Saturday, October 23, 2010

Eating, Drinking & Laughing our way through Italy.

So the travel train continues! I'm currently sitting in Hawaii awaiting a flight back to Guam. It's been a whirlwind of a month! It all started with a "fun" Space-A trip back to San Diego. I had the pleasure of spending some time in my hometown, enjoying the luxuries of mainland life; Target, outdoor running, Nordstrom, freeways, Jamba Juice and about 53 other wonderful things Guam forgot about. The family and I flew back to Boston for a couple of days enroute to Italy at the end of the month. My dad grew up in Boston so it was fun to tour his hometown again. We hopped on a 747 and flew to Naples, Italy. My family along with two other couples Dave & Julie, and Karen & Frank rented a villa in Sorrento for the week. We had a fabulous time. Sorrento is a classic Southern Italian town, everything there; the people, the food, the scenery is beautiful...with the exception of the traffic. Italian drivers make Guam drivers look sane. I don't know how many times we came within an inch of moped or Smart car. Whew!

We began our time in Sorrento with lunch at the Excelsior Vittoria hotel for lunch. Dave's parents honeymooned at this very hotel 66 years ago while they were stationed in Italy during WWII. It was a pretty surreal experience for him and our tummies. Great food and the view was second to none. 

Our lunchtime view from the Excelsior Vittoria hotel!

Our week included a trip to Pompeii to see Mt Vesuvius and the ruins of the 2,000+ year old city. We stopped for pizza before starting our tour and didn't realize the size of the pizzas they served. Not wanting to waste any food we asked for it to be wrapped up. Expecting a foil package I could throw in my backpack we got a pizza box. So we were probably the only tourists to ever tour the ruins of Pompeii carrying a pizza box. It did come in handy when we stopped for a snack but otherwise it simply served as a running joke within our group!

We spent the next day touring the island of Capri. Many people who know me well know that I tend to get motion sick rather easily. So I'm always carrying Dramamine, just in case. Well we might as well have encountered the backside of a small hurricane, 12 of us were tossed and turned in a 20 foot motor boat amidst 4 foot swells for 3 hours. Dramamine or not, I was a goner. Apparently the views of the island were breathtaking. I thought the water was rather gorgeous, mostly because that's what I stared at for most of the trip as I continually fed the fish. Once we finally docked I regained my balance and checked out the tourist trap of Capri. I opted for the 16 Euro jet boat back to Sorrento while the rest of the crew motored back. So word to the wise, if you have a weak stomach, take the jetboat to me!
The waters around Capri


The rest of our stay in Sorrento was a rather pleasant one. We wined and dined ourselves into oblivion. It's a good thing we walked EVERYWHERE or I'd be a qualified contestant for Biggest Loser right about now.

Our next adventure took us to Florence. We spent four hours on the Autostrada enjoying a true Italian driving experience. Apparently traffic lanes are just a suggestion as are turn signals. Most opt to straddle a lane at speeds ranging from 45mph to 100mph. My dad's knuckles were white by the time we arrived in Florence! We stayed in a B&B on the outskirts of the city and since we were a large group, they rented the whole house out to us for the week! The only downside was having to learn the bus system, a chore that was! The first day we got on the wrong line and enjoyed a 90 minute tour of the city. Some say you can stay in Florence for a month and not see it all...I disagree.
The gang on the bus..again

If you go to Italy this is once city you cannot miss. Known for its art it won't let you down. Museums, cathedrals, duomos, statues (naked statues that is), piazzas, government buildings, palazzos, bridges...even the building the McDonalds is in was a work of art. We spent our days exploring the Ufizzi, the Academia (where Michaelangelo's David is) and the Ponte Vecchio (a bridge full of stores selling nothing but 18K gold jewelry....yea!). The city is a feast for the eyes. The shopping was outrageous, I had to constantly keep in mind I had to carry everything back to Guam with me, boo. Courtney and I refreshed our bargaining skills at the San Lorenzo Market, an outdoor market known for it's leather goods. After conquering the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul we were determined to see what kind of deals we could get. What fun we had! Between the two of us (mind you one of us is blond, the other a redhead in a dark haired country) we sweetalked our way to some serious deals. My favorite was when Courtney negotiated a price for an adorable red crocodile skin purse. After she paid the man asked for her phone number. He glanced at my mother and asked  she was her mother. When Courtney said yes, he said "Oh! You are the mama! You have such beautiful daughter!" to which Dave points to my father in the background and says "And that there is the PAPA". The man proceeds to bow to my father in hopes of his approval. We were laughing into the night on that one!

The view from our villa!

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

More naked statues

The Ponte Vecchio aka: Goldmine

Arno River

Overlook at the Pitti Palace (home of the Medici Family)

Dave & Dad in their element

You even find art on the ground! (This one is a chalk drawing of a popular painting of Eleanor Medici, a famous European royal who lived in the Pitti Palace)

The San Lorenzo Market

Our trip to Florence also included a day trip to Siena. If any of you has seen "Letters to Juliet" then you probably saw many of the places we went, including the steps outside the Duomo we are sitting on in this picture:

Siena is a hill town so we spent a good portion of the day climbing steps. No one felt too bad about enjoying a gelato or two in the piazza at the end of the day!

Courtney and I waiting on the group

Out of all our day trips I'd say wine tasting in Tuscany tops the list. It was just perfect. Our driver Fabrizzio picked us up and drove us to the town of Greve (Grev-vay), right in the heart of some of the Chianti Region. A gorgeous little town we got to see some awesome wine, cheese and prosciutto shops. I recommend spending a day just observing this little town, it's a classic Italian town and gorgeous to boot. We hopped back in the van and stopped at the Verazzano (yep same guy the NY bridge is named for) vineyards to sample the leftover grapes from last weekend's harvest. It is an ancient tradition in Italy to leave a portion of the crop behind for the poor; after all that shopping, I think we might have qualified. :) We finished our day at a couple of wineries. We even enjoyed a tour of the Vicchiomaggio winery and tasted some exquisite Chianti Classicos. We took some fantastic tours, bought some even more fantastic wines and simply enjoyed the beauty of Tuscany in the fall.

Julie and I in the Verazzano Vineyard

I'm thinking about showing my dog this picture, maybe she'll think twice before taking herself for a walk again...

Overall Italy was a fantastic experience. I wish I could have shared it with Colin but I suppose we will have to visit it together some day!

I'm now attempting to get back to Guam via the US Air Force's fabulous (and I use that term loosely) Space-A program. I'm currently battling a terminal full of people for a coveted seat on a transport plane back to the Rock. I'm praying I get one of those seats because I've been here for three days now and I'm ready to finally be home again!