30 September 2007

Visions from Above

A few photos from my recent trip...ceilings of the Vatican.

Green Italy

One thing that surprised me as we were moving around Italy is how environmentally conscious it seems to be. At our first hotel in Florence, the lights in the lobby and hallway were all motion-activated, turning off after about a minute of non-activity. In the next hotel, we could only turn on the lights and air conditioning when we were in the room, as the special card to activate it all was on the keychain. This is especially impressive, because while in hotels it is so easy to leave the air-co cranked up and the lights on even when outside of the room.

Apparently, the Italian government only allows hotels (or perhaps it's the whole population?) to use air conditioning during particular months. I wish our government would try something like this! It would make people at least think twice about their energy consumption.

The other piece of the puzzle was the small car. I didn't really see any trucks/SUVs while there. Mostly, I saw those small Ford Fiesta-type cars, and the Smart Cars (which are hilarious). I don't know how safe I would feel on the US streets in such small cars, mainly because there are so many huge cars with people driving like idiots that I would be afraid of being crushed. But, when that's all everyone is driving, it seems like a good deal to me.

Of course, there are the many public transportation options, and the cities are easily walkable...and there is also a culture which encourages the evening stroll rather than hopping into a car.

Hopefully, this trend will catch on in other countries, especially the USA.

24 September 2007

Home Again

We're home!
The rest of Rome was great...on Saturday we left our hotel at about 9am, and didn't return until around 9pm. We walked all but about 3 hours of that!

We first met my coworker, Claude for breakfast near the hotel. She was in Italy for a wedding, and since we knew we'd both be there, we decided to meet up while in Rome. It was great to see her; she was taking off later in the day for Tuscany. Lucky girl! Then we went across the river to the Travestere area of Rome, where we walked around for a while, then stopped for lunch. Since the restaurant kitchen didn't open until noon, and we were there at about 11.45, we passed the time with a bottle of prosecco!

Travestere isn't too far from the Vatican, so we walked down there so that Pernilla could at least see it. The line for St. Peter's was too long, so we just looked at the outside. It really is amazing.

Then we began walking in circles. We wanted to shop, so went back to Corso, but then decided a better place was up near the Vatican. I like to walk, so it was ok by me, but our path to get there was kind of crazy! When we got to the shopping street, we weren't finding many stores, so we stopped to get a drink. In Italy, as in Spain, they usually serve food free with alcohol. It is a nice tradition that I wish we had here...at any rate, this particular place served us the biggest plate of mini-sandwiches and other delicacies with ours. Then, when we ordered another drink, they wanted to bring us a whole other plate! We said no thanks...but almost licked the plate clean. I guess we were hungry.

We saw a bunch of people with "Coin" bags...Coin is a large department store in Italy, a bit like Macy's in the US or El Corte Ingles in Spain. We went in with the plan to meet back up in 20 minutes. By chance, I wandered into the home department, and proceeded to buy all sorts of things for my place. I knew my bag was already bursting, but I couldn't resist this stuff. I am excited to start using it!

It was finally time to head back to the hotel, so we headed back via the Spanish Steps. The sun was setting over Rome, and it was quite beautiful. On our way back, we decided to stop for dinner...we ended up at this horrible place. The food was ok, but the service...very un-Italian. The servers were hovering and the minute we put down our forks, they would try to take our plate away. It's not like there was anyone waiting to sit...but we laughed about it on the way home!

Our flight left at 11.15am on Sunday morning (that's 2.15am in California), and we finally arrived in San Francisco at about 7.25pm (that's 4.25am, Monday, in Italy). It was a really long trip back, complete with us having to run to catch our connecting flight because customs was so backed up!

Thanks everyone for checking in on us while we were away! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. I keep it up even when I'm not traveling, so check in once in a while!

21 September 2007

Days 8 & 9: Regressa a Roma

Sorry, I mix up the Spanish & Italian.

After a long four hour train ride, and an instance, upon entering the hotel in Monterosso where my aunt, with whom I have spent the last 9 days, didn't recognize me, we arrived in Rome. It was a quick walk from Termini to our hotel to meet my Swedish friend Pernilla.

It was great to see her, and she even came armed with Prosecco, our favorite drink of this trip. We hung out in the hotel for a bit, drank, and headed out to find the Spanish Steps & Trevi Fountain.

We found 'em both pretty easily (despite what the maps say, everything here seems to be pretty close), and ate dinner by Trevi. Our busboy asked my aunt to be his girlfriend. I am not sure if she caught it the first time but finally, he kept repeating himself, she understood. It was a nice dinner, I am getting a little sick of the carbs so went for chicken, which was fine. We sat around for a while longer then went back home to bed (Pernilla had a very early flight from Stockholm).

This morning I got up first, got ready, and tried to find an internet place. You would think, this being a HUGE tourist city, that this would not be so difficult. The opposite is true. The EasyInternet place, which the website says is open, is not. Then the place nearby that said it was open at 8am, was still not open at about 8.40am. Aye dios mio, Italianos!

We went down to the Colosseum and were caught by a tourguide on the way in. We decided to go for it, because it is much better to have someone telling you what you're looking at than try to figure it out for yourself! After that, we fought through the WC line, and then met up with another "free" tour of Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. That one was super helpful; without it everything would have just seemed like rubble.

It was time for a little drink, so we found this restaurant owned by a Swedish model (Pernilla had read about it in her magazine). It was nice to get out of the heat for a little while, and the three of us had a bottle of Prosecco. Yum. We were all very happy after that as we headed to the Pantheon. We may take another tour tomorrow night that will take us around to some of the things we haven't seen.

It isn't as hot here as it was the other day, or as hot as in Florence and Monterosso. It got pretty cool last night and I anticipate it doing the same tonight. It is a nice break!

We have one more day before we head home. I will try to write but since Internet access is so tough here, I can't promise anything! Ciao!

Arrivedercci Cinque Terre

Our last night in Cinque Terre was really nice. We went to the "Fast American Bar," and the owner, Francesco, was great. He poured us all sorts of great cocktails, and talked to us for a long time. We had a lot of fun with him, and when he asked us if we were coming back later, I said, "Maybe." He said, "When an American girl says maybe, she means no." Heh.

After that, it was home for me...I was really tired from my hike. Pebbles walked around some more and came home a while later. I had to deal with my bag, which is starting to burst at the seams. I packed up and crashed out pretty early.

Our train for Rome didn't leave until around 11am, so we had time on Thursday morning to poke around town a little more. I found the best foccaccia I have ever had on this little side street. I was so excited I went back to buy more for the train trip. I wish I could vacuum pack the stuff and bring it back to the States!

19 September 2007

Days 6 & 7: Bella Cinque Terre

I apologize in advance for this being short; the only internet place in Monterosso is wicked expensive. Thanks for all your comments...I guess being bossy works:-). My responses are at the end of this little entry.

We finally left Florence yesterday afternoon. Pebbles was a little sad - she really loved Florence. It is a great place to walk around independently...once you learn the grid system you can find almost anything, and I think she really liked that! We set on our way, in the rain, to Monterosso, the most northern town of the Cinque Terre. The ride was not close to as plush as the ride had been to Florence, and we couldn't find the first class car, which meant no airconditioning. We were greated by the bright blue ocean and slightly overcast skies when we arrived; it was absolutely beautiful.

This must be the home of Foccaccia or something, because it is everywhere. And it is delicious. We had a drink and some bread, then walked around the town. After a while it was time to eat dinner (yes, more food...it is hard to keep your calories up with all the walking you do here!), and then Pebs decided to walk around the town a bit. She is becoming quite the independent traveller!

This morning I set off on a walk through the CT. It is a 9km walk, and I had heard some of it was difficult, so with her cold, Pebs decided to visit the towns another way. Very smart decision. I had no idea the hike would be so tough. The path from Monterosso to Vernazza, then Vernazza to Corniliga was really difficult. It was hard to do it with healthy lungs, much less ones filled with phlegm. I met lots of people along the way, and avoided many with their stupid walking sticks, as well. These paths are super narrow, and these folks have these ski stick like things, take up the whole path, and won't move out of the way for anything. Here I am on the ledge, while they are taking their sweet time, making sure their stick is firmly planted. Ridiculous.

About 5 hours later, I arrived at Riomaggiore, completely exhausted but in awe of the beauty here. I took the train back to the hotel, and Pebs followed in shortly after. She had done some of the walk (the part she did was really beautiful), and took the train to the other cities. She just loved it all. We headed to the beach for a while, I swam in the Med, which felt really good after such a long day!

Apparently Pebbles found an American restaurant here in town, so we're heading there for dinner. I should be signing off now...but let it be known, if you want a lucrative business venture, set up an internet shop in Monterosso that doesn't charge inane rates (1Euro for the first 10 minutes, 10cents for each minute after).

To Nico...thanks for the Grappa clarification. I was going by what the guy at San Donato told us, and he pointed to a pile of skins and said they were for grappa. That's as much as I knew about the stuff! To Christine - I thought they were a reaction to something, too, but the distribution of them, and our tour guide telling us about tiger mosquitoes, lends me to believe they are bites. I'll try to stop at a Farmacia on my way back to the hotel...although at this point they look more ugly than they feel (and I didn't realize I had so many on my face!). Thanks again, y'all!

18 September 2007

Attack of the Bugs

Anyone out there? Leave us a comment and let us know:-) (how's that for bossy)

I swear I am bound to get malaria from all the bug bites I have. You may think I am exagerating, but...you can trust there won't be many pictures of me from this trip because I have huge welts all over my face. I also have a bite on the palm of my hand, the other side of my hands, arms, legs, shoulders, back. It is ridiculous, and I have no idea how to stop it.

Pebbles also has a few bites, but I don't know why so many are deflecting onto me. It is starting to depress me, and make me a little sick from the itching. Pebbles also seems to have a cold, which stinks. I can't tell if that is why I don't feel well (may have caught it) or if it is just the bites.

Stupid Italian mosquitoes. I am hoping it is better in Cinque Terre.

We are off in just about an hour to hit the beach. Yay!

Day Cinque: Continua

The whole point is, the Medici were frickin' rich, and that's how they could afford to do all this sh*t.
- American guy talking in front of the Duomo in Florence
Ok, so to continue...we went to a small family winery yesterday, which was much different than anything I've seen in the US. First off...everything is so old and spread out, to get the wine from the presses to the aging vats, there is a tube that runs right in the middle of the villa, above ground. The cellars were rather old school, and there was just one bottling machine for over 100K bottles a year. Still, it was very charming.
First, Federica, one of the owners, talked us through how they did things at the vineyard. They should have been harvesting yesterday, but because of the rain they couldn't. Then, it was time to eat, which thank god, because I was starving. The food was all home made, and all grown either at the farm or within 15km. It was absolutely delicious. I even ate the salami, which...I shouldn't have. At the table there was a Chianti table wine, as well as the white Vernaccia. And, there was plenty for all of us to drink at least 3-4 glasses, which everyone did (and, if we ran low, Mauro, our driver, would just go get more).
This was a great group of people, and we had a fun time talking and drinking. Then came the biscotti & vino santo, a sweet dessert wine into which you dip your biscotti. Yum! Then...Elizabetta brought out the grappa. Three kinds, to be exact. No sooner had she poured the first one for us that we were told to shoot them, and my ears, throat...everything was on fire. It tasted like gasoline. Always one to give it another try (when it comes to alcohol), I tried the second one. Again, I was like a dragon with the fire I was spitting. I think Pebs gave up on that one. Then the third, which looked more like the vino santo so I thought, oh, it must be sweet. Damn, I was wrong, wrong wrong. I was also very drunk by that point, as was everyone else at the table.
We did a little more touring, which... kind of wish I hadn't because I saw how the grape skins were dried (grappa is made from the skins), which is to just set them out next to the fields. Ick. Then, we got to taste more, which is just what we needed. This farm also produces Olive Oil, and we tasted that by sipping it directly from a glass. We were told this is the correct way to really taste olive oil. It was the best I have ever had. Yum!
As we left, we all kind of realized, "Oh, sh*t, we still have to go to Siena! Maybe we should just keep drinking." We piled in the van and off we went to Siena. By this time we, as a group, had bonded, so rather than take off our separate ways, we all went together to the Duomo. This was absolutely beautiful. The amount of intricacy involved in these churches here is mind blowing. And, the floors were uncovered, which I guess only happens for 2 months a year.
We were all pretty tired when we met back up with Elizabetta. She had been helping Robert from Scottsdale on a best man's speech he had to do in Italian. Apparently, he's gonna need a lot of practice in the next few days. On the way home, I fell asleep somewhat, and when we got back we had to change the dinner plans we made with Bill & his wife, but we may see them again in Rome. I was just too tired to go out any more. I love how that happens.
It was back to the hotel for me (then a quick stop at McDonalds...I know, I know, but I am pizza/pasta/gelato-ed out), and wandering around the streets for Pebbles. I think she is going to be sad to leave Florence, although Cinque Terre will be beautiful. I am looking forward to some hiking and relaxing beach time!

17 September 2007

Day Cinque: Grappa Grappa and more Grappa

It is actually for the better, methinks, the way the whole Siena/Tuscany thing. I think driving around would have been hard, because I am not sure how the navigating would have turned out.

We woke up early this morning to the sound of the pouring rain. We were supposed to head off on a tour of Tuscany, so I wondered how the rain would affect things. Luckily, it had pretty much cleared by the time we got ready to go...but the threat was there. I had booked this Saturday, and wasn't quite sure what was in store for us, and wasn't to excited about the thought of walking around in the rain. We lined up outside of the tour office, and waited with a bunch of other people for our guide.

Then out came Elizabetta. A native Tuscan, Elizabetta had traveled around quite a bit in her youth (her father was in the UN) before re-settling in Florence. Her English was pretty perfect, and she was quite fun and sarcastic with us. She first tried to tell us we were off to Pisa & Lucca (which made me think of my poochie, and others on the bus groan with the thought of going back to Pisa). Of course, she was kidding.

On the way to San Gimignano, Elizabetta explained the history of the place to us. We all got to talking about it and ourselves. There was Ginger & Jeff from Georgia...Jeff had surprised his wife for her 50th bday with a trip to Europe. Suzannah and her hubby from North Carolina, who had just retired. Bill & his wife, from Washington. Rob & Danielle, who own a restaurant that sounds so good in Scottsdale, and a guy from Canada who we hung out with but never learned his name. It was a really fun group.

We walked around SG for a while, which is a really pretty & well-preserved town. Then it was time to go off to the wine tasting place...

Oops, it looks like they are closing down the internet place. I'll write more tomorrow. Is anyone reading this? Y'all can leave comments!

Day Four: Fiesole and More

On Sunday morning, rather than going to Siena as we had first planned, we decided to stay here in Florence. In the long run, this was the best decision, but I digress.

We got up, packed up our stuff, and moved to our new hotel, the Hotel California. Yup, that is really the name. As I mentioned before, I woke up all nice and swollen from the tons of mosquito bites I seem to have. It sucks. So we moved over then went to find the bus for Fiesole.

Fiesole is a beautiful hilltop down right outside of Florence. We went through it on Friday when we were doing out city tour, and since we decided to stay longer, I thought it would be nice to go explore. The day was hot and really muggy. We headed up there on the bus, which was super crowded after about one stop. Luckily, we got on at the train station and were able to get seats. For about 20 minutes, we took the windy road up to the hills.

I guess it was originally a place where rich Florentines went to escape the city. Supposedly, it was also a place to escape the heat. This was certainly not the case on Sunday. It was HOT up there! I was not in the best of moods due to my swollen eye, but tried to get into it as we hiked up to see the view. It was stunning, if not hazy. As I took pics, I had no idea how they'd turn out...with the haze and the eye issues, I was just hoping to get something. We'll see when I get home.

We headed back down the hill and went our separate ways. I think Pebble's likes that she can wander around Florence by herself and feel ok. It is a pretty easy city to navigate, and since there are so many tourists around, safe when you stay on the main streets. This has helped her to get to know the city, and given us time to ourselves, which, as a normally solo traveler, I definitely need.

I made her choose and direct us to the dinner place...she wasn't very happy about that but I stood firm. We ended up at a place at the Piazza Republica. It was fine... a bit overpriced, as any of these places in the main piazzas are, but the pasta was fresh as could be. Then she wandered off again - she's becoming quite independent - and I went to the book store. I finished the book I brought (which was really weird), so got one about the history of Florence, which is much more interesting!

16 September 2007

Mosquitoes? In Italy?

I am sure they have always been here, but I have never thought about biting bugs in Italy. And, I have come to find out, they are here and they LOVE me.

In Rome, as I was sitting in the lobby of our hotel, I got bit on my arm and legs. The bites itched like crazy, but I didn't think much else of it. Since arriving in Florence, even more bites have appeared...I assume from that stupid bug in our room that won't go away.

Then, this morning, I woke up with one eye swollen halfway shut, and the other with a touch of swollenness. I look pretty. And a few more bits on my chin, and then across my cheek. It is all quite lovely.

Even in the days of the evil poison oak, I don't think my eyes ever swelled up. It is somewhat painful, and feels really weird to the touch. And I don't like not being able to open my eye.

So, I wonder...will these mosquitoes ever leave me alone? I guess only time will tell. I certainly hope so; there's little less attractive than someone walking down the street, unable to stop scratching herself!

When Wine Attacks

You know that moment before an accident happens, when you realize it is going to happen, and try to avoid it, but then it happens anyway, and probably worse than what had happened if you had done nothing?

Yeah, that happened last night.

We had a fabulous dinner with our new friends Rich & Paulette, and at the end, we were talking about losing passports - Rich's daughter had lost hers once in Barcalona, and freaked out in much the same way I did (or so it sounds). For reasons still unknown to me, I was waving my hands around or something, and realized I was about to knock over my glass of wine. I tried to stop it, tried to catch the glass, and doing that just made it fall harder, spraying wine all over the table, all over Paulette, and onto Rich's shirt. It was no ordinary spill, folks. This one went all over Paulette's face, too.

I was horrified! I wish I could blame it on having too much to drink, but that was sadly not the case, it was just me being clumsy. Luckily they both took it in stride, but it was so embarrassing!

15 September 2007

The Great Luggage Saga of 2007: The Finale

The luggage is finally here.

I have no idea where it's been for the last three days, or how it finally got here, but it did. The amount of runaround to deal with this problem is unbelievable. The fact that United, in order to transport it to Florence, no longer had it in their system and thus almost washed their hands of it, is unacceptable. This morning, the contracting company told Pebbles that the case was closed because she had her baggage. We looked around, and she looked at the clothes she'd been wearing for the past 3 days, and refuted that claim.

It's finally here, though, safe and sound. United will be hearing further about this, and getting some receipts for the several cab rides, new clothes, etc.

Thanks again to my Uncle Lenny for helping us out so much!

Day Tre: Multo Firenze

First off, a few things. 1. the US$ to Euro conversion bites. Big time. You only get about 1 Euro for 1.40$. 2. The drivers here are crazy. 3. The people walking here are crazy. Middle of the street with 5 vespas coming at you? No problem. We'll just cross the street right in front of them anyway.

Due to the luggage situation, I decided to change our plans a little bit. Rather than go to Siena tomorrow, we're just going to stay in Florence an extra two days and then head to Cinque Terre. Mom, you'll be happy, I won't be driving a car here. So I spent the morning cancelling reservations and making new ones (the hotel we are currently in, the Florence Dream Domus, is absolutely lovely, but it is bank-breaking for 4 nights, so we are moving on tomorrow), and trying to find a good tour so we could still see the Tuscan countryside. Not ideal, but the one I found looks great. This way, too, there are more people around. Mixes things up a bit. While I did that, Pebbles went shopping to find some clothes and shoes, just in case her bag didn't show up.

We met up at the Accademia, where we had a tour planned for the gallery. While waiting (the way things run here makes me laugh...it is often just a big clusterf*ck of people- excuse the language but there's no better way to describe it - trying to find the person in charge, who couldn't care less that we are looking for them), we met a nice couple who would also be on the tour. We got to talking and it turns out they are from Danville. Upon talking further, we found out that Paulette, the woman, is originally from San Leandro, and knows several people I know (including the mom of a girl I played soccer with for years, and the old cheerleading coach who's now a teacher at O'Dowd). Small, small world! We finally found our guide, and off we went.

We were definitely spoiled yesterday with Elvio. Federica, our guide today, just couldn't cut it. I don't know if she was new, but her grasp on English was a little rough (which would be fine if the information she was presenting was interesting or accurate, which it wasn't so much), and she kept getting off track from her point. It was worth getting the tour to skip the line, which was crazy long, and almost worth it to check out The David...seeing the sculpture in person is absolutely amazing. That someone could carve such a thing, and that it could sit outside for a century or more and not be too weathered, is really mind-blowing. But, they charge you 13Euro to get into the museum, which holds little else of interest other than the David. If the tour had been better, my attitude towards it probably would be too.

I wandered off at the end of the tour. I needed to use the restroom and needed to run away from Federica. Several other members of our tour had the same idea, and I saw them out on the courtyard where I went to enjoy the sunshine. I went back in to get Pebbles, and Rich & Paulette had asked us to join them for dinner. So we'll be doing that tonight, which is great.

Pebbles & I had lunch overlooking the Duomo, and then went our separate ways - me to book the tour/shop, Pebbles to find her luggage/shop. I wet to the market by our hotel and got a few things; the most exciting was this beautiful purse. I bargained a little, and got the price I wanted. I assume it's a fake, but it is really lovely and the real one, in the store, costs 3 times as much. Score!

Now we're just hanging out, taking a break before dinner. I forgot how much walking you do when traveling...I was basically on my feet from about 9am to 5.15pm. Yikes.

The Great Luggage Saga Part II: Ineptitude Boogaloo

No, the luggage is still not here.

After several calls to various agencies, and to United, we were told that the luggage was on a flight to here in Florence. Two trips to the airport contradicts this statement. In short, we don't know where the hell the luggage is.

I have to say, my aunt is being a trooper. She finally went to buy some new clothes, and I think that's what she's doing right now. I don't understand how the airlines use such antiquated systems to track luggage, and it is no wonder so much gets lost. Anyone know how much they need to reimburse her for the inconvenience of 3 days with no luggage...I know it is something even if the bag eventually arrives...

14 September 2007

Day Two: Off to Firenze

This has been a long day! I am now sitting at the computer in our hotel, which is snail slow it is an old computer), and they have the air-co on full blast, which is really unnecessary.

At any rate, one thing I love about the hotels in Europe is that they provide breakast. Now, I am not usually a big breaky eater, but when it's free, why the hell not! Plus, it is fun to see what a typical breakfast is. This morning, it consisted of bread (sadly, not the most delicious white toast ever - that honor still goes to the place in England), a variety of meats, some cereal, tomatoes, cheese, and pastries. I immediately went for the bread, cheese, tomato combo, with olive oil. It was delicious!

It was time to head off to the train station. After we were unsuccessful locating the bag, we hung out at the train station and waited for our late train (I had the impression that trains were always on time...I was wrong). We had seats in the first class cabin, which was fantastic. They lounged in a way that didn't infringe on the person behind me's space, which is what the airlines should do. It was a quick and easy ride through the Tuscan countryside. Pebbles commented that it looks like Napa....it does, just seems to be hillier.

We got to Florence and made our way to the Florence Dream Domus, this centrally located, although on the 3rd floor with no lift, hotel. It is pretty darn adorable. Once we got in our room, we were able to locate the bag. With that, we were off to walk around, get some gelato (yum!), and go to our tour.

The tour was great. I am not a big fan of organized tours, but sometimes, they are necessary. They brought us first via bus to Fiesole, which boasts one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen, ever. I wish we had more time here so we could go visit further. We then went back to Florence and walked around the ancient center. Elvio, our tour guide, was very good, and obviously very passionate about Florence. He said he was originally from Venice, but has lived here in Florence for 22 years and loves that he gets to help others understand what a great city this is. How fun!

We ended the tour with 2 hours in the Uffizi. Talk about an overwhelming amount of information. Elvio went really in depth with his favorite and what he considered the most important paintings, taking us from the early days through the Renaissance. It was like a condensed art history class - fabulous! My mind is still spinning from all the info.

So now I am back at the hotel. Pebbles went to collect her bag...she told me not to come so I guess she needed a break. Which is fine. I think she gets frustrated because I am rather quiet, which is the norm when I travel. I am trying to be better and get adjusted to traveling with someone, but in general I am quiet, and moreseo when traveling...but I'm trying!

The Great Luggage Saga of 2007

My wish to you all...never lose your luggage while abroad, at least not while flying United (I can't help but wonder if this would have been easier if we were on Al Italia or something).

So last night, Pebbles called the number provided at the airport. First, though, she had a lot of trouble using the phone in our room, and the front desk wasn't very helpful (although they were fine taking our money for every attempted phone call). We finally got through using Melissa's cell phone. After a very long conversation, we learned that they hadn't been able to locate the bag, and maybe it would arrive tomorrow, but maybe she'd get it in a few days. This was upsetting news, and Pebs was on the verge of losing it (remember, too, we had been flying all night and out all day, so...tired!).

I had my trusty Premier Exec card handy, so I went upstairs and tried another route to find this damn thing. After another series of frustrating calls (for some reason, the calling card I was using went mute when I called 1.800 numbers), I got a hold of my uncle Len (thanks again!) and he three-way conferenced me in with the support line. We got on the line with a nice rep from India, who had a hard time understanding me (the irony!), and FINALLY were told that the bag was going to be in Rome this morning at 8.50. Then they'd get it to us in Florence.

We called this morning and confirmed, yes indeed, the bag had arrived. And that it would arrive in Florence this evening. But then, it may be 2-3 days before it got to us at the hotel in Florence. Which is, according to the books, about 5 km away...Yes, 2-3 days to go about 3 miles. Apparently, they are using the horse and buggy method here. We said we'd go get it.

Needless to say, United will be getting a few calls and letters about this. I may have to put my coworker Valerie on the case, because she is awesome at that stuff. I expect reimbursement for the transport to/from the airport, at the least. I understand they got it to Italy as soon as they could, but to then make us wait another 2-3 days because the couriers only go when they have a whole bunch of bags is extremely poor customer service.


I am have been encountering two challenges since I've been here...1. Hard to let work go. 2. Hard not to speak Spanish.

The first...I know I need to just let it go, but my anxiety is through the sky that I forgot something, or who knows. I know I am not that important, things will go on fine without me, and that I did the best I could to wrap things up...still I get a pit in my stomach every time I think about it. Perhaps this will subside over the weekend when I know no one is in the office.

The other...I think because my last few trips have been to Spanish-speaking countries, and that is what I speak (as opposed to Italian), upon arrival my mind immediately went into Spanish mode. I have been doing ok with a little Italian, and I understood it ok when the taxi driver was talking to me (or, at least, I got the core of what he was saying), but man, I want to speak something other than English! It is good to kno, thought, that my rusty brain still remembers a thing or two!

Dinner Italian Style

Last night we met the daughter of one of my father's business associates. Melissa is studying out here in Rome, lucky girl, and was kind enough to join us for dinner. She was also kind enough to let Pebbles use her cell phone, after a frustrating experience trying to get a hold of the luggage people. More on that later, but let's just say I hope you never lose your luggage on United while abroad.

We went to this cute place right by our hotel to eat. One of the waiters was hanging around outside the restaurant, and when he saw us looking at the menu, encouraged us to go inside. He was adorable, so we complied.

The restaurant was one of those so typical in Europe...on the smaller side, intimate, lots of wait staff hanging out. The first one to approach our table spoke no English...when I tried to ask him what the cost of some prosecco included (glass, bottle, half bottle), he had no idea. Cue the non-verbal communication, pointing to the price, then to my glass, then the hands up in the air with a questioning look on my face. Turns out, it was for the whole bottle.

Our actual waiter could speak English, which was good. He was also very sarcastic, although he didn't understand the word. It was a nice and delicious dinner, complete with a bottle of prosecco that was super yummy.

After that, we headed back to the hostel and I crashed before my head hit the pillow. I was exhausted!

13 September 2007

Rome Day One

We're now here in Rome...I am pooped.

We checked into the hotel, which, despite telling us we were ok with early check in, did not have any rooms or any real apologies. We had to wait a few minutes for a room, which is not what we wanted but oh well, it's just one night. Pebs is just excited it has a bidet, although I don't know that either of us would know how to use it.

After I showered, we were off to the Vatican. It is a lovely day here in Rome, warm but not too hot, so perfect for walking after such a long flight. Have to get moving! I followed the map and got us here eventually...a few side streets and twists and turns later. But here we are in Vatican City, which is such a lovely site.

One thing that amazes me is how people process what they're seeing, if they really do. They walk into the Sistine Chapel, or St. Peters, or the other museum areas and just start taking pictures. Rarely do they stop and just look at what they're shooting. They just go go go. I wonder, when they look back, will they remember what they saw because of their pictures, or because they actually saw it? I think the former. (and, I am guilty of this, too, although I have gotten better)

It is striking how rude people are, and not just Americans (in fact, I have barely noticed them). Huge groups of tourists - Spanish, Italian, German, and more - push their way through the lines, the rooms...even not letting a wheelchair get through. It is really unfortunate and surprising. We'll all get there eventually, do they really need to push?

I lost Pebbles in the Vatican and then kept getting in trouble by the guards. Who knew you couldn't lean on the nice marble ledges. Isn't that what they're there for?

And We're Off

First off, let me apologize for any weird spelling/grammar...I am not used to this keyboard.

We left at the crack of dawn on Wednesday morning. Our van driver was even a little early...I had been hoping he'd be late so we wouldn't have to sit at the airport too long, but no dice on that one. We got the airport, checked in, and soon enough it was time to go.

Before we knew it, we were in DC and getting ready to board our flight to Rome. Pebbles could't get over how big the plane was. We lucked out with some seats with a huge amount of legroom... it was nice to be able to move around. And, we had crew seats in front of us, so no one was there most of the flight (not that it would have mattered, there was that much leg room). We had our own personal little TVs...Pebs started laughing right away at Shrek III, but then midway through turned to me and said she was totally lost on the storyline. Having never really seen a Shrek movie, I had no idea they were the least bit complicated...but...

The flight was rather uneventful, which is always a good thing. I fell asleep for a little while, thankfully. At one point, I went to use the restroom...it was a huge one. Definitely one that has been used, comfortably, a time or two for the Mile High club.

And so...the resolution to the great luggage debate of 2007. I had told my aunt to pack light, and pack so she could carry on. Last time I checked my luggage in Europe, it was lost, and there is nothing worse than being stranded without clean clothes. She forewent my advice and decided to check her luggage...which is now lost. Hopefully we'll get it in Florence tomorrow.

Then our poor driver got a ticket because he was waiting for us so long. I think he got it figured out, but...no luck from the get go.

11 September 2007

Almost Time!

In just a few hours, we'll be heading off to Italy. Tonight my mom had us over to dinner...it was quite funny. My brother managed to convince my aunt that her iPod wouldn't work in Italy, and several other things. Someday she'll learn to not believe him.

So tomorrow we're being picked up bright and early at 5am to be shuttled off to the airport. Yikes. I should go to bed!

07 September 2007

Just a Few More Days!

I haven't been posting much, and that is totally my bad. Work has been crazy, and, I have been planning my big trip!

In just a few days, I leave for Italy...whoo hoo!!

I will be trying to update this while I am gone. Since I am going with my aunt, I am sure there will be lots of good stories to tell. I just can't wait. And, not only will I get to go see parts of the country I've never seen, and hang with my aunt...my dear friend from Sweden is going to come down and meet us for a few days! Yippeeee.....

02 September 2007

Getting Props

My brother was on a new Cartoon Network show last night with his basketball business, Triple Threat Academy. Yay, Tony!

Doo-Wa Ditty

This song has been stuck in my head for a few days. I tend to sing it when something is annoying me, and I just need to stop thinking about it...this song helps.