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 :).