Wednesday, July 30, 2008

San Diego...

I did a quick, uneventful trip to San Diego on Monday and Tuesday. There is nothing remotely interesting about my good ol' Doubletree...which is why the window shot is relegated to the end of the post :)

I did have some free time in the evening to talk a much-needed walk along the beach. There were a few too many clouds for my taste...but a nice break nonetheless. The beach was a lot more crowded, but mostly families on summer vacation. Still, the surf was tempting, and there was a healthy sprinking of surfers.

I only wish my trip home was unstressful...but United kept up its fine record of the big DEEEEELAY. I mean, come on. If I was only on time 2/3 of the time in my job, my customers would bail on me. I don't understand how you can run an industry with such a low standard of service.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This car's a rockin'...

I won't likely be writing whimsical blog entries when the Big One hits, but today's LA-centered earthquake was (thankfully) safely small enough. Still, I had the fortune of feeling the earthquake from my rental car in San Diego. I was parked and on the phone, when the car started to wobble, as if someone was hiding and pushing down on my bumper. Of course, in this case, all of the cars around me were wobbling as well. Sure shows the distance that waves from a 5.4 quake can travel...which does make me pause and think ahead to the Big One.

Funny, Jeff and I were just talking about our earthquake kit this weekend. Better get on that :)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Photos from 6...

On day 6, our Italian adventure moved by train from Venice to Florence. Two amazing cities...but the transition is striking, considering these cities are only a few hours apart.

The streets were wet after light overnight rain, but the clouds were breaking. Packed quickly. One last breakfast in the hotel. One final walk to S.Maria Della Salute.

A pleasant walk to the train station via Campo S.Margarita. Passed produce-laden boats and carts with fresh seafood. Naturally, the sun came out to warm...downright sweaty as we reached the station.

Boarded the 10:43 Eurostar train bound for Florence. Binaro 3. Carrozza 6. Posti 55/56. Waved Arrivederci to Venice as the train slipped across the lagoon.

In Mestre, a mother and child boarded and sat next to us for the duration of our trip. I'd say it took us about 5-minutes to name this hyperactive child...Luigi il Menace...or Devil choose.

Bright red poppies lined the tracks as we passed through Padua. Puffy clouds and filtered sun set off brilliant green fields of grapevines. Lush valleys between Bologna and scenes divided by blacked-out tunnels. Hillside groves of olive trees. Secluded towns with signature church towers.

Arrived into Firenze Santa Maria Novella. A short 15-minute walk to our B&B via the sunny Piazza del Duomo.

We're staying at our old favorite B&B...the Dei Mori...and its downstairs neighbor, the Badia Guest House where our room is actually located. The Dei Mori hostess, Suzzanne, is the quintessential B&B greeter. She is an American married to an Italian, and takes great pride in her adopted home. She oriented us to new or lesser known highlights, since we have been to Florence before. She also pointed us to four of her favorite local restaurants.

Grabbed a quick pair of wonderful, warmed sandwiches at nearby Cucciolo Pasticceria. Took a long re-orientation walk past a few of our favorites...Piazza della Signoria and the Uffiza Gallery. Walked along the Arno River to grab some warm afternoon sun photo of the Ponte Vecchio. Had a quick gelato stop at an amazing artisan spot, Gelateria Santa Trinita...Jeff declared this his favorite gelato in Italy! Passed the Pitti Palace. Turned around at the Porta Romana and the edge of the old city. Returned via the Ponte Vecchio...sadly where locks have apparently been banned since none were insight.

Ventured into the Baptistry of San Giovanni...the jewel box in front of the Duomo. The golden mosaic ceiling was breathtaking.

Dinner at one of Suzzane's recommendations: Trattoria Baldovino, behing the Basilica di Santa Croce. The food was wonderful, creative Tuscan flavors. The colorful bruschetta. Jeff's amazing tortallacci di patate--oversized tortallinis with a hearty meat sauce--and his petto di pollo--juicy chicken witha rich sauce of tomato and olive. My filetto di manzo all' aceto--a marbled beef fillet in a dark, sweet basalmic reduction. Etc. Etc. All the dishes were mouth-watering. (Did I mention our dessert? Crostata con creme arance.)

Wandered back through Piazza Santa Croce and Piazza della Signora to finally shower and sleep :). What a VERY long day!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Photos from 5...

Its hard to believe that its been more than 20 days since my last photo post from Italy. But its also getting increasingly hard to edit. There are over 50 images in this post...and I find it hard to trim down these colorful memories. So enjoy this day trip from Venice to Verona...with the original Day 5 text.

A light, but persistent rain joined us for the walk to the train station this morning. Bought tickets for a day trip to historic Verona. Also made reservations for our trip to Florence tomorrow. Unlike our frustrating train experience on our last European vacation, these purchases were simple and clear and involved no lines or humans. (Fingers crossed.)

The 10:04 Trenitalia service departed promptly at 10:24 from Bin 10. Rain? Cappuccino break? The slow regional train took about 2 hours till we arrived at the Verona Porta Nuova station. Bought a one-day Verona Pass. Grabbed a quick burger. Hopped a crowded #11 bus to the historic center of town.

Began our walk at the ancient Roman Arena...the third largest in the ancient Roman world. A simple-yet-massive structure. Best of all, you can walk up and down and all over the arena, unlike the Coliseum in Rome.

After gazing at mural-painted buildings and snapping a few people shots in the narrow Piazza Erbe, checked off another stop on the Verona Card at the towering Torre dei Lamberti. A uniqe perspective revealing tall churches and bell towers rising above the squat old city. The Dolomites stood grey and ominous in the distance.

Returned to earth. Walked to the impressive Chiesa di Santa Anastasia. Started in the late 13th century...continued through the 14th and 15th centuries...and completed in the early 16th century. This church has everything...everywhere. Beautiful painted ceilings. Ornate chapels and altars. Vibrant frescoes in every nook. Stone sculptures, terra cotta reliefs, and lofty stained glass. Something to see in every direction.

The distinctive Duomo was next on the list, and far more restrained than the previous S.Anastasia church. The current cathedral building dates to the 8th and 9th centuries, with the current interior dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Many impressive chapels and amazing paintings. The architectural remains (e.g., mosaics, columns) of two previous basillica (early 1st century, and pre-7th century) are visible under the floors of adjacent cloister buildings.

Crossed the water-logged Adige River via the Ponte ancient Roman bridge. Climbed and explored the Roman Theatre, its multiple terraced vistas of the city, and its architectural museum.

Re-crossed the Adige. Wound through narrow, shop-lined streets. Wandered into the courtyard with the "famous" House of Juliet...of Romeo and Juliet fame. Tons of people rubbing the right breast of Juliet's statue...for true love? Intricate graffiti on most surfaces of the narrow entryway.

Bought an umbrella. The rain stopped. Returned to the Arena. Caught the #11 bus back to the train station. Bin 4. The 7:15 intercity train back to Venizia Santa Lucia...arrived about 8:45.

Oh look. Rain. Well...just a drizzle. Broke in my umbrella...its orange. Warded off the cool rain with food and drink. Two more fantastic pizzas from the Trattoria Da Silvio...Jeff tried the "Capricciosa" with ham, artichoke, and mushrooms. My Divola was top-notch. Two more cool refreshing beers.

In spite of travel-weary feet, we headed back out to wander the peaceful evening streets. As we hit Piazza San Marco we were immediately reminded of its late night beauty. Large puddles doubled the points of light. A quartet entertained a dessert audience and sent chords echoing across the Piazza. At midnight, the bell tower signalled the end of the day. And an unexpected surprise: the newly refurbished clock tower quietly added its chimes to the chorus above. And then the sounds stopped and the Piazza was silent.

Our last night in Venice, and we can't seem to say goodbye.