Saturday, April 7, 2007

Day 13

Woke up at 6, paranoid about missing the flight, went across the way to check the baggage and get our boarding slips. It took alot of time to get through the lines and finally to our gate, we were actually only 20 minutes early and we were at the airport a good 2 hours before. Went right onto the plane, happy to have had a great trip but also happy to be going home to see our youngest daughter and be just back at home. The plane kind of sucked, smaller than the one we had the other way and no personal tv screens, oh yeah and the trip is a good 2 hours longer :) but we made it to Denver, where we had a way too long wait for our next plane. By the time we were back in Boise, it was 23 hours after we woke up and we were dead, oh yeah and none of our bags made it.... out of 5 total checked bags only 1 made it to our final destination on time...but I must say the airlines were great about tracking it down and delivering it to our door....but they need RFID man... We were home around 10:30pm and we were all ready for bed, what a great trip and experience, can't wait to do it all again in 3 years!

Day 12

The trip back to Munich awaited us, we had to make it back to Harms (the place to drop the car off) and drop the luggage off at the airport hotel before 4pm and we were about 300 miles from Munich. I was really paranoid about missing the drop-off time (we had a 9am flight the next morning, so we had to make the cutoff time) we were packed and out of the hotel around 9am, later than I wanted, but I remembered I had a fast car :).

I hit the road on a mission, to make sure that little trip computer that currently projected our arrival time at 3:30 pm to drop and drop. I found a few rabbits through Northern Italy to follow and we were able to average over 90 mph for a good 2 hours or so (BTW I was amazed that even at this speed I was getting 24 mpg) and before I knew it the estimated time of arrival had fallen to 1pm. Once we hit Austria I slowed down, so did everyone else, I had remembered that Rolf had said that Austria was one big speed trap, so I forced myself to drop the speed to 62mph or so, it was painful and I felt like I was moving backwards almost...this made me realize how horrid driving in the states on the highway will be, this car was made to drive 100mph plus on the freeway (I came to find 110 was my comfort zone) and driving 65 is going to suck...hopefully I can find some good twisties that will satiate this feeling....

All of the sudden I saw the holy grail, the unlimited speed sign which told me I was back in Germany, it was a great feeling to wind the engine up again and hit some top speeds. It was at this time that I looked down and realized I was nearing the break in mileage point of 1400 miles, but this was a mixed blessing as I also saw I was only 20 miles from the Hotel Kempinski and would only have a few miles that I could really wind the engine up.

We found the hotel, great location feet from the Lufthansa booking counter that we would need at 7:20am the next day, we dropped the luggage off in the room and I took my oldest daughter in search of Thomas at Harms. Dialed the address into the nav and I realized this would be the last trip for a few months in the new ride, I also realized I had just crossed 1400 miles and decided to make it a good trip. It was really invigorating to take the engine beyond 4000 rpm, this is really where this engine shines and man does it shine, I had a blast in the few corners I had over the final 20 miles and got the car up above 130mph, even at this speed I felt like I could easily go faster but this was enough from me, I will save the 153 for the next trip :)....

Harms was easy to find, once you find the street go to the end of it and take the ramp on the left. One thing we did find was a great grocery store right next to Harms that has all sorts of great chocolates and food items that we picked up for gifts. It also has a ton of cheap bier, wine and alcohol, if you need a last minute place to pick this stuff up this is a great place and is way cheaper than any of the stores I had gone to during the trip, it is called Aldi Sud.

Parked the car in front of one of the Harms parking spots and went upstairs to Thomas's office. Filled out the paperwork and he called us a cab back to the hotel, we went down to take the front license plate off and record the final mileage, 1421. We went back up to finish up the docs and ran into a fellow fester that was looking to get back to the airport as well, so we shared the cab. Back at the hotel (BTW this hotel is perfect for anyone wanting to stay at the airport, it is super nice and a great final or first place to relax before or after a flight) and spent the rest of the day having a few drinks and a final dinner at the very nice and fairly empty hotel restaurant. Went back to the room and packed everything up, we were ready to go home.

Day 11

We awoke around 8am to pack up and get down to breakfast early. It always amazes me how long it takes to make it out of the room and done with breakfast with the whole crew and we were off to the Vatican around 9:30am. Before we had left we were actually able to get some free tickets to the papal event from the front desk, this meant we would actually get seats and not have to be way back, which was pretty cool.

We made it to the square and thru the security and thru the masses of people to find seats that were pretty far back but you could still see the stage well. The scene was crazy, a ton of people from all corners of the world, the only thing I can liken it to is a large sporting event, there was chanting of Viva pappa and flags from countries around the world. There were even signs people would hold up with messages to the pope, it was really cool. Once the papal music began playing people all got up on their chairs looking for where the pope mobile would emerge from. Then you could see the pope entering on the wide screen televisions on both sides of the square, the chants became louder and you could literally feel the anticipation of the crowd. I was really surprised once I finally caught a live glimpse of the pope as the pope mobile had no bullet proof glass, he was just riding in an open air mini car with no protection, I thought that was pretty cool. By the time the pope made it by us the square was very loud and we probably were about 30 feet from his caravan.

The ceremony began, it was pretty short, but they translated it into 7 different languages which made it pretty long and we were not out of there until around noon. We took a final look around and exited the square, it was a great experience and really interesting to see the world wide affection for the pope that really took me by surprise. We headed off to find a few more trinkets before leaving for Verona, we found a great open air market that is just 4-5 blocks from the Vatican that had everything under the sun, it was like a less touristy version of Seattle's pike place market, we picked some great fruit and we were off to Verona.

Oh yeah, I forgot, I get to drive through Rome again before leaving with my brand new car. I was pretty anxious to get this over with and it went as good as can be expected, we were out of the main city in around a half an hour and I did not even kill any scooters! The nav told us where to go, which was more or less north for 300 miles and we were there in no time. Verona is a pretty run down city, but I guess a lot of cities in Italy look like this in areas, so maybe we did not go through the more kept areas, we found our hotel, which was dated but really nice and fell into our room having been fairly drained from the trip and our time in Rome, my wife continued to be sick, so my Mary and I headed out to find an ATM and some aspirin.

By this time it was beginning to get dark and we really had no idea where to go in Verona, so we went towards an ATM we saw and began to walk the streets. We were able to be successful at the ATM, but we could not find any sort of store, as all of the gas stations were gas only (found this to be a pretty common thing in Italy) and so we wondered a bit further. Darkness sat in and we were not finding anything, I decided to take a different route back to see if we could find a store, that was a mistake..... after about a mile or so I realized my new route had taken us in an unexpected direction and we were lost, well not really lost but we had to go back the way we came and we had been gone for a good hour from the hotel. Luckily I was able to recall the route back and we arrived back at the hotel, but we had no aspirin and no idea of where to go for dinner.

This is when it happened, we almost sunk to the lowest of low levels and go to a McDonald's for dinner...yep I said the M word. Luckily my wife decided she was up for going downstairs to the hotel restaurant and we avoided the worst of the worst No No's of what to NOT do when going to Europe. The restaurant we went to was a trip, it was nice but very kitschy, we sat down and looked around, there were 5 other people in the restaurant and it was a 40 table restaurant. It was eerily quiet but we really did not care as we were hungry and getting tired. The dining experience ended up to be one of the best of the trip, the cuisine was top notch great flavors and presentation, I was astounded that dishes so fine came out of a restaurant in the basement of a dated hotel in Verona, but they did. I even had a half bottle of by far the best wine I had had all trip, it was a great meal and a good end to our Italian journey.

Day 10

Our original plan was to wake up early and head across the street and get in line for the vatican, but Christie continued to get more sick the night before, she even skipped dinner and stayed in while Mary and I went out again by ourselves. We ended up waking up earlier than yesterday, but not nearly early enough to beat the Vatican crowds. We had another great breakfast and went out to get into line. The line stretched for blocks, I mean blocks and this was no ordinary line, at least 10 wide at most points. Grace and Christie got into line and Mary and I decided to head off to do some shopping (and get out of some que waiting) we went off and found several new items to add to our growing amount of gifts and trinkets to take back home. After about an hour we headed back to find the line moving very quickly, but still at least another half an hour wait. We bailed again on the line and went up to deposit our goods in the hotel room, we came back right when the line turned towards the home stretch, down the final corner before the entrance and got back into line with a further ailing Christie and an impatient 6 year old.

As with many sites, we had to go through a security check and then wait in another line for tickets, fortunately this only took a few moments. The kids were again free of charge, this has really turned out to save us quite a bit of money on the trip and an added bonus to having young children in tow. We went thru the gates and ascended the stairs and then looked at each other wondering where in the heck to go, so we went to the one place everyone wants to go, the sistine chapel. To get to the chapel you go thru room after room of amazing things, to the point you begin to get used to the amazing sites and continue into the next room with barely a moments stop to view what was in front of you, instead choosing to go directly to the chapel. We felt kind of bad about this, but at the same time, we knew this place was immense and we would only have time to view a few top things on the list, so made the best of it and sought out those.

One of the interesting things about getting to the chapel was one of the final areas you go thru is actually rooms of religious modern art, kind of throws you for a loop after looking at the antithesis of this type of work for hours and then you are back into a few more typical rooms and finally into the chapel. You enter to find a mass of humanity through ought, it was literally wall to wall people, I was very surprised to find the chapel to be so large, I had always had the idea that this was a small cozy chapel, instead it is quite massive, it is almost 70 feet tall and over a 130 feet long. The entire thing is overwhelming, as much of the rooms at the Vatican, and with the throngs of people it really makes it hard to enjoy the experience. I mean do not get me wrong, it was amazing, but there is definitely something lost with the large crowds.

We exited the chapel fairly quickly and were out to find a quick bite to eat, well like everything else at the Vatican nothing is quick and we had a 25 minute wait for some fairly bad tasting pizza and sodas, but it still hit the spot and gave us a quick rest. We went on to go through several different areas seeing countless pieces or sculpture and paintings, it was a great day, but the museum closes early and we were back at our hotel around 4pm.

After a quick pit stop and Christie continuing to not look too well, we went off to see Saint Peter's Basilica and the square that is so famously shown whenever any large even occurs at the Vatican. To get there you basically go around the area of where the line to the Museum was and continue onwards around the side of the Vatican wall until the wall opens up to the large square. Again you have to go thru security to get in, but the line here was quick and the cost was great, free. We went around the half circle walk way that encompasses one side of the square and made our way into the Basilica. Obviously everyone knows that this is a massive structure, but I really had no idea the extent of it. It was more like 10 gigantic churches put together into one, with display after display of amazing wall paintings accompanied with the body or relic of a saint at the base of the display. Several of the bodies can actually be seen thru glass, the corpse's have death masks on and all you can really see of the man is possibly a hand here or there, but it is still quite creepy and I had no idea that there were actual bodies entombed in the basilica, actually more than a 100 including 91 former popes. The entire church is so grand and so ornate that there is no way to really put it into words, I know I had read several accounts of it and still was totally caught off guard. I highly recommend anyone who goes to Rome to go to the Basilica, it is an amazing experience.

After the basilica we walked around the square and marveled at the whole area and headed back to the hotel. Once back we were pretty beat, especially my wife, she continued to tough it out but was getting more and more sick. We had needed to do some laundry, so I took my daughter Mary out to find the laundry (still had several items with puke on it!!) mat and scope it out. We came back with a plan to go do some laundry and catch a late dinner, Christie did her best to be excited to go out, but she was more or less out of it. We went down to the laundry mat and encountered a very cool Italian lady who was the laundry mat attendant, who helped us get the machines going. We were it business, but the it began to rain pretty hard outside and was getting late, we realized we had to hang around till the laundry was done, so Mary and I again went out to get some umbrellas and scout out a restaurant. Mary and I came back and waited out the drying cycle and we were off to another local restaurant, this time we found a pretty good one and sat down for another good meal. After being there for a bit and drying off the group next to us engaged us talking about how quickly their kids grew up (they had 2 of their kids there in their mid twenties) we continued to chat as their kids left early, turned out it was their 36th wedding anniversary and they were Roman transplants from Indiana who had retired and gone back to school in Rome. It was nice to talk to some kind of locals in English and they gave us some good insight on life in Rome and also told us about a special papal ceremony that was to happen the next day at 10:30am, this made my wife perk up and she began to get excited about the possibility of seeing the pope and experiencing a ceremony during easter week.

The papal ceremony was not really in our plans, as we needed to get out of town early if we wanted to have any daylight in Verona, our next destination 500 kms away, but my wife had been so ill and she was so excited there was no way we were going to miss it. We went back to the hotel and arranged for an early checkout at 9:30am but to leave the car and luggage until noon and went to bed.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Day 9

We woke up late, 9am, went down to breakfast, again it was great, even omelet and crepes this time. By the time we left the hotel to go to the metro station it was already 10:30am, this would normally be an issue, but with the kids it really does not matter as we only have so many hours of "quality sightseeing time" with the kids and there is no way we can be on the move from 8am until 10pm, so a few hours late or early actually helps. We made it down to line A of the metro and purchased a biglietto that was valid all day on all of their city transport for 4 euros and the kids were free, so a pretty good deal. We headed to the main station to transfer to the line B that would take us to the coliseum. The lines were all very well marked and it was very easy to navigate even with 2 kids in tow and a ton of people around.

Made it to the coliseum, again much like the Duomo in Firenze, you exit the metro station and blam the coliseum is right in front of you. Like many of the things we have seen, you have seen it before from almost every angle, but there is something really special about seeing it in person. We immediately got in line for the coliseum, got suckered into doing the hand held tour (they get you by giving you a shorter line, so basically you are paying 8 euro extra to take cuts and get some recorded info on the site) and then we were in the coliseum. Again very cool and we spent a good hour or so walking thru the lower deck and upper deck, you have a real good birds eye view of the large triumphal arch that is just west of the coliseum and of the rest of the area from second floor. Not really too much to say, other than it was pretty amazing to imagine what that thing was like 2000 years ago and how difficult it must have been to construct...however I did not see any luxury boxes...

Once out of the coliseum we ventured over to one of the many food carts and got some not so cheap, not so good food... but it hit the spot and we were on the move to the amazing areas around the coliseum. We went over to the palatine area, the girls had to go to the bathroom and this literally took a half an hour, I went off to explore the Palatine by myself, it was pretty cool to see everything, but it made me wish I would have paid more attention to my history of civilization and history or art classes.

After the Palatine we went off to the Roman forum and saw what is left of original Rome, I really had no idea how vast of an area this was and how many buildings and areas are still left. Again it left us all floored and we walked up the hill back towards the metro to go back to the hotel as my wife started feeling a bit ill and the kids had had enough for now. We really only scratched the surface of the area that we were in so now I know how everyone says you need a week in Roma to do it justice, probably 2 with kids, but we were happy to see what we saw and even more happy to find our way back to the hotel room, where unfortunately my wife became more ill and it looks like we may have our first major hiccup with our trip. We had the vatican planned for tomorrow, we will see....

Day 8

We woke up a bit late again, but this was a travel day and we did not have very far to go to get to Rome, so it was not such a bad thing to have a few more hours of sleep. Again we had a great breakfast, I suppose I could stop mentioning this but we are enjoying them so much I can't help myself. I think we finally made it out of Fiesole around 11am.

Got in the bimmer and put in Hotel Alimadi's address into the nav, it plotted a course on the A1, which was fine with us and we were off......

First thing out of the gate the nav told us to take a left, the next thing I knew we were on this road that was big enough to BARELY fit two smart cars, let alone a 3'er and something else... we had about the most harrowing 2 minutes ever, dodging cars by inches, maybe inch, we made it down with no issues, but it was enough negative energy for a whole trip let alone in the first 2 minutes. We maneuvered thru the city, I say this in the most literal way as driving in this city consists of constant maneuvering and we were headed right towards the correct autostrada when the nav told us to turn right, I obliged and we were the wrong direction. We really had no way of turning around and I saw signs to Siena, which we had wanted to visit anyway, so we re-routed the nav for Siena and we were off.

The journey consisted of perfect BMW roads, curvy twisties everywhere, this was perfect for me and the rest of the family had amazing scenery to view. We were traveling thru the wine lands of Tuscany, it was truly quite perfect, well until both my kids began to vomit in the back seat. Perfection now turned to mass cleanup duty, luckily my wife was up to the task as I just kept "almost puking" at the site of it all. After a good 20 minutes of effort we were back on the road, luckily my wife had the forethought to pack for such a scenario so it was not as bad as it could have been, but it still sucked. We were only a few miles outside of Siena, we made it there shortly and found a place to park outside the main part of the city, which you more or less cannot drive into anyway.

Siena had a real medieval feel to it. The entry area was pretty dark and the roads very narrow, I began to wonder if we were going the correct way, but found a sign that told us we were, so we continued. It was Sunday, so we thought most of everything would be closed, so as soon as we found an open restaurant we sat down and had a bite. As with most of the meals, it was a simple one but very good, I had some veal tenderloins with porcini mushrooms that was really great.

After the meal we continued down the cobblestone road and found the Palazzo Pubblico, which is this really cool large open area that is lined with restaurants and shops. Again this area even seems more impressive after the small streets you took to arrive to it. The area makes a great place for kids as well as they can run around and play with other munchkins. We spent a few minutes taking in the area and wished we had more time, but we did not and we still wanted to find the local Duomo. We went back onto the small streets and followed the signs to the Duomo, not really expecting much we came across the amazing church. For some reason I thought Siena being a smaller town it would not have as much of an amazing building, I was wrong. It was just as amazing, although a bit smaller, as the duomo in Firenze. We had time just to walk around it and snap a few pictures and we were off back to the car to make it to Rome before it was too late.

Back into the car we set out to find the non-twisty roads, aka puke proof, hence made it to the A1 and towards Rome. About 70 miles outside of Roma I noticed the speed of traffic begin to pick up, the next thing I knew the general flow was going 90mph and I was doing over 100 fairly often, this made for a quick trip but a bit stressful as the amount of traffic also increased, but the road was still only 2 lanes, so there were a few 90mph to 50mph braking scenarios that were not the most fun, but the bimmer was up to the task and we were all of the sudden 7 miles from our hotel and in bumper to bumper traffic. Now the traffic in Roma is crazy, but I found it a bit easier to drive in than Florence, primarily I think because I did not have to traverse thru the middle of the city, as our hotel is across the river next to the Vatican, however there were several times where the traffic was 5 wide on a 3 lane road, but you just gotta go with it and you will get where you are going before you know it. I am still not used to the scooters and motorcycles coming up on both sides and wiping in and out of traffic, but I feel a bit easier driving now. Still I was very relieved to make it to the hotel.

Our room is very nice, especially for Roma standards, marble floors and two queen size beds. We are literally across the street from the Vatican, outside our window is a 40 foot wall of bricks that make up the huge wall to the Vatican and about 100 yards down is the entrance to the museum.

Once we were settled into our room it was dark and a Sunday, so we were not too sure about venturing out for dinner. My wife and eldest daughter decided to stay in for the night and my 4 year old and I went out in search of pizza, bier and gelato in that order....we found both just a half a mile or so away at a great pizzaria that had a healthy flow of Nastro Azzurro bier. The pizza was great and we were good and full, but not too full for some more gelato, think this makes visit 12, unfortunately I had the idea of getting creative with my flavor choice with licorice and coconut, this made for a horrid concoction that all should avoid. Fortunately, my daughter was more intelligent and chose white and dark chocolate, so I stole some of hers. We headed back with extra pizza in tow for Christie and Grace back in the hotel and we were down for the night.

Day 7

We woke up a bit later than we have been, around 8am and did not get down to breakfast until 9am. The breakfast was again a great treat, as I had read this is pretty much a European thing that you can expect to have in most hotels, we have become quite accustomed to the large morning meals and even the hard core meats we have been eating. Not sure if this will carry over to our normal lives back in the states, but it sure seems like a good idea.

We made it down to the bus stop in front of the hotel around 10am, just missing the bus, had to wait about 20 minutes for the next one to come.We were able to purchase tickets in the hotel lobby, but much like Munich, once on the bus there was no one checking for tickets, it was all pretty much on the honor system and you insert your ticket stub to be timed stamped and you are good to go. We rode the bus down the hill, marveling at how the bus did not hit the crazy traffic around us. The bus stops right in front of the Duomo, or the big ass church in the middle of Firenze. So we get out, look up and it is just an amazing site, does not even seem possible that we are just plopped down where we were. Of course you have about a second to check out the site without getting bumped from behind because of the mass of people crossing the intersection, so we quickly made our way across the street and moved out of the way to take in our surroundings. The area is quite dark, primarily due to the massive duomo looming above not allowing any light in to the below streets, but also the buildings around are very tight and the roads very small. We immediately go into the first line we saw, which was to enter the stairway that would take us up to the dome. To tell you the truth, we did not really think about what this meant, we really did not think this meant all the way to the top, but of course it did. We ascended a spiraling passageway that was like going into a dungeon. The stairway was worn down thru years of use and there were quite a few people in front of us that would be good and bad, as it allowed for some breaks, but it took quite a bit of time to go all the way up. I was really happy that none us are closterphobic, as this would have been torturous for someone who had issues with small places. About half way up you come out to a large walk way the goes all the way around the base of the dome, you walk half way around and you can take pictures and view the church below, it was pretty neat, but the large glass safety wall kind of takes away from the experience. Once back in the stairwell we all figured we would be going down, but no, more stairs and straight up, all the way to the top of the dome, where you have to ascend this ridiculous stairwell that is almost vertical, but we made it and had a view of the entire city, this being, I believe the highest structure in the city. It was great, but my oldest daughter started getting a bit afraid of how high we were and we went back down, which was another adventure as the first part you are dodging people coming up, this is very similar to the driving experience in Florence, that being a stairwell large enough for 1 person yet needing to accommodate 2, but again we made it and we were happy that was the first journey of the day rather than the last.

After all of that, we rewarded the girls with gelato, this would be a reoccurring theme as we continued to do more walking and touring during the trip, in fact a goal of 20 gelato visits was set, by the end of the day in Florence we were up to 7. We walked around the square in front of the Duomo and took in the North and South doors of the baptistry, really a cool site and it isn't every day that you are feet away from a pope, albeit a dead one. Our next "must see" was the David, so we found the Galleria de Academia, where the David resides and again got in line. This line was brutal, it moved at a snails pace, I think it took about an hour to move the 100 yards or so to the entrance. Once in you have to go thru metal detectors and such, then there is a warm up room, I think this is a kin to the warm up band for a big act, there were several large paintings and then you went into a room that has "the slaves" (the half finished statues that were originally in the Medici's garden) and then at the end of the room there he is. It is truly pretty amazing to see it in person and probably worth the long wait. We went thru the rest of the small museum and then exited out the doors, wondering why the heck the dang line took so long as the area in the museum was quite large and such. We continued back to the Duomo square and wondered around a bit more, once we had our fill of the local tourist stores we decided to start wondering away from the duomo and find the river Arno and the many museums and sites around it.

Traveling thru the streets is really cool, as long as you stay on the main areas there are gelateria's and stores all around and we never really felt fearful for our safety or anything like that. Just wondering around you see buildings that are amazing by normal standards that line nearly every street, it is fun just getting somewhat lost on the way to your destination and luckily we were pretty good at that. We found the Uffizi museum as well as the museo di storia della scienza, unfortuanetly it was too late to partake in either, but we were able to walk around the scienza square that has all the statues of the famous contributors to science, most notably Gailelo. I was pretty bummed to not be able to see the early science instruments in the museum, but were somewhat relieved not to have to drag the kids thru it.

Following the square, we continued down the river to find the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, the one that has the pathway above it that was used by the Medici family so they could cross the river away from the minions. This bridge has stores lined on both sides, much like the bridge in Venice, and an amazing view in the middle. Once across the river you come across the gigantic Palazzo Pitti, this looks like a monstrous 16th century administration building, but of course they did not really have those, so instead it was someone's house, Luca Pitti's. Pitti was trying to one up the Medici and built this amazing mansion, but his finances took a turn for the worse and the Medici's eventually bought the house and turned it into their family residence. They continued to add to it for several hundred years and today it is basically a very large museum that could easily take a day or two to fully tour. Again, we did not have the time, but we did sit out on the large embankment soaking up the sights and sounds of the area while eating some pastries from a local bakery. The kids ran up and down, down and up and met a little friend, so they had a good time as well. By now it was starting to get a bit late and we wanted to get on the bus before it was dark, so we headed back, getting another Gelato of course, several sandwiches and a bottle of vino, to catch the number 7 back to Fiesole and our palace of a hotel room.

Caught the bus with no issues, but by this time it was completely dark, so we really had no idea where our bus stop was. Due to complete dumb luck, there happened to be someone else on the bus that was from our hotel who did know where the stop was and we were back home safely. Ate the good grub and had a pretty decent bottle of Chianti, again I highly recommend the wine over the overpriced water in Italy :).

Friday, March 30, 2007

Day 6

We awoke around 7am, good and rested from the day we had in Venice. No one much felt like walking anymore, so the plan was to have a hearty breakfast and take off direct for Firenze. We partook in the hotels breakfast, same cuisine, which was again very good and before 10am we were off for Florence, actually Fiesole, which is a town in the hills east of Florence.

Once back in the car, I remembered how nice it was to have such a vehicle on this journey. Even though I have not had proper time to get acquainted with the 3er, I already have great confidence in how well it handles, it made me feel very confident even though I had no idea what was in store for today’s drive, especially what driving in Firenze would be like, as I had heard it was somewhat stressful and difficult to navigate.

As soon as we made our way from the Santa Chiara parking lot it began to rain, this was the first sign of poor weather we have had thus far, so we were glad it was occurring on a travel day as walking the streets of Venice soaking wet did not sound at all appealing. We headed out of Venice, across the long water way and onto the autostrada heading southwest towards Firenze. The weather really started to get bad as we began to ascend into the mountains and thru the tunnels, we only reached about 2000 feet, but at that point there was dense fog and the rain was coming down something fierce, made me feel like I was in Seattle, however as always the car kicked ass, no hydroplaning, no issues with the real wheel drive, nothing but solid handling at fairly high speeds. The one thing I have to say is how narrow some areas of the autostrada are, especially around the tunnels, passing trucks at high speed was pretty scary, but there were no issues and we began to descend down to a few hundred feet above sea level, at this point the rain subsided and the weather cleared up.

All of a sudden we were literally in Florence, it really took me by surprise as I had been preoccupied by the weather and had not paid attention to the trip computer. We ended our journey on the autostrada, total toll cost of 15.60 Euros and were plopped down right in Florence. I was pretty prepared for a crazy driving experience, so at first I was like ”hey this is not bad at all”. Literally I said this to my wife, but slowly I started to understand what people were talking about as scooters would pass on both sides of my car, cars would be 3 wide on a two lane road, or people would literally pass other cars on downtown streets, swerving into oncoming traffic to do so. It was pretty surreal, but nothing too bad, I think it is just something that you have to get used to, it also helps to be decisive, which is obviously pretty hard to do in a place you are utterly unfamiliar with, even with the navigation system.

We traversed thru town, I think we might have made it hard on ourselves by making a wrong turn which caused us to go directly thru the city to get to Fiesole, but it was a good experience since nothing bad happened and we made it thru town and into Fiesole.

When going into Fiesole you go down this huge hill and then back up another huge hill, the road is very narrow and I was a bit preoccupied by paying attention to the passing cars side swiping my mirrors (none did) that I missed the turn to the city, but the nav immediately re-routed us to a loop that came back to the city, so I continued to follow the narrow road and then all of a sudden like a little miracle there was a sign for our hotel on the right hand side, I had actually forgot the address of the hotel and had heard it was a bit hard to find, so this was a real coup. We pulled up their very steep cobblestone laden road to find an oasis of goodness. This place came highly recommended from many members of bimmerfest and I can see why. It is situated right above the town of Florence, you can see the entire city from their parking lot. We went into register and they sent help out for our bags and treated us like royalty, it was a real treat and much different from our experience in Venice. We went up to our room to find an amazing marble floored room with 12 foot ceilings and a great view of the city. The room was just gorgeous, with an amazing bathroom to boot (with a full shower and tub). This place is meticulously clean and the front desk is more than willing to help you navigate your way to the bus stop (that will take you to Florence) and anything else you may need. The kids were a bit disappointed to hear that the pool was seasonal and closed, but beyond that this is about as good as it can get for the price.

After settling into our room, we decided to take a short drive into Fiesole for a late lunch. The town itself is very quaint, we found a small pub that had sandwiches and small pizzas, we sat at the bar and consumed the goodness placed in front of us, food always seems to taste a little better after a trip and this was no different. We then made our way next door to the gelato store, the kids had chocolato and I took a chance on tiramisu, while Christie had a cappuccino. It was a great pick me up and we headed back to our hotel as the wind made walking around the town a bit uncomfortable. We spent a few hours relaxing and enjoying our grand room and then went to the hotel restaurant for dinner, realizing we had a full day ahead of us in touring Florence.

Day 5

We awoke around 7 am and headed down to the hotel’s breakfast. We were wondering what it would be like in comparison to the one in Germany. To my surprise it was somewhat similar, although a bit lighter on meats and cheeses, but they still had them along with numerous breads, cereals, fruits, jams, eggs etc…. and of course it came with cappuccino or cafĂ©… we went with the cappuccino and were not disappointed.

Headed off to Venice, went across a few bridges and ended up on the main street that went along the main canal and headed towards San Marcos square, which was somewhat our main destination, but we were really just aimlessly walking.

Anyone who has ever been here knows that Venice is basically one big tourist attraction, I had the feeling of being in Disneyland, but with churches and architecture instead of rides. Venice even has the characters, the masked men and women that pose on the streets for change, we stopped at the first ones we saw and snapped a picture with the kids and my wife, pretty cool and they were very nice. Another goal of the day was to pick up masks for everyone, we told the kids they could pick out the one that they wanted most and we were going to do the same. We went from shop to shop looking at the glass trinkets and masks that were seemingly everywhere and I mean this quite literally, almost every shop had some of both and there are a million shops in Venice. If the shop did not have masks or glass, then it was chalk full of some delectable delight, from Gelato to chocolate and an endless assortment of baked goods. The US could really learn from this type of fresh and quality food choices that we just do not seem to have. Even in the local grocery store they had an amazing selection of all high quality foods and we are all loving the selections we have around every corner.

The thing that really amazed me about Venice is how easy it is to get lost, I mean one turn and all of the sudden you are in some deserted alley way and the streets are haphazard and go in all directions. There were some signs to navigate by, especially to the rialto bridge and San Marcos, but beyond that I found it pretty tough. Even with a map it was difficult as many of the names on the buildings for the streets would not match. The one constant is you could easily tell if you were off the beaten path by the utter lack of shops, the main streets they are ubiquitous… having said this, we were probably only “lost” a few times and only for 10 minutes or so, but I never felt comfortable that I really knew how to traverse the city, just knew enough to stay on the main paths and such, which worked out for us.

We stopped for lunch and had a great pizza (prosciutto, mushrooms, yellow peppers) , a small cheese pizza round and a small half sandwich, it was great sitting out in the main street watching the people pass and just enjoying the great weather which was clear and sunny. We continued down the winding streets stopping and looking for masks and trinkets as we went and having a good time. Venice is really fun, it is completely touristy, but it is so different and so delectable it was a real treat and somewhat a surprise to us all.

We eventually came to the Rialto bridge, amazing bridge that goes over the grand canal. It is a huge bridge with 3 different rows of shops along it, we crossed and walked for a bit and very quickly found ourselves lost, it took a bit but we realized that we had already crossed the grand canal and we were on the correct side to find San Marcos square, so we double backed and followed the masses. You very quickly realize you are going the correct way as the shops turn from trinket shops to Gucci, Ferrari and the likes… soon we could see the light, literally the end of the rather small road we came has an opening at the end that opened to the immense square.

The square is amazing, I think it is heightened by the fact that the rest of Venice there is NO open space at all and then all of the sudden you emerge into this gigantic open area with buildings that just take your breath away. We decided to go into San Marcos church and went up the stairs to the horses, as the sign says. The stairs were really cool, it was like ascending in a dungeon and you could feel the impressions of the millions of people who had made this trip over the past years as the stone literally had foot marks worn in it. The kids were a bit scared, but with the help of a modern railing that has been more recently installed, it was not too bad. At the top we realized why so few were going this way, there was a fee and a mini-museum upstairs, 6 Euros later we were in and looking at some amazing sites.

I recommend anyone going in the church to go up the stairs and pay the money, because the view is amazing. You get to look over into the entire church from above and be that much closer to the amazing mosaics that cover all the walls and ceilings. The little museum is pretty cool as well, this is where the horse mystery ends, as the original 4 horses that are outside the building reside, they replaced them with replicas outside. The best of this whole stop is you get to go outside on the balcony where the 4 horses are, there is a great sitting area along the wall and you have a bird’s eye view of the entire square. We basked in the sun up here and took a much needed break for half an hour or so, it was great. After this time we went down and toured the square, lots of high end shops, not exactly in our price range this trip, but we did manage to have 5 euro hot chocolates and cappuccinos and we were off to find our way back to the hotel.

Right off on our way back we ended up down an alley that did not look familiar at all, we ended up doing a giant circle going by the huge open air fish market that was shutting down for the day. We dashed thru the bloody fish gut cobblestones and came back to where we began. This time we made a discreet effort to follow the masses and keep to the busy streets, what took us almost 6 hours to navigate on the way there, probably only took about 45 minutes on the way back, we only stopped to pick up our masks that we had been searching for all day and we were back at the Santa Chiara before we knew it.

Once back at the hotel, we took a break to relax, the kids were pretty much done for the day and we relaxed before going out to dinner. This again consisted of some quality bier brought from Munich for myself and some juice and other odd treats for the kids. We ended up just going down the main canal about 400 meters to the second restaurant we came across, a real quaint little place where we all had various pastas, mine carbonara and it was fantastic. We also had some Chianti, it was great, especially for the price paid. We headed back to the hotel and crashed good and hard.

Day 4

Woke up early, around 6 am and everyone got ready to go down for breakfast, yes more meat and cheese please. This time we were early, so we got the best selection, once again it was a great start to the day, especially today as we planned to drive all the way to Venice. Finished up breakfast and went upstairs to pack everything up for our departure. We were all ready to go when I realized I only one of the two keys for the bimmer… Ok at this point I have to say I kind of freaked out, since I basically lost this thing the day after I received it and that if the car was stolen and I could only produce one set of keys I would not be covered by the insurance policy thru BMW. I ravaged thru all the luggage, actually started taking it out to the car piece by piece to see if the CA system would activate when the luggage was near….nothing was working. We were down to our final small bags when it hit me, I had placed FOB number 2 in the cell phone holder of my backpack, I never put anything in this spot usually so I never thought of looking there…Ok crisis averted and we were off to Venice.

Now Rolf said that we should put Venice in as a destination and select to “avoid tolls” thru the navi. I did so and it plotted out a route that was east of Innsbruck, I had always planned on going thru Innsbruck but since we will be returning that way I thought what the heck. We proceeded thru the city of Munich and finally we were out of town and on our way. I have to say the navigation system is really cool, anyone who has driven here knows that there are numerous round a bouts, the navi is fully aware of these and tells you exactly which exit to take, even displaying a picture of where to go… this was really helpful, without it we would have gone in a few circles to say the least.

The way the computer sent us thru southern Germany and Austria was really cool, we went thru a slew of small towns and talk about twisties (if it were not for my daughters in the back we would have had some real fun) it was really a fun trip, slow, but fun. I think we hit 5500 feet elevation and we went by at least 4 ski resorts that still had their gondolas running. The road was totally clear of snow or ice and the temperature never went below 34F. If I would have known this route would have taken us up so high I am not sure I would have taken it, as I was avoiding any possibility of snow driving possible, but it was such a cool trip I am glad we took it. I think the same route a week before and we would have been in some serious snow trouble….

I think we went thru Austria and I did not even realize it, the next thing I knew there was an unmanned Italia border gate and a sign that said as much and we were in Italy. I think our first site in Italy was of two police (the military Northern Italian kind) having pulled over a car in front of us bearing machine guns, yeah machine guns… I think I read about this before, but it is a pretty crazy site to see in person, glad we were not the ones who were pulled over or I would have been crapping my pants. Once into Italy we slowly came down in elevation eventually getting all the way down to sea level with the temperature rising to 60F. Once at this level we passed an endless amount of vineyards, the vines were still bare, but they were pretty amazing to see. It seems that everyone had a vineyard and the vines were thick and very old. At this point I also began to experience the oft noted Italian driving style, cars would come up behind me, I would be in the right lane, but the car would be straddling the lines, basically taking up both lanes and then at the last minute would swerve into the left lane to pass me. This was not an isolated incident, it happened quite often and when we exited to go to Venice there was a single lane to make the exit, but the cars were 2-3 wide with people trying to weasel their way in.

Once off the main road we were off to Venice, not too far we encountered the road that goes across the water and brings you to the parking area and the large bus turn around. We had reservations at the Hotel Santa Chiara, this hotel is the only hotel that has a parking lot in Venice and from viewing it on Google Earth I knew where the hotel was, however there were some pretty large signs that said busses only, so I ended up doing a circle and the next thing I knew we were going back the way we came. I flipped a U-turn, as best I could with all the traffic and went back, this time I ignored the signs and navigated thru the 30 or so buses and masses of people to find the hotel parking lot gate. We were able to get up on the curb so we were off the turn around, but the whole area is swirling with people, as it is the main entrance/exit to Venice. My wife jumped out of the car and soon had the gate to the parking lot opened and we were able to park.

Inside the hotel, the man asked for the keys to the car, which I was a bit hesitant to give up with the insurance issue noted above, and all of our passports. I was somewhat wondering what was going on, the man did not explain why he needed any of it, so I finally asked what was going on and in broken English he basically said I need everything and I will give you the passports back at some time in the future. Not knowing what else to do, we went along with this and headed to our room. The room was very interesting, about 10 feet lower ceilings than our last hotel and very rustic, bordering on cheesy, but after knowing Venice a bit more it kind of fits.

We went out for dinner, we ended up going the wrong way, if any way is the wrong way in Venice, and were down a pretty quiet stretch of street. We did find a few restaurants and ended up at the one with the most convincing salesman at the door… FYI probably a good rule of thumb to avoid the restaurants with the hard core salesman at the front… The meal was fairly good, the pasta (both ravioli and spaghetti) were amazing, I made a mental note to myself to order the pasta dishes going forth as it was just amazing food. We also had the house wine and a few fish that the waiter deboned at the table for us. The meal would have been great if we would have lost the fish and focused on the pasta, but it was still decent, but it was also a bit pricey, coming in at over 110 euro…. Later we would realize this is somewhat standard fare, but if you went to more competitive areas you could get the same meal for half.

Headed back to the room and crashed hard, we would have a full day in Venice tomorrow and some serious mask hunting to do.

Notes: the longest tunnel I have ever gone thru was on the trip thru the dolomites

Got up to 128 mph in Germany, car still felt solid

In Italy they make all of the trucks drive in the far right lane (at least that is what it seemed) always thought this would be a good idea, but made for a hellacious traffic jam and some interesting exiting as you had to weave between trucks and could not read the signs

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Day 3

Day 3

Woke the next day at 7:30am feeling greatly refreshed, went downstairs to the complimentary breakfast and this is when it hit me, we were indeed in the land of MEAT and CHEESE. The Uhland has a great spread, consisting of all sorts of meats, cheeses, breads, cereals, juices and of course soft and hard boiled eggs. I had never really had such a hearty breakfast, but it was great and after basically missing dinner the night before it hit the spot.

BTW I highly recommend the Hotel Uhland for anyone who wants to stay in a very clean and friendly place, the hotel staff is great, they even called the airline for us and spoke german to get our luggage expedited. This hotel is not in the heart of the city, but very close to two different UBahn stops that go to the city center in just a few stops.

Once done with breakfast we headed out to the UBahn and to the Marienplatz. Getting to the Ubahn was super easy, the ticket machine was somewhat hard to figure out, lots of choices and even once I figured out the correct choice I did not realize that I needed to select the choice prior to putting the euro’s in, not after. Trial and error is a great thing and eventually we figured it out. Stamped the ticket at the entrance and proceeded…. The curious thing about the Ubahn is that there is no one really checking tickets and there are no gates or turnstiles or anything, it is almost all on the honor system, or at least it seemed that way…. The Ubahn itself was very clean and easy to figure out, another curiosity that we noticed is upon entering the Ubahn it was almost completely full with people, but you could literally hear a pin drop. Everyone was amazingly quiet, almost eerily so, this was definelty a trend and seems to be a cultural thing, at least in Germany. I for one really liked it, people were still very friendly but were respectful of other people’s space and such.

Exited the Ubahn and went up to the Marienplatz, this was really cool. The actual square is amazing and then almost every side street had a ton of shops and restaurants including open air fruit and vegetable stands that were filled with amazing fruit (we partook in the raspberries and apples). We went into a ton of shops, wandering thru the streets with no real destination in mind other than taking in the city and picking up a few gifts along the way.

We happened by the Hofbrau Haus down one of the side streets and decided to do lunch here since I had read so much about it on the Fest. It was a bit after normal lunch hours so the restaurant was pretty empty, we sat down and had a few glasses of the regular beer and ate a great meal. I had the roasted pork knuckle, not usually a fan of such meals, but this was really great. The kids shared half a chicken, which was also very tasty. Once done we went down to the gift shop and picked up a few trinkets, it was really a fun meal and a good time for our limited days in Munich.

Went back to shopping and purusing the rest of the area, very soon the munchkins began to grow weary of our foot travels and we picked up some quick sweet treats at a great bakery and headed back to the Ubahn and our hotel. Again, it was easy to navigate to the appropriate train and we were back to our hotel in 20 minutes or so after a quick walk.

Took a quick break in the room and then tried to figure out what to do with our last evening in Munich, since walking was more or less out, we decided to take a late trip to the Neuschwanstein castle. Headed down to the 335, plugged in the destination in the nav system and we were off. I gotta say the nav system was great, we were in rush hour traffic in Munich and never missed a turn or exit, there is no way I would have been able to do that without the nav.

The trip to the castle was very nice once we were out of the city limits, the road was one lane each way for the most part and had a few areas of unlimited speed, but the road was pretty curvy and the unlimited speed zones only lasted a short distance. One note of interest, at least something that surprised me was how often the speed limit changes here. I mean literally it will go from unlimited speed to 120km to 100km to 80 km in a distance of a 1000 meters and then all of the sudden it will be unlimited speed and then back to 100km and so on. It was really interesting and the one thing I noted was the limit, whatever it was, was almost never paid attention to by the locals, or at least by most of them…. The only area that these were really heeded were in the construction areas, which you pretty much had to go slow in due to the road conditions.

Got to the castle, it was pretty late, so most things were closed. We were able to drive almost all the way to the lower castle, but really just stayed in the car and saw both from afar. It was a very spectacular area. After a bit of gazing we headed back, stopped off at the local grocery store where I proved a valuable point, that bier is in fact cheaper than water, picked up 6 pints of fine Bavarian bier and headed back to Munich. The trip back was a bit hairy, in the dark with a new car on some pretty twisty roads, made it back around 8:30pm, again we were all so tired we skipped dinner and had some snacks, yes this means we are leaving Germany tomorrow having never eaten dinner here, but still having very full belly’s at all times.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Day 2


Arrived in Amsterdam around 9:30am local time, had about an hour and a half to make it to the next concourse, seemingly a quick journey, however it was quite a hike across the Amsterdam airport. Speaking of which, this airport was very cool, a ton of shops and it was spotless clean, even the restrooms we went into were amazingly pristine and I had my first run in with the oft noted urinal fly here, although I was a bit timid to be taking pics in the men’s bathroom, so no shots…

Made it to our final plane leg to Munich, the plane took off a few minutes late and accordingly arrived about 15 minutes late to Munich, no big deal, but Rolf was waiting for us so I wanted to get a move on. Deplaned and went to the baggage claim, first bag off was one of ours, unfortunately our second bag never showed up. Getting a bit antsy, we rushed to the Lufthansa baggage claim area to file a report (BTW this is the reason this report is late, our voltage converter was in the lost bag J…do I get a pass on the 12 hour rule??). Tried to give Rolf a call on his mobile, but no one answered, quite frankly I was unsure if I was even calling the number correctly as there was no voice mail. We were just about finished up with the paperwork with Rolf called, evidently he had left his mobile in the car and had been waiting patiently.

By the way, if anyone doing ED is wondering whether they should use Rolf, wonder no longer he is worth every penny, especially after getting in from a long flight with no sleep. Rolf brought a luggage carrier and a scooter for our eldest to traverse the airport with…pretty cool.

We arrived at Rolf’s new de-badged 3er diesel wagon, I think he said we were the first customers to ride in his new ride. Rolf took us directly to the delivery center, passing by the famous Allianz which looked like a big blow up circular raft, which can change colors depending on who is playing. All the while during the trip to the delivery center Rolf was giving us hints and tips on where and how to get to places, he was truly great.

Arrived at the delivery center around 2pm, although at this point things began to get a bit fuzzy coming up on no sleep for 24 hours. Handed my passport to Jody (I believe) and went upstairs for some meatballs and drinks (BTW I highly recommend the meatballs). Also, wanted to let everyone know that they DID ask me for my meal voucher card first thing, I am pretty sure that they would have let you skate without it, but it was definitely something that he seemed to need.

Not more than 15 minutes later our delivery expert came up to tell us the car was ready and to sign the final paperwork. It kind of took me off guard, as I thought it would take at least 45 minutes, but we were one of the only ones waiting, so maybe this sped things up. Finalized the paper work and reviewed what we needed for the Police if stopped, then it was time to go see the prize….

Went thru the slick glass doors and there she was, my specialty built 335, it was really a cool moment. After planning this thing for more than a year I was kind of wondering if it would be anti-climatic, but it was certainly not, if anything it was better than I thought. My delivery expert went thru the features of the car, her English was a bit poor, but she was super nice and I already had most of the information down from the hours of bimmerfest lurking. Meanwhile my kids began to show the signs of dementia after the long flights and began to go stir crazy racing around the delivery garage. I was about to go nuts, but then realized that they had been thru quite a bit and this was the first sign of kid crazies, which was pretty damn good. My wife was able to corral them soon enough and we were off, driving the new car In Germany. I must say this was a crazy feeling and thank god for the Nav or we would have been going in circles for hours.

We made our way directly to our hotel, the Uhland, and checked in. Unpacked our things and had a bit of a snack, mine consisted of an Augustine-Brau Pilsner from the honor bar, which hit the spot perfectly. All of a sudden a fog came over me, the next thing I know is it is 2am local time and I had basically passed out at 6PM, my family had done the same and awoke for a late night snack… again mine consisted of another Pilsner, and then back to sleep.

Day 1

Day 1

We (wife Christie, daughters Grace age 6 and Mary age 4 and myself) left the Boise airport right around 1 pm on Sunday afternoon March 25th, heading for Chicago, luckily the flight was a bit early, as we only had 50 minutes to make our next connection. Arrived in Chicago a bit ahead of schedule and made our way to the next concourse and our Star Alliance 767-300 plane that would take us to Amsterdam. Once on the plane we found it to be quite comfortable, especially compared to the regional jet we had been on. It was pretty strange as quite a few of the passengers around knew each other, it seems that they were just returning from a poker tournament in Las Vegas and were all from Amsterdam, they were all quite friendly and made for an enjoyable trip. Cool quote from my eldest daughter so far when overhearing the man next to us speak Dutch then English to her…. “Daddy that man knows how to speak 2 languages, that is so cool!”

Monday, March 5, 2007

A Griswald European Vacation

This blog will capture the travels of the Running clan through Munich, Venice, Florence, Rome and Verona. We will be arriving on March 26th and head directly to the BMW European Delivery center to pick up the sweet ride....