Archive for December, 2007

Franco Express (circa 2007 Florence, Italy)

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

Well, what can I say? Where did we leave off? Oh yes, great dinner, stunning suite in the 15th century palace, Arno River outside, spectacular views of Florence. Yet I forget to ask, how is your day going?

We slept in today. I woke at 9:30am. PJ, well after that. I went solo to the Sala for breakfast as he wanted to sleep longer. Even I’m getting tired of hearing it, but this is an awesome place to stay. Anyway, we walked into town after breakfast around 10:30am along the River. First stop, the Galleria degli Uffizi. The beautiful museum of art from all ages.

While I appreciate the technical beauty of all the paintings, statues, etc., I don’t understand why the only things immortalized from these classic eras is the bad stuff. The rape of this place, the slaughter of that place, the fire over there. Didn’t anyone ever want to paint a picture of a Sunday barbeque back then………. Life had to be hard enough without the constant reminders of the tradgedies, but I digress.

http://picasaweb.google.com/rpjwalter/Florence

After the museum, we walked through Piazza de la Signoria toward Il Duomo (the big church – again, size mattered in ancient times). We had a little lunch; hike up about 13 floors to the top of Il Duomo; hiked back down; had a heart attack (just kidding); caught our breath and off we went to see David. He used to hang out (quite literally as statues in this era were clothing optional) in the Piazza, but time takes it’s toll on even those who Michaelangelo immortalize for slaying Goliath. He’s found a new home in the Museo Accademia just another 10 minute walk from the Piazza.

He’s really the big deal (no pun intended) in the Accademia along with a collection of a lot of other marble stuff, plaster casts of future marble stuff, and a cool collection of musical instruments including a stratvarious violin. Even a hick like me knows that this is very rare.

After this, it was off to this church and that church and the other church. Have I mentioned the role of the church in this culture? At about 3pm, we were ready for a break, so we returned to the palace to rest. After emails and a nap for me (two episodes of The Simpsons for PJ – he was so happy), we ventured back out to capture the streets by night. What can I say, the pictures tell it all.

Another church here, museum there, and it was time for dinner. We ended up at Piazza de la Repubblica. If memory serves, this is where I stayed with nephew Tim in 1999 on that imfamous class trip with the Jesuit boys from McQuaid High School in Rochester, NY. Despite the horrible memories (only kidding – we had a great time), PJ and I found a local albeit somewhat touristy restaurant overlooking the Piazza for dinner.

Of course, it was great. Antipasta for two; pasta for PJ and risotto for me; finishing with veal for PJ and steak for me. Turns out the waiter is from Quebec, Canada and followed a girl (oh, the power of love) to Florence where she dumped him, but he presses on. Anyway, he was a good guy, and we bonded as “vincini” (italian word of the day for neighbors). Too full to have dessert, we stopped at the counter to pick up 400 grams (how many pounds – who gives a hoot) of cookies to bring back to enjoy with a cup of coffee and Amaretto. Oh yes, in our suite.

One finally funny story….. As PJ needed to go back to the suite, I went to the bar to get our drinks. After ordering and collecting the glasses, I was greeted by the husband of the only couple in the joint. I didn’t hear what he said, but asked him to repeat what he said. He was surprised to hear me speak in English as he thought I was Italian (he must have been really drunk). Turns out he is French; the wife is Italian; and they live in Denmark. They are sharing the palace with us for their 25th wedding anniversary (again, the power of love….).

Anyway, I was just happy as hell that he thought I was Italian. I can go tonight in my sleep and would be content (just kidding). So, PJ is watching a show on Discovery about ancient Italy (how ironic) as satellite TV makes things available anywhere in the world. Ironically, they just finished interviewing an archeology professor from the University of Southern Maine. We are everywhere.

Oh, I almost forgot the most important thing……. For those of you who can’t get enough of me, I introduce you to “Franco Express” (see the photo). Half annoying, but available 24 hours a day. Good night all……………………..

Ciao Venezia. Andiamo Firenza

Monday, December 17th, 2007

OK, four words of the day. Pretty soon you’re going to be speaking Italian.

We said goodbye to Venice today and drove SmartCar to Florence. If it’s so smart, how come we got so lost trying to find the hotel? Oh wait, I mean the palace, and I mean it. 15th century, 4 stories tall (by the way, each floor has 40 foot ceilings), chocolates on the pillow, slippers, heated towel rack in the bath. Oh and the suite, it’s HUGE! Check out the photos, but I know for sure our bedroom is bigger than our cottage in ME. We are grateful to Lucy Minder for helping us out by checking on things seeing that it’s seemingly been snowing in ME since we left.

Back to our day. We woke up early and slightly hung over, but excited because Davide invited us to Murano (small island a mile or so away) to his studio. Well, the morning could not have been better. Breakfast waiting outside our door; beautiful sunny skies. It was great. We left the house shortly after 9am to hit AMEX to cash some travellers checks. Realizing now that they were totally unnecessary. Travel tip: Most big banks here will gladly take your ATM card and dispense Euros. Isn’t capitalism great?

Well, the next hour of our lives can only be described as one of my big mistakes. Our directions to the boat stop for Murano were given to us in relation to where we were staying. AMEX is by Piazza San Marco, so no, we didn’t get lost. It turns out there are two stops in the same vicinity. Yes, we went to the wrong one; got on the local boat; and basically, circled Venice before heading to Murano. Thought PJ was going to kill me, but we survived.

After a stop at cemetary island (no Boss, no Tatoo, no planes for that matter), we arrived on Murano. Of course, at the wrong end of Murano for Davide’s studio, so off we trekked. Well, I can only say look at our photos and add one million percent to even come close to describing how beautiful it was. Every piazza has a glass sculpture. All different things, but all beautiful.

Half way to Davide’s studio, we hear someone calling my name. How can it be? Turns out, we walked right by Rossanna’s (Davide’s wife) store. She recognized us. Gave us a tour of her store and brought us to the studio and showroom. Again, just look at the pictures. I am speechless. Really.

Murano glass studio pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/rpjwalter/Murano

We bought glasses for our house and presents for Uncle Mario/Aunt Adrianna and Lucia & Romano. On the way back, we stopped at the store, and Rossanna invited us for cena (lunch). Kids finish school by 1pm and return home for afternoon meal. Pasta was excellent, and the parmaggiano reggiano belicimo! After a short boat back to Venice. It was back to the B&B for our luggage; one more battle with three flights of stairs; the Rialto Bridge; and the final boat ride. Turns out, after the third time I got it right.

We found SmartCar where he was supposed to be in the garage. Hit the road and did great until we got lost in Florence. Who cares? The suite is beautiful; we ate an awesome dinner; drank a bottle of wine; and now it’s off to bed. More to come………………

Last night in Venice-Fish heads galore!

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

Ok, so tonight we had dinner with Davide who is a glass blower from Murano and was a guest at the inn this summer. We are actually staying at his sister in laws B&B while here in Venice. He took us to dinner at a local restaurant. We had a five course dinner, most of which involved some sort of fish head. Frank wants me to say that it was FRESH fish head! The first plate had all sorts of whole animals on the plate. I was very good though and ate everything on my plate. The pasta was delicious and the dessert was incredible. With dessert, we had some Grappa which tasted like boots. I’ve had much to drink tonight so I will let Frank share some of his thoughts. Oh, and I did a picasa web album with many photos of Venice that you can check out by clicking the following link. And now for Frank…..

http://picasaweb.google.com/rpjwalter/Venice

Before I start, I first have to deal with our arrival in Venice. Our kudos go out to Fodors for helping us to decide to park the car at the Tronchetto because it’s a few Euros cheaper, but ugh, it would be nice if someone could invest in a sign (segnale – Italian word of the day) or two. We missed the first turnoff completely.

For anyone contemplating a trip to Venice by car, let me just say that after you drive up the ramps to an upper floor don’t be so quick (like us) to commit to a space. As it turns out, the garage is about four miles long (well, maybe about 1/4 mile). It was still a long walk not to mention no signs for the boats when we approached the water all the time trailing the precious wheeled luggage. When we finally found where we should be, I guess we ignored the fact that other boats used the dock and ended up at Piazza San Marco and had to change to a local Grand Canal. Not a Roman (or Venetian) tragedy, but just another delay for a trip that took an hour that should have been about 20 minutes. That was only part of the fun.

How many times can you cross the Rialto Bridge, you ask? Well, at least three with wheely luggage when you don’t know where the heck you are going. We had to call to have them meet us at the bridge. How embarassing. Well, Christina and her family are wonderful, and we love our room. The bathroom has radiant heat (in the floor). If I was ever on the fence before, well, no more. This is paradise (a warm tile floor in the middle of the night). I guess I am an under acheiver.

We had a nice dinner in a local restaurant they recommended. It was great. We had a little trouble sleeping. I think because it is a new place. Regardless, we awoke this morning to beautiful weather in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. If you don’t believe me, just look at PJ’s pictures.

After much walking around, we ended up back here around 3pm and took a short nap, then went back to Piazza San Marco for night pictures of the glass tree, etc. It is beautiful. We returned to the room ready for dinner. We thought, our friend, Davide, was away until tomorrow. I think he came home early because he realized we were here.

Anyway, we met and he took us for a wonderful meal (fishheads and all). Although, even I got nervous after two bottles of wine, grapa and a shot of whiskey. Well, OK, I was drunk, so nervousness ended quickly. We had a great meal and lively conversation. He’s a great guy. After, we returned to the B&B. Remember, it’s owned by his sister-in-law and her husband. Their daughter is studying English as a second language, so we hope to get her to Rockland to attend the Penobscot School.

After solving the problems of the world (alcohol is always a good initiation), Davide invited us to his studio tomorrow to watch him work. If you are questioning his ability, let me just say he is currently working with a “high end” US retailer about making glassware for them. If you want to buy it, let me just say there will be “Needless Markup”. Are you with me……..

So, it’s almost midnight. PJ is so drunk that he is watching an episode of “Friends” and only just now ( two minutes later) realized it’s in French. I guess that means it’s time for bed. After touring the Murano glass studio tomorrow, we drive three hours to Florence where we are staying in the palace. Finally, I’m a prince(ss). Good night.

First morning in Venice

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

Ok, so you’re all asleep now because it’s 4 am. I still don’t think I have adjusted to the time because I didn’t get to bed until 2 am here! We are off to the Piazza San Marco today which will take most of the day. Here is a photo of the Ponte Rialto (bridge). Our hotel is located down an alley just off the left side of the bridge. Very nice!! We will post more this evening.

We’re ALIVE!! By Franco

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Oh my God, where do we start!?!?!

So, let’s start with the planes. First flight from Boston to Dulles was uneventful. Would have been nice to have more room, but hey. Two and a half hours later, we depart Dulles for Rome at 5pm in the rain. Thank goodness we left all that snow in New England.

The second flight was a 777. As many of you know me (Frank), all those years travelling with my jobs got me used to first class. Imagine my dismay of having to walk past those plush, comfy seats through business class and econonmy plus. What is this anyway. Six more inches (of leg room, you pervs) means nothing.

Anyway, we ended up in regular old economy class. I must say it was not a joy. Two babies and every seat filled meant no real sleep/rest on the EIGHT hour flight. Finally, we arrived in Rome with the sunrise (beautiful from inside the plane) at 7am a little ahead of schedule. We were optomistic.

Cleared immigration and got to the luggage carousel as it started. First round of bags, nothing. Second round of bags, nothing. You get the picture! Despite almost three hours to walk the bags approximately two gates, United Airlines lost our luggage. When things started looking grim, I headed for “Customer Service”. Turns out in Italy it means the opposite just like in the US.

Somehow, twelve bags (including ours) did not make the connection. After waiting almost an hour and a half at customer service, we were informed that the bags were in London. At this point, they are more travelled than either of us. The bright spot of all this was meeting Donello and Jeff, two nice gentlemen who own the restaurant Five-o in Ogonquit, ME. Yes, standing in front of us in Rome were two guys, like us, who booked the same flights and suffered the same fate. We’ll catch up with them back in Maine.

So what were we going to do? Of course being the seasoned traveler that I am, the rented international cell phone was in the luggage (bagagli – Italian word of the day). So, no one to call, no way to call them, and yes, the cell phone has been more places than me. We press on at this point. It was easy as we did not have to clear customs as we had nothing to clear.

The BEST surprise was waiting for us outside the exit. Lucia, my cousin, was unexpectedly waiting for us. See, our schedule was fun first, family second. Well, you know what I mean. We were going to travel first to return to Rome for Christmas (Natale – Italian word from yesterday as I owe you one) with the family. At this point, PJ says I’m boring you.

Anyway, we picked up the rental car (I use the term loosely) and drove to Rigano Flamino where were saw Uncle Mario, Aunt Adrianna, Romano, Chiara and Rodolfo and the cast of characters that turned our lemons into lemonade. Back to the car.

A Smart Car For Four. What four people (can I say midgets) could fit in here, I don’t know. To top it off, it’s an automatic, but has the weirdest shifter I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen plenty). It looks like a manual, but has an auto mode. Shifts like you are just learning to use a clutch even though it’s automatic. Have I talked about the size? Yes, size does matter. This car could fit in the back of my Freestyle without folding down the back seat.

OK. With that said, it’s quite peppy and fun to drive in a place like Rome and is surprisingly comfortable on the highway. Let’s ignore the fact that Thrifty claims it can seat four plus luggage, but we had to fold the back seat just to get our two bags in. Crazy americans…..

Well, by now you know the bags arrived this morning in Rignano, so we took off for Venice where I am sitting at our B&B writing this first entry. We skipped Ravenna, but rescheduled for next Thursday which we means we return to Rignano on Friday, December 20th. I’ll tell you about our boatride tomorrow………..Ciao

P.S. Here is a photo of the Trevu Fountain in Rome last night. Enjoy!

Waiting in Logan Airport

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

Well, we made it to Logan and it looks like just in time to beat the impending snow storm. Next stop, D.C. and then off to Rome………

One last post before leaving

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

Well, before we leave, I though I’d leave you all with a little bit of Rockland. Here is our lobster trap tree. It’s the largest in the WORLD (actually, it’s probably the only one in the world!) Enjoy!!

In anticipation of the trip

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Well, we’re less than a week away from leaving for our trip. We can’t believe it is here already. We plan to post daily with photos and musings on our trip. The first post will be from Ravenna where we spend our first night. We are having dinner at the house of a guest of ours who visited in October. I will be relying heavily on Frank to translate as I don’t speak a lick of Italian. The only Italian phrase I know is No parlo italiano which means I don’t speak italian. We’ll see how far that gets me!