Thursday, October 29, 2015

Italy Day 3: On to Florence with a Stop in Assisi

On our 4th day in Italy, and our 3rd full day, we woke up, placed our bags outside our hotel room door for the porters to pick up and headed to breakfast one last time in Rome. Then we boarded the bus bound for Florence with a stop in Assisi.

We stopped once along the way to stretch our legs. Look at the posh espresso machines at the rest area!

When we made it to Assisi we walked through the beautiful city to the  Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi (St. Francis). We enjoyed the scenery along the way.

Including this gorgeous view of the basilica with olive trees all along the slope.

While in the basilica we learned more about the life of St. Francis. We learned that it was he who created the first Nativity scene. He wanted Christians to remember that Christ was born. We also learned that before St. Francis, Jesus was depicted on the crucifix as happy and smiling. St. Francis believed that seeing Jesus as a God who did not suffer led to many Christians not feeling as close to Jesus and God and thus wanted to remind them that Jesus was born, lived and was crucified as a human. It was all so interesting to learn. Then we were able to go into the crypt where Franciscan monks were chanting. Such a beautiful moment.

Here's a trip regret...why oh why didn't I load up on truffle products?!?! I only just tried truffle oil for the first time in the last couple of months and this gorgeous window display totally grabbed my attention. There we were in the heart of truffle country and I didn't pick anything up...I WILL NEVER MAKE THAT MISTAKE AGAIN!!!

After the basilica we walked around Assisi buying some souvenirs and then grabbing lunch from a little cafe. We had amazing porchetta paninos...wild boar toasted sandwiches. They were so good I forgot to take a photo!!

After lunch we headed back to the bus and finished the drive to Florence. We stopped right outside the city to get some great photos...

And then checked-in at our hotel the Grand Hotel Adriatico.

Little Man had his own room at this hotel which he liked.

I loved the wall coverings and floors. The room was beautiful.

We met up as a group for a quick orientation walk and then we were free to go where we wanted. We had already talked with some other people in our group about a gelato place we wanted to try and two of them had heard about the same place and wanted to go too. So we all started walking towards the gelateria and decided to stop where the menu looked good along the way for dinner.

I ordered the fixed menu which had a Florentine steak and beans for the main course. A very Florence kind of meal. What I wasn't expecting at the end, and originally wasn't interested in because we were heading for gelato, was the biscotti with a little glass of Vin Santo at the end of the meal for dessert. OH MY GOODNESS HOW YUMMY! Changed my life! Vin Santo is a very sweet wine used for Communion in Italy and it's traditional to dip the biscotti into it and eat it that way. SO GOOD!

After dinner we headed to Vivoli, the oldest gelateria in Florence. Now, I need to first tell you that while I like ice cream, I am not someone who eats a lot of it. Really a few times a year and I'm good. So, while I figured I would like the gelato, and definitely wanted to try Vivoli, I didn't get a large cup because I thought I would have a hard time finishing it. That was a big mistake. Vivoli makes their gelato fresh everyday, and while the menu switches up daily there are some flavors I knew they were known for that sounded good to me. So I went with the cream flavor (I saw on a show a man actually drop a tear eating their cream gelato) and rice pudding gelato. Dude...the rice pudding gelato was life-changing. I could have stuck my tongue into the little cup and licked the sides to get every last morsel. I was sad when it was gone because, how do you go on in life knowing you had something that good but you can't get it again because it's like an ocean lame. Little Man had tiramisu and something with chocolate.We all were blown away by the gelato...which is good because it was a hike to get back to the hotel! Super cool news...while I was looking for the link for Vivoli I learned that they have a shop in NYC and a new one in Disney World that just opened it June 2015! Rice pudding gelato is in the States!

Anyhoo...after filling up on Florentine food and gelato we headed back to the hotel and crashed...totally tuckered from the day!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Italy Day 2: Vatican City, the Pantheon, Piazzas and Roman Opera Dinner

With the trip we booked through Gate 1 Travel our package included a tour for our 2nd full day to Vatican City. The head of the Catholic Church, Vatican City is also a sovereign country within the city of Rome. While there we saw the Vatican Museums...

I loved these ceilings...painted to look multidimensional...but they're flat.

We also saw the Sistine Chapel. It's an experience that is hard to describe. First, you cannot talk there. It's a Holy place, so our guide told us everything we should look for before we entered. If someone does talk they are quickly hushed by those who work there. There are a lot of people...and you are all looking, far up, to see the artwork. You quickly get a crook in your neck looking for all the areas the guide has told you to be on the look-out for. It's incomprehensible that someone was actually up that high painting such detailed work. It's a beautiful work of art.  Truly a masterpiece.

After the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel we made our way to St. Peter's Basilica. Considered the most important Catholic church in the world it is also one of the largest.

The artwork in St. Peter's Basilica is breathtaking. Paintings and sculptures are everywhere, it's almost an overload for your eyes because you don't know where to look first.

For me, the piece of art that truly touched me the most was the Pietà. Sculpted by Michelangelo it is the piece of art that I enjoyed the experience of the most during our time in Italy. To see hard marble sculpted into a statue that appears to be so delicate in areas is awe-inspiring. While we were standing and taking it in our guide told us how Michelangelo sculpted a youthful Mary because he had an idea of his mother who he lost at a young age. And that for him he felt that the love of a mother for her son is the highest love...the only kind that can give us as human beings an idea of how great God's love for us is. Standing there with Little Man, and knowing how much I love him, these words and the sculpture truly touched me. In this Holy place I felt close to God.  It was truly a beautiful moment.

While taking in St.Peter's Basilica all three of us touched the foot of the statue of St. Peter which is said to bless those who do so.  I could talk for days about all the artwork in Vatican City, it's worth a Google search if you're interested in learning more!

After Vatican City we left the group for free time. We chose to navigate the streets of Rome and independently walk to some of the piazzas (we could have paid for an additional tour but chose to do it on our own which worked out great). Our first stop was the Piazza Navona. It has three water fountains, so it's perfect for a water feature lover like myself!

The largest fountain is Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or the "Fountain of the Four Rivers", i.e. the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile, and the Rio de la Plata.

We stopped and ate here and enjoyed the people watching, beautiful weather and the fountains. Lunch was SO delicious! We started with an appetizer of mozzarella stuffed zucchini flowers that had been fried.

We all had pizza...Little Man's with sausage...

and I had tuna fish and onion which is a truly Italian pizza that I had for the first time when I lived in Germany and have when I'm in Europe (I haven't seen it in the US!)

After checking out the last fountain...

...we wound our way to The Pantheon.

It was so grand! And, like everything,beautiful to to the point where you have a hard time describing it.

Next we wound our way through side streets to what I was really excited to see...Trevi Fountain! It would reopen not 2 weeks after we visited, but we could still see how beautiful it was!

It was surrounded by a wall while being restored, which made the tradition of throwing a coin over your shoulder to ensure you'll come back to Rome a little tricky!

After our afternoon of piazzas and fountains we made our way back to the hotel and rested for an hour before it was time to meet up with our group again for dinner. Dinner was at a Roman theater restaurant called Tanagra where we were able to enjoy opera performances (with some comedy added at times).


At one point one of the women opera singers went around to different men and sat in their laps or poured wine into their mouths...when she came for James I quickly laid a kiss on him and she handed wine to me instead...our group thought it was the best part of the performance!

The bald man with shaving cream on his face? He was part of our group!

The food was presented during performance breaks...and it felt like it just kept coming!

After dinner we went for a nighttime drive through Rome.

And that was our visit to Rome...jam-packed and beautiful!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Our 1st Full Day in Rome

If there hadn't been a cut-off time for breakfast I think we may have slept the day away! We had all been so tired! But we got up, quick got dressed and made our way to the breakfast room at our hotel (Hotel Genova). We enjoyed our continental breakfast with a European vibe (the cappucino was especially awesome) and then we were ready for the day.

First thing to do was check the Gate 1 sign posted downstairs with our schedule for the day. We weren't meeting until later for our tour for the day so we decided to explore the neighborhood by the hotel.

We were not quite 5 minutes from the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. 

Right across the street I used the few words of Italian I knew to order us our first taste of pizza in Italy.

And then after lunch we met up with our group and made our way via bus to the Colosseum. It was actually at the end of the street from our hotel! About a 20 minute walk. Hubby had been really excited to see where the gladiators fought.

Our tour company used these radios with earpieces so that the guides could talk to us without having to yell or be disruptive.

We learned a lot about the history of the Colosseum. Like it was provided to Romans for free by the wealthy who wanted votes. And since women couldn't vote they weren't really wanted there so they had to stand all the way up at the top. LAME! The best seats were down below...there were nets so the animals couldn't get to the spectators. And there's just a section of what the flooring used to look like over the system of tunnels below where animals used to be.

After the Colosseum we walked a few minutes to the Roman Forum, once the seat of the government of the Roman Empire.

Below Little Man and I are sitting beside the Temple of Julius Caesar.

Little Man took this photo of Hubby and I.

There are hundreds of fountains all around Rome where you can get a sip of fresh water from the ancient aqueducts.

After the Colosseum and the Roman Forum we had free time so we left the group and made the trek to the Mouth of Truth. We waited about half an hour for our turn to prove we're not liars (back in the day there was a man behind the mouth that cut your hand off if you were suspected to be lying).

After tons of walking it was time to eat again! I had risotto, but Little Man was all about the pizza! After he raved about it Hubby and I tried some and we all agreed...BEST PIZZA EVER!

Then, while we were sitting outside under a canopy it downpoured and we had to run back to the hotel where we arrived sopping wet! At least we worked off dinner!