Thursday, September 25, 2008

There's No Place Like Home

After an extremely long day, we're home safe in Ottawa. Between the tram, train, plane and drive from Montreal to Ottawa, it was about a 20-hour journey.

In leg 2, the train we planned to catch was canceled, so we had to wait for the next one. The wait wasn't too bad, but because it was the train to the airport, the next one was insanely packed with double the people and tons of accompanying luggage. We knew in advance we'd be separated so we shoved our way on and we each found a spot in different cars where we wouldn't be trampled. I was standing in the aisle and was afraid to take my backpack off in case I couldn't hoist it back on again. There wasn't anywhere to put it down anyways. I was like a 3 Stooges one-woman show. I'd try to move over to let people by and I'd whack people sitting down in the head with my backpack. I saw them giving their friends the "what the hell" look to each other. Eventually I got a seat, thank goodness.

Our flight was also delayed by about an hour and a half, first because the machine wouldn't read the boarding passes. Apparently looking at the passes manually rather than scanning bar codes was too much to handle, so better to wait an hour for a repairman. Then the ovens for heating meals weren't working. The ovens never did get fixed so we got a plain sandwich for lunch. With a sandwich for a snack. No free lemoncello.

When we got home I weighed my backpack because I thought I was super awesome for carrying it the entire trip without collapsing under the weight of my beauty products. Only 30 pounds! I thought it was at least 40. This means I'm only semi-awesome.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bada ba boopee!

Still no hot water in the shower this morning. I used my credit card at a pay phone to call the hotel people to complain. Visa found the 30 cent charge suspicious and canceled my card. For my protection, of course.

It's our last day in Italy so we decided to shop seeing as we won't have to lug our backpacks around much longer. We debated buying a Pope hat, or if they would even sell one to us, but found out they're unbelievably expensive. So that problem solved itself. We took a picture in the window to give the illusion that I'm wearing one instead. We also passed by the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps one last time. Our bad luck continued when we went to buy tram tickets for tomorrow and the machine ripped us off and charged us for an extra ticket. Bada ba boopee! I think Italy is trying to tell us to go home.

At dinner, I have one last spaghetti and clams meal (#5). Usually there are street performers out during dinner but they stay in the middle of the square. There was a crazy woman on the loose tonight that kept standing right next to diners and "singing" opera. It was actually more like a one-note screech that she would hold for an unbelievably long time. And then expect people to give her money. She didn't do it to us, which was disappointing because I was totally in the mood to use my gypsy punch on someone.

Back at the hotel, we have hot water again but the toilet is still leaking. Counting down the hours.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

When Back in Rome

The up side of getting barged in on yesterday is the hotel gave us free breakfast. Sadly, no lemoncello was available.

We ran into our Irish friends at the train station but they were headed north. Once on the train, we sat with a family from Australia. I think they were desperate to talk to people that spoke English. Their daughter was named Zara and she was wearing a shirt from the Zara store that had the name across the front. We thought it was just a coincidence and that’s why they bought it, but they actually named her after the store. The mother said the last time they were in Italy they went to this really cool clothing store in Milan and they liked the name, so that's how they picked it for their daughter. I didn't have the heart to tell her it's a lower-end chain that has stores everywhere including Calgary, New York, Toronto and 3 that we saw in Rome. Still better than Amanda Hugginkiss, I suppose.

Back at Costaguti Palace in Rome, we really started to miss home. The hotel woman showed up over an hour late this time with no apology or explanation. We needed to eat so we didn't stick around long. When we came back later in the evening we found out that the toilet was now leaking and there was no hot water. We went to bed angry.

Monday, September 22, 2008

San Marino

This morning, the woman working at the front desk of our hotel, Acasamia, was showing someone around and didn’t realize our room was occupied. Luckily, we were already awake and dressed, and we had warning with key fumbling noises at the door, but she was totally embarrassed when she whipped the door open on us. The unwelcome surprise may have been an omen for the day ahead.

Aside from the beach, the real reason we came to Rimini was so we could go to San Marino for the day. It’s off-season right now so 2 buses come to a stop outside the train station each hour, and that’s it. This bus trip was a true nightmare. We got to the bus station about 15 minutes ahead and the buses were already pretty much full. It seemed like people with some type of ticket were still being allowed on, but everyone else got turned away. We decided to try our luck on the bus an hour later. In the mean time we asked at the tourist office and the ticket office about getting tickets, and were told you buy them on the bus. So we planted ourselves at the curb so we’d be at the front of the line for the next one.

Well the next bus comes and the crowd starts crushing forward. We figure we’re at the front, so we should be okay. As we go to get on, the guy tells us we need tickets! Turns out about 5 minutes before the bus, some old lady comes wandering down the street, lays out her gear on the garbage can and starts selling tickets. She yells stuff so you know she’s there. In Italian. So everyone at the back of the line sees her and figures out what’s going on, but if you’ve waited an hour at the front and only speak English, you’re screwed. There were quite a few of us that missed 2 sets of buses, so the public outrage began. Eventually the ticket lady got on her phone and called for another bus, so we only had to wait about 20 minutes rather than the full hour. We met some very nice Irish people during the riot. They said they resorted to hair pulling to keep people from cutting them in line. It was a real Amazing Race experience.

Happily, San Marino was totally worth it. San Marino was the 3rd country on this vacation as it's a republic separate from Italy. It was founded in 301 by Marinus, a Christian fleeing religious persecution by the Roman Emperor. San Marino is the oldest constitutional republic in the world with the world's oldest written constitution, from 1600. It's at the top of the Apennine Mountains. I knew about it because they used to hold a Formula 1 race nearby at Imola.

There are 3 towers still standing on the cliffs. We kept taking pictures of the awesome view only to spiral up higher to an even better spot and have to do it all over again. We saw the towers, basilica and the main palace guarded by colourful military guys called the Guard of the Rock, learning for free as we went. I bought a second purse and found some Ferrari series San Marino stamps for my brother. He wanted something Ferrari from Italy that was cheap, but anything with their brand is super expensive. Ugly screened t-shirts are often €80 and toys are at least €60. It only gets worse if you want something nice or useful. Although I was tempted, I refrained from buying a cane that had a built-in bicycle bell and booze holder. I'll have to come back at retirement age.

We didn’t want to press our luck by taking the last bus and getting stuck hotel-less in San Marino, so we only stayed a few hours. This gave us some time to walk downtown Rimini and view more assorted historical sites.

When we got back we had some wine in the room before dinner. I ended the day by throwing my plastic purse from Canada in the garbage. The leatheresque paint was starting to chip off.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

From Venice to Rimini

We were disappointed not to have more time in Venice so we woke up extra early and spent a few more hours walking around the streets and taking pictures. It’s pretty easy to get lost in Venice, but there’s always handy street signs to direct you, as evidenced in the photo here.

We had a quick breakfast at our hotel then caught the train to Rimini. We had a train change in Bologna and bought lunch from a vending machine. If you buy a sandwich in Bologna, is it by default, a bologna sandwich? I’ll have a Bologna sandwich… that’s made of peanut butter.

Rimini is a seaside resort town on the east coast of Italy. Wikipedia also tells me the 1989 Mr. Olympia was held there. Fascinating. I thought hanging out at the beach would be a good way to end the vacation, except temperatures have dropped from the 30’s we were getting in Rome to about 17 now. The beach was completely deserted and we were wearing sweaters.

We ended the day with a bad pizza dinner and a stop for fruit and chocolate from the grocery store. We also picked up a bottle of wine. We went high end and bought the €4 bottle. They had bottles for under €2! We drank in the hotel room and watched the only English tv channel, MTV. Quality programming.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


We left Lucca today. There was still some confusion when we tried to pay so we ended up with free parking. I think karma kicked back by screwing us when trying to return the rental car in Florence. Their streets are messed up! They’ll go one way east for 2 blocks and then switch so that they’re one way in west for the next 2 blocks. Fantastic system if you’re into mazes, but not so much if you’re trying to return your franjammerrin’ rental car. I don’t know how Kevin found the garage, but he did. I certainly was no help. Finally car free, we walked to the train station to get to our next stop in Venice.

Venice is so pretty! We're staying at Hotel Dalla Mora which has a great view of the canals from our window. We’re on a mission because we only have one day here and have to soak it all in. We walked the canal then did a self-guided tour on a water ferry. I’m super paranoid of motion sickness and water is always especially bad. To be safe, I took a Gravol and wore my Sea-Bands. Success! No puking! One less tale of public embarrassment to share.

From the ferry stop, we walked to San Marco square. Unfortunately we got in too late to tour the Basilica and clocktower, because they looked awesome. We learned what we could for free then went shopping. Venice has all the cool, high-end stores: Gucci, Pucci, Valentino, Versace – you name it. I did end up fulfilling my mission for an Italian purse. It isn't Prada. The nice thing about the stores here is they have little price cards in the window with their displays. So if you’re not familiar with a store you can see if their stuff is €50 or €500. Beats going in, looking at price tags, then leaving in shame.

After spaghetti and clams #4 for dinner, we got Kevin a take-away beer and I had an orange granita, which really turned out to be a regular slurpee. Although I’m glad I didn’t go for green, because here that’s mint, not lime.

We went back to San Marco square, which is amazing at night. Especially since the crowds of cruise ship tourists have cleared out by the evening. Bands play at all of the patios on the square and you can walk around and enjoy concerts for free. We also went to the Rialto bridge, which is the oldest bridge in Venice that crosses the Grand Canal.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Rained Out in Pisa

Today was the one day the weather really sucked. It rained pretty hard all day. We started with breakfast at the hotel and decided despite the weather, we had to make a day trip to Pisa since we were so close. It was about a 45 minute drive and I think we stayed about 20 minutes. There’s not a lot to see in Pisa other than the “square of miracles” with the Cathedral, Baptistry, monumental cemetery, and the leaning tower. We took pictures, beat away the umbrella vendors and returned to Lucca.

To warm up, we had hot drinks and pastries at Di Sima, the café where Puccini hung out. Very cool! We waited out the rain in our room for a bit and it did clear up.

We walked around and visited Lucca’s amphitheatre and St. Martin's Cathedral, and picked up 2 geocaches. The Cathedral had some interesting history. They had a large crucifix, which legend said was carved by Nicodemus, one of Jesus’ followers. The cross was guided in an unmanned boat to the shores of Italy, then a team of untamed oxen magically pulled the cross to Lucca.

Another good scam was at church San Michele. There’s an angel statue on top of the church with moveable wings. Clergy would go up the back of the church and flap the wings and tell the people it was a miracle. However, there’s clearly a staircase up the back of the building. How did they not see a guy up there working the wings? Even if they corralled everyone to the front during these events, you’d think at some point someone would have said, hey, what’s that staircase back there all about? Stairs to pray closer to God, you say? Yep, that makes sense.

We went back to the hotel and tried to pay so we could leave early in the morning. Unfortunately we ended up talking to a lady who only spoke Italian and really had no interest in helping us understand. She kept talking louder and louder, which we countered with the blank tourist stare. Eventually I looked up “tomorrow” – domani - in our phrase book and she seemed relieved to be rid of us.

For dinner Kevin had wild boar pasta and I had the house specialty, fried chicken with fried vegetables. I don’t know what I was expecting, but when my meal arrived it was just a sea of deep fried. It was good in the moment but I did not feel well afterwards. I had the deep fried sweats for the rest of the night.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


It was a bit chilly this morning and the streets are too narrow to get any decent sun, so we went to the Campo for breakfast drinks. We were a bit grumpy that the cafés seemed over priced, but then we inexplicably went nuts ordering. I upgraded my tea to a hot chocolate when I saw the waiter bring one piled with whipped cream to someone else, and I got sucked in by a plate of biscotti that they had on display at the counter. With Kevin’s drink, the bill came to €18! That’s $27! But sooo tasty.

The next Tuscany hotel was La Gemma in Lucca. The old part of Lucca is within a wall, and the wall is so thick the top is used as a bike and walking path. This city was one of our favourites. Once again, we had trouble driving within the wall and this time a police officer yelled at us. Our hotel had a private parking lot, so after checking in, we got it straightened out.

We had a quick lunch of pizza, then rented a tandem bike. We were supposed to give passports in order to rent, but I guess we looked innocent enough and the rental guy trusted us with no i.d. Sucker! We rode the perimeter of Lucca twice on top of the wall. Being good Canadians, we did return the bike and pay our bill. Stealing it seemed like more of a hassle.

For the rest of the day we checked out Via Fillungo – a street with shops and cafés, and the flea market. I tried Italy’s variation on the beaver tail – buccellato. We also walked the wall a bit more.

On the way to dinner, we stopped at opera composer Puccini’s former house. The posted museum hours said it was open but the door was locked. The guidebook said it wasn’t much to see anyway, so I settled for a picture with the Puccini statue.

At dinner, we started with pasta and went with the waiter’s recommendation for the second course – grilled steak. He said it was pretty big so we might want to share it. Thank goodness we did! It was so big it was hanging over the sides of a dinner plate. It really was just average, so it was kind of a weird recommendation since Italy’s not big on steak. We suspect he picked something he thought boring North Americans would want.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

San Gimignano

A lot of churches are starting to look the same at this point. Siena also has a domed cathedral, but you have to pay to go in and look around. Our new tactic is “learning for free” (tried to find a Simpsons clip everywhere for this, but no luck), where you stick your head through the door and absorb as much as you can without physically entering the building, thus avoiding entrance fees.

After Siena’s dome, we headed to San Gimignano for the day. We got over eager about finding a good parking spot and stopped too soon in the wrong town. Luckily they had a map posted outside the parking lot so we realized we were in the wrong place and got back in the car. Five minutes later, San Gimignano!

The town is another walled city that's atop a hill, with 14 medieval towers still standing. The town centre is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Overall, San Gimignano wasn’t our favourite, the low point being having to pay 50 cents each to pee in a non-gender specific bathroom. It wasn’t pretty. Definitely not 50 cents pretty. We bought tickets to tour the town’s main church Collegiata and museum, and they were really overpriced. Maybe we’re just spoiled now after the Vatican. No Michelangelo’s? Pfffft. There was also a “wine museum”, which consisted of one room with a video playing on wine-making. In Italian only. But plenty of space to pay for wine tastings. We did have some excellent grapefruit and melon gelati though.

Since we still had a decent amount of time before dinner, we decided to drive to Montevarchi. Kevin read that they had a Prada outlet. Determined to get an Italian purse, I set out on my mission. Driving there was pretty precarious on winding roads and then we couldn’t even find the outlet! Signs seemed to indicate it was outside Montevarchi, back towards where we came from. Kevin’s not big on purse shopping, so we called it a day.

Back in Siena, we stopped at a little grocery store and bought some fruit and drinks. Drinks being a beer for Kevin and a mini bottle of prosecco for me. With drinks in hand, we set off to the laundromat.

The day ended with spaghetti and clams #3.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Kevin and I picked up a rental car today to drive out to some towns in Tuscany. We were upgraded to an Alfa Romeo, which thank the powers had built-in GPS. I don't know what we would have done without it as my Google maps proved useless.

The town for today was Siena - a walled city with a huge square in the middle called the Campo, that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As we found out, walled cities are not meant for driving in. We decided not to kill any tourists today and instead paid for 2 hours of parking and walked our way in to find Hotel La Perla. We wandered lost and couldn't even find the tourist centre. We bought a map at a tobacco shop and still couldn't find the hotel. I eventually started stopping at every friendly store I saw and they'd point us a little bit closer. In the end, we found our hotel - directly across from the shop where we bought our map. 50 steps away. We counted. Note the photo where the hotel and shop are close enough together they're in the same photo. D'oh! The hotel staff pointed us to a good place to move the car and we stayed on foot for the rest of the day.

The Campo, the city's main square, is slanted in like a bowl and is lined with restaurants. Twice a year they hold a huge horse race in the square so the 17 wards of Siena can duke it out to see who's coolest. The square is big, but I have no idea how they cram a horse race and hundreds of people in there. Throw up some old mattresses for protection and post some "enjoy getting trampled at your own risk" signs", I suppose.

We also did a tour up the Mangia Tower. That climb is a workout - 102 metres! The steps are so narrow that they have a light at the bottom indicating when you can go up, because it's too small for people to pass eachother on the stairs.

Dessert (after dinner of course) was excellent tonight. Despite reservations, I went with the server's recommendation of a traditional Siena cake called panforte. The best part was the sweet wine for dipping. It was probably bad form, but I drank the dipping wine afterwards. Tourist! TOURIST!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Exploring Florence

I had my first cappuchino in Italy this morning. I normally don't drink coffee at all but I had to break down and try one. Here, it's considered a breakfast drink only so they know you're a loser North American tourist if you order one in the afternoon. It just tasted like coffee to me.

We spent the morning walking to Piazzale Michelangelo, where you have a great view of Florence. The second David copy is there too. After many pictures, we stopped a bit down the road at San Miniato al Monte church. It has the nicest cemetery I've ever seen. Some families have these mini replica basilicas for mausoleums. Kevin captured me pointing and saying, "This is the way to die". (I'm not giving the thumbs up to the dead Masieris.) The church also boasts the worst bathroom ever. It was an outhouse, but with no seat. Just squatting over a hole in the ground. Needless to say, I held it.

There's a nice path that winds along the road so we kept walking until we ended up by Ponte Vecchio for lunch. For the afternoon we toured the Pitti Palace, backed by the Boboli Gardens. Parts of the palace were closed so we spent most of our time walking the gardens. Fountains, sculptures, arbors - you name it. There was a small Porcelain Museum in the gardens and a Costume Gallery inside the palace. We ended up walking the length of the garden 4 times due to bad map reading while looking for the Costume Gallery. All maps in Florence suck. That's a rule here.

We failed at a geocache on our way to dinner and called it a night after some excellent panacotta for me and tiramisu for Kevin.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Florence Church Mania

Kevin and I headed to Florence in style, as only first class train tickets were available. Yay free juice and crackers (which probably added €25 to the ticket price)! Once there, we had instructions on how to take the bus to our hotel. However, the street we were supposed to catch the bus on was completely closed down for construction. After some wandering, we found the right stop. In theory, we should have been able to catch the bus going in either direction. Upon practical application, we sat on the bus trying to figure out where we were on the map and 45 minutes later ended up back at the train station. We had enough time on our tickets to try one more loop or take a taxi. We opted for a taxi.

I suavely told the driver we were going to Casa Cimabue, which I pronounced simabew, and he looked confused. He looked at my paper and said, "Ah, chimabooey!". Ah yeeaaah, that's totally what I said. Smarty-pants driver.

We dropped our bags off and headed to Accademia Gallery. A lot of places were closed on Sunday so ended up at a little café for a quick lunch. We chose a pizza and the lady working proceeded to pop it in the microwave. It was horrendous, but we were hungry. Accedemia Gallery isn't very big, but the clear star is Michelangelo's David. It's huge. Really amazing to see up close.

We grabbed some hot drinks at the Leonardo da Vinci Museum then headed for a whirlwind tour of Florence churches and piazzas: Medicee Chapel & Basilica di San Lorenzo, Piazza San Giovanni & Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore, Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza della Signoria & Palazzo Vecchio, Basilica di Santa Croce and Piazza de Ciompi. Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore is the standard Florence "postcard shot". When it was built in the 13th century, it crushed the Pantheon in Rome's claim to fame of being the largest dome.

Other cool sites that made the list for today were Ponte Vecchio - the famous bridge lined with jewelery stores, Uffizi Gallery (although we didn't have time to go inside) that has one of the David copies outside, and the National Central Library.

After a long day and a long dinner (it took about 3 hours because the service was so slow) we headed back to the room for showers and Bananagrams. When we checked in in the afternoon, the lady working there went over everything in the hotel in great detail, including having us practice locking the door, working the light switches and adjusting the thermostat. Yet she failed to mention what the string hanging in the shower was for. Since Kevin showered first, he of course pulled the string to see what it did. Exactly what I would have done in his place. Turns out it sets off a panic alarm heard throughout the floor. And of course, the logical way that you turn this off is a light switch in the hall. Funny how that didn't come up during the light switch lesson. No one saw us naked though. Disappointing.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Roming Around

It was our last day in Rome for this leg of the trip. Since we saw a lot of the big landmarks already, we spent today looking at some of the lesser-known sites. First was the Capuchin Monk Crypt. The description I read said that it was a crypt of monk bones "artfully arranged". I had thought this meant the skeletons would be posed in praying positions or lying in rest, but it turns out it was actually a few rooms of individual bones arranged into mosaic-like patterns. I'm talking vertebrae nailed to the ceiling in a flower pattern, for example. It was a weird mix of interesting and creepy.

Next was the Borghese Gallery. When we got there, there was a sign posted that tickets were sold out for the day. We decided we'd at least look around the gift shop and went in. A lady standing nearby saw that we had no tickets and gave us 2 for free! I guess her friends didn't show up. Score again! After a further art overload of Bernini, Raphael and Bassano, which was all the more sweet for free, we checked out the garden behind the gallery.

Lunch time! I had spaghetti and clams (#2). The restaurant had to move us to a different table to make more room on the patio, and not only did we not get free lemoncello, they seated me directly beside a sign that said "dog parking"! But the real highlight was when this guy came over and said he noticed us reading the Rick Steves' Italy guidebook - extremely popular for North Americans and you see tons of people carrying copies. Then he asked if we had any questions. I thought he was about to follow up with "because I'm Rick Steves", but no. Apparently he was an American that had been in Italy for a whole 9 days and had the same guidebook, so clearly, he was now an expert. He also didn't have any useful advice and had ill-fitting Gap pants.

In the afternoon, we took some pictures outside the Hall of Justice, then we toured Castle San Angelo. The castle was built by Emperor Hadrian as a monument to his boy lover. His wife must have liked that! The castle is a big cylinder, with dark, sprialing walkways and an amazing view of Rome from the top. We got some of our best pictures here.

Before a quick nap back at our hotel, we stopped at Piazza Navona. It had the requisite church and fountains, of course, but t
hey were also setting up a big stage for a tango concert. We came back later to see it and couldn't even get a seat. After about 45 minutes past the advertised start time, still nothing. Everyone started leaving, us included. Full of bitterness due to the lack of tango.

To wash out the bitter taste, we went to dinner and had some wine. The waiters at the restaurant used handheld devices to record orders - unlucky for me. Kevin ordered soup and a chicken entrée and I ordered a salad and scallops, or so I thought. Soup comes. Chicken comes. I still have no food. I guess my order was erased. After we flagged the waitress, I got my food just as Kevin finished eating. The "escallope" also turned out to be pork. It still tasted good!

We hung out for awhile and saw a comedian and then some acrobats perform in the square. I avoided all eye contact with fortune tellers.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pope Culture

Off to the Vatican today. Technically, the second country on our tour since it is a sovereign city-state. On the walk there, we stopped at a grocery store to buy fruit. You have to weigh your produce and punch in the bin number to print a bar code in advance, so when you get to the cashier, they just scan it like regular groceries. Someone from the store helped us with the machine, but I still got yelled out by the cashier because I tried to pay for €2 in groceries with a 50. We came well prepared for fights in Italian by seeing a clip from Family Guy, when Peter grows a mustache, right before the trip. We were ready to yell "bada-ba-boopee" whenever necessary. We came up with change so I didn't have to bada-ba-boopee her this time.

We got to St. Peter's Basilica pretty early, so the line up wasn't too bad. It was the most fantastic church I'd ever seen. Michelangelo's work, including the Pietà, Bernini sculptures, tallest dome in the world, painted ceilings, marble everywhere - unbelievable! We didn't take an official tour, so we didn't get to ask our favourite "stupid question to tour guides": How much is this place worth in U.S. dollars?

For a
break after the church, we tried to find a geocache. We walked a good part of the wall around the Vatican and couldn't find it. We didn't read the logs in advance that said it had been lost. There were video cameras monitoring the wall anyway, so maybe it was a good thing we didn't have to climb anything or yank bricks out. Although if it came down to a chase by Vatican police I would have busted it to the church screaming, "Sanctuary! Sanctuary! Bada-ba-boopee!"

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Vatican Museums. Wandering through took hours. By the time you get to the Sistine Chapel, your mind is overloaded with marble busts, tapestries, mosaic floors and paintings. There's fabulous-ness everywhere, but you can't even take it in any more.

On the way back to our hotel area, we stopped at Piazza del Popolo to see the twin churches, Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli, and to put our feet in the fountain to cool down. Other people were doing it so I hope that was legal.

As a last stop before dinner, we made a second try at geocaching. This one was outside the Colosseum and it was pretty easy to find. We also got a picture of Kevin in his modern day gladiator wear - a Rey Mysterio Mexican wrestling mask (acutally purchased in Mexico, therefore it must be authentic).

We couldn't find the restaurant we wanted to check out, so we ended up back in Trastevere. We picked a patio just as a huge downpour hit. The umbrellas started giving way so they told everyone to crowd inside the restaurant. We had just got there, but it sucked for people who already had food and had no where to sit. Then the power went out. As soon as the rain let up to a reasonable level we left and ate somewhere else because it was a mad house.

Why rest when we could pack in one more landmark? After eating, -we went to the Spanish steps - 138 steps that are the widest in Europe. You have to beat the flower vendors off from giving you "free" roses, which they then harass you to pay for. Kevin and I are prepared with our patented "gypsy punch", if needed. It's a slow curling of the fingers followed by a quick sucker punch between the eyes. We also stopped at the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon again for a few pictures at night.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

When in Rome

Air Transat stayed in business long enough for us to make it to Italy. The flight was uneventful, other than terrible food.Why would they choose a frozen dinner of Indian curry chicken for Montrealers flying to Rome? After landing, we had a short train ride to the main bus terminal and then a tram to our hotel.

On the 2 minute walk to our hotel, we already started passing by ruins. There’s a fenced in area across the street that’s been excavated with some old columns and building foundations exposed. What would Italians do with such a treasure? Turn it into a cat hospice, of course! They bring cat food and actually use it as a home for stray cats that the public can visit.

Our hotel room is in a former palace – Costaguti Palace. They claim to have a Michelangelo painting, but it’s not viewable to the public, so I have my suspicions. We got a peek at some of the rooms and some seem to be well maintained with fantastic art and furnishings. We got there half an hour before check-in time and I made the mistake of sitting down on the marble stairs. The building manager gave me the no-no finger. Don’t they know butt prints add character?

When the woman arrived to check us in, we saw that the preservation of the palace seems to have stopped at the 4th floor – where we’re staying. As we entered, the fridge in the common area seemed to have broken at some point so there was water all over the floor. Plus our room hadn’t been cleaned so we had to sit around for half an hour while the woman changed sheets and mopped floors. She never really spoke to us either, so it was weird.

Keys finally in hand, we headed off to explore Rome. We needed some time to collect our bearings so we bought a map and stopped for lunch on a patio. After we were seated, a big group came along that wanted to sit together so we offered to move to another table. Our server brought us free lemoncello as a thank you. Score! I’m liking Italy already.

First on the list was the Colosseum. It’s right out of the postcards. We did a tour and saw just how big it was inside. The area below the stage where they used to keep animals and fighters, by itself was huge! Very surreal.

Next we headed to a tour of Palantine Hill, where all the emperors built their houses. They had bathrooms the size of my house. With heated floors! The emperors had so many slaves they had nothing to do but watch gladiator fights and eat. There’s nothing quite like traveling 6,724 km for a tour of vomitoriums.

A quick gelato stop later, we went to the famous Trevi Fountain. Legend says that if you throw a coin in the fountain it will ensure you return to Rome. Apparently they make about 3,000 euros a day from this. I should make my own legend. If you give me a $10 bill every day, I will ensure a more frugal lifestyle for you. The area around the fountain was packed! It’s actually been hard to get a clear picture anywhere due to all the tourists. And this is the off season!

Next, the Pantheon - now a Catholic church, it's the oldest domed structure in Rome and the best preserved building. All of the history and art in Rome is overwhelming. So is the jet lag, so we stopped back at the hotel for a quick nap.

For dinner, we crossed over the Tiber river to the Trastevere area. I had my first, of what will be many, spaghetti and clam dinners - one of my favourites. Wine here is cheap! At some places you can get a ½ litre for about $6 Canadian. Trastevere is very lively at night. Restaurants don’t open until 7:30 and almost everyone eats outside on the patios, so the piazzas are packed with eating, drinking and street performers. I didn’t know you could just walk around Italy with open liquor! We went to find Kevin a “walking beer” (our name for it, not an Italian term) after dinner and found that Duff is really popular. The label is exactly the same as on The Simpsons.

While Kevin walked around with his beer and took pictures I went to see a so-called fortune teller. I say so-called because even despite my prompts, everything she told me was wrong. You’re moving. Nope. Someone close to you is in the process of moving. Nope. Your mother is blonde. Nope. You have cats. Wrong again. Kevin's prediction was better: you will get bilked out of 20 euros in the near future.