Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Arrivederci Italia!

After a month in Italy, the Trip Heard Round the World moves on to Croatia

(Dateline Chris) on August 30th, we packed up our beloved (by me, anyway) Alfa Romeo Giulietta and left the universally beloved city of Lecce for the universally reviled (though I'm not sure why, it has a nice airport and everyone was super pleasant) city of Bari so we could catch our ferry for King's Landing Dubrovnik. We still aren't caught up on all our Italy updates (spoiler: Lecce was my favorite), but I wanted to let you all know the land of Gelato is in our rearview. Here's to countries where I can't even pronounce the names on the signs, let alone say please or thank you. Croatia, we are happy to be here!

Our path through Italy
  1. August 1 - Fly from JFK to Milan
  2. August 1 - Train from Milan to Venice
  3. August 5 - Train from Venice to Monterosso Al Mare, Cinque Terre NP
  4. August 10 - Train from Monterosso to Rome
  5. August 15 - Train from Rome to Florence
  6. August 18 - Fiat 500 from Florence to many adventures in and around Tuscany, then back to Florence
  7. August 22 - Train to Sorrento (Really Piano di Sorrento)
  8. August 26 - Train to Lecce
  9. August 30 - Alfa Romeo Giulietta to Bari
  10. August 30 - Jadrolinija ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik

Monday, August 29, 2016


Florence was sort of a big deal

Maybe you heard of it?

(DATELINE CHRIS) When we were planning this trip, and we knew we were going to Italy, I was most worried about how we would deal with Florence. You have to go to Florence if you go to Italy. It's the birthplace of the modern world. Each and every ninja turtle contributed epic works, including the fifth ninja turtle (Botticelli). It is full of museums; it is, itself a museum. 

Otis hates museums. 

How would we deal with Florence?

Well, let me say first that you should go to Florence because you should see this Michelangelo painting. You can skip the Sistine Chapel (we did), but see this with your eyes:

Holy Family by Michelangelo
The thing about Florence is, many of the things that are there are so famous that you know exactly what they look like. What's there to say about David? You know exactly what David looks like. You know exactly what Birth of Venus looks like; you probably know what Spring looks like. But you're in Florence so you go around spending tons of money to see them anyway, because that's what you do in Florence, and that's what we did.

Florence has a bonkers Duomo. Everyone is there looking at it. 

Florence has a historic bridge, and it's odd because everyone is also on the Ponte Vecchio. 

How can they be both places? Especially when they're also on line waiting to get into the Uffizi? and the Academia? WHERE DID ALL THESE PEOPLE COME FROM?!

Florence has too many people in it.

Here's what I liked about Florence.

I liked where we stayed, which was a private room at the Emerald Palace Hostel, which sounds like a mid-grade Chinese restaurant, but is a conveniently located hostel with a nice room and chancy wifi. Our room was big and comfortable and it looked like this:
We asked for room for three, they gave us three beds!
I liked some places we ate, including Wegetarian, which has the clever idea to serve felafel sandwiches, but with non-traditional toppings. I had French and American, Jen had Indian, and Otis just had pickles and Ketchup. We also liked Shake CafĂ©, which had the elusive vegan croissant and the always-appreciated Dude-Who-Speaks-Perfect-American-English™.

I liked the Buontalenti Grotto in Boboli Gardens which is weird and whimsical and charming. 

I also like the Boboli Gardens because they feature this guy, and sometimes you must let a player play.
I see you shining
What I LOVED about Florence, though, was meeting our fellow Montclarions, John, Kathy, Elena and Julia Bachmann who happened to be visiting at the same time. We had two dinners with them and some of their family visiting from Germany. Definitely a highlight of the trip. They stayed at this crazy Countessa Apartment AirBNB that was like a museum itself. It had Banana trees. You should try to book it if you go to Florence.

Now, here are some pictures of our Florentine adventures!
Jen just told me we've spent about $100 on Gelato

On our way to Boboli Garden

Some street artist painted Florentine works of art, but with swimming masks, all over the city

The view from the top of Boboli Garden

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Rome (If You Want To - Photo Heavy)

En route to Rome
Roma Termini Stazione
Rome was our third stop on the Italian leg of our trip and we loved being there. I am not quite sure if it was the special beauty of the light in this eternally vibrant city or the warm and SO welcome hosting our friends Samia, Tommaso and Valeria provided for us, but either was a great chapter of our journey through Italy. We balanced touring with hanging out in their flat for a total of 4 days. There may have been more hanging out than touring, to be honest, but that is our style.
Not pictured: all the wonderful pastas Tommaso made us, because in a lucky-for-us twist, Romans cannot just simply throw some Classico from the fridge onto some noodles and call it dinner like us lazy Americans, and we had some of our most fun dinners out together with them, too.

Valeria and I have a heart to heart - and pizza donuts were involved

Checking out street art

Slurping at Fontana della Barcaccia


Pantheon ceiling - its open air AND concrete 
You know -- Coliseo

Say Tiber

Gardens at Villa Borghese

Overlooking Piazza del Popolo

Hummus! Why are you so rare in an Italian grocery? We made this camping style, from a mix.


Fountains everywhere! Taken moments prior to my being happy I bought a waterproof case for my phone!

So freakin' hot standing in line for St Peter's Basilica
...but its worth it for the 25 min we spent in there, right?

St Peter's. Amazing. Look online for better pictures than we took.

St Peter's

At Universo Vegano

Pals playing

Friday, August 26, 2016

Cinque Terre Top Five Experiences

Jen here. I had been so excited to visit Cinque Terre -- so much so that I booked it second only to Venice as we began this trip!-- and it didn't disappoint. We spent the second week of August there. 

The towns were beyond lovely, each with a similar but slightly different seaside-town-tucked-into-cliff vibe. We stayed in Monterosso al Mare, in an Airbnb with MANY steps (over 250 according to my source!) to climb to access our flat, which really cut down on the number of times we were zipping out just for a focaccia/espresso. And also meant that we had a wonderful view from our small patio.
Our Airbnb View
Our favorite experiences in Cinque Terre were....

1. Walking Between and Through the Cinque Terre towns. Chris and Otis took a longer hike, but all three of us had a great time walking around the towns. You can hike nearby trails including a popular one that links all (or most, depending on weather, tourists and other conditions) of the CT towns. 
On the trail

Hiking between Vernazza and Monterosso
Walking through an archway to check out the beach

2. Taking the Train Around the Cinque Terre towns.  There is regular train service between all of the towns, which are just a few minutes apart. Please note that you will still be walking a ton even if you opt for the train, because the CT is all about quaint but steep streets and walkways. And steps. Many, many steps.
3. Swimming. The water is clear and deep, cool enough to be refreshing and warm enough to be somewhere you wanted to spend time. We bought masks and Otis in particular was super psyched to see the fish, mussels and even jellyfish under the surface as almost everyone else swam around oblivious. Otis and Chris particularly liked swimming in Vernazza, where they climbed a ladder off of a large boulder right into the sea.

Love it

Chris and Otis heading into the Mediterranean

Rocky beach in Riomaggiore
Post swim in Vernazza
4. Italian Riveria Beach Town Vibe. There is something soul soothing about the relaxed pace of life in a seaside town. Yes, there are many tourists and yes, the beach can be crowded but the combination of a succession of lovely small towns, extremely pleasant weather, gorgeous views and abundant focaccia, gelato and sorbetto is hard to beat.
5. The Views. There is a reason this area is so beloved. It is absolutely beautiful and there are astonishing views from all angles. One thing that I wish that we had done is taken a boat ride between the towns so that we could have gotten a view of each town that taking the train and walking just doesn't afford. We will be back, CT!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Earthquake northeast of Rome has no effect on Napoli Region, we are fine!

Many of you saw that there was a strong earthquake centered about 100 miles northeast of Rome last night, that apparently nearly destroyed half the town of Amatrice. Jen, Otis and I are about a four hour drive south southeast of Armatrice and we noticed no effect here.

Thank you all for your concern, and we share our own concern with the people killed, injured or impacted by the earthquake. <3

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


      The post title was my father's idea. So this has been the trip in further detail: We flew to Milano Centrale. *We call it MILA NO!! Centrale because our cat is named Mila* Then we took a long train ride to Venice. There was no service there and we were looking for a place that had wifi to get directions to the hotel when by some miracle *Chris estimates a 1 and 3000 chance* we found it on the same street about 1/4 of a mile down the street.
            We spent 4 days doing touristy stuff there such as visiting and climbing a tall tower called the Campanile and the bridge of sighs *which is ironic because it's the smallest bridge in Italy* and then headed off to a small town on the coast called Monterosso Al Mare where we bought diving masks. A couple days after we bought them, we went to a rocky beach in a nearby town called Riomaggiore and used the diving masks and saw something like this:
  1. About 7 jellyfish
  2. A ton of fish
  3. Monterosso Al Mare
  4. A 8-inch-long mussel shell
  5. Just as you got in (like 5 inches out) there was a huge underwater cliff so all of this was 50 feet or so underwater
My dog, Balboa

The next day, we took a train to Rome and visited our friends but all we did there was 5 days of walking around. We did the same thing in Florence where we stayed just 3 nights. *I have a fitbit. The last day in Florence, I broke my stepping record: 31,156* Then we drove to Tuscany in a rental car. Our hotel there had a pool that we swam in *a lot* and I invented a game called Leefle. My great great Aunt, Nikki de Saint Phalle was a famous sculptor and we visited one of her sculpture gardens. That day was 97 degrees and EXTREMELY sunny. Just yesterday, we returned our car and took yet another train to a place near Naples called Piano Di Sorrento where we have a beautiful hotel near a beach.
My cat Oobanana
Me at the sculpture garden in Tuscany