Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday, May 28, 2004. Arrivederci to Italy

Time to go home. I think we are ready.
I never did figure out how to call a taxi. Gee, would have been nice if the rental agent could have helped. When she came to check us out she just helplessly said she didn't have the number. It just killed me because there was even a dock in front of our door and a water taxi could have picked us right up.

Instead we dragged our suitcases down four flights of steps, schlep them over the cobblestone street, not even really sure where we were going--trying to find the bus station.

Fortunately by following signs to Piazza Roma it was not too far, we only had to heave our suitcases up and over two bridges.

We found the bus station but we also found a taxi stand and it seemed that was the better way to go. 80 E he told me. No problem. It was a very nice way to leave Venice. The kids thought it was much nicer than a vaporetto ride. No kidding.

Our trip home was exhausting but uneventful.

Our Top 3 in Italy:
  • The cat sanctuary
  • Fragola granite
  • Pidgeons in St. Mark.

            • Shopping
            • Colleseum
            • Gelato

  • The Churches
  • Meals - both the good food and the experience of taking your time with your family
  • The adventures!

This was pretty much a once in a lifetime trip for us, and I'm really glad we did it.
If I had to do it again the only thing I would change is that I would PACK LIGHTER

Thursday, July 24, 2008

May 27, 2004 Murano

Our last full Day in Venice and Italy. Sarah and I got up early to get pastys and brought them back to the apartment.

We left at 10 and walked to San Marco (couldn't talk the kids back into a vaporetto) and took the #42 vaporetto to Murano.
DO NOT TAKE THIS BOAT TO MURANO. You sit far below, can hardly see out and it's nauseating that low and it stops

It took us an hour an a half to get to Murano. It was not a pleasant ride. Did I mention my kids argued the entire hour and a half?

We did get to pass an enormous Princess Cruise ship. The size of it was unbelievable. Sarah was convinced there was an ice rink on it and wanted to be there. They both thought a cruise would be a good idea. Yea sure, no problem.

Finally we got off the boat and went to some glass factories to watch the glass blowing. Isaac especially enjoyed watching them make the glass vases. He could have stayed there all day, watching. I kind of wish we had gone on one of the tour boats because we didn't get to see the infamous horse demonstration which I think the kids would have enjoyed..

After the demonstrations we walked along, enjoying the scenery and shops. Sarah bought a tiny little flamingo and Isaac bought a larger dolphin.

We stopped to eat at a café along the canal. Della Marow. I mention it's name in order to suggest you eat elsewhere. This was our worst meal in Italy.

I had spaghetti with garlic oil and hot peppers that was actually pretty good. But Sarah ordered penne with meat sauce and Isaac had spaghetti with meat sauce. They bought Isaac and me the same spaghetti with hot peppers. The waiter was quite insistent that we ordered the same thing. Hmm, I'm pretty sure that what I ordered sounds nothing like "ragoo".

Finally the waiter agreed to take it away and bring Isaac what he ordered.

In the meantime we see pools of congealed grease on Sarah's dish. She can't eat it. I taste it and it was truly awful. Worse than a tavern (sloppy joe) at a midwestern church supper.

Then the waiter brings Isaac spaghetti and he tastes it and begs for water because it is so spicy. It's got the same green peppers as was on mine. The pasta is cold. The spaghetti is spicy hot. We are quite certain that all the waiter did was take Isaac's plate with the spicy spaghetti and dump that nasty meat sauce over it.

So I'm the only one that ate my lunch. Usually when we don't finish our plate the waiter notices and looks hurt and we feel guilty. This time we hope he asks "You no like?" But of course he doesn't.

I only had 1/2 hour left on our 24 hour vaporetto tickets so we decided to go back after lunch. I had hoped to visit some other island but the kids have a low tolerance for time on vaporettos.

This time we took the #5 back to San Marco. It's a straight trip, no stops. This is the boat to take.

Everyone is a bit irritable so we decided to go back and rest. Of course this is the time we get lost. I know the joys of getting lost in Venice have been extolled everywhere, but when you are hot, tired, had a lousy lunch and are with irritable and fighting teenage siblings, trust me, there is nothing charming about being lost in Venice.

The good thing is that it is hard to stay lost for long in Venice. We managed to find a familiar square and get back to our apartment.

After a rest, I was regretting not seeing the inside of San Marco and we still had gifts to buy. Sarah agreed to come along.

We shopped along the Rialto Bridge, completing our list.
By the time we got to San Marco it was closed at 5:30.

Oh well.
We were tired so I thought we should have an expensive drink at one of the cafes on the square with an orchestra. Sarah had an 8.50 E cioccolata and I had a 15 E café with Kailua.

Ah, but the way they brought it out--beautiful china with a delicate pink rose pattern on a silver tray, Sarah had a little pitcher of milk and one of chocolate to pour into her cup. It also came with a carafe of ice water.

We could see the basilica and watch people, sipping our expensive drinks. We even saw one hapless couple sit down with their ice cream cones and be politely shooed away by the waiter. It must have been one of the waiter's birthday and the orchestra played happy birthday. Sarah said she could get used to being rich. Needless to say, we don't live like this at home. Well if this trip motivates my kids to work hard and be successful to live this way, this is a good thing. Hey, not that I don't work hard!

Anyway the bill came and I was expecting a high cover charge but how about 8.90 e "musica supplimenti?" 32 E for coffee and hot chocolate. Sitting with your daughter in St Mark's square? Priceless. Besides, we leave tomorrow and I need to unload some euro.

Sarah and I got a little lost again on the way back and happened upon a campo that was a little neighborhood with little children playing on plastic Little Tyke playground toys and old ladies sitting on benches talking. We found a place where the real people live!

We were so beat when we got back (remember those four flights of steps!) nobody wanted to think about dinner. I wasn't even hungry but the kids didn't really have lunch.

About 8:15 we figured we'd better eat. We stopped at a window with take away pizza and calzone, but there wasn't anything that appealed to the kids so we kept walking.

Not far from our apartment is a Chinese restaurant recommended in Chow Venice, "La Perla de Oriente." Chinese food in Italy? Why not?

It's a lovely little place; pink napkins folded prettily, pretty pink china. Sarah and I had spring rolls that were the best restaurant rolls we've ever had (we make these at home and think ours are the best). I had hot and sour soup, okay, but I've had better.

The kids had stir fried noodles that were served first in the manner of a pasta primo. Then I had sweet and sour pork that was just excellent, Isaac had fried prawns in the best lightly crispy batter and Sarah had a wonderfully tender lemon chicken. This is one of the best Chinese Restaurants we've ever been to. With 1/2 liter of house wine, coke and water, coperto and 12% servizo 39 E total. It was a nice end to our trip

Wednesday 5-25-04 Venice

I let the kids sleep in though I would have liked to be up and out earlier. Yesterday was traumatic enough. We set out about 10:30, with no particular plan or itinerary. We stopped and got some big thick chocolate chip cookie/biscuits and followed the signs to San Marco.

We came out of a small dark alley right at a gondola stop. I didn't know it at the time but we were pretty close to the Rialto Bridge. Of course we are approached for a gondola ride and the kids want to do it, might as well do it now. But I know I'm going to get hosed when he says "200 E for long ride" "Okay, 100 E for shorter ride" I take the 100E ride. I knew it was going to be pricey but I was hoping 100 E would get us a longer ride.

It is a short ride but we went under
the Rialto Bridge, we saw Marco Polo's house, Casanova, and some other palaces. We got to go down some quiet canals and people above us on bridges took our pictures. It was over in about 25 minutes. That was the only disappointing part of it. But how can you take your kids to Venice and not have a gondola ride?
We continued over the Rialto Bridge.

Along the way I saw a shop that sold the most beautiful cameos and I saw one pendant with a woman wearing a small diamond. It was soo pretty and 200 E. I've never spent that kind of money on jewelry for myself. I thought of the advice that if you see something you like, buy it right then because you may not find it again, but I kept walking. I was immediately sorry because I could not imagine how we would ever find it again in this maze like path of ours. Oh well, it wasn't meant to be, I said to myself.

Eventually we found our way to San Marco. Isaac bought some food to feed the pigeons while Sarah complained that they were filthy diseased creatures that no one should go near. I couldn't resist and took some food and let a few land on my hand. I would have liked to have gone inside the Basilica, but it looked like at least an hour line. We'd all pretty much had enough of art, museums and churches so we just walked around.

It was time for lunch so we walked a little away from the main tours spots and found "Trattoria Canonica" Isaac had his favorite pizza prosciutto which he proclaimed one of the best. Sarah and I shared a pepperoni pizza. Of course the waiter had to warn us that pepperoni was a vegetable. What confusion that must cause among tourists.

The prices on the menu were very cheap so with only 2 pizzas I expected a much lower bill than 43E. The coperto was 7.74 and 12% servizo.

I saw no need to leave a tip. 12% turned out to be pretty common servizo charge in Venice but that was the highest coperto I ever paid. But the food was very good and I guess that's still pretty reasonable for Venice. The address is 30124 Venezia, San Marco.

Sarah and I wanted to shop and Isaac wanted to feed the pigeons so we left him at the square with some Euro and Sarah and I wondered around, buying little inexpensive masks as gifts to bring home.

After we found Isaac again we took the #1 vaopretto to St. Paulo, got off and got on another one back to San Marco. I bought a 24 hour pass with a discount for the kids. Everyone says this is such a charming ride. Well, maybe when it is less crowded. It was so crowded, we couldn't sit by the window, Isaac found a seat outside but there were so many people standing around him he couldn't see anything.

Isaac did have an interesting experience while he was playing his gameboy on the boat. A couple of Italian kids came up to him with their gameboys and noticed they were playing the same game. They managed to communicate somehow. Oh the international language of video games.

On the whole however, we found the vaporettos to be about as charming as any other crowded bus, and a little more nauseating.

We could have gotten off at our St. Toma stop but Sarah wanted to see if we could find our way back from San Marco. She also wanted to find that shop so I could get that cameo.

Amazingingly we took the exact same route back and found the shop. So I bought the pendant. It really is very lovely. She did the paperwork so I could have the tax refunded, I did get it stamped at the airport, but never found a place to mail it in.

I cannot believe how easily we found our way back to the apartment, without even looking at a map. In every other city we got lost constantly. In the city you are supposed to get lost, we didn't. At least not today.

We came home, climbed the four flights of steps and rested before setting out for dinner at 8. We decided to try a nearby trattoria recommended both in Chow Venice and Great Eats in Italy, Trattoria San Toma. It was very easy to find in camp S. Toma.

We ate outside and as it was almost the end of our trip and I still had $$ in my account we decided to go for it. I had prosciutto and melon--the melon was very sweet. Isaac had prosciutto pizza and Sarah Sausage and pepperoni. The sausage turned out to be very much like American pepperoni. I had gnocchi ragoo and grilled vegetables. The gnocchi was wonderful. I'd had gnocchi somewhere in Sorrento that was nowhere near as good.

Then we had dolce and she invited us to come inside to pick what we wanted. Sarah and I had some kind of chocolate cake and Isaac had some kind of cherry torte. It was all very good. Then we had café (Americano for me, I can't handle espresso) and cioccolata for the kids.

We stayed and talked and enjoyed the parade of people passing by. The total bill was 95 E and we decided it was just as much a Venetian experience as the gondola but cheaper and lasted longer!

Sarah wondered if they'd ever be content to eat at Applebee's again. I know I'll never stomach another Pizza Hut pizza.

Tuesday, 5/24/2004 Travel Day to Venice

This so sad that I'm coming to the end of trip report, it's like the end of my trip!

Sarah and I got up early to climb the dome at the cathedral at 8:30. We planned to stop at Gilli's on the way back but they were closed!

There was only a small line at the dome. I thought Pisa was bad- this one has 450 steps! Of course Sarah left me far behind. About 2/3 of the way you get to see the inside of the dome. Heaven is on the top. Right at the level you are walking around are scenes of hell. Compared to going up more stairs, hell's not looking too bad. But I carry on.

There was a point at which there was a sign pointing to the way back down and I do believe if Sarah wasn't waiting for me up ahead, I would have abandoned this death climb and gone back downstairs. What a shame that would have been because the top is not much further (although the last steps are VERY steep)

At last we are at the top--outside with a beautiful view. Time to rest, take some photos and then back down again.

There are separate steps to go down for most of the way but there are some areas where the up and down people have to make room for one another. Lucky for us we came early enough that going up we only bet a few going down. We met more up climbers on the way down.

My glimpse from the dome is the only look I got at the inside of the Cathedral. The lines were always too long. And it was not going to open until 10 and we had to go back and pack.

We were packed by 10:30 and Ann the hotel owner let us put our bags in the sitting room so we could go out again. Our train is not until 12:38 and we are only about 5 minutes from the train station.

The science museum was close by so we thought we'd check that out. Oh my goodness, I thought it was crowded before--the piazza della Signoria was just jam packed with tour groups. The line to the Uffizi was nearly out to the river. Advice to readers--don't count on our dumb luck--get reservations!

Isaac was the one that enjoyed the museum the most--we did get to see the infamous preserved finger of Galileo. Why-- I don't know.

Now the one room that did interest me, full of cast models of babies in the womb being born, different positions, things that can go wrong, the kids thought was gross. Okay a preserved finger is cool but babies being born are gross. Whatever.

By 11:30 we were on our way. It was very busy at the train station and I was glad I had bought my tickets the day before. Again the binario for our train was not listed on the large boards so I looked it up on the schedule on the track. Binario #9. It was noon--time for our usual Train Station Lunch --Mac Donald's!

About 12:15 they announce the track # has changed to 11 so we lug our suitcases over there. This time we are in luck and our car is up front. Usually we have to run to the back of the train, even when we are first class.

Train ride from Florence to Venice is 3 hours. I warned the kids that when we get there it is probably going to be the most unpleasant time of our trip because you can't get a taxi right up to the door. We will be carrying our luggage around.

I have the exact instructions to our San Rocco apt. Take the #82 to S. Toma. 5 E per person and 3.50 for each piece of luggage. It was very crowded in the vaporetto. We get pushed way to the back and I could barely get us back to the front with our luggage, squeezing past other luggage to get off.

It's not really that far to the apartment but with our luggage weighed down with 2 weeks of souvenirs -it's pretty hard and I'm not good at following directions.

Eventually the rental agent came and got us. I think I would have found it eventually.

Now comes the fun part. Its FOUR flights of stairs and no lift. I knew that but somehow didn't think it would be all that bad. It was pretty bad. What was I thinking?

Anyway we made it. It's a decent enough apartment.
Not as nice as the one in Rome, but there's more room than a hotel. I fork over my 450, plus 200 E deposit in cash.

The rental lady isn't gone 20 minutes when Sarah locks herself in the bathroom and can't get out. Then she breaks the handle. I can't get her out. Isaac can't get her out.

And my #!@! phone won?t work! I tried going downstairs and calling but the call still won?t go through. I go back upstairs, the kids have managed a way to pass the key from the window in the bathroom on the clothesline to the living room, but neither Isaac nor I can get the key to work.

I go back downstairs and to San Rocco square to look for a pay phone. They are all over Rome and Florence, but do you think I could find one? Finally I went into a Tabacci store and told the guy my ridicules story. Fortunately he spoke English very well and let me use his phone.

At first the lady was saying she couldn't do anything about it. Huh? "Okay?" She asks


The Tabacci guy suggests we call the fire department but I'm not sure of the address. When I got back my phone was working and the owner called and said someone would be there in an hour.

In the mean time Isaac entertains her by playing hangman; they slip the paper back and forth under the door. This is the best I've ever seen these two get along.

So the handyman comes, slips the key in the door and unlocks it, no problem. I swear upon all that is holy, both Isaac and I tried that key several time, several ways and it would not open. Do I feel stupid? Then he had to fix the lock because the handle was broken. He was very pleasant about it. He did stick the key in the drawer and say "I prefer you not use the key" Yea. Good idea.

So it's about 7 pm by the time all this is over and done with. So much for any sightseeing today. We have only 2 real days in Venice. I don't have a map and can't quite figure out if there are any eating places listed in our books.

So we walk around and see a very nice looking trattoria just over a bridge. Isaac has prosciutto and I have shrimp with oil and lemon juice. It?s served on these leaves that come in all the salads that I find too bitter for my taste. Sarah and Isaac both have spaghetti--I warn them not to order "al nero" unless they want it blackened with cuttlefish ink.

I had spaghetti carbanara - with eggs, cheese sauce and bacon. It's all very good and with drinks the bill is only 45E. We are out of there before 9.

We stop for gelato and Isaac tries granite (kind of like an icee) and he never went back to gelato after that. 3 euro for all. We are back in the land of cheap gelato.

Monday, May 24, 2004 Pisa day Trip

We left about 9 am, stopping at Gilli's for pastys to go. Here's a lesson -3.50 E total for pastys to go. To sit down the same pastys are 4.50 each.

We walked to the train station, without luggage it's not a bad walk. I bought tickets to Pisa, but nowhere could we find out which binariao (track) we need. The train was listed on the big black boards but not the binario. Finally I found it listed on one of the large schedules on a board on the track. Good thing I found out because everyone was getting on it and it was a very crowded train. It was an intercity train so there were no seat reservations. Lots of tourists going to Pisa.

It's exactly one hour to Pisa. We followed Rick Staves advice to pick up the #3 bus across the street at the hotel. The difficult thing about taking a bus is that you are never sure where your stop is. I happened to see a big gate and a crowd of people and figured that had to be it.

Sarah wanted to climb the tower, which meant of course that I had to as well. Isaac said "no thanks" We waited in line about 15 minutes and got an appointment for a 2:30 climb. It was 12:30 so we had 2 hours to kill. We decided to have lunch at a nearby café. Isaac had prosciutto pizza and was very disappointed when his "prosciutto" turned out to be regular deli ham. Sarah and I shared a salami pizza that was pretty good.

Then we walked around, I got Isaac to come into the baptistery with me. It is very impressive. Sarah wore shorts so she couldn't go in the Cathedral. I had long shorts and had no problem. The mosaics and pulpit at the Cathedral are just stunning.

We checked out the tourist stalls. Mostly junk but Sarah and I found journal books with matching pens. I had been looking at journals in Florence, but these were as nice as I'd seen and less expensive. The matching pens were a nice touch.

To climb the tower you meet at the tourist office and a guide walks you to the tower. There's a warning about how strenuous an activity this is and that its' more than 300 steps. I begin to have self doubts. Sarah starts running up the steps and leaves me far behind. Well at least nobody passed me and I heard everyone else breathing about as hard as me so we are all in about the same shape. I did stop twice to rest. About 2/3 up there's a balcony, but nope, you are not finished. The worse, however, is over. If you take a good rest there the final steps aren't so bad. It's quite a view from the top. Look around, catch your breath, take some pictures and go back downstairs again. Although downstairs is not as strenuous I thought it was worse, they are steep, leaning, slippery and no rail. But they are narrow enough that you can put your hands on both walls

While waiting for us Isaac enjoyed watching all the people taking the exact same photo-holding up the tower.

Before we left for Italy I read lots of advice that the Pisa is a waste of time. I think it was one of our favorite days. Lots of tourists yes. But the kids loved it. And the Cathedral and baptistery are worth seeing. There are lots of other museums but my kids are museumed out.

While at the train station I decided to buy our tickets for tomorrow's journey to Venice. Isaac went outside to wait and was surrounded by a group of youngsters. He had on a travelers' vest with lots of pockets and felt them going after his pockets. He had no money but he did have his game boy and a camera in pockets. He managed to fend them off. He'd been suffering allergies on the trip and thinks the fact that nearly all of his pockets had used tissues in them might have helped. He didn't seem particularly upset by the incident. They started by telling him he'd dropped something and he was onto them right away, keeping a hand on the pockets with the camera and gameboy.

When we got home we rested and then went to dinner early, about 7:45, hoping to get a table at Trattorea Nella.

This time we were lucky. For antipasti we all had this wonderful garlic toast with olive oil. It was really good. I had their special pasta, ravioli with a pesto made from arugula. It was good, but very strong and I couldn't eat it all. Isaac had lasagna and Sarah spaghetti with spicy peppers. Sarah and I had the same dolce, cream with chocolate, some kind of thick cream covered with hot chocolate syrup. Very Good.

As soon as we finished they brought the bill without asking. That never happened anywhere else in Italy. There were people waiting outside for tables and I did get the feeling they were trying to clear people out. That's an unusual feeling in Italy! Total
bill including house wine (very good), water and coke- 55E.

We walked around both the Piazza dell Piazza della Repubblica and piazza della Signoria and had gelato before going back to the hotel. Back in the hotel a large brass and snare drum band began playing right under our window. It was very festive.

Tomorrow- Venice

Sunday 5/23/04 Museum Day

We got pasty from Café Gilli at the Piazza della Repubblica. It was wonderful. We just walked around, not sure what to do first. We ended up at the Palazzo Vecchio. Rick Steves calls describes the art here as "mediocre magnificence", but we enjoyed it. There are lots of paintings depicting Roman mythology, which Isaac is into so it had his attention.

After that we walked over to the Uffizi, there was a small line, but I was afraid my kids would only tolerate one line and if it was only going to be one line, I wanted them to see David.

When I began planning this trip 2 years ago, I knew the smart thing was to make appointments to see David and the Uffizi. But I didn't do that. We took a trip a few years ago to Washington DC and had our congressman set up a bunch of appointments for us and I found it difficult to be where we were supposed to be at these times. I just like being more flexible. I wasn't sure if the kids were going to want to even go to the Uffizi. So I took my chances. A safe risk in May. Probably not a good risk in the summer.

We walked to the Academia and got there about 10:30 am. The line looked long but we waited only waiting 20 minutes before we got in. It's my lucky day.

This time the kids were impressed by David. They even enjoyed the rest of the art in the building. We kind of picked a theme which was how babies are portrayed. My kids noticed these artists must not have spent much time looking at babies because they are all out of proportion. We played pick the ugliest baby. Okay so we are not art connoisseurs.

(Sarah wants the pink luggage)

On the way back we passed a store with really cheap luggage. Isaac's suitcase handle broke on the way to Florence, so this was very fortuitous for us. We bought a larger suitcase for 12 E. What a deal. We had lunch at one of those cafeteria type places. It was very crowded and the food wasn't that good and not any less expensive than a restaurant.

On to Sarah's favorite activity was shopping at the San Lorenzo open air market. She found a white leather jacket for 100E. Good thing I told her to look around. I wanted to buy my gentleman friend a nice leather wallet. I was looking at wallets but they looked kind of cheap to me. "Yes, you want a wallet? I am Valentino; I am King of the Wallets... I know what you want. I have good wallet for you, I am Valentino, King of the Wallets." Valentino found me a nice sheepskin wallet plus put on a good show.

After that we are ready for a rest back at the hotel. At about 4 I asked the kids if they wanted to try the Uffizi. Isaac has had enough but Sarah is game. We luck out again and stand in line only a half an hour. I confess, to my disappointment, we never found the room with the Botticelli collection. But we did see a lot of babies! I never realized there was such a common theme of showing the baby Jesus playing with baby John the Baptist. He's so cute with his little animal skin romper. We also got to see Michelangelo's Holy Family. It made up a little for the Sistine Chapel being such a disaster.

We rested before dinner. We went back to the piazza della Signoria and this time chose Il Cavallino, which was recommended by Rick Steves. (When I got home I saw it is also mentioned in Fromners).

For antipasti Isaac has his usual prosciutto. I decided to try the ribolitta, a hearty vegetable and bread soup that is so thick, it's almost like a casserole. The waiter suggested I pour olive oil on top. The house wine was wonderful and when I told the waiter he said "I know" Sarah and I order roast beef and potatoes. Isaac gets a steak.

Of course the steak is pink when it comes. And so is the roast beef. I thought it was wonderful, when I make roast, I always have to overcook it or nobody but me will eat it. Sarah says it makes her sick to see meat that red. It's embarrassing, but at these prices, the kids need to eat, so I apologetically tell my waiter about my silly children who can't eat red meat.

He's okay with sending the steak back but is horrified at the idea of overcooking the roast beef. "But this IS roast beef!" He insists.
"I know," I say sympathetically. "Can ya cook it a little more please?" Back it goes. The poor cook probably feels he's being asked to commit a culinary crime.

When it comes back, Sarah eats it all, but Isaac leaves parts of the steak uneaten because it's slightly pink. I suggest to Isaac maybe he shouldn't order steak anymore. The thing is, he likes it when he can get it burned enough. Total bill was 66 E.

More gelato on the way home. I guess you just can't get 2 E gelato anywhere nearby in Florence. The smallest cone in 3.50 E.

Before we go back to the hotel we
stop at the pig (who is right under our hotel window) and rub his nose and feed him coins

May 22, 2004 Rome to Florence

Moving day and I have the bright idea to do laundry before we go. Maria is coming at 11 and I think I can do the laundry, pack and clean the apartment before that. At the lavanderia there is another nice man who takes my money and turns on the washing machine. One hour, he promises. I should be done by 9 am. No problem. My wash is done at 8:45. It takes a key to start the dryer, which I've paid for. But the man who has my key is gone. A woman I believe is his wife who speaks little English tells me to wait one minute. 15 minutes later I'm thinking I need to leave. She tells me to come back at 10. I can't come back at 10, I have to leave.

But she doesn't understand. Come back tomorrow she tells me "Now is impossible" I ask for a bag so I can take my laundry home wet. Then I ask if I can't pay more and get another key for another dryer. Suddenly she gets an idea. She takes some money, puts it in the machine, pushes some numbers and starts the dryer. I get back to the apt with clean and dry clothes about 9:45.

By 11 everything is done and Maria comes by to check us out. I cleaned dirt in that apt that was there before we arrived. She makes sure the TV works. All is well and she hands over my 200 E deposit and calls us a cab.

We get to the train station. Why didn't I buy a ticket before? Because I keep planning on the 12:30 train and we would have never made it. I went back to the machine. I was paying attention, I thought, but I end up buying an IC train, not Euro star. I knew something was not right. Too cheap. Back in line I go. I was able to upgrade it to 1:30 second class Eurostar to Florence. There's not much difference between First and Second class.

Firenze is the first stop, exactly 1 1/2 hours later. There is a long line for taxis but they keep coming so we are soon on our way. Cabfare to our hotel is 6.25

Via Pellicceria 2, Florence 155 E a night, triple

This is an interesting hotel. It doesn't look like a hotel, no sign, just a small brass plate to ring. We are let into a dark, musty smelling stairwell. I've been warned about this and promise the kids it will be better on our floor. We drag the suitcases up one flight to the elevator and get to our room on the 3rd floor, which is bright and cheery. Our triple room with three twin beds lined up in a row is pretty spacious. The walls are yellow, the beds are yellow, and the bedspreads are yellow. There's also a sitting room and breakfast room we can use. We get 5 keys -1 for outside, 1 for elevator, 1 to let us in the apartment where the rooms are, 1 for the room and 1 for the electricity. And we have trouble keeping track of keys.

Our window looks directly over the
Mercato Nuevo. Right away the kids want to go shopping. Isaac bought a chess set, a copy of an exclaber sword (great how are we going to pack those - he buys all the big stuff). Sarah has her eye on a white leather jacket for 140 E but I tell her to wait and look around more.

We just start walking and come upon the Duomo. Wow! What a building. From the outside at least, I think it is more imprssive than St. Peter. We walk toward the Uffizzi and cross the Ponte Vecchio. I stopped at a shop and bought a pair of leather gloves for myself and for Sarah's skating coach. Of course we stopped for gelato. It's very crowded.

We rest before dinner. We want to try Tattoria Nella, which is nearby and recommended both by the hotel owner and Rick Steves, but it's too crowded.

We keep passing full trattorias. People seem to eat earlier here, perhaps because of all the tourists. You wouldn't see places this crowded at 7:30 in Rome! We end up at the Pi out with bruschetta, prosciutto and crustini. The pate was the only thing we didn't care for. Sarah and I shared a plate of tortellini with tomato sauce which was very good. Then because we were hungry for something besides pasta and pizza, Sarah and I each ordered a pork chop.

Isaac had a steak that was humongous but he had to send it back because he will not eat anything is remotely pink. The pork chops were grilled, fat, juicy and wonderful. We live in Iowa where we are used to good pork, and this was right up to our standards. Isaac thought his steak, returned to him black, was very good.

The service was excellent. Bill for all including 1/2 liter house wine (not great but I drank it) large bottle of water and a coke--83 E. It was fun to have all the courses but I think I had better cut back for awhile.

We crossed the piazza for gelato. Sarah is fixated on cream caramel and I try the Grand Mariner (very good) Isaac wanted a big waffle cone which she dressed up. 16 E for gelato! Gelato was much cheaper in Sorrento and Rome.