we leave the covered walkway, I realize I left my sunglasses in the van. Chris, being the wonderful guy he is, hightails it back to the rental car place and retrieves them for me.

We retrieve our kids from my parents and head to our room. It’s a typical Hilton room, but it turns out, my parents have been upgraded for some reason unknown to them and us. The upgrade means they have access to the concierge lounge where they serve free drinks and nibbles. Since it’s about 6:30 by this point, and everyone’s still full from lunch we end up spending a couple of hours in the lounge relaxing and enjoying the freebies, before everyone turns in early for our respective early flights.

When we return to our room about 8:30 we need to determine the sleeping arrangements. The Hilton does not have quad rooms, so the original plan was for Sammi or Becky to bunk down with Ann that night. Neither felt keen on the idea, so we end up snagging some bedding from Ann’s room, and making a mock sleeping bag for Sammi on the floor where she sleeps contently. We're all out by 9:30 to the sounds of Jay Leno on CNBC.

June 30 - Homeward Bound​

We have a 9:20 flight back to Newark, so we plan to walk to the airport about seven. By this point, I know my parents are already on their way to Frankfurt. They will leave Rome before us but arrive home after us due to their layover. We already have plans to hook-up later that evening for some take-in Chinese food.

We head downstairs about 6:20 to grab some breakfast from the huge, American style, buffet. I try a bit of eggs but they’re nothing great, and I enjoy my cornetto with cappuccino. The girls and Chris have a variety of things before we return to the lobby for our bags and to checkout.

AAG meet us and we begin the long trek through the warm covered walkway to the terminal. I guess we could have taken the shuttle as we found out later my parents did but didn’t think of it. It takes us a while to walk there and we lose AAG a couple of times but eventually we got to the check-in line, which at 7:10 wound it’s way through the entire check-in area. Only one Alitalia employee seems to be responsible for processing everyone. Chris looks at me with exasperation. I just shrug. "Hey this is Italy. It will work out."

Eventually, they add a few more people and we move slightly quicker through the line. As we got closer, security pulls Angie and George from the line for a more thorough search. We all have a good laugh at their expense.

After checking in, we head to the gate and take turns watching the bags while others scout the gate area. I enjoy one last cappuccino and scour the bookstores for any signs of Donna Leon books. Nothing. Should have bought more in Venice.

We board, and during our flight home enjoy two movies, I am Sam and Beautiful Mind. They serve us turkey with pasta for our meal and a pretty good ice cream sandwich for snack. Sammi sleeps for a couple of hours on the flight but otherwise it’s completely uneventful.

We get through Customs and say our good-byes to AAG as we get into two separate cars. At two-thirty we pull into the old homestead, drop our bags, put on our bathing suits and head to the pool club for the afternoon as if we never left.


RomaLimo - Sandro: www.romalimo.com

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