Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How to Fully Explore Two Italian Cities and Completely Exhaust Your Spouse in Two Weeks, Part II

Days 1 and 2

In an effort to dissuade anyone from sitting in our row on our flight to Charlotte, we booked the window and aisle seats and left the middle seat empty. Were it not for a narcoleptic woman who had missed her original flight -- no doubt because she fell asleep -- we would have had the row to ourselves.

In any case, I took the middle seat and gave her the window seat. Her affliction became apparent when she fell asleep in the middle of a conversation with me. I know I'm not at my wittiest when I'm on a plane, but I've never had someone nod off mid-conversation!

The woman -- let's call her Sleepy -- spent most of the flight with her head in her lap. As Dan pointed out, she should apply for a position demonstrating proper crash positioning. About halfway through the flight, she went to the bathroom. She was in there a good twenty minutes, no doubt asleep on the toilet.

We booked first-class seats for the Charlotte to Rome leg of our journey -- free food, free drinks, real utensils, warm towels, and seats that actually become recliners with footrests. As Dan has frequently pointed out, I'm not afraid of flying; I'm afraid of flying coach.

Unfortunately, exhaustion got the better of us once we reached the Capricci Romani Bed and Breakfast, and we slept away the majority of the day. We were up in time to join in the Dolce Vita stroll though -- Romans take long afternoon walks instead of holing up in their homes and watching TV. Based on what I saw of their television options, I completely understand the tradition. In that one walk, we saw the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. We stopped for dinner in a small trattoria before deciding to catch the Metro at Spagna.

Day 3

We headed to the Colosseum and the ancient city center via the Metro. After a short wait at the Colosseum, we purchased our tickets. In preparation for the trip, we downloaded all of Rick Steves' free audio tours for Rome and Florence into our MP3 players, thereby avoiding the extra expense and frustration of renting audio tours or hiring tour guides. I highly recommend these audio tours: they are informative and entertaining.

From the Colosseum, we went to the Roman Forum, and from there we ascended Palatine Hill, at which point Dan decided I was trying to kill him and began complaining bitterly that I just wanted to use the repatriation insurance to get his body home. Yet, somehow, I am the one with the first injury -- a painful blister.

Day 4

Massimo, our host, secured tickets for the Galleria Borghese for us, so after breakfast we caught the Metro to Spagna and walked to Villa Borghese, Rome's heart-shaped answer to New York's Central Park. The rain caught us off-guard, and we were forced to buy a couple of umbrellas from a newsstand at four euros apiece. Of course, once we had the umbrellas, our need for them almost immediately disappeared.

We were early for the Galleria, so we toured the park leisurely, noting the remarkable lack of heads on many of the statues. Apparently, these are the easiest part of a statue to destroy. At last, we proceeded to the museum. The galleria was originally the personal residence of Cardinal Borghese, a hedonistic man who obtained his religious title simply by being a pope's nephew. He was a patron of Bernini, and the museum features a large collection of that artist's paintings and sculptures. His David is really remarkable, in my opinion.

After leaving the Galleria, we returned to the Spanish Steps and had high tea at Babbington's Tea Rooms. Worn down from the walking and the weather, we returned to our room for a nap.

That evening, we crossed the Ponte Sant'Angelo in search of a good dinner, but we made a bad choice. The food was bland and clod, and, with the exception of a waitress who said "voila" every time she added or removed anything from our table, completely unremarkable.

At least I was able to observe the behavior of the other diners. At one nearby table, an uncouth but apparently well-known man sat down with his date and proceeded to tweak her breast, place her hand in his lap, and offer a dozen unsolicited kisses. She was clearly relieved when their dining companion arrived.

After waiting an almost ridiculous amount of time for the bill, we were finally released from Cantina del Vecchio, never to return.

Day 5

We took the train from Rome to Florence first thing this morning and checked into the Hotel Panama. The room was small, but it had a balcony. Dropping our bags, we immediately set out to explore the city. The scent of Greek cooking immediately pulled us into a tiny restaurant, where we enjoyed a leisurely lunch of moussaka and imam -- eggplant and other veggies with feta cheese.

After lunch, we walked to the Accademia -- David's house. I think Dan found Michelangelo's masterpiece as magnificent as I did when I first saw it. The museum holds little else of interest, and we soon proceeded toward the Duomo. coming around the corner into the Duomo's piazza is an awe-inspiring sight. We made our way into the church and marveled at the structure. Finally, we walked to the Baptistry and admired the doors before entering to stare at the domed ceiling.

After our regularly scheduled nap, we went to Ristorante Perseus for dinner. I had ravioli with butter and sage and Dan enjoyed a pasta with a beef sauce. For dessert, I tried a local favorite -- vin santo with biscotti. You dip the biscotti in the sweet wine. It was different, but really tasty. Dan's fruit tart with fresh whipped cream was a little better.

It's colder in Florence, but it was nice enough during the day. The pace was slower than in Rome and it seemed like there were fewer tourists.

To be continued.

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