Thursday, June 12, 2014

Day 8: Florence, museums...and a sick Jaclyn

{Monday, June 2, 2014}

Today started up with a not so big bang. I woke up feeling pretty ill, weak, and had abdomen pain. Our goal was to get up early and get in line for the Accademia, but since I was sick, Dad went over by himself to see if he could pre-purchase tickets for a little later in the day so that we could get in easily.  I was able to sleep for a while longer, and when Dad returned, he was laughing.

Little did we know, that today is (basically) Italy's Republic Day.  Their "Independence Day." Festa della Repubblica is a national holiday, and most Italians are on holiday, partying, or just taking the day off, sleeping in. So, the museum was open, but no one was there! We were told there would be a HUGE long line to get in, and to be prepared to stand in a crowd for an hour before you see Michaelangelo's David statue.  Now that I knew I wouldn't have to deal with crowds, I mustered up the strength to get ready and go.

The entrance to the Accademia. Apparently this street is supposed to be lined with thousands of people on a daily basis. I think we were 4 of 50 people to enter that morning. Thank you, Italy.
We had big grins on our faces as we breezed through the door. We love not having to stand in lines finally!

There are no photos allowed in the Accademia, so I wasn't able to get many pictures, but it really is some fascinatingly beautiful artwork. Although, in the first couple of rooms, I thought, "We had to pay 6,50 euro a person to get into THIS? Eh...not our best admission purchase."

BUT THEN you go into the main hall room, and you see David. Holy Lord Almighty.  I think we all know what David looks like, and we know that it is one of Michaelangelo's greatest pieces of art, and that it is tall. But those pieces of information cannot prepare you for actually seeing it in person.

Whoops...looks like I broke the "no picture" rule again... ;)
I mean, I must have sat and stared at David from all angles for 30-40 minutes. It is ONE slab of marble. No flaws. Every little detail - the veins, hair, creases on the toes, his eyes - is perfection.

Now, I am not an art-snob at all. In fact, there is like 90% of art out there that I just don't get. I'm one of those brats that walks into a museum and says "Ugh, I could totally do that myself." But with David...I have never in my life been completely stammered by a piece of art. Incredible, marvelous, stunning, perfect...those words don't even come close to describing what its like seeing it in person. You must go if you are ever in Florence. Please promise me.

We walked through a couple more rooms at the Accademia, then I really started to not feel good. I was feeling really weak and faint, so we walked back to the apartment. I took a nap, while Mom, Dad, and Zach went to the grocery store. We decided to try cooking in for dinner, since we had a full-sized kitchen and utensils.

When they returned, I woke up and we all just lounged on the couch for a few hours. I felt bad that we all were inside and not out exploring because of me, but I kind of think they all were grateful to just relax for a little bit on this vacation and not be on their feet.

Zach got some postcards written, Mom read the news from back home to Dad while he sipped his coffee and people-watched out our window. And I laid on the couch, shoving medicine down my throat, grateful we weren't living here in medieval times. Once I started feeling a tad better, we headed back out to check out the Uffizi Gallery.

Once again, there was pretty much no line - we waited 2 minutes behind 10 people. It was awesome. And photos allowed. Ugh. I was annoyed, but managed to secretly snap a couple :)

View down the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi Gallery.
Michaelangelo's only recorded painting. And Dad. Reading every single word of every single piece of art.
After the Uffizi, we all were pretty tired. We were in there for 2 hours, and I think Dad could have stayed longer. Who knew HE was such an art snob?! ;)

Back at the apartment, Dad got dinner ready, and even made us a little meat and cheese plate for appetizers. This plate was empty within minutes...

SO good! :) :)
I'm glad I was able to power through some of today and see what we did. David was stunning, and the Uffizi was incredible. Hoping for more energy tomorrow - our last full day in Florence!


Day 7: From Venice to Florence (traveler's exhaustion begins to set in)

{Sunday, June 1, 2014}

Yesterday's booze fiesta barista tour has caused us all to move just a tad slow this morning. As soon as we woke up, we had just 30 minutes to get packed up, showered, and ready to get on a train to Florence. Not an easy feat with 4 people and one bathroom. But, we conquered and marched down those Venice streets with all our luggage in tow, boarded our train, and napped until we reached Florence.

I think the move-move-move-museum-tour-museum-tour-picture-picture-picture-walk-walk-walksomemore mentality we've had the past 6 days has set in. Because today, we are feeling tired, and pretty "eh, whatever" about all the things to do in Florence.

We arrived in Florence around 12:30, got a little lost on our way to the apartment, met our new host, Orsola (love her, she boasts that she's a rich old lady, and you know she's not lying. I think she's Italian-fabulous), unpacked a little, and just sat on the couch for a good hour before deciding to move and go do stuff.

The view from our 2nd floor apartment: San Lorenzo Basilica

We groaned putting our shoes on, and slowly made our way down the stairs, eagerly looking forward to bedtime later that day.

As we made our way outside, we realized that the Florence map looked to be the same distance/size as the Rome map, yet everything was SO much closer - that made us beyond happy. We like shorter walks :)

We reached the Duomo...and all I can say is "wow." Again. How is it possible that every church we see just keeps getting more and more fabulous?

It was a short 5 minute wait in line to get inside, and once you enter the doors, again, you just look up and say "wow."

Looking down the main aisle
The alter

Ceiling above the alter. Stunning artwork.
The inside of the Duomo in Florence is probably the most simple interior of a church that we have seen so far in Italy, but I think that's what made it so grand. The outside is so intricately designed to draw your attention to it, and then the inside is fairly simplistic. The alter and the dome are the most artistically designed, and they completely reference God. It kind of brings your focus to Him only, not the art. If I lived in Florence, I could see this being the church I go to every week.

Since it's Sunday, most things started closing around 3 or 4pm. So we were kind of rushed out of the Duomo, and had to wait until 6pm until we were going to attend mass at Saint Lorenzo outside of our apartment. While we waited, we strolled through the streets, people watching and building-admiring.  Mass in San Lorenzo was beautiful. Completely done in Italian. We understood NONE of it, but the good thing about Catholic mass is that it is always done the same every week. So we knew when to stand, say the "Our Father," go up for communion, etc...

After mass, we stopped at a restaurant with some of the best food yet. It easily is in our top 3 favorite restaurants of the whole trip.

Vecchio Mercato in Piazza Mercato Centrale
Our waiter, Luchiano, was awesome, entertaining, and true to his word. He gave us fantastic suggestions that fulfilled every single one of my expectations for eating at a restaurant in Italy. Zach and I had two different kinds of ravioli dishes, Dad had lasagna, and Mom had gnocchi with salmon in it. For dessert, Luchiano said that they had the best cheese cake in the world, and he would stake his reputation on it. Guess what? It was the freaking best piece of cheese cake I've ever tasted in my entire life.

You should feel lucky that I actually stopped to take a picture in the middle of it, because I really could have shoved it all in my mouth at once with absolutely no regrets or shame.
After that amazing meal, we carried our full tummies back to the apartment, got ready for bed, and all passed out within an hour or so.

Tomorrow...more museums. Yay.


Day 6: Venice!

{Saturday, May 31, 2014}

Today was an awesome day in Venice mixed with some touristy sight-seeing, some relaxation, and some major enjoying of Venetian vino!

First, we started out our day zig-zagging the alleys to get to St. Mark's Basilica. We slowly took our time, stopping in a lot of small stores and pastry shops (to sample one of everything pretty much...I'm obsessed with cannoli and these cream puff thingys). I absolutely had to purchase a cheap touristy hat. It was SO hot and I forgot to put on sun-screen. My head and face were burning, and the sunglasses were not enough. So in all the pictures in this post, please ignore the awful-shaped hat on my head.

We made it to St. Mark's around lunch time. It's definitely the #1 touristy spot in Venice - and for good reason. This church is INSANE. It is gigantic, and on the inside, easily more than 70% of the walls, ceilings, pillars, etc...are covered in mosaics.

I DARE YOU to not walk in, tilt your head back, drop your jaw, and say "WOAH." It's not possible. Every person has the same reaction, because it is just that awesome. I have no more words that can ever do it justice, so here are some pictures...

My adorable parents in front of St. Mark's Basilica :)

Every part of the ceiling and arches are mosaic. Every color. Mosaic. Someone did that. Insane to think about and see.

It's not's mosaic. Just...incredible.

I can'at even imagine how long that all took to create.

Don't mind my really crappy manicure chipping away...but this is to give you an idea of just how small each tile was that covered the entire Basilica.
After going through the church (which, by the way, is free - but to get into several smaller parts of the church, it does cost an admission fee), we climbed some stairs to get up to the balcony. The views are beyond incredible.

I mean, every picture we took looked like we were standing in front of a green screen. You imagine that Venice is beautiful, but until you step foot in that city, you have no idea how beautiful it is - it almost looks fake in pictures. But it's not. It's very very real. I could have spent a couple extra days in Venice just lounging on a boat, or sitting in a Piazza people watching.

Loving the square in front of St. Mark's. SO much great people watching. If I could, I would have brought a pool lounge chair and just plopped myself smack-dab in the middle of it all to just people watch and sun-bathe all day long. Maybe a little gondola man could stroll by and sing a song and deliver me some Prosecco? No? I need to make this happen somehow.
We strolled around a little more. Our plan was to take a gondola ride until we met with a friend from the states for dinner/bars, but that plan didn't go as we'd hoped.

Ahhh...Venice and the oh-so-romantic idea of gondolas: they're not as great as you'd think. I would actually advise anyone going to Venice to NOT do a gondola ride. Here's why:

     1. They are ridiculously over-priced. There is no set-price. But you will never find it to be less than 80 euro for a 40 minute ride. And that ride doesn't even take you down the Grand Canal. It takes you down tiny little alleys that smell like urine and pigeons. We happened to be in Venice during one of their holiday weekends (The Ascension), so prices were much higher. For the Gondola to take 4 of us down the Grand Canal, we were looking at upwards of 200 euro for less than an hour ride. And there's no negotiating prices. It's just so not worth it when the best sights to see are OFF the gondola.
     2. The gondola "drivers" (are they drivers? I don't know.) don't sing like you see them do in the movies. IF you get a gondola driver that does sing, you must ask him first, and they charge you extra. Usually around another 40 euro.

Once we decided against the gondola ride, we made our way to the famous Rialto Bridge. Lots of cute little touristy shops on the bridge, and beautiful views!

Rialto Bridge
We had some time to kill, so we stopped for some appetizers at a restaurant overlooking the bridge. As usual, food was delicious, and I was LOVING the Prosecco. When in Venice, order Prosecco! It is their drink of the area!

No make-up, sweaty hair, crappy tourist hat...but Prosecco makes you forget all of that :)
After appetizers, we made our way back up to the top of the Rialto Bridge to meet our old friend, Kristen, and her family for a barista tour. Kristen used to work for my parents when they owned our sporting goods store. Mom always said that Kristen was one of her absolute favorite employees because she was always so upbeat and fun. Kristen actually babysat Zach and I when we were younger, and I do have a memory of going to Disney World in Florida with her. She had moved there after high school (I think) and when we went down for vacation, she spent the day at the park with us. She is just as sweet as I remember! Her husband, Barry, and daughters, Delaney and Hannah, also were with her. They had done a Mediterranean cruise, and decided after it to stay in Venice for a couple of days before heading back to the States.

As soon as this barista tour started, with our hilarious Venice-native, Alessandro, it was clear that most of us might not remember the whole night. The wine was flowing, whole-body-shaking laughter being induced, and it was only 6:30.

The whole group in our first bar on the tour.

Kristen and I with Alessandro, our guide. Hilarious old Venetian man that basically just rolled his eyes and laughed at us all night. I don't think it was a tour for him, more like a "how about I get paid while drinking with some Americans" type of thing.
Alessandro then took us to our 2nd bar, and he informed us that we were going to experience it like REAL Venetians. And that was by getting a glass of wine, and drink it standing up in the alley. Because REAL Venetians don't have time to go into a bar and relax. They drink on the go! We thought he was kidding...but he so was not...

Yeah, we literally were drinking in the alley. Haha!

That damn hat got around throughout the night. 
We were too busy chatting, laughing, and catching up with Kristen's family to take any more pictures, but at the end of the bar tour, the sun was setting and I managed to get some pretty amazing pictures down the canals...

I'm so happy it was a crazy coincidence that Kristen's family and ours were in Venice at the same time. It was so much fun to spend time with them.

Our time in Venice was short, but we are savoring every minute of it.

Tomorrow, we head out to Florence!


p.s. We spotted an American steak-house in Venice. I just had to take a picture because I find it completely hilarious to see what Italians think America is like:

The Wild West, and an eagle with the American flag behind it. Yup, you got us spot on, Italy! ;)