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Trip Report Greetings from Milan, Italy Trip Report March 2015

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Greetings from Milan

March 12, 2015

Trip Report

Milanese salutations from wondrous Milan- the financial epicenter of Italy and paradise for Euro fashionistas. Neither of which is the reason this traveling twosome is here. After 23 trips to Europe, we decided to go back to our traveling roots and return to the country that ignited our love and passion for travel. Italy’s culture is captivating, its food sinfully enticing and the people are just good old fashioned friendly.

As the plane glided gracefully over the jagged Appalachian Mountains, the fluffy clouds lazily clung to them. The juxtaposition of fragility and softness created a stillness in the plane as all the sleep deprived passengers romantically gazed out the window in amazement. It was breathtaking and instantly brought me back to the first time I had seen the grandeur of the Alps. Even though it was but just a short glimpse, it was a good sign for the beginning of this trip.

Bleary eyed and jet lagged- we made our way to the train and took a hypnotic passageway into the heart of Milan. I recommend this affordable and convenient alternative versus a car service due to the exorbitant 100 Euro cost. For us, it’s an indulgence that is unnecessary.

The sun beamed down on us intently and the cold weather I was expecting (and frankly looking forward to) was not to be. A pleasant 60 degrees welcomed us as we schlepped luggage in tow, wearily through the bustling eager crowd. The confusing city structure, as well as a stubborn GPS, got us slightly turned around but eventually we made it to our refuge for the next 6 days- The Gran Duca Di York hotel http://www.ducadiyork.com/ . Our hotel is a 19th century palace tucked away on the corner of a quiet street. We have a lovely room, with a splendid view and the best part –free mini bar that is refilled daily!!! The only drawback is the shower entry was designed for a Kate Moss style figure and requires some aggressive wedging and maneuvering to enter. But, once inside –all systems are a go.

After the shower wrangling and decontamination of airplane funk was complete, a solid nap was required. With the windows open, we napped as Italian dialogue from the street below wove in and out of my dreams.

As usual, hunger and curiosity awoke me, tapping my shoulder like an inpatient child. We ventured out in our new city fervent to unwrap like a kid on Christmas morning. With our finicky GPS we made our way on foot, trying to get a lay of the land. As the husband and the feisty GPS battled, we looped around the city, back and forth coiling us like a tilt a whirl ride. Eventually, we made our way to the Duomo http://www.duomomilano.it/en/ . The towering cathedral started construction in 1387, but eventually finished in the 1930s. Outside it is a meeting hotspot, selfie taking breeding ground and unexplainably antagonistic creepy gentleman trying to sell worthless string bracelets from “Africa”. The square which the cathedral is in resembles the backdrop of “it’s a small world”, picturesque and perfect. As the sun began to set, the twinkling city lights added a special touch to the already scenic set up.

I was grateful for the hubby’s tenacity and eventual obedience gained from the GPS struggle as we weaseled our way into the church 5 minutes before closing. The church is one of the three biggest in the world –right there next to St Peter’s in Rome, St Paul’s in London and Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The style is mostly Gothic, with impressive high arches and jaw dropping stained glass. We moseyed our way through, as usual I said my silent prayer of appreciation and allowed myself one brief moment of calmness to settle over me and blanket me with travel armor for the next couple of hectic days.

We left the church and made our way over to what Milan is known for-its fashions. Set up in an art deco colonnade is the famous Galleria http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/galleriavittorioemanueleii.htm . A glass arcade comprised of high end shops such as Prada and Louis Vuitton ping pong the walkway, teasing the sapless window-shopper with unaffordable, superfluous luxuries.

The friendly receptionist at the hotel had suggested a restaurant for dinner right down the block. We ate at a charming restaurant called Piazza Borromeo. It was a warm and inviting restaurant with candles melting over wine bottles. We gorged on fresh baked bread from the pizza oven as we waited for my arugula and olive pizza (Yum!) and the hubby’s very strange (and disturbing for this vegetarian) version of spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were marble size and there were many of them. I would be more apt to call them meat “nuggets”. As our meal progressed, the restaurant swelled with diners, all apparently clearly enjoying themselves. We finished the meal on an especially high note with a tantalizing dessert.

The husband is in a heap, snoring away as I type my labor of love to my few and faithful. I now must rest for the excitement this incredible city has awaiting me.

Tune in for more Milanese mischief…

~B&F~

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    A quick note for others: Walking on the roof of the duomo is a surprising experience, although maybe not in winter weather. Stairs and elevator are situated outside and around the back of the church.

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    Milan Trip report

    Day 2

    After 3 hours of sleep, day 2 of trip kicks off. We had a yummy, pleasant breakfast provided by the hotel. Then, we literally took 10 steps and went to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana http://www.ambrosiana.eu/jsp/index.jsp -conveniently adjacent to our hotel. The museum is an ancient building established in 1618 from a generous, wealthy Cardinal who donated his collection of impressive paintings. Inside this magnificent building are 24 rooms containing great masterpieces from artists Leonardo de Vinci, Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian and my personal favorite Botticelli. We spent several hours working our way through the remarkable collection. Of particular note is an interesting exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci and all his numerous contributions to the scientific community.

    After the museum, we walked through the heart of the city, stopping at Arnold’s coffee http://www.arnoldcoffee.it/ - Milan’s disappointing version of Starbuck’s for a short respite. From there we walked through Sempione Park http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/parcosempione.htm Milan’s central park. The weather was spectacular; I would almost say-Perfection. Potent Italian sunshine with a refreshing cool breeze. As we strolled leisurely, we passed other couples, school kids, and families enjoying the beautiful day too. We stopped for a gelato, sat on a bench and rested our feet.

    From there we made our way to Sforza Castle http://www.milanocastello.it/ing/home.html - Milan's most famous and much beloved monument. Once again, those pesky men desperately trying to sell yarn bracelets from Africa were abundant. (** If you are interested read the story below explaining these fools) Between them, the harassing pigeons, and annoying people trying to sell selfie sticks, we were swatting them away like hungry mosquitoes on a summer’s night.

    This 15th century castle monopolizes many city blocks and the whole area is pedestrian friendly with no car traffic. The area was hopping with energetic school kids and masses of peppy tourists. The castle grounds itself is vast and open and houses 3 unique museums- an Egyptian one, Ancient art and furniture. We opted out of the Egyptian one due to overwhelming bladder needs and fatigue. But, the other 2 were quite entertaining and time well spent. The highlight of the Ancient art museum was a Michelangelo unfinished Pieta -the original one is the single most astounding piece of art that I have ever seen which is in St. Peters basilica in Rome.

    We went back to the hotel and rested momentarily. The receptionist once again was quite helpful recommending a local restaurant for dinner and was kind enough to make a reservation. Walking distance from our hotel was Santamarta http://www.santamartamilano.it/index.html - a restaurant known for their fish dishes.

    The restaurant is very cozy and welcoming as well as was the waiter. Frank and I had a mouthwatering Onion soup that was the best I had ever had. Every component was incredible and together it made for a flawless soup. With this, I had a ho-hum risotto and Frank had a potato crusted sea bass. On the websites reviews many patrons had recommended the Lemoncello liquor. I remembered this fondly from a previous trip to Italy, so I also had this with my dinner. Poured in a shot glass chilled to an artic freeze, this bitter and sugary nectar is a cross between lemon meringue pie and lighter fuel. I am glad I tried it. And, will never need to again. The other thing they are known for is their “biscuits and cream.” We ordered this for dessert, which took over 30 minutes. This is because the “biscuits”, were more like cookies made fresh and served in the bakeware they were cooked in. They were accompanied by an orange cream sauce. This was not particularly my cup of tea, as I was taking the interpretation literally, expecting flaky homemade biscuits and real heavy whipping cream. Regardless, more for the hubby who eagerly consumed them all greedily. Before you judge, let it be known that between yesterday and today over 35,000 steps were accumulated.

    A brief side note and update. Bank released hold on our bank account so now we got money! And, Yahoo can suck it-because now I am a Gmail gal.
    For those of you unaware of yesterday’s events, yahoo mail accused me of sending suspicious mail and blocked all in and outgoing mails and my bank suspended us for fraudulent activity.

    All is well, though. Except the shower dilemma remains the same. We asked the receptionist for a bigger shower and apparently all patrons in this hotel have to suck it in, slide in sideways and pray that no hanging parts (sorry for visual) get snagged.

    We are back in the hotel now recharging for tomorrow’s adventure.
    Love and sweet biscuits-(which are not really biscuits but COOKIES, people!)

    ~B&F

    **The string scam: One of the “‘string men” walks up to you and engages you in innocent conversation and will usually say that they want to show you a magic trick. Before you know it, a “string man” has grabbed your wrist or one or two fingers and encircled it with a homemade bracelet of colored string.
    Typically the string men will say something to you like “it’s for the church” or “a gift.” Sometimes the string men are more polite (they’ll ask the visitor to hold a string) and before you know it, the string men will somehow manage to grab your wrist or fingers and encircle it with a homemade bracelet of colored string, yarn, or other crafty-looking item.
    Next, when the string men finish making your new “local Paris string bracelet souvenir,” they will demand payment of around €20 which is quite obviously not what the bracelet is worth. If you fail to pay them, they will doggedly follow you and be VERY insistent that you provide some amount of payment. These “con-merchants” are so demanding, they succeed in intimidating many tourists into paying them because it’s the only way to get rid of them.

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    Enjoying your report.
    Have added your hotel as a likely contender for next years' trip, especially being next door to the Pinacoteca (which I had not heard of before and now want to see).

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    yes, a most interesting report, brookums. keep it coming,

    As for the string men, I suggest saying something like 'VAI VIA" [go away]. not perfect italian but they should get the message.

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    You really make me want to visit Milan, it sounds fabulous! :-) I was there for about two hours a while back killing time before catching a flight, but I would love to explore properly

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    Trip Report
    Milan
    Day 3

    Bon Journo! I write this blog with a belly full of pizza and a brain full of goodies I want to share with you. Today was downright magical. If you are reading this blog and you are beginning to despise me– I do understand. But, really here’s the thing….I work like everybody else. I live a life of solitude and sacrifice (sometimes) except for 4 weeks a year. The fall and the spring when the hubs drags me schlepping around Europe- I use up all my vacation time as I pray for good health the remainder of the year. So, if the flowery verbiage and soliloquy is too much- I get it. I share this with you in the hopes of adding some mindless entertainment and indulge in a little company, as I see new things. One more thing to add….On any day, I would much prefer an afternoon marathon of the Kardashians and a bowl of popcorn sitting on my couch. But, by going outside my comfort zone- challenging my patience, endurance and sanity at times-it is truly a test and ultimately has formed the gal I am today.

    Now, enough of that nonsense….On with the show…. After only 4 hours of sleep we awoke bright & early and took a taxi to the train station in the dark, quiet morning. We took the 715 am train to Bologna, which is 1 hr. south of here from high speed train. You ask why Bologna? I say why not? For me & the hubs, Bologna conjures up thoughts of thick, red inviting sauce. We knew very little and unlike us did very little research –so it really was an adventure.

    After sleeping the entire way, we arrived rested and ready to tackle this unknown land. I have to admit, one of my favorite things to do on vacation is explore a city as it is waking up. Shop owners opening their doors, sidewalks freshly wet and hosed down-as if to signify a new start, washing away the slough of the previous night. I suppose this is my thing and difficult to explain, but it truly is a love and fond fascination.

    So, as we set out on foot, signs of life were beginning to emerge. We walked along the cobble stone streets, finding ourselves in a church-as it was the only place open. The stone walls insulated the chilly air. Again, I began my prayer of gratitude and thanks and kick started this day with an extra abundance of appreciation.

    We stopped in a lovely café, bustling with activity and enjoyed a delicate sweet treat and coffee. From there, we found ourselves herded into masses of people and a street market. A potpourri of fish, gargantuan hams swung from the ceiling, cheeses, and fragrant bright flowers saluted the passerbys. Shuffling our way along as the city began to explode with energy we found ourselves at Basilica Santaurio. It is a massive religious complex dating back from the 12th century. Being there is a spiritual experience and for evoked feelings of peace and tranquility. We toured the grounds and eventually made our way to a gift shop of sorts. In there, was the monastery’s finest items such as honey, wine and rosary beads. We contributed a little to their economic revenue, with a very special treat of the priest blessing my purchased items.

    From there, we dined at an unbelievably lavish restaurant Virtuoso http://grandhotelmajestic.duetorrihotels.com/ . We sat in 15th century salon and were waiting on like royalty. Frank had a 4 course meal that was a traditional Bolognese feast. I had homemade pasta that was perfect in every way. We were treated in a way I had never been and really with all the opulence and fanciness-the meal was relatively affordable.
    Our last stop in Bologna was the Pinacotecha Nazionale Bologna http://www.pinacotecabologna.beniculturali.it/ - Bologna’s art museum. It had an abundance of pre-renaissance and medieval art from many unknowns. It was a bizarre museum mixing media’s such as a puppet chow about terrorism playing in room with frescos from the 14th century. Way too experimental for me. As a result, a cat nap was had during the puppet show that did not please the staff very much.

    We had a lot of time to kill, but with bellies full and not much to do; we trudged back to the train station several hours early. We waited for our train, took that back and returned to the restaurant from the first night Piazza Borromeo for some late night dinner of delicious pizza.
    It is late, I am tired and again, hubby is asleep. Tomorrow has many moving parts to it and a lot is planned, so I must rest up.

    Sorry if I went a bit long tonight.
    Tune in tomorrow for more Italian adventures…
    Love and Italian Lullabies….

    ~B&F~

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    4 hours sleep and a 7.15am train, you really are running on adrenaline.
    I usually find I am awake at 2am for the first few days, but the teens can sleep for 14 hours straight! And they manage to look like they haven't slept a bit, as teens do, while I am a bit manic :) and raring to go.

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    brookums - you are not the only person who likes wandering around as things open up, but i tend to like some sleep too! kudos to you for fitting in so much.

    i had a look at the menu of the restaurant in that very swish hotel [did you book, BTW, or just walk in?] and for what you had, it looks like good value, particularly bearing in mind the current state of the €.

    anyway, we all enjoyed your day exploring Bologna - where are you taking us today?

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    Annhig-we only ate at the restaurant. we did not stay at the hotel. we just walked in. no reservation. Glad you all are following along.
    Very tired. This old gal is going to take the night off from trip report and resume tomorrow.

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    Milan Trip Report
    Day 4 & Day 5

    News alert: I have a blogging injury. My left hand is throbbing. It is because I love my fans (ha) that I push through the pain to deliver you my masterpiece. Today we awoke to a quiet city. We ate our breakfast and took a taxi to Brera Museum http://www.brera.beniculturali.it/ . The collection dates back as far as 1776 and is situated in a palace from 1859. We arrived bright and early-one of the first ones in the door. This is another love of mine-having a whole museum to yourself, without someone breathing down your back, talking on their phone or blocking the picture. Without those nuisances it provides for optimal viewing pleasure.
    We purchased an audio guide which was full of easy to understand information and helped to focus on the details in the art. The museum mostly has pre-Renaissance and medieval art, but also a nice collection of 16th and 17th century paintings. There were many prolific masters there such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens and Tintoretto. We spent over 3 hours there nonstop with no breaks.

    From there we walked around the city. The sun was out, the weather was beautiful. It was a Sunday afternoon and everybody was out enjoying the day. We ate a light lunch, picnic style and made our way back to our hotel to rest as we had a big night at the opera later.

    After a brief power nap, dressed in our finest attire we took a taxi to the world famous La Scala opera house http://www.teatroallascala.org/en/ to see Aida. For those of you who do not know, the hubs has a major passion for opera. These tickets had been purchased months ago-every day the hubs would troll the internet hoping the tickets would be released. So, just being in this grand opera house was enough for the man. Witnessing an opera in this majestic setting that dates back to 1778 was certainly on the hubs bucket list.

    The opera house is as beautiful as you can expect. It is plush red with gold ornate accents everywhere. The acoustics are heavenly. Now, let’s get to the good stuff…our seats-well, our seats were in a box. A balcony of sorts with a door- our “seats” were good old fashioned bar stools (in plush red) with no back and were behind two individuals in real seats. My view was centered at the wall. My stool was about a foot higher than the hubs. Even odder was the other person who was facing us, knees almost touching.

    I had every element and reason not to enjoy the opera, including poor view, no subtitles and maintaining proper posture for over 3 hours. Come to think of it, I had never sat in a bar stool for 3 hours and been sober! But, because of these obstacles or in spite of them I had an amazing time. I stayed awake (which is usually the hardest part) in fear I would slide off my bar stool. I was captivated by the story. The orchestra was sublime. Our “boxmates” during intermission struck up some lively conversation and by act II we were all best buds.

    After 7 standing ovations, we unpeeled ourselves from our stools and headed out for dinner. We walked through the Brera neighborhood http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/wandering-milans-brera-and-navigli-neighborhoods.html - a young energetic hip area. We eventually made it to our destination for dinner Rangoli http://www.rangoli.it/web/ for Indian food. As much as I love Italian food, I was getting “pasta-ed” out, so we opted for something a little different. The place was hopping and appeared quite popular. We ordered the vegetarian feast, which consisted of 10 or so vegetarian items in a 4 course setting. The food was delicious-but probably not the wisest thing to eat at 10pm.

    We walked a bit in the general direction of the hotel, but at this point the weather had deteriorated. Up until then, the weather had been fantastic. The whole time we have been here, rain had been forecasted. And, somehow every day we escaped it. But, last night it caught up to us. With about a mile to go, we relented and took a taxi back. All in all- it was a splendid day and a pretty awesome night.

    Milan Trip Report
    Day 5

    My sleep was full of Indian food infused hallucinations mixed with a significant case of reflux. We slept in a bit this morning due to a change of plans. We were set to visit Lake Como (you know George Clooney’s summer home). But, it was grey and rainy and not ideal for visiting that region. So, instead, we woke up a little later, consumed our breakfast and set off on foot to Poldi Pezzoli museum http://www.museopoldipezzoli.it/#!/en/discover - a 17th century Neo-Classical Palace and former private residence of Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli. It is jam packed with art, bric-a-brac and all sorts of splendid goodies. There is a pretty intriguing room full of ornate guns and weaponry surprisingly fascinating. Of note, the art there is possibly the most important I have seen on this trip (with the exception of what I see tomorrow-just you wait…). We spent a good 2 hours traipsing the through the rooms. It was time well spent.

    After, we walked through the Duomo area with the lunch rush in full swing. The small of garlic permeating in the air beckoned our stomachs, demanding nourishment. Mobs of worker bees with long queues were abundant. The rain steady and resilient exacerbated our hunger. Trying unsuccessfully to stay out of the “rip off” tourist zone, we found ourselves outside Santa Lucia http://www.asantalucia.it/en/home.html- apparently according to the web page the first pizzeria in Milan established in 1929.

    The wall is adorned with pictures of famous actors and well-known people-an Italian Sardi’s of sorts. It was very busy and the crowd seemed very enthusiastic about their food. The waiter was a jovial Italian guy perfunctory and animated. The menu was in Italian and a lot of guessing was going on between me and the hub. In my confusion and fluster, I ordered basically the same thing for appetizer and meal, Caprice-which is mozzarella and tomato for an appetizer and fried mozzarella for the “primi” first course. Needless to say, this was a bad week to decide to go off dairy. The more I try to restrict myself, the more I seem to crave. This meal though was the nail in the coffin-the old timeless story of “too much of a good thing”. Meanwhile, Frank had traditional tortellini in a Bolognese sauce.

    After reading this back to the hubs, he mentioned rather nonchalantly, I may add, that the waiter pinched my “keister” twice!!!! In reflection, I did feel something goose me, but I thought I was in the way. Hmmmmph. Speechless on that one….

    After my cheese overload, I waddled back to the Doumo http://www.duomomilano.it/en/ to get one more look as tomorrow is our last official day. The cold and rainy weather had brought out more church lovers than usual and the crowds were huddled for warmth verses worship. But, as the cheese attempted to digest my energy levels and interest waned. So, we returned to the hotel to rest and stay dry.

    No big plans this evening-but tomorrow is the Hubs birthday as well as St. Patrick’s Day. This requires double celebration. So, I must rest up in preparation.

    Thanks for tuning in
    Love and cheesy gluttony

    ~B&F~

    P.S. For those interested, wrist has made a full miraculous recovery. Must be all those churches we have been to.

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    Thanks for sharing your opera experience with us. So far I've not been quite that uncomfortable in an opera house but the one in Madrid ran your experience in Milan close - restricted view actually meant that we were only able to see ½ of the stage.

    Glad about your wrist!

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    brookums - at Madrid they had a screen so we could see the other side of the stage on TV - very strange and not the same at all, but better than nowt. But I wasn't going to miss Pagliacci for nothing!

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    Milan Trip Report
    Day 6

    Last day (sad face)….

    Last night we ventured close to the hotel for a late supper. We walked down the narrow sidewalks, umbrellas in hand, sidestepping cavernous puddles. We ate locally at Trattoria Milanese www.trattoria-milanese.quandoo.it . An inviting, crowded restaurant with every seat taken, even strangers sitting with other patrons. An accordion player and saxophonist popped in briefly for some entertainment livening up the place.

    Both of us were not overly hungry so a meal of potato gnocci in butter and sage and a beef stew with creamy polenta was our choice. The meal was good, the service good and the price about standard with what we have been paying. We were tired and the rain continued to pelt down so we called it a relatively early night.

    This morning we had our ordinary breakfast with a surprise, complimentary glass of Prosecco to celebrate the hub’s birthday. From there we took a taxi to Santa Maria delle Grazie Church http://www.grazieop.it/grazie_op/00000064_Grazie_OP.html, the church the fresco The Last Supper painted by Leonardo DaVinci in 1498 is located. To see the painting, one needs to make a reservation and purchase the tickets 3-4 months in advance. To view the painting is a process. First, they call your time and you line up. No pictures, no cell phones. You go in a room and they close both doors and you are dehumidified for several minutes. Then, they open the doors and there she is in all her glory. For an art enthusiast The Last Supper is the holy grail of paintings. This has been on my to- do list for a long time- long before Tom Hanks was in The Da Vinci Code. The painting has seen better days, but was restored in 1999. They say 6 years after it was painted it began to deteriorate badly.

    The room was still and upon entering everyone silently took snapshots in their head. I stared at the painting for the entire 15 minutes we were given, mentally soaking in every detail. I tried to imagine Leonardo frantically dipping his brush in the then vibrant colors, saturating the wall with splendid color and bringing this biblical tale to life.

    At some point, I was a little emotional from the whole thing- Just the thought that I was lucky enough to see something that I studied in art class. Fortunate enough to see all these beautiful things that other cultures have. It was at that moment, as I looked onto the image on the wall, I realized how very blessed I am.

    After we left there slightly drunk on happiness, we wondered over to the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio http://www.basilicasantambrogio.it/- one of the oldest churches in Milan dated back to the 4th century. It was full of beautiful paintings and chuck full of history. We walked all around and sat at a pew, reading Rick Steves and schooling ourselves.

    From there, we moved on to Church of San Maurizio http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/sanmaurizio.htm constructed in the 16th century and also part of the Archaeological Museum. As soon as we entered the church masses of school age children swarmed the area, chattering and giggling as school kids do, putting a sort of kibosh on any spiritual encounter. There were some rather beautiful paintings, free entry and not even a flock of 50- 9 year olds blathering in Italian could impede my amusement.

    We walked through a lovely park where locals were gearing for their lunch time interlude. As the church bells rang, our bellies signified a lunch time alert. Suffering from pasta and pizza overload- we chose a hopping Sushi place called Parco http://www.parcosushi.it/html/ecommerce.php. We gorged happily on sushi, content over the absence of a traditional Italian lunch. There were no available seats and it appeared that it was just as popular with the locals.

    After lunch, we moseyed through town, stopping for a creamy gelato, picked up some knick –knacks-one for you, two or three for me….

    Now, we must rest up as we have yet another opera this evening at 8pm. We return to La Scala Theater for Lucio Silla, an opera by Mozart. Frank has informed me that the previous night’s seat’s (Ummmmmm, the bar stool facing the wall –if you recall) are much better than this evening’s. Could I be sitting on the floor, a yoga mat, an inner tube? What? I can’t imagine….

    Then, we have an early morning flight tomorrow, so this is it gang….

    I would like to do my Top 10 list:

    Here we go…

    10. Duoma & Sforza Castle
    9. La Scala Opera
    8. The art, the art, the art!!!
    7. The lovely people of Italy
    6. Gelato, Gelato, Gelato-especially stracciatella
    5. The amazing Euro at its all-time low--$1.06
    4. Our hotel The Grand Duca Di York
    3. My olive and capers pizza
    2. Bologna-the whole adventure
    1. The Last Supper

    Thanks all for tuning in…

    Love and all things Italian,
    ~B&F~

    PS See you in October. Somewhere, Somehow………………..

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    Greetings from Milan
    March 12, 2015
    Trip Report

    Milanese salutations from wondrous Milan- the financial epicenter of Italy and paradise for Euro fashionistas. Neither of which is the reason this traveling twosome is here. After 23 trips to Europe, we decided to go back to our traveling roots and return to the country that ignited our love and passion for travel. Italy’s culture is captivating, its food sinfully enticing and the people are just good old fashioned friendly.

    As the plane glided gracefully over the jagged Alpine Mountains, the fluffy clouds lazily clung to them. The juxtaposition of fragility and softness created a stillness in the plane as all the sleep deprived passengers romantically gazed out the window in amazement. It was breathtaking and instantly brought me back to the first time I had seen the grandeur of the Alps. Even though it was but just a short glimpse, it was a good sign for the beginning of this trip.

    Bleary eyed and jet lagged- we made our way to the train and took a hypnotic passageway into the heart of Milan. I recommend this affordable and convenient alternative versus a car service due to the exorbitant 100 Euro cost. For us, it’s an indulgence that is unnecessary.

    The sun beamed down on us intently and the cold weather I was expecting (and frankly looking forward to) was not to be. A pleasant 60 degrees welcomed us as we schlepped luggage in tow, wearily through the bustling eager crowd. The confusing city structure, as well as a stubborn GPS, got us slightly turned around but eventually we made it to our refuge for the next 6 days- The Gran Duca Di York hotel http://www.ducadiyork.com/ . Our hotel is a 19th century palace tucked away on the corner of a quiet street. We have a lovely room, with a splendid view and the best part –free mini bar that is refilled daily!!! The only drawback is the shower entry was designed for a Kate Moss style figure and requires some aggressive wedging and maneuvering to enter. But, once inside –all systems are a go.

    After the shower wrangling and decontamination of airplane funk was complete, a solid nap was required. With the windows open, we napped as Italian dialogue from the street below wove in and out of my dreams.

    As usual, hunger and curiosity awoke me, tapping my shoulder like an inpatient child. We ventured out in our new city fervent to unwrap like a kid on Christmas morning. With our finicky GPS we made our way on foot, trying to get a lay of the land. As the husband and the feisty GPS battled, we looped around the city, back and forth coiling us like a tilt a whirl ride. Eventually, we made our way to the Duomo http://www.duomomilano.it/en/ . The towering cathedral started construction in 1387, but eventually finished in the 1930s. Outside it is a meeting hotspot, selfie taking breeding ground and unexplainably antagonistic creepy gentleman trying to sell worthless string bracelets from “Africa”. The square which the cathedral is in resembles the backdrop of “it’s a small world”, picturesque and perfect. As the sun began to set, the twinkling city lights added a special touch to the already scenic set up.
    I was grateful for the hubby’s tenacity and eventual obedience gained from the GPS struggle as we weaseled our way into the church 5 minutes before closing. The church is one of the three biggest in the world –right there next to St Peter’s in Rome, St Paul’s in London and Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The style is mostly Gothic, with impressive high arches and jaw dropping stained glass. We moseyed our way through, as usual I said my silent prayer of appreciation and allowed myself one brief moment of calmness to settle over me and blanket me with travel armor for the next couple of hectic days.

    We left the church and made our way over to what Milan is known for-its fashions. Set up in an art deco colonnade is the famous Galleria http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/galleriavittorioemanueleii.htm . A glass arcade comprised of high end shops such as Prada and Louis Vuitton ping pong the walkway, teasing the sapless window-shopper with unaffordable, superfluous luxuries.

    The friendly receptionist at the hotel had suggested a restaurant for dinner right down the block. We ate at a charming restaurant called Piazza Borromeo. It was a warm and inviting restaurant with candles melting over wine bottles. We gorged on fresh baked bread from the pizza oven as we waited for my arugula and olive pizza (Yum!) and the hubby’s very strange (and disturbing for this vegetarian) version of spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were marble size and there were many of them. I would be more apt to call them meat “nuggets”. As our meal progressed, the restaurant swelled with diners, all apparently clearly enjoying themselves. We finished the meal on an especially high note with a tantalizing dessert.

    The husband is in a heap, snoring away as I type my labor of love to my few and faithful. I now must rest for the excitement this incredible city has awaiting me.

    Tune in for more Milanese mischief…
    ~B&F~

    Milan Trip report
    Day 2

    After 3 hours of sleep, day 2 of trip kicks off. We had a yummy, pleasant breakfast provided by the hotel. Then, we literally took 10 steps and went to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana http://www.ambrosiana.eu/jsp/index.jsp -conveniently adjacent to our hotel. The museum is an ancient building established in 1618 from a generous, wealthy Cardinal who donated his collection of impressive paintings. Inside this magnificent building are 24 rooms containing great masterpieces from artists Leonardo de Vinci, Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian and my personal favorite Botticelli. We spent several hours working our way through the remarkable collection. Of particular note is an interesting exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci and all his numerous contributions to the scientific community.

    After the museum, we walked through the heart of the city, stopping at Arnold’s coffee http://www.arnoldcoffee.it/ - Milan’s disappointing version of Starbuck’s for a short respite. From there we walked through Sempione Park http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/parcosempione.htm Milan’s central park. The weather was spectacular; I would almost say-Perfection. Potent Italian sunshine with a refreshing cool breeze. As we strolled leisurely, we passed other couples, school kids, and families enjoying the beautiful day too. We stopped for a gelato, sat on a bench and rested our feet.
    From there we made our way to Sforza Castle http://www.milanocastello.it/ing/home.html - Milan's most famous and much beloved monument. Once again, those pesky men desperately trying to sell yarn bracelets from Africa were abundant. (** If you are interested read the story below explaining these fools) Between them, the harassing pigeons, and annoying people trying to sell selfie sticks, we were swatting them away like hungry mosquitoes on a summer’s night.

    This 15th century castle monopolizes many city blocks and the whole area is pedestrian friendly with no car traffic. The area was hopping with energetic school kids and masses of peppy tourists. The castle grounds itself is vast and open and houses 3 unique museums- an Egyptian one, Ancient art and furniture. We opted out of the Egyptian one due to overwhelming bladder needs and fatigue. But, the other 2 were quite entertaining and time well spent. The highlight of the Ancient art museum was a Michelangelo unfinished Pieta -the original one is the single most astounding piece of art that I have ever seen which is in St. Peters basilica in Rome.
    We went back to the hotel and rested momentarily. The receptionist once again was quite helpful recommending a local restaurant for dinner and was kind enough to make a reservation. Walking distance from our hotel was Santamarta http://www.santamartamilano.it/index.html - a restaurant known for their fish dishes.

    The restaurant is very cozy and welcoming as well as was the waiter. Frank and I had a mouthwatering Onion soup that was the best I had ever had. Every component was incredible and together it made for a flawless soup. With this, I had a ho-hum risotto and Frank had a potato crusted sea bass. On the websites reviews many patrons had recommended the Lemoncello liquor. I remembered this fondly from a previous trip to Italy, so I also had this with my dinner. Poured in a shot glass chilled to an artic freeze, this bitter and sugary nectar is a cross between lemon meringue pie and lighter fuel. I am glad I tried it. And, will never need to again. The other thing they are known for is their “biscuits and cream.” We ordered this for dessert, which took over 30 minutes. This is because the “biscuits”, were more like cookies made fresh and served in the bakeware they were cooked in. They were accompanied by an orange cream sauce. This was not particularly my cup of tea, as I was taking the interpretation literally, expecting flaky homemade biscuits and real heavy whipping cream. Regardless, more for the hubby who eagerly consumed them all greedily. Before you judge, let it be known that between yesterday and today over 35,000 steps were accumulated.

    A brief side note and update. Bank released hold on our bank account so now we got money! And, Yahoo can suck it-because now I am a Gmail gal.

    For those of you unaware of yesterday’s events, yahoo mail accused me of sending suspicious mail and blocked all in and outgoing mails and my bank suspended us for fraudulent activity.

    All is well, though. Except the shower dilemma remains the same. We asked the receptionist for a bigger shower and apparently all patrons in this hotel have to suck it in, slide in sideways and pray that no hanging parts (sorry for visual) get snagged.

    We are back in the hotel now recharging for tomorrow’s adventure.

    Love and sweet biscuits-(which are not really biscuits but COOKIES, people!)
    ~B&F

    **The string scam: One of the “‘string men” walks up to you and engages you in innocent conversation and will usually say that they want to show you a magic trick. Before you know it, a “string man” has grabbed your wrist or one or two fingers and encircled it with a homemade bracelet of colored string.
    Typically the string men will say something to you like “it’s for the church” or “a gift.” Sometimes the string men are more polite (they’ll ask the visitor to hold a string) and before you know it, the string men will somehow manage to grab your wrist or fingers and encircle it with a homemade bracelet of colored string, yarn, or other crafty-looking item.
    Next, when the string men finish making your new “local Paris string bracelet souvenir,” they will demand payment of around €20 which is quite obviously not what the bracelet is worth. If you fail to pay them, they will doggedly follow you and be VERY insistent that you provide some amount of payment. These “con-merchants” are so demanding, they succeed in intimidating many tourists into paying them because it’s the only way to get rid of them.

    Trip Report
    Milan
    Day 3

    Bon Journo! I write this blog with a belly full of pizza and a brain full of goodies I want to share with you. Today was downright magical. If you are reading this blog and you are beginning to despise me– I do understand. But, really here’s the thing….I work like everybody else. I live a life of solitude and sacrifice (sometimes) except for 4 weeks a year. The fall and the spring when the hubs drags me schlepping around Europe- I use up all my vacation time as I pray for good health the remainder of the year. So, if the flowery verbiage and soliloquy is too much- I get it. I share this with you in the hopes of adding some mindless entertainment and indulge in a little company, as I see new things. One more thing to add….On any day, I would much prefer an afternoon marathon of the Kardashians and a bowl of popcorn sitting on my couch. But, by going outside my comfort zone- challenging my patience, endurance and sanity at times-it is truly a test and ultimately has formed the gal I am today.
    Now, enough of that nonsense….On with the show…. After only 4 hours of sleep we awoke bright & early and took a taxi to the train station in the dark, quiet morning. We took the 715 am train to Bologna, which is 1 hr. south of here from high speed train. You ask why Bologna? I say why not? For me & the hubs, Bologna conjures up thoughts of thick, red inviting sauce. We knew very little and unlike us did very little research –so it really was an adventure.

    After sleeping the entire way, we arrived rested and ready to tackle this unknown land. I have to admit, one of my favorite things to do on vacation is explore a city as it is waking up. Shop owners opening their doors, sidewalks freshly wet and hosed down-as if to signify a new start, washing away the slough of the previous night. I suppose this is my thing and difficult to explain, but it truly is a love and fond fascination.

    So, as we set out on foot, signs of life were beginning to emerge. We walked along the cobble stone streets, finding ourselves in a church-as it was the only place open. The stone walls insulated the chilly air. Again, I began my prayer of gratitude and thanks and kick started this day with an extra abundance of appreciation.

    We stopped in a lovely café, bustling with activity and enjoyed a delicate sweet treat and coffee. From there, we found ourselves herded into masses of people and a street market. A potpourri of fish, gargantuan hams swung from the ceiling, cheeses, and fragrant bright flowers saluted the passerbys. Shuffling our way along as the city began to explode with energy we found ourselves at Basilica Santaurio. It is a massive religious complex dating back from the 12th century. Being there is a spiritual experience and for me evoked feelings of peace and tranquility. We toured the grounds and eventually made our way to a gift shop of sorts. In there, was the monastery’s finest items such as honey, wine and rosary beads. We contributed a little to their economic revenue, with an additional special treat - the priest blessing my purchased items.

    From there, we dined at an unbelievably lavish restaurant Virtuoso http://grandhotelmajestic.duetorrihotels.com/ . We sat in 15th century salon and were waiting on like royalty. Frank had a 4 course meal that was a traditional Bolognese feast. I had homemade pasta that was perfect in every way. We were treated in a way I had never been and really with all the opulence and fanciness-the meal was relatively affordable.
    Our last stop in Bologna was the Pinacotecha Nazionale Bologna http://www.pinacotecabologna.beniculturali.it/ - Bologna’s art museum. It had an abundance of pre-renaissance and medieval art from many unknowns. It was a bizarre museum mixing media’s such as a puppet show about terrorism playing in a room with frescos from the 14th century. Way too experimental for me. As a result, a cat nap was had during the puppet show that did not please the staff very much.
    We had a lot of time to kill, but with bellies full and not much to do; we trudged back to the train station several hours early. We waited for our train, took that back and returned to the restaurant from the first night Piazza Borromeo for some late night dinner of delicious pizza.
    It is late, I am tired and again, hubby is asleep. Tomorrow has many moving parts to it and a lot is planned, so I must rest up.

    Sorry if I went a bit long tonight.
    Tune in tomorrow for more Italian adventures…
    Love and Italian Lullabies….
    ~B&F~

    Milan Trip Report
    Day 4 & Day 5

    News alert: I have a blogging injury. My left hand is throbbing. It is because I love my fans (ha) that I push through the pain to deliver you my masterpiece. Today we awoke to a quiet city. We ate our breakfast and took a taxi to Brera Museum http://www.brera.beniculturali.it/ . The collection dates back as far as 1776 and is situated in a palace from 1859. We arrived bright and early-one of the first ones in the door. This is another love of mine-having a whole museum to yourself, without someone breathing down your back, talking on their phone or blocking the picture. Without those nuisances it provides for optimal viewing pleasure.

    We purchased an audio guide which was full of easy to understand information and helped to focus on the details in the art. The museum mostly has pre-Renaissance and medieval art, but also a nice collection of 16th and 17th century paintings. There were many prolific masters there such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens and Tintoretto. We spent over 3 hours there nonstop with no breaks.

    From there we walked around the city. The sun was out, the weather was beautiful. It was a Sunday afternoon and everybody was out enjoying the day. We ate a light lunch, picnic style and made our way back to our hotel to rest as we had a big night at the opera later.

    After a brief power nap, dressed in our finest attire we took a taxi to the world famous La Scala opera house http://www.teatroallascala.org/en/ to see Aida. For those of you who do not know, the hubs has a major passion for opera. These tickets had been purchased months ago-every day the hubs would troll the internet hoping the tickets would be released. So, just being in this grand opera house was enough for the man. Witnessing an opera in this majestic setting that dates back to 1778 was certainly on the hubs bucket list.

    The opera house is as beautiful as you can expect. It is plush red with gold ornate accents everywhere. The acoustics are heavenly. Now, let’s get to the good stuff…our seats-well, our seats were in a box. A balcony of sorts with a door- our “seats” were good old fashioned bar stools (in plush red) with no back and were behind two individuals in real seats. My view was centered at the wall. My stool was about a foot higher than the hubs. Even odder was the other person who was facing us, knees almost touching.

    I had every element and reason not to enjoy the opera, including poor view, no subtitles and maintaining proper posture for over 3 hours. Come to think of it, I had never sat in a bar stool for 3 hours and been sober! But, because of these obstacles or in spite of them I had an amazing time. I stayed awake (which is usually the hardest part) in fear I would slide off my bar stool. I was captivated by the story. The orchestra was sublime. Our “boxmates” during intermission struck up some lively conversation and by act II we were all best buds.

    After 7 standing ovations, we unpeeled ourselves from our stools and headed out for dinner. We walked through the Brera neighborhood http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/wandering-milans-brera-and-navigli-neighborhoods.html - a young energetic hip area. We eventually made it to our destination for dinner Rangoli http://www.rangoli.it/web/ for Indian food. As much as I love Italian food, I was getting “pasta-ed” out, so we opted for something a little different. The place was hopping and appeared quite popular. We ordered the vegetarian feast, which consisted of 10 or so vegetarian items in a 4 course setting. The food was delicious-but probably not the wisest thing to eat at 10pm.

    We walked a bit in the general direction of the hotel, but at this point the weather had deteriorated. Up until then, the weather had been fantastic. The whole time we have been here, rain had been forecasted. And, somehow every day we escaped it. But, last night it caught up to us. With about a mile to go, we relented and took a taxi back. All in all- it was a splendid day and a pretty awesome night.

    Milan Trip Report
    Day 5

    My sleep was full of Indian food infused hallucinations mixed with a significant case of reflux. We slept in a bit this morning due to a change of plans. We were set to visit Lake Como (you know George Clooney’s summer home). But, it was grey and rainy and not ideal for visiting that region. So, instead, we woke up a little later, consumed our breakfast and set off on foot to Poldi Pezzoli museum http://www.museopoldipezzoli.it/#!/en/discover - a 17th century Neo-Classical Palace and former private residence of Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli. It is jam packed with art, bric-a-brac and all sorts of splendid goodies. There is a pretty intriguing room full of ornate guns and weaponry surprisingly fascinating. Of note, the art there is possibly the most important I have seen on this trip (with the exception of what I see tomorrow-just you wait…). We spent a good 2 hours traipsing the through the rooms. It was time well spent.

    After, we walked through the Duomo area with the lunch rush in full swing. The small of garlic permeating in the air beckoned our stomachs, demanding nourishment. Mobs of worker bees with long queues were abundant. The rain steady and resilient exacerbated our hunger. Trying unsuccessfully to stay out of the “rip off” tourist zone, we found ourselves outside Santa Lucia http://www.asantalucia.it/en/home.html- apparently according to the web page the first pizzeria in Milan established in 1929.

    The wall is adorned with pictures of famous actors and well-known people-an Italian Sardi’s of sorts. It was very busy and the crowd seemed very enthusiastic about their food. The waiter was a jovial Italian guy perfunctory and animated. The menu was in Italian and a lot of guessing was going on between me and the hub. In my confusion and fluster, I ordered basically the same thing for appetizer and meal, Caprice-which is mozzarella and tomato for an appetizer and fried mozzarella for the “primi” first course. Needless to say, this was a bad week to decide to go off dairy. The more I try to restrict myself, the more I seem to crave. This meal though was the nail in the coffin-the old timeless story of “too much of a good thing”. Meanwhile, Frank had traditional tortellini in a Bolognese sauce.

    After reading this back to the hubs, he mentioned rather nonchalantly, I may add, that the waiter pinched my “keister” twice!!!! In reflection, I did feel something goose me, but I thought I was in the way. Hmmmmph. Speechless on that one….

    After my cheese overload, I waddled back to the Doumo http://www.duomomilano.it/en/ to get one more look as tomorrow is our last official day. The cold and rainy weather had brought out more church lovers than usual and the crowds were huddled for warmth verses worship. But, as the cheese attempted to digest my energy levels and interest waned. So, we returned to the hotel to rest and stay dry.

    No big plans this evening-but tomorrow is the Hubs birthday as well as St. Patrick’s Day. This requires double celebration. So, I must rest up in preparation.

    Thanks for tuning in
    Love and cheesy gluttony
    ~B&F~

    P.S. For those interested, wrist has made a full miraculous recovery. Must be all those churches we have been to.

    Milan Trip Report
    Day 6
    Last day (sad face)….

    Last night we ventured close to the hotel for a late supper. We walked down the narrow sidewalks, umbrellas in hand, sidestepping cavernous puddles. We ate locally at Trattoria Milanese www.trattoria-milanese.quandoo.it . An inviting, crowded restaurant with every seat taken, even strangers sitting with other patrons. An accordion player and saxophonist popped in briefly for some entertainment livening up the place.

    Both of us were not overly hungry so a meal of potato gnocci in butter and sage and a beef stew with creamy polenta was our choice. The meal was good, the service good and the price about standard with what we have been paying. We were tired and the rain continued to pelt down so we called it a relatively early night.

    This morning we had our ordinary breakfast with a surprise, complimentary glass of Prosecco to celebrate the hub’s birthday. From there we took a taxi to Santa Maria delle Grazie Church http://www.grazieop.it/grazie_op/00000064_Grazie_OP.html, the church the fresco The Last Supper painted by Leonardo DaVinci in 1498 is located. To see the painting, one needs to make a reservation and purchase the tickets 3-4 months in advance. To view the painting is a process. First, they call your time and you line up. No pictures, no cell phones. You go in a room and they close both doors and you are dehumidified for several minutes. Then, they open the doors and there she is in all her glory. For an art enthusiast The Last Supper is the holy grail of paintings. This has been on my to- do list for a long time- long before Tom Hanks was in The Da Vinci Code. The painting has seen better days, but was restored in 1999. They say 6 years after it was painted it began to deteriorate badly.

    The room was still and upon entering everyone silently took snapshots in their head. I stared at the painting for the entire 15 minutes we were given, mentally soaking in every detail. I tried to imagine Leonardo frantically dipping his brush in the then vibrant colors, saturating the wall with splendid color and bringing this biblical tale to life.
    At some point, I was a little emotional from the whole thing- Just the thought that I was lucky enough to see something that I studied in art class. Fortunate enough to see all these beautiful things that other cultures have. It was at that moment, as I looked onto the image on the wall, I realized how very blessed I am.

    After we left there slightly drunk on happiness, we wondered over to the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio http://www.basilicasantambrogio.it/- one of the oldest churches in Milan dated back to the 4th century. It was full of beautiful paintings and chuck full of history. We walked all around and sat at a pew, reading Rick Steves and schooling ourselves.

    From there, we moved on to Church of San Maurizio http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/sanmaurizio.htm constructed in the 16th century and also part of the Archaeological Museum. As soon as we entered the church masses of school age children swarmed the area, chattering and giggling as school kids do, putting a sort of kibosh on any spiritual encounter. There were some rather beautiful paintings, free entry and not even a flock of 50- 9 year olds blathering in Italian could impede my amusement.

    We walked through a lovely park where locals were gearing for their lunch time interlude. As the church bells rang, our bellies signified a lunch time alert. Suffering from pasta and pizza overload- we chose a hopping Sushi place called Parco http://www.parcosushi.it/html/ecommerce.php. We gorged happily on sushi, content over the absence of a traditional Italian lunch. There were no available seats and it appeared that it was just as popular with the locals.

    After lunch, we moseyed through town, stopping for a creamy gelato, picked up some knick –knacks-one for you, two or three for me….

    Now, we must rest up as we have yet another opera this evening at 8pm. We return to La Scala Theater for Lucio Silla, an opera by Mozart. Frank has informed me that the previous night’s seat’s (Ummmmmm, the bar stool facing the wall –if you recall) are much better than this evening’s. Could I be sitting on the floor, a yoga mat, an inner tube? What? I can’t imagine….

    Then, we have an early morning flight tomorrow, so this is it gang….

    I would like to do my Top 10 list:
    Here we go…

    10. Duoma & Sforza Castle
    9. La Scala Opera
    8. The art, the art, the art!!!
    7. The lovely people of Italy
    6. Gelato, Gelato, Gelato-especially stracciatella
    5. The amazing Euro at its all-time low--$1.06
    4. Our hotel The Grand Duca Di York
    3. My olive and capers pizza
    2. Bologna-the whole adventure
    1. The Last Supper

    Thanks all for tuning in…
    Love and all things Italian,
    ~B&F~

    PS See you in October. Somewhere, Somehow………………..

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