Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Europe Day 5 - Florence (September 26th)

This morning we woke up to breakfast in our room. The N4U Guesthouse is a bed and breakfast without a main kitchen area, so you are served in your room. I thought it was pretty good. The chocolate chip croissants were my favorite.

N4U Guesthouse

N4U Guesthouse

Here is the lounge in the hotel. If we stayed here longer, it would have been fun to hang out here.

N4U Guesthouse

The plan for the day was to check out more of Florence. Since we were up for breakfast, we decided to get going early to avoid the heat a little. I had seen in the guide book that you can climb to the top of the Duomo, but there is usually a long wait. The other option was to climb to the top of the attached Bell Tower, so we decided to climb the Bell Tower. The Duomo is the on the left, the Bell Tower on the right.

Bell Tower and Duomo

View from Giotto's Bell Tower

There were lots of stopping points on the way up, here is the view from one of the higher lookout areas.

View from Giotto's Bell Tower

And the actual bell in the Bell Tower.

Bell at Bell Tower

The terra cotta roof.

View from Giotto's Bell Tower

The best part was the amazing view of the city. It is crazy to look out and see the terra cotta roofs for miles.

View from Giotto's Bell Tower

An advantage of going up the Bell Tower is you get an amazing view of the Duomo.

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Our attempt to get a photo together was unsuccessful, so this collage will have to do.

Sara and Patrick at Top of Bell Tower

After the Bell Tower we decided to walk around and see what else we could find in Florence. We probably would have gone to see Michelangelo's David, but the museum was closed on Monday's so no such luck there.  In one of the plazas we did see a replica of David and some other statutes.

Statues

Here was a fun piece of art we found on our walk.

Sara & Patrick at Zen Man Statue

Streets of Florence

On our walk we happened to end up in area that the hotel suggested for restaurants. We were hungry for lunch, so we stopped at a random place and ended up finding our favorite meal of Italy. Not only was the food awesome, look at this view.

View of Ponte Vecchio at lunch Il Ristoro

The name of the restaurant was Il Ristoro. We both had simple dishes spaghetti and ravioli and they both were awesome and filling without being too much.

Patrick at Il Ristoto

Florence Lunch

Sara at Il Ristoto

Il Ristoro

After our awesome lunch we stopped for gelato and then headed back to the hotel to escape the heat for awhile.

Later that afternoon we decided if we were going to be in a city of art museums for 2 days, we better actually visit a museum. We decided to go to Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. This is a museum for the items that were removed from Santa Maria del Fiore and it also is home to other a ton of design ideas that were not chosen for the church.

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museum

Florence is known for its leather products. This is just one of the many purse shops. Just seeing this picture makes me remember the smell of the leather.

Florence Leather Purse Shop

Italian Transportation

After the museum, we walked around Florence some more and finally ended up eating dinner at a place right next to the House of Sizzle (where we watched the Packer game the night before). The bar was called Moyo and it had this awesome buffet that was free with the purchase of a drink. The buffet had a couple kinds of pasta salad, meatballs with red sauce and black beans, french fries, regular salad, a couscous salad, a chickpea salad and bread. It was awesome. We both love this kind of stuff, so it was perfect dinner for us.

We made it an early night. We got back to the hotel and did some planning to figure out how we were getting to Venice the next morning. Our step count for the day was 19,601 or 9.8 miles.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Europe Day 4 - Florence (September 25th)

These trip posts are taking forever. I am finally through about 3/4 of the photos, so my goal this week is to get at least a couple more blog posts done.

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Today we made our way to Florence, Italy. Our hotel in Rome had internet access, so last night we looked to see what times trains were leaving for Florence and got directions from the train station to the hotel. To start off our day we loaded up our dreaded backpacks and made our way to Termini Station via the underground. The girl at our hotel suggested we buy our tickets from an actual person rather than a machine, so when we to the train station we got in the ticket line.

Getting the tickets seemed easy. We told him where we wanted to go and got two reasonably priced tickets for the 9:45am train. I think we had at least 30 minutes before the train left, plenty of time to figure out where we needed to go. Well, reading Italian train tickets is not our specialty and no one was very helpful in helping us figure out where we were supposed to be. First off the train we were riding was going all the way to Venice, but our stop was in Florence so no trains said they were going to Florence. That's only the beginning of our confusion. We finally determined which train was ours based on the departure time. So we get to the train, but forget to get it stamped. This means we have to go back to the beginning of the train deck to get it stamped before we get on the train. Based on our first train trip from the airport to the Termini Station we decided that the train had general seating. We just picked a car, took off our giant backpacks, stowed them above our seats and sat down. Just as we were talking about how nice it was, four American girls get on the train and let us know we are in their first class seats. Panic now sets in as we have no idea what car we are supposed to be on, nor which seats. Somehow we figured out which car we were on. And lucky for us there were some Americans on the car we got on and they showed us where our seat numbers were on our ticket. The entrance was jammed with rolling, luggage so we were happy to have our backpacks that we could easily carry to an inside luggage area. After we got settled on the train, the ride was actually very nice and relaxing.

We arrived in Florence around noon. As is the theme of our trip, we arrive in an unknown place in the heat of the day and are then forced carry our backpacks while we find our hotel. We found our hotel the N4U Guesthouse fairly easily, but then we had to carry our backpacks up three flights of stairs until we finally could put them down. Our room wasn't quite ready yet, so we put our bags in storage and went off to explore the town.

Florence

On our way to the hotel we saw Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore for the first time. Wow, what an amazing church. As you can see from the map of Florence above it is a very impressive part of the city.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

It was Sunday afternoon, so the town was very busy and crowded. We ended up eating lunch at a little place called Hot Pot. It wasn't very good, but we were starving and it was pretty cheap so it worked out.

euros

After lunch we decided we wanted to find the Ponte Vecchio bridge. We went back to our "map" and from there decided which way the river was and headed that way. It didn't take us long and we were there.

Ponte Vecchio

The "houses" on the Ponte Vecchio are actually all jewelry stores. I am not sure what I expected, but it definitely wasn't jewelry.

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After we or probably more likely I took a few photos, we headed back to the hotel to check into our room. The room was very nice, probably one of the nicer places we stayed. The private bathroom, however was not attached to the room so we had to walk down the hallway and use a key to both unlock and lock the bathroom door.

N4U Guesthouse

I think the constant going was starting to wear on us at this point, so we spent the afternoon taking a nap. And lucky for us this was the only time it rained the whole trip. Although, the rain probably would have been refreshing in the 80 degree heat most days.

After our nap, we decided we should go out and look for something to eat for dinner. The guy at the hotel suggested that we find a place across the river to find more authentic food, but we weren't really in the mood to look to hard so we ended up eating at Buca Niccolini near our hotel. Patrick got pizza and I got pasta with bolognese sauce. The food was ok, but dinner was kind of fun because a couple from Texas sat right next to us. They were really nice and made up for the mediocre food.

Dinner at Buca Niccolini

Dinner at Buca Niccolini

After dinner we decided we were just going to walk around and see Florence by night. Earlier in the day, Patrick had found a brochure at the hotel for a place called House of Sizzle. I don't think that we would have gone there, but the advertisement also had an NFL logo on it and it said they showed all NFL games there. It happened to be Sunday and the Packers happened to play the Bears at 10:30pm. We went to check it out before the game started. Really just an American college bar in Italy.

We decided we would go check out the Ponte Vecchio at night.

Ponte Vecchio at Night

Ponte Vecchio at Night

On the bridge a band was playing U2 songs. We listened to a couple songs and then headed back to House of Sizzle.

Ponte Vecchio at Night

Packer Game at House of Sizzle

We watched the first half of the game and then we headed back to the hotel since it was getting late. I never thought we would watch a Packer game in Florence, but it was actually pretty fun.

Even with our afternoon nap we still managed 23,341 steps or 11.7 miles for the day.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Europe Day 3 - Rome (September 24th)

Today was our only full day in Rome and we were exhausted from all the walking the day before so we decided we would one of the hop on hop off bus tours of the city. We just picked the Rome Open Tour bus since there happened to be someone selling tickets near the Vatican.

Rome Bus Tour

We started the tour near the Vatican and planned to ride to the Colosseum and spend some time there.

Vatican

Vatican

We really enjoyed the bus tour after all the walking we did the day before. The bus tour included an audio tour in English that pointed out the highlights we were seeing as we drove along.

Near the Vatican was the Castel St. Angelo. With the passing of the centuries, it is one of the few buildings to have been transformed from a funeral monument into a fortified outpost, a dark and terrible jail, a splendid renaissance residence, a prison of the resurgence and finally today, a museum.

Rome by Day

Our spot on the bus wasn't that great for taking pictures, this crazy lady decided she needed to stand at almost all points of the ride and consequently is probably the eye sore of everyone's Rome pictures.

Rome by Day

Here is the same street we walked down the night before to get to Piazza di Spagna.

Rome by Day

And the Bernini Hotel by day.

Rome by Day

Rome by Day

Next on the tour we saw the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore which is the largest church in Rome dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Rome by Day

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

On the tour we also saw the Piazza Venezia which is dominated by the the large statue of Victor Emmanuel II.

Piazza Venezia

Then we finally got to the Colosseum. And it was ridiculously hot and crowded, so we decided we would come back later when it wasn't so hot.

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Colloseum

We decided we would try to find something to eat since it was lunchtime. On our way to find a restaurant Patrick's co-worker recommended we saw quite the variety of mimes.

Mimes near Colloseum

Unfortunately, the restaurant Pizzeria Est, Est, Est was not open for lunch so we settled for the restaurant next door, Pizzeria Leon.

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Our lunch at Pizzeria Leon was really good. We got the meal deal option to try a variety of items. The meal included a margarita pizza, bruschetta, a risotto ball, a coke and espresso for dessert.

Lunch at Pizzeria Leon

Pizzeria Leon

Pizza

Pizzeria Leon

We learned after lunch that the reason that the Colosseum was so busy was one it was Saturday and two it was free that weekend. The line was still really long and we ended up deciding to take a paid tour and basically bypass the line. Our tour guide was very Italian, but we did still manage to get some good information. It was really interesting to learn the crazy things that happened at this place.

Here is the inside of the Colosseum. The Roman Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology.

Colloseum

Colloseum

Colloseum

Patrick and I at Colloseum

Colloseum

After the Colosseum we also got a tour of the Roman Forum. Our tour guide for this was actually an American who came to Rome a couple years ago and has just never gone back. She was much easier to understand and was a really good guide.

Romulus and Remus are Rome's twin founders. This area of the Palentine Hill was the personal entertainment area of Romulus, basically like an exclusive Colosseum.

Roman Forum

And here is the view of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum from Palentine Hill.

Roman Ruins

Roman Ruins

Roman Ruins

Roman Ruins

We even found an olive tree on the way out.

Olive Tree

The sun was starting to set at this point, so we decided our plan for the night was to ride the bus around one more time so we could see all the sights at night. We ended up getting a sweet spot in the front seats and were really enjoying the ride until the workers decided they were done working for the night. When we stopped at the Termini we were told we had to get off the bus and no real explanation was given as to what was happening. After we got off we had to wait other 10-15 minutes until the next bus picked us up. And after all that they didn't even go by the Colosseum, so we didn't get to see that all lit up which was pretty disappointing. I am not sure if we just got an off night with this company, but I would not recommend this bus company.

Here are the things we did get to see our shortened bus ride.

The Vatican

Vatican at Night

Rome by Night

Piazza Venezia

Rome by Night

After our shortened bus tour we needed to find something to eat. We decided we were going to try to use these Burger King coupons we had since we were already kind of sick of spending money. We didn't end up finding the Burger King, but instead had chicken sandwiches at McDonald's. Definitely not that good or worth what we paid. I guess it was a good lesson to learn early in the trip.

Even with all the bus riding we still ended up walking 19,602 steps or close to 10 miles today.