September 17, 2011

We had time for a quick coffee before we met with our apartment contact and caught a taxi to the train station. Once we arrived in Florence, we needed to get to Hotel David. Our taxi driver was Polish but had lived in Florence for a long time. She was a really good driver on those tiny streets! After a quick look around the place, we were ready to go find lunch. We asked the guy at the desk and he recommended two places. We chose Gigi’s (I couldn’t find a website, but TripAdvisor had pictures). And it was, without a doubt, the correct choice. It was amazing! A family owned place, with generations clearly working inside. The daily menu was hand-written on the outside of the restaurant…as was the dessert menu once we got that far into digesting the wonderful food. I had a salad (it had been a while), chicken liver bruschetta (tasted much better than it sounds), and for dessert, something that was translated on the hand-written paper as “ball of chocolate”. How could I say no to a BALL OF CHOCOLATE?!

The sitting area of Hotel David.

Outside sitting area at Hotel David.

Sarah relaxing in the garden.

The house white at Gigi's.

The wee chef at the table.

Cynthia's beverage of choice.

The house red at Gigi's.

Ball of chocolate? Yes, please!























After lunch, we split up a little. Sarah and Beverly went to Dante Alighieri‘s house and then sat in a cafe and relaxed. Cynthia and I went to the Salvatore Ferragamo shoe museum. We took a taxi to make the 3pm appointment. The building was HUGE! I learned about the museum from the Samantha Brown’s Passport to Europe on the Travel Channel. Watch the video…it can show you more than I can type. Also, no pictures inside since it’s a private collection. I ended up having a “moment” at some point in the museum while Cynthia was looking at how the shoes were made and put together. I teared up and realized I couldn’t believe how amazing the experience was. It took me a minute or two to regain control. We finished looking through the museum and I made a purchase (book, scarf) and we went outside where I took lots of pictures of the building so you can get a sense of the scale. Cynthia went in a church across the street and came out before I could go inside, explaining that we’d seen better since we had been to St. Peter’s Basilica. We started walking and I had a sharp intake of breath as we passed the Emilio Pucci store. So pretty! We kept moving and going in and out of stores along the way. We looked at Il Duomo and the golden doors and wandered until it was time to meet Sarah and Beverly at Grom (gelato place).


See how big the building is?!

And it's tall.

Front door. So welcoming.

Ferragamo store window.

Ferragamo hanging banner.

Window dressing.

More window dressing.

The building must hold so many shoes.

Just think of the shoes.

We went inside...we bought nothing.

Carousel in the piazza.

Sidewalk chalk artist in Florence.

Il Duomo...

Il Duomo from the front.

The dome of Il Duomo.


Building with gold doors, across from Il Duomo.

Another view of Il Duomo.

Look! There's Cynthia!

Il Duomo, panning upward.

Still in front of Il Duomo.

Dante quote on building.

Golden Door.

Close up of a panel on the door.

Another panel.

And another panel...

Fake flower outside of a cute store.

Medici Chapel, on the way to the market.

Evening in the piazza.

Street at night.

Beverly petting the snout for luck.

View from bridge at night.

Under the bridge at night.

Flags outside of the royal walkway over the bridge.

View from the bridge at night.

Old tower. Never as close to the hotel as Sarah and I thought.

It was a long day of walking and we were starving by the time we got back to the hotel. We ask the new desk person what she recommended and she told us to try Gattabuia for really great pizza. She was right; it was really great.

Pretty and tasty!

Pear, gorgonzola, and walnut pizza. YUM!

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September 16, 2011

We had decided earlier to make this day kind of a free day. We needed to see the Spanish Steps, I wanted to see the Bernini Elephant, and all of us wanted to do some shopping (shocking, I know). So, we got up, ate a little, had coffee at our place, and started walking.

Water fountains in Rome are way cooler than the ones in random building hallways in the U.S.

As we walked to the elephant, we passed many, many shops, including all of the shops were the priests and nuns go for their clothing. There were some super ornate items in those windows. When we got closer to our destination, we noticed more scaffolding…meaning that the elephant was trapped inside the scaffolding. I was sad I couldn’t see it without all that mess in the way, but people were inside cleaning and repairing the elephant, which in the long run, will be much better for the elephant than some chick from Illinois taking a picture of it.

Help! I'm inside this cage!

If I reached in, would I get in trouble?

If you squint, you can kinda see it...

Letting us know why it's in solitary...















Bernini’s Elephant is in the piazza by Santa Maria sopra Minerva. We went into the church and it was very interesting. There were many separate chapels within the building, lots of skulls, and in general, just a neat looking church.

See. Told ya it was Minerva.

Ceiling in Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

One of many skulls in the church.

That skull? I think it was this guy...

Light catching in spots inside the church.

Back on the streets, we passed more awesome buildings and fountains. Shocking, I know. We wandered in and out of stores, checked out (and went up and down) the Spanish Steps, ate lunch at a restaurant that had glass floors and steps (NOT a good thing when you’re walking and wearing a skirt), wandered in and out of high-end fashion houses, and ended up at SICIS, an amazing shop with mosaic tiling and furniture that I could barely believe existed.

Random unexpected fountain.

Another beautiful building.

Fendi! Hi! Love your shoes!

Sidewalk chalk artist.

Another hour, another fabulous piazza.

Same piazza, different view.

BUilding in the piazza.

Sarah and Bev in the map.

Initial reaction: really? more steps?

Getting ready for the climb.

Dude with classy shirt in front of Missoni.

Dior, across from the Spanish Steps.

Fountain at the bottom of the Steps.

Alright, let's do this.

On the Steps.

About halfway up the Steps.

View from the top of the Steps.

From another angle.

Another angle.

Yet another angle.

Cynthia is so over Gucci...

Maybe Prada will be better...

Gucci, Bulgari jewelry, and more.

Formula 1 car inside the Ferrari store.

Here it is inside the glass...

SICIS couch and mosaic.

SICIS moon chair and mosaic.

SICIS different moon chair.

Best. Bathtub. Ever. At SICIS.

In Gucci, I accidentally knocked a metal purse holder onto the marble floor. I gotta say, those guards move fast (as did the blush of my embarrassment). I felt better when I saw that picture of Cynthia looking like she was too good to be in Gucci. I think everyone reading this probably understands what an astounding feat it is that I walked up and down ALL of the Spanish Steps and I did not fall down. Did. NOT. Fall. Down. ME! Inconceivable! I know, right?! And that shoe tub? I totally need one of those…perhaps as a gift for not plummeting to my death from those steps.

We wandered back over to Piazza Navona for our last visit. The first fountain was finally up and running. Unfortunately, so was a a random dude playing a didgeridoo. We saw a couple getting wedding photos taken, wandered around a bit more, and then went back to the apartment to get ready to leave for Florence the next morning.

Yay! It's working now!

He actually got an audience later.

All of these fountains were just so cool.

The happy couple. Congrats!

Her dress had feathers on it. FEATHERS!

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September 15, 2011

Today we could take it easy in the morning. First up, grab a coffee from our guy around the corner (picture taken by Cynthia…not on this particular day, but I wanted you to see it for reference…and visit if you’re ever in Campo dei Fiore).

Every morning, we each got great coffee from a wee, old man. He was lovely and he remembered our orders.

After a little relaxing and nibbling at food, it was time to head to Vatican City for our day there. It wasn’t a horrible walk, but as usual, it was hot. On the way there, we passed a store called “Mood”. I stopped and took a picture for friends at home…just as I did of “Mood” the fabric store in New York that’s featured on Project Runway. Inside it’s very different.

This is the first time I noticed that if I'm walking while taking a picture with my phone, it acts as though the lens was curving. Weird.

As we continued our walk, we crossed a big, pretty bridge. There were several statues, so of course, I took some pictures.

Big statue! Teeny car!

Guess what? It's another statue.

Across the bridge (still see some statue).

Could it be? Yes! Another statue!

Tricked ya! It's part of the carving on the base of the statue.

We've left the bridge and seem to be headed to a large, white building with a dome...




















So, we’re here. Outside of the Vatican, well, really, St. Peter’s Basilica (the dome is the giveaway). Turns out we walked straight to where we end the tour, so we got to walk some more and work up more sweat on our way to get inside the Vatican (I can’t think that the sweat was overly appreciated by anyone).

Middle of the whole shebang, St. Peter's Basilica. the left of the Basilica.

In between the left side and the dome.

More from the outside.

Where people sit for the public blessing from the Pope.

Right side, left of the dome.

Walking closer to where we thought the line would be. #fail




















Once inside the Vatican museum, we weren’t allowed to use flash on cameras, so I relied on my iPhone to capture the moments. The brief, fast-paced moments since our guide raced us through some of the most amazing art and rooms I’ve ever seen (thinking specifically of the map room – I found a video of it when I searched)…stopping to really focus on things she liked…meaning that I have a lot of pictures of a lot of things, that I may or may not be able to identify. Here goes…

Big, blurry hands.

Wooden carving of the layout of Vatican City.

Slightly different angle of the wooden carving.

Golden orb...weird curved thing cause of movement.

Statue outside in the courtyard.

One of my favorite statues of the whole trip. Totally looks like he's about to bust a move.

The Belvedere Torso (and yes, I looked that up to be sure).

Random ceiling. I could've really hurt myself looking up at ceilings instead of paying attention.

Mosiac tiled floor around a GINORMOUS bathtub...I think it was Nero's?

The ceiling made me want Eggo waffles really bad.

More tiled floor; different room.

More of the floor.

She said it was fake after I took the picture...I kind of figured, I mean, it was Italy, not Egypt.


Bird on a vase.

Another ceiling. Starting to think all ceilings should be beautiful instead of plain.

I mean, why wouldn't you paint the ceiling?

You could put, like, family portraits up there...

Or maybe some angels over some workers...

Blue floors are cool. The guide explained why. I was too busy taking pictures.

Ladies and gentlemen, the spectacular map room! (and a lady inappropriately dressed)

Map room ceiling.

Looks like a map...

Painted sign on a map painting.

Do you see what I mean? The map room's freaking amazing!

Look at that ceiling! I can't believe I didn't get lost (in the map room...irony!) looking up all the time.

Even the side panels in the map room are pretty.

Another shot of the map room ceiling.

It's the boot!

Over the entrance way to the map room (she led us in at the exit and walked through the wrong way).

This was a fun, very old map.

Another ceiling...but I kind of miss the map room.

Over the bookcase that held the book proclaiming Mary the mother of Jesus.

Here it is again.

Painting of something.

Another painting.

I wonder who did the decor...

Pretty tiled floor.

Another room; another ceiling.

Part of the painting on the wall.

This was amazing! The painting base looked like it stuck out from the wall.

Even the hard to reach spots are fabulous!

I was standing next to this and thought it was pretty cool to observe.

Big painting.

Looks like more ceiling.

What's he drawing? Just a spikey.

The guy in red is supposed to be Dante. His attitude is saying, "Imma cut in front of this line, yo!"

Warning sign to not fall after leaving the Sistine Chapel (no pics). I had to be super careful.

St. Gregory on the walk out to the Basilica.

Not the clearest, but these are all the Popes buried at St. Peter's.


































































































































































































I was sad we couldn’t take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel. We also weren’t supposed to talk. Or eat. Or drink. I saw people doing ALL OF THE THINGS! But we were good…a few whispers here and there and one accidental picture from Beverly.

Next was St. Peter’s Basilica. Despite the clear instructions on the website, some people thought that the covering of shoulders and knees was merely a suggestion, much like the driving signs all over Italy. They were wrong. Our guide had to ask for extra scarves, jackets, shirts, anything to get some people covered properly so we could all go inside. It was quite lovely…unfortunately, because we could use flash again, I switched cameras. So everything looks really dark and kind of grainy. For those of you who dissed the OG iPhone’s camera (Original Gangsta…what I call my original iPhone), look again at the museum pictures and tell me they’re not better. I dare ya.

Inside the Basilica.


Inside the Basilica.

Yep...still inside.

Another was on the wall.

I really can't get enough of the ceilings.

Statues inside the Basilica.

I think this was the one that gets the foot rub.

Those little green clappy hands? That's our guide.

More ceiling. You're shocked, I know.

They didn't take us downstairs.

Another statue.

Ceiling again. What is my deal?









































So we finished the tour and were starving. I won’t talk about the walk and how I thought we (well, at least me) would die before we ate again since we weren’t passing food places. We finally did find a sandwich place, but it wasn’t Sarah’s favorite place ever. We plowed on and eventually, Cynthia found another church to go into and Sarah and I sat outside a cafe and had a beverage. As we looked around, we realized the street was called something like “Via della Bologna”…we decided that everything was better on baloney road…beverages, gelato, sitting, all of it. After reviving a bit, we wandered and ended up in Trastevere. We had dinner at an aptly named joint before wandering home for a well deserved rest:

One of each per favore!

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September 14, 2011

I woke up this morning and all I could think was: We’re going to the Colosseum!

First shot of the Colosseum. I think I squeed out loud!

Second shot of many...









I’ve been more than a little fascinated with this place for a huge chunk of my life…I think the fascination got worse around the time Gladiator came out. Not only did I get to see how Hollywood thought gladiators fought and how the Colosseum would’ve looked completed and not as a ruin, thanks to the fanfare, I also got to see a LOT of historical shows about the Colosseum and its inner workings. Which, as I found out, does not even come close to comparing to standing inside of it. Of all the things we did, I find it very difficult to realize that I was INSIDE THE COLOSSEUM.

Inside...starting to get my history on...

Look! Isn't it cool?

Inside the Colosseum

Still inside...














We listened to the audio tape as we wandered around inside. Following along with the narrative, we learned how the Colosseum worked, who sat where, and much more.

Scanning up...

Looking down...

Up again...

More up...

Looking across to the other side.

Yep, we're still inside...

Still inside...

Not nearly as many people as can fit in there.

Hmm...not an exit...

So, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I took a lot of pictures on this day. Here are some more visuals proving I was there and it wasn’t just a dream.

Inside, looking out.

Still inside, still looking out.

Still looking out at the view

One more of the same.

We moved up, but then looked down...

More on the inside.

More from inside.

View of some of the remade floor.

Rows are wider than they appear...

So cool.

New view, different seats.

Still not really believing I was there.

Such a huge place.

One more from inside...








We saw all we could…including a gift store that had a ring that was the form of the Colosseum around your finger. We turned in the audio tours and started walking around outside.

Look! We're outside!

More from outside.

I see gladiators! For hire!

All the holes? Used to build other things in Rome.

Constantine's Arch, outside of the Colosseum.

Starting up Palatine Hill

Augustus's crib.

New friends we met...who live in Franklin, TN.

Statue outside museum on Palatine Hill.

View from the top.

City view from the hill.

More of the city.

Still looking at the city.

Still looking around.

Looking across...

Swinging the camera for a down low.

More view (it was a nice place to stand).

Are you tired of looking at this yet?

Clearly, I wasn't.

Last one of the view from Palatine. I promise.

Remember Constantine's Arch? I'm leaning under it here.




























































The real reason I’ve got so many pictures from Palatine Hill? Because the map they gave us was not a good guide. We got turned around a lot and kept circling the same statues and viewing areas on the hill. Not our favorite part of the tour. But we finally made it out and down to the Roman Forum. After all of that, it was good to see, but we felt maybe it wasn’t worth all of the sweating.

Going to the Forum...

And we're finally there.

There's the Arch again.

It took so long to get to this.

More Forum.

Even more Forum.

Museum next to the Forum.

Directly across from that last picture.

Hey look! Heads!

More heads!

Look Ma! No hands...or legs...or head (although maybe one of those earlier ones was part of it before?)

After hours of wandering, we decided it was time to get some food. We wandered around and found a nice little place with an outside area. I got the grilled eggplant, stuffed with chickpea “cream”…pretty much hummus in eggplant. Perfect! Cynthia clapped for the wandering musicians and promptly got a hat shoved in her face with a plea for money. Rule #38 – no clapping. We had our first gelato today. I got the tiramisu flavor. It was lovely.

Fed and watered and gelato-ed, we were ready to forge on to new destinations. We visited a chapel designed (I think) by Bernini, the old Papal summer residence, the Trevi Fountain, and the Chiesa di S. Ignazio. All of them were spectacular…as you can see.

View of the street by the gelato place.

Opposite streets across from the gelato place.

Walking along the streets of Rome.

A wee Romulus and Remus with their "mom".

Eagle statue.

Riders of Rohan! was something else...

That chapel by Bernini (I think).

So pretty inside!

Painting on the wall.

Statues on the wall.

Now with more painting and more statue.

Light coming in from the base of the dome.

Looks like they're coming off the ceiling!

Oh, not much, just hangin' out. What are you doin'?


Dome at an angle.

Politco peeps hang here, across from the old Papal summer residence.

Piazza across from the old Papal summer residence.

Same piazza.

Still the same one.

Entry way to old Papal summer residence (armed guard not pictured...not kidding).

Trevi Fountain!

Trevi again.

One more of Trevi. It was a madhouse and we managed to see the TN couple again.

Inside a cathedral.

Still inside.

Inside, looking up.

More inside.

Heh...spikey in the cathedral on the floor.

Still checking out the inside.

So pretty inside.

This place was so cool.

Single statue.

Turn another corner...and...statue!

It just kept going.

See? Still going!

Gold cross on the wall, almost hidden away.

Aha! The name of the place: Chiesa di S. Ignazio.

Last one, same place. Just beautiful.

We ended the evening at the apartment, eating random meats, cheeses, and breads picked up around Piazza Navona. We were tired, dusty, sweaty, and ready to see more.

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September 13, 2011

Today we arrived in Rome! ITALY! SQUEE! After a wild cab ride from the airport, we met our apartment contact, Felipe, in Rome. He was waiting at the apartment for us. We got inside and it looked just like the pictures on the website, only, well, maybe a little worn and older. Except for the scary/stinky small shower upstairs and the cold water problem, it was a great place to stay. It was right in front of the Campo de Fiori where there’s an outdoor market everyday.

Who knew there were so many kinds of sun dried tomatoes?

After a brief touch up to ourselves (and a wee nap for Sarah and Cynthia), we wandered over to the market to check it out. It was just around lunchtime, so a lot of produce was already gone, but it was still such a colorful, fun place to wander around. After a bit, looking at all the food made us hungry, so we sat at one of the outdoor ristorantes, Sloppy Sams, for a bite. The food was ok; the sitting was great. We people watched for a while and then took off revitalized to roam around Rome.

We headed away from our temporary home and wandered in and out of stores of all kinds. We were on our way to learning that cobblestones were not our friends, but while our feet were still happy with the streets and walking, we noticed a little trend: building, statue, ruin, building, fountain, statue, ruin…well, you get the picture. Certainly not what we see when we talk walks here in Illinois!

All parks need a random statue, right?

Hey! Look! Ruins!

More ruins, same area.

And a little more ruins...













Walking around, seeing that much history in your face is really and truly amazing. I’m really surprised I didn’t run into an ancient ruin…or a person…because I went between looking at sights, looking at the cobblestones so I didn’t trip and looking up at the amazing things I was seeing. Yes, it was hot. Yes, it was dirty in a lot of places. Yes, it was filled with tourist traps and dark alleys you wouldn’t want to be caught in alone. But, it was beautiful and I really want to go back…possibly more than once…because there’s still so much to see!

We ended up at the Pantheon. (How many times have you said that sentence?) That’s when I called my parents to let them know I’d made it (with the time change, they had just gotten out of bed) and to tell them where I was standing! It still seemed (and still seems) terribly unreal. Right across from the Pantheon was a nice fountain. You can actually drink the water coming out of the spouts…which is very handy when you’re hot and starting to dehydrate.

See? Fountain!

A closer look at that spout I mentioned.

The Pantheon

There it is again!

Still outside...does Swiffer even make dusters that reach that far?

Pretty ornate for a plain stone building on the outside.

We'd be mad if someone left that hole in a ceiling like that today!

I was really impressed with the building…and then we went inside and I was like, “Outside?! Pfft! You should see in here!” We looked for the holes in the floor that drained the rain when it came in from the hole in the roof. It looked like a salt and pepper type opening…two small holes for that whole building. It was very pretty.

About two blocks from the Pantheon, two streets over, Piazza Navona was waiting for us. There are three fountains in Piazza Navona. We kept coming in by the middle one, but you come in any way and end up by one of the fountains. The one that I call the first one was empty until the last time we went to Piazza Navona. The fountains, like all we saw, are really amazing and I still can’t get over how you can just go up and fill your water bottle and it’s ok to drink. I’m pretty sure there’s not a local water source I’m comfortable doing that with, so you can see where I might be a little amazed.

The cool way to get water.

Still in the middle...still amazed...

Sant'Agnese in Agone in Piazza Navona Rome - the first of many churches.

Here's the third fountain...or the second one with water in it that day.













We went back to the apartment and hung out for a while, then wandered across the bridge to Trastevere to look around for some restaurants we’d scoped out for dinner that night (Sarah’s birthday). Here’s the view from the bridge:

Look! More water! Don't drink this one though.

After finding one of the places, we went back to the apartment to meet Beverly who was just arriving. We went back out and ended up going to La Quercia on the recommendation of the apartment guy (I had the carbonara and am still thinking about it). We had a great time and a great meal…and hopefully Sarah had a fantastic birthday…her first day in Rome (following pic courtesy of Cynthia)!

Happy Birthday! And thanks for sharing that dessert!

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Monday, September 12, 2011

I was so excited to leave (and nervous) that I couldn’t sleep. I’d gone to bed a little after 10pm the night before, but I woke up at 4:30am for good. I got up, showered, and did all the last minute things I needed to do: final packing, rearranging things, checking email, eating breakfast, and all that. By 7am, I was sitting on the couch watching the new Anderson Cooper show, waiting for Cynthia.

Cynthia arrived about 7:15am and we went back to pick up Sarah. Once we (and our bags) were all loaded into the car, we left for O’Hare in Chicago. On the way, we listened to an Italian language CD in a last ditch attempt to squeeze in some more vocabulary. After a while, it was grating, so we switched to music and eventually a comedy station. It felt like no time had passed when we got there.

We parked in the “Far, Far Away” lot and made our way to the airport. We went to Starbucks and I had my first pumpkin spice latte of the season (yum, as always). We flew from Chicago to Newark, NJ. We were all in the same row, but not seated next to each other.  At Newark, we had to ride a bus in about a half-circle so we could get off the bus and wait for another bus.

After one more bus circle and a small wait at the terminal, we finally got on the plane to go to Rome! Sarah and I sat together and Cynthia was a few seats behind us. I watched Midnight in Paris (which was extremely cute) and Kung Fu Panda 2 (which was hilarious). Directly behind us were women who thought overnight flights shouldn’t affect the upright seat positions of those in front of them (Sarah and me) and they got super grouchy when we decided it was time to sleep. We finally nodded off…and when we woke up…we were in ITALY!

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Back at home…

Late last night, I got back from an amazing trip with friends to Italy. We went to Rome, Florence, and Positano. On this blog, I’ll put up pictures and write a little bit about the trip.

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