Saturday, October 5, 2013

European Adventure - Part 2: Italy

The Italian leg of our journey started on September 10. We flew into Rome from Paris. Paris Orly (the smaller of the two airports in Paris) is where things started going wrong on this day. Not bad wrong, but funny wrong.

Allow me to preface the next paragraph with this one. Kellie and I tried really hard to pack as lightly as possible for this 16 day trip. We each brought only 5 changes of clothes which allowed us to pack all of our things in a single carry on suitcase and one backpack. Additionally, Kellie had a small purse and I had my murse. In our opinions we were traveling extremely light, especially compared to the car load we bring with for our yearly week long vacation with my family or the two carry on suitcases and backpacks we bring with for a single weekend at the cabin.

Soooo, that said, we ended up being "those people" whose carry on suitcase was a centimeter too big to fit into the carry on measuring contraption. The airline determined this while we were in line to board. First of all....our airline (EasyJet) only allows one piece of carry on luggage per person. Kellie had to cram her very small purse into our already overflowing backpack or check one of them (we chose the cramming option.) Second....this airline's carry on dimension regulations are much smaller than any other airline I've flown. In the end, after a ridiculous amount of trying to make things fit, we checked our suitcase. Whatever...

Then, our flight was delayed after we boarded for about 45 minutes.

After finally arriving at the airport in Rome we waited for our checked bag for 30 minutes.

All the delays we experienced caused us to be late to pick up our rental car. Kellie and I had both been super excited for months because we had reserved a Smart Car in Italy. The first place we were staying in Italy was 20 minutes north of Florence, or a 3.5 hour drive north of Rome; thus we needed a car to get there. We kept picturing ourselves driving through the Tuscan countryside, winding around corners with our tiny little smart car. Note, we would never want a Smart Car of our own, but we thought it would be hilarious on vacation! ANYWAY....when we finally made our way to the rental car counter they didn't have a Smart Car for us. When they told us this, Kellie and I looked at each other with looks of extreme disappointment. Instead we got a Fiat 500. Still hilarious....but not a Smart Car. FINALLY.....we were ready to hit the open road.

Italy has toll roads. I was expecting them to be pay as you go like the toll roads I've encountered here in the states. Instead we got this ticket from a toll station when we entered the "interstate," or whatever it is called in Italy. Then we gave it to the toll cashier at our exit off the "interstate." If I remember correctly our toll on our way north was something like 20 euros.

Kellie snapped the following shots on our drive to Tuscany. There were villages like this plastered into hills all along the countryside. If we had not already been late for our check-in I would have definitely wanted to stop and explore one.

There was a lot of road construction along the way.

When it got dark it also started to rain really hard. We were in a foreign country, in a Fiat, in the was dark....and we didn't know where we were going. We were already about an hour and a half late for our check-in and couldn't get my phone to work to contact the place we were staying.

Luckily we had the address for the place we were staying in navigation on my phone. Thus, we thought we would be okay. Here is the deal; we also found the place we were staying in Tuscany on, a site similar to HomeAway. One of my favorite parts about browsing for a place on these sites was reading the reviews left by others who had stayed at each place. Reviews for our place in Tuscany repeatedly mentioned that a really rough gravel road led up to the property we rented. So, I had expectations that we would encounter a really rough road on our trip. As we neared the black and white checkered flag on my phone the road we were on was becoming very narrow and had turned from pavement to gravel. I inferred that we were on track! We found ourselves winding around a corner and into a densely wooded hillside. Finally, as we came to a point where the road curved slightly to the left and then disappeared behind a tall tree...located nearly in the center of the road...Kellie...very sternly...told me to stop. Luckily I did because the dirt and gravel path then disappeared into densely packed, overgrown trees. After finally turning our Fiat around using a....I don't even know how many...point turn and avoiding running into an...I can't even predict the last time it must have been used...old tractor randomly parked in the ditch, we recorded the following two videos. The first is pretty short, but the second is kind of long. I at least recommend watching the first...but you might skip the second. They set the scene.

When we finally arrived at our place it was still raining. The lights were off in the main house where we needed to check in. We feared we might find ourselves sleeping in the Fiat later, however, after several minutes of standing in the rain trying to call the phone numbers we had been given for the place someone from inside the main house heard us and came out to lead us to our flat. PHEW! NOTE: The morning after this whole thing we learned that if you are a Verizon customer...with a global still have to enable global calling on your plan. It is a free feature, but it still needs to be enabled before your phone will work in other countries. Also note, Verizon may not tell you this or do this for you when you consult with them about your calling/data options during your pre-trip planning. ;) you know!

The next morning was our first planned laundry day of the trip. We spent the morning lounging around a bit and also took a trip into town to pick up a few things from the market between loads of laundry. Below you will find some pictures of our place. The first is of our living/dining room area.



I took a picture of our bathroom, but no one wants to see that. had a bidet! No, we didn't use it.


While doing laundry we spent some time reading by the pool!

I can't get over this view! It was a beautiful day!

When our laundry was done we hung it up...

...and set off to explore the nearby countryside in our little Fiat!!

We started our drive by finding a random road which ultimately brought us up the side of a mountain, or HUGE hill. I'm still not really sure which it was. There were little houses nestled in all along it, precariously perched on the hill. They all were so old and very cool!

We were starving when we finally made our way back down the hill. It was about 5pm and we hadn't eaten anything all day. We started looking for a place to eat but everything was closed. We then learned that restaurants in rural Italy tend to close after lunch and do not open again until 8 or so for dinner. So, McDs it was....thank god for those golden arches. Even though we felt pretty guilty about eating fast food from a US company on our Italian!!

After downing our fried goodness we hit the open road again. It turns out there are tunnels all over the area we stayed. They were pretty sweet!

While driving around we found a dairy farm that sold fresh goods like cheese and gelato.

We couldn't resist the gelato. It was really tasty!

Shortly before it started getting dark we headed back to our apartment to enjoy some wine! So here is the is CHEAP in Tuscany.....CHEAP....and GOOD! I'm ready to move there!

We only stayed in Tuscany for two nights. After checking out of our apartment we hit the road again. Our final destination for the day was Rome, however, we made plans to stop in Florence along the way. We took the back way so that we could see more countryside than the interstate would provide. I'm so glad we did. The drive was beautiful; it reminded me of the stretch of road between my hometown (Decorah, IA) and the town I went to college in (Winona, MN.) The roads were very windy and heavily wooded on either side.

When we arrived in Florence we had to find a parking spot. WORST TASK EVER. The streets were only as wide as the Fiat plus just enough space for cars and motorcycles to be parked on both sides of it. Additionally, mopeds were EVERYWHERE and routinely sped through the almost nonexistent, narrow gap between our moving car and the parked cars. It was crazy. All I can say is "THANK GOD for GPS!" We went in circles around the museum we wanted to visit for about 20 minutes before finally finding a place!

After parking we grabbed a quick bite to eat along with a huge carafe of wine.

I ordered the most amazing gnocchi ever.

Kellie ordered a delicious caprese salad.

This was by far the best meal we had enjoyed on our trip. YUM! Looking at these pictures makes my mouth water.

After lunch we made our way to the one museum we had decided to visit in Florence, the Palazzo Davanzati. The museum is an old palace that has been restored and furnished with pieces from the 14th to 19th century.

Our visit in Florence was brief. After visiting the Palazzo Davanzati we walked around for a short bit, grabbed some gelato and then headed back to our car. On the way we saw the bridge below; it had houses on it. How cool is that??

We passed a dam, below, on the walk back to our car. There were people drawing and fishing on it.

....a life of leisure....I could have stayed! That said, I will go back some day! In fact, someday I want to spend an entire vacation in Italy. It was beautiful, the wine was cheap, the food was good and I want to at least see the statue of David someday!

After leaving Florence we had a 3 hour drive back to Rome. Kellie slept for most of the way while I rocked out to some tunes.

When we arrived in Rome we dropped off our Fiat at the airport and hopped on a train that brought us to the main train terminal in Rome. Our hotel was only 3-4 blocks from the station. Since it was late in the day we checked in, ditched our things and hit the streets to find a place to have dinner. We walked in the direction of the Colosseum.

This is another one of those monuments that I was completely blown away by (like the Eiffel Tower, if you read my Paris post.)

Things in the States are soooo new. 200...or even 100 old to us in terms of a building. This thing was completed in 80 AD...a little under 70 years shy of being 2000 years old! Absolutely crazy.....

We found a place to eat dinner across from the Colosseum....

...and afterward wandered around to look for more ruins.

Then we decided to wander some back streets in the direction of our hotel.

Along the way we bought a bottle of wine and some popcorn... enjoy as a before bed snack!

We hit the streets the next morning around 9:30. We checked out of the hotel and brought our luggage with us since we needed to head to the airport around noon. We first walked back to the ruins where we ended exploring the night before. The picture below shows the ruins of a building...

...that used to look like this. The building dates back to the time the Colosseum was built. My mind is blown....

More ruins...


AND....a picture of the damn lizards that were EVERYWHERE in Tuscany and grassy areas of Rome. I had snakes...and I hate this part was REALLY fun for me. :(

Around noon we found a place to grab a bite to eat.

We ordered pizza and a bottle of wine!

After lunch, as our Italian adventure neared an end, we walked to the train station and hopped on a train bound for the airport. We had a 12:35 flight to catch, bound for Prague in the Czech Republic. We were sad to leave Italy...but excited for the next leg of our journey. Our plan....was to meet up with a few friends in Prague!

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