Category Archives: Italy

Hiking to Monte Rosa!

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A couple of days ago, actually a day after getting back from our round-trip through Italy, my great-aunt planned a hike across a mountain range. We woke up at 6 to get into the car at 7 and drive for an hour and 20 minutes to Monte Rosa, the 2 highest peak in Europe. We looked so tiny!! At around 8:20 we started our hike up the side of a mountain. The range was in a U shape, with the Monte Rosa at the bend and the town at the foot. We started up the side and walked along the mountains. Hiking is so exhausting partly because you are constantly going up and down and by the end of the day we had gained 650 elevated meters, which is around 2,132 feet!

Why does it seem so far away?

We're getting closer.. or so it seems

The 4 girls, mom, and Tante Dori

We almost got to the foot of the Monte Rosa, but then we walked across the U, and a glacier. The glacier was covered in rocks that have tumbled down the mountain range, but once in a while you could see the ice underneath. There was a sharp drop off where the water flowed into a river and you could see the layers of ice. If it weren’t for the huge mountains staring you in the face, I would have believed we were on Mars. It seemed like there just was hill after hill of rocks!

The glacier and its layers

The landscaping on Mars

After a while we did get to the street though, where we walked down to the little town where the 2 cars were parked. A good trick my great-aunt taught us was while going downhill, you have to turn out your feet a little to put less pressure on your knees. As we reached the car and had ice cream after 6 hours of hiking the amount we walked and the height we hiked still amazes us. As you squint up the mountainside with the sun in your face you still ask yourself “How on earth did I get up there?”

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When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do: Adapt – and quickly!

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Unfortunately, Rome was a disaster for us. I guess not every place is our place, and it was a mess from the beginning. Here are some confessions:

  • We chose a place 20 min outside the city. The bigger the city is, the closer you have to stay! Rome is huge, and we like to take small breaks to recuperate, which wasn’t possible here. The apartment was also located in the Olympic Village, which had no atmosphere and was dirty, like a garden of cement. However, the apartment was big enough inside and was quirky.
  • On the first day we got out too late: we left the house at 10 o’clock! The transportation in Rome works pretty well… if you can find the bus stops. We walked around the city, to the numerous piazzas and little streets.Unlike Venice, we had a lot of trouble navigating the city, and we were tired quickly from the previous 5 days of intense traveling. We saved the sites, like the Forum and Colosseum for a tour we were going to take tomorrow. We booked a tour, specifically for children and families, that was going to be private for us and what we wanted to see. It was expensive, but we thought it would be worth it for us to understand what all of the ruins were about. Therefore, we walked to the Borghese gardens, which cover 148 acres of land!
  • In the middle of the night, Josephine had a fever and so the next morning Papa stayed home… She is better now!
  • We were supposed to meet the tour guide at the Trajan column. We spent an hour there, and the tour guide did not show up! My mom was mad and so were we, but there was nothing we could do about it. So much for the sites… Rome is so big we walked and walked and walked and at one point we just gave up, and got on one of those hop-on-hop-off buses where we saw the city on the top deck, with classical music and commentary. Finally something that worked out! We got out at the Colosseum and it’s incredible. When you think about who touched the piece of rock you are also touching, it gives you a whole new perspective. Gladiators, people in togas, ancient royalty, people you only see in history books probably were right where you were, a thousand years ago! And who knows who will stand there, a thousand years from now!
  

The Trevi Fountain

  • At the Circus Maximus, the ancient chariot riding arena, we waited for the bus at this stop. With our luck, we chose the company with probably only 2 or 3 buses and we watched in the glaring sun as tour bus after tour bus came that wasn’t our bus. So we stood there for a half an hour, but we got back on at last, and saw the President’s house, like the White House, Vatican city, and more. We stumbled home.

Circus Maximus and the Forum

The Santa Maria Maggiore, where the pieces of Jesus's supposed crib are

  • After dinner my dad and I went out again to do Rick Steves’ night walk through Rome. My dad was home all day and we were all tired, but I went along anyway. We walked by the Campo de Fiori, the Pantheon (which is just as amazing as the Colosseum, Trevi fountain and ended by the Spanish steps.

Can you say tourists?

The Pantheon!

In front of the Spanish Steps

  • To top off our mess, we almost had a train-missing incident. My mom and I went to buy postcards, but everyone else was on the wrong platform, since our train’s platform wasn’t shown yet. It got closer and closer to 1 o’clock and we were worried that we didn’t see them on platform 2, where the train was. We ran down the platform we left them at (probably the wrong one), didn’t see them, and so we hurried back to 2. My mom ran off to look for them at about 7 min to 1. They weren’t in the train and we finally found them as the train was about to leave: a perfect ending to our mess!

Rome is actually very cool, but a little gritty and we were woefully unprepared. Better luck next time!

Florence – just tripe it!

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If you ever are in Italy, you must try Florence! It was an amazing experience for us all. We arrived in the train station, as always, and looked around in our latest surroundings. However busy Venice may seem, you really realize how quiet it is once you hear all of the cars honking at each other once again. We took a taxi to our new apartment, located in the middle of the city in an area where no cars were allowed, save taxis and trucks for restaurant supplies. At the front doors of the building/former palace we met with the owner of the apartment and went in. This palace was owned by a rich family, their wealth displayed in the size of their front door (which was massive) and curved ceilings and a mosaic tiled lobby floor. Our apartment was probably just the cellar for meats or wine back then! It was perfect for us though and very cool because you could see the little engraved stones that decorated the corners and have an idea of how people lived, even if this was only one room in the basement. Having arrived tired, we went out for dinner in a little restaurant around the corner. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so good but we did find delicious gelato in the gelatiria where there are so many interesting flavors you wonder which one you will ever come by again!
On the first full day we walked into the piazza Signoria where the masses of tourists were already congregating. We saw the replica of the statue of David, which stands at 4 meters tall! On a diagonal we could see the gallery of the Ufizi museum, one of the most famous museums in the world. It’s built in a U-shape with one inside side columns (where the crowds now stand in line) and across from that there are many statues of philosophers put into stone arches. There are many statues of the gods and centaurs and such. Since we have read the Rick Riordan books which I recommend for kids, we could see the gods and who was who, or at least think we knew who was who. The rest of the piazza boasted a fountain with Neptune and his mermaids and a bronze statue of one of the Medicis and his horse.

David and family

In Florence be prepared to walk a lot! Our new rule (after a lesson in Rome) is: The bigger the city, closer the lodgings. Then it’s easy to go and take an hour off to rest because navigating through the busy streets and crowds is exhausting. After walking through the piazza Signoria we walked along the cobblestone streets to the Marketo Centrale. The streets were lined with little stalls selling hundreds and hundreds of bags and belts and other things made of leather. We were in search of this food market because it was supposed to be a cool thing to see according to Rick Steves’ book on Italy. After walking and walking we noticed a supermarket-like building on the street and wondered if we should go and get things to eat in case we can’t find the market. This turned out to be the market! It was a really interesting market under a glass ceiling, with all of the vendors selling very fresh foods. We found upstairs there was a festival called Wine Town and there were little vendors with only tasters. There were chocolates and olive oils, truffle pesto and jam, everything homemade in the Tuscana. We loved it. After discovering the little secret we went back downstairs and got some things on our list. There was a certain vendor that asked how many people you needed to feed and then took the sheets of pasta, put them through the machine in front of you, dumped the noodles on a piece of paper, wrapped it, and gave it to you. It was fascinating and the gnocci we bought were the best gnocci I’ve ever tasted! We had a small lunch in the market at a vendor where we paid for three dishes, got some random ones, and ate at the tables. One of these plates turned out to be tripe, which is cow stomach. My dad thought this was great and we should definitely try it!…the rest of us were a bit more skeptical, but we tried it… it was slimy and I didn’t like it at all but I’m glad I at least triped it!; my dad thought it was good, which none of us understood. It was definitely an aquired taste.

You can tripe it! You can tripe it!

Mom and the market: trying to get the cashiers attention in the masses!

We walked past the Pitti palace and found that the entire weekend was free for all state-owned museums in Italy because it was European Cultural weekend. This was really lucky for us and the line moved pretty fast so we hopped in and decided to go into the palace, instead of just the gardens, which we found out weren’t public anyway. After getting our first taste of waiting in line to see something, we walked in and went through a couple of galleries with paintings. They were all gorgeous, painted with incredible detail. The walls were all painted rich colors and the ceilings are indescribable. Gold statues of angels and such are in the corners and frame the entire ceiling like a piece of art, which it is. Bending your neck the entire time is annoying so I thought it would be a good idea to lay mats on the floor because the ceilings are incredible! We also saw statues that were labeled with 200 BC! Then we quickly walked through the “modern” gallery where the statues made in the 15 and 16 hundreds were described as more “recent” by my dad… As my sisters started to get cranky we pushed one last time and went into the costume gallery with clothes from a long time ago which was pretty interesting for them and then walked through the amazing gardens with tired feet. We did find a little hidden picture-taking secret, high on a hill with a perfect view of the Duomo.

The Pitti Palace

The Duomo from our hilltop secret

My mom and dad woke up early in the morning and went out to catch the morning light (their secret to picture-taking) of the Duomo which we saw from the outside. I found the color combination of the green, white, and pinkish orange very interesting. On the second day we navigated again through the streets of Chanel and Gucci stores and made our way to the Ponte Vecchio bridge, a bridge like a shopping mall but only with jewelers! We also ended up at the Ufizi museum which was free and waited in line for an hour and 10 minutes. When we saw the line at first it moved really quickly so we thought this was great, we’d be in there in no time… Instead, we found out that the line moved rapidly every 20 minutes where they let about 50 people in; we were about 200 people behind so it took a while. But it was worth it! I could have stayed in there for a long time… I saw the painting “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli, 2 of Leonardo da Vinci, and the sculpture of Romulus and Remus under the wolverine. The little tiny portraits are also amazing to look at very closely. I still can’t understand how the artists get people’s hands to look so real. My mom explained it was just something you need to see and she couldn’t have been more right.

The Ponte Vecchio bridge

The Leonardo da Vinci museum was recommended for kids because you could play with a lot of his inventions and we went in right before it began to pour buckets. It was ok, but for the price it wasn’t so good. My sisters loved it though! From then on we spent more time trying to be locals and walking around, going into churches (my sisters love love love lighting candles for our grandma) and eating gelato! With that our last day in Florence was over… everybody should try it!

46 hours of Venice

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From the moment you step out of the train station in Venice, you know that no place is the same. The roads are made of water and all that but no one can imagine it the way it really is! We stayed in a nice, tiny place that was off the beaten path that the masses of tourists have carved out. It was in an authentic neighborhood with a crumbling facade on the front of the building and dark green shutters. However, the inside of the apartment was probably recently redone and modern, with a very effective use of the limited space. At the vaparetto biglietti stand we got 5 tickets for 48 hours of transportation. This was a good decision since with 5 people (Josephine is free) riding the vaparetto, which is a bus that is a boat, it would cost about €30 each time! We took the vaparetto to our little neighborhood, dumped our 2 bags, found an alementari (supermarket). We had a nice dinner squeezed around the table and took a walk in search of some ice cream. Eventually we found that, as well as some nice pictures, the padlock bridge, and a feel of Venice for our first night.

 

The padlock bridge where newlyweds lock in their love and throw the key into the canal!

Venice on a beautiful night

There is so much to see in Venice that we got out of the door early aiming for the piazza San Marco. We got there with the vaparetto and walked into the amazing square. The church is beautiful from the outside, with each arch magnificently painted and elaborately carved into patterns. To see all of the little intricate details would take years! Before seeing all of these sites we learned how the Venetians wanted a special church and looted the city Constantinople for the treasures. The line for the church stretches incredible lengths! However, in one of the little back alleys we could drop off our backpack, get a ticket, and not wait at all! This was highly efficient because we only have 46 hours and definitely don’t want 2 of them to be spent in a line. The dress code is strict: no knees or shoulders. If you are showing either or both they wrap you in this cloth that looks like a burlap sack and you have to walk around holding it up like a towel. Thankfully we came appropriately dressed! The church is gorgeous, it is just something you have to see if you are in Venice.

The basilica San Marco

One of the beautifully painted arches of the basilica San Marco

Once we came out we poked around… You don’t always have to run from one site to another! After a must-see we just walked along the water and watched the black gondolas bob around in the dock. We had a quick snack in the garden and found our way to the Jewish ghetto. This was the first Jewish ghetto ever, actually designated as one in 1516. The duce (leader) separated the Jews onto this one undesirable area as a compromise between the anti-Semitic and the Jews. This was near an iron foundry, thus getting the name ghetto for the Italian word geto, meaning foundry. We had lunch there. A very cheap way to eat we found, was to get bread that morning and simply 200g of cheese and 200g of mortadella. Stick it into the backpack and we eat for under £15 for 6 people!

The Jewish ghetto

We walked through the market admiring the fresh fish section and the bright vegetables, most grown locally. The simple life and sites are sometimes the ones you remember most of all. The island of glass, Murano, was also a memorable experience. We arrived and were ushered into a store by a sales-manager for tour through the rooms and rooms of masterpieces. It was amazing, but only when our hands were clamped to our sides in order to not break a €10,000 piece! He led us to a glass blowing  demonstration and we watched a master turn a glowing yellow lump on a rod turn into a beautiful horse in  a matter of seconds. Although hypnotized by their beauty, we made a responsible choice not to buy a masterpiece and decided instead on necklaces from the less expensive stores!

Murano's glass blowing demonstration!

Way too soon enough our hours in Venice were spent. The sights and sounds of the boats chugging their way through the tiny canals and the laundry blowing in the wind, suspended over the water lapping the stone were one-of-a-kind.  The gorgeous church and other things we experienced were just as unique as the city itself.

One of Venice's many, many, many peaceful and quiet canals

Connecting to the internet in a piazza (the only place we could get any)

On the Rialto Bridge