Our Honeymoon in Italy

Our Honeymoon in Italy

This is the story of our honeymoon.  As I write this, it's not all written down yet... we have notes in a notebook, photos, and videos, along with our memories, to consolidate.  But here's the backstory:

We went to Italy because both of us had it on our short lists of places to visit before we die.  Jessie's interest was mainly because of the art -- she took a whole class just on the Rennaissance and is a particular fan of Michelangelo, plus as we learned Italy has a whopping 60% of all the world's archeological treasures, according to the UN.

I was interested mainly because of its environmental situation, which may require some explanation...  When I worked at World Population Balance a few years back and was studying population-related statistics, Italy kept showing up as an outlier: it's one of the few countries whose population is shrinking (due to the low birth rate and unusually low immigration rate); it has one of the oldest median ages and is getting older (due again to the low birth rate and also a low death rate), yet its GDP is strong, quality of life and other happiness indeces are high, and agriculture is still as productive as ever even though Italy has been farmed consistently for longer than any other country on earth.  So they must be doing something right, and I wanted to see what that was... considering that worldwide population is predicted to decline (at last) during our lifetimes, I figured a look at Italy might be a look at a sustainable future.  Plus, Venice is underwater in the way that many coastal cities may soon be -- how are they handling it?

Our itinerary was pretty straightforward: 3 days in Rome, 3 days in Florence, 3 days in Venice, traveling by train, and 3 days to drive back to Rome in a rental car.  For the most part we stayed on track.  There were some misadventures along the way, but they only helped us to appreciate more the parts that did happen according to plan, and to appreciate that we got through them smoothly as a couple.  So all in all it was a perfect honeymoon!

Read on - click the links below to navigate.  If you're reading this before we've completed writing it, new pages will show up on the home page as well as in the table of contents.


Angels and Demons both have Airplane Wings

Angels and Demons both have Airplane Wings

Public relations is such a fragile thing.  A company can spend millions polishing and maintaining its reputation, only to let you down when it matters most.  Another company can treat you like crap repeatedly, consistently cutting corners in a heartless bureaucracy, and then in one beautiful, human moment make you want to sing their name from the rooftops.  In this particular moment it may still be premature to say which company is which.

But first, the backstory.  I bought our tickets to Italy months ago, in the depths of the recession when I thought prices were likely to be lowest.  I shopped around and found the best deal I could, which meant going through bargain-hunting Web sites, in this case Vayama.  But I've traveled enough to know that on long, international flights, some airlines treat you better than others, so because this is our honeymoon, I spent $100 extra to get us tickets with Lufthansa, a 4-star airline, instead of any of the American airlines, which all rate 3 stars.  I have to say I felt a little smug about it, and probably seemed a little snobbish to Jessie, who pointed out that having never flown overseas herself, she wouldn't know the difference.  There were some puzzling things about the tickets, like we weren't able to reserve seats on all of them... for example, Jessie's boarding pass from Chicago to Frankfurt showed no seat number.  We were assured we could straighten it out once we got to the Lufthansa ticket counter.

One problem: Lufthansa doesn't fly out of Kansas City.  The itinerary from Vayama said our flight from KCI to ORD would be on "SUBSIDIARY/FRANCHISE," which turned out to be United, so we got our boarding passes (minus a seat for Jessie) at the United counter in KCI.  Neither of us had had particularly good experiences with United in the past -- lots of delays and impersonal service.  This was no exception... the plane we needed to get us to Chicago was delayed by weather in Washington -- a city that wasn't even on our outbound itinerary -- and our 2.5 hour layover in Chicago evaporated, leaving us with only minutes to catch the plane to Frankfurt, let alone get Jessie a seat number.

Our plane touched down in Chicago at 9:38 PM and began an excruciatingly slow taxi through the maze of ORD runways to concourse E, while a stewardess informed us that one passenger would still make his connecting flight, to Ohio, but the rest of us would need to speak with a representative either at the gate or at a service desk at concourse C, while meanwhile our next flight was already boarding at concourse B, on time for its 10:00 departure.  As we taxied right past our next plane, both Jessie and I (seated two rows apart) wanted to somehow jump off and run across the tarmac, but instead we had to ride another half mile farther on.  I ran ahead of Jessie to the gate, arriving completely winded and just a few minutes too late.  The Lufthansa representatives at the gate informed me that they held the flight 5 minutes for us, but they could do no more, even though they could see on their screens (they said this, with ill-concealed schadenfreude) that we had landed and were on our way.  I asked them to get us to Rome as soon as they could, but they said Lufthansa only has four flights a day out of Chicago, and the next that could get us to Rome would be 24 hours later than the flight we had missed, and they weren't even sure they could get us seats on it.  They suggested we talk to United, since it was United's fault we had missed the flight, and since United had more planes to work with.

I should mention at this point that we not only had hotel reservations in Rome, we also had museum reservations.  You don't have to buy tickets to Italian museums in advance, but by all accounts it helps.  And it ain't cheap.  And exchanges are far from certain.  And besides, we also had reservations for practically every other day in our itinerary, so what date were we going to exchange them for?  Jessie has dreamed of seeing the art at the Vatican for most of her life, and we had the tickets in our hands, and the thought of having to miss seeing the Vatican on this trip because of weather in a city we weren't even passing through made Jessie quite unhappy.

So off we went to that United service desk in concourse C, which is the one you can only reach by underground tunnel.  But by this time it was after 10 PM, and the desk was closed when we got there, and the custodian didn't know where to tell us to go.  So back we went to the gate in concourse E where we came in.  There were still two young women working there, and they were sympathetic to our situation, but they said they knew nothing about international booking, and everyone who did know about it had gone home for the night, except maybe for someone in baggage claim.  A young man who had been flirting with them when we arrived said that in the break room there was a phone number for the rate office, and that someone would be working there who knew about international booking, so we should call them.  They gave us the number.

The woman at the rate office was indignant that anyone should have given us her number for something unrelated to her job, but she looked up our bookings.  She said that since the tickets had been purchased in bulk (i.e. through Vayama) from another airline, there was nothing United could do -- the tickets had no cash value, so there was no way to know what to exchange them for.  "They have cash value to us," I assured her, "EXCHANGE THEM FOR TICKETS TO ROME."  I told her that Lufthansa had said it was United's fault we had missed the flight.  "Honey, they would have said it was our fault if their plane was late," she assured me. 

She seemed very sympathetic, and I was all set to thank her for her trouble, but before letting me go she said, "Can I ask you a question?  Why didn't you leave Kansas City earlier?"  I was speechless.  She continued, "I mean, everybody knows you're supposed to allow 3 hours before an international flight.  Why didn't you arrange a longer layover in your itinerary?"  At this point I lost it.  "This is our first trip to Europe," I said, "Our layover was two and a half hours.  How were we supposed to know that two and a half hours was not a long enough layover, and that three would have been?  It doesn't exactly say that on your Web site!"  "You bought your ticket in bulk," she countered, "not through our Web site."  "But I've been to your site, and it doesn't say that!" I insisted.  "It's just common sense..." she began, and I hung up.

At this point we were crushed.  We'd have to begin the fight again when the ticket desks reopened at 6 AM.  Neither airline would put us up in a hotel because the delay was weather-related, but they gave us coupons worth an unspecified discount at an unspecified assortment of hotels.  I booked a room for a reasonable price at the Candlewood Suites (which we had fond memories of from when our basement was flooded with sewage, no seriously, fond memories), and we headed to the baggage claim to see where our bags had wound up.

Now, this is where the bureaucracy finally started working in our favor.  The first guy we talked to could have just said forget it, you're not getting your bags back tonight, but instead he said it wasn't his job and sent us to the baggage service desk.  There a woman named Patti glanced at our claim checks and said, "The bags are being held in International departures -- they'll be sent on to Rome on your new itinerary."  "We don't have a new itinerary yet," I pointed out.  She tapped a few keys and handed us a sheet of paper.  "There's your new itinerary," she said.  We were incredulous -- the flights were on United, getting us into Rome on the morning of our Vatican reservation, more than eight hours before Lufthansa's best offer.  "But they said we couldn't do that because we bought our tickets from Lufthansa," I protested before I could think better of it.  "Oh, shoot, you didn't tell me that," said Patti.  "Well, let's see if I can check you in."  Tappity tappity: boarding passes.  And Jessie and I even had adjoining seats! And they were business class -- we were flying business class to Europe! "The worst that can happen now is that I get yelled at tomorrow," said Patti.

We were overflowing with gratitude.  Jessie said, "If we were planning to have children, we'd give you our firstborn!"  ("I've got some of my own," said Patti.)  I said, "If you're ever near Emporia, Kansas, give us a call!" and gave her my card.  What else could we do?  Put in a word with her supervisor and risk exposing some wrongdoing that would cost us our tickets?  Better to wait until after the trip for that...

We're not out of the woods yet; we have to change planes again in Washington -- the same airport that cost us yesterday's connection -- so there could be another delay.  And even if there's not, we won't quite make it to the Vatican in time to use our reserved tickets, so we may have to reshuffle our itinerary in order to fit everything in.  But at least we haven't lost a whole day in Italy, just a night, and we can sleep on the plane.  So for the moment, a baggage clerk named Patti has us singing United's praises, and Lufthansa has lost some of its good reputation with us.  We'll see where they stand in two weeks!

Moral of the story: the airline may care how much you paid to fly, but the baggage handlers just care about getting to the destination.  Follow the luggage!


Vatican City

Vatican City

[Note: the videos referenced here are now in an album of photos and videos.]

We arrived in Rome at 9:50 AM on Saturday, May 30, but then we waited 30 minutes for our luggage and another hour figuring out how to report the luggage missing, so we didn't leave the airport until about 11:30.  We took the Leonardo Express train to the main train station, grabbed a quick lunch of panini and cappuccino, and took the Metro to the neighborhood of our hostel, One Step from St. Peter's.  We quickly checked in and ran to the Vatican Museum in time for our reservation... and we were fortunate to have a reservation, because the lines were quite long!

We took more videos than just those below, but they were essentially duplicates of videos other people had already taken and shared on YouTube, so what you see below are just the videos that nobody else had shared before!

Note that Frommer's guide and other guides we consulted said that cameras are not allowed in the museum, nor in St. Peter's Basilica.  This does not appear to be the case anymore.  The only place in the Vatican where cameras were not allowed was in the Sistine Chapel, and as you can see from the proliferation of amateur photos and videos available online, tourists openly flout that rule.  We obeyed it, so we have no footage of the Sistine Chapel.

Hall of Heads

OK, so it's not actually called the Hall of Heads, but it should be, because there are well over a hundred marble heads in this one hallway, along with full-size statues. It's one of the first rooms you enter when touring the Vatican Museum, so it gives a pretty impressive first look at the scope of the collection.  Any one of these sculptures in an American museum would be the prize of their collection.

Lacoön and His Sons

An ancient Roman marble sculpture of Laocoön and his sons being attacked by serpents.

Vatican Museum Galleries

A zoom shot through just one row of galleries, in an attempt to show the size of the place.  Again, any one of these rooms in any other museum would be the highlight of their collection, but here it's just another room.

Sculpture with Moiré patterns

I unfortunately did not record the name of this contemporary sculpture or its artist. If anyone can provide either piece of information, please do! The sculpture is stationary - the dark spots are Moiré patterns that appear to move because the camera is moving slightly up and down during the recording.

Descending the Spiral Exit Ramp

The entrance and exit to the Vatican Museum are about 4 stories below the actual museum (which is on a hill), so you enter via a long featureless spiral ramp (or take the escalator) and exit by another, much more ornate ramp. This ramp is supported entirely by the walls (has no central support) and gets much steeper as you descend by way of more frequent steps, which should be clear in the video. (Each of the steps also slopes, which is why people have to walk so carefully.) It's also a double helix, so that traffic could enter and exit at the same time, though only one of the helices is in use due to the separate (newer?) entrance.


an update from Italy

an update from Italy

We have had a wonderful two days in Rome. Friday we were surprised to find Patti [the luggage clerk at O'Hare] had booked us in business class seats! So we had a late but very pampered flight to Rome. Saturday we arrived in Rome around 10am. We got through customs quickly as they merely glanced at our passports and stamped them. We went to baggage claim only to wait 45 minutes and then find out our luggage had not made it. We filed a claim, they said our luggage would show up Saturday or Sunday, and went on our way to the city.

We hastily checked into the B&B and ran to the Vatican for our 2pm reservation. It was all I hoped and more! We spent 4.5 hours there beginning with the Vatican Museums, then the Sistine Chapel and on to St Peter's Basilica where we saw the Pieta and many other fabulous sculptures! We returned to the B&B to find our luggage had not yet arrived.

Saturday night we ate a few blocks from the B&B-- Ben ordered pizza with egg, olive, artichoke, mushroom and proscuitto on it. To our surprise it arrived with all the toppings haphazardly placed in their own sections including a big soft boiled consistency egg in the middle. Saturday night I fell asleep very quickly!

Today we awoke and had a leisurely breakfast and then went to the Colloseum, Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain. They were all magnificent! Our guide at the Colloseum had a stereotypical Italian accent, adding an -ah to the end of all her English words. We stopped back at the B&B and talked to the manager and he said the airport had called and said the luggage would be delivered at dinner time or soon after. Hooray! We then went to dinner. We had pizza again tonight--this time three different kinds...one topped with sliced potatoes.

We arrived back at the B&B after dinner--at about 9pm and still no luggage. So Ben asked Freddy, the manager, if he had heard anything, and he had not, but soon after Freddy came in and said your luggage is on its way! We signed for it and now have it in hand in time to go to Florence tomorrow!


Rome Sightseeing

Rome Sightseeing

[Note: this post was written as captions for a series of photos. The photos are now in an album but the captions are still here.]

On Sunday (May 31) we faced the prospect of another day without our luggage. We bought some clothes from roadside vendors, washed our traveling clothes, and hung them out the courtyard window.

When exited the Colosseum Metro station, we found that the whole area had been prepared for a bicycle race. At first it was just a curiosity, but later in the day it became a major obstacle to sightseeing!

The bleachers for the bike race were put up right in front of historic, ancient Roman statues, which are about as common as light poles.

Our tour guide provided a lot of useful information that we wouldn't have learned otherwise.

We also enjoyed her classic-a Italian-a accent-a.

A seagull was sporting around inside, for some reason.

The Colosseum is very impressive, not least because it was designed for heavy tourist traffic and has stood up to it for millennia! The upper level is still structurally sound and in active use, currently for a special exhibit about the Flavian dynasty, which was very interesting.

When we got to the Pantheon, a choir was performing inside. The Pantheon is astounding for a number of reasons:

  1. It was built in 27 BC and has been in continuous use since then. We just don't build 'em like that anymore.
  2. It has a big hole in the roof that lets the rain in, and no drain in the floor, yet there's no sign of water damage. We think we know better than to build 'em like that anymore, yet this building has lasted for millennia while millions of buildings without holes in the roof have crumbled away.
  3. Its name was officially changed some 1300 years ago, but everybody still calls it the Pantheon. Let that be a caution to anyone who wants to change a name.

Trevi Fountain is a popular place for tourists. It was very crowded.

We happened to pass a woodworker's shop that had an entire wall of pendulum clocks made to look like various cartoon animals. The pendula were purely decorative -- the clocks were all quartz movement -- but kind of creepy.

There's lots more to the story, in the photos below. That evening the luggage arrived!




We had too many photos of Florence to describe them all. Enjoy the album! Reconstructing our notes 11 years later...

We slept in on Monday, June 1 and walked to the metro station in pouring rain, with a poncho over our luggage. We had trouble finding the ticket machines and then the platform, but once we were on board the train, it left exactly on time. The seats were not numbered as the ticket machine had implied; we got seated with two others. Jessie slept a little, and I worked on our photos for a while before I got queasy.

At the Florence train station, we got some cash at an ATM and had some disappointing panini for lunch. We walked to the hostel in a light rain only to find we were in the wrong location, but the owner drove us to the couples location, which was much closer to attractions.

We had some trouble finding the Galeria dell'Accademia due to poor signage and overshot by three blocks. Once we got there, we saw the David, Michelangelo's unfinished prisoners and slaves, and a Robert Mapplethorpe show. We were surprised to find the museum had the smell of an oriental grocery store. The scupture room was packed from floor to ceiling, with many plaster models.

Back at the hostel, Jessie had a nap before dinner at Gratella. We were distracted by an unusual family at the next table: the man was cutting his pasta one piece at a time; the woman ate a warm spinach-looking goo, and the girl ate nothing. Martians? Then we had gelato at a place called Bermuda Triangle.

On Tuesday, June 2, we got up early and walked to the Uffizi, finding breakfast on the way. There were many copies of famous statues in the Palazzo Vecchio, and a beggar woman kissed Jessie's hand when she gave her a Euro. There was a lot of art at the Uffizi, more than we'd seen since the Vatican Museum, including Caravaggio's Bacchus, Giotto's Madonna & Child, Michelangelo's Holy Family, Da Vinci's Annunciation, and Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Birth of Spring. We had a snack of amazing iced cappuccino on a balcony overlooking the sculptures.

We had lunch on the river and walked across the Ponte Vecchio and had gelato, but we found that both Santa Croce and Santo Spirito churches were closed. Instead we went to the open air market and bought lots of souvenirs. [I bought two leather belts that lasted me for over a decade.] We admired the statues by Donatello at the nearby Orsam Michele. By the time we returned to the hostel, we figured we had walked about 9 hours!

We had dinner at ZaZa near the Mercato Centrale, outdoor seating with live musicians. On our way back to the hostel we got gelato again and went to sit down, but we got chased out because we had ordered cones, and seating was not included in the price! Since the laundromats had closed, we did laundry in the hostel kitchen and hung it on a line.

Jessie had trouble sleeping, but on Wednesday the 3rd we got up early again and walked to breakfast (cappuccino, pastries, and OJ) on our way to Medici Chapel. There were lots of tombs and reliquaries, plus an awesome altar with inlay. The altar was conceived in the Renaissance but not completed until the 1930s! We also enjoyed Michelangelo's statues personifying Day, Night, Dawn, and Dusk.

At Santa Maria di Fiore, we climbed the Giotto Campanile, 414 steps in 4 levels, each with a spectacular 360° view. The highest level was almost as high as the Duomo. We stopped for iced cappuccino and some truly amazing tiramisù at Caffe Duomo before visiting the nearby Museo della Opera (the Duomo museum). We saw Michelangelo's Pietà and Donatello's Mary Magdalene, along with lots of information about the dome and its façade. At the Bargello we saw Verocchio's David, a Donatello David, and Michelangelo's Bacchus, along with a fantastic Bernini exhibit!

We returned to Caffe Duomo for a late lunch of lasagne, spaghetti carbonara, and more tiramisù! [notes for this afternoon are missing] We had dinner at Il Giardino (an outdoor garden) and had wine for the first time since the plane. We had pizza vegetariana and gnocchi with asparagus and radicchio. Then we went for a walk in the Piazza de Independenzia.

Back at the hostel, I balanced the checkbook and found an unexpected fee from our hostel in Venice. When I called them, I learned I had booked the wrong dates for our reservation, and we had no reservation for the correct dates!




See an album of our many photos from Venice.

On Thursday morning, June 4, having learned just before bed that we had noplace to stay in Venice after all, we somehow overslept and couldn't agree on a reservation before we left for the train station. The train was delayed in the station for 45 minutes due to an unclosable door, so we sought out some wi-fi, but the cheapest hotel we could find in Venice was 265€ a night -- non-refundable! We didn't know what else to do, but we couldn't quite stomach the price, so we didn't make the reservation.

When we finally got on the train, we found it in bad repair, with squalid toilets and almost no food in the cafe car. I managed to get us one piece of toasted ciabatta, which we shared. Our fellow passenger turned out to be an art historian from the contemporary art museum in Rome. She said the museums in Venice were likely to be more crowded than usual due to special exhibits, and she had lots of suggestions about places we could visit after we left Venice. However, her most valuable suggestion was that we should look for lodging in Mestre or Marghera rather than in Venice itself.

When we arrived in Venice, a reservation clerk in the train station found us a 50€ hostel in Mestre, which we booked for only one night since it was not a private room. We checked our luggage at the train station and took a walk along the canals. At an Internet cafe, Jessie found a hotel with amenities in Mestre for our other two nights. We had lunch and gelato, then reclaimed our luggage and took a train from Venice to Mestre.

Mestre did not make a good impression after Venice: having recently seen Eurotrip, we joked that we'd been dropped in Bratislava! We checked into Albergo Giovannina. There were four single beds in our room, one of which was occupied by Paul from Oakland. We walked to an Indian restaurant, reasoning that we were closer to India than we would be at home! We got a great deal: two entrees, naan, samosas, and drinks for 13€. On the walk back, we were struck by a signaled bike lane intersection and a bank called CheBanca! ("Whatabank!")

On Friday, June 5, I was awoken at 5:30am by something crawling on me. After swatting myself a few times, I opened my eyes to find that I'd made blood spots wherever I swatted. There were winged ants crawling all over the bed! I pulled out the camcorder and recorded a few minutes, then took the evidence downstairs and showed it to the desk clerk. His reply was straight out of Dude, Where's My Car: "And then?" He asked if there was another bed in the room I could sleep in; when I said yes, he told me to move to that bed and come back at 8:00!

We had some weird pastries made from phyllo type dough for breakfast and then moved our luggage to Hotel Kappa, about 15 minutes away by bus. It was a nice three-star hotel, but it had the tiniest shower either of us had ever seen! We could barely fit through the door.

We returned to Venice by bus, then took a vaporetto (water bus) to St. Mark's square via the Giudecca canal. The vaporetto was not crowded, and we had good seats. We watched the pigeons and toured the Basilica, where we found among other remarkable things the best pay toilets we'd found in Italy. We planned to return to the square later to climb the tower; instead we walked to Ponte di Rialto and had lunch in a cafe. We walked back to the bus via San Marco i Friari with its Gothic art and archway. Rain started just as we got to the bus. We had a nap at the hotel before searching out a dinner of pizza and gelato.

On Saturday the 6th, we had breakfast at the hotel buffet and took a bus to Venice. This time we found the vaporetto extremely crowded: the attendant had to push standing passengers out of his way as he crossed from port to starboard and back with each stop, repeating "permesso... permesso..." At the Accademia, we saw Giorgione's Tempest and lots of paintings by Venetians. We had lunch outside the Accademia at high tide and played with the birds. We returned to St. Mark's square refreshed enough to climb the tower but were surprised to find it had an elevator! We crossed the grand canal to Dorsoduro via traghetto, like a gondola, but only half a Euro to cross.

We considered visiting the Peggy Guggenheim Museum to see the exhibit of wooden underwear, but it was too expensive; instead we found wooden underwear available for sale in a shop across the street! Jessie was not feeling well, but after some rest, refreshment, and a meatball she was feeling better. At a candy store we found some soft, cream filled tubes, but much like Cow Tales, they were not as tasty as they looked. We caught a bus back to the hotel for a nap.

For dinner, we went to a place called Alle Magnolia, where we got a seafood platter that was much too large for the two of us. Then we had some of the best gelato of the whole trip: cioccolato noir and a Venetian cream that was like orange vanilla.




On Sunday, June 7, we had breakfast at the hotel buffet and headed for the Venice airport, but we got the directions wrong and spent an extra hour on the bus due to starting in the wrong direction. Fortunately we were not catching a flight, but just renting a car! When we arrived at the airport, we followed the wrong signs to the rental parking lot but eventually found it. We had reserved a car with an automatic transmission so that both of us could drive, but the Hertz agency didn't have any, so we got a tiny Peugot convertible with a manual transmission that only I could drive. As we were walking to the car, we witnessed the only car accident we saw in all of Italy, when two rental customers backed into each other!

Since we were running late, we drove on the highway all the way to Bologna rather than taking back roads as I had hoped to do. We saw a lot of grapes, some hills and clouds, and a lot of very speedy drivers. Jessie took a lot of photos. Once in Bologna, we rented half of a mobile/manufactured home at a Tourist Bureau campground. It had the largest shower of anyplace we stayed in Italy. We drove into town and saw the Neptune Fountain and the church of San Petronus before going back to the campground for a dip in the pool.

We tried to follow the Frommer's guide recommendation for dinner, but the menu had changed and the place was packed, so instead we took our chances across the street at Contavalli Osteria. The waiter was very apologetic that they didn't have an English menu, so he brought us complimentary shots of "Bolognese" aperatif before and after our meal that made me very tipsy. Since I didn't feel safe driving, we walked around the historic district looking for gelato for about an hour but didn't find it until we gave up looking and headed back toward the car.

Monday the 8th, we woke to Jessie's alarm, which she had set to Weird Al's "My Bologna." We had breakfast of cappuccino, pear nectar, and croissants at the campground and drove into town to see the Basilica of San Dominico and some early Michelangelo sculptures. After a snack, we headed for the west coast. We stopped at a rest area for another snack, and while I went to the restroom Jessie hunted for wi-fi and left her camera unattended on a table, where it was promptly stolen. We lost most of our digital photos of Bologna, so the photos we have are from Jessie's "pop art" camera.

We had lunch in La Spezia at a McDonald's where many of the menu items were peculiar to Italy. We found a coastal road to follow and although we couldn't see the sea for miles, we drove with the top down so I could sit up straight! We found a beach in Massa and went for a swim before we discovered it was a private beach, but nobody hassled us about it. There were good waves, and at one point Jessie got swept ashore.

We continued down the coast looking for a hotel and found Ostello Lille Mare. It had fully furnished apartments with kitchenettes, intended for longer term family vacations, but the owner was delighted to rent to some Americans, repeating "Obama! Obama!" We had an amazing dinner of pasta & seafood at the restaurant on site for only 17€. Then we walked about a mile along the shore road in search of gelato and found three shops all together. One of the flavors we tried had chocolate covered Cheerios in it.

The families in surrounding apartments were loud until about 11pm, and we had little to do since the wi-fi shut off when the office closed at 9pm.


Home Stretch

Home Stretch

On Tuesday, June 9, we needed to get wi-fi to plan our day, but doing so at the Ostello was a big production involving photocopying our passports. Checking out also involved an inspection of the room, which we had to clean ourselves. Then we went down the road and got breakfast before hitting the highway back to Florence. We arrived in town by 11:30 and found a parking garage for 21€ for 9 hours.

We had been talking about Caffe Duomo ever since leaving Florence before, so we walked there and had lunch. The tiramisù was every bit as good as we remembered. Then we bought some souvenirs and walked up the steep hill to Piazza le Michelangelo for a terrific view of the city and countryside. We hadn't even noticed the mountains before! The Piazza also features a copy of the David and the statues of Day, Night, Dawn & Dusk we had seen the originals of earlier.

Once back in town, we walked to Palazzo Vecchio and found it much more crowded than a few days before. We had the most expensive gelato of our trip, at 11€. At Piazza della Republica, I rested while Jessie found her colleague Paulo's apartment. We were early to visit her, so we went for a walk to kill time. We found a store that sold nothing but Bialetti's iconic moka pots in every size from teeny to gigantic. We stopped at a caffe for a snack including blood orange juice, one of our favorite Italian quirks.

When the time arrived, we took an elevator to Paulo Luzetta's spacious penthouse apartment to meet her and her husband. She is an Italian art therapist, instructor, and author. We discussed their upcoming trip to the US while waiting for one of her students to arrive. Once she did, Jessie gave a short seminar on US art therapy education and the use of art therapy with people with autism. Then we had a dinner of pasta, swordfish, salad, bread and dessert -- plus wine, though I didn't partake because I had a lot of driving ahead of me! We made plans for Paulo and her husband to visit Emporia in July [though that didn't wind up happening].

It was after 9 by the time we got onto the autostrada headed for the Rome airport. We had difficulty navigating out of Florence, and our outdated GPS was no help, so we ignored it. Google had estimated 3 hours, but it was more like 4.5 while speeding (keeping up with traffic). It was a nerve-wracking, white-knuckle drive, and we got to our hotel at 2am. It was a very nice suite, but we only had it for two hours! Jessie spent part of the time repacking the bags while I crashed.

On Wednesday the 10th, we woke at 4, had an unexpected breakfast at the hotel, and ignored the GPS following signs to the airport, where we returned the rental car and caught our flight. We were entertained by an American lady whose voice carried on our flight. Some things she said:

  • (to the steward) "Is there a Starbucks in Frankfurt?"
  • (45 minutes into the Lufthansa flight) "This isn't Lufthansa, is it?"
  • (to her young daughter) "The cheese is good, but I think it's fattening."
  • (regarding how long oxygen must be cut off before brain damage occurs) "I think it's 12 minutes."

We changed planes in Frankfurt, taking a bus across the tarmac to our connecting flight. In Dulles, we rode from the plane to customs on one of the "motor lounge" cars Dad helped design back in the '70s! We had to surrender the cured sausages we had bought due to concern of hoof & mouth disease, but they said we could taste them before we threw them away, so we did.

While eating lunch in the Dulles airport, we sat next to a group of middle aged ladies headed for a guided tour of Italy. We gave them lots of tips that didn't really apply since they would have no freedom to explore, but when we remarked on how people came up to us saying "Obama, Obama!" one remarked, "They better not say that to me!"

On the flight home, we made two lists, in no particular order:

what we missed about the US what we'll miss about Italy
toilet seats low-flow toilets
toilet paper bidets
drivers who follow the law trains
green space in cities window boxes and rooftop gardens
easy navigation in cities excellent signage between cities
spacious showers cappuccino everywhere
lack of counterfeit goods real sugar in soft drinks
waiters who bring the check without being asked slow food
not having to pay for public toilets easy Euro currency
highways with grassy medians and left shoulders excellent signage between cities
fluffy pillows credit card tollbooths
bathtubs in hotel rooms tiramisù
polarized, 110V outlets gelato