Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Italy Trip 2012-3

ROME TRIP DAY 1       24 December 2012
Finally after much planning and dreaming about this trip, we are here in Rome. We left last evening at 10pm New York time and arrived in Rome around 12.40pm. I can’t pretend it was an easy trip over. As far as overseas travel goes, this one isn’t too bad, only 7 hours, a romp in the park compared to our trips to Australia. But that Charles is still run down with bronchitis, Max has a chesty cough, I feel low, and Riley has arrived in Rome with a fever (in bed since we arrived, and not feeling great) it’s not surprising.

It’s also my birthday and Charles and my Anniversary. We had big plans to go to the Vatican and spend a few hours in St Peter’s Church listening to the Pope give his Christmas Eve address, but it was not to be. Riley is still sleeping. I do hope he feels better tomorrow. There is so much we want to share with the boys.

Charles is out with Max tonight showing him the Pantheon (which just happens to be down the street from where we live). We opted for apartment living thinking we would have more space than a hotel room and a kitchen for the odd bit of cooking we might do. Charles found one right in the thick of the old part of the city. We had to walk up 4 flights of stairs with our heavy suitcases, and it really is minimal living, but the pros far out way the cons. If Riles were feeling himself tonight we would be out painting the town red. Instead, Charles and Max are out exploring and I am home with the patient. I hope he feels better tomorrow. There is so much we want to share with the boys.

We may not get to everything on our agenda, and we realize now that Riley is sick, even less so. But hopefully we will give the boys a taste of how wonderful this city and country are, how rich in history and culture. And so we will let Riles sleep it off, and hope to get outside to see the magical sights of Rome bright and early tomorrow morning after we open a few more of Santa’s pressies. We had our Christmas early this year but Santa assured the boys that there WILL be 2 Christmases for us this year.

When Charles and Max returned Max fell asleep and Riley woke up and felt good. So I looked after Max while Charles took Riley to the Trevi fountain.

ROME DAY 2   25 December   Christmas Day in Rome    Amazing

We all woke up at around 9am this morning, with the exception of Max who woke up at 1am and was ready to go. I went downstairs to look for his iPad and put Santa’s pressies out and whilst creeping around disturbed Riley who was actually awake, and had been for quite some time due to Charles’ snoring. Charles woke up briefly to tell us to go back to sleep, which luckily we were able to do.

After breakfast we went out for a walk to the Trevi fountain and spent about a half hour enjoying the beauty, taking photos and looking for stray coins. Max was really lucky last night. He collected about 5 coins around the fountain with Charles whilst Riley and I were back at the apartment.

Our sole mission for the day was to take a bus tour around the city to give the boys a sense of Rome’s magic. On the way we walked into a few churches, San Luigi dei Francesi, the Gesu, and the Madeleine.  We headed for Piazza Venezia hoping to find a tour bus, but it was all a little confusing, not obvious where to go for a bus. Charles suggested we run after a 110 tour bus that zoomed away at great pace, and another and another. We tried, but to no avail. We were about to catch a taxi to the train station where we knew the 110 bus could be found, when lo and behold we saw one pull up right by the Campidolio. We ran across the road, paid, and jumped on. We found a seat upstairs and after freezing in the back we moved up to the front seat which was perfect. A great view and warm to boot. The trip took us through all the back streets of Rome which was a little weird, we would see a special site and then it was gone. We stopped at the station and were told that we had to wait 35 minutes or catch the bus ahead of us. Even though we had terrific seats, we opted for the bus in front, as did everyone else. Of course the bus filled up really fast and we couldn’t even get on, so we opted for the bus behind and waited for what seemed like an eternity for the driver to arrive (probably 25 minutes in total). Finally we got going and were pleasantly surprised to find this bus took us on the bonus trip, all stops not marked on the map. We realize Rome is not America, and we have to go with the flow. Our trip would be much easier if we did.

After disembarking we walked home via the Trevi fountain, which was absolutely swimming with tourists. I napped and the boys rough housed. Then off we went for a walk to the Piazza Navona which was also packed. We took some photos by the Bernini fountain Quatro Fontane then on to the Campo di Fiore, which was much less crowded. Since we were well rested and the night was young, we went the extra distance to Bernini’s Turtle Fountain, up to the Campidolio and Santa Maria in Aracoeli, and then back to the Pantheon for dinner at the same restaurant as last night. Riley ordered the chicken again, Max had plain pasta with sauce on the side, and Charles and I shared a penne arrabiata and bottle of red. We sat at a corner table outside and watched the boys play with their elastic light up toys all the while enjoying the incredible view of the Pantheon and the Roman ambience. We had thought we might take the tour bus back to the Spanish Steps, but we were having too much fun – la dolce vita. 

On the short walk back to our apartment we stopped for gelato and happy as can be made our way back to our flat and where the boys watched a video and fell asleep.

Tomorrow we plan to see the Coliseum and the Forum, and whatever else the boys will let us show them. We tread delicately since this is a trip of a different kind. We are no longer two single people 12 years younger, we have young boys to look after, to educate and to make sure they have a good time. Since they have been sick, we proceed even more cautiously. And so we will wake up tomorrow after a sound sleep and with a loose plan see how things go.

Roll on tomorrow and all it is has offer. How could it be anything other than magnificent? We are in Rome, together as a family, who knows when we will be back. This is a trip we shall cherish, and hopefully the boys will remember forever.

ROME DAY 3    Wednesday 26 December 2012  Coliseum and the Forum

We had a hard time getting up this morning. We had the sleep of jetlag and tired travelers, a sleep of a heavy kind. Charles had been the smart one of the family and had gone to sleep before the rest of us last night and had risen and gone to the store for supplies before the rest of us even stirred. He was like Santa Claus bringing gifts of honey, milk, chocolate, and even champagne, it was fantastic and very thoughtful.

After a rather long rise, breakfast, and shower (which may I say had no pressure and was extremely hard to regulate), we left our apartment stocked with food and cameras and headed for the taxi rank. A 10€ ride took us to our favorite church, San Clemente, and surprise of surprises, it was not open. I forgot, we are in Rome. The guide books say it is open, the front door sign says it is open, but alas, it was not open, and 4 disappointed travelers headed for the Coliseum which surprise of all surprises, was open. Charles had purchased advance tickets (for a price, but worth everything he paid). We waltzed right past the very long line of tourists that snaked its way around the perimeter of the Coliseum and went straight inside after a quick scan of our tickets. Boy that felt good. Bravo Charles.

We spent a good hour inside the Coliseum, taking lots of photos and videos re-enacting the scenes from times of the gladiators. Since the 12 years we were here last, they have added a huge platform on the bottom level, they now allow tourists up onto the 2st level, and there is a really cool souvenir shop where we bought some mementos and  postcards to send back to family.

Moving onward we crossed the road and headed for the Forum. We walked up the hill a fair way before realizing the entrance to the Forum was a completely different direction. Down the hill and backtracking, we finally found the entrance. Yet again, we waltzed right by the many tourists standing in line realizing that we had definitely made the right decision to purchase tickets before we arrived.

Before entering the Forum we walked up the Palatine Hill to enjoy a terrific view of Rome and some food. The toilets eluded us the whole day; there were signs everywhere, but they all seemed to lead nowhere. In the end we just held on until we got back to the apartment which was thankfully in an absolutely perfect location.

Many videos and photos later, we left the Forum and headed toward the Pantheon where we stopped for a quick gelato (limone this time), a quick people watch on the steps La Fontana de Rotunda, and back to our apartment. We left the boys watching a video and went downstairs to eat at a restaurant just a few doors down from our building; a carafe of vino rosso and a little pasta, then home for a rest before a walk to the Spanish Steps. 

There were thousands of people out wandering about yet the occasional taxi would slowly try to make its way through them.  Lots of stores were open and doing a brisk business to the tourist including us! Then it was back to the Pantheon for a meal and more fun with the boys’ light up toys. We decided to eat at the same restaurant which gave us delicious food and with our corner table (the waiters knew us by then) a spectacular views. Rome is majestic, colorful and even more fun now we have our boys to share it with.

ROME DAY4  Thursday 27 December     St Peter’s and The Vatican

Today began with a leisurely sleep in. We left our apartment around 10.30am and headed for the Campo di Fiori via the Piazza Navona. The Campo was nice and quiet and filled with flowers, clothes, fruit, veg and spices. We decided to perch ourselves in a café with a view of the market and sip on cappuccino and hot chocolate. Mmm, de-lish – a great way to start our day – next stop, the Vatican.

As we drove up in our cab we passed an enormous queue that wound its way around the block, and were very thankful to have purchased tickets in advance. As is so common an experience for tourists in Italy we were harassed by some smarty pants tour guide who upon hearing we had purchased tickets in advance, assured us that that would not be anywhere near enough. His pompous attitude and remarks got under my skin. As far as I’m concerned we had everything we needed, our tickets and our trusty, smart enthusiastic tour guide Charles. And as time went on, it was absolutely apparent that we did.

The boys loved that we didn’t have to stand in line and could just waltz right in and get to the good stuff without any problem. As it turned out, even though we decided to go directly to the Sistine Chapel, we moved along with many others in a slow snake like fashion. I guess everyone had the same idea. Charles, our fabulous trusty tour guide lit up the ceiling for us and we spent a good 40 minutes mesmerized at the beauty and talent of Michelangelo. After the Sistine Chapel we spent a few minutes in the Pinacoteca, then outside to cool off, then back inside to look for the Laocoön, a 5th century Greek sculpture depicting a man and his 3 sons being bitten by a sea serpents. We compared this to some of the other sculptures in the Vatican and it is clear to see why this one is so famous; the expression on their faces, the definition in their muscles, such perfection and grace. The mind baffles at the ability to bring to life such beauty from a piece of marble.

Upon leaving the Vatican we bought a delicious ham and cheese sandwich and munched our way down to a sunny spot for quick replenishing of batteries, then on to St Peter’s and its cupola. I had reservations at climbing up to the cupola. The climb was hard and claustrophobic, the walls crooked and the passageways thin, but the view at the top was amazing. It was very crowded, so crowded in fact that we couldn’t really move. Luckily we found a space with undoubtedly the best view, and stayed as long as we could to take a few vids and photos before we couldn’t take it anymore and snaked our way back to the exit and down the curly cue stairs, all 533 of them according to Charles, 504 according to the boys, the guide books say 537. Whatever the number, there were a lot of them, and ONCE IS ENOUGH according to me.

At the bottom we ambled through St Peter’s and ogled at the enormity of the space, the grandeur and opulence. We marveled at the twisted columns of Bernini’s Baldacchino and imagined what it might have been like had we made the Pope’s service on Christmas Eve. We spent some time contemplating the beauty of the Pieta, so perfect in every way. Charles told us how Michelangelo said he did not carve the sculptures, he released the figures that were inside the marble. And we the observers are fortunate indeed to witness this beauty, not by merely reading a book, but seeing these amazing pieces of art. I feel sure that the boys will be changed forever having had these experiences, even if all they remember is the gelato. That experience alone has altered them forever!

Speaking of gelato, upon leaving St Peters, we indulged in yet more gelato (the boy’s favorite so far is most definitely limone). Charles and I shared a cherry gelato – words do not describe. The boys wanted to take a taxi back to the apartment, but we managed to coerce them to walk (which actually wasn’t too far, and ended up being a very enjoyable trek back). Max really wanted to buy a rubber toy that one of the vendors had pestered us with this morning. He had taken a liking to this guy as he was funny and even though he pestered us, had done it without too much pressure and with a sense of humor. Max liked that. We made our way back to the Piazza Navona to look for him, but unfortunately had no luck. Riles tried his luck shooting targets for a prize at one of the stalls and won himself a blue whale then we wove our way back to the hotel.

Ah rest never felt so good. Most probably we will go back to our favorite restaurant with our favorite waiter and eat the same food and drink the same wine, the boys will play with their light up toys and get frustrated because they don’t fly as well as the vendors fly them. Then we will amble home happy and fulfilled, well fed, watered, and ready for sleep. Roll on tomorrow and Trastevere.

ROME DAY 5    Friday 28 December   Trastevere

We woke up earlier this morning, around 9am, ate breakfast and headed for Trastevere via the Piazza Navona. Max was still looking for his friend who was selling the rubber toys that he liked, but he was nowhere to be seen. Charles had every intention of walking to Trastevere, but the boys were tired, so we caught a cab to Villa Farnesina where we spent time looking at Raphael’s exquisite Galatea, some gorgeous mosaic floors, and made a stop-action movie of the boys going up the beautiful staircase. Charles had a heated encounter with a French couple who were not very polite. We walked around the gardens surrounding the villa then up the cobblestoned streets to Santa Maria in Trastevere. We spent time studying the gorgeous apse ornate with gold mosaic seated Christ and sheep. There is something very special about this church. I much prefer it to any other we have seen in Rome. Eventually we wove our way back across the river and waited in line (as all good tourists do) to take pictures of La Bocca Verita.

From there we took a taxi to the Coliseum and dined in a fun café on coffee, hot chocolate, salad and hamburgers, filling in time while we waited for San Clemente to open at 3pm. Since we had lots of time we headed up the hill to San Giovanni in Laterano and took pictures of its enormous Borromini facade. The boys were saturated by this time, for them it was just another church. Riley had left his water bottle at the café but they had it waiting for us washed and clean! We walked to San Clemente and it was open. The Mithraic temple was fascinating but we believed we had seen other pieces, larger and more beautiful pieces the last time we were there. The apse in the church is also a beautiful mosaic with 13 sheep walking across the base.

Afterward we walked back toward the Coliseum intending to catch a taxi back to the apartment, but as fortune had it we saw a #117 minibus which was headed for the Piazza del Popolo. The boys thought we were going home, but we stayed on board and rode it all the way to the end of the line. A quick look in at Caravaggio’s, The Martyrdom of St Peter and then homeward bound. We jumped back on a #117 which was supposed to take us back toward our apartment but the driver had disappeared. He must have hopped off and grabbed a coffee but we were not going anywhere in a hurry, so we took to the street on foot with the promise of gelato on the way. Finally we made it home and the boys collapsed on the bed in front of a video. Charles and I went out to find an internet café to print out Uffizi tickets and make a quick stop to buy supplies for tomorrow.

At 7pm we had our last dinner at the same restaurant that we frequented every night since we’d been here. Our very nice waiter, Tomasso treated us to extra bread sticks and lemon liquor at the end of the meal. We convinced the boys to walk to the Trevi fountain for one more gelato and then home to sleep. Tomorrow we head to Siena.

SIENA DAY 6  Saturday 29 December  

We picked up the rental car by the Borghese Gardens and headed north out of Rome. Charles and I decided to bypass Orvieto and drive straight to Siena. Perhaps if we have time, we can stop in on the way back from Venice. As it turned out we were blessed with another gorgeous day. Charles navigated his way through the tiny cobblestone streets of Siena’s no-car zone area and found our hotel which wasn’t obvious at all. There was a tiny plaque on the side of a building with a buzzer that opened the front door. When we went inside it still was not clear to us where to go. The boys climbed the staircase to the 4th floor and voilà. We unloaded the car, got our keys and drove to a carpark down the hill outside the no-car zone. As we walked back to the centre, we found a sunny spot with a great view for a quick coffee and outstanding hot chocolate, then wound our way to Il Campo famous for its horse race, the Palio, and the Palazzo Publico to see the Allegory of Good and Bad Government by Lorenzetti and the Guidoriccio of Simone Martini. Both are very familiar to us since prints of them hang on our living room wall.

We took some photos on a lovely Campo, decided not to climb the Campanile, grabbed a gelato and headed straight for the Duomo which was striking in so many ways. It’s green and white striped marble, the Piccolomini Library, the Crypt, and a fantastic panoramic view of the Duomo and Siena. We did have to wait in a queue for 30 minutes or so for the view but it was worth it– just gorgeous. After buying a few souvenirs and a short walk and we found our way back to the hotel, up the 4 flights of stairs to our hotel. Later we went out for a bite to eat and enjoyed a spectacular view of the Campo with the moon illuminating the scallop patterned floor and the surrounding buildings. Tomorrow, San Gimingano and Florence.

SAN GIMINGANO DAY 7   30 December  Florence via San Gimingano

We woke up early, dressed and wheeled our little suitcases back down the cobblestone streets to the car, stopping for a coffee and hot chocolate at the same place we stopped at on the way in yesterday. We were blessed with another beautiful sunny day.

It took us no time at all to reach San Gimingano. We parked the car at the bottom of the hill and walked up to the Centro. As it turned out we were a little early. The Museo Civico didn’t open till 11am, so we took a walk around the sunny Piazza della Cisterna (with the well in center) and spotted a great café where we later had lunch. We walked down the “main” street and took a quick peak into Sant’ Agostino to see Gozzoli’s Life of Saint Augustine while the light was brilliant. The church was deserted and perfect for enjoying the art in the altar.

By the time we returned the museum had opened and we headed for the room with the Crucifix of Coppo di Marcovaldo, then up one of the towers to enjoy a spectacular view over the countryside. It was simply gorgeous. Another gem, an Annunciation fresco by Ghirlandaio, we viewed from outside the gate as it was closed until 1pm and then had lunch in the sun. My only criticism of our day was the 2 tables either side of us smoking like chimneys. The Italians smoke way too much.

Florence came up quickly after an hour’s driving. Charles navigated his way into the city easily and drove us up to the Piazzale Michelangelo on the top of the Boboli gardens for a magnificent view of Florence, then straight to the apartment of Thomas (through AirBnB), into the garage and up the elevator, to guess where – the 4th floor. The 4th floor was obviously our floor for this trip. So far everywhere we stayed had been on number 4. But unlike our previous accommodations, this apartment was definitely 5-Star. Love, love, loved it; the water runs, the toilet flushes, the beds are clean, there are plentiful plates and cutlery, a washing machine and a bonus terrace. The grocery store is only 3 blocks away and is very large and inexpensive. We planned to cook and eat in for the next few days. 

FLORENCE DAY 8  31ST December  New Year’s Eve

Today we woke up pretty early, around 8am and caught a taxi directly to the Uffizi. Charles had pre-booked tickets, so we waltzed right by the enormous queue for Porte 2 and headed for Porte 1. After a very short wait, a security and bag check, we were off. Charles, our trusty tour guide took us to his favorite paintings, beginning with the 3 huge Altarpieces of Cimabue, Duccio, and Giotto. We spent lots of time discussing the differences in the three pieces and all chose our favorite. Mine was Duccio, Max, Riley and Charles liked Giotto. The boys decided they liked Giotto’s Altarpiece most because it showed the outline of Mary’s “boobies”!  The other two Mary’s were covered by their blue mantels. It was interesting in that it showed a stylistic development in painting over time. From there we went to the Annunciation of Simone Martini, Piero della Francesca’s Duke and Duchess of Urbino, the Botticelli room, the striking Annunciation of Leonardo and as we were leaving, Caravaggio’s Medusa.

The Uffizi now has a lovely café overlooking the Piazza della Signoria. We sat in the sun beneath the imposing tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and enjoyed our hot chocky and cappuccinos. After looking at the huge sculptures in the Loggia and in the Piazza we headed for the Duomo weaving our way through the throngs of people.

It felt as though we were here with the summer crowds, so many people. We assumed that this Monday was a national holiday for the hordes of Italian tourists yesterday in San Gimingano and today in Florence seemed unusual.  And sure enough, after 1 January there were no more Italian tourists!

After a quick look at where the Florentines once stored grain, the Orsanmichele, adorned with sculptures of Donatello and Verrocchio, we walked to the Duomo an went inside. We had every intention of going up to the top of the Duomo and climbing all 414 steps, but the queue wove its way out the door of the cathedral and down the street. Resigned to the fact we weren’t going to climb the dome today, we found a lovely warm café for a bite to eat and some gelato, of course.

After lunch we took a stroll to the Palazzo Medici and saw the tiny room with the Adoration of The Magi by Gozzoli. We spent a long time looking at the animals and pondering the magic of this work. We took a quick walk to the Piazza Santissima Annunziata overlooking the first foundling hospital in Europe and then to the Convent di San Marco, home to Fra Angelico, but it was not open. The boys were pretty tired after our adventurous day so we took a taxi back to our lovely apartment stopping at the COOP, our fantastic neighborhood supermarket. It is only 3 blocks from the apartment and stocked with everything imaginable. We finally arrived back at our apartment and settled in for the evening. We enjoyed the warm rays of Tuscan sun from our balcony until sunset. We said a fond goodbye to 2012 and a warm friendly welcome to 2013.

PISA  DAY 9   01 January 2013    Hello 2013

We didn’t actually see in the New Year, but we did get up early, have breakfast, get dressed and drove to Pisa, whilst the rest of Florence slept after a hard night of partying. There was no one on the road, which was perfect for us as we navigated our way through foreign streets not knowing if we were heading in the right direction and aware that one wrong turn could mean many detours before finding the right road that would take us to our destination.

When we arrived in Pisa, there were plenty of car spaces and hardly any tourists. We bought our tickets to climb the Tower which is by the way on a very steep angle. The tickets were by no means cheap, 72€, about $95 in total, the boys were full price. And it didn’t include anything else. Very expensive, but who knows if or when we will be back.

We had 11:15am tickets so we took a stroll and bought some pastries at a nearby café to fill in time. Before climbing the tower we were given a short talk by a very friendly guide who spoke excellent English. The climb up was really strange, very disorienting, and when we finally arrived at the top after climbing 234 stairs, it was an odd feeling indeed to be at the top and not feel totally stable. I think the boys will remember this part of the trip for many years to come. The view to the surrounding countryside was lovely.

After a very delicious hot chocolate, donut, muffin and 2 molto caldo cappuccinos, we made our way into the Duomo. The floor and ceiling were spectacular, the Pisano Pulpit was incredibly ornate and delicate and the Coppo mosaic apse was awe inspiring. We had plenty of time and were able to have a good look at everything.  As we were admiring the nave from the back of the church we met a family from Denver who gave us good advice about how to get around Venice with kids. Basically they bought only one vaporetto ticket the entire time they were there!  We did the same.

We went back to the car and headed for Florence. As it was only 3pm we decided to walk to Santa Croce with the boys. Unfortunately it was closed when we got there and we had to content ourselves with peeking in at the cloister and Pazzi Chapel and realize we may not get back here again this trip. We still had a lot of ground to cover and only 2 days left before we left for Venice.

After a long walk to the Duomo, more gelato, and a stop at the 1€ store we headed back to our apartment. Happy to be back in the warmth of our cozy place the boys watched a video whilst Charles and I sent emails and pictures to family and friends sharing our adventures with them. We are resting on the bed this evening listening to the ringing of the church bells. I love that sound. I think it’s one of my favorite things about this trip, apart from seeing the joy on the boys face’s when they climb 500 or more stairs to a cupola and eat gelato. Tomorrow we are up bright and early and ready to see the famous David at the Accademia. 

FLORENCE DAY 10   02 January   A rainy day

Today we woke up and walked to the Accademia to see the famous David. It certainly made a huge impression on the boys. We spent a good hour or so sketching it and then took a quick look at some of the other sculptures and paintings. After a pit stop to recharge our batteries (hot chocolate, cappuccino, donut, and croissants), we headed to San Marco where Fra Angelico painted frescos on the wall of each cell. The boys really liked this part of our day. Savonarola’s cell is there as well so there was an explanation about religious demagoguery and burnings at the stake! The Ghirlandaio Last Supper in the rectory (which is now the gift shop!) was fabulous.

We walked past some markets on the way to San Lorenzo and bought an umbrella of the Duomo’s red roof, then we got lost and had to back track to find the entrance to the church. San Lorenzo was a huge white and grey Brunelleschi church. The immense internal space was unfortunately cluttered with chairs, pews, candle holders, and other distractions making it hard to see the architectural lines. Then onward to lunch at the same self-serve café we ate at the day before.

We were thinking about the Bargello, but the boys saw that the queue for the Duomo cupola was pretty small and really wanted to climb it. It had stopped raining and the clouds were still thick but high, so we decided to make the climb. It wasn’t as hard a climb as St Peter’s and the view was well worth it. Looking out over the orange tiled roofs, the church tops and bell towers was really magical. And bonus, it wasn’t dangerously crowded as it had been at St. Peters.

While ascending and descending we walked around the interior of the base of the dome and could look down and marvel at the exquisite marble floor of the church below us. We definitely had a bird’s eye view. When we reached the bottom, Charles and Riley went back for Riley’s hat that he had left on the chair of the café. We were happy it was still there as that would be the second hat lost and we still had cold weather ahead. Charles nearly left our 2 umbrellas up on the cupola, but luckily we went round a second time to take a few more pictures and video before going down.

Next stop was the Bargello which we found closed. It closes at 1.30pm, so tomorrow we must make it our first stop. We are eager to see the other Davids, and compare them to Michelangelo’s . Perhaps we will do a little more sketching.

A quick gelato stop and we were off across the Ponte Vecchio and into Santa Felicita on the other side to see a Pontormo Deposition which is in a small alcove just as you come in. We happened upon a funeral service and were not allowed to put coins in the slot to turn on the lights to illuminate the work. Maybe we will come back tomorrow.

We were at odds as to what to do next. It was about 3:30 and our legs were tired, but we weren’t quite ready to return to our apartment. Charles was thinking we could walk to San Spirito, but unsure as to whether it would be open. Max wanted to go back and search for a coin store that we had passed sometime earlier in the day, Riley was ready for rest, and I was happy to go along with any of the above. Max won out. We went in search of the shop but had no luck and in the end hailed a taxi and took off for the apartment with another quick stop at COOP for supplies. Home at last we were in for the night.

FLORENCE DAY 11   Thursday 03 January   LAST DAY IN FLORENCE   

As we sit here on our sunny terrace in gorgeous 58 degree weather and contemplate our day, we feel sad to be moving on from this beautiful city and comfortable apartment, but glad to have had an opportunity to visit with the boys and see so much beauty every day. The weather has been absolutely divine. We couldn’t have wished for more.

We began this morning with a trip to the Bargello which was once a jail. There was no queue so we went straight in and up the majestic external staircase in the huge courtyard to the 2nd floor which held the other 2 Davids, one by Donatello and the other by Verrocchio. They were beautiful too, but neither compared to Michelangelo’s in all its perfection and grandeur. Riley definitely is besotted with Michelangelo’s David and plans to come back to Florence again someday and make it his first stop. He now carries a small copy we purchased from the Accademia gift shop yesterday and is taking it everywhere. Our new project is to show the little David the sights of Florence and Venice before we head back to New York on Tuesday.

The boys spent a little time sketching a peacock sculpture and touching up their David sketches from yesterday then we headed across the Ponte Vecchio back to San Felicita to see the Pontormo that we didn’t see yesterday because of the funeral. Such bizarre colors, especially John’s form-fitting pink spandex tunic! From there we walked to San Spirito which is said to be the most perfect church in Christendom. Riley preferred San Lorenzo not far from the Duomo. Both churches were by the same architect, Brunelleschi. In search of gelato, we walked to the Carmine to see the Brancacci Chapel with Masolino and Masaccio frescoes. They were brilliant with intense expression on the faces. We particularly liked the frescoes of Adam and Eve.

We crossed the river via a different bridge and headed for Santa Maria Novella. Before going inside we found a lovely sunny spot in the piazza to have a hot chocolate, cappuccino and biscotti. It was a welcome pause in our busy church saturated day. Santa Maria Novella really appealed to me, it’s probably my favorite in Florence. It’s lovely façade striped with green and white marble and gothic arches is very attractive to the eye. Inside is a huge marvelous crucifix of Giotto and on the left wall the famous Holy Trinity of Masaccio.

We pressed onward to the Duomo, then to the Piazza della Signoria, after purchasing some very expensive mega-gelatos, and making our way toward Santa Croce, our last stop for the day. Santa Croce, flooded disastrously in 1966, is home to the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli, Rossini and decorated with more frescoes by Giotto. 

There are some lovely cloisters to walk through and the sublime Pazzi Chapel of Brunelleschi. It was an excellent place to finish our tour. It was only 1:30pm and the sun was shining brightly so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon on our lovely terrace enjoying the warm afternoon.

And so, here we are, having found our way back to our apartment and sitting on the terrace soaking in the rays of the afternoon Tuscan sun. It was a great decision to come home early and relax. We might venture out later to purchase some biscotti for our trip tomorrow and walk the area a little before retiring to pack and organize for the next part of our adventure. Venice awaits – Avanti.

VENICE   DAY 12   Friday 05 January

We woke up early, had breakfast, packed the car and headed for the A11 which took us out of Florence and toward Bologna. From Bologna we took the A1 to Padua and on to Venice. We parked the car and bought vaporetto tickets to San Zaccaria (one stop past San Marco).  Charles sat outside with the boys on the back of the vaporetto and told them about the Grand Canal and some of the buildings and bridges along the way. I preferred to sit inside where it was warm!  The trip took about 40 minutes.

We wheeled our small bags over the cobblestones and across2 bridges to our hotel. Actually, now they have rather unattractive but useful ramps up and down the main bridges which they didn’t have when we were here last 12 years ago.  We checked into the Pensione Wildner. Ah memories. This time we are married and have 2 boys to share this magical place with. Nothing could be better.

We had a similar room to when we stayed 12 years ago but it was a little larger and had a small alcove with two small beds for the boys.  But again, we could throw open the shutters and look out upon the Grand Canal, the Lagoon and the island of San Giorgio with the fantastic Palladio church.

After settling in, Charles contacted his friend Livio, who used to play in the ABT orchestra and now lives in Venice half the year. He met us outside our hotel and took us on a little tour to San Marco winding through some smaller “vias” giving us a commentary on the history of Venice. We ended up back at his lovely Venetian home on the top floor of a very old building, some 90 steps up with views over roof tops and a lovely terrace. We enjoyed a quick espresso, some orange juice and cookies from Burano called “esse” which the boys gobbled down very quickly.

Then we walked back to the Piazza San Marco to climb the Bell Tower which unfortunately had closed. However, before we arrived Livio took us to a private glass blowing demonstration. The 5 of us sat in the workshop as a man put a glass blob into a fiery oven for a few seconds then took it out and worked it into a small horse.  After he finished he put a piece of paper on top of it which instantly burst into flames.  The glass was still about 900 degrees apparently.  It takes a full 24 hours for it to cool.

We took a quick look inside the Basilica San Marco. The guard stopped me because of my back pack but we fixed that problem by having Riley carry it under his jacket. Poor Riles, he looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame. But it was worth it, I’m sure Riley would agree too. Next came a stroll down the main thoroughfare toward the Ponte di Rialto. We stopped in a little café to have a panini, a pizza-dog (a hot dog wrapped in a slice of pizza – it wasn’t bad!) and a little vino rosso, then on to the Rialto, some markets in San Polo, and back to the hotel stopping in a coin shop for Max.

Dinner this evening was downstairs in our hotel, then straight to bed. Tomorrow we have a “secret room” tour at The Doge’s Palace at 9.55am.

VENICE  DAY 13  Saturday 05 January Another gorgeous slightly misty day

This morning we feasted on a buffet breakfast downstairs in our hotel, then set of for our 9:55am tour of the ‘Secret Rooms’ in the Doge’s Palace. We were glad to have booked the tour as it took us to some of the rooms not seen by tourists with the general entry fee and gave us some interesting historical facts. The tour guide told us the story of Casanova’s escape as written by Casanova himself.

After the tour we were left to wander through the many rooms of the Doge’s Palace, all enormous and incredibly opulent, with the ceiling molding painted in 24 carat gold. We walked across the Bridge of Sighs which Riley thought was called the Bridge of Size, since Charles was placing emphasis on the z sound. Cute! A quick hot chocolate in the café downstairs and we were off to take an elevator ride to the top of the Campanile for a fabulous view of Venice.

The boys would have preferred to walk the stairs, but that was not an option. I was quite happy about that. The view wasn’t perfect due to the misty conditions, but we thought it was perfect and did spend a good 20 minutes or more enjoying it. Charles discovered he didn’t have his phone recharger so ran back to the hotel to get it while I stayed with the boys in the Piazza San Marco. They entertained themselves trying to walk around the column that is said to have been a challenge for the slaves once every year during the 17th century. The slaves were supposedly given the opportunity to circumnavigate the column standing on a tiny ledge. If they could do it without falling off the ledge they were given their freedom. Of course, it was impossible, but the boys did find a way to do it holding on to the column.

About 10 minutes later Charles came back and told us how warm and delicious it was in our room, so we decided to go back and enjoy 40 minutes of rest which was an excellent idea. After our rest we took a walk through the back streets of San Marco, made a reservation for dinner and on a whim took a gondola ride through the canal. That was definitely worth every cent of our big 100€ splurge. I think the boys and Charles would agree with me – number one highlight of our trip. The Accademia was on our list of to-do’s, so we made our way through the winding streets (miraculously didn’t get lost) and over the Ponte d’Accademia which links San Marco with Dursoduro.

We bypassed the Accademia and headed straight for the Zattere which is a lovely promenade that extends the length of Dursoduro ending at San Salute, the church built to celebrate the end of the Black Plague. A few pictures later and a one stop vaporetto trip had us back at San Marco and we were home 10 minutes later happy to be in the warmth of our lovely hotel room with a view.

Dinner was in a very small homey family restaurant on a lonely canal. Everyone seemed to know each other and all had a grand time of it.  We had a lovely 2nd day here in Venice. Tomorrow we are meeting Livio who will take us to the Ponte Vecchio where we will watch a regatta on the canal where 5 Venetians race their gondolas down the Grand Canal dressed as the witch Befana – could be fun. After that we plan to take a vaporetto to Murano and the San Michele cemetery to see the graves of Stravinsky and Diaghilev.

VENICE DAY 14  Sunday 06 January   Our last day in Venice

We had no solid plans for today. After breakfast Charles’ friend Livio came to meet us at our hotel and walk us to the Rialto Bridge to view the gondoliers dressed up as Befana (the witch who puts gifts in Italian children’s socks on 10 January) race down the canal. It was a fun way to start the day. We stood at one of the vaporetto stops and watched the witches warm up, placing our bets on the red one, who actually ended up winning the race. There was a little band just below the Rialto Bridge, a loud Italian commenting over the speaker, a stream of gondolas, motor boats and vaporettos weaving their way up and down the canal. This was an opportunity to get a sense of how Venice is really a small community.

Following the race, Livio walked us to Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, which is supposedly the biggest church in Venice and houses the tomb of Canova. We managed to squeeze in right after a service and so avoided the usual fee to view the church. On the way to the Frari we passed an ice skating rink which excited the boys, especially Max. But after some careful discussion decided it was best to give the skating a miss given Riley was still battling the cold that had lingered for the whole trip, not to mention the fact we had only one pair of clothes with us in Venice. We pondered a trip to the Accademia but decided against that too. Back on San Marco we came across a Murano glass shop where we purchased 2 beautiful glasses, a tea light holder and heart for Riley to give to his latest, Sima (very sweet that he is such a romantic).

We arrived to a warm, clean, sunny room and were glad to rest. Whist in our room we contemplated a trip to Murano and the Isle San Michele to visit the cemetery where the graves of Stravinsky and Diaghilev lie. Riley was still feeling pretty low so we decided against that too.
Around 2:30pm Charles and Max headed for the museum at the Basilica San Marco to see the Bronze Horses – the horses of St Mark that were believed to be made for Alexander the Great. They were made in Greece 2nd century BCE, taken to Rome, then to Constantinople in the 3rd century CE where they adorned the hippodrome until 1204. Then they were looted by Venetian crusaders and put on the balcony of St. Mark’s. After Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797 he took them to Paris but they were returned to Venice in 1815 after Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo – a well-traveled quadriga. Tonight we will dine again in the restaurant downstairs, get prepared for our drive tomorrow and probably have an early night.

Our time here in Italy has been very special. Aside the small hiccups along the way, Riley’s cold that began as a fever the moment we landed in Rome, my cystitis, Charles’ bout of bronchitis before we left, and painful moments  banging his head on low lying beams and walls in unsuspecting places, nothing stopped us from making the most of every minute. I think Max wins the award for being the healthiest one of us all, in spite of the fact that it was he for whom we brought along some antibiotics. We have shared some incredible sights, indulged in copious amounts of gelato, visited MANY churches, admired incredible art, and even learned a little Italian along the way.

Since our last trip to Venice 12 years ago, the dear Mrs. Wildner, mama of this lovely family hotel, had passed away. The hotel is still the same now run by her son and grandsons and la vista è ancora bella! Venice really hasn’t changed at all. We have changed, of course. Charles did finally propose, we did marry, and now have 2 beautiful boys that we cherish every day.

I can’t help feeling a little nostalgic as we prepare to say goodbye to this magical place and head for Rome and home. Where will we be in 12 years time, will we ever be back here again, will our boys ever be back here again, how will they grow, what will they be like 12 years from now, 20 and 22 years old, young men with their whole lives ahead of them? Life is indeed precious. Everyday seems to fly by with even greater speed. If only life could stand still; this would be the perfect moment to have that happen.

ROME   DAY 15  Monday 07 January    DRIVE BACK TO ROME

We had great plans to get up early, drive to Padua to see the Scrovegni Chapel, to San Sepolcro to see the Pieros and to Arezzo to see the True Cross frescos of Piero but it was not to be. Riley had a fever and was in no state to tour.  We got up late, had our breakfast and took a vaporetto to the car.  From there we drove straight to Rome and to the airport Hilton.  Charles checked us in and had to be a little sneaky as the hotel had no rooms for 4 people.  He had booked an executive suite for 3 people and when he checked in he gave them only 3 passports.  Max “ghosted”.  We all stayed in the car until Charles had checked in, seen the room and Executive Lounge. Then Charles and I took the bags up while the boys stayed in the car.  When we came down, I took Riley up to the room and Max went with Charles to drop off the rental car and they walked back and slipped in unnoticed. 

The room was gorgeous with lots of space and a great bathroom. It was just what we needed.  Max and Charles made many trips to the Executive Lounge bringing us food and drinks all evening.  We started to pack up but eventually fell asleep.  In the morning after breakfast we finished packing and walked across the bridge to the airport to the Alitalia check-in for our 9 hour flight back to JFK.  Riley was a bit better but not 100% so we did everything rather slowly.

None of us really wanted to leave Venice. The vaporetto ride to the Piazzale Roma was very sad. New York greeted us with sunny warm weather and of course it was wonderful to get back home.  It has taken us quite a while to get back to normal.  Riley stayed home from school all week feeling low and with a cough and Max stayed home one day. 

Italy was wonderful and so was being on vacation. But perhaps the best thing was being together and traveling as a family, enjoying every waking moment with each other and making all of the decisions together. It’s comforting to know that this family loves each other.  The boys never fought the entire trip, few harsh words were ever said and there were no tears.  Only happiness, excitement and laughter accompanied us on our trip. We’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Here are 3 Videos: 1) Rome 2) Siena, San Gimignano, Florence, Pisa and 3) Venice.


Siena, San Gimignano, Florence, Pisa


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