Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 15: Florence

We cannot believe that today was our last day on the honeymoon...our first day in Paris seems so foreign already, and whereas we are happy to go home (which we decided was a good sign that we actually like our real lives!), we have truly had a wonderful experience and as Beebs has encouraged, made lots of good memories!

Our last day began with the best breakfast we have had on this trip right here in our very own Hilton. Eggs, bacon, waffles, and more! Today would be the first day in a long time where the first meal of the day was NOT lunch! We caught our bus and headed towards beautiful Florence. Destination = the Duomo. But first, a quick pit stop at the market to buy a scarf to cover my shoulders so that I was actually allowed into the cathedral. Kicking myself because I had packed numerous cardigans for this very purpose, I picked out another 3 scarves (more gifts!) and reminded myself that only a crazy person would have thought to pack a cardigan in this heat! We said goodbye to the market and hello to the spectacular Duomo! I vote this my favorite cathedral that we've seen, mainly because of the extensive, detailed exterior. We made it inside after only a brief wait, and I was relieved that we had, in fact, gone to get the scarf once I saw the ridiculous coverings that looked like massive versions of the bibs you have to wear at the dentist office given to the girls who were showing a) shoulders b) too much leg or c) both! We toured the inside, snapped more pics, and decided that visiting the top of the dome would be fun and give a scenic view of Florence. However, the line was super long and hardly moved in the 20 minutes that we waited before we called it quits and headed for lunch. We decided to put the 16 euros that we saved towards our "going out" feast we were planning for our last meal in Italy later that evening. Ryan had recommended a restaurant called Aqua al Due that we wanted to try, but it was only open for dinner, so we settled on the Il Barroccio restaurant down the street. We both ordered their light fare, which included lasagna, a side item (fries for Kyle, salad for me), and our staple Tiaramasu for 8 euros. Again, another great meal in Italy!

Following lunch, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio, perusing the works of the local artists and other stores along the way. We were in search of a nice cafe where we could spend an afternoon reading in the shade with a scenic view, and we found the perfect place! Piazzale Michelangelo overlooks Florence and is a perfect place to spend an afternoon if you're willing to make the hike up the countless stairs to get there! And it is entirely worth it! We spent time at the very top looking out over EVERYTHING in Florence and then went down 1 set of steps to a cute cafe called Moka Efti, where we sat with yet another beautiful view, sipping Cappucino Freddos and beer...gorgeous and delicious! After a while, we retired down the hill and found another perfect place to read and people watch on a park bench across from the river. Kyle finished The History of Love in perfect time for me to read in on the plane tomorrow, and we both agreed that Florence was another place where we could see ourselves living!

For dinner, we had wanted to go to a restaurant called Quattro Leoni but we didn't have a reservation and would have had to come back in an hour and a half, so we decided to cross back over the bridge and find another restaurant worthy of our last supper! And we did--a cute restaurant called La Antiche Carrozze where we proceeded to order 3 pasta dishes (penne fiorentina, spaghetti alla carbonara, and linguini with pesto) and share them all! Unfortunately, our eyes were bigger than our appetites, but we managed to make a good dent in them and savor our last meal of "real" Italian food! Luckily, we cut ourselves off early enough to save room for our last helping of Tiaramisu as well! We truly went out with a bang when it came to this meal!

Unfortunately, we had an extremely early morning ahead of us and lots of packing to do, so we had to head back to the hotel and prepare to head home. We could not have been more blessed with our honeymoon and are so excited to share our stories and photos with everyone!

Italy, you've been good to us, and we don't know how we can back to eating just a peanut butter sandwich for a meal, but luckily, on Friday, we'll start to recover with a piece of Ms. Becky's Kentucky Derby Pie!

Ciao, Europe!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 14: Rome to Florence

8:00am - Alarm goes off, "Let's sleep a little longer"

8:30am - Alarm goes off, "Let's sleep a little longer"

9:00am - Alarm goes off, "Let's sleep a little longer"

9:30am - Alarm goes off, "Alright, let's get up"

We checked out of the hotel and made the short, 10 minute walk to the train station in order to catch a train to our last stop on the honeymoon, Florence. When we arrive the line for reservations was as long as the line to the Vatican (not really, but close). If you don't know by now, EuroRail changed and you have to get seat reservations to go along with your ticket. If you didn't know don't worry because neither did we until after we were on our way to Lyon. Anyways, I stood in line while Laura waited on the side with our luggage (She's really good at this). After about 35 mintues or so I got reservations for the 12:15pm train to Florence. We had a little time so we grab a quick lunch at this great little cafe in the train station that served Happy Meals and McNuggets. I was told they have a few these scattered about the U.S. I must try it when we get back. We waited to board our train and when it arrived we fought the crowd to get into our car, are bags stored, and our butts in our seats.
During the ride Laura finished "The Book Thief" and as tears streamed down her face I knew she felt the same way that I did when I finished it in Nice. If you haven't read the book it is about a girl who learns to read and write with the books she steals while living in Nazi Germany. We both agreed it is our favorite book and we both cried heavily at the ending. It is a remarkable book and maybe even the greatest of our generation. We both recommend it to any book lovers who have not already read it.
We arrived in Florence admittedly tired, but still upbeat from what we heard of Florence. We took a taxi yet again to our hotel which was smart because our hotel is on the outside of town, but it is a Hilton and it is very nice. After gathering our thoughts we headed to the bus stop, where we found out we had to go back to the hotel to by bus tickets. When we finally figured it all out and we arrived in the city center it was 3:30pm. And, because it was such a hot day there were only two logical things to do. Swim in a pool or eat some refreshing gelato. So, we same in a pool of gelato. Laura's telling me this didn't actually happen and it is a figment of my imagination. Instead she says we went to "Grom" which is a gelato place Ryan suggested, which was near the Duomo. Laura and I both ordered dark chocolate and coffee gelato on a cone. It was certainly great, but not as good as Berthillion in Paris, sorry Rhino!

Next we headed to the Market so Laura could finish off my bank account! We found it with relative ease and wandered the streets looking for items. I don't want to give away what we got since there are presents for some family members, but we did manage to drop some dough. On the way into the market we passed Zaza's which was a restaurant that Ryan recommended and so did Lonely Planet and Frommer's. So, we made note of it and when we were done with our shopping we headed back to it. It had a hodgepodge decor with all sorts of stuff ranging from chandeliers and wine bottles to crazy art and pictures of celebrities when they visited the restaurant. It was pretty cool and we had a picture of Pavaratti gleaming down on us as we grubbed on old world style fettechini alfredo and lasagna, which we pretty much split. Really good stuff! No dessert tonight as we are getting near the end of our trip and the end of our budget. Plus, we had great gelato a few hours before. Laura and I calculated that today was the least amount we spent on food on the entire trip, yet it was a good eating day. After dinner we wondered the streets while the sun started to fade. We hopped on a bus and headed back to base camp for the evening. We were sweaty, tired, and itching for air conditioning. Tomorrow we will explore the city and spend our last night on this wonderful honeymoon. Until then ... sleep.

Lessons Learned Today:
1. "The Book Thief" is a tear-jerker, have tissues ready!
2. Florence is the Italian city I have been waiting for! Great streets, lovely cafes and good shopping.
3. Laura managed not to miss the big Loft sale today by shopping on-line. Laura Abrams (Yes Dave, this is your daughter, not one of my cousins) has been awarded the Shopper of the Decade Award by her husband.

Day 13: Rome

Wanting to delay facing the intense heat of yet another day in Rome, we did what we do best...slept in! But, we had yet to do the one major thing that we wanted to do in Rome (The Colosseum) and our tour bus ticket would expire at 12, so we rushed out the door and got to the bus for one last ride....with 30 minutes to spare! Upon arriving at the Colosseum, we decided to do the other thing that we do! Since we hadn't done breakfast, we decided an early lunch and an early dinner would be perfect. We found a cute little restaurant called Al Gladiatore where we could chow down while looking at the glorious Colosseum. The restaurant had a special where you could get garlic bread, a pizza, and a dessert for 12 dollars, so we both indulged-- Kyle choosing the Daviola pizza (spicy salami and mozzarella cheese) and a Margharita Pizza for me with 2 Tiramisu's for dessert (I apologize for butchering the spelling of all these food names!).

Delightfully full from our lunch we headed for our intended destination, and were excited to find out that if we did the audio tour (for just an additional $4.50) we could forego the 30-45 minute line wait! This benefitted us even more so because we were both really interested in the history of the Colosseum. Expecting the traditional headset we were surprised to find that we were instead, handed a phone to hold up to our ears where we could dial different numbers to coordinate with the different stops throughout. Very cool! The Colosseum was so impressive to see, and we learned lots of interesting facts. For instance, if you were a prisoner on death row, they'd throw you in to fight the gladiators with no armor or cruel! We decided that watching the movie Gladiator was a must-do once we got home!

Conveniently, the other stop on our agenda for the day was right across the street. We made our way up Palantine Hill and through the Roman Forum, where we could see more Roman ruins and get a spectacular view of Rome. We were particularly excited about the archeological dig that was taking place, which made us think of cousin Sarah! I wonder if they found anything interesting that day!

By this point we were hot and had sweated away the gobs of sunscreen applied earlier. We decided to freshen up at the hotel before grabbing dinner. Despite the fact that I was starving, it was reinforced once again that my 5:30 dinner time is not acceptable because all of the restaurants around us were not going to reopen after lunch until 7pm. We endured to tortuous wait (the things I'll do for Italian food!) and headed to an adorable little restaurant called Al Grappolo D'oro. Having seen a serving of Spaghetti Carbonara the night before, I decided to be brave and try something new, and Kyle tried another version of Gnocchi. Both were super delicious! We also ordered 2 different desserts, the ever-faithful Tiaramasu and a Hot Apple Cake that was recommended by the waiter. Now, before you start thinking that we are total pigs, I must remind you that in Italy, pasta is only considered the 1st course, usually followed by a second course of some kind of meat. Their pasta portions are much smaller here (which means that they're actually the perfect leftovers!), and it's usually expected that you order more...hence why they always reset the table after you eat the pasta. Kyle and I were never up for another course, but felt bad just leaving after pasta, so that's why we always ordered dessert! How convenient for all involved!

We retired back to our hotel after yet another lovely evening in Rome. We were sad that Rome was coming to an end, but super excited to head to Florence, which Ryan has dubbed the best city in Italy! Let's see if it lives up to it's reputation!

- Laura

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 12: Rome

Rome is hot! Not as hot as North Carolina I understand, but hot!

I personally need to recover emotionally from last night's devastating loss, and I think since we got here earlier we have been able to see more, so we slept in, got a late breakfast and headed out about 11:30. We walked up to the Republicca like we did yesterday and boarded the bus to go to the Trevi Fountains. We decided on the way that right after we saw the fountains we would find a cheap lunch and rest for a bit. However, the bus was stopping at a few different places because of the Sunday traffic changes they have every week. So instead of getting off near the fountains we got of near Plaza Barberini and started the trek down the hill to the fountains. We passed by a cute little restaurant called "Il Fontanella" with pizza for like 6 Euros and decided to go in and eat first. Laura ordered a Magherita pizza and I ordered one with Proscuitto. They were fresh out of the wood-fire oven, we could tell because of the blackened crust edges, and smelled wonderful.We munched on our pizza, watched the entertainment of a good server-customer argument that seemed to be a basic misunderstanding, and hydrated ourselves with two big bottles of water. We paid left and headed out ... in the wrong direction.

We walked for a little bit and ended up at the top of the Spanish Steps where we had been the previous day, but managed to get a few better pictures this time from the top. We mapped out our way to the fountains and set out ... in the right direction. When we arrived of the Trevi Fountains it was packed with tourists looking to have their picture taken just like us, so it was easy to find a couple that was willing to trade off taking pictures with us (This has been true of most of the places in Rome). If you have never seen these fountains they are quite remarkable. They portray Neptune, the Roman God of the Sea, and his two sons. One struggling to tame a SeaHorse (not the seahorse you are thinking of) and the other son having tamed a SeaHorse. It stands to show the two sides of the sea. When it is brash and tames you, and when it is calm and you tame it. We also witnessed a little kid being taken away from the fountain by his mom, and the kid was soaked and crying. We assume he fell in which makes me sad I missed it. Laura and I had a good chuckle at this. After the fountains we walked through the streets for a bit, not having down much of this because we have been riding the bus. We eventually wound our way to the Colosuem to jump on the bus to go Lucifer's Hideout a.k.a. Vatican City.

Did I mention it was hot? Laura and I consumed a good 3 liters of water today from lunch until we arrived at St. Peter's. When we did arrive we got off the bus and walked up the street a bit to the Mecca of Catholicism. We walked around a bit and took pictures, but decided to not go in. More because of the line than my unwillingness to give the Catholic Church my money. WARNING - Personal Political Statement - WARNING: The Pope is a moron and I wholeheartedly agree with Belgium's search of the Catholic HQ in Belgium. Anyways, because we had sweated off all the water we had consumed over the day we decided to head back to the hotel (it was about 5:00pm by this time).

We got back to the hotel and got cleaned up and rested. There was another restaurant in the area that had been recommended to us so we headed out for it around 6:30. We walked up the street for a bit and arrived at its location, but it was closed because it was Sunday and as Laura put it "We know which restaurant owners are God-Fearing Catholics". We walked down a different street in search of another restaurant. We didn't walk far before we found a quite restaurant called "Andrea". They were open and the waiters seated us outside, which was nice because the hot day had turned into a very comfortable evening. We scoured the menu and I settled on Lasagna (apparently Laura and I are on a search for Europe's best Lasagna) and Laura settled on Ravioli. They were both very good, but not quite filling. So what else would we do in this situation ... we ordered dessert. "Two tiramisus please". Now we're talking. This was classic tiramisu with ladyfingers soaked in coffee and layered. It was Delicious with a capital D! I even finished up Laura's for her. We decided not to stick around too long after because some "Smoking Floozies" (Quoted from Laura) came and sat at the table behind us. Enough with the smoking already! We walked the short walk back to the hotel and settled in for a little Sudoku and Soccer!


Lessons Learned Today:
1. When you travel, bring a wife who brings sunscreen. (this is for mormons who have multiple wives, the rest of us have only one choice)
2. Italians are very confrontational, it's like watching a soap opera in a different language.
3. Laura and I have so many more places we want to go in the world! Who's coming with?