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Florence Mommy's Week Out


10+ Posts
By Kim from New Jersey, Fall 2001
Kim and her girlfriend leave their families behind and take a seven day trip to Italy, November 7 - 13. They stay in Florence and do some day trips from there.

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.com.

Giorno Uno - We depart and other nonsense​

It's Sunday evening, three more days until Turkey day and I am no where near ready. I should have baked my carrot muffins by now. The first turkey, which I'll marinate in an Orange Bourbon sauce, should be defrosting in my refrigerator. But noooo…. I'm here instead. Oh did I mention, I have to put together a thirty two-page newsletter by Tuesday too and I have a make-up quiz in my Italian class?

Nevertheless, if I've learned anything, it's when the urge to write hits you, go with it. So, here I sit as I wait for my friend, Stephanie, to pick me up for our book club, about to begin my trip report.

A catchy title - that's what I need to start. Perhaps, Two Wild and Crazy Girls in Florence? Nah. I could call it Sneezy and Limpy Do Italy (you'll understand why in a minute). But I won't. I think I'll just start, title or no.

First, the characters - well you know me, Kim. My partner in crime for this sojourn was my friend L or Rain, as I prefer to call her. Actually, now that I think about it, her nickname seemed somewhat appropriate for our trip. Anyway, Rain and I have been friends for about seventeen years. I've known her for eighteen, but I didn't like her that first year ;).

We met in college. We had the same major (Comp Sci) and ended up spending a bunch of time together in college and since. We've traveled to San Francisco together, Cancun and the Bahamas but this was our first time to Europe together. Actually, it was Rain's first trip to Europe at all.

We started to talk about this trip last summer. Originally, our friend "A" wanted to join us. She partook in the Cancun and Bahamas trip and was game for another. So over the summer, I made reservations for a triple at the Hotel Liana (thanks livinwell for the recommendation). I believe the rate they quoted us was 300,000 Lira a night.

Unfortunately, sometime around Labor Day Weekend, "A" realized that she wouldn't be able to pawn her kids off on anyone (only kidding) and would have to stay home. I contacted the Liana and changed our reservation to a double at a rate of 230,000 Lira a night. Strange, now that I look back to the confirmation of our change request. I received it on September 11.

Which reminds me, that morning (9/11/01), I was about to book our airfare on Alitalia on-line from Newark to Florence for $442 inclusive, when my telephone rang. You all know what happened next. I never made those reservations.

A week went by and much to the dismay of "A" and Rain's parents, who tried to convince us not to go, we made our reservations for the above price.

After that, I counted down to that fateful day. Of course, two hitches occurred along the way. The Sunday before our scheduled Wednesday departure, Rain sprained her ankle hiking.

What was that girl thinking, risking life and limb four days before my long awaited return to Italy? After some convincing, she agreed to follow the doctor's advice and stayed off her feet for forty-eight hours, which helped. She also contacted Alitalia and requested a wheelchair in the airport. I got a hoot out of that and wanted to take a picture of her in it but she wouldn't let me.

The morning of our departure, I awoke with a nasty cold and sinus infection. Yeah, I get to get on a plane in ten hours - that should be interesting. After much scrambling, I obtained enough drugs to hold me over for our trip.

Dad was scheduled to pick me up for the airport at 1:15 PM. Yes, that's me at 1:05 PM as I scrambled to take down all of our Halloween decorations. Some how I didn't think our neighbors would appreciate the hanging ghosts and skeletons until the middle of November.

Off to the airport. We hit no traffic and Terminal B was empty. I went inside and looked for Rain. After all, she had our tickets. Big mistake on my part - I know because I'm always waiting for her. It doesn't matter where or when. On our way to a Yankee Game, I could plan to get to her house 15 minutes later than scheduled, and I'd still have to wait for her.

The line for check-in at Alitalia was about 10-12 people deep. I got on line and hoped she'd show before I had to let people in front of me. When I was down to two other women, traveling together before me, I saw her step out from a black car and wait at the curb. She scanned up and down the sidewalk looking for me. "Hey! I'm in here, in line!" I was about to ask that nice security man to bang on the window to get her attention when she glanced inside and saw me waving my arms. We took down the rope, and she hobbled next to me and we're set.

It took about 10 - 15 minutes in line for Alitalia - pretty quick. A plus for them.

Alitalia accommodated Rain and her "special need" nicely. They couldn't give us a bulkhead because they save those for children. Well, they would have let her sit there but not me. They can't give her an emergency exit because you need to be fully functional to sit there - makes sense. So I suggested perhaps the middle three seats, give us the aisles and try not to put anyone between us so Rain could elevate her foot. The agent agreed and put a "block" on the middle seat. Whatever she did worked. Rain stretched out for the entire flight.

The wheelchair met us at the ticket counter and took her to security as I followed, smirking. No line existed at security in this wing of Terminal B. In fact, it seemed as if ours was the only flight leaving that entire wing that afternoon. Rain walked through the metal detector and they decided to wand her. Apparently, they're "wanding" random people.

Here's another aside about Rain. About seven years ago, she broke her elbow in a couple of places, rollerblading. She has some screws holding it together now. Guess what? Yep, you got it. The wand freaked all over her arm. She had to roll up her sleeve to show the security people her scars. More smirks from me. I always teased her that one day she'd set off the metal detectors at the airport. I'm glad I was there to see it.

Another aside, did you know they have old fashioned rocking chairs in the middle of the terminal, in which you can sit and wait? How strange? Anyway, no one was around and there's one bar on that side of security, so you know where we sat. We struck up a brief conversation with a couple sitting behind us in the bar and killed the time until we boarded - a whopping 2 hours later.

Boarding - uneventful accept for the man that needed a shower who sat behind us. Luckily, his unusual aroma didn't waft our way once he sat down and sat still.

The flight - uneventful. The food on our trip out - well let's say, "Welcome to Italy" it wasn't. The free wine was nice though. Our first movie was American Sweethearts (don't waste your time). I dozed during the second movie - it was in Italian and I missed the name and the beginning. It had something to do with a piano player on a cruise boat. I did sit up and take notice though when the boat exploded at the end. Yikes, not what I wanted to see when I was flying.

Back to sleep - probably got about 3 1/2 hours total on that flight. So much for my plan of sleeping the entire way to Italy. We arrived at Rome airport around 7:00 AM - right on time. However, I'll continue that part of the trip under day 2.

Here are some random observations on Alitalia in comparison to our previous trip on Continental:

* On Continental, all the announcements were in English first then Italian. On Alitalia, it was reversed. * There seemed to be many more Italians on this flight. Continental was mostly Americans.

That's it - on to day two.

Giorno Due - Why is it so small?​

Arrival at Rome airport was uneventful except they couldn't get the ramp to our plane to work. We stood in the aisles, then finally sat again, while we waited. They were about to move us to another gate when the bridge extended. Yippee.

We deplaned but didn't see the wheelchair for my "special needs" companion so decided to hike it to our next gate. I don't remember if we walked from the "A" gates to the "C" gates or the other way around but really, once the monorail dropped us in the main building, how far could it be?

Far. Yep, that was a hike past all of the duty free shops and little chotchky places. All was not lost though, we found the cash machine easy enough, and each withdrew 500,000 Lira. To quote DAMARKWOOD from AOL again, "500,000 of anything is good." By the way, that was all the "cash" we required for our stay. The rest of our purchases we made with credit cards. We never touched our traveler checks, which by the way, I still need to cash in.

Oh, and another thing, I did stop at one of the kiosks and purchased that Ancient Rome book with the transparent overlays for my daughter, Becky. She liked it and took it to school with her when I returned. She likes saying, "Today," flipping the page and then, "Two Thousand Years Ago."

When we arrived at our new gate, we removed some of our layers. I chose to fly with a turtleneck, blazer, and my field coat because I sometimes get cold on the plane. However, Rome was sunny and warm (about 70 degrees) and the airport, though early, reflected that temperature.

While we waited for our commuter flight to Florence, I spied a Bar. Using my newfound knowledge of ordering (thanks Steve for the Café tips in your language lessons), I walked to the cashier, placed my order for un cappuccino and paid. Then I moved along the bar, placed my receipt and coin atop it, and waited for my drink. Gotta say, for an airport bar, that was a damn good cappuccino. It had a bit of chocolate sprinkled on top - yummy.

As they prepared to board our plane, well actually the bus that would take us to the plane, we heard the gate agent page Rain. Apparently, because of her sprained ankle, they arranged for our own personal car to take us to the plane. This sprained ankle thing could work out nicely.

The flight to Florence was uneventful - good cookies though for a snack with some orange juice. I was a bit nervous about flying the smaller plane but it was fine. We landed in Florence to what? Well, if you caught my bit of foreshadowing earlier…clouds and rain. Bummer.

Alitalia arranged for another car to take us from the plane to the terminal. For the 100 yards we were from the building, we couldn't help but laugh. Yet, we did appreciate the sentiment.

We retrieved our bags and headed outside to grab un taxi. I can't remember exactly how much the cab cost from the airport to our hotel but it wasn't much, maybe somewhere between twenty-five and thirty five thousand lira.

If you're looking at a map of Florence, the Hotel Liana is located in the upper right hand corner, away from the Duomo. It's up the street from the synagogue.

You enter a narrow lobby with a high (repeat) high ceiling. A doublewide staircase off to the right leads upstairs to the breakfast room and some other guestrooms. The check-in desk sits on the left side of the entranceway and beyond that is a bar and a small refrigerated case with waters, beers, and sodas for guests at a nominal fee (a bottle of water cost us 2000 L).

We had a minor problem at check-in. They still had us reserved for a triple not the double. I showed them my confirmation I received from the hotel and they changed us. Although, what I think they actually did was give us a triple room at the double rate. The room was down a hallway behind the reception desk and to the right. It overlooked a small garden, which would have been nice if the weather had been better.

Three side-notes here about the hotel, it does have parking which may be of interest to some. Since we never needed one (Rain was able to climb the stairs to breakfast), I'm not positive they had an elevator. The third, I think we were the only Americans in the hotel (not that it bothered me - just an observation). Most of the other guests seemed to be British, French, and German.

Our room consisted of a king size bed (read two twin beds connected) and a twin bed. The ceiling must have been about sixteen feet high and painted with decorations that escape me now. Very pretty. It contained a desk, a television, an empty refrigerator with ice tray (that came in handy for making ice for Rain's ankle), and two nightstands. In the small hall that connected the bedroom to the bathroom, an armoire sat. The armoire had a safe, which rested atop a small dresser with three drawers.

The bathroom was huge with a tub and hand-held shower device. It had beautiful large blue tiles about halfway up the twelve-foot high ceilings and French vanilla colored paint the rest of the way. I did notice the paint had chipped a bit above the tub and the toilet seemed a bit rusted on the bottom but other than that, it was fine.

Oh, one other note on the bathroom, the tub/shower. It didn't have a shower curtain. It really wasn't that bad except it could have been better if they mounted the shower holder on the short wall, so the water shot the length of the tub instead of mounting it on the long wall so the water shot across the tub and onto the floor. Does that make sense?

Anyway, after our first trip to Italy, this wasn't totally unexpected to me but surprised Rain. I had to give her a brief lesson the first day on how to use the shower ;).

We unpacked our stuff - didn't take long because we each impressed ourselves by taking only one rolling bag (the small size) and one carryon. Then we decided to nap for a bit. It was about 12:30 at this point and we had three o'clock reservations for the Accademia. I set the alarm on my palm pilot to 2:00.

Rain dozed fine but I couldn't. A combination of excitement and cold medicine that made my heart race kept me up.

When the alarm went off, we rose slowly, showered, redressed, packed my healthy back shoulder bag, and headed out.

On our way to the Accademia, we discovered an Internet place. I don't remember the name but it was on Via Alfani, not far from Borgo Pinti. Very nice people and they charged by the minute. It became our daily ritual to stop here.

We checked our assorted e-mails and sent some home letting them know we arrived okay and headed out.

Well, what can you say about the Accademia? One, I had forgotten about the rooms with the paintings - some were striking with their colors. Two, I used my Florence Blue Guide which, by the way, I love. Good details. Three, you all know the David or as my children prefer to call him, the Naked Man.

Plexiglas surrounded him but it only reached as high as the pedestal. It did not cover the statue. We stared at him for a while. Checked him out from various angles (I never noticed before what a big butt he has). Then contemplated two things, the depth of the circumcision if any, and why is it so small?

After some discussion on this point, we decided to purchase some postcards and head out in search of our first gelato.

Some side notes, we didn't need our reservations. There was no line. We could even sit on the benches around the statue - it was that empty. You were not allowed to take pictures.

We headed in the direction of the Duomo and stopped at Carabe along the way. Good gelato. They didn't have bacio so I had noccio (hazelnut - in case my memory is failing on the spelling) and ciocollata and Rain had straciatella and ciocollata. Damn good chocolate. We gave this place two-thumbs up.

On to the Duomo with some window shopping along the way.

We stopped in a few stores, one of which was Vice Verso - a funky kitchen store. I did see a beautiful limoncello set there but it was a bit out of my price range, 750,000L - well, maybe 500,000 of something isn't always good.

Have to tell you, although it was cool and cloudy with passing showers (which we so far had avoided), I was shocked at how few people were around the Duomo. When Chris and I were there two years ago (also in early November), we practically had to fight our way to see the fake Baptistery doors. Of course, that was a long weekend (for All Saints Day), so maybe that had something to do with it and it was seventy-five and sunny, but still.

Anyway, it was nice being able to stand there, check out each panel, and read what our guidebooks said without anyone elbowing us. Then we walked into the cathedral.

Don't ask me how Chris and I made it through our first trip to Florence without entering a single church, but we did. I am glad I made it in this time. I am glad I had my blue guide with me, and I am glad I remembered to snag Sammi's (my daughter's) binoculars before I left.

Again, I won't go into too much detail. I'm not that knowledgeable, so I'd just end up regurgitating the guidebook but wow. We slowly walked around the perimeter of the church and while we stood under the dome, we read the part of the blue guide that describes the climb.

At this point, I pulled out those handy dandy binoculars and checked out some of the frescoes in the dome. Is it me, or are some of them grotesque? I couldn't get a great view because after all, they were a child's binoculars but still. One of the men up there looked as if someone had peeled his skin away - yuck. We were content storing that image in the back of our minds until Saturday when we figured we'd climb the dome and get a better look.

A couple of other things to note on the Duomo, I love the floors. This is something in general I don't remember doing on my last trip but now I try to soak in all my surroundings, four walls (and then some), ceiling and floor. It amazes me how much detail goes into everything.

The other thing I liked was the clock. Unusual to see a clock that tracks time by sundown to sundown - it reminded me how Jews do it, in that all of our holidays run from sunset to sunset.

After the Duomo, we meandered towards the Verrazzano wine bar.

We loved the Verrazzano Wine bar. It's a small place, shaped like an inverted U. When you first enter, there's the bakery. In the back is a brick oven pizza area. In the other wing is the wine bar with about five or six small tables.

It wasn't that crowded when we first arrived, so Rain was able to snag a chair to elevate her foot. She hiked her pants up so you could easily see her cast and hoped it didn't look like she was just being piggish. After all, she was under doctor's orders.

We ordered two glasses of their Sassello (12,000L each) - yummy. It was the 1998 not as good as the 1997 but still good. A glass of Chianti went for 6,000 L.

We also asked for something to munch on. Our waiter, who by the way has his picture in the May 2000 Bon Appetite that featured the wine bar, put together a plate of different bruschette (would that be the plural of bruschetta?), one of greens, olive oil and cheese and the other with cheese and sun dried tomatoes. Mmm Mmm good.

After we demolished the Bruschette, we decided to get some more munchies. We did miss lunch you know. We had an assorted cheese plate (14,000L) and an assorted meat plate (15,000L) (prosciutto and salame) - very good.

I'm not sure how long we lingered there, but it was a while. Before we left, I purchased a bottle of Sassello to bring home to Chris. I'm not sure I mentioned this before, but Chris and I bought a carry-on wine tote that holds six bottles in padded comfort. I had instructions to bring it home filled. I tried to reach that goal, but in the end, only returned with four bottles. Now I am kicking myself.

We returned to our hotel for a short rest before dinner.

Earlier I had asked the hotel to make us a reservation at La Giostra on Borgo Pinti. I wasn't psyched on this place because it's listed in Fodors. Maybe that's a harsh judgment but I have this thing about those places being too touristy. Yet, I did read some other good posts in the past about it, and it was close enough to our hotel, so I decided to try it.

I should have stuck with my first inclination.

We had a bit of trouble finding the restaurant - no fault of theirs mind you. Someday, someone will explain to me the Italian way of address numbering. Another side note, in her book Hello Italy, Margo Classè gives a good explanation of the numbering - of course I found it too late.

Anyway, we walked into the tiny reception area and waited. Another "custom" I need someone to explain to me. I remember having problems with this on our first trip. How do you get someone to notice you and seat you? We stood in the small reception area for a bit when finally, I approached a woman, who appeared to be adding a tab at a nearby podium. She looked at us with surprise when I said we had a reservation. I guess she assumed someone else had already talked with us and we were waiting for a table.

She sat us in the back corner of the restaurant. What I didn't notice at the time was the small door next to our table. Yep, it led to the bathroom. Not a problem except at one point during our meal, I started to laugh. You see a woman exited the small door then a moment later a man. I guess I assumed one bathroom sat behind that door, not two. I had a mental image of both of them in the bathroom at the same time. Anyway….

We studied the menu. While my Italian enabled me to understand the basic ingredient within a dish (e.g., anatra for duck, coniglio for rabbit), I had no grasp for the preparation. I felt a bit frustrated and the waiter didn't seem too interested in explaining each item to us, nor did he give us the option of ordering our primi and waiting to order our secondi.

While I'm on that subject - I had the general impression throughout our trip of pressure to order our entire meal at one time. This night it didn't bother me too much because we were tired from our travels. It did irk me a bit later on. Maybe I should have been more forceful about waiting, but I wasn't. I guess it seemed that they expected Americans to order all at once because I noticed they didn't apply the same pressure or expectation to Italian diners.

Anyway, we ordered fettuccini con porcini to share. Rain ordered the veal Marsala and I ordered the duck. The fettuccini was delicious. Rain liked her veal but my duck was tough.

Now here's the other thing that irked me about this restaurant. From the time we ordered to the time we received our secondi was barely forty-five minutes. To make up for it, we lingered over our wine, which didn't seem to bother them at all.

Nothing appealed to us too much on the dessert menu until the waitress (who had now taken over for the waiter), mentioned sgroppino. You don't have to ask me twice. I remember the sgroppino I had in Venice, served in a tall thin glass, that I drank. This rendition came in a small bowl with a spoon, like soup. I didn't know what to make of it, so when no one was looking, I picked up the bowl and drank it.

We took turns paying for things, and Rain picked up this tab so I am afraid I don't have the cost for you.

We tried to find another gelato place on our walk back to the hotel but didn't see any. Another general impression, I thought many of the "small" gelato places located in non-touristy areas (read not near the Duomo) closed early. We returned to our hotel, grabbed two bottles of water from the refrigerated case, and went to sleep.

Giorno Tre - The Perils of Pauline​

Definitely not Perils but I like the play on that title.

Today, I finally receive my birthday present. First, I have another issue we need to take care of. You see we left our windows cracked open because it was a bit warm in our room, and we couldn't figure out how to turn down the heat from the radiators. Well, can you believe in November, mosquitoes invaded? Yep, I heard those little buggers buzzing around all night. I woke with three small dots on my face and two big bites on my arms. Bummer.

We shut the windows, showered, dressed and headed for breakfast around 8:30. Breakfast was in a decent size room on the first floor (not the ground floor). The buffet selections were in the hall and my guess is the breakfast room served as a bedroom or perhaps study in the building's previous incarnation.

On the buffet, we had a choice of coffee, juice, yogurt, sweet croissants, rolls, cheese, salami, prunes, juice, hard-boiled eggs, and assorted cereals with milk. I opted for a sweet croissant, a hard-boiled egg and skipped their coffee. I found a man checking the buffet and asked him if I could have a cappuccino, which he happily supplied.

I never understood how Boleskine got by on that croissant and espresso but I'll tell you, on this trip, the croissant and cappuccino did me just fine. The food wasn't great but not bad either.

We headed downstairs to collect our stuff for the day and sat in the lobby to wait for Pauline Priore. About 9:15 she arrived and came in to retrieve us. Again, I flubbed the proper European kiss and she laughed. I did that on our last trip too. FYI - it's left cheek first.

She's such a warm and classy lady. Smart too, the second thing she said to me was, "You look great. Five years younger without Chris." Yep, smart lady. Although, to be fair to my darling husband, I said, "Five years younger without the kids." :).

We jumped in her car and sped from the city. It's a semi pretty drive to Arezzo. I attribute the lack of "prettiness" to the fog and clouds that surrounded us (although there is something to say about sleepy fall mornings) as well as to the autostrada. While it's quicker, I think I prefer the smaller two lane roads that wind through the countryside.

I loved the driving in Italy from a pure scenery point of view. I loved the sheep that grazed near the road. I loved the small vegetable gardens everywhere filled with green leafy plants that I'm sure I wouldn't know what to do with. I loved spying the ruins of a fort, castle, or church on a distant hilltop.

We arrived in Arezzo quickly, maybe a bit more than an hour. We parked near the train station and walked towards an older part of town where the Church of San Francesco sits.

Did you know Benini filmed parts of Life is Beautiful here? I didn't. I mention to Pauline that I will finally have to break down and see the movie. She assures me it's not horrific and done very well. We also discuss some other movies filmed in Italy as I had just watched Cinema Paradiso, which she loved (btw - I've seen it twice now - good flick). Of course, now the name of the one she mentioned, I can no longer remember.

Wait, I did some checking. I remember she said Nicole Kidman was in it and voila - Portrait of a Lady. As the story goes, scenes for the movie were filmed in Lucca but they didn't list Lucca in the credits. I can't remember if the credits said Florence or Tuscany but not Lucca specifically. People in Lucca were not happy. Anyway….

Somewhere I thought someone mentioned that Arezzo wasn't worth a visit other than for the Church. Gotta disagree with that comment. I think the church alone is worth a visit but the medieval area around the church seems to be worth a day of exploring, not to mention the antique market which I want to hit at some point.

We arrived a bit early for our "tour" of the Piero della Francesca frescoes. We entered the church and marveled not only at its size but even some of the frescoes that remain on the walls. Pauline explained the process the artists went through to make the frescoes, which was very interesting.

She also schooled us in the differences between Romanesque art (i.e., Medieval Art), Renaissance, and Mannerism. I loved that because later, when we were in the Uffizi, I could pick out the different periods without looking at the little card with the date on it. I love that type of knowledge - you know the tricks that make me appear smarter than I am ;).

By the time we meandered to the choir, we were able to start our tour.

I had envisioned someone that would stand with us and explain each fresco. Someone is there but he hands out those digital players, which you listen to.

When we arrived, only one other couple was in the choir. As we left an entire classroom field trip arrived. It seemed it would be much easier to listen to the recorder and mosey around when there are fewer people in attendance.

The recorder was great - it gave perfect directions so you always knew where to look to hear the story of the cross and some tidbits of the effort that went into the painting. Something that Pauline explained and then was later hammered home by the book I read that evening (Girl With The Pearl Earring), really strikes me. Artists today, go to the store and pick up their oil or watercolor paints. Back then, they had to make their paints from different raw materials. That concept alone, forget the incredible pictures, blows my mind. Think about having to grind stones in order to make that perfect shade of blue - it's amazing.

After the church, we strolled around Arezzo a bit. As I said, I could easily spend the better part of a day here, meandering around, checking out the other Romanesque churches (we did peak into Pieve di Santa Maria). Now that I think about it, an overnight might not be bad either - after all, there's shopping to consider too.

On our way out, we stopped at a bar across the street from the train station for a bit of refreshment and a "pit stop." I went to pay first but they smiled and said in Italian to go ahead and order, pay later. As I learned it varies from bar to bar and how busy they are whether you pay first. Just be prepared to go with the flow.

I had an espresso and Rain had a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate in that little neighborhood place would be the one against which all others would be judged. It was thick, like warm pudding and delicious. My espresso didn't stink either. After a bit of refreshment and a visit to the facility in the basement, we were off to our next stop.

Pauline and I had talked a couple of times about what our next destination would be - I waffled between Cortona and Montalcino. While my heart said Cortona, I knew Rain had her heart set on some wine tasting. And, let's face it, it doesn't really take much arm twisting to get me to partake in a bit of the vino.

How to describe the drive from Arezzo to Montalcino? Breathtaking. Beautiful. Mythical. It's hard to pinpoint it. It strikes me that the hills in Tuscany do not "roll" into mountains as they do here. It seems to me they shoot from the ground almost independent of each other. And each is capped with some small village or town. Someday, I'll drive those two lane roads and stop where the mood hits me.

Surprisingly, the land remained green due to a warm October. We passed many trees laden with black olives. We saw one couple picking them correctly (i.e., by hand) and another man, picking them incorrectly (i.e., with a machine that whacked them down onto a blanket). Mist clung to some hilltops and others reached for brief moments of sun as it broke through the clouds. An incredible drive - oh and Rain slept for most of it.

Okay, I have to explain something about Rain here. You can't hold her responsible that she slept for most of the drive. After all, she does have a "condition." Well, not a real condition but as I've said, I've known her for many years and she really can't help herself. When we were in college and we'd drive to the mall, a fifteen-minute ride, she'd fall asleep. I think it's just in her genetic make-up.

I liked the drive. It was a good time to catch up with Pauline and with my own thoughts. I also made my first (and only) attempt at navigating Italian Roads. I think I did a darn good job too. I took out Pauline's map from the pocket on the door and noted all the tiny towns between Arezzo and Montalcino. Then we followed the signs for each tiny town, in turn, until we reached it and moved on to the next. I believe Robert (from AOL) suggested this method - thanks Robert. It worked great except for one part when we believed we needed to go in the opposite direction of Siena and made a left instead of a right. We quickly realized our mistake and corrected it.

My instincts say we approached Montalcino from the east. You could see it on top of a hill across a wide vale. It looked wonderful, magical as it basked in sunlight. Actually, the original forecast had been for rain all day - and this probably turned out to be the nicest day weather wise and otherwise that we had. Oh and gotta tell you I loved Montalcino at first site.

Pauline parked the car and we proceeded to walk up a street towards the Fortezza. The town, except for one gallery, was closed for Siesta. It felt very peaceful. We did though stop in the gallery. I toyed with the idea of purchasing three small watercolors for home but I couldn't decide. Pauline suggested if I'm not sure, not to buy. That's the same advice I give people so I listened and we continued to the fort.

When we arrived, the dark room filled with hundreds of dusty bottles and some dark wood tables, was about half-full. Pauline went to the counter and explained that we would like to do a tasting of three different Brunellos from three different areas around Montalcino. We went from sunniest, to least sunniest - actually she did it by direction (e.g., southeast, south) but I don't remember how. I wish I had taken better notes. She also ordered us a plate of meats, proscuitto and salamis and a plate of different pecorino cheeses along with some Tuscan bread. We ate lunch.

I have a minimal knowledge of wine but it amazed me what a difference could exist between three different wines grown in such a small area. The first wine ('96 Campana - I think), lighter in color and body, could easily be drunk now. The next two (one I can't remember and '95 Il Poggione) increased in intensity of color, body and flavor and could definitely last in your cellar for a few years to come.

We enjoyed a wonderful leisurely lunch and practically closed the place before we decided to make some purchases and head out. I ended up buying the Il Poggione and a Marchesi de' Frescobaldi 1995 Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo Riserva. I should have bought the first wine too but didn't. Shoulda Woulda Coulda.

After lunch, we headed back into town for some major window-shopping and a stop in a ceramic store. I'm a sucker for ceramics and the Christmas ornaments displayed in this stores window caught my eye. By the time I was done, I had purchased three ornaments, a wine stopper, and a beautiful hand-painted platter. The picture on the platter was like nothing I've ever seen. Rather than the lemons and funky designs I've seen on other pieces, this pictured a village of white buildings with red roofs nestled on a green hill with the sun setting in the background. Again, I am sorry I didn't purchase more.

As the day wound down, we headed back to the car. This was the first time I'd seen a tour bus all day. Something about that bothered me. I love Italy. I love these small towns, and I love sharing my experiences with everyone. Yet, somehow I think that with our enthusiasm to share that which we love we destroy a bit of it. Okay, I'm off my soapbox.

We left Montalcino behind and headed to Sant Antimo.

I love the art. It fascinates me to gaze upon frescoes and incredible paintings from five, six even seven hundred years ago. Yet, the history really gets me. When I stood atop Masada that blew my mind. When I stood at the entrance to the Roman Senate, again, a mind blowing experience. Here, walking on the same ground as Charlamagne once walked, wow. Oh, and listening to the haunting sounds of the Gregorian Chants doesn't suck either.

Unfortunately, the monks did not sing live until 7:00 PM that evening, we only heard the piped in music. Still beautiful. We decided it would be too long to wait to hear them since it was only about 5:00 and hit the road to Florence.

We did some small winding roads and picked up the autostrada near Siena. I have to admit, on this part of the trip, even I forced myself not to "rubberneck" a bit. After a full day and with pitch black all around, it's hard to keep your eyes open.

Pauline dropped us at the hotel and wished us well with the remainder of our visit. I didn't flub the "Italian" kiss this time. I think it was a bit after seven at this point, we returned to our rooms to freshen up for dinner, a nice hot bath for me and icing down the ankle for Rain.

At first, we thought we'd take a cab over to Trattoria Antellessi but then decided to hoof it. We wanted to stop at our Internet place first but unfortunately, I turned down the wrong street and we missed it.

We arrived at Antellessi about 25 minutes early for our 9:00 reservation and noticed a gelato place across the street. As we hadn't had our daily fix yet, we stopped in to see what time it closes. 9:00. Okay, time to do dessert first. We chose only one scoop each since we would be eating dinner shortly. Rain chose bacio and I did a cheesecake flavor. It actually tasted like cheesecake. We voted it not as good as Carabe but still pretty good.

We asked the girl in the gelato store if there was an Internet place nearby and she directed us (using Italian which I understood ;) down the street. We didn't like this Internet place as much as ours. There we had to prepay for time as opposed to paying at the end like at our place. I still have seventeen minutes left on my card. Plus, the connection moved much slower. I only had time to check two e-mails, Chris's and Becky's.

The last time I ate at Antellessi they sat us in the back this time they sat us up front. Funny thing though, before we sat down, I noticed a couple with a young woman in the corner of the room. They looked familiar. Then I realized and so did they that they were the couple who I spoke to briefly in the bar at Newark Airport. Small world. Their daughter (the young woman) attended school in Switzerland for the semester and her class took a trip to Italy. Her parents, the couple, decided to meet her there. We exchanged pleasantries then took our seats.

Oh no! Antelessi no longer has Osso Bucco on the menu! I traveled four thousand miles for that dish. Bummer. That put a damper on my entire meal :(. Oh well. We started with a salad of pear and pecorino. It was okay - should have went with my first choice the Crostini Toscana. Then Rain had Risotto ai Carciofe (artichoke) and I had Ribollita. My first taste of the famed soup and I must say, "Yum." For our secondi, Rain chose a Grilled Veal Chop, which she said was good. I had Vitello con Carciofe - good but not great. Guess I just had my heart set on that Osso Bucco. We also enjoyed water con gas, a 1/2 bottle of Antinori Chianti and an espresso for me - sorry don't have the price again.

We walked home at a leisurely pace, about 35 - 40 minutes with only a couple of 30 second wrong turns along the way. Arrived home, closed our shudders, climbed into bed and read (well maybe I read a bit too much but you'll read about that in our next part).

Giorno Quatro - How Do You Say Slug in Italian?​

Did I mention I read Girl With The Pearl Earring on this trip? Did I mention my cold? Did I mention Rain likes to sleep? Finally, did I mention, the closed shutters on our French doors blocked all light from entering our room?

Can you guess what's coming? Yep, we slept in on Saturday morning. Yet, even that is an understatement. You see I stayed up to god knows what hour finishing my book and I was sick. So when I heard the first stirrings in the hotel, I assumed it must be early around 7:30 or so. I rolled over and went back to sleep. Rain did too.

At 12:30 PM, we awoke to banging on our door. Yep, you read that correctly. We had slept until the afternoon. One of the funny things about this scenario was the night before, while we walked home, we strolled behind some American College students who had been discussing what time they wake on the weekends. Eleven, Twelve, we couldn't believe the numbers. We gave each other a look that said, "Remember when we were their age and used to do that with no problem."

Here, the next morning, we'd done it again! Well, while Rain continued to beat herself up over the situation, I realized, I felt great! The best I felt in four days. I didn't need any more cold medicine or painkillers - yippee!

Finally, Rain rationalized our laziness by using my cold and the fact that "I needed the rest." Did I mention Rain is the queen of rationalizations? One of the things I love about her. Like Jeff Goldblum said in the Big Chill, "You can't go a day without a good rationalization. It's more important than sex."

Anyway, we quickly showered, dressed, and headed out the door. The man in the lobby wore a huge grin - obviously, we'd been the butts of some jokes by the hotel staff. NO problem there - we thought it funny too.

Now, we did suffer some consequences from our "slugness." We missed the maid. She left each day around noon and we missed our opportunity but they said they'd give us so fresh towels. No big deal.

The other, and more important problem, we missed breakfast and Rain was starved. Rain's not a pretty sight when she's hungry. We missed our morning opportunity to climb the dome, so we decided to head towards Santa Croce in search of food and then the church.

Weather wise this was our worst day. It rained, hard at times, most of the day. I had my cheap travel raincoat (glad I shoved that in my bag at the last minute) and Rain wore her pull-over rain thingy. I forget what it's called and we headed out.

Bad directions on my part. For some reason, the streets around Mercato S. Ambrogio, turned me around. After a few start and stops, I saw the back of Santa Croce looming in the distance. Rain needed sustenance by this time and we never saw a pasticerria or any other open food establishment during our wanderings. We ended up going to the bar/café across the Piazza di Santa Croce.

I feared another touristy place but Rain needed food and this seemed our best bet. She bought a slice of pizza and a hot chocolate. I settled for an espresso (13,000 Lira total). I lost my appetite, unfortunately, when I became sick, and it hadn't returned in force yet. After our refreshment, we headed to the church.

Wow! I'm putting Santa Croce up there with St. Peters in the favorite church category. I loved strolling around, checking out the tombs. I pointed the ones out to Rain that were under the floor. I remember seeing those in England, I believe, but Rain had never seen them. I think it freaked her out some.

With our Blue Guide in hand, we read about many of the tombs and chapels and really enjoyed it. Oh, and thanks to y'all, I knew about the light boxes and we lit places whenever we had the opportunity. Fantastic. Again, I could try to tell you more about the details but I'd just be rewriting the blue guide. I enjoyed Santa Croce and can't wait to take Chris and his parents there in June.

After the church, we needed a "pit stop." Back to that café. This time we ordered two hot chocolates and I grabbed an orange juice (14,000 Lira total). The restroom was downstairs, after that we headed for Vivoli.

Somehow, Chris and I missed a lot of good gelato on our trip to Florence. Rain and I made up for it on this one. Rain ordered the straciatelli and ciocollati. I ordered nociollato and banana. Both of mine were great but we agreed while the chocolate was better at Vivoli, the straciatelli was better at Carabè.

After our ice cream break, we began the important part of the day, the shopping. Don't give me that look - believe me when I tell you I am not a shopper.

My mom likes to tell the story when she took me to Lord and Taylor in Manhattan to get a dress for my Bat Mitzvah. As we rode the escalator towards the junior department (probably the only day in my life I could wear junior ;), I scanned it from above and proclaimed, "There's nothing here I like. Let's go." Of course, I didn't like to wear dresses either.

Anyway, I don't normally shop, but on our first trip, Chris and I arrived on Sunday afternoon, Monday was a holiday and we spent Tuesday with Pauline driving around the country. I never had the remotest chance on that trip and I wanted to experience it on this trip. Besides, I wanted some specific items, a journal, and some nice stationary.

Rain on the other hand, holds a position in the shopping hall of fame. Let's say I wanted to buy a telephone for my kitchen. I'd walk into Target, pick out one in the right color, make sure it had basic features (redial, speed dial), and it was in my price range.

Rain will research all the different makes and models using consumer reports and web sites, she'll travel to at least five different stores to price them and compare, then she'll buy one (often one of the first ones she saw). At that point, she'll bring it home and if she doesn't like it, she'll return it and start the process over or if she likes it, she'll keep it. The last time I needed a phone, she needed one too. When she decided on one, I had her pick up a second for me. Hassle-free.

Anyway, I go into these lengthy diversions because I feel while I am in the Renaissance capital, I must justify my desire to spend time shopping.

Our first stop was a leather store near Santa Croce. Don't tell Chris, but I secretly flirted with the idea of a new leather jacket for myself. I never got it but it didn't stop me from browsing and window shopping a bit. What I did buy was a small leather case that held two golf balls and two tees. My father's a pain in the tuchus to buy for and since he just took up golf, I figured this would be a cute chotckey for him.

After that, we headed over Ponte alle Grazie to Oltrarno. I wanted to search for a store on Via dei Bardi that someone on the AOL board recommended. Unfortunately, once we located the store (weird numbering strikes again - but now I get it), it was closed.

We continued towards Via dei Guicciardini to head towards the Pitti Palace where someone suggested Giannini Giulio. On the way, while the rain stopped, the temperature dropped. I left my gloves (actually, Chris's - I couldn't find mine before departure, so I grabbed his) back in the hotel room. My hands felt cooold. But, lo and behold, we spotted a Madova store. It's tiny. Barely enough room for the couple making a purchase and us.

I asked the clerk to see some cashmere lined black leather gloves. She asked me about styling. I told her simple. She guessed my hand size right off the bat and produced a pair of gloves. Good fit. They felt toasty. Sold.

Rain decided that she'd buy a pair of gloves too. Uh oh. The sales girl guessed her size too, produced the same pair as me and Rain tried them on. Then came the question, "Do you have other styles?" Fifteen pairs of gloves later, she purchased the same pair as me only hers were a bit longer - I believe the third or fourth pair she tried on. By this time, a group of American women had entered the store, and we were packed. We squeezed our way through to the door and emerged back on the street. It started to grow dark.

We continued walking up the Via dei Guicciardini and stopped in various stores along the way. I purchased tiny limoncello glasses for Chris for Chanukah (shoot - now he can't read this for a few days). I wanted four but they only had three. For some reason, odd numbers bother me and I got two. They have a little alcove in the glass, which holds a tiny glass lemon. I hope he likes them. I also bought a small glass perfume bottle for mom - Murano glass in Florence - gotta love it.

I still need my journal - on towards the Pitti Palace.

Giannini Giulio is a great store filled with all sorts of Florentine paper products, journals (leather ones too), picture frames, tons of stuff I can't even list. We'd stopped in other paper stores too along our travels but I liked this one the best.

The thing I finally realized and the store clerk confirmed for me, was that the journals with the Florentine covers have paper without lines on them. The leather journals are lined. I could get a leather journal at home for the same price and wanted a Florentine one but I didn't know if I could write without lines (sometimes, I'm an in the box kinda gal). Aw, what the heck, I bought one and if it works out, I'll buy a bunch more in June. (A side note here, I started to use my un-lined journal and love it!! The quality is terrific and I can't wait to buy more when I return).

After our purchases in Oltrarno, we decided to head back to the other side. We crossed the Ponte Vechio and put on our sunglasses to block the glare from all the gold in the windows (only kidding). Actually, that was the first time I'd been on the Ponte Vechio - nice views.

We stopped by the Hermitage to check on the location - tiny elevator. I chickened out though (bad Kim). I should have introduced myself to the front desk clerk and seen if I could have seen a room.

On to the Uffizi. We had reservations for the next afternoon but wanted to see if we could change them to the next morning. Since we missed climbing the Duomo because of our Rumpelstilsken imitation, we wanted to do it on Sunday afternoon.

It must have been about four thirty or five at this point - no line at the Uffizi. The reservation person said she couldn't "officially" change the reservations at that point (office closed) but we should just show up early and they would probably let us in. There wouldn't be a line at that time.

On to Verrazzano Wine Bar.

I love this place. On Friday, Pauline suggested we should try the Particulare and perhaps bring a bottle to Chris. Since Pauline was the first one to clue us into the 1997 vintage before it made news in the states and my knowledge on wine is so limited, I trust her judgment.

We each had a glass of the Particulare. We also ordered a plate of cingiale meats and some stuffed focaccia (cheese and peas, tomato and mozzarella and grilled radichio) - yummy. Rain thought she preferred the Sassello to the Particulare, so we ordered a glass to do a comparison. I like them both but I agree the Sassello is a bit "smoother." I still bought a bottle of the Particulare for Chris though.

After our snack, we headed back towards the hotel. The day before Pauline also suggested purchasing a cheese for Chris, Pecorino con tartufo, since Chris is such a fan of truffles. She recommended the salumeria across from Verrazzano. We stopped in and yippee, I got to use my Italian. Unfortunately, they were out. They did have the allusive 1997 Sassello which the wine bar no longer sold (they were on the 1998). I should have bought a bottle there - SWC.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at two other wine stores and a salumeria. Another wine I told Chris I would look for was the Antinori Solai. These two stores had it at 650,000 and 750,00 Lira (the cheaper one being a bit further from the Duomo) - NOT. I like wine as much as the next person but not that much.

After a brief rest in the hotel, we headed out for dinner. That night we would dine in Oltrarno at a restaurant recommended by Pauline, Pandemonia. As a side not here, Pauline has recommended a few restaurants to us and has never steered us wrong. If she gives you a recommendation, use it!

The hotel called a cab for us and a few minutes later, we were at the restaurant. An aside, something we didn't realize until Sunday was the cab meter starts from the time you call them. Don't be shocked when you get in a cab and the meter already has a charge on it. One we called was as high as 13000 Lira.

The host seated us at a table in the back room of this restaurant. It felt more like a garden with trees and tiny lights everywhere - pale yellow walls - very pretty. They started us with a glass of prosecco.

Afterwards we ordered a bottle of the '97 Verrazzano Sassello and the wine guy (sommelier would be too strong a word I think - it was a family place), asked, "Do you know this wine? It's very special." I told him how we first tried it two years ago and how we hunted it down in the states. He approved.

To start we shared antipasti Toscano that contained proscuitto, salame, and pickled vegetables - delicious. I don't usually eat cauliflower but these were great. For our primi we shared a shrimp risotto - fantastic - creamy, flavorful - we wiped the sauce with the bread - that's how good. Rain had a chicken cacciatore for her secondi (hunter's chicken) - of course nothing like we used to get at Mom's Italian Restaurant in Edison but oh so delicious. I can't remember the name of my dish - I think Populo - it was a spicy beef stew and out of this world.

For dessert, I had an espresso and tiramisu. Rain chose some ice cream. After dessert, they placed a bottle of grappa and a bottle of chilled limoncello on our table. We opted for the limoncello - pretty darn good.

We took a cab back to the hotel and hit the hay. This time though, we requested a wake-up call and Rain made me turn the light out after reading for fifteen minutes. Although, without the cold medicine and with the good food in my belly, I found it very easy to fall to sleep.

Giorno Cinque - We Have A Theme!​

We have the hang of this now. This morning we awoke to a wake-up call, the alarm on my palm pilot, and we left the shutters open. By nine, we were upstairs enjoying a nondescript breakfast. Not that it was any different from the other days - it just didn't do it for me. I couldn't find anyone around to get me my cappuccino and I had a craving. We decided to bag the buffet and head out.

If you remember, we originally planned to switch our Uffizi reservations to this morning and climb the Duomo in the afternoon. While Rain's ankle felt much better, and my cold seemed to have disappeared (except in the evening), we decided to forego our original plans and check out the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens in the morning instead and keep our Uffizi reservation for the afternoon.

We headed out the door down the Via Alfieri past the synagogue. At this point, I saw a father drop his daughter off at the schul. She carried two little braided challahs into the building and he called, "Ciao bella," to her as she entered the gate. I guess they go to Sunday school in Italy too. In a few hours, I knew Becky would go to Sunday school back in NJ. Some things seem so different and some things seem so "the same."

We turned down Via dei Pilastri and found a small café open. Hmm…Didn't take much arm twisting to get Rain to enjoy a hot chocolate and a cornetto filled with chocolate. I ordered my cappuccino and a cornetto filled with crema. Only Italian spoken in this place and if I had known of its existence before today, we would have gone there each day for breakfast. We sat at a small table (no extra charge) and enjoyed our snack before we headed out again.

An aside here - the Slow Travelers website has an entire page devoted to the items you can order in a caffe - Italy: Food: Caffes. Very interesting and helpful - if anyone needs an introduction (see link on the side).

Our route took us past the Duomo where Rain spied a silver statue in a store window. It showed a man holding two fish. Her boyfriend loves to fish and she thought it would make a nice gift for him but the store was closed. We knew it would remain so until Monday evening and Rain made a mental note to try to hit it the next day.

As we walked, Rain commented on the fact that we hadn't shot off an entire roll of film yet. I told her to let me hold the camera because I liked to take pictures and I'd finish a roll that day easily. So I became the official photographer. We took some pictures of the Duomo with us in them and not. I don't remember now though if we took some of the fake Baptistery doors. Rain has the pictures and I'll get them from her next Saturday. I may even post them to Yahoo, so y'all can look at them.

Next, we headed down the Via Calimala and stopped at the Mercato Nuovo. Rain bought a scarf for her cousin and rubbed the wild boar's nose. Of course, I took a picture of that too.

Before, I mentioned the nice views of the Ponte Vechio. At this point, we stopped for some more pictures. I actually wanted to take one of Rain with her nose pressed against the glass of one of the stores but she wouldn't comply. She may not like to admit it but she's a jewelry hound.

As we walked, we discussed other photo possibilities. I explained to her how others on the AOL board often chose a theme for their pictures. I remember someone (Boleskine perhaps) took pictures of doorknobs and someone else mentioned doorknockers. We decided we needed a theme. Of course, with me in the mix, it didn't take long to stumble upon a subject matter. Naked men! That day, we would take as many pictures as possible of naked men statues! We chose our theme.

On to the Pitti Palace.

Most of the stores along our route closed for Sunday so we contented ourselves with window-shopping as we walked. When we reached the Pitti, we decided to do the gardens first. While the skies remained overcast we didn't have any rain and felt it safe/wise to spend this time outside in case it rained later.

Gotta tell you, I underestimated the size of the gardens. They are immense. Now in November, nothing flowers but I still found the grounds to be interesting for the views and statues alone.

Oh, another note when you look at a map, you don't see hills. Trust me, I don't think we saved much wear and tear on Rain's ankle by foregoing the Duomo climb, after walking around the gardens.

We headed straight from the entrance up, up, up to the Neptune Fountain. We didn't venture as far as Abundance. We sat on a bench and read a bit from our Blue Guide and I filled in with some of the stories of the Roman Gods that I remembered from mythology.

After spending some time there, we wound our way towards the Kaffehaus. While they didn't have tables outside they remained open and you could smell the wonderful aroma about 100 feet away.

Somehow, we wound our way back to the gift shop where we stopped to browse. In the postcard section, I noticed a picture of a statue that we needed for our collection - Bachus riding a Turtle. I bought some cute flip-books for the girls. One with a little man who puts shorts on the David statue - or as Becky likes to do it in reverse, takes the shorts off and the other with a guy who buzzes around the Duomo, then we headed out in search of Bachus.

It didn't take long to find him and he appeared to be near the exit so we decided to go in the other direction first, in search of Perseus. Thank god, that route was relatively flat.

We took several pictures of the young man and the statues that surrounded the Vasca dell'Isola and realized that we only had a few shots left. Time to return to Bachus. I knew I'd finish a role - no problem.

We got close enough to Bachus (really Pietro Barbino - the dwarf of Cosimo I according to the Blue Guide), to take some excellent pictures then headed out.

Some side notes here, - many of the statues in the gardens are not the originals. One of these days I'll make a list of the location of the originals (I believe many are in the Bargello). I think rolly polly Bachus has taken David's place as the favorite statue of my daughter Becky. I'll definitely return here with the girls - I think they'll get a kick out of the gardens and in June, they should be beautiful.

After we left the gardens, we realized we probably wouldn't have enough time to do the Pitti Palace justice and decided to head back over the river towards the Uffizi. We wanted to stop for some gelato and possibly a snack before our two o'clock reservation.

On the way, I stopped in a small tabbecheria and purchased a zippo lighter for Chris for Hanukkah. He wanted one to use when he smokes the rare cigar. It doesn't say Italy on it or anything and it was made in the States but I never see them here and it was convenient so I purchased it. I only mention it now because when I returned home, I noticed the charge had been double posted to my Mastercard. I think somewhere an honest mistake had been made and when I called Mastercard, they credited me the amount right away - just wanted to give a kudo to them.

We also stopped along the way to purchase another roll of film. Rain had left the extras in the hotel.

Anyway…we stopped for Gelato near the Uffizi. I ordered melon and banana. The melon was good but the banana tasted fake, like that yucky banana marshmallow candy they made when I was a kid. I chucked it - why waste the calories. I don't remember which flavors Rain ordered but she agreed - not the best gelato we'd eaten.

Next stop Rivoire for our "must" ciocolatti caldi. I like Maureen Fant. I read and clip her articles in the NY Times whenever I can. I enjoyed her book Trattorias of Rome, Florence and Venice but I have to disagree with her. When she says, "who can deny tourists the right to sip a world-renowned hot chocolate while looking across the Piazza della Signoria…" I didn't think the hot chocolate was anything spectacular and I'd encourage tourists to deny themselves. The one Rain ordered in Arezzo tasted better. Yet, I should have listened to her when she said, "Food is served, but you'll probably want to eat elsewhere." My appetite returned after its long absence and I wanted something to eat. We ordered two tramezzi and they stunk. 40,000 Lira later, we left disappointed.

Before we hit the Uffizi, of course we needed to take pictures of all the statues outside to keep with our theme. It started to rain - time to move on to the Uffizi.

What can you say? Can you believe no line? Two years ago, it had a three-hour wait. Today, you could just walk in. We used our reservations though and I'd still urge everyone to make them.

Remember Rain's ankle and the Duomo climbed we passed on? Well, after the Boboli and climbing those flights of steps to the top floor of the gallery, I'd say we came pretty darn close to that Duomo climb.

Now for the artwork - again, I'd just be regurgitating the guidebook but some things I did note. Last time, Chris and I walked through without any book or guide tape. This time, I brought the book we purchased during our last visit. I liked having the extra information, although it appeared they changed some of the room organizations since my book was published. Next time, I think I may pony up for the audio guide.

Also, I've been reading a bit more about certain artists since our last visit, I found that with the knowledge Pauline passed on enhanced my visit. Finally, at this point, we were tired, hungry, and although I didn't have a sprained ankle, my ankles killed me - I can't imagine what Rain felt. So we didn't spend more than two hours in the museum, which felt like enough. We targeted the artists/paintings we wanted to see and I liked that method.

After the Uffizi, we wanted to hit a wine bar again. Unfortunately, Verrazzano was closed on Sunday. We headed towards Santa Croce and stopped in Enotecca Boccadama. They had a huge wine selection but unfortunately, the kitchen was closed. Also, we found the place to be incredibly smoky. Not my favorite place. Though the waiter did take pity on us and our hunger and brought us a bowl of olives, which we quickly demolished. After finishing our two glasses of Chianti, we headed out in search of something more substantial.

We stopped at a different bar on the way back to the hotel and ordered some aqua minerale con gas and a bit of panini - good and it hit the spot. Back to the hotel for a late afternoon rest but first a stop at our Internet place to check in with home.

By this point in our trip, I wanted a bit of news, so I checked the New York Times Website. An article on the front page caught my eye because it dealt with a September 11 story - one I thought I'd already seen. I glanced at the date and realized the copy I was reading came from the hard drive. I hit the refresh button and got a new page. Nothing exciting at home. By then, Rain finished her e-mails and we headed back to the hotel.

For dinner that evening, we wanted to try Trattoria Marione but they close on Sunday. I went with an old standby - Paoli. I know people feel it's a bit touristy but I've had two good decent meals there and besides, I love their salad.

We opted for a cab to the restaurant that evening because our feet were protesting the wear and tear we put them through over the last few days. I remember going here on a Sunday night two years ago and the place was packed. Not tonight. They seated us right away.

Rain ordered the pasta Paoli and a veal dish and I started with their fresh salad and the cingiale stew with polenta. I don't know what they do with their dressing for that salad but I love it. The cingiale could have been cooked a bit longer to make it a bit more tender but I still enjoyed it. Rain said her food was good but she did get the impression that it may have been pre-cooked and re-warmed - hard to tell.

I also love one of their desserts, which is those pastries (can't remember the name but it begins with a p - like cream puffs) covered in rich chocolate sauce. Rain wanted to share an order but I wouldn't - greedy chocolate fiend that I am. She didn't believe I could polish off an entire order but I showed her :). That with a 1/2 carafe of house wine came to 120,000 Lira.

Oh, another side note here. At all our dinners I ordered a bottle of this known wine or a bottle of that. I forgot about the house wine option which is often much less expensive and pretty darn good.

After dinner, we cabbed it back to the hotel and to bed.

Giorno Sei - Wow, It Really Leans​

That morning we were up early thanks again to our wake-up call, palm pilot alarm and open shutters.

For those of you who haven't noticed the count down at the bottom of the screen (184 days as of today), I am returning in June with my entire family (kids, husband, parents, in-laws and an aunt). We rented a house I found through a link (Lucca Villas) on the Slow Travel website. Before we arrived in Florence, I arranged with Les Woodruff, the man who operates the luccavillas website and who owns the house we're renting, to see it.

Before we left I used the trenitalia website (www.trenitalia.com) to print off train schedules for Florence to Lucca, Lucca to Pisa, and Pisa to Florence (we'd use the last two later in the day). We needed to catch the 9:43 train to Lucca because Les was meeting us at the station at 11:00. Never having used the trains on my own before I was a bit nervous, so we allowed plenty of time, arriving at the station by 8:40.

A side note here. This was the first trip where I traveled independently to Europe, well out of the US really. My other trips were always completely or partially with a tour. I discovered that each detail I planned (e.g., planes, trains, hotel), caused me a bit of angst.

I also discovered that I couldn't control everything. Things went right and things went wrong. What I could do was take care of the things within my control (e.g., confirming a flight) and let go of the things I couldn't control (e.g., will this restaurant have decent food). Yet each task that we did accomplish whether with a hitch or not, felt like a success, a building block for me. I wouldn't trade our freedom of movement, our successes, or our "glitches" to travel in the "security" of a tour again.


The lines seemed long at first but actually moved relatively fast. We purchased our tickets within ten minutes and headed outside in search of a café for a morning cappuccino for me, and a hot chocolate for Rain. We found a place across the street. I ordered first and the man smiled and pointed to the cashier - see sometimes it's one way and sometimes it's the other.

After our refreshment, we returned to the station. We hung out by the board for a while then Rain suggested we find our track (binario #2). Good idea - the train waited there and people had already boarded. We validated our tickets, found a non-smoking car, and settled in.

The sun actually shone as we left Florence but through the entire trip to Lucca, well the entire day, we encountered spotty showers. We arrived in Lucca on time and by the way, no one ever checked our tickets.

I didn't have any idea what Les Woodruff looked like but for the first time my mental image of a man came pretty close to the actual. I guess we looked like two American tourists because he picked us out right away. We hopped into his Range Rover, met his associate (who's name I'm afraid escapes me), and headed to the house.

Oh - the house is called Al Bastini. By the way, I loved this website. It's full of information about Lucca, renting, the houses, local restaurants, shopping and a bunch more. In fact, I found so much info on the website that I thought it To Good To Be True. We haven't stayed there yet but so far, I've been happy with all of our interactions with Les.


Les bought the house somewhere between ten and fifteen years ago. He described it as a ruin (it's anything but now). His original plan was to take a year off from work to spend rebuilding the house himself. One year became two and - well you know how it goes.

Some friends from his home saw how well he did his own house so when they purchased homes in the area, they asked him to redo their houses too. Now he manages these homes too in addition to developing and maintaining the website.

I lost track of time but I don't think it took us more than 20 minutes to reach the house, in the rain and traffic. Les said they used to be able to go from the station to the house in 10 - 15 minutes but in recent years, they've added more traffic lights as the area around Lucca has been built up. BTW - Les lives in Al Bastini about seven months out of the year.

On the way, Les pointed out where he used to bring his olives to be pressed (it's no longer in operation) and where he brings his "jug" of wine for refills. Hmmm…refills of wine by the jug - we're going to have to try that ;)

The house sits about halfway up a hill (to those of us in vertically challenged states, you might want to consider that a small mountain). I believe one other house sits a bit above his.

I felt bad for the man. He kept apologizing for the rain (by now a downpour) and saying, "Now imagine this with sun. It will be sunny when you're here." Yet, even in the rain, it's beautiful. He parked near the house, as opposed to the carport so we wouldn't get soaked and we entered through the door near the kitchen.

He gave us the complete tour, kitchen, family room, 6 bedrooms, snooker room, patios and pool. On the way to the pool, I felt something squishy beneath my feet. I stepped on an olive. The walk to the pool is lined with olive trees that they hadn't had a chance to pick yet and the fruit dropped to the ground. If I had a few more days I would have offered to stay and pick the olives in exchange for a room ;).

Oh - did I mention the views from the house - gorgeous hills (read green mountains) and valleys - today covered in patches of fog. As we returned to the house from the pool, he pointed out the cherry, lemon, and fig trees that grow on the property - yum - any of those in season in June?

They offered us a drink but we declined - first, I felt he had done enough and I didn't want to impose, and second, we wanted to catch a train to Pisa so Rain could check out the tower.

We drove back into town and they dropped us near the center of Lucca (within the walls). Rain and I walked around a bit and discovered the map in the Eyewitness guide really wasn't worth much. Most of the stores were still closed and weren't scheduled to open until after siesta that afternoon.

We grabbed three slices of pizza and two of those carbonated pellegrino orange drinks for lunch (10,000 Lira - and oh so much better than the food at Rivorie for 1/4 the price).

Another side note here - where my Italian barely came in handy in Florence I can tell I am definitely going to use it when we stay in Lucca in June. We stopped in three places - no English spoken - yippee.

After lunch, we headed towards the station but first stopped for our daily gelato. I enjoyed a nociolla (chocolate hazelnut - I found it called different things in different places) and Rain I believe had her usual straciatella.

After the gelato, I found a Salumeria still open. One last try for Pecorino con Tartufo for Chris and bingo! They have some. I ordered in Italian and the man made the mistake of believing me to be fluent. He took off smiling in Italian, speed speaking. I smiled and finally managed to convey that while I understood a bit I could speak even less. He smiled, slowed, and offered me some other things but I declined. I will return in June though.

On to the station - after asking directions only once, well once for Rain and once for me, we found the place. We checked out the board and saw a train would depart shortly but we needed to use the facilities first.


Okay those of you who are faint of heart, the men in the group and any others who don't enjoy the "toilette" discussions we sometimes partake in on these boards, skip down to the asterisks.

Something I haven't mentioned at all in this trip report but that plagued me since the second day of our trip was the arrival of what Chris refers to as Mr. Happy - yes for those of you who aren't sure, Aunt Flow came to town.

Now, I hadn't had a problem at all until now, but how the heck are you supposed to take care of business over one of those holes in the ground?? I don't think any other toilette story can compare to the gymnastics I participated in that day!


Now, back to our normally scheduled programming.

By the time we exited the bathroom, the train we thought we'd catch already departed. Of course, we then realized we'd looked on the wrong board to begin with (there's a departure and an arrival board) and our train would be along soon.

While we waited, I noticed a huge police helicopter fly over head. It brought back some yucky memories.

After some confusion with the track number (they changed it) and a delay of about 15 minutes we were on our way. Again, we sat in an almost empty non-smoking car.

Another side note here - how do the schools work in Italy? Plenty of teenagers (if I had to guess, I'd say high school age) were on our train. Do they go to school out of their own towns? Or were these college kids who commute?

Anyway … during our train ride, we stopped literally in the middle of a field - an older man tended his patch of green "leafies" next to the train, while we seemed to wait for something. I heard some jets fly overhead but didn't see any from my window. Eventually another train pulled alongside. After a moment, we departed.

The ride didn't take long and from the train, I spied the tower in the distance. We departed at the next stop assuming it was ours since we'd just seen the tower, but it wasn't Pisa Centrale. We asked another gentleman and he said Pisa Centrale was next - so we hopped back on the train before it departed and stood for a few moments to the next stop.

While in Lucca we felt completely submerged in Italian, it's different in Pisa - plenty of signs in English. My guess, because Pisa is a huge tourist destination.

At this point in the trip, both of us suffered from aching feet and ankles. I still don't know how Rain did it. We wanted to take a taxi to the Campo dei Miracoli but ten people already waited in that line and not a cab in sight so we hoofed it.

It's a good twenty, twenty five-minute walk over cobblestone streets and broken sidewalks. Not good on the feet or the ankles.

When we arrived, I couldn’t help but have a wow moment. I mean, you see pictures of the thing all the time but something about seeing it in person blew me away. I mean, it really leans. Something else, the Duomo is nothing to sneeze at either. The entire campo is beautiful and I'm sorry we didn't spend a bit more time there exploring. For me, it's not so bad, because I'll be back there soon but I hope Rain doesn't feel as if she missed out.

After wandering around the grounds, taking the obligatory picture of us holding it up and knocking it down (can you guess which I did), wandering through the church, and checking out the cheesy souvenir stands (I wish I bought that leaning coffee mug), we headed back to the station.

You see we wanted to catch the 4:18 train for our return because it was 40 minutes shorter than the next train in duration. Seasoned commuters that we are, we wanted to minimize travel time as much as possible.

Though, on our way back to the station, as we crossed the bridge over the Arno, we saw an incredible sight - a rainbow rose from the buildings on one bank and crossed over to the buildings on the other bank. We snapped a ton of pictures. Shortly thereafter, we saw its twin. Truly amazing. Somehow, it almost felt symbolic after all the rain we endured the past few days.

On to the station. This train back to Florence seemed nicer than the others. It had cushioned seats and was cleaner. Rain elevated her foot on the seat opposite her and as she usually did, she hiked her pant leg up, so anyone could see her cast. Unfortunately, the inspector didn't have any compassion for my "suffering" companion and asked her to remove her foot. By the way, that was the only train of the three on which our tickets were inspected. The time stamp and fear of inspections seems to keep people honest - I wonder if it will work on New Jersey Transit.

Another side note here. When Chris and I went to Italy two years ago and I posted my trip report to the board, someone who worked with Chris actually made the connection and asked if I was his wife and about our trip? Small world, eh?

Well, now, if you think you know Rain's true identity and you work with her, skip to the next line of asterisks otherwise it may spoil your Holiday gift surprise :).

Sometime on Sunday or Monday, Rain decided rather than stressing over her holiday gift purchases for the people she works with, she wanted to return to Giannini Guilio to purchase the beautiful picture frames there for her co-workers. Yet, the thought of hoofing it from the station to the store didn't appeal to us. So we compromised and took a cab as far as the Ponte Vechio then walked the remainder.

Let's say Rain dropped a pretty penny in the store that evening and while I stood around and waited, I couldn't help but buy some stationary and a couple of frames for myself. After all, what was I supposed to do?

************************************************************After making our purchases, we headed back towards the Duomo. What I really wanted to do was park my tired kiester on a seat in the Verrazzano Wine Bar but Rain had one more purchase she wanted to make. Remember that statue I told you about - the silver one of the guy holding the fish?

We blew off the wine bar and headed back to that store. I knew we were in trouble when they had to buzz us in. We sat down (fancy shmancy place) and they brought the hand-made sterling silver statue to her. Can you guess the price? C'mon, give it a try…

2,500,000 Lira - OUCH. Sorry M, she loves you but not that much :D.

We left the store and headed back towards the hotel. We wanted to check e-mail, pack and relax a bit before dinner.

When we signed onto the computers in our Internet place, I couldn't get into AOL e-mail, so I decided to check the New York Times website again. I pulled up a headline that said Plane Crash in NYC. I thought I had another old copy on the hard drive, and hit the refresh button. The same headline came up - that's when I noticed the death toll. S*** this just happened. A few hours ago. I tried my e-mail again and immediately shot one to Chris. We talked back and forth via e-mail for a few minutes. They didn't know if it was terrorists (please, god not again). All the airports were closed. Finally, I got frustrated with the speed of our connection - it seemed incredibly bogged down. I sent Chris one last e-mail to call me at our hotel.

We headed back towards the Liana and I felt pissed. Then upset. Then a bit scared. By the time Chris called, we knew the airports would probably open by 2:00 local time (8:00 PM our time). We also knew the government felt secure in treating this as an accident as opposed to a terrorist act.

It's sad that over two hundred people died and I felt relief that is was an accident. That many deaths and the manner in which they perished is a tragedy, no matter the cause.

Oh - I just remembered something I forgot to put into our report on Saturday night (day four). When we returned to the hotel about 11:30, the desk clerk laughed. It appeared Rain's mom (btw - Rain's about my age - mid-thirties), called the hotel several times. When last she called, around 11:00, the clerk said she seemed upset and worried that we weren't there at 11:00. He quoted her, "Where could they be at 11:00?" and we all laughed.

So, tonight, after the plane crash, we wondered as we walked back to the hotel, how many messages we'd find from Rain's mom. To our surprise - not one. I still made her call her mom though. From one mother to another, it's the least I could do ;)

I arranged for Chris to call us at 5:15 in the morning. It would be 11:15 for him, so he'd call before he went to sleep and it would be our wake-up call. I also called Alitalia and gave them a number they could reach us. They didn't know what the status of our flight would be the next day, but they told us to call later.

We headed out to dinner via Taxi. Tonight we finally went to Trattoria Marione (thanks Livinwell). Good basic food - good prices. I don't remember what I paid but it was cheap.

I started with the Ribollita - thicker than Antellesi and very good. Although, Rain preferred the Antellesi version. Afterwards, I had the pappardelle con cinghiale which was delicious - I can't remember what Rain had. We did that and a half carafe of the house wine and if the bill came to more than 60,000L, I'd be surprised.

We returned to the hotel, arranged for our early wake-up call, packed, and hit the hay.

Giorno Sette - All Roads Lead to Home​

I lay in bed awake when the phone rang at 5:15 AM. Actually, I heard it ring at the main switchboard before they transferred it to our room.

The first words out of Chris’s mouth were, "Your flight is cancelled."

Of course, I didn’t believe him. "You’re joking, right?"

"No, I’m serious."

"C’mon, really?"

"Yes, these are the other flights you can take…"

When he started to rattle off different connections we could take via Rome and Milan to different airports in the New York metropolitan area, I knew he wasn’t joking.

You know what they say, be careful what you wish for.

Before I left, my dad jokingly asked if I ever was coming home. Others also teased that I’d be the only person who wouldn’t care if Alitalia cancelled my flight.

To tell the truth though, I wanted to get home. Don’t get me wrong, I love Italy. I’d love to stay for an extended visit, but I missed Chris. Due to his job, we normally don’t spend more than weekends together and if I didn’t make it home that night, we'd end up apart for a two-week time span. Not to mention, the girls – I missed them too and I only arranged childcare through Tuesday. Rain was anxious to return too.


I called Alitalia. They already had us switched to a 1:30 flight on Alitalia into JFK rather than Newark. I asked if we could get on the 9:30 Continental flight into EWR instead (I knew in June it was scheduled to depart 30 minutes after our original Alitalia flight) but the agent said it’s a code share flight not a separate airplane and it too was cancelled. I thought they’d changed that but I wasn’t going to argue.

Now this entire process seems smooth but trust me it wasn’t. At one point, Rain took over with Alitalia because we still needed to check out and at another point Rain’s boyfriend, "M" called and she was on the phone in the lobby while I continued with Alitalia.

Through all this early morning activity (thank god we packed and showered the night before) our poor desk clerk made a mistake. He ran our bill through at over 9 million lira as opposed to nine hundred thousand lira (we paid some of the bill with our lira still left from that initial withdrawal our first day). He ran through the corrected amount and the credit and we hopped into our waiting cab.

Check-in at Florence’s airport seemed a bit absurd. First, I couldn’t believe how crowded it was at 6:00 in the morning. Second, our ticket agent didn’t appear to be to on the ball. He ran through my passport info with Rain’s ticket. When we realized it, we made him correct it. Also, he never asked us any of the security questions – not that I really expect any of those questions to ever stop anyone. Hmmm… now that I think about it, maybe they only ask those questions in this country.

Anyway, another big line in security to sit in one large waiting area for our plane to board. At this point, I tried to call Chris to let him know which flight we were on but I couldn’t get any of the phones to work. I still don’t know what I did wrong only that I have no luck with foreign phones.

Rain cancelled her "special" treatment (i.e., wheelchair and private transport) because her ankle felt better, so we rode the bus with everyone else.

Our flight to Rome was relatively uneventful. They served us our cookies and juice. Oh, Rain and I asked for orange juice and when they gave it to us, it was red. She started to say something but I told her it was blood orange juice – funny everyone talks about it but that was the first and only time I’d seen it.

We decided to hoof it across the Rome airport to our gate for the flight home. It’s a long long walk especially lugging a bag filled with wine. Eventually, we found a cart - nice of them to provide those without charging like we do here. That helped a bit.

Through another security checkpoint and we entered our gate area. Yes, that's the 9:30 Continental flight we see boarding. No, we can't get on it - bummer.

Actually, I didn't mind too much. Don't get me wrong, spending four hours in Rome's airport isn't my idea of a good time but flying into JFK wasn't bad, for two reasons. One, Chris was driving right past JFK around the time we were supposed to land so he'd be able to pick me up which meant an extra 2 hours with him, alone. Two, I saved the $60.00 in car service I would have paid otherwise - shoot I could have bought another bottle of wine ;).

We headed to the café for some food - a cappuccino and pastry for me, orange drink and pastry for Rain. Yep - paid the cashier behind us before we ordered.

After our snack, we headed back to the chairs and ran into the couple from our flight to Italy and the restaurant in Florence. They too had their "horror" story to tell about the original cancelled flight, as did many people in the waiting area. Was anyone originally scheduled for that JFK flight?

Not much on details here. We waited. Went back to the Café to get a snack around 11:00 - I couldn't stomach gelato that early so we opted for pizza - go figure. Then I tried the phones again - no luck. Finally, I remembered something. Went back to the café and bought a phone card for 10,000 L (that's it for my money). Yep - folded the corner, slid that sucker in and dialed the states directly - how simple!

I woke Chris at 5:15 his time - notice the symmetry here - to tell him which flight we were on and ask him to pick me up.

Boarding - uneventful except it was delayed a bit for extra security. They set up a table for two cabineri (is that the correct word?) to check our bags but as we went through we realized they were only checking random or maybe suspicious bags because we breezed right onto the plane.

Flight home - uneventful - although the food was a bit better - my guess - because it originated in Italy as opposed to the states ;). I tried to sleep but a large tour group of boisterous older men sat around us and I couldn't drift off for more than 5 minutes without one of them waking me. Oh well, good thing I brought a book.

We arrived at JFK on time and pretty much whizzed through Customs. They didn't question my wine purchase but were more concerned that I was sneaking meat back into the country, which I wasn't. I told them about my Pecorino and they didn't even want to see it - they let me through. Shoot, my form even indicated I spent over the $400 limit but they didn't mind.

Chris waited outside - good to see him. Rain's car service was there too. We hopped in the car and sat in traffic almost all the way home. One quick stop at our local pizza place to pick up a pie for dinner and my adventure ended.

Until next time.

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