Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Trip to Italy (and maybe some runs) Part 13, Arrivederci Italy!

Our Ride
We were up before the alarm. The anticipation of a long trip home sort of weighed on us as we headed down the scary elevator to meet our "driver."

There had been a little bit of a joke about us opting for the car instead of the taxi. Well, not when we hit the curb. There was our guy in a black suit driving a black frickin' Mercedes Benz. Oh yeah, another solid choice!

The trip to the airport was easy, as was check-in, despite AlItalia not being the best communicators around (but what airline is?). We had every piece of paper we needed, checked those massive bags, and hit the waiting area. My carry-on bag.... yes, the Kevin Costner bag, nicely protecting my Luccan pottery. John and Patty's plane left an hour later, but we sill ran into them prior to our/their departure. And before we knew it, we were onboard.

I made a conscious effort for the NY-Rome and back flights to pay a little extra for stretch seats. It was so well worth it. Nothing much happened across the Atlantic (and that's the way we like it). I played some cool trivia game, was amused by a little baby, read a bit (Roger Bannister's book - Twin Tracks), and watched Free Solo one more time. 

Nice View!
Arriving at JFK, we were shuffled through customs in what seemed like record time, grabbed our bags and then unfortunately had to go OUT of JFK and back in to catch our flight to San Francisco. While it could have been a moderate pain, everything went amazingly well and being TSA Pre for the flight didn't hurt.

We had a few hours so we attempted to eat finding that the selection in our terminal wasn't the best. I can't even remember what we settled on, but it was not, as you can tell, memorable. The six hours across the USA seemed to take forever. I decided to pass the time with two oldies but goodies, at least I thought so. First I watched Gone With The Wind.

As always I was amazed at Margaret Mitchell's ability to write such a fascinating character in Rhett Butler. I didn't cry at the end, but I was reminded that this was my Mom's favorite movie of all time and that she thought, if there had ever been a real sequel, Scarlett would have gotten Rhett back. No way, Mom.
Looks like Denver to me!

The other movie was Breakfast at Tiffany's. My motivation here was that I had never actually watched it and I was anxious to see this epic tale of life in New York City. PLUS, Audrey Hepburn. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. This got an Academy Award???? Who was the competition???? Holy Crap, it might have been the most boring, nonsensical, useless movie of all time. Give me a break. I kept asking myself, why am I watching this? Couldn't I just open the exit door and jump? Lord have mercy!!!!

We arrived safely in San Francisco (except for the scarring left from watching Breakfast at Tiffany's), grabbed our bags without incident, and grabbed a shuttle to the closest dump that didn't charge $350 a night, a Super 8. We checked in, hid out in our room and after falling asleep initially, we woke up about 2 and spent much of the remaining night giggling about things that had happened on the trip and especially how terrible it was to watch Breakfast at Your Know Where's.
The Gang in all their glory! Front: Leslie, Me, Linda, Alex
Back: Blane, Kaci, Kyle, Rachel, Joey, John, Patty, Kevin

The crappy Super 8 had a great shower and our Uber arrived bright and early. We made it to SFO just in time to catch our flight home. As hoped, our luggage made it, our Uber driver delivered us home, and everything was intact. Excellent.

It was my first trip to Italy, first trip to Europe. While I could wax poetic about the entire experience, I will only say this: it won't be my last trip like that and I couldn't have done it without this bunch of cohorts. Thanks to John and Patty, Blane and Leslie, Kyle and Kaycee, Rachel and Joey for your awesome company. Thanks to the many wonderful people who helped us all over the place with a special shoutout to Chiara, without whom I'd have never had Chiara's Car.

And big time THANKS to my honey, Linda for being a wonderful companion. Welcome home.

Monday, June 17, 2019

A Trip to Italy (and maybe some runs) Part 12, When in Rome, Time to Go Home

Grabbing shade at Monte train
If it's Monday, it must be time to head to Rome. A bit of a sore knee made a run a lousy idea so I went for a walk instead. We were pretty much packed from the night before and we kind of knew that this would be the close to final packing as we had very limited time in Rome for such things.

Breakfast was good, we walked about town a bit filling in a couple of last minute gift purchases. We were to check out at 11, and a taxi would take us to the train station. Unfortunately we had a bit of a wait until our train left for La Spezia. So we stood, one more time, in the sun waiting for a train dragging around our heavy luggage.  One major lesson learned on this trip for any future trips is this: pack light, wash often.

Special Luggage Spot
We found John and Patty at the La Spezia train station. We would have a long ride from there to Rome (3 1/2 hours) and no one was looking forward to it. As much as the train ride from Florence to La Spezia was a mediocre experience, this one beat it hands down for sheer suckiness. We weren't assigned a track until the last minute and with all of the luggage and last minute bathroom going, we were not positioned for good placement.

The doors opened and every obnoxious train rider rushed through the doorway and snagged every spot in the already minimal luggage area. That, once again, 
Room with a View
left one choice, the overhead space (and there wasn't much left). In the end, we had luggage everywhere. Front, Back, hanging out the window, I think. We still however had one BIG piece without a location. Easy, we thought, we'll just lay it on our table. So that's where it sat for what seemed like an eternity, on our table.

Upon arrival at the Rome station, we were dumped in what I will not so livingly call the catacombs. Far, far, far from the the lovely end of the terminal, we were dumped at the

South end, where basically even the taxis didn't like being. AND, we would need cash for our cab ride and had none. Two stores within a half a mile and no ATM. Then, like a beacon in the harbor, I saw a Radisson hotel. THEY must have an ATM, I thought. BINGO!

My Girl shooting a pic
Heading to different hotels, we took separate taxis. Our driver was one of those, let's call them "creative route" guys. We arrived, just the same although our driver dropped us almost a block from where we were going (of which we were not completely sure). We called our host, and he said he'd meet us in a jiffy (not sure what the European time unit is for the jiffy). He ushered us into this very old building, took us up and even older elevator that barely fit the two of us and our bags, and led us down a hallway to a door that said, "Colosseo Panoramic Rooms." He explained the lay of the land in extremely broken English noting that if we had questions we could call his wife who spoke it better. We asked about shuttles to the airport in the morning and he said a taxi was $48, this shuttle guy he knew did it for $50. We opted for shuttle guy thinking he had to be better than the taxi rides we'd had.

The room was GREAT. Without a doubt, and yours truly scored again as it was spacious, with an AWESOME bathroom, AND a view of the Colosseum. A quick unloading of our stuff and a call to John and Patty to see about dinner. They decided they were an hour, at least, from heading out SO we decided to sightsee the Colosseum before sunset.

Epic Colosseum Shot
The next hour was spent sucking in the majesty of the Roman Colosseum. We were too late for a tour and leaving too early the next morning. So we read placards, took pictures, and enjoyed the crap out of the experience. Soon, the phone rang and we arranged the dinner meeting. We would meet right on the corner near our hotel. Cool. Minutes later, there they were. It turned out that their hotel was pretty much in the same huge building as ours, but on the other side. 

We were pretty much ready to eat, when a lovely young lady in front of a restaurant asked if  we wanted to eat on their rooftop. Sure, why not. Great call on that one. We ended up on the roof of the Ristoro Della Salute with an unobstructed view of the Colosseum. I had a killer Caesar Salad, Linda had, surprise, Bruschetta. Then came the good stuff. For me, a filet with roasted potatoes and tempura asparagus. She had a good looking risotto thing. We ate, recapped, took some pictures, and then departed. Somehow in
See ya Italy!
the reshuffling of flights, we ended up on different ones, so this would probably be arrevaderci. 

We finished packing, set a 5:45 am alarm and spent our last night sleeping in Italy. 

Sogni d'oro. Sweet Dreams.

Until we meet again!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Trip to Italy (and maybe some runs) Part 11, Monterosso!

Morning in Monterosso Al Mare
The day began with a rooster crowing at about 6:30. I guess even the rosters sleep in in Italy. My job was simple: get up, get dressed, and hit the run down the hill. Monterosso is actually two places, Monterosso and Monterosso Al Mare. The first is South of Al Mare and a little smaller. That's where our hotel was situated. While smaller than Al Mare, Monterosso had more restaurants, more shops, and was just plain quainter (is that a word). BUT, Al Mare had the train station.

I love running as a way to get to know an area. It's especially effective in the morning. My journeys took me through the tunnel and into Al Mare, up some hills, even up the Porto Hotel trail and onto a bit of the Cinque Terre trail. The trail spans all five villages and is considered a state park, thus.... a fee. I didn't get too
The Band is ready!
 up the steep, rugged little bugger until I hit the pay station. At the time, no one occupied the hut, but I decided to head back anyway. Good citizen? No tired trail running climber.

We hit breakfast (where I was treated to a special serving of scrambled eggs and Italian bacon, as per my request - cool) and then decided it was time to just bum around. We wanted to meet up with John and Patty and see Vernazza, but also planned to have lunch with Blane and Leslie in Monterosso. They were staying on the other side of town.

As we wandered two cool things happened. First, the streets all had signs about some kind of a parade or something. Sure as shootin' after we'd walked around just a bit, the parade came through. Bands, citizens, guys dressed like veterans and yes, even in Monterosso politicians. We listened to the band, heard some speeches all in Italian (no matter what the language, you can always tell who the important dignitary might be by how long they get to speak), and wandered some more. It
The little boy and the candle
was local fun.

The second cool thing happened as we decided to peek into an old church just a few yards from our hotel. We entered, planning to take the complimentary picture of the old church, and noticed a little boy, maybe 5 years old, sitting in a pew with those cute footie PJs and a backpack. He rose, walked over to the side, lit a candle, paused for a few moments, and then ran down the aisle and out the door. And he was gone. Luckily for me, I was camera ready and was able to get one of the most memorable shots of the trip.

Lunch happened at a place called Ciak. We'd noticed it the night before as it had a large open-to-the-street window where you could watch the cooks. I guess they thought it was good advertising. Blane and Leslie had some seafood concoction that made me nervous while
Lunch with Blane and Leslie
Linda stuck with pasta. I, luckily, selected gnocchi with meat sauce. OMG, it was an absolutely fabulous lunch. Tasty, semi-light, and just plain delicious. We chatted some and

reminisced about the trip as we were pretty sure we wouldn't see them before the flights home. All good fun.

Next we discovered that John had decided to hike the trail from Vernazza to Monterosso, and was approaching the halfway point. While the trail is only slightly over two miles, it takes forever because of the steepness and ruggedness. We decided to head him off at the pass, so to speak. This might have been one of my few mistakes when it came to my health. My knee DID NOT LIKE this trail at all. I think we barely made it up a half a mile before he came blazing by. We
Vernazza with John and Patty
turned and happily descended. He was tired and thirsty. Someday I want to go back and nail that whole thing: all five towns. Not this time though.

We had a quick chat with John, some gelato, and then accompanied him via train back to Vernazza. A simple ten minute ride and we were there. Vernazza seemed older, or maybe not as spruced up. We checked out their hotel room and walked to the beachfront. They were doing the boat tour thing that evening and they told us all about how that was going to go. We passed, mostly because of the especially high cost. Once suitably caught up, we synchronized our schedules for the train ride to Rome and we were off.

A quick shower and we were down at the hotel's lounge area. They had a nice layout. A bar/lounge area as well as a cafe type place where they made breakfast (and some things
Chatting with Jean
customized just by asking). We (well, Linda) had a glass of wine and we chatted with Jean, She told us about Kenya and how often she is able to get back. Just a wonderful, hard working young woman with a sharp mind and a gentle spirit. She was awesome. "You need to come run in Kenya," she said. Yeah, that would be cool.

We arranged for the morning taxi, and headed down to town for dinner. After some exploration, he decided on the return to La Cambusa. Why tempt the fates? Why rock the boat? Why go to all the work finding another place. I'm not sure what I ate (mostly because I didn't take a picture of it). Linda had some pasta with a walnut sauce which according to her was, "divine."

A short walk, maybe some gelato, and off to bed. Tomorrow we begin the journey home. Ciao, Monterosso.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Trip to Italy (and maybe some runs) Part 10, Hello Coastline!

Chiara's Car Fully Loaded
Note:   You will notice that Blogger began acting up halfway through this post (not wrapping text around pictures). After completely wasting 30 minutes trying to cure its actions, I just gave in. Hope it's not too annoying.

It was time to say goodbye to the Villa and head for the coast. I confess to looking forward to the move mostly because the villa, while wonderful, was boring. And I, having never been to Italy, wanted to see stuff. So, we were off to Cinque Terre, five cities along the mountainous coast of Western Italy.

We were up moderately early for our departure. Kevin and Alex were on to another adventure, Blane and Leslie were headed to Monterosso (which was our destination), Kyle, Kaycee, Rachel and Joey to Rome (I think), John and Patty to Vernazza (one of the Cinque). First on the docket, Linda, John, Patty, and I needed to return "Chiara's Car" back to Chiara. First, however, I need a nice little run before attacking the day. An easy 3 miles would suffice.

The rental company sent directions. The GPS identified the train station. John's iphone zoomed in on the target. STILL, none of this accounted for the absolute madness of
Trattoria Desserts
the area within three miles of the train station. Rich, the driving, chilled, saint truly earned his wings in this version of a bad Larry, Moe and Curly episode.

Undaunted by the madness around me, we arrived at our destination on time, with a full tank of gas, and ready for yet another visit to the epic Firenze station. Possessing a little time, we grabbed a light lunch in this cozy place right across from the station called the Trattoria Dall'Oste. Service was good, we created room for our massive amounts of 
luggage and settled in for some eats. The food was good, the pastries and desserts were 
better. They had these little Nutella cookies that Linda became somewhat attached to, and 
I could see why.

The train ride from Rome to Florence was easy. We got on board, we placed our somewhat 
massive luggage in the luggage section, and we were off. Boarding the Florence train, no such
luggage compartment existed. That was an issue because 1) the train was packed 2) the 
overhead bin was smallish 3) our bags were HEAVY. It was a royal pain in the ass and nobody, 
and I mean, nobody was of any assistance whatsoever. Despite the Herculean task before us, 
we managed to stash our luggage up above, and find four seats. By the way, did I mention it 
was like 95 degrees in the anything-but-air-conditionedtrain. 
"Road" to the Porto

The train departed on time, and arrived in La Spezia, except for one minor detail, no place to 
park. What? I thought we were on a schedule here. Am I on Frontier Airlines? SO, we wait 20
minutes to park. Somehow we lug our bags OFF the train only to discover that figuring out what 
to do when you've missed the train is difficult in Italy. Some 20-30 minutes later we're on the 
train to Levanto with stops along the Cinque Terre. We bid a fond farewell to John and Patty in 
Vernazza and arrive in Monterosso ten minutes after.

Each of these five towns is right on the coast. Getting off the train was one word (other than
painful): stunning. The water was gorgeous, the shops and hotels sparkled, everything was
as could be imagined. While searching for the perfect coastal accommodations, I looked mostly
at Vernazza and Monterosso. Stepping off the train, I knew I had made a good decision.
Monterosso was great.

We called the Hotel to see about our ride up the hill. "You're late," they say. "Well, yeah we're late,
not much we could do about that. What do we do?" "You'll have to find another cab." Thanks.

We walked a hair to an area that might have some taxi traffic and BOOM, there one was. 
"Where to?" he asked. Hotel Souvenir," I say. "You're late," he (Danilo) says. "Well, yeah 
we're late, not much we could do about that. What do we do?"  Get in. But first, our driver tells 
us, he has to drop another couple at the Hotel Porto Roco. What we didn't know was the the 
Hotel Porto Roco was up a steep hill on an almost one lane trail with a small rail separating us 
from the cliff and the water. Slightly hair-raising. "That's kind of scary," Linda said. "Nah, I do 
it 18-20 times a day." Yikes.

By the time we check in (and by the way, our room is on the 5th floor and there is no elevator, 
and did I mention our bags are/were heavy?) and unpack a bit, it's time for some dinner. But,
Dinner at La Cambusa
oh yeah, our bags. Our bags are taken to the room by James. James is about 5-7, maybe 
145 pounds and is from Kenya. In fact, all of the hard working staff is from Kenya. James and 
his counterparts Robert and Joseph, clean landscape and lift things. Two Kenyan women,
Jean and another woman I didn't meet handle many other tasks. THEY WERE ALL FANTASTIC.
Oh and James brought our bags up one at a time, lifted over his head.

Deciding where to eat was a matter of walking a bit around town and sneaking peeks at the
plates of other patrons. We decided on a cute little, mostly outdoor place called La Cambusa.
I ordered the Sea Bass, Linda got the pesto pasta. The bread: awesome, roasted potatoes: 
magnifico, and I hear the pasta and the wine were top notch. Maybe, just maybe, the food truck
is turning in the right direction.

A nice walk and some Gelato followed dinner and soon it was time to hit the sack. Lo and behold,
no one was up drinking and chatting. It was just us.

Good night. I mean, buona notte.

Friday, June 14, 2019

A Trip to Italy (and maybe some runs) Part 9, Lucca and my Mission

Cover me, I'm going in
thru the Lucca Wall
It was Friday (I didn't miss this one). It was our last full day staying at the villa. I was on a mission.

The day we walked the streets and shopped the shops of Lucca, we had seen some wonderful handmade pottery that nicely depicted the Tuscan countryside. This morning, I was going to combine two of my favorite things: running and doing something for Linda. My goal was to get in my morning run within the gates of Lucca and find the pottery shop amidst the hundreds of shops we had seen. I arrived around 8, and Lucca was as I had hoped, completely void of people. A few were up on the city walls walking, running, and biking but that was not me today. I was the urban hunter. With intelligence as my guide, I decided that if I just ran the streets; up one, down the other, I would find the illusive shop. Wow, I couldn't have been more wrong.

After 4 miles of street running and nothing to show for it. I decided to just run and not search. The plan was twofold: I would enjoy the last miles of my run more if I was focused on the run, and by not searching I would find my shop. While I enjoyed the run, the trickery
Lucca in the morning
of the non-search search didn't work out. So upon completion of my six miles, I just walked.

Finally I had another idea. If I could get back to the church where the opera happened, I might be able to retrace some vaguely remember steps to the shop.

At 9:50 am, after 6 miles of running and another 2 walking, there it was! OPEN AT 10:30! What? Are you kidding me? Who opens at 10:30? I've been up since 6!!!! Doesn't this shop owner know what I have been through today? SIGHHHHHHHH. Oh well, let's walk around some more.

Now all was not lost. First and foremost, I had found the shop and without a severe lapse in memory it would allude me no more. Next, I had some time to shop for something for my sons. While I am not a big believer in gifts from Daddy's trip, I do know that a practical, well thought out present might be nice.
Pinarellos? I'm in!
Then, I find the perfect place, an Italian bike store.

Back near the turn of the century, after the death of their Mom, my boys and I did a ton of cycling. Many young men know their football roster, or the baseball lineup. The three of us once sat in a condo in Breckenridge and not only made up a cycling board game (lovingly called Mandelbaum), but identified 175 professional cyclists. Sick? I think not.

Anyway, an American woman who had married an Italian man owned the quaint little place that focused mostly on rentals but also had some cool stuff in general. What caught my eye was the official Giro di Italia hat knowing that each would find this to be a worthy addition to their hat collections. DONE!

Finally, it's 10:23 and it's back to the pottery shop. Lo and behold, she's opened early and my pot and plate await. I tell her of my crusade to not only find her but to acquire the target
Lucca has a carousel? Go figure.
of my shopping desire. She seems unimpressed. "You know, I could have gotten my wife a Giro hat," I wanted to say. Oh well, mission accomplished. So, it's 11 am and time that for me to drive back.

It has not been mentioned in a few posts, but by now, I have getting back to the villa DOWN. I follow the GPS (no matter where I am) till I find Poopy's, and I am good to go. Nailed it. Again! I also decide that this would be a good time to get gas and since there is a station right around the corner from Poopy's, it seems like the perfect place. I must confess that I was a hair nervous about working the whole "put gas in Chiara's car" thing, but it went without incident. Now, not only am I cool, chill Italian driving Rich, but I also know how to do the petroleum thing. 

A Nun and a Cop. Good Pair!
It was decided that the last full day at the Villa would be a relaxing one. Enjoy the pool, wander the grounds, visit the local store, maybe see the extremely cool museum/house just below us. It was also decided that we would head out this evening and sample the local fare, maybe hit a pizza place. Seemed perfect.

The pool, while a little chilly was great. It was a good size, located perfectly to capture the optimal sunshine and well appointed with the finest in lawn furniture. In short, a nice hangout. So, for a while, we pooled. 

At this point, I need to mention two things that have gone without comment during our journey. Thing one was the local store.

On one of the first days at the Villa we grocery shopped at a little market (well, mid-sized) in town. It was nice, convenient, and all of that. While exploring, however, Rachel and Joey found this nifty little (and I mean little) place just down the hill via several trails. As the grocery guy, I spent little time in this awesome spot as it could not compare to the
Rachel and Joey at "the store"
Esselunga di Porcari, which must be Italian for Big Ass Grocery Store. Nonetheless, the final journey to the little store had more meaning as Joey must have walked to it nearly everyday. 

Just up the street from the little store was this "place" that just stood out anytime you looked down the hill from the Villa. We saw this place everyday. We even took a tour of it that cost 12 euros a piece, and for the life of me, I cannot find the name of it. So, I will just say this: it was old, a lot of "important" people had lived in it, and they wouldn't allow you to take pictures inside (rip off). My two fave pics of the outside are along this post.

So, back to the two unmentionables. The second one was my computer. I have/had a 15" Macbook Pro that had served me well for almost four years. On night two at the Villa, I
The house/museum
noticed that instead of going to sleep when unattended, my computer would semi-shut off. While one can be revived from sleep with a tap of any key, I was having to actually turn it on each time. After the fourth episode, my computer said, "sorry, that's it. I'm done." And it died.

Luckily, I had my ipad for some minor computing. The biggest fear was that I had lost a big bunch of info stored after the last backup. Also, luckily, the hard drive was okay. Lesson: computers last about three to four years, plan on it.

Returning from the house/museum, I am completely prepared for what will be one of the big pains of group travel, deciding which pizza place to visit. Well, that never happened as while we were gone an administrative decision was made that instead of going out, we would play potpourri with the contents of the fridge. What???? I thought we had a plan.

The garden of "the place"
Having had enough of the administration, we (Linda and me) decided to revolt. Pizza was the plan, and by God these two rabble rousers were going out for pizza. Rabble, rabble, rabble (or is it rouser, rouser, rouser). After soliciting little support for the revolution, I said to Kyle, "We're going out for pizza anyway. Wanna go?"  Answer: "YOU BET!" So me, Linda, Kyle and Kaycee were off the Pizzeria da Andrea down the hill in Campannori.

Upon entering, you'd have thought these Americans were bringing the plague with them. After crabby greetings, frowns, and somewhat dirty looks, the Americans were given a seat and a girl who spoke a little English to be the sacrificial waitress. But from here on in though, it was all fabulous pizza. We sat, ate, and chatted for an hour. I think I learned more about Kyle in that 60
Bocce by night
minutes than in the 19 preceding years that I have been with his Aunt Linda. And Kaycee, who we just hadn't ever spent a lot of time with, was delightful. 

The drive back was without incident (just turn at Poopy's). "How was the pizza?" was the question. Well, it was fantastic and even if it had been terrible, we'd have said it was fantastic. Administration be damned.

Darkness settled in and the focus turned to the courageous sport of bocce. I have to admit, seeing everyone trying to be awesome at something that looks so simple (and is not) was quite entertaining. Having said that, I will also mention that I NAILED bocce. Well, maybe.


A Trip to Italy (and maybe some runs) Part 8, Firenze and Kevin's Bag and Fish

"All Aboard"
Today (Thursday) had three events on tap: a good run in town, a day trip to Firenze (Florence), and the second catered meal.

The run was simple. I took the shortcut into town, spent most of the time running the flat streets of Camigliano, and came back via the long uphill road part. That road gets amazingly narrow at times and seems safer to run than it does to drive. Still, the way the locals drive, it's smart to be on high alert.

For Florence, Linda, John, Patty, Kyle, Kaycee, Rachel, Joey, and I would drive to Lucca, take the train to Florence and set out for some adventuring. I suppose trains are commonplace in Europe, but we just don't see them all that much in the States. Light Rail, in Denver, is kind of the exception to that rule, but I'm just not sure how much it has caught on even after more than a decade from its opening. Anyway, it just seemed like we were cool, efficient, travelers.

Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore
"The heat, my God, the heat," says Elaine in Seinfeld. If Lucca was hot, and Siena was hot, Florence set the new standard for hot. It had to have gotten up very close to 100. Unlike Siena, however, I felt rested and ready to go. Once again, we were on the Flexi-plan as far as what we would see and exactly where we would go. While mostly okay with that, in retrospect I would have studied a map and created some kind of constructive plan for the sights I wanted to see. Instead I had a plethora of pictures of these awesome places and I wasn't sure what most of them were. 

There were some great spots visited despite our fake it till you make it philosophy. A central meeting point for the day was around the Piazza del Signoria a very cool area that contained some great shops, restaurant, gelato joints and of course our favorite, Fake
Fake David is near the entrance
David. There are many replicas of Michelangelo's David throughout Europe and especially Italy. The most commonly viewed-as-real one is this one as it is 1) blocks away from the real one, and 2) it's right there in Florence. Nonetheless, Fake David was cool and he'd have to do for now as real David's location was not on my smartphone.

We eventually made it to the river where you could see the the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio has been a bridge, a house, a bridge, shops, a bridge, and is presently a bridge with shops. A law giving the bridge's shops to almost anyone but butchers came about in the 1590's and is in place since. At present jewelers occupy the shops.

Prior to the crossing of the Vecchio, John suggested we cross the river and inspect some great sights AND see the view of Florence from the hillside. We trudged the sidewalk to the next bridge, the Ponte alle Grazie. After what seemed like the longest, hot bridge crossing of all time, I asked, "Where to?" John replied, "Let's just go down to the other bridge and meet up with Patty." Exploration over.

Stairs in Middle, halfway up
We then walked across the Ponte Vecchio, took the standard picture with the river in the background and crossed back to the main side. With a bunch of time to kill before the train back, we chose to walk along the river toward the south end of Florence. We maneuvered through various streets slowly winding our way back. In the wandering, we happened upon a school like setting intersected by a parkway. Halfway through we were met by signs requesting silence for MONKS, I think. If it was a monastery, this one was awesome. Bold and gorgeous and especially check out the stairs heading up in the picture on the left. Might not like this as the way to get to my office. Cool.

Eventually we made out way back to the main drag not far from the train station. We had looked at two things near there, a beautiful purse that Linda loved and a leather bag I'd had my eye on. The purse had left the conversation several hours ago, but the bag lingered. I found it sort of by accident hours earlier.
We had turned a corner near the carousel at the Plaza della Repubblica (right next to the H & M, by the way) a place where there were a BUNCH of street vendors selling leather goods. Immediately upon rounding on the city gate side, it just popped into view. There it was, Kevin Costner's bag.

What? Kevin Costner's bag? Let me explain. At the end of Costner's movie For Love of the Game, he is at the airport ready to leave for London and "go get the girl." Well, Kevin is dressed REALLY well (after all he is a millionaire baseball pitcher in the movie). But better than his awesome coat, better than the very cool shirt, he has this leather carry-on bag over his shoulder. Through the years while Linda has lusted for
Me and Kevin's bag
Kevin, I have longed for the bag. And there it was. Through some streetwise haggling, I left with the bag at what I believed to be a great price. It was my best Italy purchase and the one I still am amazingly excited about.

Bag in hand, we met the entire gang near the train station and headed back to Lucca on the train. Armed with a little time between the train's arrival, the drive to the villa and the second catered dinner, everyone hung out and relaxed.  Hung out: translate - drink and talk.

The second catered meal was, like the first, supposed to be a highlight of the trip. It certainly was expensive enough to be a highlight. And maybe for the finely tuned palates in our party, it was. For me, not so much. But tonight was seafood night, so I was optimistic. Our main chef was a repeat from the first night, our assistant was the first night's assistants Mother.

The first moments are spent with, of course, wine. Chianti Classico is the buzz (not only for the day but for the entire stay) and as I have for most of my entire life, I pass. Just not an alcohol guy and especially not a wine guy (I can whine with the best, however). Next can the
Those little strips on the top
are the fish
clams/mussels/oysters. To be honest I don't know which they were, I treat them all the same: no! Maybe it's a traumatic childhood memory of my Dad eating sardines in his easy chair, but sorry - can't do that consistency and that "slider" thing down my throat.

At some point the fish were presented to us. Four little guys, maybe 12 inches each. I imagine they'd already met their fish maker, so they were about to meet their fish maker (see what I dd there?). Anyway, by the size of the little guys, I could not imagine how we were going to main course 12 people with them. Well, I was right. Not much fish on the plate as you can see. 

On the upside, the bread: awesome. The gnocchi with walnut sauce: excellent. The roasted potatoes: very very good. But after the thrill of trying potato pizza today, everything else didn't quite make the grade. Interestingly, the second catered meal was a turning point for me: every meal from here to the end of the trip was excellent (or maybe it just seemed that way). Yum.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Trip to Italy (and maybe some runs) Part 7, Siena

Two cute kids at Piazza del Campo
The Flexi-plan became fully functional again today as it seemed that everyone had their own idea for how to spend the day. For Linda and me, we decided to take "Chiara's Car" to Siena.

Siena was first occupied by the Etruscans sometime between 900 and 400 BC. It has a long and somewhat checkered past. Far enough from Rome to be seen as a red headed step child historically (no offense to red headed step children), it prospered more because of its time under the rule of the Lombards and the subsequent conquering by Charlemagne. Always known for their advances in irrigation and architecture, the area spent much time as an affluent trading post. It survived the Italian War of 1551-59, Spanish occupation afterward, and finally became a part of the unification of Italy in the nineteenth century.

We found our way via some back roads, a freeway, and a tollway. Eventually (actually slightly less than two hours) we arrived in Siena. Here's what we knew: there was one of the world's largest piazzas, the Piazza del Campo, and it was a nice place to visit.

Linda's Bruschetta
A little tired from yesterday's adventure on the Luccan Walls, walking around Siena did not seem to be high on my list as a fun activity. Add to that the fact that Linda was also tired AND it was going to be big time HOT, we may not have been the most dedicated explorers. In fact, I'm guessing we missed a ton of cool things simply because we were tired of walking.

Our first mission, however, was to find the Piazza del Campo. We figured there would be some nice photo ops, lunch, and maybe post-lunch gelato. We were correct on all three counts. The Piazza was huge although certainly not overcrowded like some of the places we'd visited. Restaurants, shops, and hotel rooms surrounded the area. People were scattered in the middle soaking up the sunshine and gazing at the other people walking around gazing at those gazing at them. Pretty laid back.

We ate at a little place called La Mossa and then walked the perimeter of the piazza. Linda has a tomato thing (that frankly I don't have) and what that means in Italy is Bruschetta. This, I guess, was one of the better ones during the trip. I got overly risky and tried the spaghetti and meatballs (better than Olive Garden for sure). 

Siena Cathedral
What strikes you most about the shops and restaurants in El Campo is the constant reference to Palio di Siena, the horse race depicted in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solice. It is run twice a year and is an extremely important part of Siena's present culture. The streets were a little wider than Lucca (except of course, the Lucca "trail" - sorry still carrying bitterness), the pace was slower than Rome or Florence. It was very laid back and we appreciated that. The problem, however, was still the heat. As the afternoon sun rose, we would cling to the sides of the street that had some semblance of shade. 

We saw the Duomo Siena but barely went inside (I read that it is gorgeous) and did not under any circumstances do it justice. We went in and out of some awesome shops, especially a little pottery place at the base of the steps near the cathedral. All in all, we were toast, or maybe toasted. Wearily, we decided to make our way back to the car and head to the Villa. Unfortunately, several hundred yards from our destination, I
Leonardo doing chalk work?
reached in my pocket and did not feel my International Driver's License. Holy Crap!

The next twenty minutes were a tizzy of looking, re-tracing, and lamenting. Like in the US, not having your license when driving is only an issue if you are asked for your license when driving. Since I don't speed and I have conquered being the chill, laid back Italian driver, I wasn't overly worried about this. What did occur to me however, was that I might be the evil American who gets sent to Italian prison for not having his driver's license, probably a life sentence for an American. At some point, I remember thinking, "maybe I left it in the car." Huh.... crisis over.

The drive back was uneventful but air conditioned (thanks Chiara). Dinner was a spaghetti thing (didn't see that coming when I'd ordered lunch) that Kevin and Alex made for everyone. As usual, much to drink, lots of chat, in bed early.

BTW, ran 3 miles in the morning.

Running Bucket List? Yeah, I've Still Got One.

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