Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Italian Adventure, Part 1

After about 14 hours of travel, which included two plane rides, an extended layover in Zurich, and a boat ride, we finally arrived in Venice.  Though it was 4pm, it seemed more like 9 am, so we were tired and hungry.  We figured we should get right to it and experience Venice, and that meant becoming hopelessly lost on the island of 122 smaller islands.  We eventually found food and collapsed into the only restaurant that had zero English speakers, I swear.  We managed to order a pizza and found out that in Italy nothing is free.  If you want water at a restaurant, you're going to have to buy it.  We eventually found our way to St. Mark's Square, and we took an elevator to the top of one of the towers for a great view of the island.  

The next day, I woke up feeling very well  rested only to find out it was still the middle of the night.  Thus began my battle with sleep deprivation.  We toured St. Mark's Basilica (pictures were prohibited inside) and then did something entirely unprecedented; we went back to our hotel and napped (neither of us are nappers, but it was much needed).  Later, we toured a museum and the Doge's Palace.  We weren't supposed to take pictures there, but we learned that those rules arent' fully enforced, and it was so amazing that we had to capture it in a few photos. 

Our second day in Venice also happened to be our 5th wedding anniversary, so we decided to have a nice dinner and do something special to celebrate.  We had dinner along the canal and then splurged on a gondola ride.  We had debated the whole gondola ride, but we figured we would only be in Venice on our anniversary once, and I'm so glad we made that choice.  It was really nice to see Venice from another perspective, to learn a bit abut its history, and to feel like we were the only two people in an otherwise tourist-packed city. 

heading to Venice via boat

The Bridge of Sighs

an old well

view from above Venice (in the tower)

Murano glass (Murano is a nearby island)

an island and its church (Venice has 122 islands, so it has 122 churches)

my travel buddy in St. Mark's Square

Rialto Bridge

riding through one of the canals of Venice

our gondola ride - I've got a pretty amazing husband!

The next day, we departed Venice en rout to the Cinque Terre.  We traveled via water taxi (slow and choppy) to the train station and then took a series of trains to Riomaggiore, the second of five cities in the Cinque Terre.  This was the first of many times I had to thank my travel buddy for being so great with getting us places; had it been left up to me, we would still be trying to find the right train. Our hotel in Riomaggiore was actually an apartment, and aside from the very old, dilapidated stairwell leading to the room, it was really great; we had a great view of the water and could walk to the 'beach' or restaurants in only a few minutes. It was extremely hot while we were in the Cinque Terre, which gave us an excuse to spend some time in the sea.  Brian typically isn't much of a beach guy, but he was a huge proponent of daily swims and he spent a lot of time in the water...the salt water made him float better, he said. 

We visited the Parco Nazionale de elle Cinque Terre and the Via dell Amore, which had breathtaking views of the sea (you just had to look past the graffiti, which we learned litters many of Italy's larger cities).  We visited three of the other four towns in the Cinque Terre as well, but we were unable to do the walk  from town to town as we had planned because the weather was so hot at nearly 100 degrees.  Instead we took the train to each town and then walked around for a bit.  We also found a really great dinner spot and ate there both nights.  Brain and I tried to enjoy some of the local cuisine and ordered sea bass for our first dinner in Riomaggiore.  Sure enough, it came to our table looking very much like a big ol' fish.  Thankfully, a little old man at the restaurant offered to cut the fish for us and it instantly became more appealing when it no longer looked like a fish.  
view from our apartment window

lots of boats, lots of people

The only bad wine we had the whole trip - but at least he could enjoy it in a pink panther glass

My amor on our Via dell Amore walk

a beach

Nighttime in Riomaggiore

Monterosa - gorgeous beach

strolling through town

The town - it's a long way to the top

Livin' the Italian life

Our next major stop was Florence, but we first made a side trip to Pisa.  By this time, we were very familiar with train travel, so it wasn't a good sign that Brian was worried about our train tickets.  It turns out that we were sold the wrong tickets and had to buy new ones.  Aside from the wasted 15 euro ($22), it wasn't a huge deal, and we arrived in Pisa without incident.  We knew we wanted to walk to the top of the Leaning Tower, so we bought tickets for that immediately.  It's a popular activity, so our tower entrance wasn't until much later in the day, and we had a lot of time to pass.  We were very hungry and very warm, so we did the unthinkable and lifted our fast food ban, which has been going since November 1st, and ate at the air-conditioned McDonald's.  While we both were excited to eat Italian food, each of us were pretty tired of sandwiches and pizza, the main lunch options if you didn't want to pay to sit somewhere and eat, so chicken nuggets and a burger were great options.  We walked around Piazza die Miracoli (Miracle Square) a bit, took a tour of the Cathedral and then walked to the top of the Leaning Tower, where we had a great view of the Square, the town of Pisa and nearby Lucca, where my family is from.

OPA maintains the Piazza die Miracoli

Madonna and child

the altar 

atop the Leaning Tower

atop the Leaning Tower

The Leaning Tower of Pisa 

I had to...

no bare shoulders in the Basilica 

the Tower

After our tour, we took the bus back to the train station and then took the train to Florence.  We had another worrisome moment when we arrived at our hotel.  We were told that there were problems booking reservations at the two big museums in Florence, the Ufizzi and Accadmia.  We were confused since we already had confirmation papers for both reservations; it turns out that the woman checking us in confused us with someone else.  Crisis number one averted.  Enter (potential) crisis number two.  We were told there was a problem with our room reservation and it had been double booked.  Luckily, we did have a room set aside for us; it was just across the street at a different hotel.  After breathing a huge sigh of relief, we headed out to dinner and had a really great meal for a really great price.  For 13 euro each (about $20), we had a three course meal with water and wine (and remember, you always have to pay for water in Italy).

The next day was busy with tours of the Ufizzi, the Duomo de Santa Maria del Fiore, and Accademia, where Michelangelo's David is housed.  Accademia is definitely the smallest of the sights, but was my favorite; I really enjoyed the series of unfinished sculptures referred to as the Prisoners.  Even though I am no art aficionado, it was neat to see the creative process as each sculpture was at a different stage of completion. The Duomo was also very neat, but it was 100+ that day and walking through narrow passages to the top of the Duomo made for a very exhausting tour.  To deal with the heat, which we had been experiencing in each town, we had taken to regular snacks of gelato. It's always fun to order, especially at places where the flavors are listed in Italian only; you never know what you're going to get!

on our way to the Ufizzi 


the Duomo 

Stained glass in the upper part of the Duomo

aging tiles to repair the roof 

More on our Italian adventure soon...


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  2. Wow you two are too dang lucky! My favorite picture is of you guys in the gondola -- Really great.