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Leonardo, Leonardo, Leonardo (Or the Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful)


10+ Posts
Trip Description: April 2005. A Quick Trip to London and Paris, followed by Slow Travel in Italy, a week in Florence and a couple of days in Rome, with my sister and daughter.


My daughter Kate had the good fortune to spend the second semester of her junior year in college in London. Thus I had an iron clad excuse to take another trip across the pond to visit her. After all, what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t visit my daughter in a “foreign land” to assuage any homesickness?

I once again invited my sister (my favorite travel companion after my husband - see my Spain trip report, 10 Days in Barcelona, Granada and Seville) to join me for an all girls’ trip, since my husband couldn’t make this trip due to previous work and windsurfing conflicts. My sister Kathleen hadn’t been to Paris for 20 years so she lobbied for a stop in Paris. That was OK by me since my husband’s brother, wife and adorable 2-year-old nephew live in Montmartre and any excuse to see them is a real treat, not to mention a free place to stay. And of course, if we were that close to my beloved Italy then I just had to show my sister, daughter, and her friend Laura what I had loved most about Florence during my stay there last April as a language student (see my Italy trip A Student in Florence), didn’t I?

We had to work backwards from the time Kate would be leaving London, so settled on the end of April and kept our fingers crossed for good weather. The last trip I took to Italy with my sister and my family was in 2000 to the big three of Rome, Florence and Venice. The theme of that trip was Giuseppe because in every town or piazza we went to throughout the whole trip, Kathleen was always on the lookout for a Giuseppe. She just wanted to meet an Italian man that was named Giuseppe. Don’t ask, that’s what she had in mind and it was a running theme the whole trip, asking every waiter’s name etc. Happily, at the end of our trip in Venice she finally heard someone call out “Ciao Giuseppe” in greeting to a friend across a piazza. Mission accomplished!

The theme of our April 2005 sojourn to Italy would be Leonardo, as you will see when we reach Florence.

I have been to London several times, so had no real agenda this trip other than to let my daughter show me around “her” London. This was a nice change for me as I tend to over research and plan my trips. I flew from Boston to JFK on FF miles, where I met my sister who flew in from San Francisco. Our flight was delayed about an hour but that gave me a chance to watch a Red Sox vs. Yankee game with Yankee fans in an airport bar that was kind of fun and scary at the same time.

The flight was relatively uneventful, if not restful, despite Ambien and a sleep mask. Upon arrival, after a bit of searching we found the driver that we had booked through Londontown. The company was JK travels and the cost was £18 each. This little splurge was my treat, as I hate to arrive in a jet-lagged haze and feel susceptible to being overcharged by a taxi or getting lost with luggage to drag around. He was a nice chap who was married to an American and spent a great deal of time in New Hampshire, so we had a lot to chat about. He favored American women over British women because he thinks we are less critical and less concerned about social status. He hasn’t met a lot of women I know I guess! He also gave us a bit of a tour on the way to our hotel that was a nice touch.

We stayed at the Millennium Hotel London Mayfair, 44 Grosvenor Square, a hotel I had bid on through priceline for $105/night. I was pretty happy about that price for the Mayfair section of London. The Internet rates for the cheapest room in the house at this hotel range from £84 to £178, depending on the season. If you have never used priceline I would advise you to do some research first on BiddingForTravel (under Web Resources) to better understand the bidding strategies involved. I found it fun, a bit of a challenge and a game at the same time (perhaps I have a recessive gambling gene).

Our room was ready even though we were early. It was on the small side but nicely appointed with very comfortable beds and a good-sized modern bathroom. We looked out on to Grosvenor Square that was very pleasant and quiet at night. The shops of Oxford and Bond streets were nearby as was the Oxford tube. We were quite happy with this hotel and location.

We had a happy reunion with Kate (I had not seen her for four months, the longest stretch of time I had gone without being in her proximity) and set off to Soho for lunch. She would later find out that this was the day that she could have met Tony Blair with some of her office mates from her internship placement. But hey, Tony Blair versus your mother and favorite aunt, we’ll be in her life a lot longer!

Although I had not done much planning for London, I had researched a few restaurants, as I knew that would not be a strong point on Kate’s tour. She was however, keen to eat well while I was paying, as she had found the cost of food in London extremely high on a student budget. Our first meal in London turned out to be our best meal. Busaba Eathai, 106-110 Wardour Street served fabulous, fresh Thai food that didn’t break the bank.

After lunch we walked around Soho for a bit, checked out Kate’s apartment that she shared with eleven roommates (need I say more?!), before returning to our comfy hotel for a rest before dinner. I had asked for advice from our British Slow travelers on reasonably priced Indian restaurants and they did not steer me wrong in sending me to Masala Zone, 9 Marshall Street in Soho. It was also fun to walk through Carnaby Street on the way to the restaurant. We crashed at the end of this tiring day and slept well.

I like London, I really do. But the bone chilling weather and continual gray skies we encountered, made me wish for some sunny Italian days sooner rather than later as I put on yet another layer to defend myself against the elements. But this being London, a stiff upper lip was called for, so it was off to an English breakfast around the corner at Dino’s, run by Italians actually. This was much more reasonable than the very expensive hotel breakfast that was not included in my reduced rate.

Today we hit Portobello Market, crowded but fun, and our tour guide, Kate, would show us Westminster, Whitehall and Parliament while regaling us with the history behind each of them. As part of her internship at a PR company, Kate would sometimes work in Parliament and was very proud to show us this area.

From there we made our way to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. We had not really planned this excursion but one of the many wonderful things about London is that most of the museums are free, so it was just too tempting to pass up. This was my first visit to the National and I loved it. I was particularly taken by the works of Van Gough. I can’t say that I had really been a big fan of his until this visit. The vibrancy of his colors and the bold brush stokes moved me in a way I hadn’t experienced in his paintings before. I have of course seen posters of his Sunflower painting numerous times (it was a particularly popular print when I was in college, perhaps why I dismissed it), but to see the original was really very moving. I also loved Wheatfield with Cypresses, for the beautiful blues and greens and the cypress trees that reminded me of Italy.

The visit to the National Gallery would also be our first encounter with a Leonardo. This would be as in Leonardo da Vinci in his magnificent Virgin of the Rocks. I also enjoyed a preview of Italy while gazing at the beautiful Saint Catherine by Raphael and the enthralling Venus and Mars by Botticelli. I was so happy to get my Botticelli fix since we would not be going to the Uffizi this trip.

Uplifted by great art, we were ready to fortify ourselves with a fish and chips pub experience for a late lunch. We chose a pub from a guidebook because it was supposed to be typical and was nearby. It was fine but nothing memorable. On the way we passed the Florence Nightingale statue where I posed for pictures, as she is the founder of the nursing profession.

A rest was now in order as we had plans to partake in The Old Hampstead Village Pub Walk at 7pm put on by The Original London Walks. This company, established in 1960, offers a vast array of entertaining and cultural walks of London. You meet a guide, who is also often an actor, at a tube stop near your destination. The size of the group depends upon how many people show up, so it can be quite large. It is inexpensive at £5.50 for adults, £4.50 for students. Our group had about 20 people, really too many for stopping in pubs comfortably, but it was still fun and informative.

Hampstead Village is on a hilltop in northern London with lovely views, where the wealthy used to come for the “healthy air.” It is a very pretty Georgian village and has been home to many famous people including, Constable, Keats, Freud, and currently Russell Crowe. I’m glad to have had the experience and would try another of this company’s walks. I do admit that this was another one of my plans rather than my daughter’s (I just can’t help myself!) Still a bit jet-lagged we opted for an early night after this adventure and some overpriced snacks in our hotel bar before calling it a night.

Our last day in London brought continued gray skies, but undeterred we set out for the Tate Britain to see the Turner, Whistler and Monet exhibit. This was a very well done exhibit that “examines the work of three artists who changed the course of landscape painting in nineteenth–century Europe.” We enjoyed this interesting comparison of artists from different generations and their views of landscapes affected by pollution and industrialization. We decided on the spur of the moment to take the Tate-to-Tate boat, a boat service that runs every 40 minutes between the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern. This was a very enjoyable way to see a bit of London and transport us effortlessly and comfortably to that area of town. It was £4 well spent. We took a very quick tour of the Tate Modern, being more interested in the eclectic building than the art. We were art fatigued by this point but because it was free and cool looking, we couldn’t pass it up.

Onward to a look at the impressive Saint Paul’s Cathedral before heading over to Covent Gardens to peruse the markets there and have a late lunch. Kate bought some pretty picture frames and I bought a small watercolor of Parliament and Big Ben to add to my European street art collection. I had liked the look of Rules Restaurant on the Internet so that’s where we had lunch. This is a very elegant restaurant on 35 Maiden Lane and they treated us well despite our attire of blue jeans. This was the splurge meal of our trip in London and it was worth it for the very lovely and historical setting. In fact the ambiance of this restaurant was so well done that we felt as if we were on a British stage set!

We had reserved tickets for the London Eye on line yesterday, via the Internet, for later in the day today (trying for a sunset view) but as we were nearby and it was cloudy anyway, we decided to just head over after our late lunch. The walk over was very entertaining along the Thames with lots of street artists performing on a Sunday afternoon. The most unusual was a woman piano player dressed in Victorian costume.

As long as you have reservations paid for in advance on the London Eye, they don’t care if you take the ride at a different time than your reservation. There were no lines at the advance reservation section or for the actual Eye itself, so we walked right on. That is, after a security check of each compartment after each passenger group disembarks. This was a very nice way to see an expansive view of London and I felt it was worth the £20 (once anyway).

Our last dinner in London was once again in Soho at Café Espana, 63 Old Compton Street. This was a very good Spanish meal in a lively atmosphere for a very reasonable price. A nice end to our whirlwind tour of Kate’s London. We would see her again the following Thursday in Florence.

If I didn’t do much planning for London, I did even less for Paris. I have been to Paris several times and left the “must sees” to my sister. Well as much as an obsessive planner as I am, my sister is the complete opposite. So we really had no agenda at all except to take in the glorious art at the d'Orsay museum. This was OK by me; just walking around my favorite parts of Paris (Ile St. Louis, Marais and some Gardens) would keep me happy.

We took the 8:12am Eurostar to Paris. What a totally civilized way to travel from London to Paris! We took an £8 cab ride to Waterloo Station, had an easy check-in and a decent coffee and croissant at the gate while waiting for boarding. All this, plus comfortable seats made for a very pleasant three-hour ride with the additional bonus of depositing you in the heart of Paris! So much easier than the hassles of flying. I had booked our tickets on the Internet three months in advance of our departure date. With this train, the earlier you book, the cheaper the fare, so I booked as soon as it was available which was three months out. The cheapest fare I could find was a round trip ticket for £59, so I booked it and didn’t use the return trip. A one-way fare is considerably more money.

Happily for us, a free lance photographer friend of my sister, who lives in Paris and has a very flexible schedule, offered to pick us up at the station, take us to lunch and deposit us at my brother and sister in law’s apartment in Montmartre. What service! I was happy to be along for the ride and have a stress free entry into Paris, as my high school French is sorely lacking. Horacio, a vivacious and colorful character, took us on a tour of Corbis, a photo editing enterprise owned by Bill Gates, where he and his American wife work. They then treated us to a fabulous lunch near their workplace at Chai 33, 33 cour St. Emilion, in Bercy village in the 12th eme. This was an elegant, contemporary restaurant that served delicious and innovative food. I had a wonderful trout dish, I can’t remember what anyone else had but it all looked delicious and the wine was divine. I was just so happy not to have to decipher the menu and have others do the ordering for me. The lunch went on for hours in the French tradition as Kathleen and her friends had much to chat about, not least of which was Kathleen being the photo editor for a Pulitzer prize photographer this year!

Off to Montmartre to see Dolly, John and Jake, my adorable two year-old nephew. Don’t kids sound smart when they can speak another language? He knows exactly which language he should speak to whom. French to his nanny, English to his parents. I love it! I will restrain myself from going on a rant about how poorly we teach languages to our kids in this country (like waiting until kids are at their most self-conscious in middle school instead of pre-school when their brains are a sponge for languages). But I digress. The view from their apartment of Sacra Coeur is picture post card perfect. We really are in Paris!

The first order of business was to shop at the local markets for dinner ingredients, which is always a joyful experience in Paris. In the early evening before sunset, when the light is at its most beautiful, we took a quick tour of Montmartre, a spot Kathleen had never seen before. Sadly, it was the only time we will experienced it, as time was so short in this beautiful City of Light. We had a lovely family dinner of lamb with fresh vegetables and new potatoes and some to die for Parisian confections. Not only is Dolly smart and beautiful, she can cook too! A nightcap in the neighborhood with my brother in law while Jake was put to bed, before we crashed after a busy day and lots of spirits.

Tuesday brought a bit warmer weather and a late start because we needed to indulge ourselves in the pleasure of playing with an adorable two year-old. Today, we would roam around some of my favorite parts of Paris. We started in Ile St. Louis because I find it to be so charming and just so French. It is also the home of Berthillon ice cream that has to be tasted to be believed. Now I am over the top about Italian gelato, but nothing and I mean nothing, compares to this French ice cream. Kathleen couldn’t understand why I was on such a mission to taste this ice cream again, especially at 11 o’clock in the morning. It just took one taste however, for her to get it. She too is now a convert to the Berthillon experience, nothing comes close. I wonder why someone hasn’t figured out how to profitably export it to the US. Next on to the lovely Notre Dame area but we didn’t feel like waiting in line to go inside.

We wandered over to the Pont Nerf, an area of Paris that I hadn’t been to before, and I was enchanted by it’s beauty and tranquility. It was very untouristy and we had a lovely simple lunch of a sandwich and a salad in a very French bar in the neighborhood. We enjoyed watching some Parisian men playing a game similar to the Italian game of bocce in the park and just felt like we were seeing the “real” Paris. After lunch we stopped at the nearby Samaritaine department store for the view from the top of the building. Nice view but not a particularly impressive store.

As time was very short on this trip to Paris, I thought a boat ride on the Bateaux-mouches would give Kathleen a nice overview of the City of Light. This had been a highlight of past trips, especially at sunset or twilight as the city lights up. It was nice, but it was just too cold. We ended up inside for most of the journey which isn’t really the best way to view Paris. However, Horacio gallantly picked us up once again from the boat landing and whisked us away to his apartment in the 2nd arrondissement for some wine and cheese before dining at a neighborhood restaurant that was good but not particularly memorable (thus no review).

Our last day in Paris was a much more laid back day. Each new day of our trip brought a little bit more sunshine and warmer weather. Italy should be hot if this trend continues! Today was our day to take in the d'Orsay. This is my favorite museum in Paris. Not only is the building beautiful, the way that the art is displayed is masterful. I am also a sucker for Impressionists ever since I did a research project on Monet for a French class, my junior year in high school. The lines were not bad, and once inside it was not crowded. It was a truly soul satisfying and leisurely visit.

We grabbed a quick lunch at a nearby café and had a decent quiche and salad. Because this was not my part of the trip to plan, I did not come to Paris with my usual restaurant lists. That’s OK, we knew lots of good eating was ahead of us in Florence and I have experienced incredible French meals on other visits. We strolled around the Left Bank a bit and I bought another watercolor of the Point Nerf to remind me of our perfect French day. From there, we made our way over to the Marais, always a delight, and to the Tuileries, a calm oasis of beauty and a nice spot to linger and catch our breath before heading home. Dolly wanted to try a Vietnamese restaurant in her neighborhood that night and that sounded good to us. It was very good and very reasonable. And then all too quickly our time in Paris was up.
Florence and Leonardo

I was so looking forward to being in Florence with my sister on this trip. Besides showing her sights I love most in this grand renaissance city, we egg each other on when it comes to shopping together. This could be a dangerous situation for our pocket books but it is oh so much fun! Kathleen was on a mission to buy a leather jacket; Rampini ceramics were my only must have. As you will see, we did quite well.

We decided to try taking public transport to CDG airport where we would be flying Air France to Florence. We had scoped out the station and bought tickets the day before to lessen our anxiety level. John ordered a taxi for us to take us to the metro, where we would catch the train to the airport. He had told us there was an express train to the airport and we should take that one to avoid many stops. However, since John usually takes a company paid for taxi to the airport, he didn’t know to tell us that the express train doesn’t run all that frequently.

Luckily for us, as we were not finding this express train as the minutes ticked by, a very lovely young French woman who spoke excellent English, took us under her wing and said “ follow me.” She had us take her train to the next stop, and instructed us to switch trains there, cross the tracks to catch an express train to the airport. She also told us which airport stop to get off for our terminal that saved us tons of walking. Who said the French aren’t friendly to Americans? We got to the airport in plenty of time but if I had to do it over again, I would probably opt for the peace of mind of a taxi, as I am a nervous Nellie on travel days about missing flights/connections.

I have to say that Air France is one of my least favorite airlines. I chose it for this trip to Florence only because Volare had gone out of business and I really wanted to fly directly into Florence to maximize our time there. Once again, a round trip reservation was much cheaper than one way, so that’s what we booked and didn’t use the return tickets. After worrying about getting to the airport on time, we waited in line for over an hour and when we finally got to the agent, she couldn’t check us in because of gate problems despite it being 15 minutes before boarding time! Because we still had not had our morning coffee, this made us very grumpy but we eventually boarded and were on our way to Bella Italia. Hurray! Truthfully, if it hadn’t been for wanting to share Kate’s experience of London and being a nice older sister in accommodating Kath’s desire to see Paris, I would have been just as happy to spend the entire time in Italy. That’s no secret to my family so I guess it’s OK to express these sentiments.

I was surprised by both how long it took for our luggage to arrive at such a tiny airport and by the dogs sniffing suitcases. Was it for drugs or explosives? Anyway, I tried calling our rental agent as directed once we had landed but they were at lunch, so we decided to take a taxi to our apartment and call again from there. We had a very nice female taxi driver who spoke excellent English and had several recommendations for restaurants and wine bars. At our apartment, I called the agent again but she could not meet us as she was with another client. Luckily, at least we thought so at the time, there was a restaurant right next to our apartment, Dante (review #1350), so we dragged our suitcases in and had some lunch while we waited for an agent to call us back. The agent from Windows on Tuscany found us in the restaurant and soon checked us in to our apartment called Leonardo.

This was our first Leonardo encounter (in Italy anyway) and I am sorry to say this was the Bad Leonardo of my trip report title. This was the noisiest dwelling I have ever had the bad fortune to stay in. Now, I live in the city of Cambridge, MA, very close to a hospital and I am used to the rhythmic sounds of a busy city. But I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I felt like I was sleeping on top of a four-lane highway! In retrospect I probably should have asked the agent if we could have switched to another property but my daughter and her friend were arriving that evening and the thought of moving, finding the right accommodations to meet our needs (the two bathrooms for four females was nice) just seemed too overwhelming at the time.

The apartment itself was really quite nice, huge and modern but the noise was just unacceptable and really negatively impacted my feelings about the noise and congestion of Florence on this trip. In such a touristed city, it really makes a difference to have a quiet respite to regroup between excursions. I do feel the agent should have warned me about this, but then again I really didn’t ask. It will now be the first question I ask about any future rental! It did not deter us from having a great time, or dissuade me from returning; it just made me realize how important location is. I had chosen the quieter Oltrarno side of Florence for just this reason and this particular rental backfired. Oh well, live and learn.

After checking in, we went in search of a TIM store, as my Italian phone that I had bought from Telestial in the States was not working. We found one near Piazza della Signoria. It turns out that despite sending my passport information as required for registration, there were no records of a proper registration. This seems to be a common problem with Telestial. The TIM store employees quickly resolved this and changed the prompts to English for me and I bought more minutes for their trouble. From that point on, it worked fine. I would tend to agree with the advice of many that it makes the most sense to wait to buy a phone once you’re in Italy. It’s cheaper and seems more likely to work immediately.

We wandered around the beautiful piazzas of Signoria and Repubblica. Kathleen made the first of many shopping forays in this shopping mecca and bought some fancy lingerie. You can see where her priorities are, she has a relatively new boyfriend; I have been married more than 25 years (not that my husband doesn’t appreciate nice lingerie, I just couldn’t bring myself to spend that much money on so little fabric!)

On to Santa Croce, another lovely and less crowded piazza to check out where our ST GTG lunch would be held the next day. We located the Boccadamia restaurant and it looked very nice. On the way back to our apartment, we ran into the Vasari restaurant that had been recommended by a fellow slow traveler. There were candles lit at its entrance and it looked very pretty so we went in for an early dinner. It was nice, not spectacular but it met our needs for our first night in Florence.

My daughter and her friend Laura arrived safely by taxi at 12:30 am, after much worrying on my part because I wasn’t able to reach her by phone. They had flown Meriderina airlines from London Gatwick and were pleased with the service despite it running late. After sharing a flat in London with so many roommates, they were ecstatic at the size of the apartment and having their own bedroom and bathroom. Of course that was before they tried sleeping. We all got good use out of earplugs that week!
Leonardo the Beautiful

Friday morning brought warmer weather and some sunshine and the first order of the day was checking out the stalls in San Lorenzo. This really is a budget shopper’s dream, great for bargains if you’re willing to search. After the prices in London, the girls were quite happy to find many reasonable scarves, pashminas, bracelets and cotton skirts and jackets. See my Florence Shopping Notes for more expansive thoughts on the stalls and shopping in Florence in general.

The college girls really wanted to relax and enjoy the sun after shopping, so they headed to the Boboli Gardens while Kathleen and I made our way to Santa Croce and our Slow Travel lunch at the Boccadama. The restaurant, chosen by Angie, tuscanartist on the message board, was pretty with great, fresh food and very accommodating service. Even more fun was putting faces to names from the message board. Besides the lovely Angie, in attendance were Brenda, aka BGE, who gave us a great tip on where to buy a leather jacket, Alessandra from Cortona, who provided lots of laughs and whom I can’t wait to visit in Cortona some day, and the charming Chris (Krix) and her husband Bill from California. After a tasty lunch with great company, we explored the piazza of Santa Croce a bit, including the leather school. My sister found a nice leather wallet for her boyfriend but the jacket selection was limited.

After shopping a bit, we were now ready for some gelato. And that is how we met the second Leonardo of our trip. This would be Leonardo the Beautiful of my trip report title. Judy Witts, aka Diva, had clued in ST message board members about the wonderful gelato at Vestri, Borgo Albizi, 11r and the description of Leonardo, the owners’ son and manager of this store as “eye candy.” Did she ever have it right; I have never lingered over a gelato so long in my life! Kathleen had a vanilla basil gelato that was so different and delectable. I stuck to chocolate, being the chocoholic that I am. Suffice it to say, that this was some of the best gelato of our trip.

Because of Diva’s description of the fab chocolate here, I thought I would also get a few pieces to take back to our apartment. Leonardo asked if I wanted a sample bag, and I was so distracted looking into his deep blue eyes that he had filled a 1-pound bag before I noticed! Too embarrassed to stammer that I didn’t want that much, I walked out €11 poorer, but had fabulous chocolate to nibble on for the rest of the week. He really was too cute; we would have to get the girls back to experience this gelato and this handsome Italian man.

It was time to head over to the Accademia to meet the girls and see another stunning Italian male, David. We did not have reservations but were able to walk right in at 5pm. The museum closes at 5:30pm, but this gave us plenty of time to be awed once again by this magnificent sculpture. This is the third time I had seen it and it never fails to profoundly move me. It really takes your breath away, especially when you can take your time viewing it from all sides, unobstructed by crowds.

Back to the apartment to change for dinner. I thought that Il Latini would be a fun spot to take the girls for its communal tables and well reviewed bistecca. I warned everyone that if we didn’t get there before 7pm, we would have to wait but this was a big night out for the college girls and they had to get all dolled up. So of course we didn’t make the first seating and had to wait in line for an hour. That’s not as bad as it sounds as we were served lots of prosecco and cheese as we waited and chatted with other tourists in line.

It was interesting how the Italians seemed to walk right in without waiting in line but the drinks and antipasti kept coming so we didn’t complain. We giggled as we saw some tipsy customers leave the first seating. It was a fun atmosphere even though we were seated at our own table and didn’t get the communal interaction that I had hoped for. The food was good, if not fantastic and was plentiful. We did enjoy our bistecca. It was easy to down the Chianti as you are charged by how much of the bottle you drink at the end of the meal and we made quite a dent in it! So much so that we didn’t look much different than the tipsy tourists we had laughed at and I ended up leaving one of my favorite scarves behind that was never found. Oh well, it was a fun evening and we made our way home and collapsed after a busy day.
Power Shopping, Some Culture and Spectacular Views

Saturday was power-shopping day. But first a little culture was in order. Because the cloisters that are part of the Ognissanti church are only open on Monday, Tuesday and Saturday mornings (9am to noon), I thought we should stop there on our way back to the San Lorenzo stalls. Besides it is very near to the Rampini ceramic store that I had been chomping at the bit to visit again. Unfortunately for me, it was closed for the Liberation Day Holiday weekend so I would have to return another day.

I love the Ognissanti cloisters. It never seems to be crowded, it is so peaceful and the Last Supper by Domenico Ghirlandaio is so beautiful. If you have not been, I highly recommend this lovely cloister and church. The girls and my sister were suitably impressed and now could get back to shopping feeling pleased that they had seen some historic art. We left them to canvas the stalls.

My sister and I, however, were on a mission to find a leather jacket and handbag for her and would check out the stalls in more detail later in the week. We checked out many of the stores in the San Lorenzo/Central Market area including the ones recommended by Judy (Diva), Roberto Stand #205 and Stella Pelle Stand # 168 and # 201 on Via S. Antonio. There were several that appealed and one she almost bought but we thought we should stop by the leather shop that Brenda had recommended, Maria Vittoria Latini, Via Por S. Maria, 35/r. before a final decision was made. Eureka! This is where my sister found the jacket that she fell in love with. It was black and stylish and it didn’t hurt that we got a discount because we said our friend Brenda had sent us. We felt that the staff at this shop was very helpful without being “pushy.”

One of our repeated shopping phrases of the week started here, “I like this, in fact I love it!" No luck finding the perfect leather bag yet though. We met the girls for lunch at the lovely Osteria Pepo located right next to Trattoria Mario (that we couldn’t get into), near the Central Market. No matter, it was a terrific lunch and we were quite happy. Our last cultural excursion of the day was visiting the Duomo and the Baptistery, both well appreciated, especially the stunning mosaics of the Last Judgment inside the Baptistery’s Dome.

We took a detour on our way home and stopped in at the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Via Della Scala, 16. We actually managed to leave without buying anything but really enjoyed the beauty of the historical shop and sampling some of their lovely and pricey wares. It is worth a visit for the beautiful building alone. We had a delicious gelato at Carabe, located near the Accademia, before we headed home. They have a website that offers a coupon for a free scoop, so make sure you print it out before leaving home.

A funny thing seems to happen to me in Italy. I am a bottomless pit when it comes to eating the wonderful Italian food. OK, I am a foodie and a great deal of research goes into what restaurants I want to try but I could never eat this much food at home! After a short nap, my sister and I looked at each other and said, “You’re not going to believe this but I think I’m actually hungry again.” It would become another frequent phrase of our trip that would send us into gales of laughter. I told you I love traveling with my sister! For dinner that night we decided to stay in our neighborhood and ate at the reliable Osteria Santo Spirito where we enjoyed the laid back atmosphere, a lovely Rosso Montalcino and some great pasta dishes. Home to try to sleep in our noisy apartment; thank God for earplugs!

The girls had a flight back to London via Pisa that evening so I wanted to make sure that they saw the stunning views of Florence from Piazza Michelangelo on their last day in Florence. We needed the exercise after all the food, wine and gelato we had been eating, so we ambled along the Arno, admiring the warm Tuscan colors of all the palazzi, as we made our way up the steps from Porta San Niccolo. Each day that we were in Florence had become a little bit warmer, so we really enjoyed the walk in the April sunshine. Many photos were snapped along the way, to make sure the incredible views were captured from all angles.

Always on the lookout for original watercolors from street artists, I found many to choose from upon reaching the Piazza. Everyone was able to find inexpensive art there to take home as presents or to remind us of this beautiful city. I have an entire wall in my home office with collected pieces over the years (see photo album).

My favorite church in Florence, San Miniato al Monte, is just a 10-minute walk from Piazza Michelangelo, so naturally that was our next stop. This Romanesque basilica, built in 1013 has a striking marble façade that includes a beautiful mosaic of Christ between the Virgin and St. Minias. The colorful ceiling by Luca della Robbia always moves me. I am a dedicated fresco fan and the sacristy frescoes of the life of St. Benedict by Spinello Aretino are enchanting. The group was happy we made the climb up to these two special places and I was so happy to have been able to share the experience with them.

We headed back to the Oltrano for lunch, hoping to try either Casalinqua or Café Richi in Piazza Santo Spirito for the girl’s last pranzo in Florence. Both were closed, so we settled on Borgo Antico and were able to get outside seating to enjoy this lovely, quiet piazza. I had dined here before and had really enjoyed their caprese salad. Happily, it was as good as I remembered and we have a very enjoyable meal.

It was soon time to get the girls packed and off to the bus station for their trip to Pisa and their Ryan Air flight. It had been a nice respite for them to be wined, dined and spoiled these past few days and they were so grateful. I was sad to see Kate go but it would only be two months before she was home.

We did a bit of shopping at the San Lorenzo area shoe stores on the way back to the apartment and Kathleen found some nice casual shoes. We were still scanning the stalls for the perfect leather purse but none met the criteria of “But do you love it?”

Since lunch had been rather late and filling, we opted to have a light dinner of antipasti at the sleek Beccofino wine bar. We started with glasses of some lovely prosecco, moved on to a nice rosso di Montalcino and ended with a yummy brunello. Oh yes the food was very good too! Another great day in Florence and it was kind of nice to be on our own again, as much as we had enjoyed the girls’ company.
Leonardo the Good

Monday was Liberation day and many shops were closed including the store I most wanted to visit, Rampini Ceramics near the Ognissanti Church. Because we were off to Bologna tomorrow for my Slow Travel prize of a gourmet walking tour that would only leave one last day for shopping there! Ceramic fanatics like me will appreciate my panic that if for some reason it wasn’t open on Wednesday, I would have to leave Florence without buying any of my favorite designs. Che peccato!

We in fact did know that most stores would be closed today, so I planned on taking Kathleen to my other favorite church (can you have two favorites?) in Florence, Santa Maria Novella. This Gothic church was built by the Dominicans and also has a beautiful marble façade. Even if the line looks long, it is worth waiting as it moves very quickly. The entrance fee is €5, and as in so many other museums/churches in Italy do, the ticket is adorned with a beautiful piece of art from the church. I love collecting these. They make such nice souvenirs or scrapbook entries to remember the visit by.

There are many wonders in this church including the Crucifix by Giotto. But I always make a beeline to the magical frescoes in the sanctuary by Domenico Ghirlandaio, depicting scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist and the Virgin. How can he make the women’s garments seem to flow with their movements? And how is that frescoes this old can still be so vibrant? I am in awe once again. For this visit, I bought the guide sold in the Church’s bookstore and it was wonderful to read exactly what was being depicted in each scene. I think my favorite is the birth of St. John and in particular the woman with the basket of fruit on her head in a flowing blue gown. I have to be dragged away so we can see something else today! As the train station was nearby, we decided to purchase our tickets for our Bologna trip tomorrow so we wouldn’t have to deal with it in the morning. The ticket machines with English language options make this quite easy to do. Good, one less thing to think about in the morning.

Next stop was the Medici Chapels because who can ever get enough of Michelangelo’s sculptures? Michelangelo’s masculine features on his female sculptures always tickles me. I also love the figures of Dawn and Dusk and Night and Day. Because we are in the vicinity, and it is a must stop for me every trip to Florence, we try to get into Trattoria Mario for lunch again but the wait is too long. So we go to Za Za’s where I have always had good luck and have my favorite pasta with walnut sauce. Because we had to pass the San Lorenzo stalls on the way home, we once again kept our eyes out for the perfect purse but it eluded us.

After resting a bit, we decided to go back to San Miniato al Monte because Kathleen really wanted to hear the monks chant at dusk. I was happy to do so because it was such a moving experience. Having recently read and enjoyed the book, Galileo’s Daughter, I proposed that we take the route that will pass his house. It was a scenic walk on a warm and sunny day and I am so pleased to see this historic house.

We were enthralled with the chants (perhaps it reminded us a bit of the Latin masses of our youth) and felt totally at peace as we left the service. We were planning on a rather early dinner tonight because we had tickets to hear a concert at the Chiesa Maria De’Ricca on Via Del Corso tonight at 9:15. I had read good reviews of Trattorria Bordino on Slow Travel and it was in a good location between our apartment and the concert. We had a great and reasonably priced meal there with very attentive service. In fact the bistecca Florentine was so well priced that I decided to splurge on a Brunello to accompany our meal.

Happy and full, we made our way to the concert where we would encounter our third Leonardo of this trip. This would be Leonardo the Good of my trip report title. Actually, he should probably be called Leonardo the gifted. Tenor Leonardo Andreotti touched our hearts with his rendition of Ave Maria accompanied by a talented organist. It was a beautiful concert in a lovely, historical church with an appreciative audience.

I had experienced this concert on my last trip to Florence and it was just as wonderful as the last one. I approached Leonardo after the concert and told him in my meager Italian that his singing had touched my heart. He was most gracious in thanking us for attending. Concerts are held every night to raise money for the restoration of the church. Tickets can be purchased at the door for €11 before the concert begins. Highly recommended!

Feeling exhilarated after the concert, we decided that a nightcap of grappa was in order, so we went o a spot on the Arno that I neglected to collect a card from and had a pricey but very good grappa. It is supposed to help with digestion I’m told. I’m not sure about that but we enjoyed it. Exhausted after a full and happy day, we made our way home to try to get a good night’s sleep (have I mentioned how handy the earplugs were?) before our excursion to Bologna the next day.
Bologna and my ST Prize

I had consulted with my sister about which prize I should pick in the ST contest as it was nearing my time to choose. By the time it was my turn in this first contest, the choices that I could use on this trip were either a private tour of Florence (which would have been great too) or a gourmet walking tour of Bologna with Carmelita from Cook Italy. We decided on Bologna because it would take us to a city we had never been to (always an exciting option for both of us), we both love food, and as a photo editor, I thought she would like to take shots of the food markets. We had a wonderful day that is described in detail in my travel postcard Gourmet Walking Tour of Bologna with Cook Italy.

I came away from Bologna feeling that this is a city that is a true temple to food. I have never seen food so artistically displayed, pasta so lovingly made with each piece resembling a work of art, and the prepared foods from the butcher that you could pop in the oven would make a mediocre cook like me look like a gourmet star! I also really appreciated the feel of a less touristed city where English was seldom heard. As much as I love Florence, this was a nice break from the crowds and I look forward to going back to experience it more fully someday. Matt’s notes on Bologna on this site (Everything Bologna) were very helpful in guiding us around this fun city.

We returned from Bologna in time for dinner and I wanted to try a restaurant that a ST reviewer liked so much that she ate there every night of her stay in Florence. That’s quite a recommendation in my book. I am sorry to say that eating at Roberto’s was quite a letdown after a glorious food day in Bologna. Maybe it was an off night and we were there fairly early but there was only one other couple in the restaurant and it wasn’t filling up by the time we left which is never a good sign. Oh well, one mediocre meal for the whole vacation isn’t too bad. Early to bed tonight, as tomorrow would be our last day and we had our final shopping to do!
Last Day in Florence

Another warm, sunny day greeted us as we left the apartment early to see the San Marco Museum with what is by now a recurring theme in this trip (and I guess all my trips to Italy) some more frescoes. I love this peaceful convent, especially the dormitory where each monk’s small cell is decorated with a beautiful fresco by Fra Angelico. Rick Steves actually does a decent job describing what is depicted in many of these frescoes. He writes that these frescoes were the focus of each monk’s prayers and contemplation. I smiled as his irreverent thought that perhaps this would be comparable to the entertainment that a TV would provide in modern day. At the top of the stairs of the dormitory is Fra Angelilico’s masterpiece the Annunciation that is well worth the price of admission. The San Marco Museum is only open from 8:30 to 1:30 on weekdays, all day on weekends but is closed on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday of the month and the 2nd and 4th Monday of the month, so plan accordingly.

Feeling pleased with ourselves that we had beat the crowds, which allowed us clear views of the lovely frescoes, it was time to complete our shopping “chores.” Finally, the Rampani ceramic store was open and I was in heaven! I took my time feasting my eyes on the exquisite pieces, trying to figure out exactly how much I could fit into my carry-on. Happily quite a lot. Several bowls of various sizes and a beautiful pitcher now adorn my kitchen.

We then made our final small purchases of scarves, stationery, ties etc. at the San Lorenzo stalls, dropped off our booty and returned to the Central Market area to finally have success in getting a table for lunch at Tratorria da Mario. I love everything about this place; the communal tables, the specials on the blackboard, the very friendly staff, the house wine (although their wine list is good too), eating with the Italian workers on their lunch break, using the same glass for water and wine, the very reasonable prices and most of all the fabulous, fresh home made food. I can’t imagine going to Florence without eating here. I always get the special of the day because it’s bound to be good. We had some delicious ravioli and the most tender and moist roasted chicken. A side of fava beans with olive oil was terrific too. Trattoria da Mario is only open for lunch and Friday is fish day. Highly recommended but go early to avoid a long wait.

By now it was mid-afternoon on our last day and we thought we might get one more cultural activity in by exploring the Instituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza which I was curious about after recently reading Galileo’s Daughter. On our way there however, we got side tracked and ducked into the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo. We may not be able to afford Ferragamo’s contemporary shoes but it was great fun to view the gorgeous shoe styles over the last few decades and learn about the founder of the company in a well-done video. We actually spent a little too much time here and were now pressed for time at the Science Museum. We arrived at 4pm and the museum closes at 5pm, so the very nice ticket seller gave us a discounted entry fee. This is a beautiful museum filled with ancient, intricate scientific instruments including some of Galileo’s telescopes and a fascinating display of 18th century surgical and obstetrical instruments.

One of the Museo’s better-known displays (if not ghoulish) is one of Galileo’s fingers, not for the faint hearted! I think I will have to return here with my husband the next time we’re in Florence, as I know he would appreciate the workmanship of the very beautiful globes, pumps and hydraulic devices. The Museo is open 9:30am to 5pm Monday, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and 9:30 to 1pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

On our way home, we finally stopped at La Carraia, located on the Arno side of the Ponte alla Carraia for an afternoon gelato fix. Why we hadn’t been frequenting this spot just steps away from our apartment that always seemed to be filled with locals, I cannot imagine. The gelato flavors were creamy and luscious. Memo to self, always follow the golden rule of going where the locals go.

As we were finishing our delectable snack, I commented to Kathleen how proud I was of her for not succumbing to the temptation of buying a leather purse just because we were in the Leather Capitol of the world. No sooner were the words out of my mouth when we came upon a handbag shop a few doors down from the La Carraia that we had over looked in our previous walks in our neighborhood. I’m afraid I can’t remember the name of the store but this was definitely not a chi-chi leather store. In fact the owner was quite proud of the fact that her store was where the locals shopped when they wanted good quality leather bags. Uh-oh, maybe we wouldn’t escape Florence without a leather bag after all.

We were of course sucked right in with the magic words locals and high quality. The selection was quite good and Kathleen had me sling a style over my shoulder to see what it looked like on someone else. That was a mistake! Although I did not really need another handbag, the lovely black Cavalcanti leather bag that did not overwhelm my small frame was just too hard to resist. Kathleen got one in brown and we received a small discount for buying two bags and paying cash. So much for our shopping restraint! It is a purchase that was well worth it though; I still love it and use it as my everyday purse.

Tonight would be our last dinner in my beloved Florence and I wanted to take Kathleen to Cantinetta Antinori where I had experienced one of my best meals last year. It was a perfectly lovely meal but it did not live up to my memory of my last meal there or the hype I had relayed about it to my sister. I think one of the reasons I had enjoyed it so much last year was that it was such a welcoming place for a solo dinner, especially eating at the bar and interacting with the bartender. And then of course there are all those fabulous Antinori wines! After dinner, we wandered one last time around this enchanting city (especially at night when the crowds are gone), capturing some nighttime shots of the lit up Arno and its beautiful bridges. Tomorrow we would be taking an early Eurostar to Rome, our final destination.

A few thoughts about Florence from this trip. I had been filled with excitement and anticipation about visiting Florence again after my fabulous 2-week stay in 2004. I can still say that Florence is one of my favorite Italian cities and will always feel like “home” to me but I was very surprised by how much more crowded it seemed this trip, especially with American tourists. Well of course I am an American tourist too but it was a little disconcerting to seemingly hear more American accents than Italian. Because I know where and how to get away from the crowds, I was not that distressed about it but I could see how the casual or day-trip visitor to Florence could be overwhelmed. My dates were somewhat dictated by my daughter’s school schedule but I think I would not choose to go in April again. Not only were there many school groups (including Italian school children) but the long holiday weekend brought many tourists to Florence as well. There was a noticeable lessening of the crowds during the week, which was a welcome relief. So if you are planning on spending just a few days in Florence, I would try to go mid-week.

That being said, as I am completing the second half of this trip report almost two years after it took place (and after one more short jaunt to Florence in the interim), reliving these experiences, I am so “homesick” for Florence that I can hardly wait to go back!

Although two nights in Rome would be little more than a tease, we had to fly out of Rome so we couldn’t pass up the chance to savor a taste of another of our favorite Italian cities. Checking out of our apartment was relatively painless, and we were soon on our way to the Eternal City via a pleasant Eurostar ride. We didn’t have any trouble finding an official taxi (though we were approached by a few aggressive and questionable taxi drivers) to take us to the Pantheon View B&B, a small, sweet B&B steps away from my favorite Rome piazza, Piazza Rotunda. Is there anything more historically breath taking than the magnificent Pantheon? Built in 27 BC, it the oldest Roman structure to survive in its entirety. It never fails to move me to tears.

I had chosen this B&B for its location and reasonable price. Our room was small but pretty and the terrace with its pretty wisteria made it seem larger than it was. If you leaned over the railing a bit to the left you could get a glimpse of the Pantheon, thus it’s name I imagine. If you need a lot of guidance for your Roman holiday, this would not be an ideal place to stay as we hardly saw the manager though she was quite lovely in all of our interactions. I do not recommend eating their packaged breakfast either but with the fabulous Tazza d’Oro literally around the corner, we were in cappuccino and cornetti heaven! After the huge crowds in Florence, we were pleasantly surprised that Rome seemed to be much less crowded. I think part of that feeling is just that Rome is so much bigger that it can accommodate the crowds much better, especially in the larger public places such as the beautiful Piazza Navona.

Because we had both been to Rome together before and our time was so limited, we didn’t have much of an agenda planned other than to get to Saint Peter’s Basilica where we felt that we had not had enough time in on our last visit. We were looking forward to just wandering through our favorite piazzas and taking in this vibrant city at our leisure.

Arriving shortly after noon, our first order of the day was to eat lunch and we happily chose Antonio al Pantheon, Via dei Pastini, 12, a restaurant in our neighborhood that had been well reviewed. It was a wonderful meal with very fresh salads, delicious pasta and very friendly service. After a leisurely meal, we walked through our favorite haunts, Piazza Navona (checking out more street art for my collection) where I am always mesmerized by the Bernini fountains, the lively Campo dei Fiori, Piazza Farnese and the Jewish ghetto. We were just so happy to be wandering around, drinking in all the delicious sights the city has to offer without having “to do” anything. We had some delicious gelato at my Roman favorite Giolitti before heading back to our terrace to enjoy both the late afternoon sun and an aperitif of Prosecco. Ah Roma, so delightful to be here again!

We thought we would head over to the Piazza di Spagna area for dinner to try a restaurant that my daughter and her boyfriend had really enjoyed on a March trip. I should have listened to my sister’s instincts and turned around when we saw that its whole clientele seemed to be tourists, with not a local in sight. It seems that Restaurant alla Rampa does have a really good antipasti buffet but only when it’s fresh and hot as in an early lunch. Oh well, we still had two more meals in Rome to go.

This is not usually my favorite part of Rome but tonight there was some kind of demonstration. The demonstration brought out a whole cadre of incredibly good-looking carabinieri to keep order. I couldn’t believe we didn’t have a camera with us to capture all those handsome Italian men! When we tried to go near the demonstrators to ask what they were protesting, the carabinnieri shooed us away, seemingly because they felt middle-aged women shouldn’t be exposed to the demonstrators. I think that’s when a young man who spoke English explained to us what the protest was about and let’s just say he wasn’t supportive of gay unions. We politely demurred commenting.

Before our first night in Rome came to an end, we just had to stop by the Tevi Fountain on our way home. No matter how crowded it is, it always makes me smile when I round the corner of this piazza and get my first glimpse of this most charming fountain, especially lit up at night. I guess it’s just a Roman touchstone for me and I want to believe that throwing a coin in the fountain will guarantee my return to this wonderful city. And if you’re that close to San Crispino, Via Pometteria, 42 then you just have to have some of their tasty gelato (I do like Giolitti better though) for desert, before a nightcap at one of the many outside tables at the bars that ring Piazza della Rotunda. It’s an expensive glass of wine but it’s worth it to watch the scene with the majestic Pantheon as a backdrop. It’s an almost other worldly feeling and very cool to share the Piazza with an architectural masterpiece that is more than 2,000 years old. It makes me feel both insignificant and thrilled at the same time. Or maybe I’ve just had too much wine!

I am surprised at how quiet our street is considering how close we are to this lively Piazza. But it is and we get a good night’s sleep despite sharing a queen-sized bed, something we haven’t done since sharing a room as kids. Happily there were no complaints of teeth grinding or elbows this time around.
Lining up Italian Style at St. Peter's Basilica

We woke up early to take advantage of our last day in Rome and after our fabulous cappuccini and cornetti at Tazza d’Oro, we walked over to the Vatican. So here is where all the crowds in Rome are!

The courtyard of the Basilica was jammed with people. To make matters worse, the organization of the entry into St. Peter’s was impossible; with people trying to cram in between a few columns to push their way into two eventual security baggage check lines. Only two security lines open with hundreds and hundreds of people standing in the hot sun waiting to gain entry! And of course the Italian culture doesn’t have the same concept of a line that we have, so basically, there’s a lot of shoving and pushing to gain entry to these two lines. Once you survive that, there are different lines to view either Pope John Paul’s tomb or the Basilica but none of it is very clear, so we somehow get into the line that is moving the fastest. So OK, maybe we used a few Italian moves to get into the seemingly faster line.

Serves us right of course because we are now in the Pope tomb viewing line and all we want to do is get into the Basilica! Not that we minded seeing the Pope’s tomb, he was a good man and our very Catholic mother would be thrilled to have a picture of his tomb (plus we will win brownie points from mom who thinks we wanted to see it) but now we are worried about how long we will be stuck in this line and if we will need to start all over again to be where we really want to be. Luckily, the line moves fairly fast past the tomb as the guards aren’t allowing more than a two shot picture taking time frame and we are soon exiting that area. We glom on to an English-speaking tour guide and manage to follow his group into the Basilica at last. Happily, this massive and truly awesome church can handle the crowds and we were able to have a leisurely visit to be dazzled once again by its artistic treasures by Raphael, Maderno, Bramante and of course the mastery of Michelangelo’s exquisite and deeply moving Pieta. It is hard to tear ourselves away from such beauty but it was time to be dazzled by another art form in Rome, its spectacular food.

We had a little trouble finding it, but Dino & Tony’s hostaria-pizzeria located on Via Leone IV, 60 (about a 10 minute walk from the Vatican if you know where you’re going) is well worth the search. This was the most enjoyable meal we had on this trip. Not so much for the food, although it was really good, but for the most entertaining service from its owners, brothers Dino & Tony. Their English was better than my Italian but not by too much. However, Dino speaks Spanish very well, so Kathleen and Dino had a good time conversing and joking in Spanish. You are served what they choose to serve you and you are only asked if you want antipasti, pasta, secondi and dolci. It was all excellent but way too much food. They did let us share a pasta dish and decline the secondo but we caved when he told us his grandmother had made the tiramsu that morning. It was delicious. I look forward to returning the next time I’m in Rome. The complimentary limoncello made taking the metro back too intimidating, so we splurged on a cab back to our B&B.

After a short nap, we walked to Piazza Del Popolo, a piazza Kathleen had not seen before. I really like this expansive piazza with its anchoring baroque twin like churches on one end and the lovely Santa Maria del Popolo and San Luigi dei Francesi on the other. Not only did we get to enjoy Caravaggio’s masterpieces at these churches, we happened to wander in while a first communion rehearsal was taking place. It was such a great every day snapshot of Italian life (if you ignored the fact that it was taking place in such a magnificent and historical setting) of the very special regard that children hold in the Italian culture. It was a joy to watch. The sense of love was palpable, from the benevolent priest; to the gentle but serious teacher keeping them on task, to the proud mamas watching their children’s innocent faces practice their prayers. We felt so privileged to catch this slice of life in Roma. We weren’t quite ready to have this lovely afternoon end so we had some prosecco at an outside table at the elegant Café Rosati in the piazza before returning to our room.

For our last night in Rome, we thought it might be fun to eat in Trastevere and explore the nightlife there after dinner. We found it a bit hard to navigate in the dark but we eventually found Dar Poeta on Vicolo del Bologna. This restaurant is well known for its pizza and is very popular with a young crowd both for its pizza and low prices. There was a line when we arrived at 8:30, so we put in our name for an outside table, returned in 30 minutes and were seated right away. This was my first pizza of this trip and I was not disappointed. The excellent Greek salad was a perfect second course and the house rosso was quite good. For €28 this was a good meal with friendly service.

For some reason my sister’s usual navigation skills deserted her on our last evening in Italy and we kept getting turned around before we finally made it to our desired destination Piazza St. Maria. How we managed to get lost trying to find THE main piazza of Trastevere, I am not sure but I guess I’ll blame it on the wine. I like the energy of Trastevere and although it has its share of tourists, it still feels more “authentic” in that the everyday working community is more observable/present than in some of the Centro areas of Rome. We enjoyed perusing the artisan’s tables that lined the perimeter of the lit up piazza on a Friday evening. You could feel the social buzz and energy that signals the beginning of a weekend. We picked up a few trinkets for gifts and headed back to Piazza Rotunda to inhale our last few precious moments of the beauty and rhythms of Roman life being played out on a warm Friday night in April with the Pantheon as a back drop. I do so love Rome and look forward to a return trip.
Drama on The Trip Home

Our flight to JFK was at 10am and I had arranged for a car service with Airport Shuttle to pick us up at 7am. Our driver was waiting for us right on time and it was a quick trip to the airport at that hour on a Saturday morning. I was pleased with their service and the fee was only €32.

Checking in, I learned that the timing of my AA flight from Boston to NY had been changed and I would now have a five-hour layover in NY. So close but so far away! I thought about getting to LaGuardia to catch a frequent shuttle flight from there to Boston to get home a lot sooner but AA wouldn’t let me change my restricted ticket. As it turns out, I got caught up in a bit of a psychodrama during my long layover at JFK, so maybe it was meant to be. It had been great spending an extended time with my “little” sister and friend, no one can encourage me to shop more, make me laugh harder or indulge in food and wine more than Kathleen. I look forward to our next trip together.

Across from where I was sitting in the grungy JFK AA lounge, passing the time reading a book, a young woman was sobbing pitifully into a public telephone. It was so heart wrenching, it was hard to ignore. A young man who was probably in his early 20’s looked at me and basically said, “You gotta do something.” His sweet concern propelled me into action.

I went over to this poor distraught woman, offered her some tissue and asked if there was anything I could do to help her. I led her back to a seat near me and she started to tell me the sad tale of her husband admitting to an affair (after she convinced him that she wanted to hear the truth no matter what), on the plane during their return flight from what was supposed to be a romantic anniversary trip for them. I told you it was a psychodrama! She was so upset that she ran away from him at the airport and refused to get on the connecting flight with him back home to LA. She was trying to get in touch with friends in NY to stay with for the night. She wasn’t having any success so was about to just go check into a hotel somewhere in the city by herself.

I did not think it was a good idea for her to be alone when she was so distraught, and managed to talk her into taking her anti-anxiety medication as well as some deep breathes and allow some time to think things through. She calmed down after awhile as she vented about the situation. She was eventually able to call her father who convinced her to fly home and would pick her up from the airport. Phew! That was some major drama that helped pass the time.

Sometime later I emailed her to see how she had made out and she wrote back thanking me for my help and to say that she was OK and now separated from her husband. I’m not sure why I have included this tale in my trip report but it is something I’ll always remember about that trip home from Rome, especially the compassionate young man who shared my concern and nudged me into intervening. As many slow travelers have said, sometimes the most memorable moments of travel are interacting with the people you meet; be it a friendly British driver who favors American woman, a talented tenor, a gorgeous proprietor of a chocolate shop, a friendly and funny restaurant owner, or a sobbing young woman in an airport lounge.

After way too long at the unpleasant JFK airport, I resolved to try to only fly through a European hub on my way to Italy in the future. Happily, I have been to Italy three times since this trip and have managed to do just that. I am hoping to write up my next trip report, “An Independent Traveler Takes a Culinary Tour of Sicily” before my next planned trip to Italy in September of 2007!

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