Day 35: Rome to Victoria

We didn't exactly drag our feet but you could tell that no one really wanted to leave so we shuffled around getting ready until the very last minute… And watched our bus go by as we were 100' from the bus stop… I blame Marie who wasted precious minutes chatting with our friendly corner store guy (Ricardo) who was sad to hear we were leaving… I don't know if it's traveling that does it or whether it's something about Trastevere but we know more about the guy who owns/runs the corner store down the road from our hotel after 5 days than we know anyone at any store in the neighborhood we've lived in for more than seven years… But there's a time to chat and there's a time to haul butt and get to the bus station… Fortunately we'd built a little bit of a cushion into our plans for the day but not much… Maybe Marie was trying to miss the plane on purpose…

Once on the city bus we rode it to Termini where we were able to pick up an express bus to the airport for €6 each (compared to €48 for a taxi or €45 for a train). Of course finding the bus would have been a bit easier if there'd been even a single sign… And loading the bus would have been a little more efficient with someone doing it in an organized fashion rather than people doing it themselves… Have we mentioned that the concept of lines or waiting your turn seems to be a North American concept… Everywhere we've been in Europe it's been a free for all with people pushing and shoving… I haven't had to throw so many elbows since the U2 concert in BC Place back in 1986… The bus was supposed to take 55 minutes (compared to the taxi and train which take 30 minutes) but we were pulling in to the airport 35 minutes after we left Rome. Once at the airport we navigated through check in (nobody else there at all and we arrived only 90 minutes before a flight that was fully booked – not sure where everyone else was). After checking in, we made our way to security and breezed through (there was a large line for people going to the US, the UK or Israel but no one at all in front of us). Marie once again escaped a pat down and we cruised through passport control (The guy who checked me in didn't even look at me or my passport picture… Just stamped my passport and waved the next person on). We grabbed a bite to eat (didn't have breakfast) at one of the food places near the gates and arrived about 3 minutes after they started boarding the flight…

And that's where things started to go down hill. We cruised through boarding and walked down the ramp to the little bus and then made the quick trip over to where the Air Canada jet was parked (alongside other major airlines such as Eritrean Air, Montenegro Airlines and a noname plane that used to belong to Slovakian Air… I am not making this up…). We weren't parked near it but we did see a Wizz Air plane taxiing towards the runway… Which led to all kinds of snickers from Caitlin and Marie… And then we exited the bus and climbed the ramp to encounter a massive traffic jam of people… What is it about finding a seat that the Italians find so difficult… You go in. Stow your stuff quickly and efficiently then sit your butt down and let the next people by… If you need your favorite stuffed animal or your fur stole or your Zanax, get it after everyone else is seated… This went on for 35 minutes before everyone was finally seated. Then there were seat changes. Then someone's bag wouldn't fit in the overhead compartment (“there's no room” she wails as the crew member simply places it in the bin across the aisle from her (I wonder if she felt stupid or if it even fazed her…).

When all was said and done, we ended up leaving Rome forty minutes behind schedule. Now we've been in the air for just over five hours. There are a lot of kids on this flight. Including the one repeatedly kicking the back of my seat and the one across the aisle who keeps opening the window blind to look at the clouds. The rest are crying, screaming, yelling and roaming the aisles like a pack of stray dogs… There's a reason I teach high school and this flight is living proof of it… Marie keeps looking at the kids and smiling and giving these “it's okay… Your little munchkin is adorable” looks to the parents… I scowl and reach for a bottle of Bailey's… Not for me but to give to the kid who won't settle down… One of those at altitude for little junior and everyone's going to enjoy the flight a little more…

The only saving grace has been the one steward who has single handedly erased any misconceptions you might have about Air Canada's crappy service… He's been awesome. Great sense of humour despite having a thousand things to deal with and he's been very liberal with the little bottles of Bailey's… He even came by to demonstrate how a woman died years ago from drinking Irish cream and soda on a plane (when they mix they form a gelatinous foam-like substance that can't be good for you…. apparently she was drinking a few of them hoping she'd feel better and died… Urban legend or not, I wouldn't want that sludge in my stomach).

Once we hit the ground in Montreal we will need to pick up our bags to take with us through customs (we should have known this but it's Canadian law that your bags have to accompany you through customs and you must clear customs at your first point of entry into Canada…) We also got the lowdown on the duty free purchase procedures which have changed since we traveled last summer. Seems now you can take sealed duty free purchases through security (last year we had to pull our bags off the airplane when we landed in Vancouver and stow our purchases in our checked luggage so we could get through security). This time we bought all our booze from shops along the way so it's already in our checked bags but good to know for next time…

It's now 8pm Montreal time (5pm Victoria time and god only knows what time in Rome). We've been on planes for almost 12 hours now and are looking very forward to getting off this one… Flying Air Canada internationally wasn't all that different than flying Cathay last summer (not quite as posh but nothing rally to complain about). Flying domestically is a whole different story. The plane left 20 minutes late so they offered up free headphones as a courtesy. But you have to pay for a blanket. Or a bag of peanuts. And while soft drinks are free, you're going to get a glass of soda water and that's it. Even the most discount airlines we flew in Thailand last summer provided more amenities than this flight…

We landed in Montreal a good 40 minutes later than expected so our 2 hour layover was really about 12 minutes by the time we cleared customs, picked up our luggage, checked our luggage back in, cleared customs a second time, passed through security and found our departure gate… I don't remember having to do all that when we landed in Hong Kong on our way to Bangkok last summer. It must have something to do with Canada's customs laws… It all went smoothly – our bags were first off the conveyor belt, no pay downs in security, customs cleared us through without a hitch, and so on but it all seemed a little silly. As there would be no meal service on this flight, we opted to grab som Tim Horton's before boarding. I'd like to say it tasted like home but really it sort of tasted bland and overly processed… We're all looking forward to some home cooked meals. Of course, I will be eating pub food or residence food for four days as I leave for the BCTF Summer Conference tomorrow afternoon…

Have landed in Vancouver and are waiting for our 10:20pm flight to Victoria. Encountered a prolonged (30-40 minutes) patch of rough air that made Marie feel awful and even made Caitlin puke (to understand the significance of this you need to know that Caitlin has thrown up maybe 3 times in her life… This is a kid who can read a book in the cuddy of our boat in a 4' chop while eating junk food without the slightest twinge nausea). The woman throwing up across the aisle didn't help and neither does being up for who knows how many hours at this point and being on airplanes for 14 hours… Marie is sound asleep on a bench in the waiting area and Caitlin's curled up on a bench checking her facebook… We're all looking forward to a long sleep in our own beds tonight and to seeing Ladybug!

No pictures for today and will write up a final post or two tomorrow to wrap everything up…

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Day 33: Rome

Today was all about underground Rome and ancient monuments.. We started the day off by hopping a bus and riding a short distance along the Appian Antica (the old Roman road) to the Catacombs of San Callisto – burial place of half a million people… Along the way we chatted with a family from Vancouver in Rome as part of their cruise… They seemed like nice people so we didn't tell them we've been cursing people like them at every major tourist site in 7 countries…

Arriving at San Callisto, we were told the next tour wouldn't start for 25 minutes so we wandered around a bit. Caitlin remarked that the place reminded her of the killing fields in Cambodia… Although there's none of that kind of horrible history associated with the place, I know what she was getting at… It's just an ordinary chunk of farm land. There's no indication thousands of people were buried below you.

The catacombs were created by early Christians at the time when Rome was still pagan and was persecuting Christians and would not allow them to be buried (Pagan Romans practiced cremation) inside the city walls or, at times, even to be buried. And any funerary markers would be destroyed. So the Christians started burying their dead underground in complexes like San Callisto. They figure the first burials date back to about 280 AD and that the place was used for about 300 years… Although most of the burials were from the period between 280 and 313 when Christianity was made legal in the Roman Empire. There are 20 km of tunnels on three levels going down 60 feet into the solid volcanic rock. The dead were interred in rectangular holes carved into the sides of the tunnels and then a marble slab was placed across the opening to mark the final resting place… There are a lot of very small slabs (infant mortality rates were very high back then) and some pretty grand full on tombs for the richer families. Due to donations and support from patrician (noble) families who had converted, even the poor were provided a free Christian burial. There are also chapels and chambers and who knows what else down there… In 900 the Vikings – in a show of early Scandinavian work ethic – opened every tomb (500,000 of them) looking for treasure… After that all the bones were gathered up by the priests of the nearby basilica and were interred in a single chamber underground… So there's no bones but it's still a cool site… Although I would have liked to explore a bit rather than following a guide but I guess losing a bunch of tourists every day would get to be a pain… As has been the case with many of the best sites in Rome, no pictures so you'll have to imagine what it looked like.

After San Callisto we headed to the Colosseum to see how big the lineup was… It didn't look too bad (although the tour touts were saying it would be 90 minutes or more) so we joined the queue and started shuffling towards the entrance… We made our one big tactical error here and it was only because of our ongoing slamming of tour groups… There are two kinds of tours at the colosseum… It's illegal to organize tours inside the colosseum but a group organized outside is perfectly okay… So a bunch of companies hire very attractive young folks to organize such tours. You pay an extra €13 per person, get to skip the line and meet up as a group inside and off you go… Hopefully with someone who knows that the hole in the roof of the Pantheon was intentional and represented the height of Roman architectural prowess… But you never know…The other type of tour is arranged by the colosseum folks themselves… It costs €5 per person and they're pretty huge… But, you can skip the line and here's where the tactical blunder comes in, you can only get into the area below the arena (the floor of the colosseum) with one of these tours… We didn't know that and so because we weren't that far from getting in, and because we've been hating on tour groups since the start of this trip, we passed on the tour… But, otherwise, our time in the colosseum was awesome. It's like wandering through the bones of BC Place… To have seen it clad in marble and filled with statues and brightly painted would have been incredible… It's almost impossible to believe that it was built almost 2000 years ago… We took a lot of pictures…

After the colosseum we hopped on a subway to the Piazza Barberini – site of the incredibly creepy but quite amazing Capuchin Crypt… We grabbed some paninis from a shop nearby and scarfed our lunch in the shade sitting on the steps of a nearby building… It turns out that a long time ago, the Capuchins got a large shipment of bones from other other monasteries and churches… We missed the explanation of why they got a lot of bones but it probably had something to do with reusing the burial sites or protecting the bones from desecration… There's a bunch of stories associated with who did it, but someone decided to use the bones to decorate… So now you have a 60 meter long space with 6 small rooms entirely decorated with human bones and the skeletons of dead Capuchins dressed in their robes and propped up as part of the tableau… It's unbelievably creepy but fascinating… Some of the skeletons still have skin on… This was also a no pictures site but you can find images on the internet I'm sure…

After the crypt we hopped a bus and somehow managed to miss our stop and ended up a ways from where we wanted to go… But the beauty of public transport in Rome is you have trams, underground trains and buses so we got off the bus at a metro stop and grabbed the first train heading back in the right direction. After a bit of navigating we found the Basilica of San Clemente – where a 16th century church is built on top of a 4th century church that is built on top of 1st century Roman houses and public buildings. The lighting is terrible and the interpretive materials lacking but it's very, very cool to climb down through the layers to see remnants of the ancient city 30' below the modern one… Doing any form of construction in the central area of Rome must be a nightmare with so much history buried beneath the pavement… Again, though, this was a no picture zone…

After San Clemente we hopped on the hop on bus and got off at a spot closer to Trastevere and wandered through the back streets and alleys and piazzas towards our hotel. We stopped for a cold drink at one of the squares, checked out a few of the shops that were open (it's holiday time for Romans so a lot of shops are closed and it was a Sunday as well) and gradually made our way back to the hotel… Dinner was at the same place… When your 15 year old daughter has trudged through seemingly endless corridors of art galleries, museums, churches, crypts and the like without a word of complaint, a bacon and egg bagel for dinner is a small price to pay…

And so ended another full day in Rome…

 

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Day 32: Rome

Today we started with St. Peter's basilica hoping to beat the crowds. Acting on the advice of our friendly shopkeeper (Ricardo), we hopped on one of the little electric buses that service the smaller routes in Rome and headed to the Vatican by a back route. Actually getting from the bus stop to the Vatican, however, involved a trek through a massive underground parking structure built into the side of a hill… Figuring out how to navigate through the parking lot was easy once we got in there but it was an interesting conversation between me and the bus driver as neither of us understood the other but my “Vaticano” and “San Pietro?” wax enough to elicit a “Scala. Sinestre. St. Pietro” from him which I hoped meant take the stairs on the left and follow the signs… It did. Although Caitlin, in her usual smart alecky way, commented that the Vatican sure had changed since the day before as we made our way through the concrete labyrinth of the parking lot… Funny kid.

Our shortcut worked beautifully, despite the naysayers and doubters among us, and soon we emerged into the sunlight again and followed a couple of people who looked like Vatican going types (the guy dressed in business attire with the downcast eyes and desultory shuffle especially looked to me like a guy on his way to confess something dastardly) through a door into the Piazza (otherwise known as the big honking square in front of the basilica). We cast our eyes to the corner where we'd seen a massive lineup yesterday and were stunned to see at least as big a lineup as then – and the place had just opened… Spying a bunch of tour groups (they're easy to spot with the name tags or audio devices slung round their necks and the harried looking person at the front waving an umbrella or something extorting them all to move faster) on the way, we double timed it to the line up… Marie executed a flawless sneak maneuver while Caitlin and I ran a couple of picks and we managed to get in front of about 400 people… Of course we were still behind 12,000 people but you takes your victories where you finds them…

The hold up isn't getting in to the basilica – it's free (all churches in Rome are free) so there's no queue to buy tickets and the structure is massive so it's not a matter of having to wait for people to leave before more can enter… No, it's the security screening that backs everyone up as you have to pass through a metal detector and bag screening station before being allowed to enter… This required some additional pick and roll maneuvers on our part but we are clearly rank amateurs to the family that shamelessly walked up, cut into the front of the line and shoved their way past a bunch of people and through the security station… It was brilliant in its shed unadulterated rudeness…. Despite the length of the line, I think we were walking into the basilica about a half hour after we got there so all in all it wasn't too bad.

Once in the basilica, one of the first things you see is Michelangelo's “Pieta” – one of the most beautiful works of art you'll ever see… Unfortunately it's behind smudgy glass that really doesn't do it justice but some people have a hate on for Mike's work and it has to be protected… The rest of the basilica is beautiful and magnificent and full of all kinds of wonderful scenes of saints doing saintly things and chapels and funerary monuments and religiousy type things that are pretty to look at but sort of meaningless if you don't know the secret handshakes… Seriously, it's really beautiful and awe inspiring but in the end it's a church and part of the experience has to be the religious aspect as some people seemed moved to tears by what they were seeing and others looked like they wanted to fall to their knees right then and there… We didn't fall to our knees but we did find it very grand… Although a trifle ostentatious…

After St. Peter's we walked around the corner to Castel San Angelo… Originally built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian (I think it was Hadrian or maybe it was Trajan… In any case it was for an emperor) it was converted to a fortress and papal apartments. We were going to go in but we're getting a little monumented out (and it was fairly expensive) so we decided to just take a look from the outside and then wandered across the bridge with Bellini's angels (or maybe it was Martini's… I don't know, there's so much history in Rome and so many ini's that it all gets confusing after a while). They're very pretty sculpted angels… Although I found the sea gull calmly sitting on the head of one of the magnificently carved angels almost too ironic…

From there we made our way through the warren of streets and piazzas and back alleys to Piazzo Navonne (a big square with lots of baroque building and fountains) and from there wandered to the Pantheon. We stopped for lunch at one of the places close to the Pantheon (touristy but not too expensive and the food wasn't bad). We also poked our heads into a few churches along the way and just kind of roamed around looking to see what we could see… We may have gotten lost a couple of times but eventually we found where we were going and enjoyed wandering through the maze of streets and alleys… One thing I really love about Rome (and Venice and Florence) is the palazzo style architecture where buildings are built around interior courtyards… Whenever possible I've been poking my head inside any big old door that's been left open and have discovered some really beautiful spaces… Wish we'd emulated that style of architecture in Victoria rather than the Victorian and Edwardian styles… Victoria as a little Venice or a little Florence would have been so much more interesting than being more English than the English…

Eventually, we made our way into the Pantheon… An ancient Roman temple converted to a Christian church so much of it still looks like a roman temple and because it was being used, didn't have to be rebuilt…. It's really quite amazing. Would love to see it with all the pagan sculptures and decorations intact but even as it is today, it's an amazing building. It must have been magnificent when the ground level in Rome was lower and the building stood on a 30 foot high foundation and towered above the people approaching the building (because the ground level in Rome has risen so much over the centuries, the building now appears to have been built right at ground level). The sunlight streaming through the hole in the roof (Marie overheard one tour guide telling his guidees that the roof hadn't been finished and they just never got around to plugging the hole… That's definitely not what we were taught…)

We roamed around the Pantheon for a bit and then made our way over to the Capitoline Museum – home to an excellent collection of Roman sculpture and a very interesting temporary exhibit of documents from the Vatican archives. There's also a very cool overlook of the Roman forum from the remains of the Tabularium (records storage depot of ancient Rome) that have been incorporated into the modern museum building. We spent a couple of hours here and found it quite interesting… Then it was over to the Piazza Venezia to see the huge monument to the kings of modern Italy and the site of the current city council (I think that's what the building is used for). It's a huge and imposing structure… And don't even think of sitting on the steps as there's a guy standing at the base with a whistle and full set of hand gestures to roust even little old ladies trying to catch their breath.

After wandering around this site for a bit we made our way to the Trevi Fountain (passing Trajan's Market and his column along the way). Trevi Fountain is very pretty but the huge crowd of people jostling for position took away from the magic of the moment a little bit… But we threw our coins in and, if the legend is true, guaranteed our return to Rome someday. Although Marie cheaped out and only threw in 20¢ so she may only be coming back for a couple of minutes…

After Trevi we wandered over to the Spanish Steps where we again found a very nice site marred by a huge crowd… although everyone was well behaved, you're not really there to see hordes of tourists. We climbed the steps (there's not that many compared to some of the staircases we've climbed on this trip) and Caitlin had a caricature drawn at the top of the steps by one of the many “artists” plying their trade there.

After that we found our way to a bus stop and made our way back to Trastevere where we had dinner at the same restaurant again… Caitlin just can't resist those bacon and egg bagels and their prices are very good.. Where dinner and drinks was costing us €40 or more in Venice and Florence, dinner here (the place is called “When in Rome”) sets us back between €23 and €30 and the food is pretty good.

In all, I think we walked about 20 km today and covered a couple thousand years of history… And in the process fell in love with this city…

On a technical note, it looks like Blogsy's great fix isn't that great after all… Apparently some of the images in the last post didn't load and it's still crashing as often as not when trying to upload pictures when connected to the network. When it's not connected to the network it seems to do funny things to the pictures…. We're almost at the end now so I'm not going to switch things up but apologize in advance if the next few posts are acting weird…

 

 

 

 

 
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Day 32: Rome

Today we started with St. Peter's basilica hoping to beat the crowds. Acting on the advice of our friendly shopkeeper (Ricardo), we hopped on one of the little electric buses that service the smaller routes in Rome and headed to the Vatican by a back route. Actually getting from the bus stop to the Vatican, however, involved a trek through a massive underground parking structure built into the side of a hill… Figuring out how to navigate through the parking lot was easy once we got in there but it was an interesting conversation between me and the bus driver as neither of us understood the other but my “Vaticano” and “San Pietro?” wax enough to elicit a “Scala. Sinestre. St. Pietro” from him which I hoped meant take the stairs on the left and follow the signs… It did. Although Caitlin, in her usual smart alecky way, commented that the Vatican sure had changed since the day before as we made our way through the concrete labyrinth of the parking lot… Funny kid.

Our shortcut worked beautifully, despite the naysayers and doubters among us, and soon we emerged into the sunlight again and followed a couple of people who looked like Vatican going types (the guy dressed in business attire with the downcast eyes and desultory shuffle especially looked to me like a guy on his way to confess something dastardly) through a door into the Piazza (otherwise known as the big honking square in front of the basilica). We cast our eyes to the corner where we'd seen a massive lineup yesterday and were stunned to see at least as big a lineup as then – and the place had just opened… Spying a bunch of tour groups (they're easy to spot with the name tags or audio devices slung round their necks and the harried looking person at the front waving an umbrella or something extorting them all to move faster) on the way, we double timed it to the line up… Marie executed a flawless sneak maneuver while Caitlin and I ran a couple of picks and we managed to get in front of about 400 people… Of course we were still behind 12,000 people but you takes your victories where you finds them…

The hold up isn't getting in to the basilica – it's free (all churches in Rome are free) so there's no queue to buy tickets and the structure is massive so it's not a matter of having to wait for people to leave before more can enter… No, it's the security screening that backs everyone up as you have to pass through a metal detector and bag screening station before being allowed to enter… This required some additional pick and roll maneuvers on our part but we are clearly rank amateurs to the family that shamelessly walked up, cut into the front of the line and shoved their way past a bunch of people and through the security station… It was brilliant in its shed unadulterated rudeness…. Despite the length of the line, I think we were walking into the basilica about a half hour after we got there so all in all it wasn't too bad.

Once in the basilica, one of the first things you see is Michelangelo's “Pieta” – one of the most beautiful works of art you'll ever see… Unfortunately it's behind smudgy glass that really doesn't do it justice but some people have a hate on for Mike's work and it has to be protected… The rest of the basilica is beautiful and magnificent and full of all kinds of wonderful scenes of saints doing saintly things and chapels and funerary monuments and religiousy type things that are pretty to look at but sort of meaningless if you don't know the secret handshakes… Seriously, it's really beautiful and awe inspiring but in the end it's a church and part of the experience has to be the religious aspect as some people seemed moved to tears by what they were seeing and others looked like they wanted to fall to their knees right then and there… We didn't fall to our knees but we did find it very grand… Although a trifle ostentatious…

After St. Peter's we walked around the corner to Castel San Angelo… Originally built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian (I think it was Hadrian or maybe it was Trajan… In any case it was for an emperor) it was converted to a fortress and papal apartments. We were going to go in but we're getting a little monumented out (and it was fairly expensive) so we decided to just take a look from the outside and then wandered across the bridge with Bellini's angels (or maybe it was Martini's… I don't know, there's so much history in Rome and so many ini's that it all gets confusing after a while). They're very pretty sculpted angels… Although I found the sea gull calmly sitting on the head of one of the magnificently carved angels almost too ironic…

From there we made our way through the warren of streets and piazzas and back alleys to Piazzo Navonne (a big square with lots of baroque building and fountains) and from there wandered to the Pantheon. We stopped for lunch at one of the places close to the Pantheon (touristy but not too expensive and the food wasn't bad). We also poked our heads into a few churches along the way and just kind of roamed around looking to see what we could see… We may have gotten lost a couple of times but eventually we found where we were going and enjoyed wandering through the maze of streets and alleys… One thing I really love about Rome (and Venice and Florence) is the palazzo style architecture where buildings are built around interior courtyards… Whenever possible I've been poking my head inside any big old door that's been left open and have discovered some really beautiful spaces… Wish we'd emulated that style of architecture in Victoria rather than the Victorian and Edwardian styles… Victoria as a little Venice or a little Florence would have been so much more interesting than being more English than the English…

Eventually, we made our way into the Pantheon… An ancient Roman temple converted to a Christian church so much of it still looks like a roman temple and because it was being used, didn't have to be rebuilt…. It's really quite amazing. Would love to see it with all the pagan sculptures and decorations intact but even as it is today, it's an amazing building. It must have been magnificent when the ground level in Rome was lower and the building stood on a 30 foot high foundation and towered above the people approaching the building (because the ground level in Rome has risen so much over the centuries, the building now appears to have been built right at ground level). The sunlight streaming through the hole in the roof (Marie overheard one tour guide telling his guidees that the roof hadn't been finished and they just never got around to plugging the hole… That's definitely not what we were taught…)

We roamed around the Pantheon for a bit and then made our way over to the Capitoline Museum – home to an excellent collection of Roman sculpture and a very interesting temporary exhibit of documents from the Vatican archives. There's also a very cool overlook of the Roman forum from the remains of the Tabularium (records storage depot of ancient Rome) that have been incorporated into the modern museum building. We spent a couple of hours here and found it quite interesting… Then it was over to the Piazza Venezia to see the huge monument to the kings of modern Italy and the site of the current city council (I think that's what the building is used for). It's a huge and imposing structure… And don't even think of sitting on the steps as there's a guy standing at the base with a whistle and full set of hand gestures to roust even little old ladies trying to catch their breath.

After wandering around this site for a bit we made our way to the Trevi Fountain (passing Trajan's Market and his column along the way). Trevi Fountain is very pretty but the huge crowd of people jostling for position took away from the magic of the moment a little bit… But we threw our coins in and, if the legend is true, guaranteed our return to Rome someday. Although Marie cheaped out and only threw in 20¢ so she may only be coming back for a couple of minutes…

After Trevi we wandered over to the Spanish Steps where we again found a very nice site marred by a huge crowd… although everyone was well behaved, you're not really there to see hordes of tourists. We climbed the steps (there's not that many compared to some of the staircases we've climbed on this trip) and Caitlin had a caricature drawn at the top of the steps by one of the many “artists” plying their trade there.

After that we found our way to a bus stop and made our way back to Trastevere where we had dinner at the same restaurant again… Caitlin just can't resist those bacon and egg bagels and their prices are very good.. Where dinner and drinks was costing us €40 or more in Venice and Florence, dinner here (the place is called “When in Rome”) sets us back between €23 and €30 and the food is pretty good.

In all, I think we walked about 20 km today and covered a couple thousand years of history… And in the process fell in love with this city…

On a technical note, it looks like Blogsy's great fix isn't that great after all… Apparently some of the images in the last post didn't load and it's still crashing as often as not when trying to upload pictures when connected to the network. When it's not connected to the network it seems to do funny things to the pictures…. We're almost at the end now so I'm not going to switch things up but apologize in advance if the next few posts are acting weird…

 

 

 

 

 
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Day 34: Rome

Today was our last day in Rome and the last full day of our whirlwind tour of Europe… So how are we going to spend it… Why shopping of course!

We walked from our hotel to Campo did Fiori – a market area with a bunch of shops – but didn't really find anything to buy… A lot of the shops are closed for holidays as mentioned earlier and the ones that were open were pretty expensive. We did come across what we thought was some kind of protest – complete with riot police and everything – but it turns out they were just filming a movie… We checked to see if there were any big name stars but it was a low budget Italian flick so no autographs for Caitlin… From the Campo area we wandered back to the Vatican where Caitlin and Marie picked up some souvenirs and then we wandered through the extensive shopping area around the Vatican. We even saw the famous picture of the couple kissing from the Vancouver riot on the side of one of the shops… After a longish lunch (caused by slow service – not our lounging about) we wandered through more shops on our way to Ponte Cavour where we crossed the river again and headed for the Ara Pacis Augustus… Should have checked the guidebooks – it's closed on Mondays…

From there we made our way through the hoity toity shopping area and back to the Spanish Steps… Where we wandered down the Robson street of Rome with Gucci and Prada and all the big names… We did not even bother checking prices but there were some very nice things in the windows… From there we wandered to Trevi Fountain and picked up some more souvenirs in that area. From Trevi we meandered to Piazze Venezia where we hopped on a bus back to our hotel in Trastevere… We had originally planned to check out the roman Forum but were enjoying the leisurely stroll through the various districts and past some of the places we'd been to so decided to leave it for the next trip… The best part of today's wanderings was finally finding pink grapefruit gelato… We have looked at every gelato shop we have been to (and there's been a lot them) and have not found it anywhere and lo and behold there it was at a little shop not from Trevi Fountain… It was worth the wait! Speaking of finding what you're looking for. We stopped at a department store named Coin (best department store name ever) where Marie was able to pick up an international voltage hair straightener (that heats to 230 degrees Celsius which I'm told is critical to efficient hair straightening) for $65 Canadiatheir would have cost her about $150 back home so she was doing a happy dance). Thanks to Donna B for the tip on buying straighteners in Europe and for the pink grapefruit gelato quest… Although we did forget where she said they found it or which city it was in…

Back at the hotel, we packed for our departure tomorrow then hopped on a bus to the Janiculum Hill and spent some time hanging out at the Gianicolo and enjoying the view of the city at night and a cold drink… Then it was back to our favorite restaurant for Caitlin's daily dose of bacon and egg bagel before turning in for the night. But first Marie needed one last dose of licorice gelato…

It was a nice way to spend our last day of European vacation… We didn't have any destinations in mind or places to be so we just wandered where the streets took us… And although shopping in Europe is not nearly as much fun as bartering in the markets in Cambodia or Thailand there's just so much to see in these old European cities… Looking out at the historical part of Rome with its skyline of basilicas and temples and monuments visible even from miles away with everything lit up with floodlights… wandering through the neighborhoods of narrow streets and back alleys… sitting in the piazzas at night in Trestavere with the old folks in their lawn chairs and the locals enjoying conversation and food at their favorite restaurants… It really is a different way of life here…In many ways, it's so similar to how we live in North America but at the same time it's so different…

I'll get a final post up later today or will it be tomorrow in Victoria time… Still haven't figured out the time change thing… In any case, I'll write up some final thoughts and funny stories we've forgotten to put in and post it up from the airport in Vancouver tonight as it's almost time for us to leave and I want to get the last few pictures (I realized we haven't put up any pictures of our hotel for Thaylin) into to this post before we head out.

So ciao for now…

 

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Day 31: Rome

Yesterday was a rough day… Hours in the sunlight. Long wait at the train station. Late arrival at the hotel. So we had sort of thought that today would be a bit of a down day and we'd sleep in a bit, do some laundry, catch up on the blog and generally take it easy… Not going to happen… With our resident task master and management representative present we were up early and taking in the sights of Rome although we did let Caitlin lounge a bit before dragging her out to see the sights…

First up, though, was a laundry run which, fortunately, was located a couple short blocks from our hotel so Marie and I made a run there while Caitlin got ready (€7.20 for wash/dry/fold was the best deal we've found in Europe so far). We also made a quick pit stop at a local “market” (as in a couple of guys selling stuff out of the back of their van) where Marie picked up a couple of dresses for next to nothing (that'll teach Caitlin to stay behind).

After dropping off the laundry, we decided to head into Rome proper (our hotel is in Trastevere – which literally means “across the Tiber” where there's still a neighborhood sort of feeling with small corner shops and people who actually live in the buildings around you but a little distant from the ruins, etc.). We grabbed a bus back to the termini station and then decided to purchase a 3 day hop-on hop-off ticket that was good for their buses but also in included access to all the Rome public transport options… We weren't sure at first but given that the cost of the hop on part of the ticket was basically free when compared to the cost of a public transport pass, we decided to spend the €25 per person and go for it (turns out it was a great decision as we've been riding trains, buses and the hop on buses with abandon ever since).

After consulting the guide books and Internet sources, we decided to make our first destination the Vatican Museums because they all agreed the museums would be much less crowded after lunch when the cruise ship hordes had gone back to their lairs…they're all liars, damned liars… We got there around 2pm and encountered the crowd from hell… Actually, crowd doesn't do it justice. Some of the galleries were so crowded you just flowed along with the mass of bodies without being able to stop and really appreciate what you were seeing… And there was no air conditioning. So there we are throwing elbows and jostling for position in front of some of the world's greatest art works with sweat pouring down our bodies and the constant refrain of “if one more person steps in front of me, I'm going to smack him/her upside the head” running through our heads… If there is a hell on earth, this was it… Versailles was crowded. This was something else entirely… And to top it off, the Braccio Nueveo or whatever it was called was closed… Which just happens to be the home of the one statue beside Michelangelo's “David” that I really wanted to see… I did manage to catch a glimpse of the Augustus of Prima Porta's arm sticking out if I peered just right through the bars, though…. We shuffled along with the maddening crowds past priceless works by Raphael, etc. until we came to the Sistine Chapel…. Where you are not allowed to take pictures…

The Sistine chapel is very cool… Yep. That's my art history interpretation… It was cool… Of course, it would have been cooler if I could have taken a picture or two and if the disembodied voice of some Vatican functionary didn't keep repeating “silencio per favore” in 5 languages every 5 minutes or so… And if the size of the crowd milling around stepping on each other as they stared up at the ceiling was a little smaller… It was beautiful but a little underwhelming and the crowd took something away from the experience… Although Marie and I did manage to keep our streak of stealing a kiss in every major church or chapel we've visited thus far alive… Definitely a high point of the visit.

After the Sistine Chapel, there were a couple of large galleries of paintings and sculpture, etc. but you're kind of just going through the motions at this point and letting the crowd (definitely much thinner at this point) carry you along past priceless works of art… At some point along the way Caitlin uttered her now famous opinion of all the art we've seen – “there's so much art, and they all seem to do the same thing…. maybe they should start spaying and neutering artists…” sheer brilliance.

By this time, it was late afternoon so we decided to just ride the hop-on bus around its loop and see some of the sights while lounging under a covered roof… After a refreshing break that didn't involve any walking, we headed back to our hotel room for a short pre-dinner rest and clean up. Then we went for walk up the nearby Janiculm Hill to visit the Gianicolo – sort of a local lovers' lane type hill with awesome views of Rome and very pretty sunsets… We enjoyed a cold drink (there's something very civilized about being able to drink a cold beer while enjoying the sunset and great views of an ancient city) and then made our way back to the same restaurant where we had eaten the night before (I guess the siren song of bacon and eggs was too much for Caitlin and Marie to resist). After dinner we played a couple of hands of hearts on the terrace outside our hotel room before heading off to a well deserved sleep…

And so ended our first full day in Rome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 30: Naples to Pompeii to Rome

Today it's on to Pompeii. We grab some breakfast from the surprisingly nice spread (typical European continental stuff but some fresh fruit and a couple of extras make it a bit better than the standard fare we've been getting so far). Then it's off to the train station for our 8:11am Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii. But first, we need to find a place to store our bags… The hotel offered to do it for free but that would mean walking to the hotel to get them and then walking back and we didn't want to get into a time crunch (we have reserved seats on a train to Rome at 7:17 pm…) at the end of the day. So we head to the left luggage department at the train station… 5€ per bag for the first 5 hours then €0.70 per bag per hour after that… Nope. Way too expensive. So now it's a choice between taking the bags with us and storing them at the Pompeii station or walking back to the hotel to drop them off there (which would also necessitate taking a later train to Pompeii). It's a measure of how rough the neighborhood was that we decided not to use the free service in part because it would mean walking through it again in the morning and again that night… So we shoulder the bags and head for the Circumvesuviana station. Of course, before we could board our train, Marie managed to lock herself in the ATM area of the train station's bank and for some reason her train ticket wouldn't get her through the automated turnstile requiring intervention from the incredibly bored looking employee who merely waived her through an open turnstile…

The Circumvesuviana line is essentially Naples' public transport system… The trains are above ground and pretty beat up. The one we're riding is heading for Sorrento – a popular beach destination – so a very large part of the adolescent population of Naples is lined up waiting to get on the same train we're trying for… When the train arrives, there's a mad scramble for the cars with a lot of pushing and jostling (made much more fun with the addition of a mid-sized backpack and a carry on bag each) but somehow everyone manages to fit on and we're off… Can't say much about the scenery between Naples and Pompeii given I couldn't see much of it through the crush of people but I'm sure it was lovely. Fortunately the train we'd picked was a sort of express and we were in Pompeii about 25 minutes after leaving Naples. Then it was off to the left luggage depot. It was supposed to be €1.80 per bag according to internet sources but has gone up to €3 per bag… Not cheap but still cheaper than Naples so we'll take it (apparently you can also store bags at the Pompeii site itself but we checked the place where the bags are stored and it looked a lot less secure than the setup at the Pompeii train station). With our bags taken care of, it's off to Pompeii – about 50 meters from the train station… We avoid the guides and the tour operators hawking their services but grab a c few bottles of water from one of the restaurants and head straight for the ticket window, grab our tickets, pick up an excellent map and guide to the ruins (gratis from the information booth) and spend a few minutes planning our visit then head for the ruins.

Pompeii is fascinating. It's huge (I think I read somewhere that the site covers 65 hectares which means absolutely nothing to me but my feet can tell you it's about 65 million steps on uneven stone roads to cover about 80% of the area). Seriously, the place was a fair sized town-city – it's at least the size of Dubrovnik's old town or similar – and it takes hours to see it all… It's also very dusty and very hot… We entered the park by 9 am and were sweating from the start. It also gets very crowded… Although we managed to have much of the place to ourselves for the first couple of hours by getting there early. But by the end of our visit, it was wall to wall tour groups in the more popular parts… The good thing here is that the site is so massive that it's a little less frustrating than some of the other sites we've visited this trip.

We roamed the ruins for about 4 hours and then decided we'd seen enough. We'd covered all the major parts of the site, including the Villa of Mysteries (very cool), the town bordello (its purported x-rated frescoes are more PG-13 by today's standards), the amphitheater, the colosseum, the Stabian Baths, the thermopiliums (ancient snack bars), a bunch of the private villas… the works. Aside from the places blocked off because they're working on them (or don't have the staff to supervise them) there aren't many parts that we missed… Although we weren't able to find the painting of Priapus weighing his oversize you know what… Marie was disappointed.

We really liked Pompeii. The map provided makes it fairly easy to navigate, there's a goodly amount of information provided through the free guidebook and the on-site information placards and it is cool to be wandering the streets of a very recognizable city. Where Delphi and places like it are largely piles of rocks, many of the places at Pompeii are recognizable. Walls are still standing. There's still paint in some places. The mosaics are intact in others. You'd need to spend weeks here to fully appreciate everything you're seeing… And I'd love to try bribing the staff to let me into some of the closed off areas because I bet there's some really cool things the public doesn't get to see… And much of what you're seeing doesn't always make sense but trying to figure it out is part of the attraction… In all, a highlight of the trip.

But, after four hours we were footsore and sweaty and ready to call it a day, so we headed for the exit and one of the restaurants selling fresh squeezed juices… The drinks were very cold. The fresh juices were delicious. The food wasn't bad and the prices were surprisingly reasonable… We ate and drank our fill and plotted the rest our day. We'd planned to go to Herculaneum – a smaller and better preserved but less popular site a couple of train stops away – but truth be told, we were pretty done in. Lots of early mornings, crappy sleeps (the last comfortable bed we slept in was the Holiday Inn in Paris), etc. coupled with a morning of tramping through dusty old ruins in the blazing sun had taken it out of us… Although Marie continues to maintain that she was perfectly willing to spend the rest of the day baking in the sun… So the choice was a) continue with the plan and go to Herculaneum or b) go back to Naples and try to get an earlier train to Rome… Because Caitlin and I outnumbered Marie, and because I'm a unionized personal tour guide and hinted at withdrawing tour guide services for the remainder of the day, we opted for plan B knowing that we would probably not be able to get a refund on the reserved tickets we'd already paid for months ago and that we could end up sitting at the train station killing time for a few hours… Marie grumbled about the loss of a couple of hours of productive time but that's just the HR manager in her coming out… We've learned to tune it out… In the end, the shot at getting to Rome a bit earlier to do some laundry and get a bit of extra sleep as well overwhelmed my interest in going to Herculaneum… After 30 days and all the planes, trains and buses, etc. this was the first change in our schedule… We'd love to have seen Herculaneum but 3 more hours in the heat of the afternoon sun would have been too much… And besides, it gives us something to do when we come back…

It turned out we couldn't get a refund (no surprise there as they were discount seats) and to buy tickets on an earlier train was going to be €43 per ticket (we paid €27 for all three tickets – gotta love buying in advance) so we decided to wait it out… By this point it was about 3pm and our train left at 7:17 so we had a little over four hours to kill… I wrote some blog posts to get caught up a bit, Marie and Caitlin did some shopping, then we moved into the McDonald's (there's one attached to the station), ordered some fries, some chicken nuggets and a drink for Caitlin (there's nothing cheap about McD's in Italy – that cost us €10) then took over the one table with an electric outlet nearby so we could charge some electronics and played cards for a couple of hours sitting at a table instead of sitting on the floor… Caitlin even managed to get control in her third ever game of hearts… I'm kind of surprised they didn't boot us out but there were still lots of tables so they seemed content to leave us alone… The time went by fairly quickly and soon enough we were heading to the station to find the right platform.

After a bit of confusion (even the train staff thought the train was coming in to Platform 17 and not 15) and a short delay, we were rocketing along the tracks to Rome… Our final destination for this trip and one we've all been looking forward to. The trip took just over an hour so with the delay, we were piling off the train just before 9pm. A quick confab with a carabinieri confirmed that it would be much cheaper (although not nearly as easy) to take a bus to the hotel rather than cab it so we shuffled off to the bus terminal just outside the station…. Turns out the bus stop is the main hub for the public transportation system of Rome… It was a zoo… We knew we should take the #75 bus (thanks to the hotel for putting directions up on their website) and happened to see one pulling away just as we walked over (a stroke of good luck because there are 800 routes and we could have looked for days to find where the 75 stopped). The problem came in figuring out which 75 to take as it appeared there were two and they didn't go to the same place… Not a huge problem except for the fact that our hotel doesn't have 24 hour front desk service and had agreed to have someone waiting to check us in but we were running a bit late already… This would also have worked better if the one driver of the right bus hadn't told us to use the wrong bus but fortunately we double checked and the second driver spoke better English so a short while later the right bus came along and we piled on and headed for our hotel… The stops are well signed (sort of) so we were able to figure out where to get off the bus and a helpful store/bar/cafe owner steered us in the right direction once we were off the bus. Arriving at our hotel we found they'd left the door open for us and it turns out that while they don't staff the front desk 24 hours a day, there's someone on-site 24 hours a day so it all worked out well…

By this point it was 10pm and time for dinner (I don't eat McDonald's and the other food offerings at the station were iffy) as we'd decided to wait and grab something to eat once we were settled in Rome. We walked around the corner from our hotel (we're staying in the Trestavare area which I'll describe in the next post but finding food isn't an issue) and found a place serving all day breakfast… Marie and Caitlin were seated and ordering before I'd finished checking out the menu of the place next door… Food was good. Prices were very reasonable (especially compared to Venice)… Then it was back to the hotel for a late shower and off to bed after a long day…

On a side note… I've been using an app called Blogsy to do these blog posts. For 30 days I have cursed its crappy photo integration and the fact that you couldn't integrate pictures without being connected to the Internet… Now, as I near the end of the trip and the last of the blog posts, wouldn't you know that they release a major update fixing all the issues I've struggled with for the last month… Including the ability to integrate pictures from the iPad without having to be connected… This will be the first post using the new version so hopefully it all works…

 

 

 

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Day 29: Florence to Naples

This morning we were up early to beat the crowds and found our way to the Pitti Palace – a large palazzo once owned by the Medici family that is now a, you guessed it, art museum/gallery.

We were among the first people to enter (so much for the crowd) and after paying €80 – more expensive than any other musuem/gallery we have visited thus far, but Caitlin wanted to see the fashion gallery so we purchased the full meal deal tickets and made our way to the Ducal Treasures area… Where we encountered “the little dictator” as we like to call her… To get this far, we had passed no fewer than 6 people who checked our tickets, etc. but as we enter the first room – which is the size of a small church and utterly and completely devoid of anything or anyone save the frescoes on the wall and the three of us, this officious woman comes storming across the room and tells Marie to get rid of her daypack… The same daypack that has been worn in every church, museum, art gallery and other attraction since we arrived in Europe more than a month ago… Sometimes she was asked to wear it on her front but never to check it… Even the two women at the front door who checked us in were taken aback… So traipsing across the palace goes Marie to find the bag check area… While Caitlin and I check out the first of the sumptuously decorated rooms. Only to be told by the same little dictator that the icon with a line through a flash and a tripod really means no pictures at all… Guess the museum got a good deal on no flash photography or tripods signs… The italians insistence on no photography is a pain in the… British museum? No problem. The Louvre? No problemo. National museum in Athens? No problem. Podunk museum of Italian doodling… No packs. No pictures. Better yet, try not to breath while in our galleries….

Despite the admittedly minor aggravations and the pain of the severed arm and leg that it cost to get into the place, it's a pretty good show. The palace itself is right up there with Versailles or the Doge's palace, albeit smaller than both, and some of the frescoes are several notches above both of them. Because portions of this place have been an art gallery for a long time now, and the other parts went through all kinds of owners (Hapsburg-Lorraines, Napoleon, Leopold, king of Italy…) there's a hodgepodge of styles and very little in the way of furnishings but there's an excellent collection of art (mostly paintings) and the rooms are pretty cool… We spent about 4 hours there, including a brief walk through parts of the gardens.

When we emerged, we found that the crowds had shown up (didn't notice it inside but there was a small lineup) and the vendors, etc. had turned up in full force… So we made our way through them to the Pontevecchio – the only surviving medieval bridge in Florence (the rest were blown up in WW II). It's pretty cool – it's still lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry (apparently some of the shops date back hundreds of years). It was packed with people but we managed to duck and weave our way through and started making our way back to the area of our hotel to grab our bags and head for our 4pm train… After a quick lunch and some gelato, we picked up our bags from the hotel and hopped on the city bus to take us to the station (no walking for us this time)…

We hung out at the station for a bit, boarded our train (nearly empty this time) and rocketed our way at speeds up to 300km/hr to Naples – about three hours away. All went smoothly and soon we were strapping on the packs and heading out to find our hotel (a five minute walk from the station). First, though, we had to find the Circumvesuviana ticket booth to buy our tickets for tomorrow's train to Pompeii. So while Caitlin and Marie tried to find some shampoo and conditioner (we ran out and our hotels haven't been the kind to provide it) I followed the signs and bought our tickets for tomorrow… Marie and Caitlin just missed the full on Italian argument between one of the ticket guys and some guy… I don't know what the couple did wrong but the ticket guy went bananas on them which led to the full arms waving, shouting, insulting-a your-a mother stereotypical Italian argument… Then they went on their respective ways… Would love to have known what they were saying… And really hope we don't make the same mistake… Tickets for tomorrow in hand, we are ready to head for the hotel.

Naples train station is amazing – more like an airport than a train station – but the area around it is one small step up from the downtown east side of Vancouver. We ended up missing our street and walked through a very sketchy area before finding someone to put us back on the right street… Our hotel, a Best Western, was situated right in the middle of a square that wouldn't have looked out of place in Mogadishu or one of those places… It was dirty, full of shifty looking characters doing nothing but sitting around under the watchful eye of the Mobile Police station set up right across from our hotel.

The hotel is trying hard to overcome their location but despite being newly renovated is still a pretty low point in the Best Westerm chain… Our room's only window opened onto the backs of a couple of pretty rough looking apartments, the fascia around the door frame was falling off, the three beds were squeezed so tightly into the room that there was no room for the packs except on the beds… But it was only for one night and it was moderately clean and the price (€65 including breakfast) was pretty good so we dumped the packs and headed out to the one restaurant the guy behind the front desk said was close, clean and safe… Turned out it was close (right across the street), was clean (sort of) and safe but he left out the not very good food part…

We were all pretty beat by this point (10pm or so) and the neighborhood didn't really invite wandering or exploring so we headed back to the hotel, made sure our bags were packed and ready to go, grabbed a bath (a luxury as only one other hotel on this trip has had a bath tub) and turned in for the night. Tomorrow we're catching an 8:11 am train to Pompeii.

 

 

 

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Day 28: Florence

Today we were supposed to be up bright and early to be at the Uffizi Gallery or the Palazzo de Pitti by 8:15 to beat the crowds to these busier attractions… Didn't happen. We finished breakfast around 9am and just sort of wandered out to see where the day would take us…

First up were the cathedral and baptistery that were closed when we were there yesterday. They're both worth a visit – lots of cool murals and decorations and space but let's be honest… Unless you're catholic or majored in biblical studies, the murals are just a bunch of bearded old guys doing stuff… There's not a lot of nudity (at least not any attractive nude people) and most of the action is either people being really good or is about really bad things happening to people and some of the images are just plain weird… After a while you begin to worry about what it would say about your state of mind if everything you're seeing started to make sense… And although the cathedral is free, the rest of the places aren't and at €3-€7 per person per place, it starts to get expensive fast…

After the cathedral and baptistery we made our way towards the Palazzo Vecchio (where David stood around in the nude outdoors gathering pigeon poop for a couple hundred years and where there's now a copy), the Loggia (an outdoor sculpture gallery) and the Uffizi Gallery. We lounged for a bit in the shade of the Loggia and I provided a bit of a history lesson (much of it made up to see if either of them would fall for it). At some point during our sojourn, Marie's sandal slipped off her foot resulting in some liveried security dude issuing some kind of frantic order followed by vigorous pointing at her foot… Pointing out to him that he was surrounded by naked images of men fighting centaurs, raping women and cutting people's heads off just didn't seem worth the effort… we got a good laugh out of it though…

Eventually we made our way across the way to the Uffizi to discover it was really busy… We could stand in line (we did for a bit and moved 4″ in 20 minutes) or buy a reserved ticket and come back at 6pm… That's the way we went… So we stand in line for about 20 minutes and are all ready to pay the extra $12.00 for the privilege of having a reserved entry time and our turn is next…. When this hatchet faced harridan schleps her way to the front of line, butts in front of Marie (who turns the full weight of her basilisk glare on the offender to absolutely no effect) and buys a ticket… The dude behind the counter gives us one of those sheepish “what are you going to do” looks while Marie contemplates tracking her down and laying a good old fashioned wupping on her. Of course as we walk by her a few minutes later we see that she is leading a tour group so, if you've been following this blog, you'll understand how her behavior made perfect sense… And we joked about how we would make fun of her in the blog… We should get little cards made up saying “You're kind of an idiot but rather than making a scene, we're going to write funny things about you in our blog and share it with everyone we know… Maybe you should check it out… Your children will be so proud.”

With a secured time arranged we head for the Accademia to see the statue of David. There is a shortish line but it's not moving very quickly. We decide to gut it out and leave Marie to stand in the sun while Caitlin and I sit in the shade across the street… To make it up to Marie, I buy her a lovely little “pasilo” calendar… That's right… Twelve glorious images of penises from classical statues and paintings… I don't think she'll be putting it on her desk at work but she seemed to like it…

Eventually, our turn came to get into the Accademia and we discovered that all bottles must be surrendered… So Marie chugged half a liter of warm mineral water rather than throw it out… That's the woman I married… Caitlin hid her face in shame and mumbled… Soon we were roaming the halls of this smallish gallery pretending to be interested in the medieval paintings (actually they had a really good video showing upstairs that explained how they made those elaborate gilded panels you see in all the really old churches) but the star of this show is Michelangelo's statue of David. Marie asked me a bunch of times before we got there what it was that made that particular statue so important… I didn't really have an answer… But when you see it, there's something hugely captivating about it… Even Marie had to acknowledge that there was something special about it… She even used the word sublime in talking about the effect it has on you… We've seen hundreds of statues on this trip and if you put all of them in a room with the statue of David tucked in a corner, it would outshine all of them. It's just that striking… And it's a crime against humanity that you can't take a picture of it… After David we checked out the rest of the gallery (I like Michelangelo's unfinished “captives”) but it was clear the star had left the stage and the understudies were left to finish up the show…

By the time we finished our tour of Accademia is was almost time for our Uffizi reservation so we headed to that area again and decided to grab a drink at one of the places that front the square… We were glad we'd picked a well covered area because shortly after we sat down, a torrential downpour cleared the square and sent the waiters into a hilarious keystone cops routine trying to seal the gaps in the umbrellas… They soaked more people than they kept dry but you had to admire their efforts… We finished up our drinks and headed for the Uffizi.

The Uffizi was originally a private art collection of the Medici family but has been open to the public for centuries… It's arranged in roughly chronological order and covers Italian sculpture and painting from medieval times to about the 19th century… They have a lot of statues and paintings… The whole gallery is packed with a veritable who's who of Italian (and many foreign painters as well) art… Caravaggio. Botticelli. Veronese (that dude has turned up in almost every gallery we've visited thus far). Michelangelo. Da Vinci. Van Dyck. Reubens. And there are busts of roman emperors and Italian nobles and statues of Greek heroes and more centaurs getting beat up and women ravished than you can shake a stick at… after a while you kind of get numb to it all… Oh look. Another magnificent painting by a really famous dude… My favorite was the Botticelli with Venus in the shell… Can't remember exactly what it's called but you've probably seen it… And there were about a thousand more I really liked but can't remember them all… Caitlin was a little nonplussed that after all the art we saw at the Louvre there was still so much to put on display at the Uffizi…

After the Uffizi we headed to another little trattoria in the San Lorenzo area and chowed down on some more great food (Marie and I shared a very fine Florentine steak that would have given most Canadian doctors a coronary if they saw the size of it… And that was the portion for one person…). After that it was back to the hotel to finish off the cold drinks they'd been keeping in the fridge for us and to pack because tomorrow we're on the train to Naples…

 

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Day 28: Florence

Today we were supposed to be up bright and early to be at the Uffizi Gallery or the Palazzo de Pitti by 8:15 to beat the crowds to these busier attractions… Didn't happen. We finished breakfast around 9am and just sort of wandered out to see where the day would take us…

First up were the cathedral and baptistery that were closed when we were there yesterday. They're both worth a visit – lots of cool murals and decorations and space but let's be honest… Unless you're catholic or majored in biblical studies, the murals are just a bunch of bearded old guys doing stuff… There's not a lot of nudity (at least not any attractive nude people) and most of the action is either people being really good or is about really bad things happening to people and some of the images are just plain weird… After a while you begin to worry about what it would say about your state of mind if everything you're seeing started to make sense… And although the cathedral is free, the rest of the places aren't and at €3-€7 per person per place, it starts to get expensive fast…

After the cathedral and baptistery we made our way towards the Palazzo Vecchio (where David stood around in the nude outdoors gathering pigeon poop for a couple hundred years and where there's now a copy), the Loggia (an outdoor sculpture gallery) and the Uffizi Gallery. We lounged for a bit in the shade of the Loggia and I provided a bit of a history lesson (much of it made up to see if either of them would fall for it). At some point during our sojourn, Marie's sandal slipped off her foot resulting in some liveried security dude issuing some kind of frantic order followed by vigorous pointing at her foot… Pointing out to him that he was surrounded by naked images of men fighting centaurs, raping women and cutting people's heads off just didn't seem worth the effort… we got a good laugh out of it though…

Eventually we made our way across the way to the Uffizi to discover it was really busy… We could stand in line (we did for a bit and moved 4″ in 20 minutes) or buy a reserved ticket and come back at 6pm… That's the way we went… So we stand in line for about 20 minutes and are all ready to pay the extra $12.00 for the privilege of having a reserved entry time and our turn is next…. When this hatchet faced harridan schleps her way to the front of line, butts in front of Marie (who turns the full weight of her basilisk glare on the offender to absolutely no effect) and buys a ticket… The dude behind the counter gives us one of those sheepish “what are you going to do” looks while Marie contemplates tracking her down and laying a good old fashioned wupping on her. Of course as we walk by her a few minutes later we see that she is leading a tour group so, if you've been following this blog, you'll understand how her behavior made perfect sense… And we joked about how we would make fun of her in the blog… We should get little cards made up saying “You're kind of an idiot but rather than making a scene, we're going to write funny things about you in our blog and share it with everyone we know… Maybe you should check it out… Your children will be so proud.”

With a secured time arranged we head for the Accademia to see the statue of David. There is a shortish line but it's not moving very quickly. We decide to gut it out and leave Marie to stand in the sun while Caitlin and I sit in the shade across the street… To make it up to Marie, I buy her a lovely little “pasilo” calendar… That's right… Twelve glorious images of penises from classical statues and paintings… I don't think she'll be putting it on her desk at work but she seemed to like it…

Eventually, our turn came to get into the Accademia and we discovered that all bottles must be surrendered… So Marie chugged half a liter of warm mineral water rather than throw it out… That's the woman I married… Caitlin hid her face in shame and mumbled… Soon we were roaming the halls of this smallish gallery pretending to be interested in the medieval paintings (actually they had a really good video showing upstairs that explained how they made those elaborate gilded panels you see in all the really old churches) but the star of this show is Michelangelo's statue of David. Marie asked me a bunch of times before we got there what it was that made that particular statue so important… I didn't really have an answer… But when you see it, there's something hugely captivating about it… Even Marie had to acknowledge that there was something special about it… She even used the word sublime in talking about the effect it has on you… We've seen hundreds of statues on this trip and if you put all of them in a room with the statue of David tucked in a corner, it would outshine all of them. It's just that striking… And it's a crime against humanity that you can't take a picture of it… After David we checked out the rest of the gallery (I like Michelangelo's unfinished “captives”) but it was clear the star had left the stage and the understudies were left to finish up the show…

By the time we finished our tour of Accademia is was almost time for our Uffizi reservation so we headed to that area again and decided to grab a drink at one of the places that front the square… We were glad we'd picked a well covered area because shortly after we sat down, a torrential downpour cleared the square and sent the waiters into a hilarious keystone cops routine trying to seal the gaps in the umbrellas… They soaked more people than they kept dry but you had to admire their efforts… We finished up our drinks and headed for the Uffizi.

The Uffizi was originally a private art collection of the Medici family but has been open to the public for centuries… It's arranged in roughly chronological order and covers Italian sculpture and painting from medieval times to about the 19th century… They have a lot of statues and paintings… The whole gallery is packed with a veritable who's who of Italian (and many foreign painters as well) art… Caravaggio. Botticelli. Veronese (that dude has turned up in almost every gallery we've visited thus far). Michelangelo. Da Vinci. Van Dyck. Reubens. And there are busts of roman emperors and Italian nobles and statues of Greek heroes and more centaurs getting beat up and women ravished than you can shake a stick at… after a while you kind of get numb to it all… Oh look. Another magnificent painting by a really famous dude… My favorite was the Botticelli with Venus in the shell… Can't remember exactly what it's called but you've probably seen it… And there were about a thousand more I really liked but can't remember them all… Caitlin was a little nonplussed that after all the art we saw at the Louvre there was still so much to put on display at the Uffizi…

After the Uffizi we headed to another little trattoria in the San Lorenzo area and chowed down on some more great food (Marie and I shared a very fine Florentine steak that would have given most Canadian doctors a coronary if they saw the size of it… And that was the portion for one person…). After that it was back to the hotel to finish off the cold drinks they'd been keeping in the fridge for us and to pack because tomorrow we're on the train to Naples…

 

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