Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back to Vancouver - October 26, 2010

We took the water taxi to the airport and weighed our luggage. We were allowed 23 kg each and we both registered at about 20 kg. I feel like I failed. I should have shopped more! We grabbed lunch before the flight. I passed the salad and it occurred to me that I should probably have one for lunch. Nah, why start now? You don’t make friends with insalate… so pizza and Peroni it is. Thank god for my clean-up crew because if I ate more than half of each meal, I’d be more than doughy by now! I wonder who’s gained more weight - me and Kelly or the dogs. Grandpa likes to share – first his toast in the morning, then there’s the orange break, lunch and dinner. And don’t forget that Dad’s dog will whack the cupboard anytime she’d like a biscuit. Can’t wait to pick up Murphy & Dakota tonight. I’ve had doggie withdrawal and haven’t seen many cats since Sorrento. Absolutely no cats in Venice, but there were quite a few little dogs.
We’re now sitting in Heathrow waiting for our nine hour flight home. Kelly finally saw his Ferrari – here in the Heathrow airport. The conclusion to our honeymoon is here. We’ve had a great time in Italy and enjoyed each place we visited. Rome for the amazing ruins – something that’s 50 years old in Vancouver is considered old so to see the Colosseum standing and in pretty decent shape, just amazing. We walked through a lot of Rome, took the subway and enjoyed the people watching. Sorrento was a complete change. Such a beautiful area – Positano, Capri and Sorrento. Very different culture here – laid back, no crazy (well, less crazy) drivers and wonderful food. We had some of our best meals in the area. Not to mention the authentic version of the cannoli (which I will now have to learn to make to keep Kelly happy). It took almost a day to get to Montalcino in the Tuscany region. Beautiful, just beautiful. The rolling hills, variations in the field colours – browns, greens, reds – and the Cyprus trees are stunning. We saw a couple of Tuscan towns as well as a few wineries. I could have spent more time exploring some of the wineries but we can do that next time. Montalcino itself was a unique hill town and we truly had superb, homemade fresh pasta there. Our cooking class was fun and now I can’t wait to make pasta! One day in Florence lead to some culture as well as more walking. I can’t say we were enamoured with Florence, but it was interesting to visit, albeit just for a day. And then we ended in Venice. The weather didn’t cooperate but we still walked around as much as we could in the rain and walking on the raised platforms amongst thousands of our fellow tourists. 20,000 people commute into Venice ever day so the water transit is always busy. Venice is certainly how it’s described and worth a visit, but I’m not sure we’ll return anytime soon.
Some of our final observations about Italy:
-          There are no Ferraris in Italy.
-          The cheese – fab-u-lous and cheap.
-          Graffiti is everywhere and it seems to be done by the locals. I find that so disrespectful.
-          I was surprised that not knowing Italian wasn’t an issue in most places. I really must commend the people in the restaurants and shops for learning English, I know it’s not an easy language. Although, you don’t want to throw in any slang as they look at you like you’ve just shot a lemon out of your nose (and the lemons are large in Sorrento).
-          I found the streets crowded and the locals pushy – it was like being in Montreal. No “mi scusi”, just push your way through. I gave up saying “I’m sorry” after being bumped into 100 times and instead, put out my pointy elbows. That will give you a mi scusi.
-          Don’t bring your North American flat iron to Italy – it isn’t happy being converted to a different voltage, and it will rebel by scorching your hair.
-          Prego must mean more than “thank you” since they say it as soon as they put your plate down and before you get a chance to say Grazie. Seems more like “here you go” as well as “thank you”.
-          You can generally drink beer in the streets while wandering around. Va bene!
-          Scooters actually have different traffic rules than vehicles. They’re allowed to drive in between the cars, ignore traffic signals and cut off anyone they like. It’s surprising you don’t see more flattened scooters on the road.
-          The commuter trains are, uh, interesting. If you’re looking to see the native culture, try traveling via the Circumvesuviana.
-          Venice really is sinking, and the towers are leaning. They’re busy trying to reinforce San Marco with titanium bars under the clock tower.
-          You can’t order vegetables with your dinner. Insalate, but no vegetables. I was craving something dark green, but to no avail.
-          Everyone told us not to bother with bottled wine, just order the house wine. Well, we didn’t have a good bottle of house wine anywhere so we started to order bottles after a few misses. Nothing expensive, other than our dinner at Il Buco.
-          A lot of the restaurants serve frozen meat that they reheat – and it’s tough and chewy (veal and pork mostly).
-          There’s no free WiFi in Italy. We never found any public WiFi and the only time we had free Internet was at the hotel in Sorrento and the B&B in Montalcino. Although in both places, you could only use it in the main room downstairs since the walls are a foot thick.
-          We never had a clock or alarm in any hotel room. I wonder why – theft? or time just doesn’t matter.
-          We didn’t see any obvious prostitution, drug dealing or even a tattoo shop. Very un-Vancouverish. The only real crime we saw were the dudes pushing the fake LV bags in Rome and Venice.
-          The bottles of wine say 750 ml but I think the Italian metric system is different than ours. Surely, the bottles were smaller as the wine went down a lot quicker.
-          Bring a long, black hair and put it in your meal. It’s a great way to get a free meal…  J

And lastly, travel with someone you love, like I did. It makes even the most mundane things fun and an adventure.

Until our next trip, ciao.

Venice - October 25, 2010

We set out in the drizzle, which quickly turned to light rain. We thought we’d head toward the area on the coast where the parks were but as there was quite a bit of flooding by the canal, we headed in land a bit to look for streets that are less crowded. We succeeded but eventually, the crowds found us again. After walking in the rain for a few hours, we decided to head back to the hotel to dry out our feet. Towards San Marco we go – only to find the entire piazza flooded by about 1.5 feet of water. The platforms were up to get people through the piazza, but they were narrow and the one we started on took us to the museum (where we didn’t want to go). There was a pack of 10 year olds screaming and pushing in front of us. I’m telling you, bambino, if I go for a swim, I’m taking you and three of your pals with me. No? Just try me. Si si. Kelly and I headed back out of the piazza to try to walk around San Marco rather than take an hour to walk through it on the platforms (since none of the platforms went straight across the piazza). I put on my OnStar Venice application in my head and led Kelly to his favourite gelato, only to find them closed. So we were forced to try another place, which was good. And yes, we’ve had way too much gelato, pizza, pasta and wine while we were in Italy. WAY too much. I hope my pants still fit me when we get home and I don’t find that my jeans have just been expanding with the gelato pounds.
We walked by a number of restaurants and it doesn’t look like any Italians run the restaurants, at least in the tourist areas. The gondola business is slow on a rainy, windy day. The gondola dudes weren’t even bothering with their usual “gondale, gondala?” Is that like Valerie, Valera, Valerie, Valer-a-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha? They dudes by our hotel were just sitting there, eating a panini and having a birra. Are there drinking and paddling laws here?
We came back to the room and polished off the cheese and crackers from yesterday. Kelly changed channels, looking for something in English, while I tried to pack our breakables in our luggage. Kelly found Who Wants to be a Millionaire – for Sheiks. What the heck? Don’t Sheiks already have millions? Greedy guys.
It was still raining but we decided to venture out for dinner. I had to blow dry my Teva’s as they were still wet from today’s walkabout. We went to Tavernetta San Maurizio for dinner and had pasta (for the 100th time). I had a rigatoni with olive oil, tomatoes and basil – Kelly, lasagne. It was ok. I must say, what they say about food in Venice is true – at least from our experience. It’s expensive and not very good. There was no hair in the food tonight (darn, I forgot to pluck a hair from some unsuspecting passer-by) so we had to pay for the entire meal. Half way through our meal, an American family showed up and Snooki from Jersey Shore was the daughter. Not really, but she was a good knock off. She didn’t shut up the entire time about herself and we never heard her parents utter a word except for mom, she threw in an F bomb at one point. Snooki ordered in Italian (with a NY accent) and then quickly switched to English when the waiter spoke back to her. She tried to order off the menu and get penne with Bolognese sauce but ended up getting spaghetti with Bolognese so I guess her Jersey Shore accent confused him. Service charge of 12% plus a 4 Euro cover charge – rip off since per usual, we poured our own wine and were completely ignored except when they slapped down the plates. Oh well, I guess you just build it into the price. We looked for somewhere to stop for Grappa on the way back, but didn’t find a bar so we just headed home. We depart tomorrow and we’re taking the 100 Euro water taxi (ouch) from the hotel as it’s less of a pain than dragging our luggage to the public water transit and taking 90 minutes to get there. Goodbye Venice and Italy. We’ve had a great time, experienced a lot of different provinces and cultures. We don’t have a favourite place as each place had its own charm with the people, scenery and culture. We may come back one day to visit and we’ll think of this trip as we drink our Brunello wines on our 5th and 10th anniversaries. Arrivederci!

Venice - October 24, 2010

We woke to an overcast day and headed out for some culture. We started at the Sala della Musica – a museum with many violins, cellos, flutes, mandolins, harps, oboes and other unique instruments. Couldn’t take pictures, of course. After the Musicia, we headed to the Galleria dell’Accademia which has works from the Venetian Renaissance from the middle ages to the 1700s. Many more Madonna with bambino portraits as well Feast at House of Levi which was commissioned to replace a version of the Last Supper by Titian. It looked like the Last Lunch with wine and prosciutto. It was now lunch time so we stopped at a café for a panini and espresso. We encountered the Venetian marathon on our quest for a café. It can’t be easy to be a long distance runner in Venice. Too many bridges and tourists to run over.
After lunch, we went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. She had an amazing personal collection which is housed in her retirement palazzo. There were pieces from Picasso, Braque, Dali, Boccioni, Pollock, Chagall and others. Quite the palatial residence. There was a “Yoko Ono wish tree” outside where you could write your wish on a piece of paper and hang it in the tree. I went with the classic Miss America line and wished for world peace but seriously, I do. Kelly wouldn’t tell me what he wished for. It might have been to get that Ferrari Testerossa, or world peace.
Once we emerged from Peggy’s Palace, it was raining. We headed back towards Rialto and the Coin department store. Tourists in Venice do not know umbrella etiquette – lesson at noon tomorrow, Westin lobby. We Vancouverites weren’t carrying umbrellas but we almost got our eyes poked out a few times. We didn’t find anything enticing in Coin and decided to head back to the hotel. Went into a little store selling various Murano glass things – Kelly bought cuff links and I got a small vase and a pendent. We stopped at a small grocery store and picked up 200 grams of cheese from the deli, some bruschetta crackers as well as a 5 Euro bottle of Chianti – which was the expensive stuff. The cheese was superb – latteria vecchio (soft cheese) and rocca pontina (hard cheese). The rocca was my favourite. We perused the other aisles and came across the baby food – pictures of bunny (no, don’t eat bunny!) and prosciutto. I suppose that’s where the When in Rome saying comes in handy… We also bought a package of Knorr Risotteria Pomodoro e Porcini to take home, just because. We (I) may need Google Translator to help me make it.  
It was still raining when we ventured out for dinner so we decided to go somewhere close by. Big mistake. Big. Huge. Ristorante Piccolo Martini packs them in, and again, run by guys from Bangladesh. Since we just wanted something light, we thought this was ok. I ordered the spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and chillies which was ok. Kelly had a pizza with funghi, which was very bland, but entertaining. On his last slice of pizza, I see him pulling a long stand of cheese from his mouth – only it wasn’t cheese. You got it, hair. Long and black. We call over the head waiter dude to tell him and he says No! This isn’t from here. No one here has long black hair. It’s a blonde hair. [he puts it against a piece of white paper] See? It’s blonde. I tell him that if he’d like a piece of my hair to compare it too, I’d be happy to pull one out. The hair is clearly black, and long. No! It didn’t come from here. No! It’s not from here. Not our fault. [this is where Kelly loses his cool] Kelly: I don’t care whose hair it is, it isn’t ours, it was in my pizza and I want you to take this away - now. I also gave him the rest of my pasta (I was done anyway). The head dude continues to argue about the hair. What is his problem? Oh right, I brought a hair (like I do on every trip) and plant it JUST as we’re finishing our meal. Doesn’t everyone? Geez dude, apologize and just get the hell out of there – this is clearly turning into a scene, which none of us want. He takes away the dishes after a few more shakes of his head and saying it isn’t their hair then departs with an “enjoy your wine”. What an idiot and an ass. He now takes the hair, puts it on a piece of paper and puts scotch tape across it. Exhibit “A” I suppose – DNA testing tomorrow. Hey dude, did you notice that the Asian girl that brought us our wine has similar hair? Hmm? Did you? Idiot. I sense a really good Trip Advisor review coming from me in the near future. Is there a rating below zero? They took the pizza off the bill, but left the 10% service charge on. That seemed appropriate. Oh and p.s., I never mentioned the fruit fly I drowned in my wine. I brought him in too, with the hair. We paid cash – no way I was going to give my credit card to have him ring it through 15 times.
I think tonight’s a good night to try that dessert wine from Banfi – Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui. We picked up a Pan dei Pescatori Cioccolato (chocolate cookie with nuts on it - supposedly a Venice specialty) and a Cremino  (white, milk and dark chocolate). We’ll retire with that and perhaps some English TV (CNN anyone?). Tomorrow, more roaming about. The weather is supposed to be crappy again so not sure how far we’ll venture, but we’ll see.

Venice - October 23, 2010

We’re on the last leg of our vacation – off to Venice today. The trains run every hour and since I didn’t bring our train tickets, we had to purchase them when we got to the station.  I thought about getting them yesterday when we arrived, but I didn’t want to set the departure schedule should we decide to take our time departing. We ended up getting to the train station around 10am and tried to purchase tickets for the 10:30 train. No tickets. Ok machine, how about 11:30? No. 12:30? No. Please?? NO! Hmm. Looks like 1:30 is available and even though we’re using the English section, it doesn’t translate everything. We wanted to go first class this time for a change, but it didn’t show that option (well, at least not in English). We got in line at the ticket booth to see if there were any first class tickets and there were but not until the 1:30 train. So now we have three hours to kill in the train station. Good time for me to do yesterday’s blog and up to now. I might even work on my school assignment, which I haven’t touched since we left Vancouver. Eek.
We arrived in Venice and found the Westin Europa & Regina, which is close to San Marco port via the public transit Vaporetto. We dropped off our bags and went to explore. We hit Piazza San Marco which was full of over-priced restaurants that charge a 6 Euro cover just to sit there and have a drink – the cost of the drink is extra, of course. No thanks. Mind you, for the 6 Euros, there is a three piece orchestra playing. Not sure if three pieces counts as an orchestra, but we’ll go with that for lack of a better term. Kelly was now searching for gelato and Rick Steeves recommends a place called La Boutique del Gelato but as the street name wasn’t even on the map, I used my OnStar spidey senses and said definitively, let’s walk towards the Rialto. Well, it turned out to be a good guess and I happened to look up just as we were beside the gelato place. See the nice things I do for my husband? I keep him happy with gelato. I had green apple, with real apple chunks and berry. Kelly had vanilla with chocolate and crème (yes, again). Not bad – and actually a good price. 2 Euro for the small cup with two scoops. We’ve been paying 3 Euro everywhere else. Now on to the Rialto bridge. Not sure what the big fuss is about this other than the view of the canal. We carried on and walked around awhile until we were hungry for dinner. We stopped at a restaurant that wasn’t going to break the bank, Osteria ai Tosi, but after we sat down, saw that not only was there a cover charge of 2,50 Euro but also a 12% service charge. Buggers.  Very authentic Venetian restaurant with Bangladesh owners – well ok, maybe not very authentic. Can you say tourist trap? When we left and walked just around the corner, we found all the smoking/drinking locals at the next restaurant. Darn. Oh well, tomorrow night we’ll do better.

Florence - October 22, 2010

We had another lovely breakfast of eggs, said arrivederci to Robert and Lucilla then head out to Siena. We were supposed to drop off the rental car at 10am so we had lots of time since we left before 9am. You know where this is going, don’t you…. Well, first we stop for gas in Siena. No, no. No diesel. And that was the Esso station. Off we go to find another gas station. We found one, gassed up and then looked for the wall and the gates so we could find Avis. I won’t give you the play by play on this one but let’s just say that we spent almost as much time driving around Siena as we did to get from Montalcino. When we drove up to the train station, I suggested abandoning the car there and calling Avis to come get the stupid thing. Exiting from the entrance and having an old Italian guy wave his fist at us was a touching goodbye. A couple of wrong turns later, we actually found Avis and breathed a sigh of relief. It was only 10:15 so not too late. We grabbed a taxi to the train station and calmed our nerves with two large Moretti. And guess what? We didn’t yell at or kill each other during our Siena tour. Not even mumbling words of whazza comin a go. Ah, the true test of marriage, getting lost in a foreign city. We had a female taxi driver take us to the train station, and our only female on the trip. It was a van type vehicle with really high ceilings and how she explained to Kelly to close the door “it’s like a gun handle, just like the trigger”. Super… but Kelly figured it out from that description.
We took the commuter train from Siena to Florence and then grabbed a taxi to our B&B – the Residenza dei Pucci. It was located right near the Duomo and only a couple of blocks  from Galleria dell’Accademia. We dropped our bags off and headed to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. Only had to stand in line for about 15 minutes so without a reservation, not bad at all. There were no signs saying you couldn’t take pictures and no one mentioned anything so in the first room, I snapped a picture and then was told NO PICTURES. Oops. Mi scusi. The next room, that housed David had a sign saying no pictures although I saw at least three people sneaking a photo. David is impressive – I didn’t realize how tall the statue is. His hands and feet seem disproportionately large. I’m sure there’s a reason for that. The rest of the gallery had pre-Renaissance and Renaissance paintings and plaster models. We did a hot lap through some of the Renaissance paintings. I can only look at so many Madonna with baby pictures before they start to look the same. Have you noticed that the babies never look like babies? They look like miniature adults, usually men. Nothing soft or babyish looking.
After the Galleria, we headed to the Duomo and Piazza. There was a mandatory stop for gelato – Florence is supposed to have some of e best so we thought we would suffer through yet another serving. I had lemon sorbet and a vanilla with chocolate chips. Kelly had coffee and crème. All good but I have to say, San Crispino’s in Rome still has our vote for the best gelato. We tried to get into the Affizi Gallery but the line was too long so we thought we’d try again later. Off we went across the Ponte Vecchio bridge and window shopped through the mountains of gold and silver they have in every shop. There must have been 60 jewellery stores along the bridge – and one leather shop. I wonder who let them on the block. Lots of shiny baubles but nothing that caught my eye. We headed back to the Piazza Della Signoria for a late lunch/snack of pizza and wine. The pigeons there are crazy. They’ll dive bomb your head, fly onto your plate (and fight with another pigeon over crumbs) and just stare at you so you know who’s boss. There was a concert or band setting up in the piazza so we asked the waiter what was playing. His answer – bad music. Alright then, we’re out.
We walked around a bit more, looked at some shoes and jackets but didn’t buy anything. We went back to the Affizi but it was closing in 45 minutes (Rick’s book said that we had another hour and a half…) so we decided not to hot lap it. So back to the B&B for a short nap before dinner. There seemed to be more questionable characters in Florence than we saw in Rome and they were making me a bit uncomfortable. On a friend’s suggestion, we went to Cantina Barbagianni for dinner. It was just a few blocks from our place and well worth the visit. We didn’t have a reservation so we sat upstairs – apparently the downstairs is quite large while there are only about 10 tables upstairs. The other couple upstairs, also North American, ordered the steak Florentine and it was massive. 45 euros per kilo – and it looked like they ordered a kilo. Mind you, they polished off most of it and took what was remaining with them. We had a bottle of Rosso Di Montalcino and Kelly started with a cheese platter. That would have been more than enough for both of us but I ordered the beef carpaccio which was yummy. Kelly’s cheese platter had five types of cheese ranging from mild to strong. I can’t recall what they all were, but there were two types of pecorni and a gargonzola. They were all nice and it came with a spoonful of homemade jams – one was with a white wine and the other, a chianti. Very nice indeed! For dinner, although we were full, Kelly had a bagoli pasta with meat sauce. The pasta is similar to spaghetti but thicker. His was ok but the pasta we had in Montalcino was nicer. I thought I was ordering pasta as well but apparently malfati is not pasta. I’m not sure what it was but it was made with ricotta and spinach and topped with black truffles. It was a nice dish. We headed back to the room after dinner as it was about 10:30 now and we didn’t know where else to go. Tomorrow, Venice.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Montalcino - October 21, 2010

I tell you, I have no idea what day it is anymore. Is it Wed? Thurs? Fri?  All I know is this is the last day in Tuscany before we move on again. Our B&B host circled a number of places on the map. The right side of the map, culture; the left side, wine. But she also told us, “you don’t want to be drinking wine as there is no crime here so the Polizia may pull you over.” Check. So we started out at 10am by going to the abbey at Sant ‘Antimo. It dates back to 790 for the original buildings and the other buildings are from the 1100’s. I caught a couple of the kitties trying to get into the church (they wanted to confess that they killed a mouse just for sport) but the monk chased them out. He gestured to me that they wanted food. Next time we come to Italy, I’m bringing cat treats. I must have petted at least 50 cats since we’ve been here.
The map that Lucilla gave us was a photocopy and doesn’t show any highway numbers, just names of towns. So with OnStar as the navigator (that’s me), off we went to find some of the places on the culture side of the map. Bagno Vignoni was the first on the list and was also the first time we got lost and drove off the map. Whoops. OnStar, recalculate. Back we went and this time, we took the correct turn and found Bagno Vignoni, which is a quaint little town with a hot spring running through the centre of it. We felt the water and yup, confirmed, it was hot. They wouldn’t let Kelly strip down and take a splash in the pool. Party poopers.
Next on the map, Pienza. Down the hill, up the hill, around 95 corners (I feel ill), down another hill, up another hill (more damn corners), and another one or two hills and we found Pienza. That was easy. Lots of beautiful buildings here and overpriced trinkets. I ended up buying some spaghetti spices, a wine jug with a nice Tuscan scene and insalate tongs (salad tongs for you non-Italians) with ceramic sunflower ends. The sunflowers they grown here look so beautiful. It was chilly in the shade of the buildings so we found the one café that had seating in the sun and sat down for lunch. The menu was completely in Italian so we could only pick out the words we knew. Kelly pointed to the menu that seemed to be paninis and asked if they were the sandwiches. She quickly got a “you dumb tourist” look on her face and crinkled up her nose and shook her head. No sandwiches. Bacon, sausage. Well, there were four things on this part of the menu and she listed two things. We ordered what we thought would be a panini or similar but what we actually ordered was fried cheese with bacon and bread. Okee dokee.
It was now 2pm and we’d had enough culture. Time for wineries! So we decided to drive back to Montalcino then head south to the wineries. OnStar was on board once I turned the map upside down and got in it. Off we go. We saw lots of signs for wineries but it wasn’t clear if they were open to the public or had tastings. We stopped just outside of Tavernelle at Caprili. When we pulled up, the lady gave us questioning look until I said “wine tasting?” She went inside and opened the door for us. She poured us a 2004 Brunello Riserva, which was lovely. I saw that the 2005 Brunello won a silver in San Francisco this year and asked for a small tasting of that as well. Nope, they only pour the 2004. Ok. So we bought a bottle of the 2004 and carried on.
We drove further south to Poggio alle Mura to the Banfi estate, most of it on an unpaved road. What a beautiful property Banfi is. There’s a castle there, which now has 14 hotel rooms as well as two restaurants and large tasting/wine room. I tried the 2008 Rosso, the 2005 Brunello di Montalcino and the 2005Brunello di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura. We didn’t get a Cougar Town pour, but it was larger than the stupid machines in Montalcino.  All of the wines were nice and we decided to buy the P)oggio alle Mura. I also saw a Tuscan scene on a tile that was framed. I debated buying it but in the end, I got it. To my pleasant surprise, it was 20% off when we went to pay for it and the 12 euro wine tasting was free for purchasing a bottle of wine. The owner was a lovely woman from New York. She and her husband bought the property 30 years ago and built everything from scratch, other than the castle. They did a lot of restoration to the castle to outfit it for the hotel rooms (which was done somewhat recently). We had a nice chat with her and when we were leaving, she grabbed a bottle of dessert wine and gave it to us. How sweet! We put it in our hotel room fridge to drink tonight.
It was about 4pm now and even though we’d only gone to two wineries, we thought we should head back before it got dark. As we’re driving back, we see a couple of pheasant on the side street so Kelly stopped the car so I could get a picture. They took one look at me, screamed HUNTER! and flew away. No photo op there. Hunting season is in full swing here and you see people in camouflage with rifles when you least expect it. Apparently they’re hunting deer, wild pigs, hare, pheasant, song birds – basically anything that moves (even tourists??). Once we neared Montalcino, there was a very large tractor in front of us for a bit. He was busy beheading the road side markers – Thunk! Hey, do you know that we haven’t seen a single Ferrari or Lamborghini? Lots of Minis, Audis, Renault, Lancia, Fiat – Fiats are like Fords here, Peugot and Alfa Romeo. Even the cop cars are Alfa Romeo.
We got back to Montalcino, dropped off our stuff then headed out back to the Caffé for a bottle of 2005 Caprili Brunello di Montalcino (the bottle we couldn’t sample at the winery). On the way here, a brown purse jumped out of the shop window and into my arms. What’ a girl to do but rescue it from some it’s fate of sitting in a widow for months?  I’m such a humanitarian. Good thing we came here with one empty suitcase… The gelato place by our B&B has been closed every time we passed by but this time, open! We’ve been having gelato withdrawal. I had the crème carmel and something very creamy with pastry flakes. Kelly had banana split and vanilla. We found out why our canolli search has been unsuccessful – apparently that’s really only sold in the Naples area. Boo. If we’d known, we would have had a couple in Sorrento. They’re soooo tasty!
Sitting in the Caffé La Fortezza, they brought us a map of the wineries in the area (that would have been handy yesterday…) and info on Montalcino wines. Brunello wines only get better with aging – 10 to 30 years. They age in oak casks for two years, then in bottles for four months (Riserva six months), they’re only available for sale five years after the harvest year (six for Riserva) and wines can only be sold in a Bordeaux type bottle. I think we might put our two bottles of Brunello away and drink on our five and ten year anniversaries.
We went back to Grapolla Blu for dinner for fresh pasta. We both had Tingi pasta – which is a thick spaghetti type pasta. Mine was with cherry tomato, garlic, basil and olive oil. Kelly’s was meat sauce. They were both excellent, but mine was better. We had that with a bottle of Chianti Riserva and Kelly finished it off with a chocolate soufflé.
Do you think that Lindsay Lohan can move over and make room for us in detox? We need it for wine, gelato, pizza, pasta – we’ve OD’d on it all. We haven’t tried Grappa yet so we may need to add that to the list soon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Montalcino - October 20, 2010

Robert cooked us a lovely breakfast of cheese omelette and eggs, sunny side up, I started with the omelette and my clean-up crew ate the balance. Very creamy and flavourful cheese. Leslie picked us up from our B&B around 9:30 to take us back to her place for the cooking class. We had two other people in our class, Mike and Jane, from San Francisco (originally from Ohio). They were a very nice couple who had eight kids between them –that’s a lot a kids a. We started the cooking class by making the Tiramisu so it could chill. I’ve never made Tiramisu, but it was really easy and quick. Next, we made the dough for the ravioli. This is what I was most interested in learning - what the consistency was of proper pasta dough. Check. We did some cutting and chopping for various dishes, and in the end, here’s what we made: Bruschetta, Crostini Toscani (chicken liver, anchovies, capers), Goats Cheese & Onion Savoury Tart, Ravioli stuffed with spinach & ricotta served with fresh sage & butter, Saltimbocca /Involtini (prosciutto, sage & garlic); Peas and Pancetta and dessert, Tiramisu.  We had a fun time cutting, chopping, rolling, kneading, mixing and chatting with Mike, Jane, Leslie and the Italian nameless chef woman. The Italian chef threw out the occasional “perfecto!” when we did things right and when someone didn’t do it right, she was saying “Leslie!” She didn’t speak any English so you just waited for her to gesture to stop as pouring olive oil. I got a good head nod on my pasta kneading. Heel of the hand, roll toward yourself and repeat. Then flip and repeat. See? I got it.
Once we prepared all of our food, it was time to eat our creations (or our demise….). Everything was great. I was a little sceptical about how our egg whites would whip after watching Jane separate the eggs. She did a one-pass of the yolk/white then tossed the yolk with part of the egg white in the dish. Noooooooo! Anyone that bakes knows that if you’re separating eggs (and you want your baking to turn out), you don’t let any whites in with the yolk. Yeah, she didn’t care. I bit my tongue, while she was picking egg shells out of the dish, and hoped for the best. In the end, it whipped up just fine and the Tiramisu was good. The worlds obviously shifted today.
Around 3pm, Leslie drove us back to our B&B. We decided to stroll around Montalcino and headed out. We took a number of pictures (I think we’re at around 700 for the trip already) and after a bit, got thirsty so we stopped at a wine shop. They had tastings there – over 100 bottles – but it was set up to stick in a card and press the button to get the pour from the bottle selected. Of course, the more expensive the wine, the more expensive the tasting. It was about 1/10 of the price of the bottle per tasting so it could get pretty expensive with the Brunello wines. We drank about five tastings then decided to go find a café to sit down and enjoy a whole bottle. We went to Caffé Fortezza and ordered a bottle of 2004 La Fortuna Brunello. They decanted the wine and brought us a plate of bread with cheese and salami, which were yummy.  Later, they brought more bread with olive oil and tomato – all gratis, which is rare in Italy.
It was only about 7:30pm now and we weren’t hungry for dinner, but we didn’t feel like sitting at the B&B either so we went on to find another place to have a bottle of wine and maybe some pizza. Low and behold, we found a pizzeria by our B&B. We had another Brunello wine and a pepperoni & sausage pizza. We’ve now upped the daily quote of wine by having 2+ bottles today. Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Montalcino - October 19, 2010

So for some reason, our hotel in Sorrento as well as Rome didn’t have an alarm clock (or any clock for that matter) in the room. What is this, Vegas? So we asked the front desk for a wake-up call for 7am but we were sceptical and didn’t want to miss our 8:10 ferry so I left the iPhone charged in over -night and set the alarm. Over charging anything with the adapter scares me as it gets a bit hot, but I risked my third arm (yes, my phone). We both woke up way before the alarm anyway and were downstairs eating our hotel breakfast of yogurt and a roll with cappuccino. Let me rephrase, I was eating, Kelly was still full from dinner. I convinced him to have a yogurt to help with digestion. Another Princess Cruise ship in the port again but they weren’t going to get us today! We jumped on that ferry to Naples before they could swarm. Flee! Flee! Flee! I was surprised at how many people were commuting to Naples and especially considering Naples has one third unemployment. We found the taxi stand at the port and encountered a heated argument between two cabbies. A lot of yelling and arm waving. I think someone’s fare got taken. We grabbed a cab and headed to the train station. Half way through the ride, when I noticed that people walk right up to the cab window, I locked my door and had Kelly do the same. They were, of course, only waiting to jaywalk but it was disturbing nonetheless. We made it to the train station without incident and bought our tickets. Kelly pointed out a couple of stray dogs having a nap in the station so I had to go give them an ear rub. The female was enjoying it but the male was scared and walked away.
Waiting at the train station, we kept hearing this Kinder Bueno commercial with that stupid Tal Bachman song being played over and over and over. I must send a nasty note to either Kinder or Tal when we get home…. Our train to Chiusi took us back to Rome and was a bit sketchy. I guess that’s why people pay the higher train prices. It’s not just for speed. The guy walking through selling watches hidden in his newspaper was interesting but the next dude selling socks was a nice touch. At least they appeared to be new and not taken from some poor, unsuspecting sleeping tourist. The dude sitting next to Kelly in our car was looking at me and making me uncomfortable. Not terribly, but enough so that when he wasn’t looking, I moved my necklace pendant to the back of my neck and kept my rings under my bag. We made it to Chiusi unscathed and as usual, I couldn’t find the WC (turns out it was on the train platform) so that meant, beer time. Had an ok spinach and mozzarella panini and a Moretti. Yes, that’s right, Kelly’s eating again.
I’ve sure noticed a lot of Hello Kitty paraphernalia everywhere we go. I didn’t realize it was so popular here. They have whole stores devoted just to the Kitty.
Our train to Siena was a two car commuter train but more comfortable that the others we’ve been on. An hour and a half ride then time to find the Avis rental car. I expected to see graffiti on the trees given the previous train trips. We arrived in Siena and headed to the Avis rental outlet via taxi. The old guy running the show didn’t seem to know how to work the mysterious box in front of him so he called a younger guy into the office to work the computer. He arrived about 10 or 15 minutes later, set up our reservation then took off again. We’re now cruising around in a VW Golf with Mario Andretti and his side kick. We followed the map properly to the first arch but instead of taking the left to get to the second arch, we kept going straight. Hmm, Kel, I think we’re going the wrong way. Can you turn around? Eventually, we get to a traffic circle and I see another sign to S22 so we go that way. We pass a sign, leaving Siena. Then another for entering Siena and shortly followed by leaving Siena. Guess we went the long way? We made it to the S22 and head towards Montalcino but getting into this town was also an adventure. The directions I had from the caretakers of the B&B were to head into the town and curve left, park in front of the realty office. Well, there’s more than one entrance and we go in and head left. Nope, that wasn’t it. Go back. Then we end up back on the little highway. Turn around. Finally, we get to the right entrance but don’t see a street sign or realty office. We end up parking and walk around to see if we can find it. No luck so we ask a local lady who speaks to us in Italian and is making walking gestures to two big steps. I think she was saying it’s the cross street of I-don’t-knowa and over-therea. So we nod our heads and go up the street. I spot the B&B, Palazzina Cesira, as we’re heading back to move the car since we were in a 15minute parking zone (and as it turns out, right in front of the cop shop so parking tickets are a given). We went back to the car, moved it up a few spots and headed back to the B&B to get the directions and parking pass to the parking lot.
Kelly went to park the car (and got lost, but we won’t dwell on that) and I sat chatting with the lovely owners, Lucilla and Robert. Our room is very spacious and lovely – and opens with a skeleton key. Lucilla gave us a great recommendation for dinner so we headed out to Tavern ail Grappolo Blu and had bruschetta, tomato salad and pasta. Kelly had ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta and I had small shells with peas, bacon and hot chillies. Both were great. I made a faux pas by sprinkling parmesan on my pasta. The owner came by and shook his head at me and said that it would ruin and dull the flavour of my pasta. Well, too late. Not sure if the parmesan changed the taste much as I only sprinkled a bit, but I thought it was good. We walked back to the B&B and stopped at a bakery that was still open to get a cannoli. It was good, but not as good as the one we had in Positano. We’re now on a mission to try cannolis, as well as gelato (the gelato place was closed by the time we came back). We’re back on track to having one bottle of wine a night since we caught up with two bottles yesterday, in case you were counting (and how dare you count). We have breakfast scheduled for 8:30am tomorrow – Lucilla takes your order the day before and is making us an omelette and eggs. I noticed this room doesn’t have a clock either. Ok, what’s the conspiracy and why didn’t anyone fill us in? I would have brought a travel alarm clock had I known. We head out at 9:45 tomorrow for our cooking class. Can’t wait!

Sorrento & Positano - October 18, 2010

We’re happy to report that Sleepless in Sorrento didn’t have a sequel. We slept ok last night. Kelly started the morning watching Tom & Jerry while I showered. Those kids get into the same mischief in Italian. I think I had a quince at breakfast. The server said it was a cactus fruit, but it didn’t have the bumps so I doubt it. Regardless, it was tasty – kind of a hard pear/apple combo. There was a British couple sitting next to us and what an interesting conversation they started out with. Talking about needing some roughage. Super – here, gnaw on a prune. After breakfast, we wandered across the street to buy our ferry tickets to Positano. Yay! There’s a sailing today, but not until 11am. We hung about the pier and I went to play with the kitties again. There’s one teeny tiny little runt of the liter that’s about a third of the size of his brothers and sisters and only has half his tail. Not to mention he’s skinny as heck and has a bad infection in his right eye. I think he may be blind in that eye L Poor little guy! I want to take him home and nurse him back to health but mean Kelly won’t let me. Someone left some dry kibble for the cats today, which is good. All the cats could use a good dose of deworming though as they’re really thin. I want to take them all home.
At about 10:30 we wandered over to our dock only to be told that it was too rough out and there would be no sailing today. Boo! Well that wasn’t going to deter us. On foot we go back up the big hill to the town centre and from there, we’ll walk to the train/bus station. We head out in the right direction but then we walk off the map. Hmm, well, let’s keep going to the left. When we passed the garbage dump (Kelly takes me to the nicest places), I asked Mr. Mapquest if he knew where we were. Ah, no. I see. So when were you planning on telling that? You’re going to lose your Mapquest status, mister…. So Kelly asks a nice local where we are in relation to the train station. He points down the hill and says to turn left. Excellent. Off we go down the hill. When we get to the corner, no sign of the train/bus station or any signs. Mapquest asks another dude and he says we’re a block away. More excellent. And he was right. We got our bus tickets and now wait for the 12:15 bus. Time to find the washroom as those cappuccinos we had at breakfast are making me cross my legs. One problem, without a train ticket, you can’t use the washroom as it’s on that side of the tracks. Never thought that’s what it meant to be on the wrong side of the tracks. So to compound the problem, I suggest we had a beer while we wait. I never said I was smart. Kelly played some Italian slot machine at the station, but didn’t win.
We got on the packed bus to Positano and it’s amazing that the bus drivers can get through the narrow, windy streets. At one point, the bus coming toward us and our bus both were in a dead stop inching past each other – and they did it without hitting each other or any cars/scooters parked on the side of the windy cliff. I’ve noticed a lot more damage on the vehicles and scooters here than in Rome and the Romans drive a lot crazier. Mind you if you’re on a scooter here, the middle of the road is yours and you pass everybody. The near misses are common and don’t seem to faze the driver of the scooter or the vehicle.
We arrived in Positano to a beautiful, sunny day and headed down the hill to the beach – about a 15 minute walk. We picked a restaurant on the water, Ristorante La Pergola, and I left Kelly to order so those cappuccinos and beer could make a departure. You ha d to grab a swipe card from the hostess to use the washroom. So you’d think that the washrooms would be in good shape. They were clean, but without toilet seats. What the? Happy perching. I won’t bother telling you what we had for lunch as we didn’t switch it up today. After lunch Kelly went and stuck his feet in the Mediterranean. From the OH MY GOD look on his face, I’d say it was chilly. It started to cloud over as soon as we sat down for lunch and more clouds were rolling in. We walked into a few stores and I petted some more cats, but then decided to grab the next bus back as it looked like rain and we didn’t bring jackets. We had another downpour last night but luckily, we were back in the room by then. It reminds me of the monsoon rains in the Caribbean. We headed back up the hill and stopped to share a cannoli. Oh my, that was yummy! We grabbed our bus tickets and the next bus was coming at 3:10. It’s 3:00 now and we’re at least 300 yards downhill – haul ass baby! We got to the bus stop with 5 minutes to spare and I think I worked off my bites of the cannoli. 
We made it back to Sorrento and grabbed a bottle of Valpolicella and some bread sticks and headed back to the room. A little precursor to dinner.
We read about Il Buco, which is a restaurant in the basement of an old monastery. We didn’t have reservations so we could only sit outside in the courtyard. Still a nice, sort of private setting. They poured us each a glass of champagne and brought a mozzarella and ham taster. Very nice. The menu was either a set menu of 9, 6 or 3 courses or you could order off the menu. Kelly went for the 6 courses with an improvisation on the seafood choices. Are you ready for what he had? And just so you know, it wasn’t a tasting portion of the courses – they were full size dishes.  First course: buffalo mozzarella rolled in tomato bread crumbs and fried, fresh buffalo mozzarella with tomato, cheese mousse and cheese yogurt. Second course: Beef carpaccio and beef tartar with three different sauces. Third course: gnocchi with lamb ragu and sausage. Fourth course: Linguine with artichoke and lemon zest. Fifth course:  Chicken rolled around vegetables. Sixth course: Dessert – which was sort of like a bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and chocolate. Holy crap, that was a lot of food and all of it, delicious. I got a taste of most of it. I had a starter of calamari, which was so fresh and just drizzled with olive oil and placed on bread and tomatoes – apparently the way the old Romans ate it. Then I had seafood pasta which was lovely. We were serenaded by a guy with a lovely voice. He did three songs and I’ll let you guess what the last song was… yup, Whennnnn the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore. You know that every English speaking person just loves that song. Right. We shared a bottle of Masi Amarone and other than the spillage I got on the table (whilst reaching for one of the 6 kinds of dinner rolls), we drank every last drop. Oh and before Kelly’s dessert arrived, they brought a taster of ricotta and chocolate mousse. Very nice. They brought us each a glass of chilled Limoncello and a plate with hazelnut brittle, chocolate cookie, chocolate cream puff and shortbread - just because we hadn’t eaten enough yet. Kelly ordered a latte and declared after dinner, “I don’t think I should have had that latte, I’m really full now”. Ya think? We walked the 173 stairs back to the hotel for the last time (yes, we counted them) and are heading to bed fat and happy. I’m writing this at 8:10am the following day and Kelly is still full. I may not have to feed him for the rest of the trip! I have no sense of what the day or date is, I just count sleeps in each hotel. There are three for each place except for Florence and we’re on number three in Sorrento so it must mean we depart tomorrow.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sorrento & Capri - October 17, 2010

We both had a crappy sleep last night – definitely not a Westin heavenly bed. More like an Il Faro lumpy special.  Heard someone wheeling their luggage down the hall around 4am, street cleaners at 6am and could have swore I heard a plane. While we were sleeping, three cruise ships snuck into port. We woke to find gaggles of touri milling about everywhere. Ahhhhh! My parent’s people were invading Capri today so we thought we’d go to Positano. Unfortunately, there were no sailings to Positano as the waves were quite big today. So we figured we’d tough it out and go to Capri with 10,000 of our closest cruising pals. Kelly even dressed the part in his Tilley pants and top. He wouldn’t go for the floppy hat though. Spoil sport.
We grab some tickets to Capri and the impatient teller keeps yelling Prego! Prego! Geez, do I look chunky in these pants? Oh, it means you’re welcome. It must have another meaning too because she was using it to hurry along the people in front of us so we could buy tickets.
Lots of stray cats milling about the ferry terminal. Looks like someone fed them some fish, though. I had to get in a few pets with a couple of kittens. Very tame and cute. It’s no dog lovin’, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances. Ferry ride to Capri was a bit rough, but no projectile vomiting on board so all was well. Got off the boat and had a beer. It was almost noon I’ll have you know. Do you know that we went a day without an espresso or a gelato yesterday? I know. Crazy talk. Well we remedied the gelato fiasco today but have to say, it wasn’t as good as San Crispino’s. We took the funicolare (tram) up the hill for 1,40 euros – in comparison, our train ticket from Naples to Sorrento was 3,40 on the graffiti express. Took some beautiful pictures of the view and my favourite - down alleys, paths, up stairs and the odd beautiful door. Our travels took us off the beaten path, however, and it wasn’t until I suggested to Gulliver Burbidge that he ask the local guy going into his house to find out where we were. Turns out we’d walked to the opposite side of the island from the ferry terminal. Well we had a nice walk and got some great pictures. So back up the hill we went and took the tram back down. The only thing I bought was a soap dish from a local artist. He had some nice pieces in there that were unique – unlike every other tourist trap we walked past. Every high end designer you could think of had a shop there too. Not that we went in those stores. They would have pooh pooh’d us.
Came back to Sorrento late afternoon and browsed through the shops by our hotel. Big rip off. Probably to get the people going back to the cruise ships who don’t have time to go up to the Piazza. One of the restaurants around the corner advertised beach seating… they had two tables for two plunked in the sand. Hope the tide doesn’t come in. The corner store sold sandwiches and one of the more interesting one was a Panini with chicken strips and fries in it. Really? Who would eat that.
Per usual, we were parched so we went up to the Piazza for a beer and a snack. Ended up having a prosciutto and funghi pizza to share. Big surprise, more pizza. This restaurant didn’t have a service charge, which the one last night and another restaurant we checked out did. Not sure what the service charge is for. It’s not like you actually get much service. Other than the first pour of wine, you’re on your own. And no one comes back to make sure you’re enjoying your meal. Eat up, people. Sitting at a table two down from us were some cruisers from England. It was like Coronation Street in front of us – the woman was drinking her wine and smoking with the same hand just like Deidre. Her friend was wearing a tiara. Fitting.
After our pizza, we went to walk around and shop again. I found a nice red purse, basil, oregano, limoncello and 8 year old balsamic vinegar. Kelly got a sweet deal on silk ties – 5 for 15 Euro. Nice patterns too. We weren’t hungry for dinner, but there’s always room for gelato. Kelly somehow spotted a place from the opposite side of the store. Someone has x-ray vision, Super-gelato-man. Place called Davide and it was good. I had a dark chocolate (and it was dark) and something that was a Sicilian something or other that I couldn’t distinguish. Kelly had caramel and black cherry ripple. Both really good. We grabbed a couple of large Peroni’s and headed back to the room. Kelly’s watching Columbo in Italian. Guess you don’t need English dialog to figure out the plot. Tomorrow, hopefully the boats are running to Positano. Ciao.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sorrento - October 16, 2010

We set out this morning to find another power adapter for my trusty little Samsung  notebook – it’s one of those three prong thingies and my other adapter is only for 2 prongs. Technical, I know. So we head down the Bermuda triangle again but no luck on the adapter or the tie for that matter. And yes, we’ve now officially given up and Kelly has learned a very valuable shopping lesson that only women know. Buy it when you see it. Let me repeat, if you like it, buy it when you see it. I think he knows now. We check out of the Westin Excelsior and head toward the Metro to get to the train station. Kelly actually found an adapter for my computer – in the same store at you could buy pistols, knives, swords and bongs. Bongs? Yes, bongs. Nothing like a good hit of crack before you hop on a plane? Uneventful train ride to Naples. Once we got into Naples, we had to go a few blocks to the Circumvesuviana, which is the local train. Kind of like their above ground Metro I think. Originally, we were thinking about going to Naples for a day trip but neither of us saw anything worth coming back for. Maybe that’s not fair as we’re just judging the grungy walk around the train station, but I think we’ll stay in Sorrento, Capri and Positano for our three days here. The only real reason we wanted to go to Naples was to try what’s supposed to be amazing pizza at Pizeria da Michele. I think we’ll survive without it (well, hopefully Kelly will.)
The train to Sorrento stopped at about 25 stations before we got here, which is the end of the line. Lots of graffiti and tagging all around the station and everyone hangs their wash off the balcony. Mind you, I didn’t see any unmentionables waving in the wind, just mentionables. Maybe we’ll take the water taxi back to Naples and grab a cab to the train station. Less graffiti in the water.
We’re staying at the Hotel Il Faro in Sorrento, which is on the water and mere steps from the ferry to Capri and Naples. I thought the elevator at the Wesitn in Rome was tiny – this one barely fit our two suitcases and us. Our room is also pretty small but that’s ok, we don’t plan on staying in the room much. Nice water view from our hotel. They brought us our free bottle of wine. Not exactly the best swill I’ve had but c’est la vie. We headed out to check out the stores in the town centre –up about 100 stairs. The calves say thank you. I bought three scarves for 5 euro and necklace for 12. Learned my lesson from the Rome Bermuda triangle. We were in another store when it started to pour. And I mean pour. Buckets of rain coming down and all the smart locals were hiding. Us, on the other hand, we headed out to look for a restaurant recommended by Trip Advisors. Kelly Mapquest Burbidge said that it was just up hill (in the pouring rain) a few blocks. Up we go. Nadda. We stop and ask for directions – go back from once we came and ½ a block to the right. We find the restaurant only to have them tell us that 6:15 is too early. Go away. Can we stay and have a drink? No. Sigh. Ok, so we go find a restaurant that’s open. Kelly’s ravioli and chicken wasn’t bad but my pork was very tough Perhaps previously frozen like last night’s veal. Oh well. Interesting that no restaurant server has poured us more than our first glass of wine or asked us about how our dinner was. I ate about 1/3 of my pork but that must be the norm. We thought we’d head out to a bar and have some grappa but couldn’t find one nearby and I was freezing as my jacket was still soaked as were my jeans. So we stopped at a store and grabbed two large Peroni to drink back at the hotel. I sat in the washroom with my beer perched on the bidet blow drying my jeans. The hair dryer is something else – it looks like a vacuum hose. Now I’m downstairs in the lobby to post as the WiFi in the room isn’t working (apparently due to the weather). Tomorrow, weather permitting, I think we’ll head to Capri. Hope it’s nice out!

Rome - October 15, 2010

We covered a lot of ground yesterday and we’re both feeling it a bit today. Mostly in the calves – we climbed a lot of stairs – and for me, my hip flexors. Oh well, power on baby! (p.s. we’re old)
So thanks to me being an idiot and leaving our train tickets at home, we start the day at the train station to see what we can do about reprinting the tickets. Well actually, let me back that up. I asked our concierge last night, while showing him my Rail Europe receipt, if he thought we could go to the train station to get new tickets printed. Oh sure, he says. Ya huh.  Well, the answer was no. Nobody at the train station cared to talk to us. In the interim, I’d emailed Rail Europe to see if they could send me an email code to print off the tickets. They’re based in New York so later in the day, they respond and tell me, no, you need your paper tickets to do anything. Sorry. Wait, so we have our name on the reservation for two specific seats on various trains but you can’t cancel them and reissue new tickets or send us the e-ticket? Nope. Sorry.  But here’s a copy of the reservation – try at the station but don’t hold your breath. Well good thing I wasn’t holding it in because they too didn’t give us any better news. You need your ticket to make a change so guess what? You get to buy new tickets. We even threw in “but we’re on our honeymoon!” Yeah, that’s nice. Move it along blondie. Well that blonde move cost $400. Boo!
Anyway, nothing we can do about it now so after the train station, we head to the Colosseum . We stop for lunch – two espressos and two mystery sandwiches. I picked one with nice looking tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. Imagine my surprise when they brought it out and said “hamburger? Oh, I guess that’s mine. Mmmm tasty microwaved meat patty.
And now we’re off to the Colosseum. Amazing to be walking down a busy street and see this structure. Surreal. This time we get in after about a 40 minute line up. Hmm, no mention on any of the wall posters about the lions or gladiators. Do you think they want to forget that part? Well bully on you because I’m pretty sure I found a lion’s tooth, or maybe It was a petrified piece of gum – well no matter, I’m saying it was a tooth. Roar. All joking aside, what an amazing site. That it’s still standing is astounding to me. I was surprised how steep the stairs were. Didn’t those Romans have short little legs?
Now off to the Vatican on the Metro. The accordion player on the Metro with his kid (not a monkey) collecting coin was a unique touch. I’ve always thought that there wasn’t quite enough busking on the Canada Line…. And there were some street vendors selling some LV purses outside. Yes, whenever I think about where to buy an LV purse, the Vatican comes to mind. We follow the crowds and take a bunch of pictures outside, go through security but when we get to the next checkpoint, denied! I’m wearing shorts – go away you hussy. Now this one I blame on Rick Steeves because his book said if you were wearing short shorts you wouldn’t get in. These were not  short shorts! There were women there with shorter skirts. But with a flick of the hand, we were shunned. So, bone-ass move #2 for me today. Sorry Kelly.  Back on the train we go. Noticed that there is no “mind the gap” signs or “scusi de gap”. Guess they don’t care if you drop stuff in the gaps here. To make things better, on the way back we stop at San Crispino’s for more gelato (visit to Trevi #4). This time I had a whiskey and pear gelato. Both excellent. Kelly had honey and banana,
On the way back to the hotel, we stop for pizza and beer. Surprise, I know. Not bad pizza. Then we try to find the elusive store that had the nice ties and pashminas. It’s like the freaking Bermuda triangle. We’ve retraced our steps about five times and can’t find this store!
The parking in Rome is interesting. Sidewalk? No matter, I’ll park here. You’re parked in the parking stall? That’s ok, I’ll park behind you and block two of you in. Amazing that you don’t hear any whatza commin a go expletives from people getting boxed in. Didn’t see any car accidents or pedestrian mishaps either. Amazing since everyone drives like a lunatic and pedestrian walk everywhere.
For dinner, we go to my parent’s favourite, Don Chisciotte, and I have the scaloppini with funghi and Kelly had the rigatoni with lamb. After diner, Kelly mentions gelato…. Ok, so off to San Crispino’s again we go (visit to Trevi #5). We still can’t find the Bermuda triangle store but we certainly know where San Crispino’s is now. I get a different whiskey and a mandarin orange sorbet, Kelly got apple sorbet and creama. We stand in front of the fountain eating our gelato and telling the locals no, we don’t want our picture taken. I said NO, we don’t want our picture taken. Toss a coin in the fountain for luck then head out. Half way home, Kelly asks if we should go for a beer. Well who am I to say no? We end up back at the Spanish Steps and drinking a Pernoi sitting with about 100 other people. Nice way to end the night. And now we’re back at the room, setting the alarm for tomorrow so we don’t miss the train we’ve paid for twice…
Oh and before I sign off, I have to rant about my hair. Yesterday, I plug in my straight iron in the convertor and even though the iron is off, the iron is on and gets really, really hot. When I put it on my hair, it sizzles! Oh, this can’t be good. After a couple of swipes, I stop. I think I fried my hair. Oh crap. This morning, after I shower, I blow dry my hair then try the flat iron in the bedroom. It seems to be going ok – until the smoke alarm goes off! It must have been omitting some steam. Kelly had to call the front desk to get the stupid thing to stop. My hair feels like straw. Part of it is the soft water and that the shampoo and conditioner don’t seem to rinse out. The other part is obvious, I think I baked my hair. Oh my…. Deep conditioning (or a haircut() when I get home.
Well Mr. Snores –a-lot is sawing logs again (this time on the settee…) so off we go. Tomorrow, Sorrento!

Rome - October 14, 2010

Went to bed last night around 11pm local time and woke up at 4am. That was a bit early to be awake so eventually, we fell back asleep again – only to wake up at 11am. Whoops! We thought it was about 7am. Guess not. Checked my work BlackBerry and no service… only SOS. Hmm, and no WiFi or Internet in the hotel without paying 30Euro per day. Thinking not. So once we got our wheels in gear, we headed to the Colosseum. Even though it’s not the busy season, there are gaggles of tourist (or touri as I fondly call them) everywhere. Lots of groups are wearing distinctive markers like scarves or identical t-shirts (aww, how cute – puke). My favourite by far was the group in the orange traffic vests. Once they’re done their tour, they can step out and direct traffic or empty some garbage bins. How very fashionable! Speaking of fashion, everyone sure is dressed well here. No teenage boys with their pants hanging around their butt crack with their Calvin’s showing. Not that it isn’t fashionable,,,, 
Trevi Fountain
On the way to the Colosseum, we stopped at the Trevi Fountain. It was raining a bit, but still, lots of people. After that, we stopped for a pizza lunch. I had funghi pizza and Kelly had two pieces, one sausage and one pepperoni. He determined that my pizza was better than his.

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele
Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele

We stopped at the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II and took about 100 pictures of big horses and other things. We passed by the Forum, which I didn’t know was still in ruins. Then off to Rogers Arena, I mean, the Colosseum we go. Little did we know that there was a strike (not sure why, maybe because it was Thursday) so they closed at 2pm. Guess what time we arrived? Yup, about 2:05. So we walked around it and will go back tomorrow to see the inside (well, unless there’s a Friday strike). So off we went on a walk around Rome. A few minutes in, Kelly pronounces “uh, I think I lost the map”. Hmm. Ok, we’re winging it.  So we head out, we end up stopping for an espresso then a beer (it was 5 o’clock somewhere). Kelly pulls out the Rick Steeves book and declares, hmm, I think we’re in the Ghetto. Sure enough, we’re in the Jewish Ghetto. Oh well. Other than the homeless guy aggressively licking the plastic container that held a sandwich, it was pretty tame.
By this time, we’d seen, oh, about 20 monuments. As Kelly put it, it’s like Bob Villa’s This Old Monument. Lots of construction going on. We’ve also figured out the cross walks. They’re mere suggestions for the drivers so you edge out… hey, you gonna stop? It’s a bit like the hokey pokey – you put your right foot in, pull your right foot out, put your right foot in and if it doesn’t get run over, shake it all about all the way across the street. A bit like a Frogger game now darting and weaving. Power on, baby.
Largo Argentina
Sans map, we forge on. Kelly says he knows where we’re going. I’m sceptical, but off we go. We see a map at a bus stop and head towards Circus Maximus. Turns  out, that’s just a vacant field now. Cordoned out, but nothing to see. Next.  We go to Largo Argentina, which professes to have free WiFi. Excellent, since I’ve dragged my laptop around all day. Liars. No free WiFi. But we took pictures of the ruins and for some reason, there are lots of kitty cats hanging out in the ruins. Tons of them.
Pantheon McDonald's - really?

Now off to the Pantheon. Lots of dead people in there. Man, I’m naïve, I didn’t know it was a mausoleum. More construction going on outside, but beautiful inside. And lots of rent a Pope outfit stores around. You don’t see many of those in Vancouver. After the Pantheon, we decide to do Rick Steeves; walking tour to head to the Spanish Steps. Every time we passed someone with a map, I suggested to Kelly, psssst, steal their map! But he wouldn’t. Ah come on, you’ll fit right in with the Rome crowd. But nooooo, he won’t grab it. Until we pass a sidewalk café that has maps as their place mat. We pulled a stealth (well, not so stealth) move and grabbed a map. So we head toward the Trevi Fountain again so we could go to San Crispino gelato (famous from Eat Love Pray). We finally figure out where we are in the map (I believe we stepped into the map a la Joey Tribianni) and went to find “the little narrow side street near Trevi – Via della Panettieria”. Hmm., let’s head to the right. Now a left  and presto! Blonde Girl finds the street a la gelato. Mind you, we walked right past San Crispino and when we hit Burger King (yes, really), we headed back. It was worth the trip. We both had two flavours – Kelly had caramel and rum/cocoa. I had a tangy lemon sorbet and a honey gelato. Yummmm! They were all excellent. Definitely worth finding. (note: this is trip # 2 to Trevi Fountain).
Spanish Steps
Spanish Steps
Spanish Steps

Next stop, Spanish Steps. On our way, we recognize a street we passed this morning that had a nice Italian silk tie for 10 Euros (footnote, I told Kelly to buy it but he didn’t). So let’s go down a few blocks and see if we find it. Nope. But visit to Trevi Fountain #3. We’re regulars now. Let’s whip out that map. Oh, a short cut to the Spanish Steps…. Super… I have 100% confidence in this move. But eventually, we do make it there. Some dude tried to hand me three red roses saying they were “for luck”. I kept declining but he insisted. So finally, I took them. Of course, the dude kept following us around and finally asked for money. So, of course, I gave him his roses back. It’s not like I wanted to carry them around all night. Up the stairs we go. Once we get to the top, a little parched and low and behold, there’s a street vendor. Two Moretti, please. Walking down the street and drinking beer, I love Rome!
On our way back, we stop for dinner at La Botte Osteria Pizzeria. Very good – we had  tomato & basil bruschetta then Kelly had lasagna classica alla bolognese; and I had fettuccine al ragu (minced meat & tomato sauce). The house wine wasn’t anything to write home about, but ok. There was a LOUD female tour group from Mississippi in the house. The chick behind us declared; “The Olive Garden is the only Italian restaurant we have back home”. Oh my. The table to the right of us was LOUD LOUD LOUD and when the group left, there was a lot of laughter by the staff and the French family beside us. Hi, we’re Canadian, we’re not with them… During dinner, it occurs to me that I left our train tickets at home. Oh man, I left our train tickets at home. Ahhhhh! Well at least I have the confirmation number so off to the train station tomorrow to see if they can reprint the tickets as we have them booked for each leg of our travel. Stupid blonde girl. Sigh…

Now back to the room to finish off the bottle of Chianti and watching the first thing in English Kelly found on TV – some Nick Cage movie. Tomorrow, (side trip to the train) then Colosseum again and finally, to the Vatican. We’re going to walk to the Colosseum (about 45 mins) then try the Metro to the Vatican. Wish us luck!