30 May 2011

Best Things: Rome Vespa Tour

One of the most fun things we did while in Rome was a Vespa tour with Bici & Baci. There is a lot to see in Rome, A LOT, and much of it is hard to access via just walking or the metro...and, a lot is off the "beaten" path. And, having been there a few times, I personally wanted to see something other than the Colosseum and Roman Forum and Vatican.

But, I'll be honest...I was a little nervous about getting on a scooter, or, frankly, anything with wheels in Rome. The traffic there is crazy. The drivers there are crazy. To even walk there, you have to be a little bit crazy. So...to me, getting on a Vespa, well, THAT was crazy.

If you can get over the fear, though, this tour is awesome. We decided on "Secret Rome," one of 10 tour choices. Looking now at the itinerary, it looks like there is some plan, but it felt like we were going to some of their favorite spots, which was really fun. We focused a lot on places beyond the Circus Maximus, so it was rather old, but so cool. I wish I could tell you where we were, but I really don't remember names. I could show you most of it on a map, though. Needless to say, it was awesome.

Also cool? Squeezing through little alleys, breezing past innocent bystanders. And being able to say we touched down on each of Rome's 7 hills (plus a few others!) during our trip. And the views! A few of the parks we sped through offered stunning views of Rome...plus one special peek through the keyhole at the Malta Embassy was nothing short of spectacular.

Needless to say, I wouldn't have seen any of this by foot or metro. The Vespa tour was truly special in that way. It was pricey, to be sure, but since it was the one thing my mom really wanted to do, we went for it. And, it was really well worth it!

08 May 2011

A Venezia

Venice...one crazy place. Arriving on a Saturday meant being thrown directly into the cruise traveler masses...it was insanely busy here. I hadn't been to Venice in about 13 years, and while I don't think much has changed, it was like seeing it again through all new eyes. 

I do know last I was here, it was not this crowded. I know this has a lot to do with the time of year (I was here in November), the cruise day, and, oh yeah, the Pope, who decided his fist visit to Venice (the first by a pope since 1985) should coincide with high season and our vacation! This put a little cramp on things,but we managed!

Upon arrival we jumped right into a vaporetto (water bus) to take us to our hotel. The 1 Lido arrived to Ca' d' Oro, about a 5 minute walk to our hotel. A pretty majestic way to arrive!  It took us a few minutes to finally find our actual hotel- Hotel Georgione - and once we did, we dumped our stuff and thought it would be a good idea to head to San Marco, since we weren't sure of the Pope's schedule.

I describe easily how crowded it was...akin to Disneyland on a summer weekend. We jostled our way through the little streets, and eventually arrived to piazza San Marco.  This is quite an awesome sight...a huge, old basilica sitting right on the water's edge, offering views to four or five other beautiful churches. Amazing. San Marco was all set up for the arrival of Papa Benedetto, with security and barricades all over. The Basilica was also closed -- a real bummer as I don't think I went into it last time, either.

We continued our wandering, and headed to the other side of Venice, near the Accademia. We passed another big church set up for the arrival of the pope, and continued down to the end of the land, ending up at this weird statue -- a young boy, naked, holding a frog...and a security guard or two not allowing anyone near it.  So weird.

All this wandering made us pretty tired, so it was back to the hotel for a nap, followed by dinner, more walking, and bed!

Sunday was decidedly less crowded in Venice... We originally wanted to take a grand canal tour, but things were closed thanks to the pope. Instead we hopped back on the vaporetto 1 Lido, and took it to the end of the line, all the way to Lido. I am sure there is still to see there --  think some sandy beaches -- but we noticed that the grand canal was closing for the Papa, and we wanted to get back before that happened. Mom wanted to take a water taxi back, and of course we did! 

For 50E, we got our own little tour. The taxi took us out and around the city, where we could see San Michelle (I think it's a cemetery) and Murano. Must say, it was a pretty awesome way to travel! The rest of the day was spent shopping, walking, and having a spritz or two (spritz is a popular drink here...refreshing to me but bitter in taste, so not for everyone). 

Our last evening was at a little restaurant owned by GiGi (Luigi), right near our hotel. The gnocchi was one of the best I've had here...clearly very fresh and yummy! We watched the sunset from the Rialto, then headed back with one last gelato.

Tony left very early this morning, and now mom & I are packed up and heading to the airport, too. We get to go by water taxi... So cool! It has been a really fantastic trip... I'm a little sad to go home, but my body is looking forward to walking with a light purse (the big @ss camera gets heavy!), running a bit, and not eating food drenched with delicious olive oil! (my palate, however, is very much going to miss it)

06 May 2011

Cookin' in Firenze

It's been a very busy few days here in Florence!

On Thursday we did a cooking class, which ended up being super fun. To quote my mon,"it almost made me want to cook." For those who know her, you know those are big words! We made a few things, but the big ones were tiramisu and our own pasta & meat sauce. I've learned that fresh pasta makes a huge difference in the taste of a meal! They also gave us wine throughout the cooking class, which we probably didn't need but happily enjoyed. At the end of the class, the chef recommended a place for dinner located in a more "local" part of town, so eventually, when we regained our appetite, we went there.

W also walked around quite a bit after class...and boy, where the streets crowded! Lots of big groups of teens on field trips. Florence isn't a huge city like Rome, so these groups were taking up quite a bit of space! Thankfully, they left and seemed to have taken with them a lot of day trippers, too.

Thursday we decided to get out of dodge and head to Greve in Chianti. I'd never been, and love chianti wine, so was really excited to go visit where it's made! The bus ride there was uneventful, and after about 50 minutes, we arrived to this darling hill town. Walked around for a bit, ate, and eventually found the wine tasting center. This was a cool place - we got to taste quite a few wines, but the was no one telling us anything about them or really enhancing the experience. I hope someday to do real wine tasting here at some smaller production places and not just these touristy things. But, it worked for us ... W had been told we needed to be back to Florence by 5pm as there was going to be a bus strike. So, no problem, we'll get on the 4pm bus.

We apparently weren't the only ones with this plan, and it turned out to be a very eventful bus trip! There were several large groups on the bus, including some bicyclists, a Swedish tourism class, and a mother with three kids, one who was screaming the whole time. I was rather crowded so not everyone could sit. Immediately, one of the Swedish students started crying. Then, apparently the bus driver was going too fast, and this Italian woman was screaming at him while holding this screaming baby. Then, one of the Swedish girls stands up, comes over to her friends, and collapses. Bus is stopped, she is taken off for air, and the Italian woman yells some more. More swedes crying because they thought their friend was dead (turns out, from the moment they got on they were scared they were going to die because they had to stand and the driver was going fast...I love that the dramatic thoughts of a teenager are universal). Eventually, we move again, then the bicyclists decide they need to get off the bus ...at the wrong stop. Finally, the woman with the screaming baby gets off, only to get a stern talking to by the bus driver. Well after 5pm we arrive back at the bus station...I'm wondering if the driver was in a hurry to go on strike!

The food here in florence has been great, and last night sealed the deal. We ended up at a place right by our hotel, always questionable when in such a touristy spot, but wow, was the food amazing. Plus, we talked to our server, Nico, for quite some time, and he loved us, so gave us free limoncello. And not just a shot each...but he left the entire bottle for us to finish. It was half full when he left it! We happily obliged and drank it all.

Today starts the last leg of this journey, to Venice. Apparently the pope will be there, too; hopefully the huge crowds won't follow.

04 May 2011

Bella Firenze

Disappointing tour led to drinking prosecco led to dinner and a few bottles of wine led to after-dinner drink led to this morning...ouch!

Off to cooking class today!

Ciao Roma

We had one last day in Rome, and we went nonstop. It started with a bus ride to Saint Peter's Square...bus was packed, similar to what I take to work and about as smelly (though less homeless smell and more stinky tourist). We grabbed a bite and a cappuccino (which...I'm in love. Tempted to get my own machine) and headed to Vatican City.

Though I've now been lucky enough to see it several times, the sight of the Basilica never ceases to amaze me. It's stunning and overwhelming. Our first tour brought us into the necropolis, and we were lucky enough to have a good guide who knew quite a bit of church history. The age of everything we looked at was difficult to comprehend...as an American, and Californian to boot, our history is so recent; it's hard to fathom that "modern" here often refers to something 500+ years old.

We learned quite a bit about St. Peter, which I had either never heard in 12 years of catholic schooling, or just didn't remember. We got to check out his bones (~2000 years old) and his tomb, which now sits in the Grotto of the Basilica. After about 1.5 hours if dead things, it was time to head back to the land of the living. And to pizza!

Soon it was time to hit the Vatican Museums. This is one of my favorite museums...but, man, was it CROWDED! We again had a great guide, but you couldn't really stop to look at anything without being pushed and shuttled through. And it was rather warm. Simona, our guide, said the crowds weren't too bad and that it just gets more crowded (and hot) as the season goes on. Yikes. The Sistine Chapel was probably the least crowded, but only because they held a few groups at the door until others left.

The final night in Rome wouldn't be complete without a drink, so we headed to our favorite: Pepy's Bar in Piazza Barberini. It happened to be happy hour, which meant a drink and food from a huge buffet for 8E. Food was really good, too! A few cosmos, manhattans, and brachettos later, we thought it would be nice to watch the sunset from the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately, the rain clouds were covering the sky, blocking and view we may have.

Oh well!

We're now on our way to Florence, and I'm happy to be leaving Rome. It's just far too crowded for me (though I will miss the pizza). Can't wait for some (more) gelato!

03 May 2011


Sunday was a crazy one here in Rome. The beatification of JPII meant an insane amount of people pouring in here.

I decided to go to Villa Borghese...originally, I wanted to go to the gallery, but never made a reservation. It turned out fine, as the park is so nice and huge. It was a hot day in Rome, but the trees provided so much shade that it felt perfect. Lots of families riding bikes & taking the kids to the carousal. The picture is the view from Piazza Napolean at the Villa, looking over the side of St. Peter's. I then walked down to the Piazza Popolo, and headed down Corso for some window shopping.

Mom & Tony had decided to go to the Vatican, then tried to hit the Colesseum/Forum, but it was all closed. We met up for lunch, and took mom by the Trevi Fountain (which was much to crowded...we returned later that night) and Spanish Steps.

We woke this morning to news of Osama Bin Laden's death. It seems to have replaced the Royal wedding in the news. Weird being so far from home on such an important day.

The Vespa tour was today, and it was pretty awesome. They took us all over Rome, concentrating especially on ancient Rome -- behind the Forums -- and Trastevere. We definitely hit some places we'd never otherwise see, including a few churches and parks with amazing views of Rome. We asked to be dropped off at the pantheon (third time hoping to be the charm there), and this apparently required our drivers to go through the tightest places possible. It was super fun...I definitely want a Vespa for SF!

Sun & Vespas