Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day 6- Venice

We slept in today, catching up on much-needed rest. While I woke up to
sunshine and birdsong at 7am, by the time we wandered away from the
hostel at 11:30, it was sprinkling again. The forecast calls for rain
all weekend, but I can't mind since we knew that summers can be rainy
The island where we're staying- San Erasmo- is gorgeous. It's a small
agricultural island, so all around us were fields full of plants. The
houses are tidy and surrounded by flowers, and even the fences are
covered in honeysuckle or other flowering vines. It's ridiculously
peaceful here, and I can't help but think that I'd love to live in a
place like this. It's enough removed from the city to make me happy,
but with easy enough access for Chris, and the silence of the night
before was bliss- no cars, no sirens, no diesel fumes or drunken
tourists- just one of the boys who helps to run our hostel singing
softly to himself in Italian as he worked in the back yard.
The hostel itself reminds me of the houses that my stepmom's family
rents each year on the beach. All of the adults in the family pool
together to pay for it, and everyone shares in the cooking and
cleaning. Despite our guest status, that is what it feels like here.
If we ever have children and take them on a family vacation, I'd like
it to be somewhere like here- far enough away from the city not to
worry about their running loose (the hostel grounds are huge and quite
lovely), but close enough to enjoy a day in Venice pretty easily.
We missed the vaporetto and ended up getting on the wrong one, so that
added an hour to our travels, but at length we arrived in Murano
without additional mishap.
Murano is the glassmakers island, and it is a place of beauty. We
wandered for well over an hour, mesmerized by the artistry around us.
The glassmaking has partly been subsumed by cheaper Chinese imports,
so it can be hard to walk past the much cheaper goods, often of
similar quality, for the more expensive authentic Murano glass.
We struggled, but managed to only go into shops with their own
fondamenta, or factory. We also looked all over for a place to eat- we
were both starving-but everywhere seemed to be yet another tourist
trap with high prices and poor food. Finally, though, we turned a
corner and found a little ristorante where we heard more Italian than
English, and saw reasonable prices on the menu. Our host was a fussy
older man who set our table himself, removing a knife to be rewashed
when it didn't meet his standards. When I praised the beautiful
tableware, he showed me that it is made on-site- he owns a glass
factory! I have a feeling that at some point in my life I will be
ordering an extravagantly expensive set of Venetian tableware....
Lunch itself was delicious. I tried an Italian limonsoda, and we
shared a caprese salad and the chef's special: a fettucine with lagoon-
caught fish, tomatoes, and asparagus. It was absolutely fantastic, we
both loved it. Afterwards, we spent a few more hours walking around
and shopping, enjoying the beautiful little town with it's hundreds of
glass shops, each more extravagant than the last. I looked all over
for a teacup, but couldn't find one below €80 until Chris finally
found one, hidden in a little shop, for €49. So we made our last few
purchases hurriedly, catching an evening vaporetto back to the hostel
where I am lounging and being lazy, and Chris I wandering down to the
beach in search of food.
The sun is setting over the lagoon, and the breeze is getting chilly
as Im sitting on the wide, gracious front porch of our temporary home.
I will miss this place, I think, when we leave in the morning.

The only real blasphemy is the refusal of joy. -"Jeffrey"

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 5- Florence & Venice

This morning, we both awoke groggy and sleepy from a poor night's
sleep. Our lovely little hostel, with it's very peachy room, is
centrally located in Florence- a beautiful thing until one attempts to
sleep and is inundated with the sounds of traffic and tourists!
However, a large, excellent breakfast by our lovely hostess refreshed
us, and we set out, backpacks strapped tightly, toward Casa di
Dante.... my little Goth is so excited! We wandered through Florence,
down side streets and past butcher shops, designer stores (Louis
Vitton and Cartier, right beside one another), and tiny little
Florentine paper shops. It took more self-restraint than was pretty to
keep myself from buying most of the shop! Other places carry the
regional Tuscan pottery, Venetian(-style, the real thing is bloody
expensive!) glass, and everywhere there are small cafes, trattorias,
and gelaterias.
The Gelato Festival is still going on- yesterday was the first day-
but since I also want to go to the tea shop here, I doubt that we'll
have time to do both. We're both still full from breakfast!
One of the things that I find charming about Florence is the plethora
of brooms. Every shopkeeper sweeps his or her little area of the
street, clearing it of the ever-present cigarette butts (Italians
smoke like chimneys!), and the dirt of a thousand tourist shoes.
While Chris looks at the Dante House, I wait at a little cafe. One
eats standing up here, and access to a table costs more. It's worth it
while I wait, though, sipping some kind of fruit juice cocktail and
watching my host, whose name appears to be Lucca, chat with Italians
and turistas alike. I'm aroun the corner from the Casa di Dante, so we
frequently see confused tourists and families of whining children,
young couples wandering and older ones strolling hand in hand. It's a
peaceful scene, and a pleasant respite.
When a truck pulled put of a neighboring building, which was currently
being worked on, I helped them move the chairs and tables (the streets
are REALLY narrow here), and then moved him back while my host helped
them make the next turn. When he turned back around, he looked
shocked. "Non! Non!" he shouted. "Sestere!" Sit! ...but he took €1
off of my table fee. I guess that's one less Ugly American here, at
When Chris returned, we decided to find the tea shop we'd passed
yesterday. After quite the wild goose chase, we found it, only to
discover that they simply sell tea- not serve it. However, I bought a
small tin of cocoa and we set out, now an hour early, for Stazione St
Maria Novella Firenze and once more attempted to find a Poste
Italiane. My Goddess the Italians wait, on average, over an hour for
device at a post office! I will rememer this the next time I am
whining about a 10 minute line!
That finally accomplished, we curled up in a corner of the Stazione
(unlike the States, there aren't benches everywhere- youre expected to
stand) and ate slices of pizza while waiting for the train.
This train was a high-speed, heading north and east at an impressive
rate, but the trees that function as sound and wind barriers also
screen the view, so while there were a few vistas of the beautiful
Tuscan countryside, mostly we saw a blur of trees and tunnels. It
provided a good opporunity to nap, though, and I arrived in Venice
groggy. We both quickly woke up to the gorgeous vista around us,
though- literally surrounded by old, old buildings, elaborately and
beautifully carved. I was reminded not to let Chris navigate, though,
as he misheard me and then got off the vaporetto- water bus- several
stops early, necessitating a wait in the damp stop.
It was drizzling when we arrived, but the grey backdrop in some ways
showcases Venice better, letting it's muted colors seem brighter
without the brilliant sky to compete. Even the water looks green and
lovely, although everything you've heard about the smell of the canals
is true.
It took a while to get to our rather out-of-the-way hostel, but it was
totally worth it.
The place is gorgeous, a big villa with an acre if green yard and a
walkway with roses, lavender, and rosemary. From the front porch, the
canals are visible, and in the back fields of various vegetables. We
paid €10 to have our laundry done, then napped before a delicious
vegetarian dinner- asparagus risotto, roasted artichokes, new
potatoes, peas, and zucchini, followed by strawberry mousse. I am so
full and so happy. OMG delicious.
Unfortunately, the wireless is a bit flakey, so I will probably just
go to sleep soon. We're both exhausted, I'd forgotten that neither of
us is 17 anymore and travelling is *hard*. Fortunately, the train to
Munich is a night train so we still have two full days in which to
explore Venezia.

The only real blasphemy is the refusal of joy. -"Jeffrey"

Friday, May 28, 2010

Day 4- Florence

Leaving Rome this morning was bittersweet. The hostel quickly came to
feel like home as I once more settled into the routine of travelling
that was my life once. Chris is sad not to be able to see more- truly,
a lifetime in Rome isn't enough to see everything worth seeing!- but
it's time to move on to Florence- 'Firenze' in Italian.
The train is a wonder- the carriages are numbered backwards, which we
didn't know until too late, so we got to double-time down the crowded
platform to ours. Our compartment-mates are all English-speaking, a
couple from New Zealand and a gentleman from California. We joked
about the vagaries of Italian culture and the differences we'd
The scenery from the train is gorgeous, and Im glad that I chose an
Intercity train rather than express. It's all rolling hills, farmland,
and dilapidated villas. Everywhere are flowers, small gardens between
houses, and pastures. It would be a postcard, except for the
dilapidated cars and occasional rubbish piles. They're almost
necessary though, to convince me, when I start to disbelieve, yet
again, that Im really here.
An Italian woman joined who spoke English, and she pointe out the
sites, explaining that at Orvieno was an Etruscan city, and telling us
it's history- that once the Etruscans ruled Rome, but that it reversed
in only a single generation.
As our companion from California left, he pressed a €20 note into my
hand, and asked us to have a bottle of goo wine on him. I was touched,
thinking of my desire just last night to buy one. Truly, the Universe
watches over us in bewildering and lovely ways.

The arrival in Firenze was confusing- there are multiple stations in
most cities, so we got off at the suburban stop indicated by our
ticket, the wandered a few blocks in utter confusion. Finally, a nice
woman at the Informazione booth explained that we had to get on
another train to Santa Maria Novella Stazione. This accomplished, we
once more got lost looking for the hostel, which eventually turned out
to be quite close to the station. Reception was lovely, once we got
past the three flights of stairs. Our room is very small, but
perfectly adequate and quite lovely.
Firstly, we set out for the Academia, where 'David' stands. Florence
is a walking city, though, so we wandered in and out of tourist
markets, through little side streets and past shops selling
'Florentine papiro', stamps, knock-off leather, and gelato. When we
finally found the Academia, the line was about a half hour long, but
we enjoyed chatting with a lovely Dutch couple. The museum itself is
mind-blowing. Three Stradivarii were on display- a violincello, a
viola, and a violin. I got pictures of two before I was told no
pictures. I was less than a foot away from a Stradivarius!
The rest of it wa equally beautiful- when we turned the corner and I
saw David, I literally just stopped dead. He is beautiful, lifelike
and perfect in form. His expression isn't one of triumph, but one of
consideration. He is beyond beautiful, and I snuck two pictures of him.
The unfinished sculptures are nearly as amazing- thr chisel marks are
clearly visible, and it's simply breathtaking- the emergence of form
from rock! There are no words for the beauty and majesty of his work.
As with the Vatican, I wandered out in a daze. I saw David. The David.
When did this become my life? I mean, really?!
Afterwards, we wandered through an open air market catering mostly to
tourists. I enjoyed shopping and haggling, getting €10 taken off of a
belt that might theoretically be tough enough to stand my life- it's
bison leather LOL Waiting for the woman to finish changing the buckle,
I bought a gelato and chatted with a cute Albanian girl.... And found
out what we visited Florence in the middle of the Gelato Festival!!!
So yeah, this necessitated a trip to the Piazza di San Giovanni, where
we got a 5 taste card. Interestingly, this is the largest one they
offer- otherwise it's just for a single taste. I find it an
interesting contrast to the States and our 'all you can eat'
mentality. We had orange sherbert (that's what it tasted like,
anyway), hazelnut, strawberry that was almost a sorbet, custard, and
an OMFG rich chocolate!
We wandered the Piazza for a bit before heading south toward the
river, stopping for pictures in the Piazza Della Signora and then
walking (slowly- by that point my knee and hip were killing me) along
the river and over the Ponte Vecchio. An Italian man was playing bad
American blues but mostly decent music, and it made a good place to
get off of our feet for a bit... until we realized we hadn't had a
real meal all day, only snacks.
While most of the point of going to Florence was to eat in Tuscany, we
ended up dining at a little ristoriante beside the hostel.
Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly the Tuscan dining experience we had
hoped for- the rabbit was late and overcooked- but it still was
pleasant to eat a traditional dish in a ristorante in Florence.
We didn't get wine, but only because I was too irritated with the
place. We decided to do it in Venice, instead.
So we headed all 25' back to the hostel and curled up together in our
cozy little room.

The only real blasphemy is the refusal of joy. -"Jeffrey"

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day 1, Rome Palatino Pictures

Day 3, Rome

Today was one of the more interesting ones. For some reason, this
morning we were both snappy and inclined to sulk, but after an hour or
two, I called both of us out on it and we made an effort to improve,
and mostly did. We finally found an adaptor for the laptops- yay for
real Internet again!- and bought food for the orphaned kittens at the
hostel. From there, we decided to find a tea room, which proved a bit
of a challenge.
We had tea at the foot of the Spanish steps, the Piazza di Spagna at a
shop called Babingtons. It's an Anglo-Saxon style shop, which isn't
technically right in Rome but we decided to do it anyway.
The shop is lovely, furnished in the simple dark woods common in the
UK and beautiful jars full of teas. Our tablemates were Scottish and
we compared notes on restaurants, gelaterias, and our impressions of
monuments we'd seen so far.
The tea was amazing- Babington Royal Blend, a gift to Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth on her visit to Rome. We drank a tea that Her Majesty
owns. This whole trip boggles my mind. Chris is developing quite the
tea palate, and pronounced this tea similar to Golden Monkey- not
quite so earthy, very robust, with flowery notes. He particularly
noted a hint of rose and jasmine, and maybe a little vanilla. Yes, my
boyfriend is more of a tea conniousser than I am!
I wanted to buy a teacup, but at €30, I decided that I will get one
for each country, not city!

Navigating Rome is by turns fun and frustrating. We tried to go to the
Capuchin Monastery, and after a half dozen wrong turns and the
directions of a very kind nun, we finally found out that it's closed
in the midday, like much of Rome.
However, while looking for it, we found the Piazza Barberini, with the
Palazzo Barberini and the Fontana di Triton by Bernini.
So another series of fun and frustrating directions later, we took 2
buses to the Catacombs.
Outside of the main city, Roman roads are narrow, meandering, and
surrounded by high walls. There were several times when I wasn't sure
our bus would make it past another car or around a turn.
On arriving, we were both hungry so we stopped at a food stand and
bought gelato. Please note- 'Due gelato, per favore, cream e
chioccalate,' means 'two custard and chocolate ice creams, please'.
NOT 'two gelatos, please, chocolate and custard.' Oops LOL
But we picnicked in a gorgeous sunny field, making messes of our
gelato like children and enjoying the shade.
The catacombs, apparently, are guided tours only, and your ticket
allows you to wait for a guide in your language. The order for this is
apparently random, and motivated by whim- like much of Roman behavior,
it seems to me.
The catacombs themselves were amazing. No pictures were allowed for
fear of light damage to the 1000 year old frescoes, but the images
will be burned into my mind forever. There are 3 kinds of crypts-
single niches, larger niches for couples, and 'cubicles' for families.
Yes, cubicle is a word for a family crypt- tell that to your boss.
They weren't hiding places like people think- the Roman gov't knew
about them- but they were cemeteries. After 300AD when Christianity
was decriminalized, they were decorated and the martyrs celebrated.
The Catacombs at San Callisto cover 13 hectares and held nearly a half
a million bodies, wrapped in linen shrouds and preserved in quicklime.
There was a statue in the Crypt of St Cecelia, dedicated to Emily
Cecilia McBride of New York, whom I intend to look up.
It was a beautiful, humbling experience-even my favorite Goth was
quiet and respectful- mostly, anyway. The gravity of the place was
astonishing- half a million lives, half a million people, with hopes
and dreams and lives and wishes and fears and needs. So beautiful...
We ended up deciding to just walk for a while, passing stands of shoes
and shops of electronics and clothes. We learned that a pastacceri
isn't a pasta shop, but a bakery. My favorite Italian phrase is
becoming, 'Costa mi consiglia?' which means, ''What do you recommend?'
Today it got us an amazing little sweet glazed biscuit with custard.
Another few blocks foun me the teacup Ive been looking for- grey Roman
monuments behind bright scarlet roses. And, it was €5, not €30!
Finally, though, our feet were hurting so we headed back to the Metro
and Chris's idea of dinner overlooking the Fontana de Trevi. When we
reached it, we both just stopped in awe. Neither of us expected it to
be so grand- so large and beautiful! We climbed all over one side of
it, taking pictures and laughing like children when we climbed up and
over the rail. Dinner turned out to be more of a snack at a nearby
cafe, but it was the only place with tables that overlooked the Fontana.
I've discovered that while Chris loves real Italian mozzerella, Im
still not fond of olives, or sun-dried tomatoes that have been packed
in olive oil.
Finally, as the evening got cooler, we walked back to the hostel
together, holding hands.
Tomorrow morning, we leave for Florence.

The only real blasphemy is the refusal of joy. -"Jeffrey"

Day 2, Rome

Our second day in Rome started early. My alarm went off at 7 after
barely 5 hours of sleep. After informing Chris that that night, HE got
to do laundry!, we grabbed a quick breakfast of complimentary
cornflakes, croissant, and tea (hey, it's a hostel, not a 5-star
resort), we took off to see more of Rome.
The first stop was the Vatican, where we were accosted by independent
tour guides all through the walk from the stazione. Chris's Russian
came in handy, though- none of them spoke it, so when we answered it,
they left us alone.
As we entered St Peters Square, we saw a gigantic crowd around it.
Heartwarmingly, a black priest was asking to take a picture with two
Buddhist monks.
Wondering what was going on, we kept looking around and realized that
the Papal Pavilion had been set up- yes, we are some of the only
people in the world who can say that they accidentally saw the Pope.
We left his address early, using the crowd's interest in it to assure
a quieter crowd in the Museu Vaticani. It was... beyond words. The
Egyptian collection, which we saw first, make even Rome feel young.
The sarcophogi, nebti, amulets, tools, and even mummies defy
description. The colors are brilliant after 5000 years, and every
piece has it's own power, enough to stop the throat.
We wandered most of the Museum, seeing tapestries, maps, sculpture,
paintings, and every imaginable form of art. I was stunned after the
first half hour, walking around blind and dumb with wonder. It was the
Sistine Chapel that killed me, though. It was the ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel that made my head explode. I was IN the Sistine Chapel,
I SAW the most famous piece of religious art in the world.
When I wandered out, it was 30 minutes before I registered another
piece of art, before my numbed mind responded again.
I left the Vatican profoundly moved... and with a deep desire to sneak
into the Secret Archives. They have letters there from Galileo,
Lincoln, and Luxretia Borggia!

After we left the Vatican, another cup of gelato was called for, then
we went to the Pantheon. It was a religious kind of a day.
First, though, lunch at the spot my stepmom rexommended- DiRenzio's,
right off the piazza, and the best pasta carbonara I'm likely ever to
have. The paper shop across the street tempted me more than it should
have but that's not unusual.

I hadn't know the Pantheon had been converted to a church, and had
half-expected it to still have dedications to the Gods. I suppose I
should have known better. Still, though, it was hard to feel
disappointed a I stared at the sun through the oculus, the hole in the
center of the Pantheon. We spent over an hour there, just walking
around and looking. Utterly gorgeous.

Finally, though, we were tired and returned to the hostel early, where
I worked a bit and Chris lay down before we wandered our neighborhood
a bit. We ended up having dinner at a lovely little trattoria and
pizzeria around the corner from the hostel. Easily the best prices and
largest portions- and some of the best food- we've had in Rome.

The only real blasphemy is the refusal of joy. -"Jeffrey"

Day 1, Rome

We arrived in Rome in the morning, and managed to get to the hostel
with minimal difficulty. Checking in, we were asked to wait while the
room was finished. This gave us time to meet the building's true
owners- two cats and a couple of orphaned kittens who had been adopted.
Like all Roman homes, from what Ive seen, the hostel utilizes every
spare inch of space for plants and flowers. Before long, we were
settled into a comfortable little room with 2 twin mattresses pushed
together to make a king bed, a second set of bunk beds, a wardrobe and
a desk. The desk sits under a big window overlooking the next door
alley. But unlike an American alley, this is yet another greenspace,
full of grass and the poppies that grow wild here.
A nap beckoned, but we headed out anyway. Following the directions
that the hostel operator gave us, we headed to the Colosseum,
intending to see part of it and the Templo di Diana.
There is a Metro station right by the Colosseum, and when you walk out
you're immediately greeted by the Circus Maximus. It is a fallen giant
now, overgrown with greenery, but it's bones remain and they are awe-
inspiring. We walked past it, under pines older than my nation, and up
to the Palatino. It was our first real taste of Old Rome- the tiny
rooms we can only assume were cells, the foundations of what's
believed to be Augustus' birthplace. Cobbled path trod by Senators and
slaves, fallen pillars like the bones of giants. When we came out into
the sunlight again, we were greeted by a cat atop a ruin- soon to be a
familiar sight, as Rome is apparently owned by cats. I took pictures
of the view before we turned a corner and stood beneath the Arch of
Titus. It was amazing. They are called Triumphal Arches, built to
commemorate great victories- Titus's was over the Northern (Germanic?)
tribes- and around the corner was the greatest of them. The Arch of
Augustus, the very first and largest of the Triumphal Arches,
commemorates Augustus Octavian's victory over Marc Antony and Queen
Cleopatra. His general for that campaign, Marcus Agrippa, is also who
oversaw the construction of the Pantheon.
In the same square is the Colosseum, a truly massive feat of human
engineering- and brutality. We walked through it, marveling at the
steps trod by hundreds of thousands of Roman sandals as they watched
day after day of Festival celebrations, gladiator battles, and
executions. The bloodthirstiness of it appeals on one level and repels
on another- the games sometimes lasted weeks on end, sponsored by the
Emperor, and the Colosseum itself held thousands. The main level,
where the sands once were, gave me the chills at the thought of all
the men and women who had stepped onto those sands to fight and die.
Chris loved it, grinning like a kid and climbing on the pillars (there
are places it's allowed).
On leaving the Colosseum, we paused a moment for me to fuss over the
carriage horses, but €120 for a ride is a little out of our budget-
so I settled for fussing and enjoying the warm scent of horse on my
We wandered the Palatino grounds a little longer, enjoying the

We tried to walk to the Templo di Diana, but when we finally found it,
it turned out to be the VIA de Templo di Diana. In other words, the
temple was long gone, and an apartment building stood in it's place.
The lintel is still there, though. Wide and low and dark. I wanted to
go in, but settled for touching it.
So we headed back toward the Metro, and after an amusingly
unsuccessful attempt at finding a place I'd read about for dinner, had
dinner just outside Statzioni Termini- an amazing pasta amatriciana,
with bacon and sheeps milk cheese. A not amazing gelato and an hour
later and we stumbled, exhausted, home to our hostel and Chris fell
asleep while I uploaded pictures and washed clothes in the sink.

Our room in Peter Pan Hostel

The view from our room
The Circus Maximus alongside a highway

Outside the Palatino Complex

Arch of Constantine from the Palatino complex

The cats own Rome. Seriously. Trust me on this.

The Arch of Titus:


Roman graffiti: