Italy Adventure - Venice, Florence & Rome

Sunday, March 09, 2008 - The Adventure Begins (click here for today's pictures) After a little excitement regarding passports, we are all on the flight to Paris. It appears it will be a full flight! Tara is already enjoying Delta's international goodie bag - lotion, toothpaste, toothbrush, eye covers plus more. They just passed out the dinner menu - either grilled chicken or farfalle pasta and a brownie. We'll catch our Venice flight from Paris. We arrived in Paris around 5 AM local time. The flight was pretty smooth most of the way. Tara and I watched Juno after supper. Listened to a bit of the audiobook, The City of Falling Angels, before a little nap. Snack and then breakfast before we landed. We are actually still on the plane - they are having a little trouble with the gangway. We have a 3 hour layover here before the plane to Venice.
Monday, March 10, 2008 - Sights and sounds of Venice (click here for today's pictures) We took the bus from the airport to the edge of Venice. Our hotel was only a block from the stop. We checked in and dropped our bags off. A couple of the rooms overlook one of the canals. We walked around to the Academy, crossed the big wooden bridge and made our way to St. Mark's Square. Some of us enjoyed the pigeons more than others. Toured through the Basilica and then found a pizzeria. Walked back to catch a vappereto (basically a bus on water) back up the Grand Canal. We all struggled to keep our eyes open and heads up - going on 36 hours is catching up with us. Made it to our room, brushed our teeth, called Mom, Dad, Reagan and Anderson, then called it a night.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - 2nd Day in Venice (click here for today's pictures) We slept good last night but we were pretty tired. Breakfast was included with our room. They had a nice selection of bread, cheese and cereals plus juice and coffee. The bread was delicious with Nutella spread on them. We took a water taxi back up the Grand Canal and stopped at the Rialto Bridge. We walked through the shops and made our way along the canal to the fish and produce market. Lots of fresh fish - some were still flopping. Walked back to the bridge and caught the water taxi on up to St. Mark's Square. We toured the Correr Museum - highlights were the Bellini paintings and a doge's hat. Next we walked to see the Bridge of Sighs before finding some lunch. We then toured the Doge's Palace (duke) and the attached prison which the bridge led prisoners to. The Doge was the government leader up until the 1550. We then found some gelato before wondering the streets back to the Rialto bridge area. We then took a quick gondola ride (traghetti) which crosses across the Grand Canal since there are 3 bridges which do so. We then walked back to the hotel for a rest before supper.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 - Arrival in Florence (click here for today's pictures) We are riding the Eurostar Italia train as I type. Our 2.5 hour train ride will take us from Venice to Florence. Last night after our break, we headed out to find a dinner spot. We ended up a nice little restaurant about 10 minutes from our hotel. It was small and cozy. We all had different things including lasagna, spaghetti, calzone and ravolli. We topped it all off with dessert including tiramusi and chocolate covered creme puffs. We walked back down to the Rialto Bridge and on to St. Mark's Square before catching a water bus back to the hotel. This morning we had breakfast at the hotel. Then we walked to the train station. It was probably about a .5 mile - not too bad but we did have to go over about 5 bridges with our luggage. We picked up our tickets and had about a 45 minute wait. We boarded the train without any problems and now we are relaxing, reading and blogging.
The train ride into Florence was very nice. The scenery was pretty and they served beverages a couple of times. We pulled into the train station around 1:30. We thought about catching a bus but they were pretty packed and it didn't look too fun to carry on suitcases. So we took 2 cabs to our hotel and checked in with no problems. We dropped our bags and then walked into town - about a mile and half into town. We caught our first glimpse of the Duomo (very big) and then found our way to dinner. A co-worker of Robby's had recommended a place called Coquinarius - excellent choice! In fact, a girl from the states who has lived here for 6 years and now is a Florence food critic was just finishing her meal and raved about it. We all had different pasta dishes including pumpkin and sausage (Brad), potatos and cheese (Robby and Les), pears and cheese (Tara, Dana and Shelley) and spinach and ricotti (Stephanie) plus a couple of their appetizer trays which had salami, bacon, cheese, crustinis and more. We would definitely recommend it. We walked back to the Duomo and walked through the inside. Next we visited Lorenzo Market - a leather market and it went for several streets. Tara bought her a colorful cashmere scarf. We then walked down the Palazzo Vecchio to see Neptune's Fountain and several other statues. We walked outside the Uffizi Gallery and down to the Arno River. We walked over the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) before heading back to the hotel. We made a quick stop for some gelato and then on to the hotel. Our feet are definitely tired tonight.

Thursday, March 13, 2008 - A Tuscany-filled day (click here for today's pictures) We had breakfast at the hotel before walking to the Academy. We had reservations at 9 to see the statue of David - pretty impressive. We then walked back through the San Loreno market again and then to the Nueva Market - where they used to sell straw but now they have a little bit of everything. Plus, they have the Little Pig statue where if you rub its snout, it ensures a return trip to Florence. We then walked back through the Palazzo Vecchio where a copy of the David statue is displayed. We had lunch near the Ponte Vecchio. Afterwards we walked across the bridge and then along the Arno River to our meeting point for cooking class. Steve, a transplanted North Carolinan who has lived here for 33 years, picked us up and drove us about 25 miles outside of Florence. We were truly in the hills of Tuscany. We arrived at the home of Johnnie and Christina. They have an unbelievable home amidst their olive tree farm. They harvest about 300 trees and host the cooking class 3-4 times a week. We spent the first hour or so in their cellar. Steve showed us how to make two different kinds of pasta. We all got our hands dirty and made some ravolli and fettucini. It was so much fun - of course Brad has already added a pasta press to his Christmas list. We pressed the pasta and then added a mixture of fresh spinach, ricotta and parmesan cheese. We then went upstairs to the main part of their house. Christina had been busy preparing lunch. The aroma was unbelievable. We started with antipasta which included roasted tomatos with fresh parmesean and basil, pizza and a bread mixture of garbanzo beans, chikpeas and thyme. It was delicious - and yes, Robby ate it all! Next, Christina used the ravolli we made, boiled it and tossed it with butter and fresh sage. Again, delicious. Then she used our fettucini and added a artichoke sauce and fresh tomatos. All of this was topped us with a homemade sorbet she had made with fresh squeezed orange juice and orange marmalade. Along with the food, the atmosphere and fellowship was so much fun. We would highly recommend this class if you are ever in Florence - we happened upon on it via the web at Steve brought us back to town and we hiked up to the Piazza Michaelangelo for a great skyline view of Florence. Afterwards we visited the Sante Croche where Michangelo and Galileo. With our feet tired, we walked back to the hotel to call it a day.

Friday, March 14, 2008
- Arrival in Rome (click here for today's pictures) We had breakfast at the hotel again and then packed. We took taxis to the train station. We picked up our tickets and did a bit of last minute Florence shopping. We boarded the Eurostar Italiai train. It's about and hour and half train ride. We should arrive about 11:30 a.m. local time. Tara, Shelley and Brad are sleeping. Les is listening to his iPod and Dana is reading a travel book. Stephanie is seat behind us - not sure what she is doing. The train is nice and the views are incredible. We pulled into the train station a little before 11:30. We tried to take a taxi but they wanted 45 euros to take us a little over a mile. We opted to walk - a beautiful day in Rome but a tad hot when pulling luggage and wearing a jacket. But we made it to the hotel without any problems. We got some lunch right around from the hotel - a good little pizza spot and cheap. We walked to the metro and rode to the Coliseum. We walked right out of the metro straight into the Coliseum. We went inside and toured around it. Pretty incredible. We then walked through the Roman Forum and all the ruins and up to Capitol Hill where went through the Capitol Hill museum. We walked down to the Piazza Vienza and then up to the Trevi Fountain. Tons of people here. We found a supper spot. Robby tried the gnocci - it was okay but Tara's spaghetti was better. We then walked to Giolotti's - the best gelato we've had and huge portions. We finished our walk to Spanish Steps (a quick side trip to see the world's largest and lavish McDonald's - we didn't eat but just looked in). Rode the metro back to the hotel and called it a night. We are planning an early morning tomorrow to be at the Vatican when it opens and maybe miss some of the lines.

Saturday, March 15, 2008 - A visit to Vatican City and more (click here for today's pictures) It was an early morning for us today. We had breakfast at the hotel a little before 7:00 and then a walk to the metro. Our first stop was the Vatican Museum where we saw lots plus the Sistine Chapel. Thanks to a hint from the Rick Steve's book (thanks Rick) we took the group exit from the chapel straight into St. Peter's saving at least 30 minutes. We toured the popes' tombs and then through the basallica. A big church! We caught the metro back to the Spanish Steps where Tara climbed up partially. We split up for lunch - yes, Tara and I ate at McDonald's - we were craving a hamburger. We met up at the Trevi Fountain for a daytime viewing and then walked over to the Pantheon. Our next stop was the Piazza Navona where we saw the Fountain of Four Rivers. We liked Giolotti's gelato so much - we went back. We caught the metro back towards the hotel. It was still early in the day so Tara, Robby, Stephanie and Brad decided to visit some of the catacombs. It involved another metro ride and catching a bus, but we figured it out. We visited the San Calisto catacombs - about 3 miles outside of Rome - where many of the early popes and Christians were once buried. We took a tour through them before catching the bus back into town. (The bus stop on the Appian Way was a busy road and not much standing room - we survived though.). Two bus rides later and we were back at the hotel. We grabbed some pizza from around the hotel and watched a little CNN. We made a quick trip to the grocery store and then called it a night. Our shuttle to the airport leaves at 5:50 in the morning for our flight at 8:50 from Rome to Atlanta.

Sunday, March 16, 2008 - Departing from Rome (click here for today's pictures) The shuttle was waiting on us when we come down from the room. It was about a 30 minute ride to the airport. We got through security and grabbed some breakfast. Our flight was delayed about an hour since the plane coming from Atlanta was delayed. We are on board the plane and expect to depart around 9:50 (or 3:50 a.m. Little Rock time). We should arrive in Atlanta around 2:00 p.m. We made it to Atlanta and through customs with no problems. Grabbed a hot dog for supper and then our flight into Little Rock. Jason picked us up and Reagan and Anderson were waiting for us at home!

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