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Report 1920: Rome, Tuscany, Venice & Amalfi for Beginners

By nikkihop from USA, Summer 2011

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Page 7 of 16: June 6, 2011 Day Six: Florence Duomo & Road Trip to Venice

photo by nikkihop

Duomo Terraces

Last day in Florence.  I get up at 6:30 and wander.  Since it was raining yesterday, I decide to walk back over to Michaelangelo Piazza to see if I can get a photo or two of Florence.  The piazza is deserted and has the best views of Florence.  They even have an open concession stand.  I wander back along the river and the Ponte Vecchio, still shuttered and deserted in the early pre-tourist morning.  I look at the Duomo in the early morning light and then find a military police parade warming up back in the Pizza del Signoria.  It looks like they're throwing some kind of awards ceremony with platoons of red feather crested helmets and rifle platoons; there are even K-9 units.  The small military band plays and they march around.  I take photos and then pick up three coffees to go and some pastries.  I drop one of the coffees on the way back to the apartment, so my morning offering to the girls is the pastries, and I drink the other two coffees myself.

We leave the day's itinerary up to the girls, and they decide to see the Duomo and then the Accademia Gallery to see the David, which we had meant to do yesterday before the rain.  The Duomo lines are crazy.  I read in Rick Steves that if you go to the Duomo Museum, you can buy tickets for the Terraces of the Duomo Tour for 15 euro a ticket and don't have to wait in the lines.  We buy our tickets for the English tour that starts at noon and, congratulating ourselves for skipping the mile long line, grab a snack and some drinks, and then walk over to the Accademia to see the David.  Doh!  It's Monday and the gallery is closed.  We actually came to Florence and didn't see the David.  I'm sad.  No one else seems to be.  The girls go off to shop while DB and I stroll.  We meet up for the tour and are gobsmacked by the accessibility this tour has.  You literally slip in the back door with no wait, meet your English speaking guide, and get an informed tour of the church itself before being led to a side door to climb a few hundred steps out to the outside of the church, where you walk along the parapets for amazing views of the city and the piazza far far below.  

Then, you are led to another side door where you can climb to the top of the dome on your own, or choose to go back down.  Unsurprisingly by now, DG1 and 2 go down while DB and I climb to the top.  It's only a hundred or so more steps and some winding corridors to get within a few hundred feet of Brunelleschi's frescoed dome.  Gorgeous. Magnificent. Wish you were here. We climb up to the very top to see a panorama of Florence from the lantern, take some photos and climb back down.

We venture back to the apartment to pack and call a taxi to drop us off at Hertz (again) to pick up the rental car and drive to Venice.  The girls do not seem happy to be getting back in the car. The third time is the charm.  After three trips in and out of the ZTL driving zones in Florence to and from the Hertz office on Maso Fineguerra, we managed it for the last time with no problems.  The car's GPS has this weird Darth Vader voice which gives us directions in slow motion. It's too slow to be helpful, so we rely on the Michelin maps I had downloaded onto my iPad "in case of emergencies." Another gorgeous drive through northern Tuscany and Perugia, winding through hills and tunnels, we head toward Venice. Approximately three and a half hours and another stop at the Autogrill for the worlds best panini, we arrive In Venice and pull into the convenient Hertz parking lot just over the bridge at Piazale Roma.

DG1 and 2 looked beat, and I worried about getting them and their bags over all the bridges and cobblestones to the B&B.  We all trooped over to the tourist information booth outside the station to get vaporetto tickets, and then trooped over to the fermata stop to catch the number 51 vaporetto to the San Zacharia stop, just past St. Mark's square. It was a beautiful boat ride over to the incredibly packed San Zacharia vaporetto stop, with the sun setting and clouds rolling in.  

We trundle our luggage over a bridge and down an alley or two to find the Locanda Querini, our B&B in Venice. We found the B&B without getting lost thanks to the old iPad and the maps I had downloaded. So far we were two for two on good hotels, so I was optimistic.

My optimism faded a bit when I found out they only had one room reserved for our four person party. I had booked two double rooms, but was told on arrival they only had one room by a sweet concierge with almost no English. No problem. This is why I have been learning Italian. I whipped out the iPad and showed the concierge the confirmation email I had received just a few days earlier(upon my request). I think he could tell from my I-am-a-prosecutor lawyer tone and look that I was not going to settle for one room. I didn't mean to scare the guy, but in moments he was on the phone with the owner. DB and the girls look nervous. I explain what's going on. The owner clears everything up by phone. The concierge was so sweet about it ... even offered to carry my bag up the one flight up the stairs. All crises averted, I chatted with him in my halting Italian to make nice nice.

We're shown to our rooms, which are charming in a Grandma's artwork kind of way. The girls' room is especially nice, as it looked out onto the sleepy Quirinal Plaza through four large windows with floor-to-ceiling brocade drapes and red geraniums in the window boxes.  Both rooms had private baths, Murano glass chandeliers and tall, tall ceilings and were spacious by European standards.  I paid €560 for two double rooms for two nights (approximately $198 per night per room). Not cheap, but a good price for Venice, and a great location.

We rested for a while and went out in search of food.  Looking back, I am ashamed to say I didn't place much emphasis on on restaurant research.  We are kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants when it comes to eating.  Although DG1 is a self-proclaimed foodie and an expert in health and fitness (she was a bit disappointed in the lack of vegetable and fruit selections on the menus in Italy), the rest of us will pretty much eat anything you put in front of us.

We sat down at the Da Aciugheta Ristorante around the corner from our hotel and weren't much disappointed, despite its being an expensive tourist trap (yet again).  We shared an order of bruschetta, then DB and I ordered the special - linguini di mare, a yummy mix of squid, mussels, clams, and various other shellfish on a bed of buttered linguine with basil.  I cleared my plate.  DG1 ordered an insalata mista and spaghetti, and DG2 ordered the salad with a pizza.  And of course, we all ordered wine, which came in a bottle, not a carafe like it did in Tuscany.  Hey, no problem.  We're flexible.  It was a long dinner and we sat at the table for hours watching people and chatting.  It was one of our most expensive meals, at €118.

DB had to do some work and left us girls to go find an Internet cafe that we saw on the short walk to the restaurant. The girls and I continued to drink and chat as only girls can do.  DB actually came back at some point to check on us and nothing had changed but the amount of wine in the bottle.  

At this point, the odd dynamic reasserted itself. The girls' trip was almost over since they were flying out in two days to go back home. After a bottle of wine or so, DG1 was feeling comfortable enough to let me in on her thoughts of the trip so far. I had met both girls before, but don't know them well. They don't live in Texas and we hardly ever see them. However, DG1 went on to tell me that this trip wasn't what she expected and that she and DG2 (who was silent throughout the discussion) were surprised I was even invited on "their trip." She told me this trip wasn't how they envisioned their trip, which would have started in Rome and then wandered at will without a plan or reservations. According to DG1, they would have slept in every day and then had a leisurely brunch before deciding the plan for the day. At a break in the harangue, I gently reminded her that DB and I are beyond the backpacking phase of our lives and that trying to fit three cities into an eight day span of time required a bit of coordination seeing as how we were staying in apartments and hotels rather than hostels. I also reminded her that it was they who decided to do three cities in eight days, and that they were asked to list the things they wanted to do in each city. After that, I just kept my mouth shut, apologizing that it wasn't the trip they wanted and keeping my thoughts to myself.

Now, I realize that a blog like this is a bit unfair because it's from my perspective and I'm not planning on sharing it with the girls. It wouldn't exactly be good for DB's family harmony. That being said, my thoughts at this point were basically that:

1) DB and I have been together a long time and split the costs of this trip down the middle, which meant I was paying for one of the girls, but was in the unenviable position of being told I shouldn't have been "invited";

2) if a cousin and his girlfriend had invited me on an all-expense-paid trip to Europe at 23 years old, I would not be looking a gift horse in the mouth;

3) DB and I made all of the decisions together and the fact that DB was off working instead of taking this conversation on the chin like I was was friggin' irritating;

4) this conversation would not be happening if DB were here. Apparently I am bad cop today ... and on this trip;

5) no more wine for either of you two spoiled ungrateful...(not going to finish that thought);

6) They have been drinking and they are apparently not used to getting up early and traveling extensively, so I will let this slide. I can always blog about it later.

Yeah. Okay, I feel a bit better. After my peace-making apology, DG1 had no steam left and DG2 had the grace to look embarrassed. DG2 was actually quite sweet about it and went pretty far to make up for the tone and content of DG1's rant. The girls and I walked a bit after dinner and then we all went back to the B&B. DG2, now nervous about what I would say to their generous cousin, actually walked me into DB's and my room and hovered uncomfortably. She hugged me goodnight and awkwardly left with what I can only imagine were uncomfortable thoughts about the discussion DB and I were about to have. DB was still busy working on his laptop and didn't notice. I went to bed without saying a word to him. I didn't trust myself at that point. We'll continue this on the morning of Day 8... (Don't you just love other people's dirty laundry?)

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