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Saturday, April 28, 2012

When in Rome...

Do as the Romans do. Which I guess in this modern day means... Scheme, scam, and harass the tourists any chance you get. Pickpocket, shove plastic light up colosseums in their face as they are trying to view ancient history,  overcharge them for a meal that is less appealing than the airplane food, and then try to sell them stuffed animals as they sit on the deck trying to enjoy their second dinner because the first meal was so unappealing that most of it was trashed. Needless to say Rome is definitely low on my list of favorite places in Italy. We did escape with our wallets but with all the paranoia about pickpockets ( signs, tales, and warnings everywhere) its hard to feel comfortable in this city. Everyone is hustling; selling you " the best" product, food , gelato, etc.  We did go to vatican city today. We started at the Vatican museum. It was endless rooms of paintings, statues, and various artwork. Our obvious favorite was the Sistine chapel, though it was also a bit of a disappointment . As you were cattle herded through the small chapel they tried to enforce a no picture policy. Of course no one heeded their rules and cameras were clicking everywhere. We got a few shots; rebels I know.  After the museum we sat in the square of Vatican city and the Dan brown book " angels and demons" came to life for me.  I know some pop culture reference to Vatican city is probably a disgrace to my generation, but that was my main point of reference for this part of town ( and a great read by the way). Maybe i should have paid more attention in history class.   From there we took the metro to the Spanish steps ( the metro is another form of transportation the we have mastered in Italy). The Spanish steps are a local hangout near the pantheon neighborhood. We saw the triveni fountain; made of massive marble statues. All the coins that are thrown in feed the homeless.  At that point we had enough touristy fun. We hailed a cab and passed the pantheon on the way back to the hotel ( check it off... We did see it).  While Rome is definitely worth seeing. A day or a day and a half would have been plenty for me.

Friday, April 27, 2012


We have arrived in Rome. Our last destination in Italy. At first glance Rome is indistinguishable from NYC. Upon arrival we learned that the nearest campground is almost an hour from the city, so we opted for a small hotel that we found just two blocks from Rome Termini train station. We had a late lunch of pizza, sandwiches, and gelato. Then we walked to ancient Rome. It was juxtapositioned between the hotels and shops of modern Rome. We all agreed that the setting was less than ideal. It would have been that much more grand if we would have had to take an hour long bus ride into the country to see ancient Rome. Instead we played frogger trying to cross the street here. We weaved between modern hotels and restaurants. We breathed in the city smog. And between all of that we found ancient Rome. The colosseum was my personal favorite. Given my penchant for darkness, this should come at no surprise. Structurally it was amazing though. The ultimate symbol of ancient Rome. We walked though beautiful churches, amazing ruins, and under marble  arches. We found a fresh fruit stand and bought two grocery bags full. We stopped in a park to take in the sights and sounds of the city. We stopped for dinner at a small hipster restaurant when we had wandered off course. I had a glass of wine and free appetizers. The boys finally got a bit of meat with their meal. We had a long European style dinner. Afterwards we wandered around the city some more until we found our hotel and collapsed after hours of strolling the streets of Rome. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spaghetti... Or pizza

After a good nights rest we awoke and had  breakfast on the town square of  vernazza.  The town was much more lively this morning.  I had a chocolate pastry, fresh cut fruit, and of course a cappucino.  Then we set out to hike cinque terre. The trail was closed in the direction of corgnelia so we headed towards monterosso. The climb was steep and there were hundreds of rocky steps along the narrow trail.  Despite my hesitation due to being totally winded after only 20 minutes of hiking, somehow the next  hour and 40 minutes was easier. And it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip.  It was a beautiful trail through the mountains, across waterfalls, and above the jagged cliffs that overlooked the sea. On either side there were spring flowers and lemon trees. At one point on the trail we came across a lady selling fresh squeezed lemonade with handpicked lemons and an old school juicer.  When we reached monterosso we had lunch in the small touristy beach village ; a local pasta dish called trofie that has a worm shape. We walked around for a bit, found an atm ( since they were all wiped out in the mudslides in vernaza and we were near broke at this point) then we took a € 1.80 train ride back to vernazza. We gathered our belongings and set out for Pisa.  €7 later we arrived  via train 3 blocks from the leaning tower of Pisa. Naturally we joined the flocks of tourists in posing for a picture pretending to hold up the tower. From there the polizia directed us towards a campground. Walk down a graffiti decorated tunnel and we arrived at camp torre pendente. Again we were the only tent campers but this time it was much drier and warmer too.  We had dinner at a pizzeria. The options for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in Italy are primarily pizza or spaghetti. Unable to consume any more carbs in one day I opted for salad tonight. We ended our night in pisa with one more view of the tower lit up at night and gelato.  Tomorrow we are off to Rome. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's amore!

It's amore! I'm in love with cinque terre! So glad we made the trek out here to these five little cities located on the west coast of Italy.  But first I'm going to back up to the morning in bologna. We enjoyed our Italian breakfast of way too many carbs, nutella ( a staple in Europe), and caffe. I still haven't been able to choke one of those down yet.   It is a shot of expresso that looks and tastes like tar. Danny compares the feeling of drinking it to Popeye eating his can of spinach. I'll have to take his word on that and just stick to my cappuccinos here.  We made it inside the Ducati factory and museum today. The factory was quite interesting. Only a small yellow line painted on the floor divided you from the assembly line.  The factory utilizes a Japanese model which entails each worker building a piece of the bike, as opposed to workers just performing one tedious job over and over. The workers were relaxed and seemed to enjoy their job. They were working steadily but had time to laugh and talk as they worked. The safety regs in the building were fairly loose considering I almost got run over at about 20 mph by small vehicles in the building at least twice. After the factory tour we toured the museum ( the progression of bikes built from the early 1900's until today) and the gift shop(s).  Then we were off to the next town. We took three trains ( total about 4 hrs) deeper into the countryside. Near the end of our trip we went through a pitch black tunnel and came out over top the breathtaking view of vernazza, one of the five cities in the cinque terre. We were overlooking jagged, rocky cliffs, with the Ligurian sea below.  Vernazza was destroyed by floods in October 2011. According to the locals the small waterfront town got as much rain in 2-3 days as it normally does in a whole year. The result was 30-40 mudslides. Three were killed and many lost their homes and businesses.  The town is currently in a state of rebuilding. They are clearing the mud and debris. In some places it looks like the storm just happened yesterday. But the town is trying to move on. They are trying to get tourists to the area which will financially fuel recovery efforts and emotionally fuel hope for the locals.  Despite the wreckage we loved this small town. We had dinner in one of the few restaurants that is still open. We stopped for some very tasty homemade gelato. Then we hiked a mountain, stopping along the way to take photos of the dramatic views. We found lemon trees and orange trees and stopped to taste the fresh fruit. Later we sat in the town square and drank cappuccinos. Then we went to bed to the sound of the roaring sea just outside our window; so close that you can feel the mist if you stand up to the open window. It's amore!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I finally got a few pics uploaded on here! Quite proud  considering my lack of technological abilities.  Camp jolly ended up  being  pretty jolly after all. Our campsite stayed dry and even though we were the only crazies on the whole campsite in a tent we managed to stay fairly warm ( everyone else rented a cabin).  We had  breakfast on the patio of the camp store and decided to head to Bologna ( which consistently causes Dan to break out into he Oscar Meyer song at the mention of the city). We took a shuttle bus to a " people mover" to a train. After our caffe we were off to Bologna. We took the train through the countryside which was dotted with small towns along the way.  The Ducati museum didn't have room on their tour today so we booked for tomorrow morning. We found a cute little hotel that was modestly priced at €85 including breakfast for all three. We spent the evening touring the local area. We found beautiful fields with mountains and a castle as a backdrop. We went to the local market and got fresh food for dinner and wine that the locals recommended (which was really champagne). We slept with the windows open, enjoying the fresh air.  We read a bit and then got a good nights sleep.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Grazie! (part II)

4/22/12 Today was rainy.  It even hailed at one point. That didnt stop us from our travels. We started the morning with a light meal, which included a small pastry topped with cheese and olives for me and a ham and cheese wrap for the guys.  Another challenging realization for them was the delicacy of breakfast.  There are no eggs, biscuits, or sausage piled on a huge plate like in america.   No starbucks either.  You choose from a shot of caffe or a cappacino to start your morning.  The cups are so small it looks like everyone is partaking in a mini tea party at breakfast.   After our light meal we headed off to Venice again.  We sat under an umbrella and enjoyed another caffe while we watched the rain.  When it let up we took a gondola ride around the canals.  That afternoon we took the bus to Padua.  We walked around the small streets, ate homemade pizza, splurged on gelato and tiramisu, and even walked alongside a race.  We came across the St. Anthony's cathedral and botanical gardens, stopping to take pics of the massive and beautiful ornate decor.   We retuned to the campground that night.  We sat at the tables outside and got dinner and drinks from the camp store. Total cost for 3= less than €20!  We spent the night laughing, talking, telling stories, and meeting others who were traveling through Italy.  We have even picked up on a little Italian....grazie!...prego! ( thank you; you're welcome ).  It's a start.


Sunday, April 22, 2012


The boys watched movies all the way to europe while I tried to sleep so I can get on track with the time change.  At this point they have been awake for near 24 hours and a new day is just starting in Europe. We landed in Germany so Dan and Drew found it fitting to add "das" ( the) to every English word they know.  After three years of German class I high school ... That pretty much sums up Danny's learnings. We drank "das coffee" and window shopped in " das store". Even though the boys talked about grabbing " das german beer",as soon as we landed in Germany, they opted for " das nap" instead.  Danny was slightly disappointed that they didn't accept " das American dollar" here.  I think he is finally realizing that we aren't in Maryland anymore. Upon arrival in Marco polo airport in Venice Italy we decided to travel like the locals via bus.  We were headed towards a random campsite I found about 2 minutes before jumping on the bus, but since we didn't have reservations there and were open to any campground we let the locals direct us to " jolly camping" which would have been better named " where the side walk ends".  With only one small sign at the end of the road to direct us we walked down a pedestrian/ bike path and through a graffiti decorated tunnel to our new home. We set up the tent and quickly shattered Danny's fantasy of a multi room tent that you can stand in, by the reality of our teeny backpackers tent.  We headed back on the bus to tour the grand canal in Venice. It is  streets upon streets of shops, canals, and bridges.  We settled for dinner in a restaurant that has been in the family for three generations but was a bit of a tourist trap. The food was good but the tiramisu was disappointingly sub par. After our long European style multi course meal we trekked back to the bus.  Apparently none of us watched for the bus stop to the campground and we missed it. After a quick tour of the Venice suburbs we finally found our bus line and headed back to the campsite.  Along the way we found a French couple on who was " on holiday", lost and searching for camp jolly.   So we made friends and despite feeling slightly shady leading them down dark allies and though the graffiti tunnel they trusted that we knew where we were going ( and we actually did at this point).  We arrived just as it started to lightening and drizzle. " camp jolly" was starting to feel like " camp ... This was a bad idea". Thankfully, we quickly fell asleep, somehow stayed completely dry and awoke ready  for day 2. Pics are on they aren't uploading on the blog for some reason

Friday, April 20, 2012

leavin... on a jet plane

I woke up early this morning to pack.  I decided today would be a good day for that, you know, since we were leaving for Europe this afternoon and I was working a half day.  Before i went to work i took a long hot shower.  I smiled to myself and savored every second as I took a second before we left for the airport.  Long hot showers are a commodity in europe.  Especially at a campground.  I blow dried and curled my hair for the last time in over in week.  I decided Im " roughing it " this time.   We made a few stops on the way to the airport for last minute necessities, like Starbucks.  We parked at the airport 1 hour and 20 mins before the flight.  Not a problem for a domestic flight with no baggage to check.  I didn't really see it as a huge problem for an international flight with checked bags either but apparently the airport staff felt differently.  Our bags barely made it on the flight, as did we.   We are on the plane headed for the adventure of a lifetime.  Equipped with our three pound home for the week, a few sleeping bags, and a world of possibilities I'm off to Italy with two of my favorite guys in the world.