Sunday, May 23, 2010

la dolce vita (the sweetness of doing nothing)

We closed out our Roman adventures by renting 2 cars to drive to the Tuscan countryside. Being in Europe, the cars were manual transmission. Being carefully trained in a 1992 Geo Prizm in high school, I was one of the few qualified drivers for the Fiat Punto.

After a warm-up drive around the rental car parking lot (oh, that light means the parking break has been on), I was ready for the roadway. Things were jerky but fairly uneventful. I didn't have to drive through Rome, but the winding, narrow country roads, the town piazzas (GPS says turn left, I say that's a 5-ft wide alleyway), and the washed-out, muddy ascents from our off-the-beaten-path rental home to the main road got me very acquainted with negotiating first and second gear.

In the end, everything went well with the car. We did have a slight hiccup one day when we filled the tank with regular instead of diesel fuel. A 2-hour wait for siesta to finish, a ride with an Italian tow truck driver, another 2-hour wait at a car shop in no-where Italy, and $400 later, we were back on the road.

Besides being in a car, here are other things we did in Tuscany.

Lucignano, the nearest town to our lodgings (we stayed in a villa on countryside castle grounds).

Dinner prepared by our Italian cook, Amela, who came 3 out of the 7 nights we were there.

In the Punto.

Some of the countryside.

More of the countryside. This is a small town called Cortona. It sits atop a hill, looking out over the valley. Abe and I spent an afternoon alone there, and it was one of the highlights of the trip.

Us being happy.

Us eating Gelato from Snoopy's. Nutella flavor wins again.

This is a 2-way road.

Many evenings spent by the fire playing Rook.

Abe cooking popcorn over the fire.

Lake near the villa - I couldn't get over how beautiful the clouds were. It rained every day in Tuscany, but usually cleared up in the afternoons. Considering we never woke up before 11am, that worked out pretty well for our schedules.

Kids locked out of the house while parents on day trip. Chris climbed up and through an open window.

Skyline of Florence. We only spent about 5 hours here, mostly hitting the 2 major museums to see Michaelangelo's David and a collection of some of the most famous paintings from the Italian Renaissance. Which was exactly what I wanted to do with only 5 hours in Florence.

We also managed to get some street kebabs and gelato (twice, actually. favorite flavor: half dark chocolate and half caramel).

The duomo.

I loved the colors of the buildings here. Abe and I have taken inspiration from our trip and will paint our nursery in a Tuscan palette (warm yellow walls, red-orange and sage green accents).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

when in rome

I'm sure you can find most of these photos a hundred times over on the web, but here are the main attraction of Rome from my lens.

Day 1 in Rome was "Old Rome", which included the Colosseum, Palatine hill, Roman Forum, and Pantheon. We managed to see all of these in about 2 hours. I remember a lot of walking, but not much else. We also stopped by the Trevi Fountain.

The colosseum.

Doric column at the Roman forum.

Capitoline Hill, piazza designed by Michaelangelo.

Inside the Pantheon. I thought the waning sunlight looked like a jellyfish.

Lost on a street downtown while the sun was setting.

At the Trevi Fountain.

Consulting maps (we did a lot of this throughout the trip).

After getting completely lost trying to find a good restaurant for dinner, a local resident shepherded us out of the complex of apartments, onto the Campo de' Fiori, and into small, quiet, and delicious Ditirambo for a choice Italian dinner. Abe's mom was particularly fond of the Gorgonzola-pear souffle with balsamic vinegar. The carnivores in the family laughed at my choice of Calabrian eggplant meatballs, but they were one of my favorite dishes the entire trip.


Abe's parents enjoying souffle.

Day 2 was the Vatican, including the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, and Castel Sant' Angelo. Incidentally, Abe & I had watched Angels & Demons the week before, so I recognized most of the sights more from pop culture than my history books.

Photo of "The Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel, before we were told no photos.

Outside St. Peter's square.

In St. Peter's Basilica.

From the inside top of the dome at the basilica, looking down.

Outside at the top of the dome.

Endless winding stairs we had to climb. Surprisingly, didn't put me into preterm labor.

Brothers enjoying the view from the top of the basilica.

Circus poster and old bikes. This made me feel like we were living in a real city, not just a place for tourists.

Swapping gelatos after dinner. Nutella was by far the best.

Angel on the bridge by Castel Sant' Angelo.

Tiber river, winding through the Vatican.

Day 3 we took things much slower, spending a sunny afternoon strolling and playing Frisbee at the Borghese Gardens. For lunch, Abe & I split off to a pizza shop (driven by hunger, the rest of the family went to the first eatery off the bus stop - Burger King). We at the Piazza del Popolo and watched a great water fight between 2 Italian teenagers. They both had water bottles that they constantly refilled at one of two public drinking fountains on the piazza (we were sitting at the corner of one). At one point an Indian tourist was trapped in between them as they faced each other, juking right and left, with full water bottles in hand. After several moments of them using her as a defensive barrier, and with her looking increasingly worried, one of them paused and said with a shrug, "It's a tragic scene". Then he dashed off to the side and the other boy followed.

Borghese Gallery, part of the gardens.

Street-side pizza.

Reading "Michaelangelo and the Pope's ceiling" at the piazza designed by Michaelangelo.

Walking home.

At the end of the day we said goodbye to Rome with a family dinner at our apartment.

(More on Tuscany and Venice to come later)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

il bambino

For the last 2 weeks, the only internet access I had involved leaning out a second story window with an iphone in hand. We spent the last 14 days on a family trip to Italy with Abe's parents and brothers. 4 days in Rome, 7 days in a villa in Tuscany, and 3 days in Venice.

Photos and stories forthcoming.

For now, I'll post one photo by way of official blog announcement.

No, this isn't the result of too much pasta, or even of my extravagant birthday eateries in March. That's 6 months of Baby Genghis Gong. Due August 8. Alternate name suggestions welcome. It's a boy.