Saturday, April 12, 2014

A trip to Italy

Hello Everybody!

Allison and I have been planning a trip to Italy for the past several months, and we went from March 24th to April 4th. Without further ado, here are some pictures and fun stories!

Our trip didn't necessarily get off to the greatest start, but it was really the only trouble we had the whole time, I promise. We got a ride from my Dad (thank you!) to arrive at the airport at 4:30am to board our 6:00am plane to Dallas. Well our plane apparently failed the pre-flight check and needed a part, and we did not end up leaving until 2:30pm. That being said, we missed all of our connecting flights and had to reschedule. The airlines were able to get us to Italy on the same day, but 7 hours later than planned. Not ideal, but they gave us some flight vouchers to make up for it.

 This is us in high spirits still playing cards during our 9 hour delay in Denver, before we even got on our first plane.

 We did make it to Milan finally, and this was our first little exploration tour after checking into our hotel. I should probably add that we were backpacking. So it was always nice when we could check in to the hotel and drop off our fairly heavy bags first. Above is the first "Duomo," or church, that we saw. The architecture was astounding, but not the coolest we saw (more to follow).

 Believe it or not, these two pictures are actually of a mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II. We actually saw a model during a photo-shoot right in the middle of the hallway. Not our taste of stores exactly, but I'm sure some people somewhere can afford Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton.

 This was actually at the train station in Milan, and I am holding what I got when I ordered a "coffee" at McDonalds. It was a shot of espresso. Just one. Still delicious though.

 We took a lot of trains, and that is an understatement. Although our longest journey was only about 4 hours.

So we were in Milan for about half a day, then we went to this small town on the west coast called Vernazza. This town is in a series of five towns called "Cinque Terre," roughly translated as the city of five ports. This area is known for beautiful views of the cliffs along the coast, and colorful buildings.

 We found a cute little sandwich shop called the lunchbox for lunch, and had some of our best paninis of the whole trip.

 After exploring a little bit we started walking. There is a walking trail that connects the 5 towns along the cliffs, and we heard there were some beautiful views. We were not disappointed. Check it out...

 My beautiful wife is pointing out on the map where we walked to/from. The town we walked to was called Corniglia.

The first Gelato!!! This is a reoccurring theme of the trip, as I'm sure you will see. There was way more gelato than we have pictures of too, keep that in mind. Our first experience was in a very VERY small store down a small staircase. In the process of trying to pay the non-English-speaking store owner, I managed to swing my backpack around and hit some of his displays off the wall. He didn't seem angry about it, but whatever words were spoken following the incident were in Italian, so who knows.

I tried to ask him which flavor was good, and he pointed at one. So I just ordered it. It turned out to have caramel and ricotta cheese in it, which apparently Allison saw on the sign and didn't tell me, haha. It was actually one of my favorite flavors the whole trip, yum!

From Corniglia we jumped on the train to Florence! The train station in Florence is pretty much in the center of town, and we jumped on a bus that took us up to the very North West corner, then zig-zagged all the way back down to the very South East corner where our hotel was. We were both stressing out as we were following on a map as we headed the opposite direction of where we wanted to go in the beginning, but after 45 minutes we finally made it to the hotel. Above is a picture of the ceiling of our hotel room. It was a very cute, quaint little room at an old hotel that we stayed in for 3 nights.

Just down the street we found a fantastic little restaurant with a brick pizza oven and delicious pasta. We split a really good pizza with some sort of broccoli on it, and a dish of gnocchi with marinara (probably the best marinara I have ever had). We also ordered a half pint of white wine to split, since it is just as expensive as pop and you have to pay for water there anyway.

The following morning we set out to explore Florence, and this is the pastry shop we stopped at for breakfast. I ordered a cappuccino and we each got a delicious pastry.

When walking around Italy, often you just come to an open square called a piazza. It was always fun to "people watch" in these areas, and there were usually cool buildings to look at too.

This is the Duomo of Florence. This was the first massive, Massive, church that we saw. The architecture dates back to the 13th century, and there is a lot of history to be learned. We had to pay to get in, but it included the chapel, bell tower, museum, and cupola.

Intricate statues such as these were all over the place on every old building. It would have been fun to have a tour guide to explain who everyone was, but that would have been expensive and taken days to explain.

This picture is from on top of the tower pictured above.

Just Allison looking beautiful.

This was one of our favorite things to learn about in the museum, referred to as the "Gates of Paradise" by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Instead of me typing all of the history out, I just took a picture of the English portion of the sign for you to read if you so please.

Each square depicts a story from the Old Testament.

Above, a delicious panini while listening to the organs play in the church. Allison's had salami, cream cheese and walnuts in it, among other things. She loved it!
Below, more delicious gelato! Pistachio this time.

Ponte Vecchio - A famous bridge in Florence that is actually covered in stores.

The Santa Croce at night, on our way to a modern restaurant named Oibo for "apertivo". This is basically happy hour in Italy. You pay for a drink (~$4 euros) and then can eat a buffet of appetizer-like food all night!

We took a day bus tour across the Chianti region. We stopped at this really cool town called San Gimignano.

This gelato shop literally won the world's best gelato. Literally. It was amazing. We had mango and chocolate in a chocolate dipped cone.

We then had a wine tour! That black rooster below is the symbol of the Chianti region. They call the wines "Chianti Classico." This rare wine is produced only in this region in Italy because of the soil which creates smaller grapes. We sampled 1 white wine, 2 red wines and holy wine, an Italian dessert wine (Vino Santo) at the end.

We also got some delicious meats, cheeses, breads, and pastries to sample.

Just outside the winery! Very scenic countryside.

Welcome to Siena! This is the Piazza del Campo, a very famous landmark in the shape of a seashell. There are 17 sections on the ground, one for each of the 17 wards of the town. Twice a year there is a horse race around the piazza, and each ward is represented by a horse. They only do 1 lap, but 60,000 people come to see the event. They line the outside with sand, which is where the color "Siena Brown" comes from.

This was one of our favorite buildings on the outside! The Siena Cathedral, originally built in the 13th century, however they added on until the 16th century. There were a lot of very intricate statues and paintings all over the place!

Monteriggioni from the air

The last stop of our trip was this beautiful medieval village called Monteriggioni. There are still 42 people that live there! This was the fortress town built by Siena in 1214 as there front lines in the war with Florence.


Leaving the hotel in Florence, jumping on the train to Rome!

Well, we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast. Which was actually a guy's spare bedroom. BUT, it was actually really nice and he brought us breakfast every morning. It was just really hard to find because I am pointing at the front sign.

We immediately headed out to see Rome, we only had 2 days.

The Colosseum! It looks pretty much nothing like it used to, which is probably ok since building started in 70 AD. We also learned that between the 14th and 19th centuries the site was used as a quarry.

There was a platform over the top of the middle area that had several trap doors and was covered in sand to soak up blood and animal excrement.

We then walked around the Roman Forum, which is a huge area in front of the Colosseum that at one point had several government buildings.

This is a recreation of what the Roman Forum was supposed to look like at one point, I stole this picture from Wikipedia.

Trevi Fountain! The aqueduct was built by Agrippa to supply water to the thermal baths he built near the Pantheon. Although it was destroyed over the years, the popes in the early renaissance started to rebuild it and add decorations/restorations to all the aqueducts in the city. 

You're probably wondering if we threw a coin for good luck? No, we didn't.    

Pantheon! A temple dedicated to the pagan gods of Rome. Built in A.D. 118. Raphael, the painter, is buried here, his tomb has two gold doves over it.

Over the course of our two weeks in Italy, we went into probably 15-20 churches. These are random pictures of some of them. It is amazing how beautiful each church was, no matter how small. Even the churches on the lagoon islands of Venice, who had probably 50-100 residents, were amazing. Most of them were still functioning as churches, with Mass services. Marble, travetine, and bronze make up most of the materials you see. Sadly, it's not gold :) As we first thought.

A painting by Michelangelo.

Castel Sant' Angleo, we didn't go in. But it's a neat building just outside the Vatican.

Vatican City! Our B&B was just behind the walls of the Vatican. Our plan was to see the Vatican, St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel on Sunday- because it was free! However, by the time we got there, the line was wrapped all the way around the Vatican walls, about 6 hours long! St. Peter's was another 3, and the Sistine another 3. Sadly to say, we didn't see the Vatican (inside), I guess we'll have to come back  :)

Dinner was a little challenging. Italians eat pizza and pasta. Every night. Every meal. So after a week in Italy, we were a bit sick of that menu. When we found this quaint little place in the basement in a Rome alley we were very excited to have duck and chicken and potatoes! It was so so good! And free bread- as much as we wanted! For dessert we had this pastry, custard and strawberry mound. It was delicious!

Our B&B in Rome! Notice the Trevi Fountain picture with a roaring fire behind it. Couldn't get over how cheesy this was :)

Vatican- Piazza San Pietro.

St. Peter's Basilica behind us.

Yes, this is McDonalds we are eating. A break from pizza, pasta and paninis! They do have different food on the menu than in America. We got a Snack Box- mozzarella sticks, cream cheese stars and nuggets. Behind us is the S. Maria d. Angeli- a beautiful church, see the pictures below.

"Chestnuts roasted on an open fire..."- We finally know what this song means :)


Anthony's Coke advertisement. Since you had to pay for pop and water at restaurants (quite expensive), we would go to the local grocery store, called Coop, and stock up on Coke so that we could have something to drink when we left the restaurants.

Thanks Grandpa and Grandma Abraham for the dictionary. Anthony is looking up Trattoria, which means restaurant. A good thing to know when it's 10 pm and your're hungry! Here we are on our 4 hour train from Rome to Venice, where we will spend 3 nights and the remainder of our time in Italy.

Venice- our first site, a gondola.

Some wafers from Coop- a good thing to dip in gelato :)

Behind us is the San Giorgio Maggiore and a waterbus. This is what we rode back and forth between the islands. We didn't actually stay on Venice. We booked a hotel on the beach in Lido- a 10 min. waterbus ride from Venice. It was a really nice place, although the beach wasn't quite the same as the Caribbean.

Basilica di San Marco and Doge's Palace.

A cannoli! Pastry and dessert shops were our favorite.

The Rialto bridge.

Eating a crepe with Nutella under the Rialto bridge. Moments before this picture, I laughed and all the powdered sugar sprayed on Anthony's black pants. Oops.

Rialto Bridge. The water didn't smell bad when we were there, but probably because it wasn't summer. It was about 55-65 degrees most days. One time in Venice it hit 70. But it was the perfect weather to walk around cities in.

Fresh market.

Fish market. Smelled really bad, but we saw some very strange fish.

One of our favorite things in Venice was eating a la carte for lunch. We would go to the negozio di carne for meat, the negozio di formaggi for cheese and a bakery for bread. It was really fun picking out our own meats and cheeses and then trying to explain by words or charades to the shop owner what we wanted. One time Anthony asked the man if he spoke English and he replied, "This is Italy". And went and got another employee to help us. Needless to say, we are addicted to salami now. Thanks Costco for having pretty much the same salami we had in Italy. In a 3 pound bag.  :)

Notice Jesus hanging on a cross. We NEVER saw Jesus unless he was hanging on a cross. And he was always pushed off to the side when you first walked into a church. However, Mary and numerous saints lined the edges of the churches in different shrine-like areas.

We took one day to visit some of the lagoon islands surrounding Venice; Murano, Burano, Lido, Guidecca, and Torcello. Murano is known for their glass blowing. We sat in on a free demo and saw the man shown above make a glass stallion, in less than 2 minutes! It's crazy skill.

This is a picture from the island of Burano, known for lace making. All of the buildings are colorful as an inspiration for the artists.

We ate lunch in Burano at a quaint panini shop and shared a glass of white wine while people watching on the open street.

Pistachio bread!

Our hotel in Lido. Probably one of our nicest places. The buffet breakfast was great! So much Nutella and pastries :)

This is the beach in Lido, right outside our hotel. It is obviously the off season, but still a nice beach- full of sea shells.

We thought this warning sign was pretty great- on a bottle of the off brand of Coke. It says, "Consume in moderation for kids".

On our way to the train station-leaving Venice. Anthony is carrying our sole purchases- a leather Italian made purse for me and handmade leather shoes for him.

From Venice we took a train to Milan central. Took another train to Milan airport, where we had our hotel shuttle pick us up. We stayed the night in Milan so that we could arrive plenty early for our flight out.

We had a great time and have about 900 more pictures that we didn't even post! Italy is a beautiful place and we would go back in a heartbeat!

Ciao, Anthony and Allison

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