Last Days in Venice

After a week of travelling through Italy it was time to end out trip in Venice. We only had planned a day and a half in Venice, and it was plenty for what we wanted to do. We didn’t even stay on the island and instead stayed mainland at Mestre which is only a 15 minute bus ride away.

Once on the island you’re pretty much on your own as there are no free maps and really you don’t need one unless you have somewhere other than St. Mark’s Square or the Rialto Bridge to go to. Throughout the island are signs pointing to those two spots and while you may still get lost you’re not far from another sign pointing you in the direction you need to go.

Our guide book said that there aren’t too many Venetians living on the island anymore because the government regulates how much work you can do on your house, and the cost of anything is so much more since everything has to be brought in by boat and hand carried in since all the streets are so narrow, and that goes for the trash too. I felt really bad for these trash guys, and the delivery boys who had to go up so many bridges with their dollies of goods and food.

Since we were on vacation i didn’t dwell on living there too much. Joy and I spent most of our time in Venice just getting lost in the labyrinths of passage ways only to emerge into another piazza and most likely another gelato store. I really enjoyed all the bridges that bind the city together and I could just imagine what a great place to play hide and go seek as a kid would’ve been.

With Euros running low we had to make the most of our cash on cheap eats and drinks, mainly consisting of slices of pizza (2‚¬), cups of espresso (1‚¬), or at Brek which was a cafetria style restaurant with serve yourself wine carafes (3.30‚¬). We didn’t get much internet time but when we could find some we took a nice long break to catch up with the world and figure out what else there was to do. Most of the time was looking for the H&M located in the middle of the island.

Eventually we made our way to the Rialto Bridge which is basically the half way point to St. Marks Square where everything seems to stop and takes a break to take a picture. There’s a bunch of shops and and eateries on the bridge and is one of the main bridges that spans across the Grand Canal

St. Mark’s Square was a huge gathering spot for people and thats pretty much it. I didn’t feel like waiting in line to go up the clock tower or the Church of St. Marks so we just stood around a few minutes looking up and around and not much else.

As much as i wanted to take a gondola ride i really couldn’t justify paying 100‚¬ to take a boat ride and they don’t even sing. You actually have to hire a separate singer if you want to be serenaded while on your ride. After watching some of the boats pass by i’m glad i didn’t as there seem to be a traffic jam around some of more popular points in the city and that just isn’t that cool.

As the sun started to set and after nine days on my feet i was ready to head back to my hotel room to pack up for the early morning flight, until i came to my senses and thought we had to stay until it got dark in the city. We setup camp at a water front cafe and just enjoyed our last half liter of wine just enjoying the view and watching the cruise ship pass by.

WIth a nice little buzz we walked around St. Mark’s one more time before hopping onto a Vaporetto to take a ride on the river back to the bus terminal.

Our last adventure was figuring out how to get from our hotel to the airport. I had originally planned to take the bus but after looking into it again i wasn’t entirely sure that we would be able to make it to our 6:45am flight. So i went to our concierge to see how much a taxi or shuttle would cost and after calculating Hotel city tax (that you have to pay in cash) we found a shuttle that would cost us our last 40‚¬.


The Other Sides of Florence

Day two we woke up and took advantage of our Hotel Casci included breakfast of eggs, pastries, and cappuccino machine to fill up before heading out for the day. My sister had stayed at the same location and had so much fun with their egg cooker, and we made use of it as well making some soft boiled eggs to eat with our toast.

We had a morning reservation for the Uffizi Gallery where the Birth of Venus painting lives. The room where the painting lives was sort of dark so i decided not to even try getting a picture of the painting. The museum had a history of paintings of Mary aka the Venus which went from very 2D paintings to more realistic paintings, but overall were really just creepy looking.

After an hour in the museum we walked around the various leather vendors which Florence is famous for. All the shops basically sold the same stuff and eventually just had to choose one and start negotiations on some coin purses we bought for friends and family back home.

For lunch we headed back up towards the train station to visit the Central Market which reminded me of Downtown LA’s Grand Central Market where you can buy your fish, fruits, and oils, along with getting a really good cheap meal. I found Da Nerbone on TripAdvisor and thought it was something very authentic that i had to try.

We ordered a roast beef sandwich, a plate of lasagna, a porchetta sandwich, and another half liter of red wine. One thing i learned about florence is that they like their beef medium rare, but on the closer side of rare. The second thing i learned about Italy in general is that their bread isn’t made with salt which makes them on their own tasteless, but they always expect to eat their breads with salty meats which then adds the salt needed.

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the outer parts of the city getting a closer look at some of the statues, buying a water painting from one of the many artists around the city and stumbling upon a world’s fair type of flea market with food and drinks from all over Europe.

For a midday break we headed across the river to Piazza Santo Spirito to get a drink at Volume. We learned there that Italy doesn’t have the same health codes as they do here in LA as a few people came with their dogs for a glass of beer or wine. It was a cool place to rest our feet and it was pleasant to hear some English being spoken between some other bar patrons and the bartenders.

For dinner we ventured out on our own without a plan or a guidebook. We passed by dozens of restaurants before choosing La Burrasca. The biggest reason that i chose this place was that as we were standing outside looking at the menu i saw a waitress head to the door and instead of greeting us to get us to eat there, she shut the door close. It seems like every restaurant serves the same dishes and all have some rick steves or tripadvisor sticker on the window so sometimes its the little things that make places stand out.

My assumptions were correct as the place wasn’t full but by the end of the meal we were sharing tables with another couple from the east coast. We ordered a Caprese Salad, Carbonara, Pasta Pomodoro, and a Steak (not a Florentine Steak). We ate it all and washed it down with another half liter of house wine and had a nice conversation with the couple next to us comparing travel stories.


Hanging out with David in Firenze

After two full days in Touristland it was time for us to get out of Rome and take the train  to Florence. We booked 1st class seats for both of our trains to Florence and Venice which was pretty fun with the free sparkling wine and super comfy seats next to the window.

We arrived into Florence around noon and checked into our our B&B which ended up being super convient to everywhere we were going. Although still touristy, Florence still has some charm which i understand why most people said it was their favorite city in Italy. We quickly found a popular eatery Trattoria Mario, that was crowded and everyone ends up having to share tables with other strangers. We finally got our first taste of good pasta with an order of the Penne Ragu, Veal Steak, and of course a half liter of wine.

After lunch we made our way down to the Accademia Gallery where Michelangelo Statue of David lives. Thanks to Joy’s booking of all our museum times in Florence we were able to skip the long line of people doing standby and got in pretty quickly. There are many signs around the museum stating that photography is prohibited and try as i might i couldn’t get Joy’s attention through her headphone tour. She got off one good shot before a large lady had to scream at her “No Pictures!.” While all that went on i made my way to the bench nearby and got a good shot with my iPhone. The museum was pretty small itself so we were in and out of there in about 30 minutes.

The good thing about Florence is that its not a very big city so there isn’t a need to learn the public transportation system and everything is at most a mile away. From the Accademia its a short walk to the Ponte Vecchio bridge where we took a lot of pictures and just hung out until dinner.

While lunch is very easy to figure out, dinner is a different story. There are many cheap and good places to eat that are only open for lunch which makes figuring out dinner a crap shoot. TripAdvisor reviews tend to be a mix of good and bad reviews for the same restaurant always battling between too expensive to not authentic or really good and so we just chose something nearby with a good number of decent reviews Trattoria Katti. Dinner was another half liter of wine and some tagliatelle, gnocchi, and tomatoes.

For dessert we headed back towards the Accademia to get some Granita from Gelateria Carabe. The lemon ice was a really good way to clean up the palate after so much cream and butter from dinner.


Sidetracked in Termini Station

Day 2 in Rome we were planning on getting all religious and go visit the Pope in Vatican City, but that got thrown out the window when we arrived at Termini Station to take the Metro, it was closed for the day for fixing. Not wanting to fight the other tourist on the busses i called an audible and decided to get all religious on some Pizza from Naples. So we bought a couple cheap train tickets and took a two hour train ride down south to Naples.

Unfortunately we had not planned it very well and ended up only having an hour in Naples and we barely had enough time to run down the street to Pizzeria Trianon da Ciro, order 1 pizza for takeaway, ran back to the station and ended up having to eat it on the train ride back to Rome. I really couldn’t even get a good picture of it, but it was a really good $100 pizza ($90 train tickets + $7 pizza) and definitely one really funny experience.

Back in Rome we used our Roma pass again to enter the Roman Forumwhich is where all important gatherings took place, like the killing of Julius Ceasar. The huge marble columns were crazy large and its hard to fathom how they were even built back in those times before modern machinery was even thought of. Many of the arches were built by the slaves of conquered lands and is really sad since they had to build a monument of their own defeat.

Palatine Hill is located right next to the Forum and is where all the dignitaries and other important people lived at. It was a little less impressive than the other sites, but i guess just as significant as well.

For dinner we headed out to our last Bourdain spot which was Bonci’s Pizzarium for Roman style pizza which is pizza with a thicker crust and sold by the kg, and has all sorts of toppings from various pork meats, vegetables and fungi. Everything is covered in olive oil so it gets to be messy, but a cold beer helps wash everything down.


When in Rome …

 do as the Romans … hey where are all the Romans at?

The sites of Rome hit you right as you enter the city and at every turn there’s some old building or ruin that looks really important. The streets are lined with building from different eras of Roms’s past and it can be all confusing when you’re dropped into the middle of it. The biggest thing that i noticed was that the city is full of tourists and all the shops and restaurants seem to know this. All the restaurants around where we were staying and going offered the same Pizza, Pasta and Cola combo.

We bought a Roma Pass at the train station which gave us access to the Public transportation for the time we were there and allowed us access to two sites for free. The first one had to be the Colosseum which sits right in the middle of the city with all the city’s roads seem to converge to. There were crowds of tourist milling around outside and just as many local tour guides trying to hustle you to use them as a way to get in without waiting and getting tour guide in one. The Roma Pass line wasn’t that long and just had to squeeze through the different lines to get in.

Once inside there are multiple levels that you can walk around and see what it was like to be a Roman citizen watching different events from Gladiator fights, Execution by Lions, and even shows put on by the Government. It was really some screwed up entertainment as most of the people in the arenas were slaves, and animals from conquered lands. The floor of the arena were filled with sand so it could soak up the blood of the combatants. We probably spent an hour or so inside and headed out to lunch afterwards.

To get away from all the bad food around the sites we had to go to some extraordinary measures to get some good food. We basically did the Bourdain tour and headed out of the city to the suburbs to find i porchettoni for some Porchetta. The journey there was a little sketchy but once we were in, it was well worth it.

There’s one old man, picnic tables and Italian variety shows on the television. We ordered a few 100 grams of porchetta, and scarfed it down with the table bread and of course a cold glass of Peroni Beer. The skin was nice and crispy and the meat tender full of herbs.

For dessert we headed back across the city for another Bourdain stop Gelateria Dei Gracchi where we learned that you typically get two scoops of gelato per order but didn’t know that so Joy ended up getting a double scoop of Coffee and i got a double scoop of Pear. We learned our lesson for the rest of our time in Italy and tasted many many scoops of gelato.

After refueled and sugared up we headed back out into Touristland and went to the Spanish Steps where everyone else decided to go at the very same time. People were just hanging out on the steps all the way up to the top so it lost its appeal to me right then and there.

One thing really cool is that throughout the city there are these water fountains that provides cold drinkable water so if you ever get thirsty you don’t have to go to the store to get some bottled water. It really helps when you’re travelling through random streets and not really knowing where you are going because the streets signage is weak at best and streets don’t have a rhyme or reason for how they’re laid out. From the Spanish Steps we headed to the Pantheon, Four Rivers Fountain before heading back to our home.

For dinner we decided to skip out on the tourist traps so we went to the market and picked up some meats, cheese, and olives and had a picnic by the Trevi Fountain. This place was also filled with lots of people just hanging out, with lots of street peddlers trying to sell everything from tripods, to Polaroid pictures to spinning flying light up things. A long day of walking around the city had us turn in for the night after eating dinner..


Roma Italy

From Paris to Rome is a two hour flight but are worlds apart. The cool weather was replaced by warm humid air that seemed a little less put together. At the airport the backpackers seemed to put number the locals and that trend would follow us for the rest of our journey through Italy.

Upon exiting the plane we hit with the warmth and humidity of Italy straight in our faces. The process of getting from the plane terminal to train station was a bit of mess with confusing signage and when we got there we decided to skip out on the train to termini station and just took a shuttle straight to our B&B. Too bad when we got there it started to rain and our host was no where to be found. We then had to stop by the McDonald’s on the corner to get out of the rain and figure out a way to contact him by phone (fail) or internet (fail). Eventually he showed up and let us in to our place which was a little sparse for what i thought a B&B was going to be.

After getting settled we took a walk in the rain exploring randomly. We were at least prepared for the rain by bringing our own umbrellas, and it was kind of fun to see the city in a different sort of light. We even saw some poor bike group having to make their way through the city getting soaked by the rain.

We were pretty tired from our two full days of walking in Paris so we didn’t spend too much time in the rain and soon headed back for a bite to eat near our place. We chose this place mainly because they took credit card, and i knew at least that they cooked their pizza in a wood burning oven and weren’t going to microwave some left over food. The glasses of Peroni were cheap, and the people sitting next to us got a kick out of taking pictures of our food and our beer.